Yesterday at 9:00 AM, the 6-day Across the Years footrace began. The official obese dubification of the aggregate is: The 17th Annual 6-Day, 48-Hour, 24-Hour Run, Walk, Nap, and Eat Across the Years, Decades, Centuries, and Millennia Races. Regardless of what the majority believe concerning when the new millennium starts, the runners are in motion as I write.
I've seen a vision of the future. By 2050, human fitness standards will have changed. Everyone, including women, will run even winter trail marathons barefoot and bare-chested. The athletic shoe industry will collapse, with the survivors hanging on by diversifying into buying up Starbucks franchises.
In 2050 runners will wear only shorts made out of a yet-to-be-invented miracle fiber that regenerates life to the wearer, one that transmits hydration, electrolytes, and energy to the body by osmosis. It will be necessary to replenish the fabric simply by wading every fifty miles or so through a tub of Skippy peanut butter. Most people will learn to love this requirement.
The men's world record for the marathon will stand at 1:29:55, and the women's record at 1:28:20. The women will achieve superior performance because of their efforts to run from the men chasing them. And no one will much care any longer when the new millennium began.
The ATY race site is Arizona Boys Ranch, in Queen Creek, Arizona. It's a 58-minute drive from my house, in light traffic. I arrived yesterday just before 1:30 PM, four and a half hours into the race. It was cool and windy when I arrived.
I located race director Paul Bonnett-Castillo immediately, who quickly informed me that he had spent all morning resolving disaster after disaster. Despite it, things were progressing well.
Eighteen runners showed up to run, including Paul, who at that time had walked around the track twice. By the time I left for the day he got around it once more, en route to fixing another problem.
My job was to serve as a lap counter. In previous years they used paper charts, pencils, stopwatches and calculators. The old method was tedious, but worked well enough.
With the move to computers, the task has been complicated somewhat. When I arrived, a table with an awning over it had been constructed by the track. Two ancient Macintosh SE computers were running, with operators performing identical functions. A third Mac with a missing Enter keycap stood by on another table.
The computers are attached to printers. As each runner came by, the number would be called out, and the operators would enter them and press return. The record would be written immediately to the hard disk, and a line that shows the runner's name, bib number, lap, placement, accrued mileage and other statistics, was sent at the same time to the printer, so there would be an ongoing hard copy record of the race. Several runners are aiming for various records. This data needs to be correct.
Both of the two main computers and printers were being run off a car battery. I never got the full story on why this was necessary. Volunteers were visibly worried by the evidence that the computers were drawing more power than the battery was putting out, and that an eventual power failure seemed inevitable. They were working on a plan to move the computer equipment sometime during the night, when fewer runners would be out.
At 2:00 PM, following a brief training session, I took my place at one of the Macs and began entering and calling out runners' race numbers as they passed by. Less than an hour later the power failure came. I shouted to Paul, who was ten feet away. His son Charlie immediately started entering data on the standby computer, which was run off an ordinary power outlet, with the data records set to zero, but the clock in sync.
The time to move the computers was right then. In moments everything got unplugged. We carried it over the fence and up to the top of the bleacher steps to the press box booth. Within fifteen minutes everything worked again. On a signal from the track, we started recording laps, and simultaneously Charlie stopped. Charlie printed a standings report, ran up to the booth, and between recording the continuous unbroken flow of completed laps as they happened, deftly added in the laps completed for each runner while he had been recording them. Once again things were copasetic. Crisis resolved.
There are both advantages and disadvantages to sitting in the booth. It's warmer in there, being out of the wind. After a while they brought up a space heater. This helped a little, but not enough, because we needed to keep the windows wide open. But we had a good view of the runners on the track from there, with no interference from non-runners walking by, which was an occasional problem at track level. It was harder to read their numbers from there, but fortunately I have good distance vision. And before long, we learned runners' numbers by appearance. The only problem was when they changed clothes, which happened as it got colder.
The primary disadvantage of the booth was the loss of intimacy with the runners, which I regretted. On the track the computer operators were talking directly with the runners, calling them by name and cheering them on. From the booth, it was necessary to have someone at track level to communicate with the computer operators. At first this was done entirely by shouting the numbers loudly so we could hear them upstairs. This system removed us by one step. All we did was punch in the numbers and check the data. It wasn't as much fun. In retrospect, however, it was a much better method.
A half hour before we finished our shift, someone showed up with a set of walkie-talkies. One was left in front of us, running off of wall current, one was taken to the caller on the track, and two backups sat in rechargers. This was a vast improvement, and continued for the rest of the six days.
Lap counting requires tenacity. There is utterly no margin for error. I remained glued to the computer keypad for six hours without even a potty break. My partner and I had to check each other's screens constantly to be sure the number of laps recorded for each runner was the same. On three occasions there were errors, one of which did not get spotted for over an hour. These had to be resolved by tracing back through the printed output looking for an explanation, and then one or the other corrected. All this has to happen while continuing to record laps, sometimes in bursts of four or five people traveling in a pack crossing within a few seconds.
The scene at the race is as amazing as I had remembered from last year. The football field is covered with tents serving as support centers for runners and their crews. Some people seem to be unattended, but the majority have at least one helper there. The six Brazilians are grouped together. Some came with family members. Most seem to speak little or no English, so they have formed a little enclave of their own.
Some human interest notes from Sunday's session follow.
The weather forecast calls for increasing high temperatures up to 74 degrees on Friday. Come what may, I'm going to have fun on December 31.
This spectacularly beautiful morning, after studying and caring for necessary business at home, I walked for two miles, my almost-last exercise until Friday. My seven-day accumulation has dwindled to 16.13 miles, a mere token effort.
It's been decades since I've felt as emotionally pumped up by the way I feel physically. As a benchmark I often compare one day in New York City in 1974, one of the best days of my life. It was a superlatively gorgeous spring day. When I headed from home to the subway, on my way to work, an overwhelming urge blanketed me, driving me to keep walking. Although it was ten miles to work, I walked the whole way. As I walked south on Broadway, I jumped and leapt about, punching my fists into the air, probably looking like a madman to passersby. I felt completely in lockstep with the world around me. At that exact moment life had never felt so good.
This morning's walk was not that good, but was in the same range. I wanted nothing more than to take off running. I wanted to fly. My head filled with visions of a 100-mile day Friday. This feeling must be repressed — a 100-mile day isn't going to happen. But I have a better feeling regarding my readiness for this race than any other I've ever done.
Suzy and Cyra-Lea joined me in Queen Creek this afternoon. On the way out we left our new car at the dealer for some minor tweaking, and picked up a loaner. The borrowed car, now sitting ostentatiously in my driveway, is a year 2000 Cadillac Deville with 900 miles on it. We rode to Arizona Boys Ranch in style, arriving in the parking lot at 2:02 PM, two minutes late. Being late annoyed me, because I'm a meticulously on-time person, and I had promised to be there.
Suzy and I immediately sat down at the computers, replacing the weary volunteers who had been there for many, many hours. Meanwhile, Cyra-Lea got the best job in the whole place. She took over the walkie-talkie and began to call the numbers of passing runners. She stuck at it, with only one short bathroom break, not missing a single number, until we left shortly after 8:00 PM. Runners stopped by before we left to say she was the best caller they'd had. They were being nice, but it was probably true. Who wouldn't rather be greeted each lap by a cute, friendly, cheerful teenage girl than by an old grouch like me? As I used to sing to her when she was little (to the tune of the old Sara Lee bakery ad)
Everybody doesn't like something,
But nobody doesn't like Cyra-Lea!
It was frantic in the booth all afternoon. We kept encountering discrepancies in the count. These need to be resolved immediately and corrected, while continuing to record numbers, without ever missing a single one. When there's a problem, it's helpful to have a third person handy who knows what to look for by poring over the hard copy. That wasn't always possible. Paul says that on Friday, when the number of runners will be greatly increased, he will have a third person working behind the computer operators as a backup, recording numbers by hand.
Another problem was that the walkie-talkies would lose their charge quickly. On two occasions this happened while Cyra-Lea was trying to call out numbers, and the transmission was breaking up without her knowledge, while we frantically tried to figure out who was passing by. Someone would have to run a freshly recharged radio down to her, while she communicated with a loud voice, shouting the numbers up. She never missed a beat, but we in the booth were falling all over each other at times.
On one occasion, due to some unexplained botch-up, there were four lap-count discrepancies that appeared all at once, and then the walkie-talkie went out again. In the midst of this chaos one of the cell phones rang: It was some guy wanting to know if we wanted Canadian bacon on our pizzas, which would cost seven dollars extra. We had no idea pizza had been ordered. "Forget the bacon! Just deliver the pizzas!" Suzy barked into the phone, and hung up. A half hour later runners were circling the track with paper plates, wolfing down fresh baconless pizza. Eventually some was sent up to us, too.
As I reported Friday, there was an article on the race in the Tribune on Sunday. I still haven't seen this myself, but there is a copy of it on a table down by the track.
From the booth Suzy and I saw Paul holding up a newspaper against his chest. Several runners had stopped and were crowded around him looking at it. He was showing them another newspaper article, this one on the front page of the sports section of today's paper, complete with a photograph of Paul, his son James, and 61-year-old runner Don Winkley, who received most of the focus of the article. Don gave up a heavy smoking habit, took up running, and has since run across the country a couple of times. It was an excellent article that gave balanced coverage to the rest of the race, and accurately reported all matters. It's a keeper. I got a photocopy for my files.
The best coverage was yet to come. Amid the liveliest, deepest commotion, a roving reporter from Channel 15 News, the local ABC affiliate, showed up with a videocamera. He stayed for over an hour, interviewed numerous people, wandered around freely, and shot footage liberally, including of us working in the booth. He told us the piece would be on at 10:00 PM.
Paul assigned me the responsibility of seeing that it got taped. Tonight at home we turned on the TV, started the VCR, and waited for the story. We weren't disappointed.
They allotted only two minutes to it, but did an amazing job. The video footage was superbly edited, and the story had good introductory and concluding copy. Cyra-Lea was the subject of the second taped shot. Following a runner passing by, they cut to her calling out the numbers, then to an interview with Paul. That was followed by several little one-sentence quotes from runners. At the end the anchorperson said, "Forrest Gump would be proud!" Indeed he would. Miraculous things are taking place in Queen Creek this week.
Someone arrived early to take over my position on the lap-counting computer. I moved to Paul's Windows machine and prepared the 3:00 PM report to be sent across the Internet, now nearly five hours late. This was tedious work. The Macs are not connected to the PC, so I had to type all the data in by hand from a hard copy off the printer, using typically braindead PC software. Apparently there are anxious fans in Brazil and Germany waiting on pins and needles for every update.
Meanwhile, Paul, who set himself a goal of 100 miles for the six days, but had so far covered only fourteen, decided to do some running. Paul is not merely a good ultrarunner. He's blazingly fast. He ripped into a series of eight or ten laps at a pace between 1:15 and 1:30 per lap (between 5:00 and 6:00 per mile). Nothing like a little speedwork in the middle of a 6-day race, eh?
Just before 8:00 PM I went down to keep Cyra-Lea company the last few minutes, but it was so beautiful out that I took off my jacket and treated myself to one lap around the track, a fitting cap to my training, and a small taste of what was to come.
Human beings are planners. In the beginning the fulfillment of our dreams seems far away. Eventually the time passes, and the thing planned for becomes reality. My time, the plan that I made a full year ago and have thought about every day since, is finally upon me.
It was with good purpose that I took this week off work. The time has allowed me the mornings to care for numerous personal matters. I'm a veteran list maker. I have so many lists that I wrote some software to organize all my lists and notebooks into a common format and interface. All week I've been striking things off lists, catching up on Real Life.
Yesterday morning was quiet at home. I had to get up early to take an older lady friend who has been sick and needs help to get her car fixed. It gave me a jump start on the morning.
Cyra-Lea, too, is an admirably organized, disciplined, and hard-working person, a trait she inherits more from her mother than from me. She has spent her winter vacation buried in the book Peak Fitness for Women by eight-time Ironman Triathlon world champion Paula Newby-Fraser, a gift I brought her from visiting the US Olympic Training center in Chulla Vista, California, in September, 1998. It's taken her until now to get around to it, but she's only two chapters from the end. As a nursing student with an outrageous aptitude for understanding and remembering scientific information, I'm sure she's taken the sheer volume of physical data to heart. She's probably memorized it and will spend the next three weeks reciting it back to me.
I'm happy that her interest in fitness is on the increase. Parents are supposed to do things with their children, sharing their lives with them. Not a few parents think this means coming down to the level of the kids — going outside and playing ball, and doing the stuff kids like, including sometimes mindless things that kids do because they're kids and don't know there are better things to do. While some of this is good, I've always encouraged parents to teach their children constantly. Personally, I've played kid's games with my children few times in their lives. Instead, I've preferred to teach them to love the things I've come to appreciate myself. As I've said to them both, parents can share with their children only what they have to give.
In my case, what I've had to give to my children is a love for spirituality, music, the arts, reading, education, and the skills to be self-sufficient. In recent years I've tried to be an example in matters of physical fitness. We can't make our children take up a program of regular training, especially if they haven't done it as a matter of habit since their earliest years. But seeing Dad's enthusiasm for and the benefits received from running has certainly rubbed off to some degree. I regret that I didn't discover that area of my life earlier. This was something that my own parents did not have to share with me, so I had to learn about it in adulthood.
Aaron is now 26 and has lived on his own for several years, so hasn't been mentioned much in this journal. At one time, before he could afford to own a car, he was a cyclist who competed in biathlons, sometimes obtaining age group hardware. I can't claim to have had much of a role in bringing this about, but I'm glad to see it, and hope that he pursues it more in the future, now that he's attained greater affluence and consequent softness.
In the last two months Cyra-Lea, who is five feet tall, but was carrying more than her optimum weight, has lost nine pounds merely by doing sensible things, and has been hitting her workouts with renewed enthusiasm. Perhaps running the marathon relay in Tucson and working around incredible runners as she did Tuesday, has primed her enthusiasm. I'm hoping she'll learn to give physical health a high priority while she's still young, something neither her mother nor I did until much too late in life.
By 12:30 PM yesterday (Wednesday) I was off to the races again. That morning the early starting 24-hour runners began, twelve of them, added to the eighteen 6-day runners, all of whom are still hanging in there.
As of this morning, lead 6-day runner Antonio de Freitas had 281 miles. Yesterday he was much quieter than he'd been the first and third days. German Martina Hausmann is still second overall by a margin of 47 miles, and still hoping to set a German record, but since early in the race she has appeared to be in a great deal of discomfort. One early-starting 24-hour runner, 57-year-old Saben Snow, had 64 miles by twelve hours, and yesterday was running constantly and at an amazing clip. At this writing I do not yet have the final results for the early starting 24-hour runners.
My job Wednesday, except for one break to prepare the Internet report, was to be the numbers caller, the delicious job that Cyra-Lea held down all Tuesday afternoon. This was immeasurably more fun than being up in the booth, because it gave me a chance to interact directly with the runners.
I had watched at least two lackluster volunteers just rattling off the numbers, looking incredibly bored, failing to appreciate the golden opportunity they had. I determined that I would make an extraordinary effort to perform my job, enunciating each number loud and clear, making eye contact with each runner, wearing the biggest smile I could muster, and cheering them on whenever I could. Apparently my efforts were both successful and appreciated. As time passed, the runners all smiled back at me when they came around, and we had little conversation threads going.
Another volunteer showed up at 3:00 PM, a man who will be running the 24-hour race Friday. One of the first things he said as he surveyed the scene was: "I can't believe how many of these people are smiling}" He touched on a point that I had observed myself.
Likely some non-runners, when told of the existence of an event like ATY, a supreme test of endurance, picture scenes of misery, with delirious people collapsing in exhaustion and physical peril on the track, having to be carted off on stretchers to be given medical attention. The reality is runners doing what they do best, running, talking, joking, laughing, and enjoying each other's company, in this case, for a reallylong time}. At a long track run, an intimate sense of community quickly springs up among runners, volunteers, and crew people alike, as all immerse themselves into the common experience at hand.
The truth is that last year there was one serious near-disaster, but it was an anomaly. The subject was Stephanie Ehret, the overall winner of the 24-hour race. She became seriously ill after completing her race with 129 miles, and vomited up her stomach lining. She spent two days in an intensive care unit.
Stephanie's case was unusual, and sufficiently worthy of analysis that she wrote an article about her experience that will be published in the magazine Marathon & Beyond in the spring of 2000. She will be at ATY again Friday, hoping to do well once again.
Another misconception non-runners may have about extreme endurance sport is that it is participated in primarily by wild and crazy thrill-seeking young people, most of them no older than college age, with a few veterans reaching age thirty, except for a few lunatics on the fringes like me.
This notion, too, is diametrically opposed to the reality. Ultrarunning is not a form of so-called extreme sports. Great endurance takes knowledge, skill, intelligence, and patience, in addition to good training, as well as maturity and experience that only years of life can develop. First-time observers might be shocked to see that there is hardly a participant without some amount of gray hair.
Of the eighteen persons participating in the 6-day race, both the average and median age is 50. The range is 26 to 69, with one participant in his twenties, four in their thirties, four in their forties, two in their fifties, and seven in their sixties. The two women are 39 and 53.
The distribution is similar for the 48-hour and 24-hour runners, with the one outstanding exception of thirteen-year-old James Bonnett-Castillo, the race director's son, whose voice hasn't even changed yet. James won the 24-hour "men's" event last year at age twelve with 101.40 miles. He's participating again this year, and is intent on bettering his record. James spent all day yesterday playing soccer with his brothers on the field behind me, and an hour or so Tuesday running around the track like a lightning bolt.
Eating at the race was a bit of a problem for me yesterday. On Wednesday, more than any other pre-race day, I should have monitored my intake more carefully. I wound up eating at least sixteen cookies, the creme-filled variety, a Top Ramen soup, and one cheese crisp, brought to me unasked for.
I arrived home to find my wife bought a whole box of discount sugar cookies, and a big cake with gobs of sugary, gooey frosting. I resisted the cake, but not the cookies. I also had some leftover pasta and a baked potato. At least I've been drinking more than usual the last two days. This morning I woke up with the sugar-shocked equivalent of a hangover. At least I can claim to be fully carbohydrate loaded, even if it's the wrong kind of carbs.
And now I've reached the time when, following the sending of this report, I'll begin packing up my stuff and preparing to head out. We'll go to the race to set up the tent, and then to my brother's house nearby, where we'll spend the night.
The year 1999 has been exceptionally good for me in most respects. As I run tomorrow, I'll be reaping the rewards of much hard work, and celebrating my own joy over the state of my life.
The year 1999 has also presented some problems, frustrations, and disappointments, the worst of which I've refrained from discussing in this journal, because they aren't matters for public discussion. So as I run tomorrow, I'll be running not only through time and distance, and in recognition of the good things that have happened; I'll also be running through the anger, the disappointment, and the frustration, looking to put it far behind me as I move on to the next phase of my life.
Yesterday the weather forecast for Friday predicted temperatures from 44—77 and mostly sunny. This morning it has been revised to 44—70 and partly cloudy. Personally I would have preferred the warmer temperatures, but a little cooler is perfect for running.
I can't conclude this segment without acknowledging that I just heard the news of a knife attack on George Harrison and his wife Olivia. At one time the music of the Beatles meant more to me than it does to most people. And so as I run tomorrow, I will be running in hopes that George and Olivia experience a rapid recovery and are able to put the trauma behind them quickly and to get on with their lives.
 For the curious, a memoir I wrote on this, entitled The Beatles and Me (about me, not the Beatles, none of whom I have ever met), is on my Web site. The URL is http://lynndavidnewton.com/music/beatmem.php
The company I work for is digging in for the Y2K turnover. At end of business today, things will be shutting down tightly. It's possible, even likely, that my connectivity to the Internet, which I get exclusively through either work or the ISDN line at home that my company supplies me, will be inactive, perhaps until as late as January 4.
Accordingly, this may be the last installment of RTtM I will be able to send out until that time. I'm sorry that I'll have to leave readers hanging in suspense over how it all goes. But when I return, the report, along with concluding analysis and the final words to this journal, will doubtless appear in a series of posts over several days, not all at once.
One of the perks of being a professional musician is that at the end of your day's work, your customers applaud, cheer, and sometimes even stand on their seats and scream their approval. What a rush this is when it happens! It hardly ever happens to software engineers.
Like engineers, people who write (notice how carefully I avoided calling myself a "writer") do their work in relative anonymity and isolation, and sometimes have little way of knowing whether their output is being received positively.
Therefore, I want to thank all the people who have taken the trouble to email me over the past several months, and especially the last two or three days, to say kind things about RTtM, and to wish me success in the race tomorrow. Whatever happens, I know I have already succeeded.
Permit me to share with you in conclusion this, one of my favorite quotes:
All that your hand finds to do, do with your very power, for there is no work nor devising nor knowledge nor wisdom in [the grave], the place to which you are going. — Ecclesiastes 9:10