On December 3, I'll be running the Tucson Marathon for the fourth time. On December 30, the 48-hour race Across the Years begins, where my goal has been to go 130 miles, with most of that being accomplished in the first 24 hours.
Until yesterday I had not run any further than the distance of a marathon in 2000. My one marathon was at St. George on October 7. My longest training run of the year has been 24 miles, an indoor jaunt on Bally's track.
Experience and common sense suggest that to cope successfully with the formidable stress of a multi-day race I need to do more than just show up and go for it. I need to schedule at least one very long day on my feet in my preparation.
The problem was one of deciding how to accomplish that, with less than two months between marathons, followed 26 days later by the Big One. When was I supposed to fit it in?
The solution was to run Just Another Mad Dog yesterday (November 11, 2000) as my last long training run before Tucson.
Just Another Mad Dog (usually referred to simply as Mad Dog) is a triple event: a 25K, 50K, and 50-mile race, sponsored by Arizona Road Racers (ARR), of which I am a loyal and happy member. The course is a 3.85-mile dual loop on the sidewalks of large and attractive Vista del Camino Park in Scottsdale, Arizona.
The race director tells me that in years past there was a club race called Mad Dog, presented in April. When they created a similar race in November, they called it Just Another Mad Dog. But I doubt if anyone knows the origin of the name Mad Dog.
Typically, a total of no more than 50 people will show up for all three races together. Yesterday there were only three 50-mile finishers, and one 50-mile relay team, sixteen 50K finishers, and sixteen 25K finishers.
Last year I volunteered to assist at this race, and concluded there was no way on earth that I would ever run it myself because of the sidewalks, which must be shared with roller-bladers, bicycles, and strollers walking dogs. As it turns out, the secondary traffic was no problem at all, and bystanders in the park were our main source of encouragement. But the hardness of the surface takes its toll in time.
On race day last year the temperature reached 90 degrees, and by afternoon runners were coming into the aid station caked with salt and without any trace of sweat, badly dehydrated. Despite this, the winner of the 50-mile race finished in exactly 6:00:00 flat, an elite time. Most other 50-milers arrived closer to nine hours.
The course is conveniently laid out in a bowtie-like double loop emanating from the aid station. The first loop heads out in a southerly direction and goes around lakes filled with ducks and geese, and playing fields, then makes its way back to the aid station, for a total of about 1.5 miles. The second loop heads north around more lakes and playing fields, around a boys and girls club at the north end, and back down the east side of the park, for a total of about 2.5 miles. Yes, that adds up to 4.0 miles, but the exact total is actually 3.85 miles. I don't believe the course is certified, but the distance is close.
The great advantage to this arrangement is passing the aid station twice on each lap. Fifty-mile runners must run thirteen laps, and 50K runners do eight laps, with an extra small loop at the beginning that takes about four minutes. The 25K runners start two hours later than the rest, and I don't know how they are routed to make the distance come out even. Maybe, since 25K is not a common distance, they just run four laps and call it close enough. (About 216 meters short.)
I would have loved to run the 50-mile race. I've never tried one. However, I knew that it would take me at least eleven hours to finish it. My wife and I had previous plans for later in the evening, so I had to allow time to get home, clean up, rest a little, and eat before going out.
Therefore, I registered officially for the 50K race. That way I would be able to count a 50K completion in my race log, my second, rather than a 50-mile DNF.
It was my intent, once I finished the 50K, to rest a few minutes, and then continue on until 3:00 PM, for a total of nine hours on the road, by which time I figured to get about 42 miles. As a low-key low-cost club race there was really no problem with me continuing to run the course all day if I wanted, unless, of course, I suddenly decided I wanted to finish the 50-mile race and get credit for it as such, in which case there would have been something like a $5 additional fee, assuming they would even allow it. But this was never an issue, since I had no hope of finishing 50 miles.
On Friday night I went to bed at 8:40, and set the alarm for 3:45 AM. Unfortunately, I slept badly, and not because of nerves. It was just one of those nights.
In the morning I had no difficulty whatever getting up and ready. I ate nothing but a PowerBar for breakfast, and of course I needed my dose of coffee, two tall mugfuls.
All week long I had watched the weather reports. A week ago they predicted temperatures ranging from 22-40 F. For two days during the week they predicted rain, but at least warmer temperatures. When I looked outside in the morning, there was a full moon and stars. It was mostly clear, and although there was a great deal of moisture in the air, and I could see my breath, it was already in the mid-forties. It would be clear and not too cold. What a relief!
My daughter Cyra-Lea, who is a morning person, graciously agreed to get up and drive me to the race. The drive is barely twenty minutes with no traffic. We parked and she hung around until the start, then went home, because she had a busy day of her own ahead of her.
Right up until the beginning of the race, workers were scrambling to get everything put down and in place. ARR bought a ChampionChip system last spring and has been using it at club races ever since. Although this was not used for official counting, because runners were not issued chips, it was installed and running for test purposes, so runners who own their own chips could have their activity recorded. I bought my own chip when the club first offered them at a discount to members. Mad Dog was only the second time I've gotten to use it.
Officially, a pair of ancient Mac computers were used to record laps, using custom software. These were in use at Across the Years last year. I worked on them two six-hour shifts myself, so am quite familiar with the method of counting they used.
Five minutes before the start, with nothing out on the aid station table yet, and the clock not turned on, race director Paul Bonnet-Castillo described the course to us. On the first loop the 50-milers would follow him around on a bicycle to make sure everyone saw the glowsticks and abundant red duct tape arrows laid down at critical crossroads. The 50K runners would follow his son James.
Paul turned to codirector Frank Cuda, seated at the computer under cover of the ramada 50 feet away, and suggested it was about time for him to get the race started by saying something like "Runners ready, go." Frank replied, "Oh, OK. Ummm ... Runners ready, go." We all stood and laughed for a second, then realized that was really it, so we just started running, and were off. The time was exactly 6:00 AM.
It took about 4:30 for me to run the first mini-loop led by James, except for about eight seconds when he fell off his bicycle and nearly got trampled by the leaders. He was unhurt and back up immediately.
The difference between the others and me did not take long to develop. Ahead of me was a lead pack of twelve runners, with a gap that gradually widened. Behind me were three more runners.
One of them was Michael Gary Allen, a wonderful, warm man. Michael is age 65, a former Olympian (on the 1964 cycling team), and an awesome ultrarunner. He is planning on trying to set a world age record for 48 hours at the UltraCentric race in Dallas in just two weeks.
I had met Michael briefly at the conclusion of last year's Mad Dog, and then encountered him again at Across the Years 24-hour race, where he beat me by one lap. However, Michael had slept for five hours, while I remained on the track all night -- not to mention that he is eight years older than I am, at a phase in life where that differential is significant.
It didn't take long before I was running comfortably, albeit slowly. I expected, and even planned to finish this race in dead last place, since my greater objective was to put a long time on my feet.
Within thirty minutes there was sufficient light to see the pretty man-made lakes, with the early-rising ducks and geese quacking and honking away. For the first two hours there was a great deal of fog, particularly over the water. By the time the sun was fully up it burned off. Later the southernmost lake became occupied by a junior sailing club.
I wouldn't have wanted to be in that water myself. (In the afternoon I saw some kids wading in it, retrieving Frisbees.) I began the race wearing tights, a warmup jacket, and gloves over my usual RaceReady shorts with both a long-sleeve Coolmax shirt and a singlet.
In addition to my standard gear, I broke a rule about never wearing something new in a race: I put on a new pair of SmartWool Ultra Cushion running socks, and broke in a never-worn pair of Asics Gel Foundation shoes. Normally that would be a Very Bad Idea! However, Asics advertises this model with a guarantee that they need no break-in. I've had about a half dozen pair, and have never had a hint of problem with new ones. However, I did have backups in my bag.
Yesterday I chose not to duct tape my feet. At St. George marathon I did so, and wound up with two blisters, both of them under the duct tape, in places I've never had blisters. In the future I'll use duct tape only on developing problems during ultras.
Eventually I shed the jacket, tights, and gloves, but was glad to have the double shirt, as the high temperature for the day never got above 62. According to the weather report, the normal high for November 11 is 77. After fretting over the possibilities all week, it turned out to be an utterly perfect day for running.
The first two full laps seemed to go quickly, as the running was very pleasant. For much of the way I ran with Michael Allen. We talked and got acquainted, as we lumbered along at the end of the pack, and waved greetings to runners making the return trip at points on the course where our paths crossed. Personally, I felt honored to be at the end in such noble company.
For two or three laps we leapfrogged positions. Michael would stop at one of the two or three public rest rooms on the course, and I would pass him by, but he wouldn't take long, and soon I'd see him just fifty yards behind me. Then I'd get to the aid station and stop for a big swig, and he would go whizzing by and I'd be on his tail for a while.
It went on like that until the fourth lap. By that time I was obliged to face the fact that nature had not kicked in sufficiently in the early morning; I would have to make a stop myself. I won't horrify you with a description of what happened. Suffice it to say that I truly needed that respite, as I thought my gut would turn inside out. After that, I ran much more comfortably for the rest of the day. But that pause cost me a full five minutes, and afterward I was never anywhere close to Michael. I never even saw him again until near the end.
I never did see the other two persons who were initially behind me pass me by, but when I saw the results listing I confirmed that they did, as I suspected.
I've learned that the longer the distance run, the more surviving it becomes a matter of energy management. In longer races, the choices we make in regard to gear, hydration, and food intake become critical. While there is no substitute for training and skill, the more we learn and the more we apply our intelligence to the job, the better we are able to minimize shortcomings attributable to a lack of talent, aging, and other factors beyond our control.
At Mad Dog I set up my own personal aid station. I brought my comfortable collapsing camp chair with me and set my gym bag full of goodies on it, right next to the aid station table, and barely two feet off the path. It was perfectly safe there, with volunteers around to keep an eye on stuff.
Friday night I mixed up a full gallon jug of Karl King's Clip, a bland-tasting product designed to be used in exercise sessions of more than six hours. Clip has a bit of fat content to it, in addition to the other replenishment ingredients generally required by athletes engaged in extended exercise.
Although Clip will never win any awards for haute cuisine, when it comes right down to it, if I have to drink an entire gallon of anything in a relatively short period of time, I would rather drink Clip than Gatorade. Many persons, including me, have found that large quantities of Gatorade drunk in a short period upsets their stomach.
The technical explanation for this is that the upset comes from an excess buildup of fructose, which digests more slowly than the athlete needs. The primary ingredient in Clip is maltodextrin, which digests directly into glucose, without any fructose. Drinking it is soothing to the stomach, but next time I'll add some NutraSweet to the mix.
I also brought a flask and what's left of a jug of Hammer Gel, which it turns out they also supplied at the race.
I survived my entire race entirely on my personal supply of Clip and Hammer Gel. These items, combined with the Succeed! capsules that are enormously popular with ultrarunners, taken about once every hour and a half in cool weather, provide most of what is really needed during extended running. Somehow, I managed to avoid diving even once into the tempting and well-stocked cache of high-fat cookies and sugary junk food being offered at the table next to my chair. I also downed an unconservative but safe number of Advil tablets during the day.
My original intent was to cover the entire distance in the fashion that I will run my multi-day event in December -- to run about a mile, then walk for two or three minutes, keeping up the pattern for as long as I could stand it, continuing beyond the 50K.
However, that's not what I did. Before long I realized that I would be unable to stop myself from running the whole 50K outright, stopping only for aid station breaks, the potty once, and near the end, walking up a few small but annoying hills on each lap.
And thus it went, though I was in no hurry at all to be done. The first five laps, up to nearly 20 miles, went smoothly. Although my total lap time was only about four minutes longer on the sixth lap than I had been running, by that time, closing in on the distance of a marathon, I started to feel mighty tired.
Lap seven, which took me past 27 miles, was the hardest. After that, I knew the end was near. I saw that my time would be way slower even than I had imagined it would be, but I tried to put that out of my mind.
My wife Suzy planned on arriving sometime in mid-afternoon, and would drive me home at 3:00 PM. She had not yet arrived as I headed out on the last long loop segment.
Not long after I started, I crossed paths again with Michael Allen, who was headed in to the finish. He had managed to get about two miles ahead of me since early morning. I had seen him about a half hour before on the other side of the loop. "You're awesome, Michael!" I called out to him as he passed by, which he smilingly acknowledged, trucking steadily by, with a cheerful and determined look on his face.
As I ran that final segment I considered what I would be doing after the 50K. I concluded that I would rest for a few minutes, and then would do an extra full lap, not even bothering to measure the time, and would even walk the whole thing if needed. I had hoped to get in eleven laps for the day by 3:00, for a total of a little over 42 miles, but would be satisfied with nine.
Finally, I came sauntering in, at the amazingly slow 50K time of 6:42:00, an overall 12:56 pace. This time is an unbelievable 57 minutes slower than the accurately measured 50K training run I did on an indoor track in early September, 1999. That would have been good for 11th place yesterday, but instead I was last (sixteenth) by a margin of 32 minutes. Interestingly, the four runners before me all finished within 39 seconds of each other.
For about two minutes I stood and chatted with Paul about six inches beyond the end of the ChampionChip mat. (There wasn't exactly a thundering herd of traffic coming across it.)
Suzy still had not arrived. No problem. Whenever she arrived she would make herself useful at the aid station, while waiting for me to throw in the towel.
So I plopped myself down in my chair, my supply of Clip having been perfectly timed to be finished as I headed out for the last segment, and enjoyed being off my feet. An aid station volunteer scurried over and offered to bring me anything I wanted. They had a feast of chicken and beans going back in the microwave under the ramada. I decided to pass on that, and drank only three cups of pure, cold, unadulterated, sugary Coke.
In a few minutes I mustered up my resolve to complete the job I'd set out to do, so stirred myself out of my chair, and walked over to tell Paul that I was going to run at least one more lap.
He said, "Oh, you've finished a 50K, right?" Yes. "Well, I have an award for you!" An award? Okay, I figured he was handing out some certificate of completion in lieu of a finisher's medal, which Mad Dog is not financed well enough to supply.
To my surprise and delight, he pulled out of a bag a hooded sweatshirt that I'd ordered two of and paid for at last December's Across the Years, but never got!
There was a foul-up in the delivery of the shirts, and they ran short. Paul asked local (Arizona) runners if they'd mind terribly not taking a sweatshirt so all traveling runners could get one, and he'd get us ours in a couple of weeks. Being a good sport, I acquiesced. That couple of weeks turned into months, and eventually it looked as though he would be unable to get another supply printed. I had given up hope of ever getting mine, and it had become a standing joke between us.
Then, lo and behold, I suddenly had my longed-for shirt in hand. It's really cool (and warm)! On the left sleeve it says 48 24 HOURS and on the right sleeve it says SIX DAYS. The front has the race name and date.
After tucking away the sweatshirt, I headed out for another lap, but for the first several minutes all I could do was walk. I sat too long, though less than fifteen minutes total, and had begun to stiffen up and ache.
Finally I started running, first for a minute, then two, then three, then five at a time, and after I loosened up again didn't feel too bad.
When I came back from the first leg, I stopped at the rest room not far from the start, then came moseying in. Paul met me with the words, "You're going to complete another lap, right?" Right. "That's good, because you need one more." Huh? "You've run only seven laps. You need another one." Huh??? No way! I knew for a certainty that he was wrong, and sent him back to his lists to count up again. Meanwhile, I headed out for another second leg, and began reconstructing things in my head.
It didn't take long to become convinced that I was right, and I had an abundance of lines of evidence to present when I returned, if necessary.
The frustration must have fueled my energy, because I ran that segment as well as any other during the last half of the race, and even enjoyed it. I'm sure I could have knocked off another full lap if I'd really wanted to.
As I came around the final bend, there was Suzy standing about 75 yards ahead, camera in hand. So eventually there will be pictures of me hustling my bedraggled carcass toward the finish.
Can you see me in the distance? Hint: Look between the two light poles in the center
Coming in after 35 miles. I took off my race number before I started the extra lap.
As I crossed the mat, Paul said: "Congratulations! You ran nine laps." Ha! I knew that I did, but I'm glad they had worked it out without my having to conjure up the reasonings. They certainly could have checked the chip log. Maybe they did.
At the finish line, talking to Paul.
They had simply forgotten to count my very last lap, which is why they couldn't make it add up in between. But when they saw my splits they knew I'd been running consistently.
That lap concluded, I was satisfied with the day's activity. By then the clock had been running for over eight hours, and though I could have run one more and still have been done under nine hours, I felt no pressing need to get more exercise that day, meanwhile making Suzy wait for me for nearly another hour.
Instead, we hung around another fifteen or twenty minutes, talking to people who were still around. There were still some 50-mile runners out on the course, one of whom had four full laps to go, so they would be there for a while.
One thing I did was talk to Paul and Frank about the race T-shirt. There is a large image of a big, angry dog on the front, and the name of the event, and the date. That's cool. There is no mention of what the event is. Bad! It was like that last year, too, but since I didn't run the race myself, but only volunteered, I didn't care.
As I explained (with tongue in cheek): One of the benefits to getting a shirt at a race is the bragging rights that come along with it. If the shirt says: "Race for the Cure 5K", it's like, ho-hum it's a fine cause, but just another mass race for beginners. (I don't intend to demean such races in any way.)
But if the shirt has "Marathon" or "50 Miles" or "100-Mile Endurance Run" or "24 Hour Run" written on it, it stands the potential of becoming a conversation starter. Yes, it's a point of vanity, but it's one I allow myself to indulge in without shame. My point was duly noted. Whether next year's race will have "25K / 50K / 50M" written anywhere on it remains to be seen. So does the question of whether I will be there to get one for myself.
Suzy drove me home, and I felt surprisingly fresh and awake. I got into the shower immediately. Ahhhh! Much to my surprise, my feet were in fine condition, with no sign of blisters. Nor did I suffer an undue amount of the pain on the balls of my feet that I've been experiencing and fighting for the last several months.
Mad Dog was my third ultra. I've now run two official 50Ks and one 24-hour race. I've also run an unofficial 50K training run, as noted above -- not a race, but I do know that the distance was accurate.
My mileage total for yesterday, nearest I can tell, adding 3.85 miles to 50K, was 34.92 miles. This amounts to the second longest distance I've ever gone in a single day, and I survived it very well. I was not too sore to run about half of a 3.6-mile jaunt this afternoon.
After a shower, I took a nap of less than an hour, got up and had a delicious meal of soup and salad, and then Suzy and I went to see the Arizona Opera production of Carmen. Amazingly, I remained wide awake for the whole thing. But it added up to a long day.
As of this writing, I have 21 days until Tucson marathon, and 48 until Across the Years. The year will end in a flourish.