9 AM Wednesday, December 31. After training for and obsessing about
Across the Years for the past six months, it was
finally my turn to run and walk the next 24 hours.
I'd been chomping at the bit since Monday, when the first large
group of runners began their races, then again on Tuesday when
another smaller group started running. It was fun to watch their
progress and to see the changes on the leader board as runners
moved up or down in the standings in each of the three races.
But I wanted to be out there, too. Those of us running on Day 3
would continue to shake up the standings.
Juli eloquently described in the quote above the experience I
had at ATY when I ran it last year for the first
time. I knew even before I walked off the track that I'd be back
again this year if I made it through the selection process again.
This event is pure magic and we love being a part of it.
WHAT'S THE PLAN?
Like most runners who compete against the course and the
clock and each other at ATY, I wanted to improve on the distance I ran
last year. I wanted to spend less time off the track for
cramping and blister problems. And I wanted to "beat" the
previous F59 single-age ATY distance record of 70+ miles in the 24-hour race.
My training focused on those goals since last spring.
- I ran more tempo runs and repeats to increase my speed. I signed
up for a 50K with a tight time limit so I'd push myself harder. I
practiced various run-walk patterns and longer periods of sustained, easy running
so I could vary my stride, pace, and technique as the race wore on. I
worked diligently on increasing my walking pace.
- I practiced drinking more and taking a higher dose of electrolytes
in training and the three races I ran in the fall
so I could hopefully prevent dehydration and cramping. I got rid of most of the calluses
on my feet and tried different methods of blister control so I'd be less
prone to debilitating blisters during the race.
- And I simply kept my mental focus on ATY as my Big Goal Race. The New
River Trail 50K, Hinson Lake 24-Hour Run, and Sunmart 50K were "just
training runs" to build up my endurance for ATY.
I was very happy last year to reach 75 miles at Across the
Years. That was my goal and I was very happy to reach it,
although I was disappointed that I lost about three hours
off-track dealing with problems that could have been prevented.
It made me wonder how much farther I could have gone if I'd done
When I registered for this year's race in July I decided 90
miles would be a realistic goal if my training continued to go
well. But after hurting one of my hamstrings in mid-October, I
stopped doing speed work so the hamstring could heal. I concentrated more on walking long
and hard so I could return to training faster. I reset my goal for a minimum of 75 miles again. That would
still give me a new F59 ATY record for 24 hours. Anything over that would
be a sweet bonus.
Kari Mastrocola and me after two laps.
I also added another goal for ATY: not to re-injure my
hamstring during the race. I'd gotten up to only the 50K
distance since hurting it. Would it hold up for 75 miles??
Until I stepped onto the track on Day 3 and got "happy feet,"
I considered walking the entire race. Last year I lost a
total of about three hours off the course because of cramping and
blisters. If I could avoid those problems this year by just walking as fast
and as steadily as I could, perhaps I'd
get even more miles than last year simply because I was on the
track every possible minute.
MY "TYPE B" MODUS OPERANDI
I mentioned in the last two entries that Jim and I had very different
strategies for pacing, nutrition, use of the camper, etc. during the
race, not just because he was going to be on the course twice as
long as me but also because of our different experiences and
personalities. He's generally more Type A and I've been trying
to become more Type B the last ten years.
One of the biggest differences was our approach
to the race and how we planned to pace ourselves.
Jim studied the splits of some of the 2007 ATY 48-hour runners who
finished in the range of miles he thought was realistic for
him. He printed out a
pace chart with his best-case scenario times
and distances to shoot for. (He didn't include his moderate,
more realistic splits this time, which was unusual for him.)
He consulted the split chart during the race to compare
how he was doing and recorded his mileage every hour.
also stuck to a more structured run-walk pattern around the
course on the first day, usually running/walking the same
stretches each time.
In some previous hundred-milers I made similar split charts
but I didn't put nearly as much thought into them as Jim did. As
I slowed down the past decade, I just printed the cut-off times
I needed to beat at various aid stations and the finish. Then I
decided even that was too O-C for me! I could memorize
cut-off times. Following a split chart killed the fun of just
going out there and doing the best I could under that race's
particular circumstances. Knowing I was falling behind on a
split chart would have made races even more stressful than they
already were as I morphed from a mid-packer to a back-of-packer.
Occasionally that pressure spurred me to run faster and avoid getting
cut off; more often I was already in my fastest gear and no
amount of internal or external pressure could make me go any faster.
Nick Hollon (L), Tom Pelsor, and French
runner Serge Girard
pass me on the backstretch on Day 3 as I
stop to take their picture.
For ATY last year the most I did ahead of time was determine
that I wanted to run about 45 miles the first twelve hours and
walk 30 miles the second twelve hours. I knew about how many
miles per hour that was, and just watched the lap screens
carefully enough to determine if I was keeping up. If I fell
behind, I'd run a little more on each lap.
My informal Type B "strategy" worked very well last year (despite three
hours off the track), so why not go with the flow again this
I did just that. I ran and walked as I felt. I knew I wanted to
get about 45 miles in the first twelve hours again. I had no
idea if my hamstring would hold out all day and night if I did
any running, so I was very careful once I did begin running to
"listen" closely to my body for any problems. I could live with falling short of my
distance goal if I was overly-cautious and my hamstring and
knees held out, but if either of those body parts failed because
I pushed too hard and had to quit far short of my goal, I would
have been very disappointed.
AND THEY'RE OFF!
I lined up with nineteen other men and women in the
third wave of 24-hour runners on Wednesday morning and waited
for the clock to tick down to exactly 9 o'clock. Jim had
finished his 48-hour run a few minutes earlier and was taking
Third day 24-hour runners get started. I'm
on the right in the black vest and tan pants.
I was calmly excited, if that's possible. Twenty-four hours is a
long time and I knew I needed to walk as long as it took my
muscles to warm up before deciding whether I'd run any of the
race. Others like eventual 24-hour winner Wendell Doman started
off running from the get-go.
I walked the first three 500-meter laps (just short of a mile) with
new friend Kari Mastrocola. I believe she ended up walking the
entire race, accumulating 51+ miles. I love this photo Jim took of Kari and me "in sync" at the end of our
You can see all of my splits at this
link. I'm pleased enough with
the results that I may use it as my pace chart the next time I
do a 24-hour race! (Serious about the first part of that
statement, just joking about the pace chart.)
I walked the first three
laps at a 16+ minute-per-mile pace (4:58 to 5:04
minutes per lap), then just couldn't stand it -- I had to try
some running. My fourth lap was a brisk 3:42, the fastest
lap time I had during the race. I had several of those in the
next four hours. Yes, four hours. I couldn't help myself.
As the temperatures warmed up during the day, so did I. Jim took
this photo of me 28 minutes into the race and I had already
taken off my vest and pants (not sure how I did it so fast,
though -- check my
splits the first five laps).
My Moeben sleeves and long-sleeved shirt came off not long after that; I ran the rest
of the day in my singlet and shorts until I had to start putting
layers back on after supper.
I'm surprised Jim hung out at our aid table as long as he did.
About 9:30 AM he went back to the camper to clean up and take a
nice, long nap. I was on my own for several hours and loving every minute of the
race. He came back out a few times in the afternoon and evening
to watch everyone's progress and take more photos.
I felt great the first four hours of the race as I spontaneously alternated
running and walking. I don't
think I ever ran or walked in the same places around the track except
to walk (and stop frequently) at our aid table close to the
timing mat. But my MO worked well for me. Running felt
wonderful. I had no hamstring twinges or knee pain. All those
stops -- approximately twice every three laps -- at our table were to
sip some Perpetuem, water, and occasionally Hammergel.. I eventually
started carrying a water bottle with me on some laps to save
time, but not
until afternoon when I was only walking and not running.
My laps the first four hours were remarkably consistent. The
longer ones were for fluids and gel, pit stops at the portable
toilets, shedding clothes, or taking photos. I took the camera
with me on three laps between 10 and 1 PM, taking a total of
about two dozen pictures.
Debbie Goodwin, Stephanie Buettner, and
Dennis Drey cross the timing mat in front of me.
I didn't stop at the race aid station at
all until later in the afternoon. I used concentrated Perpetuem
and Hammergel for all my calories until suppertime.
lap prior to 1 PM was only 6:07 minutes. I averaged 14:25
minutes per mile the first four hours and covered over 16 miles.
WALK THIS WAY
At the end of those four hours I was feeling a hot spot above
the bunion on my right big toe. I usually get a blister under
the thick skin on the bunion during ultras so I diligently
ground down the tough callus prior to the race with a PedEgg and had Chris O'Loughlin tape over it when he did my pre-race foot taping
Tuesday night. But now I was getting a sore spot just above that
area, right where the tape stopped.
One of my race goals was to NOT
bother Chris during the race unless it was absolutely necessary to save
my run. So I popped into the Kachina Rescue tent and asked
Andy-the-EMT to add some more tape to that area (he's the guy
who taped Jim's blister). Although a small blister did develop
there later on, I could run and walk OK with it and it didn't
affect my race.
One of the few laps when I didn't stop to
grab a drink at my table (next to bench)
Before the race I had already determined that I'd walk during
the heat of the afternoon, regardless of how well any running
I might be doing was going. I knew I'd be more likely to get dehydrated and mess
up my electrolyte balance if I pushed through the heat like I
did last year. I figured maybe I could avoid any leg cramping by
Lo and behold, it worked! I stuck to that loose "plan" the next
5½ hours. My splits remained fairly
consistent in the 5:06 to 5:40 minute range per
lap except for potty stops, etc. I passed the marathon mark
just before 4 PM and the 50K mark when
they brought out the burritos.
Burritos?! Yum! I couldn't resist
them after eating nothing but Perpetuem and Hammergel all day (and a
small piece of watermelon in the middle of the afternoon).
When one of the Coury brothers
offered me a spicy bean burrito as I passed the aid station
around 5 PM, I accepted. ATY is renowned for its gourmet
suppers. Monday's runners and volunteers got delicious Chicken
Cordon Bleu (there was also a vegetarian alternative but I don't
know what it was). Tuesday's runners could choose from meat or
veggie lasagna. Wednesday's choices were a variety of meat or
bean burritos from mild to spicy. I inadvertently got the
spiciest version but it was so tasty that I asked for a second
one when I saw how well the first one went (and stayed) down.
I WONDER IF I CAN RUN AGAIN?
I thought maybe I'd try running
again when it began cooling off. The temperature drops quickly
in the desert between 4
and 5 PM when the
sun gets low. But now my stomach was full,
so I kept walking until it was dark. I didn't have much hope
that I'd be able to run again, however. It's usually too hard for me
to crank back up to a higher gear after walking for so long.
But check out lap #112 at 6:28
PM: a 4:05 minute 500 meters, the fastest I'd gone
since about noon! Where did that come from?
I surprised myself. Running part of
each lap felt good, so I continued until about 9 PM. It was
twelve hours into the race and I'd reached my first-half goal of
45 miles. My average pace so far was about 16 minutes per mile.
Here's the interesting part. Last
year I reached 45 miles about fifteen minutes earlier than I did
this year, but I was off the track about an hour for cramping
intervention from Chris and Andy. That meant I was going a
faster pace last year -- and trashed my legs. This year I
accomplished almost the same thing but didn't cramp and didn't
wear myself down so much. I did more things "right" this time:
more fluids, more electrolytes, more walking, less running.
Hmmm . . .
I was so focused that I didn't know Jim was taking my
photo! Tim Englund, crewing
for Lisa Bliss, is in the background. He
withdrew from the 48-hour race due to an injury.
At that point I probably could have
continued running but I was more concerned about protecting my
hamstring than pushing the pace. If I walked the rest of the
race as fast as I comfortably could, and didn't lose time for
any major problems, I figured I could crank out at least three miles
each hour -- another 36 miles, which would exceed my goal of 75
miles. When I found myself doing a little more than three
miles each hour, I was ecstatic.
But I'm getting ahead of myself.
Let me go back and talk about some other aspects of the race
before giving away the ending!
WHAT IT'S LIKE OUT THERE ON DAY 3
I mentioned that waiting until the third day to run was hard,
but I think it's my favorite day to run the 24-hour race. There
are several reasons.
By then, almost all of the 72-hour runners are either entirely
or mostly walking.
Some of them are too exhausted to want to carry on conversations
but most are eager for that distraction. I was able to talk to
more folks this year than last, when I ran on the second day. I
even got to know German runner Martina Hausmann better. Last
year she pretty much ignored me; this year we had several
72-hour runners (in yellow bibs) are doing a
lot of walking by Day 3.
L-R: George Nelson, Don Winkley (48-hr.), John
Geesler, Gavin Wrublik
Two of my biggest surprises came during the third night.
it was my first night, I still had a bunch of energy and was
walking a relatively fast clip, at least compared to the pooped
48- and 72-hour runners who'd been out there a lot longer than
me. Not only was I walking faster than some of the elite
runners, imagine my surprise when two of the faster guys in those
races asked if they could pace off me at different times during the night. That was
definitely a first! I enjoyed their company because the track
was pretty deserted and I was still wound up. Not
only were they able to keep moving faster than they might have
without a "pacer," my new role kept me going at a faster clip,
Another advantage of running the third wave of the 24-hour
runners (or in the second wave of the 48-hour race) is being the
"hunter" and not the "hunted." You know how many miles your
competition got and you can see your own name creeping (in my
case) or ratcheting (in Wendell's case) up the leader board.
Since only the top 30 runners' names in the 24-hour race showed up on
the leader board at Nardini Manor (right column in the next photo), it wasn't
until well after dark that I even saw my name on the board.
However, it showed all 48 of us in that race on the website as
the race progressed:
It was a little frustrating until I finally
reached the top 30 in the middle of the night and could watch how I was
gradually "passing" runners from the first two days of the
24-hour race. Then it became great fun to pick off names on the board as
the night wore on! I made my observation about "stalking"
vs being stalked to Rodger when
I saw him at the leader board computer and he laughed. He was
very familiar with the phenomenon but it was my first time
Great fun if you have an ounce of competitive spirit in you.
Another advantage to running the third day this year was that
the track surface was more packed down and had fewer soft spots
on the edges than the first two days. Rodger spent an awful lot
of time and money widening and relocating the track in November
and December. Then four times the normal amount of rain fell in the
two weeks before the race and he literally had to put on several
more tons of
crushed granite. He did the absolute best he could to perfect
the surface before the race but some runners didn't like how
"spongy" it was. That probably wouldn't have bothered me on Days
1 or 2 because it would have felt good on my aging joints.
Two other advantages to running the
third day are being on the course during the New Year's Eve
celebration and being smack dab in the middle of all the excitement
at the end of the race on Thursday morning.
THE NEW YEAR COMES
FIRST IN EUROPE
There are always several runners
from other countries at ATY. This year participants came from 26
states and four other countries. All the "foreign" runners were
in the 72-hour race. (That makes sense: you probably
wouldn't travel three states away for a 5K race, but you would
for a marathon.) Germany led the foreign contingent with four
runners (Martina Hausmann, Heike Pawzik, Dagmar Grossheim, and
Achim Heukemes). William Sichel (and his paid handler) flew from
Scotland, Serge Girard and his crew from France, and Paul
Chenery from Canada.
German runner Heike Pawzik (bare midriff), Steve Papp
and Juli Aistars (foreground), all 72-hour
runners, on Day 1
Heike (pronounced Hi-KE') was a
trip! We had a delightful conversation in broken English on
Sunday when she checked in. On the first day she was cheerfully chatting it
up with everyone on the track, and with me taking photos on the
night, however, she was quite upset about the big tent not being
warm soon after the sun went down. When she came out to return
to the track, I was the first person associated with the race
that she saw so she took it out on me verbally. (That's when I
learned that the heaters aren't turned on until about 9 PM.
Otherwise, the propane runs out and the tent cools off too early
in the morning. Paul, Rodger, or other volunteers have to take
the tanks out every day to refill them at a gas station up the
That was also the only time I saw
Heike in a bad mood. On Day 2 she posed for photos and spoke
nicely to me again when I saw her going around the track. On Day
3 when I shared the track with her she was in great
spirits and called me "Super Sue" every time one of us passed
the other. I never saw her take the race in a deadly serious
manner like Martina Hausmann, yet she placed 10th overall in the
race with 200 miles.
I re-learned two things from this
and other experiences at ATY: the 72-hour runners go
through more of a gamut of emotions than the other runners
during the course of the race, and runners tend to think that
volunteers have more power than they really do.
Aaron Sorenson (L) puts out his hand to
fellow 72-hour competitor
William Sichel (foreground) from Scotland
during the 1 PM turnaround on the track.
Anyway, being as Ameri-centric as I
am, I didn't even think about the New Year arriving in Europe
eight hours earlier than in Arizona! At 4 PM other runners
started wishing Heike and Martina a Happy New Year and it dawned
on me. Heike was on a cell phone talking to someone at home. An
hour later several of us wished Scot runner William Sichel a Happy New Year;
he was pleased that the other runners were thinking of him. The
Europeans had their own little celebrations that afternoon but
happily joined in the bigger celebration that began at 11:45 PM
LET THE PARTY BEGIN!
One of the reasons I wanted to run
the third day this time was missing the New Year's Eve party last year. I slept
through most of it. I blamed Jim for not waking me up in time (I
had finished my race that morning and was sound asleep) but it
was really my own fault for not setting my alarm. Jim was out
helping Rodger and Paul get ready for the celebration and he
didn't want to disturb me because he knew I was tired..
Well, I pretty much blew it again
this year. One of my goals for the 2009 race (if we get in
again) is to do the New Year's Eve celebration right!
Late Wednesday night volunteers
started tying out colorful balloons and setting up tables for
the party hats, favors, champagne, and cider. Music was blaring
from the festively-lit gazebo under the pine trees that tower
over the track. Other volunteers were preparing
dozens of fireworks in the fields surrounding Nardini Manor.
Even the aid station volunteers got into the spirit of things:
Looks like the volunteers got into the
Jim came back out to enjoy the
festivities and to celebrate the New Year with me. I wasn't sure
what the drill was, so I kept on going around the track until
very close to midnight. I was more focused on getting miles than
stopping to party. That was a mistake I regret. Although Jim and
I briefly celebrated both the New Year at midnight and our
eighth wedding anniversary at 12:01 AM, I forgot about
the traditional group walk around the track as the fireworks are
To give you an idea of how focused
I was, I asked Jim to take photos of the
fireworks; I didn't even want to take an extra minute or
two to take pictures! I continued walking around the track with
just a few of the other runners who were as focused on miles as
me. I was walking too fast for Jim to keep up after his 48-hour
run. I should have waited and walked with Jim and most of the
other runners slowly around the track as the fireworks went off
in sync with the location of the group.
I was able to enjoy the fireworks
but didn't have the camera with me -- or Jim. He was so tired he
went on back to the camper and missed the grand finale. I'm so
sorry I inadvertently ruined that experience for the two of us.
Sometimes you can be too focused on
the Big Goal and miss out on some of life's treasured moments.
I'll do it right next time.
A LITTLE NIGHT MAGIC
Despite that screw-up, I had an
amazing night on the track. I love running or walking at night
on mountain trails. It's even magic for me on a well-lit track.
The sky was clear, the stars bright
with only a sliver of moon. I was moving fast enough to stay
warm, eating enough hot soup from the aid station and drinking
enough Perpetuem to stay energized, and having fun with the more
lucid runners who came and went throughout the night. Most
seemed glad to have some distracting conversations to help them
stay awake and moving steadily. I left the ones alone who I
sensed needed quiet or who had on headphones.
I said "good job" a lot to
encourage the 72-hour runners, especially. I am in awe of their
tenacity. I can't even imagine being out there for two
days, let alone three. Twenty-four hours was just right for me.
Like last year, I never once even considered going into the
camper, not because Jim was asleep and I didn't want to disturb
him but because I had no reason to go in. I had everything I needed at my table or
at the race's aid station.
Runners make their selections at the aid
station during the night
Caffeine from my favorite flavors
of coffee, espresso Hammergel, a couple bottles of Starbucks
frapuccino, and chocolate-covered coffee beans kept me wide
awake throughout the night. I didn't start to feel drowsy until
the end of the awards ceremony on Thursday morning when everyone
left to go home. As usual, I didn't do any caffeine withdrawal
before the race because I'm pretty sensitive to the stuff and
don't need much to keep me wired.
I reached the 100K mark at 2:25
AM, almost 17½ hours into the race. Although most of my group of
24-hour runners were on the track all night, many of the 48- and
72-hour runners were taking longer breaks to sleep.
I noticed a definite increase in
the number of runners back on the track starting about 5 AM. The
roosters had been crowing for a while, but the sun wasn't up
yet. The runners knew they had only a few hours left to get more
Still smiling at night (caffeine helps)
I reached my "realistic" goal of 75
miles at 6:47 AM, earlier than I reached that distance
last year. I was elated because I was still feeling good
and had a little more than two hours left in the race. Yes!! I calculated
that I should be able to walk
another seven miles if I could keep up my current pace.
Eighty-two miles would be great!
By then, however, my left heel was
starting to hurt from the second blister I developed during the
race. This one was under the tape on my foot.
Two laps later I sat at my table
and took a few minutes to remove my gaiters, two pairs of socks,
and the extra-wide Asics 2130 road shoes I'd worn the entire
race so I could inspect my heel.
I couldn't feel or see a blister to
pop so I tried something I'd done only a few times previously on short
training runs or walks: I swapped the Asics shoes for the
very comfortable Keen Venice H2 sandals I had at my aid table to
wear after the race. I was reminded of sandals after seeing Ulli
Kamm walking in a different kind during the night, and Rick Cheever, Martina Hausmann, and other 72-hour runners wearing
Crocs after their running shoes became too uncomfortable:
Keeping our feet happy: (L-R) my Keens
(pink = ankle timing chip), Ulli's sandals, Rick's Crocs
I wore the Keens over the same Injinji
socks and Smartwool over socks I'd been wearing for 22 hours;
they were fairly clean because I'd also been wearing Dirty Girl
gaiters throughout the race. You can see the sandals in the next
three photos Jim took of me during the last 90 minutes of the
I was a bit concerned about picking
up grit from the track in the sandals but I had to empty them
only a couple times in the remaining two hours. The sandals were
comfortable and I just kept on truckin'.
Good morning, sunshine! Another runner (foreground L)
and me (in brown jacket, Keen sandals, and still smiling) on New Year's morning
By the time Jim came out about 7:30
AM on New Year's Day the sun was up and almost all of the
runners scheduled to still be running were back on the track. It
was amazing to watch some of the folks who'd looked like zombies
a few hours earlier . . . now practically sprinting
around the track! What a finish surge some of them had! Even
John Geesler, who was reduced to a painful limp the last two
days, was running at the end. I'll talk about some of the more
interesting finishes in the next entry.
My own finish was less exciting than some but
quite satisfying to me.
How many more laps can I go in 31 minutes??
My smile looks more strained now!
I made a math error and determined
with three or four laps to go that I'd just miss reaching 82
miles. That disappointed me. Even 81.9 miles would have
exceeded my goal of 75 miles by a bunch but 82 just sounded
better! It wasn't until I crossed the timing mat on the 264th
lap at 8:55:29 AM and walked over to the lap
screen that I knew I'd run just over 82 miles, not under.
I stopped and let a volunteer
remove my timing chip. I couldn't realistically walk a 4:31
minute lap at that point and I didn't think I could run enough
to finish the whole lap. Partial laps don't count. I didn't want
to expend the effort to get around the loop one more time and
come up a few seconds short, all for naught. I wasn't so
math-challenged that I couldn't figure that one out!
Only 9+ minutes left
I happily hugged Jim and watched
the rest of the runners as they finished their final lap. My
race was over and I had more than exceeded my goal. I'd moved up
the leader board to finish in 16th place out of 48 finishers in
my race -- the top third -- and later realized I was the oldest
female in any of the races this year.
But just wait until you
ages of the first females in the 72-, 48-, and 24-hour
races at ATY this year!
Next entry: triumphs and
tributes -- more about the finish on New Year's Day (an event in
itself), the awards buffet, and some interesting stories from
"Runtrails & Company" - Sue Norwood, Jim O'Neil, Cody, and
Tater (in spirit)
© 2008 Sue Norwood and Jim O'Neil