On December 29, I ran the Across the Years 24-Hour Run. Across the Year has fixed time races ranging from 24 hours to 6 days. Twice, I’ve done the 48-hour race, but both times I was hampered by injuries and retired from the field early. This year, I did the 24-hour as a long training run to help prepare me for the Rocky Raccoon 100 in February.
I never had ambitious goals for this race. When I entered, I assumed if I felt great and all went well, I might do 100 miles. If not, I’d do whatever I could. That’s the nice thing about a fixed time race. You’re not locked into any set distance, so you can wait and see how you feel.
Three weeks before the race, I fell and broke a rib. Healing time for a broken rib is generally about six weeks, so I knew I wouldn’t be fully recovered. My doctor gave me the green light to go ahead and do this race, as long as I didn’t fall again. That’s not much a danger in this race. The course is a nice flat loop with no trip hazards. He also told me I’d have to adjust my goals. He knew that discomfort from the rib would probably force me to hold back.
The race is held at Camelback Ranch in Glendale, AZ, which is just west of Phoenix. It’s a baseball facility used by the Chicago White Sox and LA Dodgers for spring training. The course was a 1.05 mile loop that goes around several of the baseball diamonds. The surface is mostly dirt, but a small portion of it is paved.
I flew to Phoenix on Wednesday and stayed at a hotel in Avondale. I kept a room there for three nights, even though I wasn’t planning to be there Thursday night. If things didn’t go well, I wanted to have the option of coming back during the night, knowing I would have a room.
My race started at 9:00 Thursday morning, but some runners started on Wednesday. That’s when the 6 day race started, and runners doing 24, 48 or 72 hours also had the option of starting as early as Wednesday. After checking in at my hotel, I drove over to Camelback Ranch to say hello to friends who were already on the course.
Pre-race check-in started at 7:00 AM. When I entered, I paid extra to rent a tent. Some runners use tents to take short naps during the race. I used mine as a place to store my gear and, if necessary, change clothes during the race. Daytime and nighttime temperatures often differ sharply, so you generally need to make adjustments in your clothing. The race volunteers set up the tents in a large field next to the course. I arrived early, so I would have plenty of time to find a tent that wasn’t in use yet, and transfer my gear from the car. During the race, I had everything nearby.
Weather for the race was the warmest I’ve seen. It’s usually nice during the day, but can get down below freezing during the night. This year the overnight low on Wednesday was in the mid-50s, the high on Thursday was in the mid-70s, and the overnight low on Thursday was in the upper 50s.
The running surface is usually dry and dusty. The first time I did this race, I had serious issues with dust getting into my shoes. When I returned a year later, I wore gaiters. That helped a lot. This year, they watered down the course daily, so it wouldn’t be as dusty. I wore gaiters again this year, but that makes it more difficult to add or remove a layer on my legs. Once the race started, I wanted to avoid taking off my shoes for the whole race, if possible.
It was warm enough at the start that I could get by with shorts. I was planning to spend as much time walking as running, so I needed to dress warmer than I would for continuous running. I started the race with a light jacket that I could easily shed once it warmed up.
I started the race with a minimum goal of 50 miles. Beyond that, I didn’t have any other specific mileage goals, so I didn’t really have a pacing strategy. I ran the first two laps at a relaxed pace. By then, I was warmed up enough that I could start taking walking breaks without my legs getting cold. From the third lap on, I walked the beginning of each lap, and then ran the rest.
After three laps, I was warm enough to take my gloves off. After another lap, I took off my jacket and put it in my tent. For the rest of the day, I was fine with shorts and a T-shirt.
During the morning hours, I varied the length of my walking breaks so I was doing 12 minute laps.
There’s an aid station that I passed every lap. They had a variety of food and beverages. My nutrition strategy was fairly laid back. I drank when I was thirsty and ate when I was hungry. I started out taking a drink every other lap. About once per hour I ate something like a PBJ. I brought a small supply of gel packets, but I never needed them. I did fine eating the food at the aid station. I also brought a small supply of electrolyte pills. I started out taking one every two hours. I wasn’t sweating excessively, but the air was dry, so I didn’t want to underestimate how much salt I was losing in my sweat.
I knew my early pace was too fast to be sustainable, but doing a consistent five laps per hour made it easy to keep track of my laps. After three hours, I started taking longer walking breaks. It was noon, and the sun was high in the sky. I knew the next few hours would be the warmest of the day, so it made sense to do more walking. I no longer needed to worry about getting cold.
I no longer worried about my lap times. I just picked a spot about a third of the way around the loop, and I walked to the same spot every lap. Then I ran the rest of the way.
The course began with roads around the outer edge of the east side of Camelback Ranch. Then we followed a dirt path that cut through the middle of the facility and came out right by the aid station. Most of the course was dirt. A short segment of the road was paved, and there was one spot where the path crossed a concrete terrace.
Every four hours, we switched directions. Now, instead of beginning with the road, we began with the path. At this point, I needed to pick a different place to end my walking breaks. I walked the entire path and ran the road. That gave me a longer walking break than I had before. By now, I needed it.
Since breaking my rib, I’ve done several training runs on a treadmill. If I keep the pace slow enough, I have only minimum discomfort in my right side. One day, I ran a bit too fast. I didn’t hurt while I was running, but it hurt after I finished. None of those runs were more than 12 miles. In the early hours of the race, I had only minimal discomfort from the rib. I was aware of it, but it wasn’t a big deal. I didn’t know how it would feel after several hours.
By the time we switched directions, I was already noticing an increase in my discomfort. Lengthening my walking breaks made a big difference. I went back to having only minimal discomfort.
By now, drinking every other lap was no longer enough. I felt thirsty, so I started drinking every lap. By the time I finished a lap, I would be thirsty again. The temperature was now in the 70s with sunny skies. I underestimated how hot the direct sunlight would feel. The dry desert air also made it easy to get dehydrated.
Once you begin to feel uncomfortable, you need to break up the race by setting intermediate goals. My first intermediate goal was 25 laps. That was roughly equal to a marathon. It took me five hours and fifteen minutes to get there. The next intermediate goal was 50K.
After about five and a half hours, I started to notice some puffiness in my fingers. That can be a sign of hyponatremia. So far, I had only taken two of my electrolyte pills. I started taking them once per hour.
The aid station always had cookies, pretzels, PJBs, and bean roll-ups, but sometimes they had other foods. At designated times, they would have hot entrees, so the multi-day runners could get regular meals. One time I came by and a volunteer was holding a tray of Nutter Butter cookies with Nutella. Later, when it was hot, they had strawberry banana smoothies.
By the time I reached 50K, I was already thinking about the next goal. My longest run so far this year was 39.05 miles in an eight hour race. I needed eight more laps to get there. By now, every lap was a struggle. I chipped away at it, one lap at a time, but it seemed to take forever to do those eight laps.
After eight hours, we switched directions again. I had to choose a new place to end my walking breaks again. The road had two sharp turns, and then we turned onto the path. I started walking to the second sharp turn. At this point, I was walking roughly half of each lap.
By now, I had developed some painful blisters. The afternoon sun baked the course, making it dry and dusty. My gaiters kept dust from getting into my shoes around the ankles, but I suspect dust was getting through the uppers in the front of my shoes. Once dust gets into your shoes, it can work its way around the shoe and cause extra friction. At one point, I commented to my friend Karen that the blisters hurt enough to distract me from the discomfort in my ribs.
Earlier, my walking breaks were rest breaks. Now they were painful. The blisters made walking more painful than running.
After another half hour, I finally finished 38 laps, making this my longest run of the year for both time and distance. I was determined to get to 50 miles, but I needed 10 more laps. At this point, 10 laps was a lot. In the morning, I had thoughts of running 50 miles and then walking the rest of the night. From 50K on, I realized I would probably be done at 50 miles.
I saw a lot of familiar faces at this race. I knew several of the runners who were doing the six day race. Many of them come here every year. I also saw a few runners who I’ve seen at the FANS 24-hour race in Minneapolis. I was wearing a Comrades Marathon shirt, and I met two other Comrades runners. One did the “down” course the same year I did. The other will be doing his first Comrades next year. I also saw a few “Mainlyners” who I’ve at various Mainly Marathon series.
With 10 laps to go, I was tempted to walk the rest of the way, but I really wanted to keep running if I could. At first it was a struggle, but it got easier. Having decided to stop after 48 laps (50 miles), I could count down the remaining laps. When the countdown gets into single digits, it seemed well within reach.
When I saw the sun going down, I stopped by my tent to drop off my sunglasses. It wasn’t dark yet, but it would be soon. At night, the course is illuminated by a series of lamps. Some parts of the course are brightly lit. Others are shadowy. There’s enough light overall that you can get by without a flashlight.
With about eight laps to go, I had to clear my throat a couple of times. I suspect I needed to cough up some phlegm, but I was suppressing the urge to cough. Clearing my throat while running was somewhat painful. That inflamed my ribs. Now the blisters were no longer the thing I noticed most. While I was running, I only noticed the discomfort on my right side. While I was walking, I still noticed my side, but I also noticed the blisters.
I had to clear my throat every lap or two, which kept making the discomfort worse. I realized this wasn’t going to go away. I probably needed to cough deeply before it would get better. I couldn’t do that while running. Realistically, I needed to sit down in a chair, press a pillow against my side, brace for the pain and force myself to cough deeply. That wouldn’t happen until I was back at the hotel. Even if I could do it now, it would be too painful to continue running. My race would be over.
Despite the discomfort, it was getting easier to finish each lap. At first I thought that was psychological, since I had fewer and fewer laps remaining to get to 50 miles. I eventually realized it was because it felt cooler now. The hot sun earlier was really wearing me down. Now it was a few degrees cooler and the sun had set. If not for the discomfort in my side, I would have tried to persuade myself to keep running beyond 50 miles.
With about seven laps to go, I realized I could probably walk the remaining laps and still get to 50 miles within 12 hours. Running the second half of each lap allowed me to finish each lap four or five minutes faster. I was no longer tempted to walk the rest of the way, even though I had time. Walking the whole way would have been too painful. Walking bothered my blisters more, but running would have been too tiring. Walking half and running half was easier than doing just one or the other.
When I finished my 48th lap, I stopped my watch. That lap gave me 50.39 miles. For what it’s worth, I finished that distance in 11:28:05. Officially, my time will be 24 hours.
In theory, I was on pace to run 100 miles in 24 hours. In reality, that was virtually impossible. For the last few hours I was already going slower than the pace I would have needed in the second half.
I initially found that discouraging. This was a long training run for Rocky Raccoon. I ran 50 miles, which a nice stepping stone toward 100 miles, but I really struggled just to get to 50. My slow pace in those last few hours really distorted my perception of how I did. Finishing 50 miles in 11:28 is nothing impressive, but it’s respectable. I’m not in shape to do 100 miles in 24 hours, but the time limit at Rocky Raccoon is 30 hours. I should be able to do that.
As I was packing up to leave Camelback Ranch, it didn’t take much for me to get slightly short of breath. That’s when I realized how much the heat and sun had affected me in the afternoon. I felt like I had a very mild case of heat stress. Bearing that in mind, I’m not as discouraged by my slow pace in the afternoon hours.
When I got back to the hotel, I finally took off my shoes and socks. They didn’t look as bad as I thought they would. My socks had some dirty patches, only in the toes and heel. My feet looked worse. Both heels had thick blisters. On my left foot, I had layers of blisters, making it difficult to drain them.
Today, my side feels better. There’s a little discomfort, but no more than any other day. The race didn’t appear to have any long-term affect. My blisters are another matter. They may take longer to heal than the rib.