2008 ULTRA RUNNING ADVENTURES

 

   
 
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  BEHIND THE SCENES AT ATY:
THE BAR IS RAISED EVEN HIGHER FOR 2008

SATURDAY, DECEMBER 27

 
"ACROSS THE YEARS 72-, 48-, & 24-HOUR RUNS: Raising the Bar"
- ATY race motto last year
 
 

I commented on the race motto in my introduction to Across The Years (ATY) in last year's journal that, indeed, the race organizers and volunteers have set the bar at this event very high. Well, Rodger Wrublik, Paul Bonnett, and crew set it even higher this year. I couldn't imagine how it could become any better for the runners, but the race committee did just that for the Silver Anniversary edition of the race this year.

I wrote in last year's ATY introduction about the various events that are held simultaneously during race week (one 72-hour run, two 48-hour runs, and three 24-hour runs), the venue at the Wrublik's beautiful Nardini Manor southwest of Phoenix, and the other features that make this race so special. Please go back and read that entry again (and perhaps the entries about the race itself) to put this year's event in context.

Here's a confession, which may sound unlikely coming from a veteran mountain trail junkie:  ATY, a nearly-flat, smooth, crushed rock course around a 500-meter loop, has become one of my all-time favorite races.

Why? The main reason I love ATY so much are the people who "run" the race: the organizers as much as the participants. Although my experience with multi-day and fixed-timed races is limited, I don't see how any such event could be more carefully and thoughtfully organized and executed as ATY. These are dedicated, hard-working volunteers who do this out of love for the sport and the runners, not for any monetary recompense.

It's not their job, although it certainly takes a lot of work to pull it off.

GREAT RACES DON'T JUST "HAPPEN"

Last year we caught a glimpse of some of the hard work that goes into preparing for Across the Years. We were privileged to be able to help Host Rodger Wrublik and his family at Nardini Manor for several days before, during, and after the race. This year we simply wanted to do more. With all the new features, we couldn't have picked a better year to do it!

Jim and I have both been running races for about 30 years. We've also been volunteering at races nearly as long -- a variety of track, road, and trail races from a hundred meters to a hundred miles to  multi-days, from tiny local club events to the humongous 55,000-runner Peachtree Road Race, from no-fee fat-ass ultras to expen$ive races like Leadville. Since we've been retired, we've spent more hours volunteering at races than running them. We have the time and we know how much race organizers need help. If it weren't for adequate volunteers, most races would die; entry fees simply won't pay for hired help.


Post-ATY Work Day wrap up: eight tired volunteers (plus Sue-behind-the-lens) on 12-13-08

After missing out on our summer trip to races in Colorado and Wyoming (thanks to exorbitant diesel prices several months ago), we planned for a longer trip to the Southwest this winter. Fortunately for us, the cost of fuel took a downward dive just in time for our departure. We picked Sunmart in Texas as our last long training run for ATY. That left plenty of time, more than three weeks, between races. We let Rodger and the ATY race committee know back in September that we'd be available to help them for two or more weeks before the race if they needed us. We often do that before Leadville and, more recently, at Hardrock. We hoped ATY could use some of our time and skills, too.

Rodger told us about the planned ATY work weekend on December 13-14 and said there were other things we could help with after that, if we were available. Absolutely! We planned the last three weeks of December with that in mind. We rested up a bit after Sunmart, then headed for the Phoenix area. We camped at Estrella Mountain Regional Park for sixteen days so we'd be within a ten-mile drive of Nardini Manor and available to help Rodger and the other members of the race committee as needed. After Christmas we moved our camper on-site to be more readily available the last few hectic days before the race.


Rodger and Jim work on two of the four computers used during the race

It takes a lot to put on a race with as many features as ATY. Yeah, you can direct a low-key fat ass-style ultra with very little preparation and cost, but you can't offer a high-quality, high-tech, multi-day, multi-national event off the cuff. An incredible amount of planning, work, and money goes into it. Somebody has to do the work, and it is usually volunteers, not someone who makes a living directing races.

Across the Years has the cachet to draw a dedicated group of core volunteers who have not only built and  maintained its reputation as a high-quality event over a period of 25 years, they keep tweaking it every year to "raise the bar" even higher. Jim and I just became involved with this race a year ago. We feel privileged to be involved with folks like these and plan to remain as involved as possible in the foreseeable future, even though we live over 2,200 miles across the country and are on the road a lot. It's amazing to this techno dinosaur (me!) how many aspects of race management can be handled with computers.

THE CAST OF CHARACTERS

I suppose all ultra runners are "characters" but that's not what I mean by this sub-heading! This is a brief introduction to the ATY committee members, all dedicated volunteers, so you'll know who I'm talking about. You can see additional photos of all of them here. This listing is in alphabetical order.

  • PAUL BONNETT is the race director and an accomplished ultra runner. Before and during the race he handles a myriad of tasks but still finds time to run a few laps during the race. He has even more incentive to do that this year, as his brother Brad is entered in the race.


Paul (background) listens as Mike Melton makes a point during the awards ceremony. 1-1-09

  • DAVE COMBS has come in from California the last few years to handle timing and technical support during the race; he works on the programming at home during the year. This year he will also run as many miles as he can in the 72-hour race. Dave is well-known as the co-owner of the internet ultra list.


Dave has fun in the timing booth during the 2008 race. The sign is a hoot!
Someone else put it there and waited to see how long it took Dave to see what it said.

  • FRANK CUDA is described as "assistant to Paul, course certifier, jack of all trades." Frank had some extra work re-certifying the track this year after it was re-configured. His 16-year-old daughter, Catherine "Cat" Cuda, is running one of the 24-hour races this year. 
  • SANDRA FONTAINE is the volunteer coordinator.
  • ELAINE GREEN is the food director. She makes the yummy potato soup that goes down so easily on cold nights during the race.
  • BRUCE & KIM HORN are the kitchen directors.
  • LYNN DAVID NEWTON is the ATY webmaster, statistician, and historian. This is his 10th year running the race, mostly in the 72-hour run.
  • CHRISTOPHER O'LOUGHLIN is an RN who not only runs the 72-hour race each year but also provides many hours of medical assistance to the runners during the race along with Dr. Andy Lovy. This year Christopher hopes to log enough miles to earn his 1,000 ATY miles jacket. It is my goal to NOT take up 90 minutes of his time like I did last year!


Chris tapes Dave Comb's feet during this year's race as daughter Sinead observes.

  • BURKE PAINTER is responsible for the unique awards and handles the race sponsors. He is also registered for the 72-hour race. (Do you see a pattern here??)
  • RODGER WRUBLIK is described on the website as the race "host, owner of Nardini Manor, timer, philanthropist, workaholic." He is also an accomplished ultra runner (e.g., multiple-time finisher of Hardrock, one of the country's most difficult 100-milers) and has fathered not one but two sons who are also ultra runners: Jimmy, age 19, and now Gavin, age 7. You read that right. Just wait until you see how many miles Gavin racked up in the 72-hour race this year!


Rodger (in orange jacket) works on the computer running the leader board
and web cams during the 2008 race. He's another Jack-of-all-trades.

HOSTS WITH THE MOST

Since the Wrublik's house and property are Race Central before, during, and after the event, I'll be talking most in this entry about helping Rodger with some of the many tasks involved in this race.

We cannot say enough good things about this kind and generous man who puts so much of himself into the race. Most people have no clue about the number of hours he works to make the venue so accommodating and the race so special in other ways. Let's just say he doesn't get much sleep in December! Rodger sets the bar for himself very high -- so it is no mystery why the bar is also set high for the race held on his estate. Although Jim and I have high standards for ourselves and work hard, as we've gotten older and tire out faster we look like slackers next to Rodger. He's the original Energizer Bunny. His family affectionately calls him a Worker Ant. (Rodger is also very humble; I hope he isn't too embarrassed when he reads this.)

The other Wrublik family members are a large part of this race, too: Rodger's wife Tana, daughter Erica, and sons Jimmy and Gavin. Even the grandkids are involved.


Cayden, Rodger and Tana's 5-year-old grandson, plays in one of the citrus trees in the back yard.
Cayden and Gavin, 7, are entered in the 72-hour race this year but had plenty of time for other play as well.

One of the perks of helping Rodger with pre-race preparations was getting to know him and his family better as we worked the grounds and in their home office and what I dubbed "the bag room" (where the runners' duffel bags were stuffed and stored until registration). It was a pleasure to be around such gracious, optimistic, self-effacing people. It was also nice to enjoy their traditional Christmas tree and decorations since our only holiday display was a pretty red poinsettia in our camper. We never did put up the icicle lights we brought from home.

In addition to these folks another couple dozen tireless volunteers contribute their time before, during, or after the race. It was fun to meet and work with some of them in the aid station again this year. Jim and I also appreciated the good food they prepared and/or served us while we were running our races, as well as their unflagging encouragement as we plodded along day and night.

Thank you, thank you, thank you!

NARDINI MANOR: RACE VENUES DON'T GET MUCH BETTER

The Wrubliks purchased Nardini Manor about twenty years ago when the house was a burned-out shell destined to be bull-dozed. They lovingly and painstakingly restored it as closely as possible to its original beauty. They also spent considerable time and effort to transform the property into a scenic oasis full of flowering shrubs, citrus trees, and tall pines in the middle of the desert, surrounded by a canal and cotton fields, with views of the Estrella and White Tank mountain ranges nearby.

At some point the family began hosting wedding and other receptions in a huge heated tent on their property. Even though they now spend much of their time in Silverton, Colorado, where they own the Wyman Hotel (and are remodeling another house), they still run their business at Nardini Manor with the help of employees. And they return each December to host ATY, which I'm guessing is by far the most complicated of their events. (Maybe not. Although some runners can be demanding, the majority are not Bridezillas.)


One of the beautiful fountains on the grounds of Nardini Manor

When the running club organizing ATY began having problems at its former venue on the other side of the Valley, Rodger generously offered to host the race at Nardini Manor. Never mind that there was no track built yet. If anyone had the vision and work ethic to pull off a feat like this, it was Rodger and his family.

The race moved to its current location in 2003 and soon drew more entrants, necessitating a unique selection process in order to maintain a manageable number of runners on the track at any one time. Because race organizers highly value volunteerism and race loyalty, those who volunteer and/or return year after year to run the race are given top priority. Several ultra races emphasize that runners who return repeatedly are "part of the family." ATY is one of them, and small enough to truly mean it. Runners new to the race are also included each year.

I can't imagine a nicer venue for a race like this than Nardini Manor.

The course (shown in yellow below) is firmly-packed crushed granite, which is much more forgiving than asphalt or concrete and gives the muscular-skeletal system more variety than a uniform rubberized track. There is nothing to trip over unless you cut the corners too closely. The surface couldn't be any smoother after all the scraping, leveling, watering, packing, raking, and pampering Rodger (mostly) and a few volunteers do before the race. It is sloped just enough for it to drain well in case of rain during race week. (Rodger didn't have to water the track much this year; Mother Nature dropped an unprecedented four inches or more of rain on it during the two weeks prior to the race, creating a whole new set of problems. That's four times the normal December precip in Phoenix.)

The 500-meter loop course is part shaded, part sunny. It is a more interesting configuration than a perfect oval (see diagram above). The curves are fairly gentle and runners switch direction every two hours to help reduce overuse injuries. There are slight elevation changes at the driveway and near the aid station; the little ups and downs are good for reducing muscle strains that would likely manifest on a perfectly flat course but they aren't significant enough to affect setting records.

The course is considerably more interesting and varied than, say, a high school track. Runners pass the grassy front yard of the beautiful house, a nearby farm with roosters that crow in the middle of the night, tall oleander shrubs full of singing birds, beautiful pots of flowers, a courtyard filled with ornamental statues and citrus trees, a shrubbery maze, cotton fields, a pine "forest," flags representing the countries and states of the entrants, and a festively lit garden gazebo, shown below during this year's race:

They also see oncoming runners when the directions change every two hours instead of passing and being passed from behind the whole race. (I can't tell you the number of runners I've talked with during races and failed to recognize afterwards when I finally saw their faces straight on!)

There are many conveniences and I'm likely to forget some of them here. The track is lit so brightly enough at night that runners don't need to carry lights. There is a fully-stocked aid station available every 500 meters (less than 1/3 mile, for those who are metric-challenged); runners don't need to carry fluids unless they want to drink while walking. There is plenty of room around the track for runners to set up their own personal aid tables and chairs. A large heated tent can accommodate quite a few smaller tents for the multi-day runners to catch some zzzz's and for other runners to get warm during the night. Runners can also set up tents anywhere in the yard or sleep in their vehicles in the large parking lot. Four portable toilets right next to the track are cleaned out regularly so they don't run out of paper or get too "ripe." Permanent restrooms (with brand new showers) are also available in a building farther off the course.

BETTER THAN E-MAIL

There are other very nice features about the race that we really appreciated last year.

Take the technology, for example. There were a few glitches with the timing and web cam, but in toto, everything worked remarkably well. The timing chips recorded every one of our laps correctly. It was great to see our lap splits and distance in miles and kilometers when we crossed the mat in either direction every 500 meters. The screens occasionally didn't show the runners' times, but when they were back up, they were accurate. The photo below is from the first day of this year's race:

Friends and family were able to follow the runners' progress on-line, watch videos of the runners, see some web cam shots, and send us messages via the internet. Paul, Rodger, and other volunteers printed out every message and put them into individual runner's mailboxes near the track. Everyone loved that feature.

We also liked the delicious dinners that were catered in, the pancakes with M&Ms for breakfast, grilled cheese sandwiches for lunch, and other more standard aid station fare. The runners' duffel bags were filled with useful, high-quality clothing and gear. The awards brunch was tasty, the presentation fast-paced and interesting, and the various awards (buckles, etched glass mugs, wood and metal sculptures) quite attractive. 

And how many races have a New Year's Eve party for the runners at midnight, complete with champagne, balloons, noisemakers, and beautiful fireworks surrounding the property? Jim took the photo above at this year's race.

WHAT MORE COULD A RUNNER WANT?

Although Jim and I were very pleased with everything about ATY last year, we weren't aware of some of the problems that the race committee knew about. That's one of the hazards of "being on the inside" of a race. Paul, Rodger, and the others were determined to find new ways to fix the problems, accommodate more runners this year, and make other improvements to the race. They came up with some great ideas.

After we'd been helping Rodger with this year's event for a few days, I started making a list of the things I noticed about the property and the race organization that are new and/or improved this year. Every day I discovered more things to add to the list! Rodger and the ATY committee have been very busy folks. Here is a long list and I'm betting it's not complete:

1. MORE RUNNERS were allowed into the race this year, including some who were wait-listed. Having more people on the track each day required some modifications.


Wider track and lots of rain = more crushed granite required

2. COURSE CHANGES were announced on the web site before we arrived at Nardini Manor for the group work weekend December 13-14. All of us had to make a trip around the track to see what Rodger had been up to. We were definitely impressed! Although he still had some tweaking to do, most of the heavy labor was already done and we could clearly "see" his vision. What wasn't finished that weekend was completed by race day.

  • A long section on the northwest side of the track (left of the driveway in the diagram above) was moved out about fifteen feet. This was the previous location for the timing tent. Instead of the "face tree" (shown below) being in the middle of the turn-around, it is now in the newly-expanded grassy area. Moving the course meant major excavation of dirt, cutting down at least one old pine tree, relocating several large iron lampposts and electrical connections, pruning back huge mature oleander shrubs, hauling in new crushed granite, hardening the new path, replacing the stone retaining wall, planting grass -- and challenging us to figure out what he'd changed! [That was before he put out orange cones to show the old path (second photo below). I saw what he'd done fairly quickly because I took photos of the "face tree" in the middle of the course last year (first photo below). Seeing the cones a couple days later made the relo more graphic, however.]

BEFORE (2007), above: the "face tree" is in the middle of the track at the timing mat
AFTER (2008), below: the track has been relocated far to the left
and the timing booth is in the background; orange cones show the previous route

  • The course was relocated enough on the far northeast side (location of the portable toilets) so it would still be exactly 500 meters on the inside of the track. That also involved moving dirt and edging. Frank Cuda went out to Nardini Manor at least twice to do the course re-certification with his bicycle.
  • The more narrow parts of the course were widened. This was especially noticeable on the southern side (right of the house in the diagram above) where Rodger completely dug out about 200 feet of tall oleander shrubs next to the paved terraced area (large pink rectangle in upper right corner). Wow -- what a difference it made! Now it's very open and sunny. Here's a graphic "before and after" set of photos:


South side of track before 2007 race

Same view, without the oleanders, on our work day 12-13-08;
view below is looking back the other direction.

  • Rodger also mostly straightened out a "dogleg" in the middle of this section, moved a stone bench and large flowerpot to the outside corner, and added a very cool ancient warrior statue to the inside corner (he calls it "Bubba" or the "Silent Warrior").

  • He moved a large storage unit across from the aid station on the north (canal) side of the course to widen the course and smooth out another curve.
  • The minor "hill" on either side of the driveway was filled in to make it more gradual.
  • Major pruning of the fast-growing oleander hedges was required along the back straight-away on the east side of the course (behind the house and parking area) to widen the track. Rodger also did maintenance pruning of the hedges around the perimeter of the property.

3. The large back BRICK TERRACED AREA (upper right corner in diagram above) was completely cleaned up and revamped. Lots of old decorative ironwork, lampposts, and statuary were removed to make room for:

  • a new "quiet tent" for six runners to sleep in during the race (some runners had complained that it's too noisy to sleep in the large heated tent), and

New "quiet tent" and canopy tables during assembly on 12-17-08 (above and below)

  • ten round wooden tables with canopies that runners could use for personal aid stations if they weren't able to bring their own.

4. New SHOWERS were constructed in the permanent heated restroom, a separate building in the middle of the property. Previously the only shower available was an outdoor one with little privacy.

A few days before the race Rodger and Tana painstakingly built a beautiful slate tiled-and-grouted shower in one corner of the women's restroom (next photo). They soon wished they'd done the same in the men's bathroom.


Rodger and Tana used slate like that on the floor to build
the women's nice new shower. Note the towels on the rack.

Instead, two days before the race Rodger asked Jim to install a new fiberglass shower kit in the men's room. He'd already purchased it at Home Depot and didn't want to take it back. Unfortunately, he lost the assembly directions -- and at this point, he was too stressed out to install more than the plumbing. (Like many stories, this one is more humorous in retrospect than it was at the time!)

Jim had never installed one of the things. He gamely tackled the project with vigor but was soon as frustrated as Rodger by the lack of instructions. Complicating matters was all the extra hardware included for various types of installations, depending on the bathroom construction. Jim was unable to get the proper directions either at Home Depot or online, so the two of us combined our brains and brawn to construct that shower. Rodger popped in and out periodically to offer encouragement, suggestions, and more tools.

It wasn't always a pretty process but we had some fun with it and the satisfaction of checking one more job off the long list of Things to Do.


Bracing the shower walls until they adhered to the planks (photos taken 12-27)

When we were done several hours later, Jim hand-lettered this sign ("Jim and Sue get the first shower!") and left it as a joke for Rodger to see when he came in to finish the plumbing:

Rodger works long and hard but he maintains a good sense of humor, even under duress. We try to do the same. Keeps you younger, you know?

I mentioned earlier that Rodger and Tana own the Wyman Hotel in Silverton, Colorado. To increase the comfort of the runners during ATY, Tana generously brought several thick burgundy towels with her from the hotel for runners who didn't have their own towels to use in the new showers at Nardini Manor. I was simply amazed at that gesture of hospitality. It says a lot about the Wrubliks and their dedication to this race.

5. There were several improvements made regarding TIMING & OTHER TECHNOLOGY:

  • The chip-timing area was moved closer to the aid station and main entrance to the large heated tent. It was placed exactly halfway around the track from the quiet tent, so runners who were sleeping in either tent could wake up and just start walking/running in the direction everyone else was going. Previously, if runners were off the course when the direction was changed, they had to complete their last lap in the direction they'd been going (if they could remember!), then turn around the way everyone else was going. You could always tell who'd been taking a nap! The new way was pure genious, making it much easier for the runners AND timers.


New timing booth (left) in its new location.  12-13-08

  • A new temperature-controlled booth replaced the old timing tent. It was smaller but more comfortable. If I remember correctly, this is one of many items, large and small, that Rodger has found on e-bay! (You'd be amazed . . .)
  • A new 42" flat screen TV was added to display runners' standings each time they crossed the timing mat. There are two screens, once facing each direction, so runners can see how many laps, miles, and kilometers they've run every 500 meters.
  • The TV replaced a very large screen that was used this year for the new leader board (below) that displayed runners' standings in all three events. This was much better than the hand-written leader board that was updated every hour or two in previous races.

  • Improvements were made to the live timing programs so the glitches that occurred last year were all or mostly fixed. New computer programming was written for the leader board. All the technology ran from four laptop computers connected to the internet with air cards.
  • Two web cams were used throughout the race but there are still problems getting clear pictures with those using only air cards for internet connections. Nardini Manor, which is located in a rural part of Maricopa County (Phoenix area), doesn't have high-speed broadband, DSL, or satellite service. It's amazing what technology these guys are able to provide with no high-speed internet! ATY remains a leader in this regard.

6. REGISTRATION, CHECK-IN, BAG STUFFING saw some changes that made the process more efficient for both the runners and volunteers:

  • This year runners had the option of paying only a reduced race entry fee with no goody bag (with a high-quality Northface shirt and jacket and other items) or paying an additional fee for the goody bag. This is always a great option for those who have more than enough race clothing and gear and/or folks who need to economize. About 20 of the 120+ runners chose the "no bag" option.
  • Even though sponsors' items weren't all present by the December 13 work day when Mike Chiorazzi and I initially assembled the runners' duffel bags, Rodger and I gradually added the items received later to the bags before the runners checked in. That included the name bibs and timing chips, which were handed out separately last year. This resulted in a much smoother check-in process.


Beginning of the bag-stuffing process: getting organized on 12-13-08

  • Instead of runners checking in on the morning they began running, pre-race check-in was opened up to everyone on Sunday afternoon, the day before Day 1 of the race. The runners and volunteers appreciated that because it made the race mornings much less hectic. Runners could also opt to check in at the traditional time in the two hours before each day's races began.
  • Check-in was handled differently in another way that proved very popular: instead of runners  crowding into the already-crowded "bag room" from the veranda to check in, they were directed up the front steps into the Wrubliks' beautiful, spacious living room (with its warm fireplace and antique furniture) to sign their waiver and receive their bags. That was much more intrusive on the family but oh-so-appreciated by the runners and volunteers. Less chaos, more serenity!

7. A couple of RUNNER SAFETY ISSUES were resolved this year because of problems in 2007:

  • A new item in each race packet was an 8 by 11-inch laminated ID card that Rodger designed individually for the runners, to be placed on their tent, vehicle, or aid table so race officials could locate runners if an emergency arose.

  • Last year several runners, including me, got sick during or after the race. I secretly blamed my 24-hour post-race intestinal "bug" on one of the sick runners that I hugged (knowing full well that he was ill), but race officials suspect the original source may have been from a hygiene issue at the aid station. This year volunteers handling food and beverages wore plastic gloves. Food items like candy and crackers were portioned into small paper cups to prevent contamination by runners sticking their dirty hands into a whole bowl of food. Disinfecting wipes were also available to both volunteers and runners at the aid station.

8. In honor of the Silver Anniversary some changes were made to the AWARDS. The etched glass mugs given to participants running fewer than a hundred miles were presented in silver lam fabric bags. Smaller silver bags held the buckles for runners reaching 100, 200, or 300 miles.

The buckles were also new this year. Instead of just silver, they are now two-toned in brass and silver. The 200- and 300-mile buckles are larger now, too. Aren't they beautiful?

SERIOUS FUN

Jim and I were happy to be a part of the sometimes stressful, always interesting pre-race preparations. We ended up doing a wide variety of jobs between December 13 and January 2. I won't include each task here, but will share some observations and more stories.

By the time several volunteers showed up for the work weekend on December 13-14, Rodger had already done a lot of the heavy work to the course. Most of the volunteers, including Jim, helped him outside that Saturday with tasks like clearing limbs that had been pruned, erecting about three dozen flag poles and putting up flags representing the states and countries of all the runners, folding and moving dozens of chairs and tables from the last event in the big tent, power-washing the brick tent floor, erecting some of the race-specific tents, measuring the course again, and other tasks.


Jim (L) and Paul put up some of the flags and poles on 12-13-08.

Mike Chiorazzi and I spent several hours on one of my favorite race jobs: preparing the runners' duffel bags. Some of our tasks were spraying the individualized name bibs with waterproofing on both sides, organizing the attractive long-sleeved running shirts and fleece jackets by gender and size,  setting up an assembly line of other goodies for the bags, and filling each runner's bag and packet (or packet only, if they opted out of the goody bag) one at a time to be sure they received the proper items and sizes.


Mike puts runner name bibs on stretchy belts. Blue is for the 48-hour race, yellow the 72-hour.

Our last task was organizing the bags in alphabetical order for each of the three races. We had a room full:

 
Duffel bags and packets for the 24- and 72-hour runners; the 48-hour bags are not shown here.
This photo was taken on 12-28-08 when the bags/packets were all ready to be claimed.

Our group, shown in a photo near the beginning of this entry, accomplished so much on Saturday that Rodger and Paul decided to cancel the Sunday work day!

From then until race day Jim and I continued to help Rodger with a myriad of tasks from purely physical to totally cerebral. I was fortunate in that most of the jobs I did produced tangible results, like the runners' bags and ID cards. Jim was frustrated some days because he "didn't have much to show" for what he'd been working on (technological stuff).

Not all the sponsors' items arrived by the work day when Mike and I first assembled the duffel bags. With Rodger's blessing, I pretty much adopted the bags and registration process as my responsibility for the next two weeks, adding in various items two or three at a time as we made or received them. I even gently chided Rodger for taking the time to add the runners' ankle timing chips to the bags one night when I wasn't around (knowing he had more complicated things to do that I couldn't do), but he said it was easiest to do that job as he programmed the chips on the computer. It was one of many tasks he did in the middle of the night as the race approached.

One of the first things Rodger asked Jim to work on was the web cam, which never did work very well in 2007. As with the shower installation, Jim was game to try something new. Rodger showed him a camera he already had and explained that no one he'd consulted, including a professional "Geek Squad," was able to figure out how to make it work properly during the race. He just didn't have the time to deal with it any more.


Jim practices using the web cams along the track on 12-23-08.

Jim loves challenges, especially ones that can be solved. He threw himself into the project, both at Rodger's house and on the internet in our camper. Bear in mind that all of this was completely new to him; he had a lot of basic research and trial-and-error experimentation to do. He searched several stores for new cameras to determine if one might work better than what Rodger had, and ended up buying one he thought might be more suitable for its intended purpose: capturing moving runners at a distance as they circled the track in two directions in a shady location and during the night. It was a lot to ask of a relatively inexpensive web cam

Although this project sometimes frustrated the daylights out of Jim he still had some fun with it. That's his nature. One of his favorite tricks was catching me off-guard. I quickly learned to listen for audible clicks and look where he had the camera aimed so I wasn't caught picking my nose (or worse!) by the camera at an inopportune time. You see, not only could Jim project images on a hidden page on our personal website to see if they were clear, he also had the access code to the "working" ATY website pages so he could project images there. Only a few people like Rodger, Dave, and Lynn had access to those pages, but if they were working on them at the same time, they could see the images from whichever web cam Jim was using. So I had to be sure I wasn't the subject very often!

One day Jim made this sign and put it on the back of his chair for their amusement:

Jim worked on the web cam project with Rodger for two weeks before the race, then consulted with Dave Combs when he arrived for the race. He even stopped during his race a few times to check on the web cams. (It is common for some of the other volunteers/runners to do this. Dave, Christopher O'Loughlin, and Dr. Any Lovy, for example, spend many hours off the course during their 72-hour runs when their timing and medical skills are needed.)

Both web cameras were set up for the race and turned around (if someone remembered to do it) when the runners changed directions. They were hooked up to the same laptop used for the leader board. Various problems -- primarily the changing and low-light conditions, type of cameras, and lack of a fast internet connection at Nardini Manor -- continued to cause problems with the quality of the web cam photos on the internet during the race, so this remains a work in progress for next year. (Jim's determined to solve it.)

Most other jobs we did singly, together, or with the Wrubliks showed more tangible results: e.g., assembling the men's shower; putting the mounts on a 42" flat screen TV and the wooden frame Rodger built to hold it (this was the new screen that showed runners' times and distance each lap); helping to set up medical, aid station, and other tents;


Jim secures the sides of the medical tent to be used by Kachina Rescue during the race.  12-27-08

fixing tents after high winds rearranged them; relocating tables and chairs; hanging signs and banners; labeling the runners' mailboxes (and assembling a new one for the extra runners this year); painting heavy iron supports for additional runners' tables with canopies, cutting holes in the tables for the canopies, and hauling everything to the new "quiet tent" area on the far side of the track; cleaning up that brick-terraced area and hauling out old decorative ironwork, lampposts, and other items; picking up numerous oleander branches Rodger pruned around the property; picking up pine cones in the "forest" area; raking new crushed granite Rodger added to the track after about 4" of rain fell before the race (the rain caused him a lot more work and expense than usual); modifying the medical waivers; talking with runners who arrived early to see the venue so Rodger could continue his work; etc.

IT TAKES A VILLAGE

It was interesting to be involved with these and other tasks. They gave us a broader perspective on some of the details that go into preparing for a race of this stature. Bear in mind, we saw only a very small part of the whole and for a relatively short period of time.

It takes dedicated leadership and a lot of hard work to produce a race of ATY's caliber. No wonder preparations for the 2009 race have begun even before the 2008 race starts!

You can see other pre-race photos on our Picasa site and the ATY Picasa site.

Next entry: show time; greeting the arriving runners

Sue
"Runtrails & Company" - Sue Norwood, Jim O'Neil, Cody, and Tater (in spirit)

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2008 Sue Norwood and Jim O'Neil

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