Across the Years 24 Hour Race by Steve

Across the Years 24 Hour Race

I knew this was going to be a special race. The pre-race fundraiser for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP) was successful. Together we raised over $2,000 for suicide prevention in honor of my nephew, Deven. The fundraiser link can be found here:

http://afsp.donordrive.com/campaign/deven

This was my first attempt at being a charity runner. This race is held in Glendale, Arizona, near Phoenix. My brother and sister-in-law do an annual walk in December in Deven’s honor in the area also, plus they live down there. Choosing this particular race to do something special for a charity that is meaningful to me made sense.

My training went well before the race. I recovered from the Dead Horse Ultra 50 miler and prepared myself for the 24 hour race with some good training weeks before I tapered. I ended up running two training marathons on consecutive Fridays. One of which was Desert Dash’s Trails of Glory. The other marathon was a random late-night run of 26.5 miles.

I must say that it’s really nice tapering during the holidays. Less running and more family time at the perfect time of year.

Even though I felt good, you just never know with a race of that length. My goal was to go at least 100 miles within the 24 hour race.  Based on previous experience, I felt like this was obtainable if things went reasonably according to plan. You can never consider a 100 miler a guaranteed finish though.

For those of you not familiar with the timed format for races, I’ll explain a bit. Normally, in most races you have a set distance to run. Whomever runs that set distance the fastest wins. In these timed races, you have set time-frame in which you run. Whomever runs the most distance during that set time wins. I feel like there are pros and cons to this format. It is nice knowing exactly how long the race will be. There are no DNFs in this format so it’s a good opportunity for runners to test themselves and see how far they can go. For some runners that struggle to make course cutoffs at 100 mile races, this format allows them to attempt 100 miles over multiple days without the risk of being pulled from a race.

Across the Years is put on by Aravaipa Running. The course is a flat 1.0498 mile loop (that extra .0498 is important when you’re running a lot of loops) in the LA Dodgers/Chicago White Sox spring training facility. The race began in 1983 and a lot of records have been set at this event. They offer 24 hour races on different days, allowing you to choose which day you want to start. The one starting on Dec 31st is the most popular (hence the name of the race). There are also 48 hour, 72 hour, and 6-day options.

Despite all that, I wasn’t sure how excited I was to be running 1 mile loops for 24 hours.

At the starting line

I got there just early enough to get my bib and shirt. Across the Years has legacy bib numbers. If you do the race multiple years, you always have the same bib number. It was cool seeing some older runners out on the course with some low numbers on their bibs.

I saw a comment from a friend on Instagram saying that the hard part (fundraising) was over and now I could enjoy the run. That struck me as true, especially for someone like me that found fundraising to be outside my comfort zone. Still… 100 miles is… 100 miles. It wouldn’t exactly be easy.

My family helped set up my tent with my nutrition, hydration, and other supplies in it. My brother brought me a custom printed shirt for the race with Deven’s picture on it and the words “I Run For Deven.”

I didn’t have much time to really think about what I was embarking on because the race was about to start!

I started off at a relaxed but probably too quick pace. I knew the initial excitement of starting would soon wear off and I would settle into an easier pace. The weather was perfect at the start. I knew it would warm up a bit during the day but not too bad. One issue was that the forecast called for rain. I brought the right supplies for that and hoped for the best.

I could see the other runners already on the course. Some of them had already been in a race for 24 or even 48 hours. I wondered what they thought as they saw us take off from the start looking and feeling fresh. One of them laughed and said, “Ah, fresh meat.”

My family hung around for the first few hours (for the first marathon or so) and checked on me every so often to see if I needed anything. For about the first 30 miles, I stuck to drinking Nuun and consuming gels. That was working well. As the day went on, it did warm up but remained comfortable.

After about 27 miles

Around and around the loop I went. My family left and said they would return in the evening to check on me. I chatted with some of the other runners throughout the race. It’s a nice social event for many of the participants because you see so many of the same people repeatedly on the loop path. I met some other runners from Utah, one of which I knew from Instagram. I chatted with Karen from Las Vegas. She was doing six separate 24 hour runs as part of her quest to do as many marathon or more distance events in a 365 day period. I also met another Altra ambassador named Lint. He’s an avid thru-hiker so I enjoyed learning about his experiences. Your name and state/country flag are also printed on your bib so you get to know people that way too. I met some record holders and one lady attempting to beat the 100 mile Canadian record for her age group.

I mostly dialed in a reasonable pace, listened to Dean Karnazes’ new audiobook “Road to Sparta,” and cruised along. I ended up listening to the entire audiobook during the event.

I was moving pretty well. It is a nice flat course, so I ended up setting a PR for the 50 mile distance and the 100k distance along the way by a small amount. Still, it didn’t seem too fast to me. I was on target for my goal.

Random selfie at 50 miles

I came to realize my tent/personal aid setup wasn’t doing me any favors in this event. Even though it initially seemed like it wasn’t too far off the course, those extra steps were much more noticeable later in the race. I would have to go to my tent, lean down, rummage through my stuff, etc. That got less comfortable to do as the race went on.

As the sun was setting, it began to rain lightly. It wasn’t too bad. It cooled me down so that was nice. As the rain went on, it created puddles all around the course. Soon you could see everyone on the course trying to choose the line on the course with the fewest puddles to keep their feet dry.

Before returning, my brother asked if I wanted anything. I told him some red grapes would be nice if he could get some. Some of the random cravings during ultras are funny. I also remember really enjoying red grapes during my last 100 miler.

My brother and sister-in-law came back to see me when I was about 12 hours into the event. The race has a guest bib system that runners are supposed to follow. Guests check out a guest bib. They’re supposed to do only one lap with their runner but if there isn’t a big demand for the bibs, they may do more. It isn’t supposed to be for pacing. My brother joined me for a couple laps. We talked about the race and I explained some things about ultrarunning to him and answered his questions. We talked about the fundraiser and how it was fun experiencing this event together. Then, my brother switched out and my sister-in-law joined me for a couple laps. I also chatted with her a bit about ultrarunning. These events must look so crazy to people unfamiliar with the sport. We also had a great discussion about Deven and the good that has been done in his honor. We may have gotten a bit emotional. It was a special moment that I will always cherish.

After they headed home, I went to my tent and changed into some dry socks before I got much deeper into the mileage. I was worried my feet would swell, making the task of changing socks and putting my shoes back on much more difficult.

Another thing I did (for the first time) was charge my running watch on the run. I have a Garmin 910XT and I knew the battery supposedly had a 20 hour life while running so it wouldn’t last the entire race. I read online that if I connected the charger while it was still in the middle of run mode that the screen would show that it was charging but the watch would still record my running. I brought one of those portable USB power packs that I had recently obtained at a Christmas gift exchange. I plugged in the charger to the power cell, clipped the charger to my watch, held the power cell in my hand, and went on running. It took a few laps to fully charge again. Once I removed the clip, sure enough, it had kept recording my data. Success!

I enjoyed the evening hours. There were fewer people on the course as the night went on. I’m sure many of the multi-day runners were sleeping. It made sense to rest while it rained since they probably needed it anyway. The rain died down and the hours actually passed quite quickly.

My nutrition began to fall off a bit. Okay… maybe more than a bit. I couldn’t bear the thought of another gel. I ate a Honey Stinger waffle and supplemented from the aid station. I drank Coke and Mt Dew in addition to my hydration mix. I ate bananas and grapes. Late in the evening, I had some warm broth, which was magical. The aid station also cooked up some sushi which sounded fun but I didn’t think it’d be a good idea to eat during the race.

I was a little worried about my nutrition. I wasn’t taking enough in. Still, I was probably at a slow enough pace that I was mostly burning fat and didn’t need as many quick calories. I was amazed at what I was doing with relatively low calories being consumed during the race.

During my first 100 miler, I had a really low point around 74 miles. Fortunately, I never hit a really low point during this race. My head was in a good place. At times, I would think about Deven and remember why I was there. Even when I was getting up there in miles, I didn’t stress it like I did in the previous 100 miler. I believe the experience of knowing that I had done it before and I made it through assured me that the same would happen at this race. I remembered to be patient and just keep moving forward as consistently as possible.

The evening hours surprisingly passed by quickly. Each runner wears a transmitter around their ankle that beeps when you pass over the mats at the start/finish and the halfway point. When a runner passed the mat at the start/finish area, their name, placement, total laps, total mileage, and such would show on a screen. It was fun to watch my mileage increase as time went on. Quite a few runners had already done the 24-hour race on the two previous days. Their total distance was already built into the standings. I started the race as 20th male in the 24 hour race and it was a lot of fun to see that decrease as the race developed. It would be a nice encouraging surprise to cross the mat and see I had moved up a position in the standings.

I must say the volunteers at the event were fantastic. They were very helpful and encouraging. If they had something on hand, they would get it to you. The nice thing was that you could request something, then go do another loop, and when you came back, they would have it ready for you. During the very late hours, there was an older gentleman with a big beard at the halfway mat/station. He looked like a cool biker guy. That guy went out of his way to say something encouraging to me every… single… loop… even when it was pouring rain… all through the night. Often he would give me high fives or fist bumps. I really appreciated that he was there.

During my first 100 miler, my feet/legs really started to hurt in the 70ish mileage area. At this race, that didn’t happen until the 90s for mileage. I wore my Altra Olympus’ so the extra cushion may have helped. Even then, it didn’t seem as bad… until…

Something else happened around mile 95… suddenly the sky opened up and it started POURING. I had hoped the rain was done and the puddles would slowly go away. This was not good. Not good at all. The worst thing was that my shoes and socks were completely soaked. I felt like I was way too far into the race and so close to 100 miles to stop and change socks or shoes now. I decided to keep going with soaking shoes and if it got unbearable I would deal with it then. At least I didn’t care about dodging big puddles anymore.

Rain and mud

Before the rain, I had a good idea of when I would get to 100 miles. During/after the rain, it delayed me a bit. Still, I got to 100 miles at 20:37 per my watch and a bit after that (but before 21 hours) on the course timing. I had a little more mileage due to aid station/tent/bathroom visits and perhaps not running the tangents perfectly (especially due to the puddles). Still, it was quite a PR for me over my previous 100 mile time of 21:42.

It’s funny passing 100 miles in the late night/early morning all alone. I just smiled and said a quiet celebratory ‘yes!’ as I reached it.

As I had approached 100 miles and moved beyond it, I still had a good chunk of time left on the clock. I wasn’t about to simply stop. I saw that the amazing 100 miler ultrarunner, Davy Crockett, had posted on Facebook before I started my race that he was currently the first place male at Across the Years with 105 laps (about 110 miles). Personally, I was planning on doing my best and getting in as many laps as possible with the time left but it’s nice to have something to shoot for as motivation.

My family arrived as I completed lap 105 tying Davy for 1st place male. I ran (walked a bit) of the next lap with my oldest daughter. She got to see the board when we crossed the mat with 1st place male on it. She likes to tell people about my running. It’s nice to see that she’s proud of her Dad and maybe even still thinks I’m cool for now (she hasn’t hit the teenage years yet). Next, my middle daughter ran my last lap with me. She’s so sweet keeping me company as a struggled to keep my pace quick enough to finish that lap before the 24 hours elapsed. My youngest daughter didn’t want to run with me because the course was too muddy and she didn’t want to get her favorite boots muddy. It made me laugh because that’s totally her personality.

I crossed the finish line with my family all there. I had completed 107 laps for 112 miles and 1st place male at the time. It was wonderful to share that moment with everyone.

Finished!

My family was kind enough to help me out by taking down the tent and packing my gear. My next stop was to get my buckle! They gave me the 100 miles buckle and a big glass beer stein. I wouldn’t know if I would still be in a position to receive a podium award until the next morning after that day’s 24-hour runners had completed their race.

Buckle!

After I got my buckle and stein, I immediately went to the medical tent with a pair of dry socks and shoes. I was worried how my feet would look after all that running, especially the last 4.5 hours in wet shoes and socks. Inside the medical tent, I met with an extremely nice medic named Lloyd. He asked about my “I Run For Deven” shirt and we chatted about our personal losses. He had recently lost a loved one and remarked how important my cause was to so many people. As Lloyd helped another runner with his feet, I removed my socks and shoes, then put my feet up near a heater to let them dry. The other runner’s feet looked bad. Lloyd was worried about removing some taping from his feet in fear that a lot of skin would come off with it. I looked at my feet and they didn’t seem too bad. When Lloyd came over, he held both of my feet in his hands, cupping them by my heels. He looked at them and paused.

“What race did you do?”

“The 24 hour race.”

“And how far did you go on these feet?”

“I ran 112 miles. I didn’t stop and kept running when it rained. I ran the last 4 and a half hours with wet shoes and socks.”

Another pause. I was getting worried.

Then he exclaimed, “These feet are amazing!”

He said there was some minor maceration, a few minor blisters that didn’t need to be lanced (although one blister was on another blister, haha), and that was really it. He said all he needed to do was just clean up my feet and I was good to go. Whew!

It was time to wind down, take a nap, and eat a lot! After a nap, I even attempted to do some bowling with my family, which they found entertaining as I would hobble up to the lane to throw the ball.

At the subsequent 24 hour race the next day, some amazing runners would bump me down to 3rd place male.

3rd Place Award

I’m extremely happy with the results of this race and more so with the fundraiser (and impact from such) before the race.  I wasn’t sure if I would enjoy the race aspect of a 1 mile looped course but I really had a great time. Aravaipa Running did an exceptional job. I would highly recommend this race to others that are interested in this race format. I would definitely consider doing this race again in the future.

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