Sunday, January 09, 2011

Across the Years 48 Hour Race Report

Some photos by me but most were taken by Ray K., Tammy M., and Melissa W.
Where to begin?  This race has been on my radar since I first became interested in ultras four or five years ago.  It can best be described as a dream race, probably THE dream race for me.  Last spring, when I saw the registration for the lottery window, I was intrigued....very intrigued.  But at that point I had been less than a year back to running and I'd only completed a slow, easy 50k.  Could I do it?  Should I bother entering? decision was no.  But then, one hour before the lottery closed, I thought, what the heck....I'll throw my name in.   You get three choices in order of preference.  I decided to go with just the 48 hour, with my preference to start on December 30th, so I could experience the actual "across the years".    I didn't want to enter the 24 hour since my goal would be 100 miles and I'm certain 100 miles in 24 hours is a long way off for me.  And I didn't want to enter the 72 hour, because my heart wasn't really in that race length and I didn't want to take it away from someone who really wanted to go 72 hours.  I didn't get in on the first round, but placed about 36th on the waitlist.  By summer, after the entrants had an opportunity to commit, I was up to 3rd on the waitlist.  I was feeling very confident so decided to make my plane reservations.  My family lives in Phoenix so on the chance I didn't get in, I could still make it a visit trip and volunteer at the race.  In September, after a few emails expressing my continued interest, I got the official word....I was in, and for my first choice, the 48 hour starting on Dec 30th.

Nardini Manor, the location of the race, is about a 45 minute drive from my parent's house. The Little Guy and I headed out there on Tuesday, the 28th to set up my tent and get the lay of the land.  We arrived in the early afternoon and there were already others setting up their small tents in the big tent.  I had bought a cheap 7x7 tent when I arrived in Phoenix.  Should I set it up along the edge of the tent or in the middle?  They weren't going to be able to heat the whole tent this year and I thought the middle might be warmer.  Nevertheless I ended up setting my tent along the edge.  I recognized Alene N., who I had met through her blog and I introduced myself.  Alene has done ATY many times, as well as Badwater and numerous other 100's and ultras.  The LG and I took a loop on the track, but didn't linger and left pretty soon thereafter.

I didn't have internet access at my parent's house so I wasn't able to monitor the race when Day 1 started on Thursday.  But it rained all day and most of the night, with a little thunder and lightening thrown in, so I'm sure it was a tough day for many.  As predicted the rain had cleared by the time I arrived at Nardini Manor at a little after 7 am.  It took me awhile to find my tent since they had to move it to put up one of the smaller warming tents.  It was conveniently off its in own corner on the other side of the warming tent, near the main door by the start/finish.  I arranged my gear, picked up my goody bag and number, and still had about an hour to spare before the pre-race meeting.  Two people I know IRL were at the race, Ben B. and Melissa W.  Melissa would start the 24 hour the next day, but Ben was in my race. I looked around for him, but didn't see him. I saw Maryann R., who I had met on FB and introduced myself.  She was also in my same race.  I had planned to wear the "lucky" outfit I'd worn all summer/ skirt, North Face SOB shirt, sleeves, windbreaker, ball cap and my buff (worn over my head to keep warm.)  But despite the sun, the wind had picked up so I changed into my capris.  We also received red fleecy, Moeben sleeves with the ATY logo, so I used those instead of my non-fleecy pair.

At 8:45 I attended the pre-race meeting and learned how we'd change directions, etc.  The excitement was starting to build!  Still no sign of Ben.  But as we gathered near the start, he finally appeared and we exchanged greetings.  Soon it was our time and we were off.  The packed dirt/gravel track was really muddy in spots, but with the end of the rain it started to dry off.  Still, in sections, there was only a narrow middle lane that was clear of mud.  The Coury's and their helpers did an awesome job of grooming the course and by mid-day, the sloppy mud was gone.

A few days after Autumn Leaves 50M I had developed a weird nerve pain in my right foot.  It kept me from training as I would have liked the last 2 months leading up to ATY.  My last long run was the week before Thanksgiving and I had essentially taken 6 weeks off.  A few weeks before ATY, I tested out some run/walk techniques and discovered that if I kept my intervals short (about 50 yards), I could run/walk without too much pain.  But I had only tested this up to 6 miles, so I really had no idea how it would hold up for the long haul.  I walked the first 3 to 4 laps just to get the lay of the land and then started running some of the straightaways.  My plan was to never run any of the curves.  It was really windy so this too helped determine where I'd run.  Why bother running directly against the wind if I didn't need to?  During this early period of run/walk I kept up a 13-14 minute pace, which I was really happy about.

Maryann and I early on -- that's Uli the Walker behind us.  He's amazing! 202 miles as a walker in the 72 hour.  He doesn't "train" -- just hikes.

Another day one picture - proof that I did actually run some of this thing.

Along the back side of the track -- see the lanterns for after dark. 

One of the fun things about ATY, is that you wear your number on a belt at your back.  This way you really got to know the other racers.  The first few hours were a lot of fun as we got to know each other.  I think the others who had started the day before looked forward to seeing some new faces (or backs).  Leading up to the race, I had checked out the bios of the other participants, but it wasn't until I arrived that I realized what an illustrious group I had the great good fortune to be a part of.  Names I had only read about in the pages of Ultrarunner or seen on the Ultralist were there.  And the awesome part was that a rank newbie like me was accepted as one of them!  I met Tammy M., another FB friend, who had started 48 hours the day before.  Ray K. (in the 72 hour) was walking and he'd call my name out in a sing-song voice as I'd pass.  One time, he said to me, "We need more blondes."  and that put a smile on my face.  I met Don W. and introduced myself to Dan B., who I had learned from the ultralist, shared a birthday with me.  He's 80 and was participating in the 72 hours, the oldest participant in any of the races this year and likely any year.  I also introduced myself to Andy Lovy, the race medical doctor.  The ATY website is loaded with his wisdom.  I've been using his foot lube formula for years and told him how much I liked it.  He's 75 and was participating in the 72 hour race, while providing medical assistance as needed.   In these early miles I also talked for awhile with Andreas F., part of the Swedish contingent, who ended up tying for 2nd in the 72 hour race with Ed E. with 238 miles.  And of course I saw Alene again.  We didn't talk much early on, but later we spent a few laps together and I really enjoyed learning more from her and watching her example.  Also met Dave E. from Salem.  He's completed many 100's and had been at ATY before.  A really unassuming and encouraging fellow.  I hope to see him again at an Oregon race some time.

Also early on I made a point of spending some time with Mike P., who I recognized from Hundred in the Hood.  At that race, he had been running with a friend and she had to drop at our aid station.  I remember chatting with him a bit and him giving me encouragement as I was just getting back into running at the time.  What a great guy!  He ended up being a great source of experience and support for me throughout the race.  He was competing in the 72 hour with Iliana D. from New York.  Due to the NE storms, she almost didn't make it to the race, but she found a connection through Portland of all places and arrived late.  Despite starting 2 hours late she still completed 157 miles in her first 72 hour race.  Later on I met Joe J. whose name I knew from the ultra list too.  I explained my goal of 107 miles was due to a throw down by Marc (Quadzilla = 26.2 + 26.2+ 27.4 + 26.2 = 106) and he thought that was pretty funny.  He had started the 48 hour race the day before but came back for the final finish on the last day.  I enjoyed telling him I may not have gotten 107, but I did beat Marc by .254!  Later on, I spent some laps at various times with Jack M., another ultra veteran.  He has a great sense of humor.  There were many others who I'm probably forgetting and others who we only exchanged a passing encouragement.  The camaraderie was amazing.  I wish I had met more people and the people I did meet I wish I had talked with more.  It truly was a family race.

Another day one picture

Back to my race:  The run/walk routine seemed to be going well,  I could sense my "bad" foot, but it wasn't painful.  I remember having to stop a few times to adjust my laces, since my shoes seemed too tight on the top.  I had to adjust quite a few times and finally had them tied so my shoes were probably too loose.  I worried a bit about blisters, but my feet were lubed pretty well and they seemed fine.  I followed my nutrition plan which was to try to eat early and also drink a lot of my calories.  I had my own little aid station by the track, where I had some Lara bars and soy milks.  I ate and drank a lot of those early on as well as some Ultra from the aid station.  I ate from the aid station too, but tried to stick with basic, real food (sandwiches, soup, burritos) and stay away from the sweets and overly fatty foods (chips).  I had brought some gels and the aid station had gels too.  I thought I might try those later in the race when I didn't feel like eating, but I ended up not eating one single gel.  Probably my favorite thing from the aid station was the awesome homemade potato soup.  It sustained me, especially through the cold nights.

M goal the first night was to stay awake as long as possible, but go down for a two hour rest from approximately 3 to 5 am.  I'd been off caffeine for a month and had brought along some Starbucks Doubleshots and of course, there was coffee at the aid station.  I planned to have some coffee in the wee hours of the night if needed to get me to 3 am.  I think I finally had some around midnight to 1 am and it really did the trick.  I never got truly sleepy that first night.

I can't remember exactly when things started to go south for me.  I stopped running at 45 miles, which was at about 9 pm the first day, so it must have been sometime in the early evening.   I noticed that my left calf started to cramp up, but I made the bad decision to ignore it.  I've never really had a problem with my calves and I thought I could just run through it.  I upped my electrolyte intake to see if that would help.  It didn't and the pain started to travel up my leg to my hamstring.  The whole leg was starting to get stiff.  Mike and Iliana encouraged me to have Andy check it out.  I hesitated because I'm generally a shy person and I didn't want to bother him.  Of course, I know now that he was glad to help and doing so was not a bother to him in the least.  Eventually, we passed Andy, so Mike and Iliana told him I needed help. Back at the tent, he stretched me out and it seemed to help temporarily.   It was amazing how tight my left leg was in comparison to my right.  I think I also decided to take some ibu at this point.  I was pee'ing really well so wasn't concerned about taking some, although I generally never take any during a race.  Andy's stretching helped, but eventually I had to stop running.  My calf especially, was just too tight. But walking seemed to be okay.  Looking at my splits, my paced slowed to around 18 minute miles when moving.  I asked Andy to stretch me out a few more times that night.  At one point I thought it was sciatica pain I was feeling.  It was really hard for me to tell what was going on exactly, but the stretching helped, at least temporarily.

The night was really cold, I hear that it got down to the low to mid-20's.  I had my big puffy down jacket, along with lots of layers so I felt okay that first night.  And once the sun went down the wind stopped, thank goodness, or it would have been really bitter out on the track.  At my most layered, I had on a pair of tights with a pair of fleece pants over them and a long sleeve compression shirt, fleece vest, fleece shirt, down jacket and on my head a warm cap with buff over it.  The only place I had uncovered were my hands.  Fortunately, my down coat has fleece lined pockets and I could get by without gloves unless I was holding a cup or something to eat.  It was nice not to have to wear bulky gloves and it made it easier to adjust my ipod in my pocket and grab food from the aid station.

I should point out here that the overnight aid station volunteers were awesome.  In particular, one man (who I've since learned was a friend of Alene's), was super enthusiastic, encouraging and helpful.  He always had a funny thing to say to keep our spirits high.  I loved how he'd call me lady ---- "You're looking awesome, Lady!", and he would remember what I liked---- "I'd bet you'd like some more of that potato soup."  Why yes I would.  He really helped me get through the night!

I reached 100k at around 3 am.  My leg was pretty tight and sore so I decided to go down for a rest.  Before I tried to sleep I changed into fresh clothes and set my alarm for 5:30 am.  I dozed and don't remember really falling asleep.  But when I woke up I felt rested and my left leg didn't hurt so much.  Despite changing beforehand, it still took me 30 minutes to get up and going again.  I noticed that I had big blisters on the side of my feet/big toes where I had taped.  I lanced the blisters, applied a blister patch and then more tape to secure the patch. I then applied another think coat of lube to my feet. That did the trick for the duration of the race.  The rest of my feet were totally blister free.  In the future I'm going to experiment with not taping since the tape seems to do more harm than good.

early on day 2 - still sporting my puffy coat

I was back on the track at 6 am and got my mileage up to 70 miles at the 24 hour mark.  I went back in the tent for more stretching and saw Melissa from Portland.  She had put her stuff by mine and was about to start her 24 hour race.  This may sound corny, but what a ray of sunshine she is!  She's an incredibly talented ultrarunner and marathoner, as well as an enthusiastic, fun and supportive person.  I challenge anyone to have a bad day with her around.  It can't be done!  She had an awesome race, coming in 2nd in the 24 hour to Jamie Donaldson with 112 miles.

Melissa took this just as I was about to hit the massage table for a stretch out
The rest of the morning was a blur, but I was in pretty good spirits again and feeling refreshed.  I remember thinking that it wouldn't be too hard now to get my goal of 100.  It was only 30 miles.  How hard could it be?  But man, those miles were hard to come by.  It seemed to take forever to get to 80. I told myself I could rest at 80, but I just couldn't make it.  At 79.8 (around noon)  I went to lay down in my tent and felt like crap.  Earlier I had discovered that my cell phone battery had conked out, likely due to the cold.  I felt so alone, I couldn't even call home to whine!  But during my rest I was finally able to remove and reinstall the battery and that did the trick.  I called Marc to have a little pity party.  I didn't think I could go on!  He encouraged me to just rest and then get back out there.  I felt like crap physically and thought if I feel this bad now I'm gonna feel really terrible tomorrow when this is over.  So I called my brother in Phoenix to make sure he was really going to come by in the morning to help me pack up my stuff.  I think he thought I was a little wacko, but assured me that he'd be there.

Warming up on day 2 to take off the down coat, but it was still cloudy and cool all day.  See the mailboxes behind me - the picture was taken from near the timing tent.  Big tent was to the left of the mailboxes.
After about an hour of downtime, I regrouped and went back out.  But I only stayed out 2 hours, just eeking out an additional 5 miles.  I needed a serious rest.  I felt so conflicted because I really didn't want to stop again until I reached 100.  But I couldn't make myself go on.  I had hit rock bottom.  I found a cot in the warm tent and collapsed with my sleeping back and pillow.  But I just couldn't get comfortable so went back to my tent to take off my shoes and change into comfy clothes.  That done, I called Marc and told him (sobbing!) that I was done.  I no longer cared about 100 miles or a buckle or anything else but stopping.  I forget what he said to me, but I was pretty certain that 85 miles was the end of the race for me.  Back at my cot I was more comfortable now.  I fully expected to fall asleep and spend the rest of the evening and night in that cot.  I called my brother again, to let him know where I was in case I was still in that cot the next morning when he arrived.  I told him I was done.  I'm sure he thought I was really wacko now, but assured me again that he'd be there and find me.  I slept for 2 hours.  But despite the heat of the tent,  I had the shivers and my leg really cramped up.  I decided to get up and find Dr. Lovy (or Patrick, the Swedish PT who was also providing medical assistance) to get stretched out again.  They both happened to be right there and I announced that I was quitting.  Andy listened carefully (he's also a psychiatrist) and advised me to keep my chip, which I assured him I would do. Despite "quitting" I still intended to complete a few laps in the morning to say I finished the 48 hours.  Both Andy and Patrick were helping others so Andy suggested I take a lap to loosen up and then he'd take care of me.  I agreed, so in my crocs, I walked a lap.  When I returned, Andy was gone and Patrick was still busy with someone else, so I went out to find my personal aid station by the track and brought my stuff in by my tent.  Patrick was still occupied so I walked another lap, still in my crocs.  After that lap, I found him by the aid station and he looked at me as if to say "Oh there you are!".  I told him, so far so good, I thought I'd just keep going.  And he said, "I can see it in your eyes --- you're not done."  And he was right!  I wasn't done.  And I never did get that stretch out.  I was back!

With Patrick, the PT from Sweden and one of my saviors!
I've certainly bonked in a race, as well as during training.  My most serious bonk was just this past summer at the SOB 50k.  But now I really truly know what it feels like to hit rock bottom.  And I know now that it's possible to recover!  I had thought that all these other ultra runners were superhuman.  And yes, most were more experienced than me.  But I know now that the key to successfully completing longer ultras is knowing that It Will Get Better (and it may get worse, but it will get better again).  That knowledge is gold!!

Now that I had regrouped, I realized that I needed to work more rest into my plan.  I couldn't just power my way up to 100 miles.  By this time it was dark and cold again.  I decided to walk for 2 miles, at a 20-25 minute pace, and then hit the warm restroom and the heated tent to rest for approximately 10 minutes. Both my body and mind were pretty tired at this point and I was a little nervous about being out in the cold, dark, night.  I had visions of myself passing out in the bushes.  Someone earlier had commented that the fence was built because people had wandered off into the adjacent fields.  But I promised myself I could sleep again at 100 miles, which I estimated I would hit at around 2 am.  The track was lit up, but the far side from the start/finish where all the tents were was a lot darker. Especially this 2nd night, all the shadows looked like holes that I kept trying to avoid so I wouldn't trip.  I started singing to my music to help cheer me up and managed to get to 97 miles at midnight.  I walked with Andy a few times that night and we would laugh together about how I'd "quit".  I'm sure he's seen it many times!  What an incredible person he is.  He never tried to convince me not to stop, but I'm sure he knew exactly what was happening.

Melissa and I in the middle of the night

At midnight, to celebrate the New Year, party hats and noise makers were provided as well as sparkling wine and apple cider.  I happened to pick up a glass of the champagne and took a few sips.  Not bad, but I didn't drink it all, fearing I might pass out if I drank too much alcohol.  Most people took a lap together and watched the fireworks that the Coury's set off.  It was a lot of fun!

New Year's celebration!

After the celebration, I had 3 more miles to go and instead of taking my rest after 2 miles I decided to power through.  I reached my goal of 100 at 1:10 am and then went on to do 2 more "insurance" laps.  I did it and had earned my sleep!  I crashed back in the warm tent, this time not bothering to change and slept pretty well until 6:30 am.  In hindsight, I shouldn't have been off the track so long (5 hours), but I was so happy to have reached my goal after thinking that I had quit.  Anything beyond 100 miles was now just gravy to me now.

I took this just before crossing over 100 miles!

100 miles!  Deborah kept it up through the night and ended up edging me out by a mile.

A really bad picture I took of Andy and I, about 6 am the last day.

Sunrise on the last day

I walked at my now leisurely 20-25 minute pace and stopped to take some pictures of the gorgeous sunrise.  At 8 am, my brother Phil arrived like he had promised.  I'm not sure if he had checked the webcast, but yeah, by the way ---- I decided not to quit! : )  After a few laps together my competitive spirit kicked in again, when I saw I might be able to get 106 miles.  The day before I had seen some of the 48 hour finishers really tearing up the track in the last hour.  In particular, I remember Tammy M. and the eventual 48 hour winner, Davy C.  running hard that last hour.  What an inspiration!  This last day too, there were some inspirational finishes.  Melissa had brought along a crew, some of whom had paced her in the early miles.  But once it because apparent that she was going to be one of the top finishers they told her she couldn't be paced any longer.  So some of the 72 hour participants took up the slack.  Yes, runners such as Iliana, who had already been out there 2+ days were helping her keep up the pace.  Truly amazing!

Melissa rocked the 24 hour! Still going strong with an hour to go.

Crossing the mat for the last time

I'm not sure where it came from, but Phil and I picked up the pace to a relatively fast walk - back up to 15-16 minute pace those last miles.  I was able to finish just over 106 miles (106.254), with two minutes left on the clock.  I had done it with 45 miles of run/walk, 61 miles of walking, with the last 21 miles completed in my crocs (so glad I brought them along!)

My final distance - 106.254!

As others who couldn't fit in another lap did, I stayed at the mat to cheer on the other finishers.  The last 2 finishers were Dan and Mike.  They were walking far down the track, but started running when someone yelled "30 seconds!"  Seeing them make it to the mat with seconds to spare was one of the highlights of the race!

Maryann and I waiting for the award ceremony to begin.  Maryann, a walker, complete her first 100 miles too!
Phil helped me pack up my stuff and then it was time for the awards lunch.  I was so proud to receive my mug and 100 belt buckle.  I know 106 miles in 48 hours isn't any big deal.  But I still feel like I've entered a new realm I didn't know existed and have been accepted in the club.  I can't wait to try again to improve my results and possibly enter an actual 100 mile race.  To everyone who sent me messages during the race...Thank You So Much!  Your encouragement helped immensely!  So many things I would have done differently, but now I know what to try for next time.  I can't wait!


olga said...

Beautiful, Sarah. And I hear you're talking on doing it again:)

Susan Kokesh said...

Wonderful! Thanks so much for sharing your experience. Sounds like a well run event!

Carrie said...

Sarah -- WOW. Way to set a goal (a long term goal!), use your support system, and GET THERE. So very cool.

And you did 1/4 of it in crocs. That's a testimate to, well, something.

Joe said...

Wow, what a terrific post, Sarah! This is one you will be glad to have, years from now.

You did a wonderful job describing the mental as well as the physical journey. I'm so glad you worked through that low spot and had your wits about you well enough to describe just what it was like.

It is amazing to me to see you accomplish this feat, given the difficulty you had just 18 months ago or so with the sciatica and other issues. Gives lots of hope to others.

Like Carrie, I'm stunned you did 20+ miles in crocs!! Wowzers...who'd a thunk that??!!

So, take that Quadzilla Dude!! Very cool!! Mega congratulations, again, and so very happy for you!!


Darrell said...

Wow, for sure. What an incredible experience. I'm so glad you were able to regroup. congratulations.