In a little over a week, I’ll be doing the Across the Years 48-Hour Run. This is one of several races at the same location that start in late December and end on New Year’s Day. They’re called Across the Years, because you start running in 2014, but don’t finish until 2015. They have a 24-hour run, a 48-hour run, a 72-hour run and a 6-day run. My race starts at 9:00 on December 30 and finishes at 9:00 on January 1.
The races are held at Camelback Ranch in Glendale, AZ, which is just outside of Phoenix. Camelback Ranch is used as the spring training facility by the Chicago White Sox and Los Angeles Dodgers. We run on a 1.0498 mile loop that goes around several of the baseball diamonds. Most of the surface is dirt, although there’s a short section that’s paved. The whole loop is fairly flat.
Because we’re running the same loop numerous times, we’ll switch directions every four hours. This helps reduce the risk of injuries that can result from always turning in the same direction. It also adds variety. You’d be surprised how different the loop looks and feels when you’re running it in the opposite direction.
In a 48-hour race, everyone has 48 hours to run as far as they can. Whoever runs farthest is the winner. You can run, walk or take breaks, but the clock is always running. You wear an ankle strap with a timing chip to record when you finish each lap. You don’t have to run for the entire 48 hours. Anyone who completes at least one lap is listed in the final standings, regardless of whether they were still running at the end of the race or stopped earlier. It’s not a question of finishing, but whether you reached your mileage goals.
Regardless of which race you’re doing, there are different belt buckles for runners who reach multiples of 100 miles. There’s a copper buckle for running 100 miles, a larger silver buckle for running 200 miles, and an antique gold buckle for 300 miles that’s larger still. For people doing the 6-day race, there are also special buckles for 400, 500 or 600 miles.
In a few ways, fixed-time races are easier than other ultras. There’s an aid station every 1.0498 miles, so you don’t need to carry and food or water with you. In addition to a variety of beverages, they have a variety of foods.
For a small fee, you can rent a tent. That not only gives you a place to sleep, but you can also store your gear there, so it’s always handy. The tents available for rent are all set up alongside the course by race volunteers. You can also bring your own tent.
Although we’ll always be running in the same short loop, we’ll experience changes in weather. The climate is dry, so there’s not much chance of rain, but the temperature varies significantly between daytime and nighttime. Last year, it was fairly warm in the afternoon, but got down into the low 30s overnight.
I attempted this race last year with a wide range of goals. My minimal goal was to run farther than I had ever run. My previous mileage PR was 124.81 miles in a 24-hour race. With twice as much time, running farther than that shouldn’t have been any problem. Assuming I kept moving for most of the race, I expected to run somewhere around 180 or 190 miles. My top end goal was to run 200 miles. I didn’t really expect to be able to do that, but it’s good to have an ambitious goal if you exceed your expectations.
I had a few problems last year. Because of an injury, my training got derailed in early October. By the end of the year, I was finally healthy, but I was undertrained. I also wasn’t prepared for all the dust that got into my shoes and socks. I had some pretty bad blisters after only 12 hours. Finally, one of my ankles started to hurt. Within a few miles it went from uncomfortable to painful, and it hurt whether I was running or walking. I pulled the plug after 121.777 miles, so I wouldn’t make my ankle worse. I only needed three more laps for a mileage PR, but it became obvious that each additional lap was significantly increasing the likelihood that my ankle problem would turn into a serious injury. I had other races on my schedule and didn’t want to risk being unable to run for weeks.
Even before the ankle issue, it was obvious that I wasn’t going to run as far as I had hoped. My lack of training and lack of preparedness for the dust were both taking a toll. I came away with a 100 mile buckle, but I still felt like my race was a colossal failure. I needed to come back this year to redeem myself.
Last year’s race helped prepare me for a better effort this year. I know which parts of my race strategy worked and which ones didn’t. This year I can focus most of my attention on fixing the things that didn’t work.
I’ve done a number of other fixed-time races ranging from six to 24 hours. I’ve done eight 24-hour races, plus the first 28.5 hours of last year’s race, so I know exactly what to expect during the first day and night. The second day, and particularly the second night, will take me into unknown territory.
For the last six months, I’ve been running marathons on the weekends, but most of my training has been focused on this race. This is my “A” race. To prepare, I’ve gradually ramped up my mileage. I’ve also gone out of my way to incorporate walking into my training. Walking and running are similar, but they emphasize different muscle groups in your legs. Running mostly works your upper legs. Walking puts far more demands on your calves and shins. During the race, I expect to spend as much time walking as running, so it was important to develop my “walking” muscles. Last year, I did virtually no walking in training. That may have played a part in my ankle problems.
While it’s obviously important to train, I’ve found in races like this that it’s just as important to have a good plan. In fixed-time races where I’ve done well, I attribute it as much to my planning as to my fitness. In the coming days, I’ll talk about my plans for this year’s race.
Note: The photos above were all taken by Jo Weakley Agnew at last year’s race.