Thursday, January 10, 2008

Across the Years

Race Report: Across the Years 24-hour by Chad Sayban.

Well, to start with, I knew that I was not well prepared at all going in to the race. I hadn't run in the six weeks prior due to knee problems and I just hoped that the rest would at least let it heal. I arrived at about 7:30 for the 9am start. It was clear and pretty cold - around 40 degrees at that point. I should first point out that the organizers of the Across the Years races do an absolutely fantastic job. Packet pickup is well organized and the free gear you get is enough to cover the entry fee: an embroidered jacket, logo arm warmers, gloves, a gear bag and a bunch of other stuff. If you haven't noticed, the theme of the gear is "cold." There is a reason for that. It gets really cold at night in the desert.

So I mulled around for a while and bumped into a few people I knew. The pre-race meeting was 15 minutes before the start and helped orient everyone, especially those of us who were doing this for the first time. Just before the start, I bumped into the legendary Marshall Ulrich and his wife. I introduced myself and quickly the topic of Bob in Florida came up. Marshall made sure to comment on Bob propensity to drag tires behind him. Later in the race, I hooked up with Marshall for several miles and found him to be a genuinely fine person and great to talk to. Thanks for the company, Marshall.

At the start, I decided to walk for a while to get warmed up and gauge how I was feeling. With 24 hours to go, there isn't a real need to warm up before the start, that's for sure. So for the first 45 minutes I walked at a pretty brisk pace with Steve Papp, who was in the 48 hour race. We talked the whole time and he would encourage me, as would several others, throughout the rest of my race. It's amazing how encouraging everyone is in ultras and since this was my first one, it was my first real taste of it.

I guess a little bit about the course. After more than 100 laps on it, I had a pretty good look at it. It is a 500-meter packed dirt path that loops around the perimeter of the property. It is a beautiful property with lots of large, old-growth trees, a grass yard surrounding the three-story colonial-style home. It is completely unlike Phoenix in every way. It looks like it was transplanted intact from New England. In fact, most of the course is shaded, which can be a bit of a curse when you are looking for warmth during the day, but it is certainly a much more interesting course to circle than a 400-meter high school track (which is where the event had it's original start). There is only one aid station (obviously, you pass it every 500-meters) and it is well stocked with about anything you could want. They even prepare meals. I highly recommend the Chicken Cord an blue when it gets cold. Yum!! There is a large, circus-like tent in the center that runners can put there own tents in for changing or catching some sleep. Since there are 48 and 72 hour events, there are people catching sleep throughout the race. Oh, ya...the tent is heated so it becomes a pretty popular place at night. Runners can set up their "transition areas" anywhere around the course. Most put theirs near the start/finish area as I did, right across from the "post office" where messages that come in from the Internet are left in mail slots with each racer's name. This is a very cool thing, especially when you are getting in to the dark places that are inevitable in a race like this. It was a pick-me-up that can hold you for a long time getting a message from blogger-nation. I know it really help me along the way and I want to thank everyone who sent messages to me. I love you all.

So about 45 minutes in I decided I would give running a try, just to mix things up a bit and see if there was any chance. It actually felt good and there was no knee pain. After 15 minutes, I began walking again and decided to give my original strategy a try. I set my watch to run for 15 minutes and walk for 15 minutes. It was mentally easy to keep track of and seemed to suit me well. After two hours I was feeling great. Every two hours they turn everyone around for a "change of scenery." It sounds corny, but after two hours of going in the same direction, it really is a complete change of scenery. They do it every two hours throughout the entire 3 days. The race uses timing chips strapped to your ankle to count your laps. They have a projection screen that shows you your lap count and distance every time you cross the mat. I learned an interesting thing, though. While it is easy to keep track of yourself, it is impossible to keep track of where you are in relation to everyone else. They post a printed leaderboard every hour or so if you want to stop and read it, but otherwise, the only way to keep track is to have a crew to tell you where you are. I didn't care, because I really was only competing against my own were most of the people there.

As I closed in on four hours, I realized that I wouldn't be able to keep up the 15/15 routine. I just didn't have the conditioning (duh). So I shut my watch down and decided to go on feel. I ran when I felt good and just kept power walking the rest of the time. I was eating and drinking well. No stomach issues and I was hitting the bathroom about every hour. Nutrition was never an issue since walking allowed me to digest everything. I would grab food at the end of a run cycle allowing me to eat and drink while I was walking. In fact, I was worried that I was going to gain 10 pounds because food was so easily available.

Soon I was approaching one of the markers of progress - 6 hours. As it approached, I first crossed 25 miles. That was big because it meant that I was on pace for 100 miles. Then I crossed 26.2 miles. Now I was out beyond any distance I had ever covered before and I was still not to 6 hours yet! I was having delusions of grandeur. Not only was I going to break 100 miles, I was figuring out just how far beyond 100 miles I would go. I was nearing 28 miles when the 6-hour point was reached and I was flying high!

To use a British term, only a half hour later I was buggered. How quickly it can change in a race like this. My feet had been hurting since about the 3-hour mark. No blisters, just sore from the pounding they were taking. I had cured it by switching between two different types of shoes. When I would switch, my feet would feel so much better. But now the panacea was no longer effective and my feet were really beginning to hurt. This was the first point when I was really struggling mentally to keep going. I weathered it and with a few spurts of jogging started to feel ok. I hadn't gone to my trump card IPod. I was saving it for when I felt like I was ready to quit as a way to pump myself back up. I knew the charge on it would only last about 6-8 hours and I had no way to recharge it, so I wanted to make sure I didn't waste it. About 7 hours in I grabbed the IPod and put it to use. It worked. I started with an audio book that I had downloaded and for more than an hour lost myself in the book. I should mention that throughout the race I must have put on and taken off layers of clothes at least a dozen times. The shade and the intermittent running made it hard to dress correctly. However, the little transition area made changing often easy...all except that I couldn't bend over at that point and didn't want to risk sitting down because I wasn't sure I would ever be able to get back up!

About 8 hours I was walking along in a daze, not really hearing the book anymore and just trying not to think about my feet and the reemergence of my knee when out of nowhere the Lovely and Talented Miss Julie stepped in front of me! I hadn't seen her or the boys and she knew that it was the only way to get me to see them. The boys brought their cow bells and cheer me on and I stopped for about 15 minutes to talk. Julie could see that I was in a low point and had been for a while. She wished me luck and took the kids back home. I can't express how much it meant to me having them show up like that even though I was too incoherent to express it at the time. I love you, Julie!

It was somewhere around now (the memory is a little foggy) that I realized that 100 miles was no longer possible. I had switched over to music on the IPod and began adding layers. The sun had set and the temperatures were plummeting. I had to revise my expectations. Julie had mentioned before leaving that I should shoot for 100k. Little did she know that my mind had already moved past that to just making 50 miles. However, even that was still 20 miles away and given how my legs were feeling might as well have been the other side of the moon. I was trudging along now and having trouble remembering when I had eaten or drank. I was having trouble walking a freaking straight line now. My body was not listening to instructions anymore and my mind could only make sense of one thing...pain. Lap after lap after lap it was unrelenting. I was now just trying to make it to 40 miles, hoping that I could last until Eric showed up to take his shift at the aid station. I was pretty incoherent at this point. I know people were asking me if I was ok, but I don't remember responding. Maybe I gave a grunt, but I don't remember now. Pain has a funny way of taking over your brain and it was intense enough now that I had to question if I was going to put myself in the hospital. One thing kept coming back to me. During the pre-race briefing they had said that it was ultimately our own responsibility to take care of ourselves, but that every single year that the race had been held, someone had needed the Paramedics bring them back or take them to the hospital. I didn't want to be that person. I looked up at the scoreboard as I crossed the mat, stopped and saw this:

589 Chad Sayban 35 AZ 123 laps, 9:32:45, 61.5k, 38.214 miles

When I read it, I was cool with it. That's when I knew I was done. I had gone 1 1/2 marathons, 12 miles further than I had ever gone after not running a single mile the previous 6 weeks. I could still walk...barely. It was dark and I was hurting in a way I had never hurt before and decided that it would be easier to recover in my own bed than in the tent. So I handed my chip in (I wasn't the first to do so and far from the last. Even Pam Reed called it quits well short of her goal and just 5 miles short of 100 miles and a buckle with 4 hours still on the clock. Pain will do that to you.) and packed up my stuff. I went home, crawled in to the shower. I felt a little better (and a lot warmer) and laid in kids bed and read them a story before heading to bed.
I don't know how things could have ended any better that day...

I'm sorry it took as long as it did to write this, but I wanted to get it right.

Where to I go from here? Well, you will just have to stop in and find out. ;-)

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