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Chapter 11:

Across the Years Slide Show

This Web version of Running Through the Millennium includes a special slide show that I created three weeks after the race.

From Me To You
Wednesday, January 5, 2000

It's the morning of Monday, January 3. Everything from here to the end of this journal is being written from the standpoint of having already completed all of it. To me there is no more mystery and anticipation over what will happen. It will take a few words to tell all that has transpired since Thursday, and finally, to tag on some analysis and concluding thoughts, bringing this adventure to an end.

Getting Ready to Rock and Roll

We left home in early Thursday afternoon and stopped first at my brother Dean's house to leave some things we would need only for the night. Then we headed to Arizona Boys Ranch.

It may not have been clear from previous postings that there were early start times for both 24-hour and 48-hour runners. Quite a few persons ran the alternate times. However, the early start runs were considered non-competitive. These runners didn't receive any awards for participation other than enthusiastic acknowledgment of a job well-done. In all three ATY races, the official run was the one scheduled to end at 9:00 AM on January 1, 2000.

When we arrived at 2:45 PM, a new crop of runners was on the track, the competitive 48-hour runners. After saying hello to a few people, I dropped my tent and other gear in an open area. By coincidence I found myself next to friends of Coach George Parrott[25] that he had clued me to watch for, Japanese runner Tats Muramatsu and his wife Meiko. I introduced myself. Tats was lamenting that it was too warm for running well. The temperature was in the mid-seventies.

[25] George is a popular, well-informed subscriber to the running lists, a teacher of psychology at a university in Sacremento, a spearhead of the Sacramento-based Buffalo Chips running club, is highly respected for his vast knowledge of running and the training advice he gives, and is a capable runner himself.

According to George, Tats is probably the best nonprofessional ultrarunner in Japan. A list of races he has run is impressive, both in difficulty and number. He has run a 2:48 marathon, and his wife 3:08. They are both active as guides for blind Japanese runners, and they travel all over the world to races.

I also briefly met Stephanie Ehret, last year's 24-hour overall winner, her husband Peter Bakwin, with whom I'd communicated by email several times the week before, and Stephanie's parents. Her father Richard was there to compete in his first ultra, and had set the goal to run his age in miles: 67.

Cyra-Lea and I erected the tent in twenty minutes, encountering no difficulties, thanks to my brother Dwight's thorough tutorial. Suzy documented the experience with photographs. Having literally pounded stakes into the ground, I felt as though I had truly arrived.

I left the matter of organizing the tent to my family; I had no intention of spending much time in it myself. Meanwhile, I walked up to the booth to prepare and send the 3:00 PM report to the Internet for Paul.

For a while we sat and watched, enjoying the environment. At 4:30 we left in order to get to Dean's in time to watch the 5:00 PM news. Earlier that day a TV crew from Channel 12 News (NBC) had been out, apparently determined not to be outdone by Channel 15. Most stories that evening dealt with upcoming year 2000 Celebrations. Our story was not on at 5:00 PM.

Dean made us a delicious pasta dinner. On Thursday I exercised commendable restraint all day long in what I ate. It was too late to eat anything that would enhance my performance the next day. My only hope was not to stuff myself.

By the time dinner and talk was over, it was pushing 7:30. Cyra-Lea, Suzy, and Dean settled down to an old movie while I puttered around, trying to plan my routine for the next morning. We didn't have quite the same sort of space available that I'm accustomed to in a hotel room, so I needed to adjust. The consolation was that I would take everything with me in the morning. There was no chance that I would irrecoverably forget some detail.

Following the advice of a 6-day runner, I did some extended daughter-assisted stretching before dinner, and afterward took a long, hot shower and stretched a little more.

At 8:06 PM I curled up beneath the covers on the trundle bed in my brother's guest room, hoping to get at least ten hours sleep. Everyone else watched What About Bob?

NBC did have our story on at 10:00 PM. Cyra-Lea taped it. I saw it in the morning. My opinion was that it was not as good as ABC's, but Cyra-Lea, who spent two years taking classes in TV news journalism, and has worked on her school paper since she was a freshman, thought it was better. What do I know? You know you're getting older when your children can throw technical jargon around, and you have no idea what it means.[26]

[26] She does that with medical terminology, too. I can't watch ER without her around to explain it. Last week when we sat down to watch the show together, she cautioned me as it was starting, "Please don't ask any questions during the show! I'll explain everything that's going on to you during the commercial." Hmmm.

Day Tripper

The day finally arrived for me to make my debut as a 24-hour ultrarunner. I slept well on Dean's trundle bed until 2:00 AM, got up for a potty visit and to take two Advil tablets to relax my legs, then fell back to sleep until 6:30. Success! I woke up Suzy and had her and Cyra-Lea get in and out of the bathroom first.

At 6:55 I got out of bed and looked out the window. It was still nearly dark out, but there was enough light to see that it was thickly cloudy and threatening rain. Oh no.

It didn't take long to shower and dress for the race. Suzy made coffee, which I like, need, and drank, but I ate no food.

When we left Dean's, it was not uncomfortably cold out, despite the threat of rain. We arrived at the track just after 8:00 AM. The excitement in the air was tangible. I dumped my bags in the tent, and asked my family to set up the card table, pull stuff out of bags, and arrange things in any orderly way that seemed suitable to them.

Meanwhile, I went off to check in. Paul was tending the registration desk. I was given number 8! Whee, I was an elite! The race numbers ranged from 99 (Paul's) downward, with the 6-day runners having the larger numbers. Paul's thirteen-year-old son James was appropriately assigned number 13. Stephanie Ehret, last year's overall winner, got number 2. No one was given number 1.

The first piece of bad news for the day was that Paul was asking local runners to postpone picking up our prepaid hooded sweatshirts. He ran out and would have to get more made. I had ordered two. Unfortunately, I genuinely could have used the sweatshirt then and there. But I had other garments I could wear to keep warm. I'll probably get the sweatshirts when the daily temperature is reaching 110 degrees.[27]

[27] It's now March 15, the date of my final editing pass through this section, and the latest word is that we may not get them at all.

Usually my legs don't suffer from the cold. Still, I wore inexpensive lined Wilson warm-up pants Friday morning that I picked up at a K-Mart in Minnesota when I went to visit my mother a year ago and forgot to bring running pants. These pants are not made of high-tech fabric. They have a cotton lining that absorbs and holds sweat. I started the race still wearing these. On top I optimistically wore a singlet, with two jackets over it. On my head I put my superlative running hat and my ever-present Oakleys, which I wore all day and all night. During the day I used the dark lenses, and at night I switched to the lighter ones. They do an excellent job of helping to keep wind and sweat out of the eyes.

At 8:42 AM I bolted for the indoor potty, in hopes of dumping a large amount of excess ballast. Instead, I made rabbit pellets, better than nothing. I emerged just in time for Paul's pre-race pep talk to the assembled 24-hour runners, explaining the layout, the rules, and the services available. We were reminded that there were people on the course who were trying to set records, and that after five days some of the 6-day runners might behave a little territorially. As it worked out, even with the runners from all three races present, the track was never unduly crowded, and everyone got along famously.

At precisely 8:57 rain began to fall. Rats! It had not rained in over two months in Phoenix. Couldn't it wait one more day? Was this a harbinger of things to come?


The countdown to the last few seconds came. Go! Everyone let out a great cheer, including 6-day and 48-hour runners who were approaching the line. Because 9:00 AM was an odd-numbered hour, it was also time for the other racers to change direction. In less than two seconds I was across the line. My long journey had at last begun!

On a certified 400-meter track, four laps is 5249.34 feet, just 30.66 feet short of a mile. For practical counting purposes, it's four laps to a mile. My strategy was simple. I would walk the entire first mile, and then would follow a routine of running one mile and walking one lap for as long as I could.

It took self-discipline to resist running the first four laps! By 9:14 AM, first Stephanie and then James had lapped me twice. By 9:30 AM, the sun broke through the clouds briefly, and the rain, which had never turned into anything heavier than a light drizzle at the beginning, stopped.

It didn't take long to decide to shed the Wilson pants. I called for crew help to pull them off me, then ran until mid-evening with only shorts on my legs.

I've Just Seen a Face

Soon after the start Dean showed up. It was not at all certain whether he would make it at all. He had work to care for, and was supposed to go to Mexico with our cousin for the weekend, but hadn't heard from them in two weeks. I was glad to have another family member present for a while.

I had not been running more than a lap or two when Boston Bill (Perkins) arrived to run with me for a while. He joined me on the next lap. Bill had already run the ten-mile route at the weekly Saturday morning Mummy Mountain Arizona Road Racers club training run.

Bill is a good-humored fellow. He's also loud. (In the nice sense!) As we ran lap after lap, he regaled me and everyone within fifty yards with a continuous stream of running wisecracks.

Bill provided a valuable service to me. He hung with me until I reached forty laps, nearly ten miles. The pace we ran proved to be exactly right for me. My one and only concern was to avoid pushing too hard. No matter what I did to conserve energy, it was inevitable that by the end I would be completely exhausted. My objective was to find a pace that moved me along steadily, and that I could sustain for a long time. The pace I ran with Bill was just a hair quicker than I might have settled on if I had been starting solo, but this was a good thing, because it gave me confidence. When Bill left, a lap or two after we completed my fortieth, it was 11:00 AM. I felt invincible. This was to be my day.

A few minutes later, I encountered a walker on the track wearing a Dead Runners Society T-shirt, someone I had never seen before.

"Yo! Dead Runner?" "Yes." "Who are you?" It was local ultrarunner Bob Davidson, who no longer subscribes to DRS, but is part of the CrAZeD spinoff list for Arizona Dead Runners. Bob is one of the first runners I contacted after joining the lists.

Until 1998 Bob had a running streak of nearly fifteen years without missing a day. Presently Bob is running little. He was at the race to provide company for his brother Tom, who was in the 24-hour race. Bob became the last person to sign up for the race, as his brother talked him into taking a number at around noon. Bob didn't run, but continued walking for another fourteen miles, in addition to the five he had already walked, before packing it in and heading home.

It was good to see him make that effort. Bob was at one time one of the mainstays of ultrarunning in Arizona. We certainly hope that he will return to running regularly again soon.

If I Needed Someone

No first-timer should even consider running a race of this type entirely without personal assistance. There were volunteers serving the aid stations, and runners in the race develop a spirit of camaraderie, helping one another. But most people also benefit from a personal crew.

My family came through big time for me in that respect. There were two aid stations, one on the inside with drinks and food to snatch off the table and eat on the run, and another across from it with microwaves and real food. Suzy worked the latter from early in the race until she and Cyra-Lea left at 1:00 AM. While working, she kept a close eye on me, making up soups and other prepared foods.

In mid-afternoon I sat down in my trackside chair for a few minutes to accomplish several maintenance tasks: eating and drinking, taking electrolyte and Advil, writing a couple of thoughts in my notebook, and dumping green track gravel chips out of my shoes. I did not yet know that these chips would later prove to be my nemesis.

It was perhaps 2:00 PM, much later than I should have remembered it, when Suzy urged me to rub on some sunscreen. I hadn't done so because it had been mostly cloudy all day, and I was trying to get away without using it. The temperature had risen to 77 degrees, according to the trackside gauge that reported it in tenths of a degree. I clearly needed sunscreen. Yuk.

"Sure, I'll be glad to rub grease all over my body! Could I possibly be any more disgusting after running the last five hours? I'm not nearly funky enough the way I am." So on it went, as the aid station attendant across the track cracked up at my sarcasm.

It was theoretically necessary for me somehow to gag down between 300 and 450 calories an hour. I was able to sustain that level of input only until evening. After a while all food, whether a delicious piping hot stew or a piece of hard candy, looked loathsome. I ate as much as I could, but inevitably my intake level necessarily tapered.

During training runs I discovered that after three or four hours, I couldn't look sideways at Gatorade, or anything that gets squeezed out of a tube. I learned from the Ultra List that many runners have a problem with this, and that for many, plain water provides the most effective hydration. This race I never touched a drop of Gatorade, but drank gallons of water, more than I realized I was capable of. It was always needed and welcome — I never reached a point where I thought I didn't want to drink, which is unusual for me. In daily life I drink far less water than I ought to because I don't like water much.

Consuming electrolytes was never a problem. A week before the race I made up a schedule that I printed in a large type font. It included directions on when to give me Succeed! electrolyte capsules and Advil. Providing advance instructions on this and having someone else monitor it was a wise idea. Electrolyte and ibuprofen are not candy; too much or too little can get a runner in big trouble. During the race I didn't remember these things often myself, so was grateful to have someone hand them to me periodically. At the same time, I could ask for more when I wanted it, or decline it when I didn't need it, both of which happened.

I benefited enormously from the company of an additional pacer that I didn't expect — Cyra-Lea! She ran with me in two segments of two miles and two segments of three miles, a total of ten miles, spaced between late morning and mid-evening. She didn't count the walking laps. This feat was particularly significant in that Cyra-Lea had never run more than 10K in a single day in her life. She proved to be a capable and welcome pacer.

While doing guard duty, seated in my collapsible chair by the side of the track, Cyra-Lea worked on finishing Paula Newby-Fraser's book on fitness. She finished the book sometime in the late afternoon. I'm impressed that she plowed with enthusiasm all the way through what is a highly technical book on physical training, and loved it so much. For the rest of the day, when she joined me, she snowed me with subtle tips on nutrition during tapering, doing intervals, and cross-training.

Cyra-Lea's other job was to act as secretary. Frequently, while running, things occur to me that I would like to write about, from whole subjects to simple thoughts and turns of phrase. There's no opportunity to write it all down while running, and much is forgotten. To solve the problem for this jaunt, I provided Cyra-Lea with a notebook, pens, and instructions to write down anything I told her to whenever I flew by.

I did get a few useful notes that way, but the method didn't work as well as I had hoped. Often Cyra-Lea was off doing some other task or was otherwise unavailable, while the notebook sat on the grass next to the empty chair.

Most of the day Aaron remained largely invisible, watching things quietly from a distance, and also getting a lot of sleep. He's normally a very sociable and likeable fellow, but he had slept very badly the night before, and needed quiet time on his one that day. He must have slept in the tent by himself a good eight hours altogether during the daytime.

Late at night, after Suzy and Cyra-Lea left for Dean's, Aaron sat watch over me. During the latest hours there was little for him to do except be available if I needed something. He placed the chair next to the tent, to cut down the wind, and sat in it with his sleeping bag thrown over him, probably dozing off from time to time, but was up and in action in a heartbeat whenever I needed him, which was just occasionally, to get electrolyte, some food, and to help me with my shoes. I don't know that I could have done his job.

Don't Ever Change

Life on the track was good. Although I carried my metal lap counter, I paid little attention to my accumulation. My primary concern was to maintain the routine I started after the first mile, running four laps, and walking one, with no exceptions and no variations. In this way the mileage kept piling up.

At 2:30 PM I passed the marathon distance, and at 3:47 PM, I reached 50K.[28] Every step beyond that was all new territory for me — I had never gone further than 50K on my feet in a single day in my whole life. By how much would I surpass that number? I still had no clue, but I was moving relentlessly, and not showing any signs of tiredness.

[28] Despite the slow pace, this was still an hour and twenty minutes faster than I ran Crown King 50K last March.

My Goals

Nevertheless, here I was, past 50K 6:57 into the race and not experiencing a hint of tiredness. Never once during the 24 hours did I entertain the thought of quitting and accepting whatever mileage I had accrued by then. All I had to do was to keep going.

Ultrarunners refer to this principle as RFP: Relentless Forward Progress. It's the old tortoise and hare principle. It's how guys like me pass the skinnyfast ectomorphs while they're busy napping. It works.

Here, There and Everywhere

I'm the sort of person who probably could have endured this run even if I had been the only runner on the track. Fortunately, this was not necessary. As I reflect on all that happened during the day, I recall many scenes and short exchanges. It's impossible now to remember exactly where in the stream of time they all took place.

Throughout the six days there was the fresh presence of Ruth Ann, who recently graduated from college. She has been helping every year at this race since she was in grade school. It was Ruth Ann who saw me walk up as a visitor last year and asked me what I was looking for. When I explained I'd just recently heard about the race and was curious to see what was going on, she invited me onto the track for a closer look. It was then that I first met Paul in person, and it was then that the seed was planted in my head that in 1999 I would be at this race, either as a volunteer or as a runner, or both.

Ruth Ann did everything at all hours of the night: counting and calling laps, working the aid stations, and bunches of miscellaneous tasks. She even took quite a few laps herself, including with the Brazilian 6-day leaders, while wearing a nearly ankle-length dress.

I'm guessing it was Ruth Ann who was responsible for putting up a series of daily Bible quotations on posterboards by the starting line. Two that I remember are

Boys will both tire out and grow weary, and young men themselves will without fail stumble, but those who are hoping in Jehovah will regain power. They will mount up with wings like eagles. They will run and not grow weary; they will walk and not tire out. — Isaiah 40:30, 31
Do YOU not know that the runners in a race all run, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way that YOU may attain it. Moreover, every man taking part in a contest exercises self-control in all things. Now they, of course, do it that they may get a corruptible crown, but we an incorruptible one. Therefore, the way I am running is not uncertainly; the way I am directing my blows is so as not to be striking the air ... — 1 Corinthians 9:24—26

These verses in their original context aren't primarily about literal running; rather, they use running as a metaphor to illustrate higher truths. But they're often quoted by runners for inspiration.

At the 1:00 PM direction change a new tradition sprang to life, initiated by the cheerfully ebullient Brazilians. As the snake of runners wound around the cone and doubled back on itself, each runner slapped high-fives with all the others coming the opposite direction. The feeling of community grew. This little ritual happened again every two hours the rest of the race, except at 3:00 AM, when apparently the mood for celebration had waned, most runners were in deep bite-me mode, and life was quiet on the track.

A former Olympian from Arizona was in the race: 64-year-old Michael G. Allen. He had been a cyclist in the 1964 Olympics. Michael also ran the Mad Dog 50K race that I assisted at in late November. He's an indomitably cheerful man, and a pleasure to be near. He maintained a smile from ear to ear from the beginning to the end.

Michael's running form is unusual. He's a little bent over, perhaps from arthritis, and swings his arms in a highly unusual free-swinging motion, probably to compensate for his off-center balance. Yet from the shoulders down he's perfectly centered, and runs with rock solid smoothness and almost no vertical motion. It seemed that every time I blinked he was passing me by, always with a friendly greeting and encouragement. After he reached fifty miles, he apparently got off the track and slept for a while, and then returned in the early morning hours. In this way he finally beat me, but by a mere two laps! You'll have to read on to know how far that was.

As I observed Michael and other good runners, such as the ultimate 6-day winner Antonio Edmilson de Freitas, I saw that efficiency, not speed, is the primary key to doing well at this sport. I tried to imitate what I saw.

The track was not without speedsters. At times some runners tore by so fast you could see their red shift.[29] You would never know they were engaged in a supreme test of endurance. The Brazilians crept up from behind on quiet cat feet, requiring that I be alerted to step to the outside to let them through, as per race protocol and common courtesy.

[29] That's a little astrophysics joke I've wanted to use for years.

It was a pleasure to be passed repeatedly by beautiful Stephanie Ehret with her long pony tail swinging rhythmically every time she blazed past. On one of those occasions, late at night, she passed a bunch of us on the northeast backstretch in such a heat it seemed as though she was doing speedwork. I let out an audible, "Wow!" Two or three of the runners around me acknowledged the impressiveness of this sight. It was only later that I learned Stephanie fell behind early in the race due to some nasty stomach problems, but that she recovered, and went on to pass all the runners who were ahead of her. In the end she became the overall 24-hour winner, with 116.82 miles.

Stephanie's husband, Peter Bakwin, is a formidable ultrarunner in his own right, and ran with her on occasion. In mid-afternoon he began running laps in the opposite direction from the racers at a phenomenal speed. Estimating this was like solving a word problem in high school algebra: If runner R starts running on a track of length L at speed S, and another runner Q goes the opposite direction at speed O, and they meet again in T seconds, how fast is runner R going? The answer from the vantage point of runner Q (me) seemed to be in the 5:15-per-mile range, but Peter claims that he would be grateful for the ability to do a single mile in 6:00. Furthermore, he kept it up for forty minutes.

Peter also helped crew his father-in-law, who was ultimately successful in making his goal and one more mile to boot, for a total of 68 miles. All together, they make an impressive running family.

A delightful presence on the track was 6-day runner Andy Lovy from Chicago. Andy is 64, a psychiatrist and sports medicine physician, and bears a striking resemblance to Burl Ives. He's run the multi-day races at ATY several times. His strategy is to run hard the first day, then to set up a portable massage table, and offer counseling, encouragement, a few good laughs, and outright medical service to any runner on the track who needs it, endearing himself to everyone he comes close to. As I passed him once, I suggested he should be handing out business cards. It was Andy who advised me to shower and stretch the night before the race. While doing this, Andy still finished the race in twelfth place, with a total of 227.67 miles.

Martina Hausmann from Germany is one mighty determined woman. She ran crewless, hoping to set a German record, but fell short by about thirty miles. The warmth of the Arizona afternoons, although pleasant for normal activity, proved to be too depleting for her. At times she was a mere ten miles behind the overall leader. She finished only eleven miles behind, with 428.75 miles, for second place overall. The other woman in the 6-day race, Cassandra Johnson, finished thirteenth overall with 226.68 miles.

Young Blood

As long as I'm citing outstanding people, I should mention once again James Bonnett-Castillo, who is only thirteen. His reputation has already spread widely in the ultrarunning community.

Ultra-endurance sport is typically the realm of older, experienced athletes. It's obvious from knowing James' parents that the boy has inherited incredible genes. Even given his natural gifts, it's difficult to comprehend where he gets the drive and ability to run as skillfully as he does, consistently outperforming all but the best adult runners. This year James finished third overall in the 24-hour race, bettering his distance from last year by five miles, with a total of 106.13 miles. His father made him sleep for at least two hours during the night. He may well have had the potential to go even farther. Every time I asked him how he was doing, he replied cheerfully, as if it was no big deal; he was just having fun.

James was quoted in The Tribune as saying: "After a while, you kind of get tired and everyghing, but you just eat and drink and keep talking with people. That helps to keep you awake." The kid is so nonchalant about it, like it's no big deal that he can do what he does.

Last week I had the pleasure of being around James quite a bit, because most of the family was present at the track almost all the time. It's worth noting my opinion that James is as sweet, unpretentious, and modest a kid as you will ever meet.

Good Night

The desert gets cold at night. The extra moisture in the air from the rain made the cold penetrate, even though the temperature did not dip unusually low. To me, temperature and humidity are additive properties on a discomfometer. Humidity is evil.

It dipped to only 48 in the early evening, and then later hovered for most of the rest of the night around 52, downright tolerable for someone not wearing wet clothing. Despite this, I had barely enough clothing to be comfortable.

After reaching 50K I walked for twenty minutes, then continued my run-four, walk-one routine for a while. It was not long before I started to throw in other variations: three-and-one, three-and-two, two-and-one, and so forth, but at least I was still running.

There's a Place

At 12:24 into the race (9:24 PM) I reached fifty miles. This provided me with another occasion to sit down for just a few minutes, caring for necessary matters. When I started running again I found I was freezing in my sopping wet clothes.

I lasted only one lap. A change of clothing was long overdue. I picked up my chair and retreated into the tent, which I found to be surprisingly cozy, being enclosed and out of the breeze. While I was in there I changed everything I could. The most refreshing change was getting out of the funky singlet that had done me little good, and putting on a clean, dry, long sleeve CoolMax shirt. Over that I put my Marmot jacket, over that the hooded Speedo jacket I bought at the Twin Cities Marathon expo, which I had been wearing since morning, and over them all a heavy, coarse-fabriced, Indian-made hooded wool pullover I bought for a mere sixteen dollars in the gift shop at Zion State Park the day before the St. George Marathon, and which I've barely used. It has a front hand-warming pouch. Suzy pinned my race bib to the front. That clothing remained on my body until I arrived home in the morning.

On the bottom I put on fresh Champion Cool Liners, the enormously comfortable pair of tights I bought two weeks ago, clean socks, and my second pair of Asics Gel Foundation shoes. I traded my wet running gloves for ordinary cold weather gloves, and stepped back outside the tent, ready to face the night. Thank goodness I knew to bring a tent.

I Forgot to Remember to Forget

Thus far in the account of this day I've neglected to mention the obvious fact that the day of the race provided the occasion for one of the most anticipated moments in recent history, the rollover to the year 2000.

As expected by me, and by most informed people, but not by some goofballs bunkered away in bomb shelters with machine guns and fifty-year caches of food and supplies, hardly anything noteworthy happened anywhere in the world when the clocks turned over. It was just another Earth day in the history of the universe.

A friend of mine, an expert on computer security, was on a talk radio show recently. He was asked his opinion on what would happen when Y2K rolled around. He speculated that somewhere or other there would be local outages. Some drunken alien from the planet Mo'ron would slam into a power pole around midnight, taking out the electricity for a whole neighborhood, causing the residents to think this was the Big One.

On Friday night in Columbus, where my friend lives, this is precisely what happened. A few minutes before midnight a drunk driver took out a power pole and brought down a neighborhood. The "disaster" was quickly attributed to Y2K.

Meanwhile, quite a different scene took place on the track in Queen Creek.

It's important to point out at this juncture that, as with other holidays that most people take for granted, my family and I don't observe New Year's Eve or Day as anything special other than a time off from work or school. Yet we knew that some sort of holiday hoopla was inevitable at the race, so we looked for ways to sidestep it gracefully without appearing to be sticks-in-the-mud or unsociable.

Sometime after 9:00 PM Cyra-Lea was reassigned to the hot seat as the numbers caller. Suzy continued to hang in at the aid station. By this time Aaron was awake and around, but I'm not sure what he was doing other than standing quietly by. I saw him very little, except that he would pop out on schedule to give me things he knew I needed.

The scene became amusingly interesting after 10:00 PM. Paul's wife Mima showed up with boxes of party accouterments: hats, noisemakers, and bottles of champagne, yada, yada. This was not a scene typical of the middle of an ultradistance race, unless it's being thrown by the Hash House Harriers.[30] But Across the Years is far from a typical distance race.

[30] Hashers describe themselves as drinkers with a running problem.

A number of musical instruments materialized, including one mandolin and three clarinets, rudimentarily but zealously performed upon in brief parades around the track. It made me wish I had thought to bring my soprano recorder.

The Brazilians know songs. They're apparently more accustomed as a people to breaking out in song than we self-conscious North Americans are. On at least three occasions throughout the day, and on others earlier in the week, the Brazilians were heard singing together, sometimes while sitting in their tent village, and sometimes while running around the track.

As runners passed by the start area, they were offered hats and horns. Some of them wore the hats around the track for hours afterward. (I politely declined.)

The enthusiasm grew as midnight grew closer. The object was for everyone to stop for one lap and do the sorts of things that people who do those sorts of things do when our accurate race clock turned over — shouting huzzah, blowing squawky horns, leaping to and fro, throwing paper in the air, drinking champagne (which some runners did) or sparkling cider, singing songs with words no one understands, kissing whoever is nearby — and so forth.

The main logistical problem they had to deal with was not driving the numbers caller and the people banging on the computers crazy with everyone crossing at once.

Most people had stopped to wait by 11:57 PM. Meanwhile, I took off around the track for another lap, as Cyra-Lea called my number. I had just enough time to get around once more, and crossed the line at 11:59:58 PM. It was my 232nd lap, bringing my total to 57.66 miles.

I passed quietly by the smooching, dancing, leaping, cavorting revelers on the inside lane of the track, and snuck off for another lap. In the middle of the field they had set up fireworks, mainly firecrackers and similar bang-bang-pop-type devices, as contrasted with the glitzy rocket and flame variety. I hadn't realized this was coming until I heard them going off.

The tortoise pressed on with his RFP, having only nine hours to go to do what needed to be done.

Long, Long, Long

By 1:00 AM things quieted down, as runners settled in for the last eight-hour grind. Suzy and Cyra-Lea headed to my brother's to spend the night.

To my own amazement, I continued a sporadic run-walk routine until I reached 100K, which I passed at 1:27 AM, and then seventy miles, at 4:31 AM. When I reached seventy miles, I had succeeded in achieving my dream goal. Anything more that I could endure was pure gravy, and I was in no way inclined to quit. I calculated that I had enough time left that even if I walked the rest of the way quite slowly, I was still likely to crack eighty miles. All I had to do was keep going. The ecstasy that flooded my heart was indescribable.

As the night grew colder I bundled up. Because I was no longer moving as quickly, there was the danger that I would get cold. I was wearing four layers on top, two with hoods, which I pulled over my hat. The Speedo hood has a tie-string on it. I pulled it tightly enough that it pressed the brim of my hat down low. As I walked, with my gloved hands in the pouch of my pullover, still clenching my lap counter, I could see only a few feet ahead of me, unless I deliberately lifted my head. This I did only to check where on the track I was, and to make contact with the number caller at the start line.

Wearing sunglasses increased my isolation from things around me. Often I forgot I was wearing them. Once I looked into the sky and was amazed to see how remarkably orange the moon was, and how brightly Mars was shining. Then I remembered that I was wearing my Oakleys with orangish-amber tinted blades. Was this a case of having hallucinations I'd read about recently? I don't think so.

In this state I entered a zone of concentration, mentally removed from much of what was taking place around me, pressing slowly, but constantly forward, catching up with and passing by some who were sleeping. I knew I would be walking this way for several hours, and that it would remain dark until nearly 7:00 AM. It seemed that I was moving at a respectable rate. I didn't realize until I worked the numbers later that for the last four and a half hours I averaged a snailish 23:32 a mile. I could have gone faster in a baby's walker.

On two occasions during the night I took short rests. I wanted to sit for just a little while, but not for long. I no longer remember when the first break was, but believe it was after 100K. I walked over to the tent and sat in my chair. I didn't need anything, but wanted only to sit down for ten minutes. I closed my eyes briefly, but didn't sleep. Then I got up and headed off again.

The second time I knew it would be easy to fall asleep. It must have been around 4:00 AM. I told Aaron to watch me, and if I fell asleep, to wake me in ten minutes. I did drift off, but only for a minute or two. When Aaron woke me I said I was ready to go again, but in the space of one breath, I fell back asleep. Aaron must have let me stay that way for no more than fifteen seconds, thinking I was just catching my breath or trying to get started, when he tapped me again. "I fell asleep again!" We both laughed that I had floated off so quickly. Once I got on my feet I was ready to go again.

In retrospect, I was surprised to find that sleep deprivation, one of my greatest worries before the race, proved to be one of the least of my problems. As long as I was walking, which I was not at all too physically tired to do, there was no way I would be falling asleep.

One reason I dreaded the rest stops was because I got cold just sitting. I didn't want to go into the tent and do another whole clothing change. Doubtless I would have felt better, and perhaps performed better, but it would have taken another fifteen minutes, and I didn't want to lose the time.

March of the Meanies

It was not until late at night that my biggest problem of the race began to manifest itself. I interrupted my progress at least twice to dump green gravel chips from the track out of my shoes. The slower I walked, the more I dragged my feet, kicking up bits of stuff that found its way into my shoes. I didn't think much of this at first. I just stopped to dump it out whenever it got too annoying.

I ran for a period in my second pair of shoes, then performed the ritual gravelectomy. To my surprise, when I headed back out it still felt like there were more rocks that I missed. When I stopped again I found that some of them had embedded themselves in the insoles and in the fabric of my socks, and I had to scratch them out with my fingernails.

Deep into the night this got to me again, so I stopped once more and finally switched to my third set of shoes, my Montrail Vitesses. These are really trail shoes, not road or track shoes. They're normally quite comfortable, but when I put them on and started running again, I found that they felt tight. And it still felt like there was gravel in them, even though these were fresh shoes.

What I was experiencing was swollen feet, and the beginnings of what would become large blisters on the bottoms of both feet. Ouch!

Don't Bother Me

Back on the track I went. This would be the most critical span of the race. I'd already achieved wonderful things, but it was now time to endure the blackest night, never stopping for anything, even if all I did was walk. By then I paid little attention to what anyone else was doing.

The reason I'm not svelte like most runners is that in everyday life I tend to eat much and often, and even to overeat. But my physical organism is not accustomed to consuming mass quantities like a Conehead. I ate and drank all I could during the first part of the race. Finally, I knew that if I tried to eat any more, I would lose it. Still, I needed calories.

That's when I switched from drinking water to Coca-Cola. Being normally not much much of a cola drinker, I was surprised at how good this tasted. A bowl of soup or stew might have done me much better long term, but drinking the Coke was like mainlining sugar, which my body quickly made use of, and the fluid fulfilled my hydration needs as well. Most importantly, it didn't make me nauseous.

The Coke they were serving had gotten a bit flat, which I considered an advantage. The aid station attendants may have even shaken it up deliberately in order to help defizz it. I would slurp it right down and move on, until one lap I picked up a cup with icy, fully carbonated contents. It hit my stomach like an explosion in a sparkler factory, stopping me in my tracks, and causing me to lose my breath and bend over double. That was the last time I drank Coke. By then it was pushing 6:00 AM, and I didn't drink much more water after that, either.

Here Comes the Sun

By 6:00 AM activity on the track began to pick up, as the runners in all races sensed the excitement of the impending end. Runners who had been sleeping awoke and began to circulate, and some who had been walking casually began to run again, some of them quickly. A few 6-day runners who had been seen only periodically during the last day came out for a final surge to the finish.

Sunrise is late this time of year. Officially, it came to Queen Creek at 7:31 AM on the first day of the new year. It was at least 6:45 AM before there were signs of daylight. During the night the cloud cover broke. There would be a sunrise. It came according to God's own schedule, rather than the one most people apparently wished for. When it arrived it was beautiful. Runners with cameras stopped to take photographs. With the sun came the return of warmth, the burble of activity, and anticipation for the climax to come.

Good Morning Good Morning

With an hour and a half remaining until the end of the race it was completely light out. Support crews on the football field were breaking down tents and packing up supplies. Pickings at the aid stations became slimmer. It was apparent that things were drawing to a close.

Contenders in close battles began to seal their final placement, and persons aiming for PRs were spurred on to push for a few extra laps. Chatter on the track was loud, happy, and animated. The running family had drawn close.

Don't Let Me Down

Several times during the race my lap counter was out of sync with the official results. The number I had was always less than the official count. Usually the discrepancy was only one lap, but on one occasion in the 35-mile range, it seemed that the numbers were incrementing slowly. When I asked for a lap count, my counter was eight short! I don't know how it happened, but it was welcome news.

For the last several hours I was confident that I would make eighty miles. An hour from the end I suddenly started to worry — I had been walking more slowly than I realized.

Furthermore, I wasn't sure precisely how many laps I needed, and again I didn't know whether my lap counter was correct. I believed that 322 laps would put me past 80 miles. (And I was correct: 80.03 miles.) Just to make sure, I would go for one extra. However, at 8:05 AM, I was at 310 laps, so needed thirteen more, and I was walking just over 4:00 a lap when I came alive and began to concentrate.

By this time my feet were on fire. I knew that I was rapidly rubbing the skin right off the bottom of both feet. Every step was painful, particularly for my left foot. Despite this, I felt I needed to try to run some again. It had been over three hours since I had run any, and I wasn't looking forward to the shock of changing my manner of conveyance.

My first effort was ludicrous. I must have looked like a wounded animal. After a few thrashing steps I gave up and walked the lap instead, while cogitating over a plan to accomplish this feat. I thought I had the eighty miles in the bag, but I now wanted it very badly, and would be greatly disappointed if I missed it. Somehow I had to run again.

On the next lap I began a forced shuffle. In a few steps I started to get used to it. My feet were in pain, but I could bear it. I made a whole lap in 3:03, then walked the next one in 4:06. The minute saved was worth the effort. If only I could do a few more like that.

I Saw Her Standing There

Earlier I asked Aaron to begin packing things up and taking down the tent by 8:00 AM, so that by the time the race was over, everything would be all set to go. Suzy and Cyra-Lea were due back then, but were late in arriving. I was happy to see that Dean, too, showed up again for the ending, and stayed through the awards ceremony.

I had just completed a lap when I saw Suzy walking on the track, headed toward me. "Did you stay out there all night?" "Yes!" "All right!!" What she didn't realize was that I didn't have time to stop and chit-chat, to tell her how I'd done, what the night had been like, and that I was at that moment in a great deal of pain and in a bit of a rush. It wasn't the nicest good morning a wife ever got.

Cyra-Lea immediately caught on that I was in dire need of company, and jumped right in. She stayed with me to the end. As we ran that lap, I explained my blisters, my predicament, and the goal I was shooting for.

I Will

Somehow we succeeded in running every other lap those last few. My counter read 323 laps with just over seven minutes left. So I said to Cyra-Lea, "Let's do one more!" and off we went.

By this time most people had done their last lap, so there was a great cheering squad at the end, consisting of everybody present who was not a runner still on the track.

We circled the track one last time, walking it. Then, finally, for me it was over, amidst great jubilation and hullabaloo. My lap counter said 324. There was still time to do one more, if I ran it, but I didn't. I did not yet know that once again my count was short, or for sure whether I made eighty miles. But I now wish I had kept running and done that one last lap, even though it would not have affected my place in the standings.

Volunteers held up a yellow finishing tape for each runner, but I didn't see it. I came in on the inside lane, and because there was still time for me to run one more lap, they evidently assumed that I was headed off for another. Consequently, I was probably the only runner who didn't get to break the tape.

For months before the race I wondered exactly how they end a race such as this. I didn't realize until Monday before the race that your total is the number of full laps that you run. I had imagined that a big horn went off and everyone stopped dead in his tracks and some official with a measuring wheel ran around the track telling each runner how much more to add to the last lap in feet. Duhhh. Silly me.[31]

[31] It turns out this notion is not as naïve as I thought. After posting the original version of this section to the Ultra List, one reader who has officiated at many fixed-time events assured me that this is exactly how some races are brought to a close. The exact technique used varies from race to race.

The race was not quite over yet. A few more people finished final laps after me. Most impressive of them all was Paul Bonnett-Castillo, who is both an extraordinary ultrarunner and a speedster with a running style that is beautiful to watch.

With less than five minutes to go, Paul decided to do first one, and then another. With 1:12 left on the clock he came tearing across the line, leaving a trail of smoke and flames behind, and headed off for one more at sprint speed. Watching him scream down the backstretch was like seeing Achilles in action. He veered around the last turn and headed for the tape in a white heat. Our noble race director finished his last lap of a 6-day race in 1:10, at 8:59:58 AM, the last official finisher, amidst a roar of excited cheering. In addition to being on the track and handling almost every major task in connection with the race single-handedly, he had accumulated 94.95 miles of running — not a bad training week for a busy guy.

With that finish, Across the Years for 1999—2000 was officially over.

I'm Gonna Sit Right Down and Cry

At the end of the race I was wide awake, and got only a little drowsy on the car ride home. (Suzy drove.) I took a shower, got in bed shortly after noon, slept deeply until 4:15, then got up feeling refreshed and wide awake. We went out for dinner. I was up until 11:30 Saturday night, and slept less than seven hours that night. As far as my sleep patterns are concerned, it was as if nothing unusual ever happened. Having had the experience, I'll never dread sleep deprivation in a 24-hour race again. Getting over ten hours sleep the night before certainly had to help.

Twenty minutes after the conclusion of the race Paul conducted an awards ceremony on the track. As a high school history teacher, his presentation skills are excellent. I admire multi-talented people.

I called for my collapsible chair, which I plunked myself down on a few feet from where I had stopped running, tired and jubilant, but unwilling to move any further, and waited for the commencement exercises to begin.

For the first time in the history of the race, awards were available for all participants. The number was small enough that each runner was honored individually, with announcements of total mileage, appropriate background commentary, applause, handshakes, and hugs. Runners were introduced in order of increasing mileage, starting with the 24-hour race.

The hardware passed out is the nicest I've seen in any race. The male and female winners got trophies that are sculptures, and all other participants got a neat little trophette: a brass tripod four inches tall, with a stem and a round glass cylinder sitting on its edge in a brass cradle. The glass is 1.25 inches across the diameter, and 0.5 inches thick, and has a gold and silver image of the sun with a face on the front, and one with the moon on the back. It's by far the most attractive participant's hardware I've ever brought home from a race, and I'll treasure it always. The winners' trophies, progressively bigger for the 24-hour, 48-hour, and 6-day victors, are by the same artist, and have a similar theme.

At awards time I still didn't know my final mileage. The runner announced before me, Lynda Hendricks-Dana, had 323 laps, for 80.28 miles. This confirmed that I had made my goal. When my turn came, Paul mentioned the part that I'd had in promoting and volunteering for the race,[32] and the story of how I showed up last year and liked what I saw so much that I got involved to the point of writing this book about preparing for and running the race. I was unable to stand up out of my chair to go over and retrieve my own award, barely ten feet away. Cyra-Lea got it for me. Consequently, just as I was the only person not to go through the yellow tape, I was the only one who didn't stand up, shake hands, and get my picture taken getting a hug from Mima. I couldn't stand because of the blisters!

[32] Rather small!

However, Paul forgot to announce my mileage! It wasn't until I grabbed a printout of the final standings on the way out that I finally learned what it was.

Once again I had short-changed my lap counter. The final figure:

328 laps for a total of 81.52 miles!

Even as I write this now, four days later, I find it hard to believe. And already I'm thinking: I can do better! Wait until next year.

My placement was tenth out of 26 official competitive runners, the 38th percentile. However, the last four were apparently not serious competitors, having completed between one and 62 laps each. As posted on the ARR Web site,[33] where both the competitive and early starting non-competitive runners are merged without distinction, my place standing is twelfth out of 38, the 31st percentile. The next runner ahead of me was the blithe-spirited former Olympian Michael Allen. He finished only two laps more than me. He did it despite taking a nap in the middle.

[33] See the official results.

If I had been confident of my lap count and stopped at 323, I would have tied Lynda Hendricks-Dana. And if I had been aware of how close I was to Michael, I probably could have started hustling a half hour earlier and squeezed out three more laps to kick my placement up one notch.

As I explained to Cyra-Lea the day before: I would do the best I could. If some runner beat me by one lap, then all it means is that runner ran a little bit better than me. It doesn't matter to me, because I'm not a competitive person, and I will still feel satisfied in knowing that I did the best I could.

But in retrospect I now wish I'd hustled just a little more!

If I Fell

Following the last hurrah, everyone packed to head home. My gear had already been put in the car for me by Aaron and Dean. What wonderful support I got from my family!

It was then that I realized how severely my feet had been damaged. Since I'd stopped for a while, the numbness from all the pounding wore off. I had to lean on Cyra-Lea in order to walk at all. The pain was excruciating. I could walk only on the outside edges of my feet. My left foot was worse than the right.

Somehow we got to the car. Suzy was at the wheel. We drove over to Dean's car, chatted a minute, I thanked Aaron, we said our goodbyes, and finally, we took off for home. Little was said on the one-hour drive home, as I sat quietly, never quite falling asleep.

At home I quickly found that taking a shower was an awful ordeal. When I peeled my shoes and socks off, I discovered that a deep patch of skin nearly two inches square had been torn off the bottom of my left foot, right behind the ball of my foot. The situation was similar on my right foot, but the skin had not swollen into a big goo-filled blister or torn. Still, it was horribly tender.

I stayed in the shower only long enough to clean off adequately get in to bed, not to take a hot soak. I tried to wash myself while balancing mainly on the outside edge of my right foot, while leaning on the shower wall. My tired legs didn't care for this much. Eventually I found myself contorted into a position that put a heavy strain on my back. It's a miracle I didn't fall over and go crashing through the glass doors.

With the assistance of a hand-carved walking stick I purchased years ago but rarely use, I limped my way down the hall and to the bedroom. I pulled the covers comfortably up around my nose a few minutes after noon.

You might think that I would sleep until the next morning. Bzzzt! Wrong! I slept the sleep of the dead until 4:15 PM. That was all I needed for the rest of the day.

A Taste of Honey

The primary reason I didn't try to sleep longer, in addition to waking up naturally and wanting to be up, was because there was to be a self-hosted (pay your own) post-race dinner at Marilyn's Mexican restaurant. Conveniently, the restaurant is less than two miles from my home. If the dinner had required another 48-mile drive each way I doubt we would have made it. The Bonnett-Castillo family lives in my neighborhood; Mima works at the restaurant. Regrettably, she had to work there that night, so could join us only as a server, rather than taking the place she rightfully deserved.

The big logistical problem was for me to navigate. By coincidence, a good friend of ours broke her foot a week or two ago, and has been at home in a wheelchair. She has a pair of crutches she was not using. How regrettable for her, but convenient for me. We drove to her house and borrowed them.

Crutches are useful for a person with one disabled foot. They are not as handy to someone with two bad feet. I was a pitiful sight attempting to get out of the car and into the restaurant, where I was greeted at the door by none other than Mima.

"I know it's hard to believe that I'm here to join a group of distance runners," I quipped, causing her to think at first that I didn't recognize her. Half a dozen people had already arrived. I hobbled around to the other side of the long table and sat down.

Much to my surprise, over forty people showed up for that dinner, including all the Brazilians. I had expected most everyone would have packed up and headed for home. The food was good and the conversation, which naturally centered upon running, was even better.

After paying our part of the bill and saying our farewells, we headed home, where I sat and worked on the computer, physically tired but unsleepy, until 11:30 PM. Saturday night I slept deeply once again, but less than seven hours. In the morning I felt completely refreshed. I've been getting normal chunks of good sleep every night and have had no need for extra naps ever since. My muscles barely ached.

On Sunday we went to our meeting at the Kingdom Hall, as usual, but I arranged for a substitute to fill in on conducting the one-hour meeting that I normally lead, because it was still difficult for me to stand on my feet.

By Monday the third I felt human. Yesterday, Tuesday, I went to the gym and used a stationary bike for fifteen minutes, then did a little light upper body work, walked four times slowly around the track, and went home. Today, Wednesday, January 5, 2000, my feet are still swollen a full size or more larger than usual. I sat at my desk at work with my shoes off all day. The blisters are an annoyance, and will continue to be for up to two weeks, but at least I can walk almost normally, albeit slowly.

Presently I'm in full-bore recovery mode. My mind is still dominated by thoughts of what all took place this past week and its impact on me, and with trying to decide what my next trick will be. Analyzing my status and planning ahead for the rest of 2000 is the challenge that now lies before me.

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