2009 ULTRA RUNNING ADVENTURES

 

   
 
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  THE ARR 24-HOUR RUN TO THE FUTURE RACE,
PART 2: RACE DAYS

FRIDAY, JANUARY 1, 2010

 
"Got any pictures of me running, or am I walking in all of them?"
 
~ Jim, as I was writing this entry
 
 
Yes, he's running in some of them! He ran less and walked more as the race progressed but I photographed him running several times. As at ATY and Hinson Lake, he had certain places on the loop that he'd run and others where he'd walk. I showed a map of Victory Lane Sports Complex and talked about the configuration and surface of the race's 1K course in the last entry.

This entry will primarily focus on Jim's and my experience during the race. Although I'll occasionally mention some of the other runners and volunteers, it's not a generic report. If you want to cut to the chase, you can find pictures of other runners on our Picasa photo-sharing site and final results on the race website.

GOOD MORNING, SUNSHINE!

You know what the best part is about the rare ultra that begins at the civil hour of 9AM?

Getting to sleep later, of course! We usually get up about 7:30. It's a real effort to get our butts out of bed at 2:30AM for a 4AM race start. Even a 6AM start is tough on us. 9AM is just perfect, especially when we have to walk only a few hundred feet to the start!

I wasn't needed for aid station set up or packet pickup the morning of the race so about 8:15 we moseyed over to the aid station to get Jim's race number, timing chip, and race shirt. The attractive race logo is on both the entrants' shirts and finishers' sweatshirts:

Volunteers also received the same t-shirts. 

Thirty-nine entrants were listed on the website prior to the race. On race morning, another three runners registered. Apparently a couple of people either didn't show up or ran only a few miles and weren't counted in the final results, which lists only forty runners. Jim was happy to place 18th overall at the end.

After Jim signed in we soon spotted one of our ultra buddies, Anne Watts:

We wandered around, socializing with folks and seeing how the timing area and aid station were laid out. It was good to see so many familiar faces from previous ATY races were supporting the new race by running and/or volunteering. RD Steven Finkelstein, volunteer coordinator Sandra Fontaine, course certifier and all-around great assistant Frank Cuda, and the Coury family worked many hours to make the race a success. Returning runners we know included Matt Watts, Christopher O'Loughlin, Mike Chiorazzi, Burke Painter, June Gessner, Eric Pence and his son Ethan, Rose and Steve Papp, Stephanie Buettner, Deborah Goodwin, and Rick Cheever. It was fun to see the ever-smiling Paul Grimm, who we last saw at the Grand Teton Races, and to get reacquainted with Debbie and Dave Jacobs-Robinson and Gary Cross.

The people. That's what we like the most about a race like this that doesn't offer gorgeous mountain scenery! Short loop courses have the advantage (or disadvantage, in some cases) of being much more social in nature.

Above and below:  RD Steve Finkelstein rarely left the timing area during the race. With chip timing
and WIFi, he was able to post accurate results hourly to the internet and folks at the race.

At 8:45AM Steven and Sandra conducted the pre-race briefing, giving the runners and crews more details about the chip timing, food and beverage selection during the race, and other valuable information to enhance their race experience.

Steven explained that every two hours runners would reverse direction, which reduces the stresses on their bodies on a short-loop course and provides more visual variety. The drill at Run to the Future was similar to ATY, with runners being turned around at the timing mat the next time they reached the clock after each two-hour segment ended.

I always liked those turns at ATY. They signified progress and it was fun to meet other runners face on for part of a lap every two hours.


Runners listen during the pre-race briefing.  L-R:  Matt and Anne Watts,
Jim, Debbra and Dave Jacobs-Robinson (yes, there are two "b's" in Debbra)

As the clock clicked toward 9AM runners casually lined up behind the timing mat for their first CCW loop. Jim, wearing a black jacket and the number 6, is talking with Matt in the photo below:

Below-the-knee amputee and runner extraordinaire Amy Palmiero-Winters is in the foreground of that photo in the red shirt. Wait'll you see what an incredible race this young lady ran!!!

Promptly at 9AM the race began. Jim had a smile on his face then and every other time he saw me with the camera! There would be times over the next 24 hours when he was not having fun, however.

DAY 1: JIM'S RACE

As usual, Jim prepared a pace chart before this race. He didn't use it, however; this time he pretty much ran and walked as he felt, just trying to get in as many miles as possible before succumbing to fatigue and/or pain.

Because of a chronic case of plantar faciitis that began in July, Jim's training has been very limited since running 55 miles at Hinson Lake in mid-September. He took several weeks off running entirely, then recently logged several 40-mile weeks in preparation for Run to the Future. He gradually built his long runs up to 15 miles, being careful not to strain his foot. Fortunately, during the race his PF was not a problem.


Early in the race, Jim runs up the little hill toward the aid station. He and many of the other
runners soon started walking that hill each time they were going in the CCW direction.

The weather for this race was about as good as it gets, at least for the runners, with sunshine both days and temperatures ranging from the mid-40s to the mid-60s. It was a far cry better than the freezing temperatures and precip at the Freedom Park 24-hour race being run concurrently in North Carolina. We were real glad to be where we were!

A breeze on Thursday made everyone chilly at the start of the race but soon many of the runners were taking off their jackets and long-sleeved shirts as they and the ambient temperature warmed up. After about an hour Jim took off his jacket and ran until sunset with his white Bighorn shirt:


Jim in mid-morning the first day of the race -- nice smile = still having fun

By mid-afternoon, he was feeling the heat but he kept on his long-sleeved shirt to prevent sunburn (he's a former red-head). The breeze helped, as did lots of fluids and electrolytes in the arid climate.

Four or five hours into the race, Jim was still going strong but starting to feel the effects of the distance and heat:

 

 

It was easy to keep up with his progress by checking the list that Steven posted hourly or getting online at the race website, if I was in the camper:

I didn't begin recording his times, distances, and overall place until noon, three hours into the race. His split at 2hr53min was 12.56 miles. He was in in 28th place out of 40 runners.

After that, I was out on the course and busy with the aid station and didn't check the standings again until 8PM. By then Jim had moved up four places and had covered 40.75 miles in 10hr58min.


Running strong several hours into the race

Because the aid station was well-stocked with foods and fluids Jim likes, he used very little of his own supplies that he'd stashed in our truck close to the course. He drank Heed, water, Coke, and caffeinated coffee (overnight and the second morning) and grazed from the sweet and salty snacks provided. He also had several cheese quesadilla quarters that the Coury brothers were preparing for lunch, two servings of lasagna and breadsticks for supper, and two pieces of pizza late in the evening. He didn't consume any gels during this race.

Jim's energy was fairly consistent throughout most of the race. He kept his fluid, calorie, and electrolyte levels just about right for the conditions, which is a tricky thing to do in ultras because of all the variables.


Nathan Coury replenishes drinks as Jim approaches the aid station in the middle of the afternoon.

I was able to move around and take photos, crew for Jim, talk with Anne, and check the results periodically on our computer for the first five hours of the race. My shift in the aid station lasted from about 2-6PM. It was fun to work with the Courys, Ron (above, in dark shirt and hat), and the other dedicated volunteers.

This race was casual enough that crews were able to run or walk with their runners periodically. Jim didn't really need pacing but I needed exercise -- so I joined him for at least 5K (five laps) after dinner as the sun was setting. I think that helped keep his spirits up as his body and mind naturally began to crave some rest.

A few clouds reflected beautiful pinks and yellows as the sun set (above) and the "blue moon" rose:

The course was lit well enough from the moon and lights around the Victory Lane ball fields that most of the runners didn't carry any lights during the night.

Frank Cuda thoughtfully placed dozens of little battery-operated luminaries along the entire loop to further define the course after dark. You can see them in the two photos above. I thought that was a very special touch.

Runners started bundling up and slowing down as the sun set. The desert can feel chilly within a few minutes at dusk, even in the summer. Mercifully, the breeze died down overnight and early on Friday morning so the wind chill wasn't a problem as it sometimes is. The temperature got down to only about 44F. Some runners were going fast enough they didn't even wear long sleeves.

Between 8 and 11PM Jim moved up from 24th to 22nd place overall. Fourteen hours into the race (~11PM), he had run 50.34 miles. Quite honestly, I was surprised he was still going (because of his lack of training, not any lack of gumption).

HAPPY NEW YEAR!

We wondered what would happen as the midnight hour approached.

New Year's Eve is a big deal at ATY, complete with champagne, party hats, noisemakers, and lots of fireworks set off in the fields surrounding Nardini Manor as most of the race participants walk around the 500-meter loop together to ring in the new year. We didn't expect that kind of extravaganza at Run to the Future for various reasons (lower budget, more urban venue, etc.), especially after we learned that fireworks are not allowed in Maricopa County without a permit.

I went out on the course again with Jim a little after 11PM and walked several laps with him. We passed the aid station about 11:55 and probably should have stopped to wait for the celebration. We aren't party people, though, so we kept on going to stay warm and to have our own little private, quiet celebration of our 9th anniversary (we said our marriage vows right after the clock struck midnight on 01-01-01).

Funny thing was, we kept telling people we'd been married for eight years, both of us forgetting that it was now 2010 and not 2009! Talk about math-challenged . . . Both my brother and a friend reminded us of the correct number. Too funny!

From the far side of the course we could hear the runners and volunteers cheering as the clocks struck 12 midnight. We could also see renegade fireworks going off in the distant neighborhoods surrounding Victory Lane. The race did provide participants with champagne and party favors, but no fireworks.


Fireworks from ATY 2008

That's OK. We got to see some anyway!

After that, Jim went into the camper to get warm and take stock of his condition. Of course, doing that was like getting sucked into a vortex! He was tired and sleepy and told me before the race began that he'd probably sleep a few hours during the night unless he was having a fantastic run. I think he was up to about 54 miles at that point and I figured that's about all he'd get unless he forced himself to return to the track for an hour or two before 9AM. I was wrong!

While changing socks Jim discovered a large blister at the end of one big toe. It didn't hurt (sure looked like it would to me!) but he drained it and put on new socks. Earlier he'd morphed from Asics 2140 trail shoes to 2140 road shoes; he put a larger pair of those on when he returned to the track five hours later.

Jim crawled into bed in his running clothes and tried to sleep. He was tossing and turning so much from what we call "twitchy leg syndrome" that he soon moved down to the camper couch so he didn't disturb me. He was warm enough under two fleece blankets but couldn't get comfortable there, either.

Finally about 5AM he returned to the race and gutted out another four hours on the course. He figured if he couldn't sleep, he may as well get back out there and walk as many more miles as possible.

THAT LOVELY SECOND SUNRISE

Although it's always heartening when the sun rises on the second morning of a long race, Jim was not having much fun those last five hours. He hurt.


The full moon sets over Victory Lane as the second sunrise subtly colors the sky.

Oddly enough, it wasn't his plantar faciitis flaring up. It was a completely different over-use injury -- or maybe not, since it was on the same leg as the foot with PF. Perhaps they are related.

Early in the race Jim started having problems with one of his shins.He hasn't had shin splints -- if that's what it is -- for a long time. The pain subsided fairly soon the first morning but returned with a vengeance when he returned to the race the second morning.

I didn't hear Jim go out the camper door around 5AM. In fact, I was sleeping so soundly with ear plugs that I didn't wake up until my normal time of 7 or 7:30. I was surprised when I went downstairs and saw that Jim was gone! I quickly turned the computer on and discovered that at 7AM Jim had moved up in the standings from 22nd place at 11PM to 18th place, with almost 63 miles. By 7:52AM (22nr52min) he had reached 65.32 miles. Good job, honey!

After getting some coffee and feeding/walking Cody, I went out to the race course to wait for Jim to come around:

Good morning, Sunshine! Despite his shin pain, Jim had a big smile for Cody and me again:

He stopped to give me a kiss and talk for just a bit. That's when I found out about his shin pain; ibuprofen and self-massage with The Stick weren't helping much. Jim asked for a couple prescription painkillers in the camper and some of my hot Cafe Vienna coffee to perk him up during the last hour.

I went back inside the camper to grab the meds and make a cup of coffee for each of us, then joined him for a couple more laps around the course. That's when Nick Coury got this photo of us walking together near the timing mat with just twelve minutes to go:

Jim had been walking each 1K loop in about eleven minutes so he knew he'd better hustle to get back before the race ended at 9AM. I walked half the last lap with him, encouraging him to run a little bit. Halfway around the loop I ran a tangent through the middle of Victory Lane to get into position for one final shot as he completed his last loop:

He made it with a couple minutes to spare and quickly found the nearest place to sit down to watch the remaining runners come in!

Here RD Steven Finkelstein removes his timing chip:

At the Hinson Lake 24-hour race, runners may choose to go out for a partial lap when the time is almost up and that additional distance can make a difference in how they place. At both Across the Years and Run to the Future, partial laps don't count; there's no point in continuing on if you can't complete the last loop before the deadline.

Jim's final tally was a commendable 68.92 miles, which I round up to 69 miles. In fact, if you count all the times he went to the bathroom, to the truck, and over to our camper, he did over 70 miles during that 24 hours.

I think that's remarkable, considering his lack of training and a five-hour nap! He's happy with it, too.

We had fun watching the final runners come in, some running strong, some walking with big grins on their faces. Gary Cross made a good show of limping in last to the finish, garnering both laughs and applause. The laughs weren't mean; Gary didn't look near that bad when I saw him five minutes earlier! I think it was mostly a performance for his audience.

Within a few minutes Jim was up and moving around. We found the Watts nearby and talked with them as we waited for the awards ceremony:

Sub sandwiches and other munchies were provided to the runners and volunteers post-race:

After Steven posted the final results on the wall for those at the race, and on the internet for everyone else, he conducted the awards ceremony. Runners were called up from last to first and given a finishers' medal and sweatshirt with the same race logo as the t-shirt:

Different medals were awarded to the top three men and women overall and the top three male and female masters (over age 40) finishers; there was no duplication of awards.

Check here for complete results for the forty runners who completed at least the ultra marathon distance (anything over 26.2 miles). You can also find each runner's splits on the ARR website. 

EXCEED YOUR EXPECTATIONS

I commented in the last entry that this race exceeded our expectations. Some of the runners met or exceeded their personal expectations, too. I'll mention only a few of their stories here:

  • Twelve-year-old Ethan Pence completed almost 51 miles (his father Eric, almost 72). Last year at ATY Ethan ran about 40 miles so he set his goal a little higher this time -- and met it. How many 12-year-old boys do you know with the focus to train and run/walk 50 miles??

  • Debbra (Debbie) Jacobs-Robinson, age 58 and the oldest woman in the race, ran and walked almost 87 miles, placing 9th overall and first female masters. Prior to this event Debbie has run only one race as long as 50 miles. She calls herself an "ultra novice" and says she doesn't know if she's hooked on ultras yet. Ha! After a performance like that, I'm guessing she's hooked!

  • Our buddy Matt Watts seemed happy with his almost-105 miles; he placed fifth overall and was 2nd over age 50. He looked strong the entire race:


Anne Watts (center) walks with her husband, Matt (L)
and Debbra Jacobs-Robinson (R) near the end of the race.

  • Zach Gingerich led most of the race but stopped at 114 miles around 3AM and didn't return to the course.  

  • That allowed Paul Grimm to move into second place overall with 116 miles. Zach ended up third. Although George Biondic had the same mileage as Zach, he was fourth because it took him several hours longer to reach the same distance.

  • The overall winner was Amy Palmiera-Winters with 130.4 miles. That's exactly the distance she needed to (probably) quality for the last spot on the US women's team for the world 24-hour race in France in May. Amy ran a consistent race, stopping with 12 or 13 minutes to go. It was obvious she was struggling the last few laps but she kept a steely resolve and continued running until she met her goal. She promptly sat down and didn't get up until after the awards! She graciously stayed nearby, though, and talked with folks after the race.


Amy Palmiera-Winters shows her steely determination in the final hour of the race.

Oh, by the way . . . Amy is a below-the-knee amputee. She was a track and field star in high school. She severely injured her leg in a motorcycle accident in 1994, when she was in her early 20s. After numerous surgeries and years of physical therapy, she's back at the top of her game. She was first female at the Heartland 100 run in October and is one of the few US women who has run over 130 miles in 24 hours. She should be an excellent representative for our country at the worlds in Europe.

Amy's goal is to inspire all athletes, not just ones with disabilities, to exceed their expectations. I think she's a shining example of that.

POST-RACE THOUGHTS

Jim is pleased with his results, considering his lack of training the past three months as he's tried to rest and heal his plantar fascia. He doesn't think he aggravated that problem, although he developed a new one: a very sore and probably inflamed shin. Let's hope it heals faster than PF. He's massaging and icing his shin, although both treatments hurt like heck right now. The one blister he got is a non-issue.

Other than the shin pain, he seemed to do everything right during the race -- kept his energy fairly steady, maintained a decent pace throughout the day and evening, continually moved up in the standings, took a nap to get re-energized, and gave it a go again in the morning for another five hours when it would have been a lot easier to stay in the warm camper. He even had fun much of the time!

That's why we do these things, isn't it? To have fun? Sometimes it's hard to remember . . . 


Nate and Nick Coury know how to have fun, whether they're running ultras themselves or
working hard at an aid station and cheering on the runners, as they did at Run to the Future.

I had fun most of the time, too, although my help wasn't needed as much as at ATY. That gave me more time to crew for Jim, cheer on the other runners, take photos, and watch folks' miles accumulate hour after hour.

Did I regret not being out there myself? Nope! I probably would have if it was ATY, but I know I wasn't trained for an ultra and shouldn't be running/walking that many miles on these knees now anyway. It was a nice event, but I'm happier that my last ultra race was at Hinson Lake and not RTTF.

We both hope that ATY will resume at the end of 2010. Jim can run and I'll crew and work. If ATY is still on hiatus then, turned over to another RD, or done forever after 25 years, Jim can make the decision whether to do Run to the Future again. The event was better than we'd expected . . . but for us, nothing can take the place of ATY.

Thanks again to Steven Finkelstein and Crew for organizing RTTF. They did a great job on short notice.

Next entry (in the 2010 journal): more running and travel adventures in Arizona and Texas

Happy New Year!

Sue
"Runtrails & Company" - Sue Norwood, Jim O'Neil, and Cody the Ultra Lab

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