Sunday, January 7, 2018

Loops, Tamales, and Friends: Across The Years 2017 Race Report

Is it possible to run 64 miles and gain weight? Yeah. It is, if you are at an Aravaipa Event.

I just noticed I said "run" there. Strikes me as odd that we always say run, when a lot of the time I see people (especially me) walking in longer races. I guess the sport is running, and in training I run almost exclusively, which will actually bite me in the ass- more on this later, so the proper verb could be run. I've seen "motivated", "locomoted", "migrated"... Oh well, tomato\tomato. I traveled a long way on my feet.

My follow-up to CIM was Aravaipa's Across The Years 48 hr endurance race. This was my "A" race all year, thanks to Cory Reese writing about it extensively. I figured that it was an easy way to get my feet wet in ultramarathons, due to the fact that it is a one-mile looped course, that you can stop and rest, eat, sleep, or poop any time you want in relative comfort, and that one of my coaches, Andy Noise, has over 1000 miles at this particular race. Or maybe I chose him because of the race... Meh, not important. The idea is to go as far as you can in 24, 48, or 72 hours. There is even a six-day option if you are a real glutton for punishment. The race is held at Camelback Ranch, outside of Phoenix, which is the spring training facility for the Dodgers and White Sox. I was originally scheduled to start on the 30th, as I would have then been on the course at Midnight on New Years Eve, which is supposed to be pretty special, but I could not get New Years Eve off from work, so I slid back to the 28th start. This concept, in itself, is pretty great. People are starting different "time-distances" every morning, so there are fresh smiles and excitement hitting the course every morning at 9 am for their 24, or 48, or 72 hour run. Pro tip: rent a tent and cots, instead of bringing your own. Nobody wants to tear down camp after running for a day or six. Aravaipa sets it up and tears it down for you. You just show up and move in, and when done, pack up your gear and leave. The two-cot tents are big enough for a cot on each side, a folding chair in between, and most of your gear strewn about. Tent rental with two cots was $108 for the duration of the event this year. A bargain. Coach Andy slept in the communal "heated" tent, and said that he was not warm...

I spent weeks packing for this event, as I didn't know what to expect. I knew that Phoenix could be hot during the day, and freezing cold at night. So, I basically took everything I own. My 16-year-old son, Cameron and I loaded it all into my SUV, and hit the road at 4:30 am on 12/26 for the eleven hour drive to Phoenix.

When we rolled into Glendale about 4:30 pm, the Aravaipa truck was just backed in, and beginning to unload. Not a lot to see, so we just headed to our hotel and chilled for the evening. Comfort Suites is just down the road from Cameback Ranch, and was only $89 for the night. There is a Denny's in the parking lot, and gas stations on each corner. There is a CVS across the street from Camelback itself, an easy walk if you forget something. So, you are in civilization- and pretty nice civilization at that. This is a pretty new area, so everything is still nice and new and clean.

Headed over to the venue the next day, early, as I couldn't contain my excitement. Check in began at 2 pm, but we got over there around noon. Picked out our tent, hauled gear from the car to stage by the tents, and then helped with setup. Placing tents, building cots, anything that needed done. At 2, I was finally able to go officially check in and begin setting up camp. This was actually going to happen!

Coach Andy flew in a bit later, and after helping him get settled, we headed to Denny's (again) for dinner, and settled in pretty early. Well, my son desperately needed to see this Super Target that he had heard about, so we drove 20 minutes each way to check it out. It was pretty super... And then we settled in. It was cold in the tent. A sleeping bag and blankets kept my body warm, but I was leaking heat out the top of my head, and was too cold to get up and go outside to the table where my gear bins were to get a beanie. Then I remembered that I had purchased the ATY goodie bag this year, and there was an amazingly warm ATY beanie in the bag under my cot. Problem solved. Well, at least until I needed to pee. The short walk to the super-clean, lighted porta-johns became a lot longer in the cold of night.

That Orange Porta-John may not seem that far away, but in actuality, it's about a 42 mile walk...

Up the next morning, dressed in tights, shorts, t-shirt, and pullover, beanie, maybe even a Thermoball. This lasted all of three laps, max. It felt cold when I got up, but we warmed up quickly. I wore my Brooks Cascadias, as the majority of the course is decomposed granite, and I have always loved the shoes. There is a section of asphalt, and a section of small pebbles that have just been refreshed. This section became everyone's nemesis, I believe, as most people I saw swung up onto the side of the path to try to avoid it. It was a bit like running in deep, loose sand, where a lot of your momentum is absorbed by your feet sliding out from under you. Tough to make progress, and it contributed a lot to a massive hotspot on the ball of my feet, even though I had pre-taped. Since the DG sections kick up a ton of tiny pebbles, gaiters are a blessing. I saw people without, but as "the guy who always has a rock in his shoe", even on road runs, I found that my gaiters were a lifesaver. Got mine here  on Etsy, cheap and effective. I ended up changing into my Hoka Cliftons about mile twenty, just to give my feet a fresh perspective. This was another strategy that I will use in the future. I brought several changes of clothes and used them all. It was a real mental boost for me to change into soft, dry clothes every few hours. This is another luxury afforded by having your tent right next to the course. Want new socks? No problem, swing in next lap and change. Don't like those shoes you thought were going to feel great at mile 50? Change 'em! (I actually put my Cascadia's back on on day two, and made it about fifty feet down the course, and turned around, walked back my tent, and changed back to my Hoka's. The Cascadia's felt like cardboard at that point.) Aside from a couple of blisters, and the aforementioned hot spot, the Hoka's were amazing- even new. As they break in, I think they will be my new go-to shoes. Sorry ASICS, you should have stopped jacking with the Nimbus, and I would still be buying them.

Break in your shoes!

I had been told by Cory, Andy, and others, to take it easy for the first 24 hours, to save some for day two. So, I walked. Coach Andy and I ripped off ten quick miles, walking at about 15:00 pace. I remember thinking "well, that was easy, just have to do that nine more times to hit 100 miles". I wish that were the case. I was on my feet for a LONG time, and seemed to be not making a ton of progress. My marathon time for the day was 7:44. Now, that is a 31-ish hour 100 miler, which is totally doable, and affords you plenty of time for rest, eating, etc. But, I think my specific issue was that I had done almost no walking in training, and I was using muscle groups that I had not trained. Thus, 12 hours in, I was feeling it. My Achilles was screaming at me, my right IT band was tight down my thigh, and my lower back was wrecked. I got to 34 or so miles, and decided that I had had enough for the day. My first 50K!

I could have gone on. Taken a short break, foam-rolled out some kinks, got some dinner, and got back out there. But, I had never gone this far before, and I had to work on New Years. I was extremely anxious that I would not be able to walk, would not be able to work, and would be in deep trouble at work. I had no idea what to expect. My Achilles was also troubling. It gets really sore, and although it rebounds quickly when I stop, there is always this voice in my head that is telling me it's going to pop one of these days. So, I decided that stopping was the wiser choice. We grabbed a bag of Epsom Salts at CVS, and headed to the hotel- where I was dismayed to find that my $89 room had gone up to $169. Oh well, money well spent for a hot bath, and warm bed.

Woke up about 7:30 the next morning, and my first thought was: "I've gone farther than I ever have before. I could just go pack up the car and head home." I'd get some rest before having to go to work, my son wouldn't be bored anymore.. Life would be good. But then I realized that we had driven a long way to do this. That I had trained hard. That I don't often get the opportunity to run for as long as I want, guilt-free, with no familial obligations. So, I slid out of bed, took a nice, hot shower, got dressed, and slipped out of the room. My son could Uber over when he woke up, so I let him sleep. I hit the course at 8:30, and did some running. Not fast, just using "running form" and not "walking form". I was stiff enough that walking was miserable, but I could run with no problem. I ripped off 15 miles in the 11 to 13 min/mile range, and felt pretty good! Day two was considerably faster than day one. I did another 50K in 7:43, and decided that 100K was a good accomplishment, and wrapped for the day.

The next morning, I was walking over to turn in my chip, and couldn't do it. I didn't want to leave. I ended up making another lap in my comfy On Cloud shoes, no socks, in the clothes that I slept in. I took it nice and slow, took lots of pictures, tried to absorb all that I could on that final lap and commit it to memory. I had spent 48 hours wishing this pain was over, and now that it was, I didn't want it to end. Even the next couple of days, as I saw updates on Facebook from other runners still at the event, my chest hurt. I was "homesick" for Across The Years. I wanted to be where they were. I had so much fun, even when miserable, that I absolutely cannot wait to do it again. The people are amazing... The elites are amazing... In a typical race, I will never see the fast guys and gals. They start way ahead of me, run a lot faster than me, and are typically in a shower somewhere when I limp over the finish line. At ATY, you start in a small group, make loops, and get turned in the opposite direction every four hours, so you meet everyone head-on for a loop. So you get to high-five Ed "The Jester" Ettinghausen, who holds the Guinness record for most 100 milers in a year (40!). I got to walk a few laps with Brian Recore, who crushed 160 miles in the 72-hour race. I walked a couple with Karen Bonnett Natraj who did 156 miles in the 72 hour race, and who brought tears to my eyes at Western States 100 last year, racing around the track to beat the 30-hour cutoff by 9 seconds. I hung out with some guys who talked funny that had run the Last Annual Volstate race, which is a footrace across the entire state of Tennessee. I got to hear story after story from my friend and coach Andy Noise, who "migrated" over 5000 miles last year. I took a picture with Yolanda Holder, who walked 3100 miles around a city block in New York last year. And the food.. Pretty sure I gained weight. The aid station is absolutely top shelf. I ate quesadillas, inhaled ham, egg, and potato burritos like they were crack, pasta with meat sauce, chili, and my favorite- spicy tamales and beans. I still drank a gallon and a half of Tailwind, but it was awesome to have some solid food once in a while, that just happened to be amazing. Everyone on the staff, from the RD's, to the timing guys, to the volunteers, were friendly and cheerful, and made the event absolutely amazing. It was everything I hoped for and more.

Next time, I will employ a walk\run strategy of some sort to keep my muscle groups fresh. I'll better tape my feet, and have more broken-in shoes. I will pull an all-night training run to see what that feels like. And now that I know that, while painful, I can totally walk and get to work- I will not quit and lie down for the night. Next year, I am coming home with a 100 mile buckle.

 Yolanda Holder

 Andy Noise

 Jamil Coury

The Jester

Karen Bonnett Natraj

The Loop!!

 The Gravel Pit of Death


  1. Great race write up. Well done on your 100k. Looking forward to seeing you earn your 100-mile buckle next year.

    Run Far -
    Ever UPward & ONward . . .


    1. Thank you, Ed! Can’t wait until next year... I enjoyed it so much! See you soon... 😀