Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Across the Years 2012

For New Year’s this year, I had the opportunity to do something I don’t do often enough – crew for others running a race.  I was looking forward to NOT racing and doing what I could to help 8 runners from GA meet their goals at Across The Years 72 hour race in Glendale, AZ.  I’d also be doing my best to support Perry.  For a 3 day race with so many runners, the crew needs crew.

A bit about the race…I first heard of ATY from Kena and was in awe to read that she ran 209 miles.  But she was very modest and said that she knew she could do more.  The course is a 1.05mi loop at Camelback Ranch, a mix of pavement and dirt that was actually quite hard and unforgiving.  In addition to the 72-hr race, 24- and 48-hour races would start each day at 9am.  The weather forecast this year sounded near perfect – 50s/60s during the days and 30s in the evenings, almost no chance of rain.  Cold, but tolerable – at least that’s what I initially thought.

The plan on Friday was to shop for supplies, check in, set up camp, and sleep!  I had the pleasure of meeting the famous Ray the K and immediately had a conversation about PRs and American Records.  The man is an encyclopedia, computer and living legend.  Between the race venue and the host hotel, Kena, Perry and Willy kept running into people they knew.  The race promotes a family-type atmosphere that is unlike any other race I’d been a part of.  At the breakfast buffet Saturday morning, a fellow-racer warned me Kena will get cranky 2.5 days into the race – really, only family could say something like that. :-)  At the race start, I saw a guy in a jester outfit who I recognized from SD100 – turns out everybody knows Ed!  He stands out. :-) He was one of the most gracious and appreciative racers I’ve ever met.

A few minutes before 9am, the racers started lining up.  There were a few last minute announcements and then go!  A few people took off right away.  Um…it’s a long day (or days?) to start off fast, but everyone is different!  It was time for the crew to settle in and “hurry up and wait.”  I went for a run at a nearby park - love the saguaro catci!  Runners didn’t need much early on – the biggest concern was getting electricity to our tent area.  Perry had an elaborate set up with a laptop to track our runners, charge iPhones and iPads and light up the tent like a Christmas tree at night.  We also had numerous battery powered devices to ensure we were the most noticeable (obnoxious?)  tent area.  The only drawback was getting the van close enough to the tent so that the extension cord would stretch.  Thankfully wally-world was close and a few hundred feet of cord later, we had power!  Our crew area evolved over 3 days – every few hours, we added more tarps, lights, heaters, sleeping bags, food (thanks Hoa!), beer and even crew members.  Tom showed up and surprised everyone.  Other friends from AZ came out too – our tent area was definitely THE place to be, for many reasons, but maybe most notably because of the help fellow crew-member Ryan provided in terms of adjustments to our racers, the massage table (thanks Angela!), and the PODIUM PANTS (shhh!!!).  Between visitors stopping by and our racers politely requesting food, drinks, clothing items, etc…it was a struggle to keep the area and especially the table clean and orderly.  It seems like it should be a boring 3 days with lots of downtime, but there was always something to do – buy more cords, buy more lights, buy more tarps, run to McDonald’s for McRibs and In ‘n Out for animal-style burgers…

So rather than go day-by-day, I’d like to highlight the accomplishments of each of the runners, in no particular order.

Phillip – 160.621miles.  I had seen Phillip at numerous GUTS races, but hadn’t formally met him or his wife Rhonda before ATY.  Phillip has completed numerous 24hr and 100mi races before, but a multi-day event was a new beast altogether – he had a big mileage goal, positive attitude, and his wife Rhonda racing herself and cheering him on.  I walked with Phillip on a few late night laps – it was tough to hear him struggling.  How can a (nearly) pancake flat race in nice temps beat someone up so badly?  The enormity of what he was attempting was hitting him and he was concerned about Rhonda.  I listened and encouraged him as best I could and also was fortunate to spend quite a few laps with Rhonda.  Being able to share how she was overcoming obstacles and pushing on was awesome and motivating.  He reached a point where each lap was a mileage PR, re-adjusted his goals, maintained a positive and determined attitude – seeing Phillip and Rhonda cross the finish line hand in hand was one of the highlights of the race!

Rhonda – 100.782 miles.  She’s my hero.  She’s usually supporting Phillip but has done a few times lap races before, although admittedly doesn’t train.  She wanted to do 100 miles and nothing was going to stop her.  She completed 40 miles the first day!  One the 2nd and 3rd days, I ended up being the “mean” crew member – when she wanted to stop at the comfy, cozy tent, I said “no” and made her do one more lap.  We started walking together and bargaining.  Two more laps and you can stop for coffee, 2 more laps and you can sit for 2 minutes…by the time fewer than 10 laps remained, she didn’t want to stop – she knew she was going to reach her goal of 100 miles.  She made this amazing transition during the race of breaking down each day into laps, each lap into milestones, setting small goals and embracing that she was capable of such an incredible achievement.

Leigh – 123.878 miles.  She’s tough and always up for a new challenge.  An experienced hiker, cyclist and ironman finisher, a multi-day running event was new territory though.  She had a goal and a plan for reaching that goal and started off strong.  Unfortunately, as it often the case, things don’t go as planned.  Like the tough competitor she is, she re-adjusted goals, didn’t complain and gutted out a tough last 2 days.  The crew teased her that she was the quietest, most low-maintenance racer – we kept missing her laps because she would sneak by.

Josh – 56.69 miles.  Leigh’s husband is primarily a cyclist and I’m not sure his cycling friends knew what he had signed up for and if they did, probably thought he was crazy.  But he’s open to new adventures and was great at supporting and encouraging Leigh and everyone else.  The crud / flu claimed him early on, but re-adjusting goals (there’s a theme here!) he and Leigh got a hotel room for the next few nights and graciously shared the warm room and shower with the crew.  Everybody was appreciative of having a clean-smelling crew!

Willy “Natureboy” – 164.82 miles.  This was Willy’s second year competing in ATY.  He’d completed a 500mi race earlier in the year, so what’s a few hundred more miles in a couple of days?  Somehow Willy escaped me being the “mean” crew member – he would stop, I would get him blankets, McRibs, let him sleep… At the risk of ruining his reputation for being mean, he was a guardian angel to numerous racers on the course – whenever someone needed company or motivation on a few laps, running or walking, he was there.

Ed – 200.514 miles.  I didn’t get to hang out with Ed until after the race.  But it was always nice to be able to cheer on a GA runner and he always appreciated the cheers and support.  He had such a positive attitude and perspective and I look forward to seeing him on trails in the future.

Joe – 329.64 miles.  I don’t really need to say anything else.  It’s difficult to comprehend that number.  Especially given impressive distances he covered in 24 hour races in the previous weeks leading up to the race.  We had numerous friends in common but didn’t meet until the morning of the race.  He’s humble, down to earth, and just likes to run (and keep running).  For someone to cover that many miles, he was pretty-low key and self-sufficient, taking advantage of race food, and stopping by our tent occasionally for iPod charging, naps and morale boosts.  He did a good job of shutting off his brain and listening to what Perry and Ray told him (when to sleep, how long to sleep, etc…) and staying in continual forward motion.  When he broke the record at 324 miles, we were careful to tell him it was the record-setting lap, NOT the last lap.  Afterall, Ray reminded him it’s a 72-hour race, not a 70 hour race.  Another highlight for me was watching him complete the last few laps with Ray – legend and one in the making.

Kena – 254.054 miles.  Again, I don’t really need to say much else – that number speaks for itself and is equally difficult for me to comprehend.  She set a high mileage goal before the race and everybody had complete confidence in her.  She is one of the most positive, encouraging people I know.  She made me promise that I would still like her if / when she got crabby at night.  I don’t know how one keeps moving continuously for 3 days straight and doesn’t have minor breakdowns.  She doesn’t let other people quit in races she’s volunteering at or in charge of and that kind of determination was going to get her through 72 hours with record-setting mileage.  Each time there was a low, Perry or Willy or Ray or Ed or one of the other ATY runners would know what to say and she’d be back running, smiling and focused.  And she had positive words of encouragement for everyone on the course, especially her closest competitor Charlotte.  Seeing the 2 of them race against each other for 3 days and then push each other to achieve personal bests was the ultimate display of sportsmanship.  It was a struggle at times – and it could seem that friendship and competitiveness and the desire to win were at odds.  But it worked out beautifully.  Charlotte set a Canadian record, Kena set the course (and American?  or world?) record and they couldn’t have done it without motivating each other the last few hours.  A week after the race, I asked for a race report.  Kena’s response was “I wouldn’t know what to say except that I felt more loved than ever and I am forever grateful for all of the support that I had.  Thank you!!!”  Another legend in the making.

I can’t wrap this up without a few words about Perry.  His MacGuyver skills made sure we could land planes at night, if need be, in addition to staying warm and dry.  But more importantly, he understands the logistics of multi-day racing, the stress the runners are under, and what to tell them about food, sleep and competitors to keep them motivated and moving forward.  And he’s able to do this while remaining (relatively) coherent on 4 hours of sleep in 3 days.  He could still read – the same couldn’t be said for some of the ultrarunners… ;-)

I am incredibly grateful for the opportunity to be a part of ATY2012 – it was amazing to witness all 8 runners from GA setting personal mileage bests, including 2 course records.  Will there be a next year?  As a crew – definitely!  Records were made to be broken and I’d like to see a few more fall. :-)

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