Only the beginning…
“Across the Years” is a fixed-time event featuring 24 hour, 48 hours and 72 hours and 6-day races. The object is to travel as far as possible in the time allotted. The race is held at Camelback Ranch, a state-of-the-art spring training facility for the Los Angeles Dodgers and the Chicago White Sox. The race route is a USATF certified 1689.5 meter (1.0498 mile) loop consisting of 85% dirt paths and 15% asphalt/concrete. Regardless of the race distance, you can leave the course at any time but must rejoin the course at the point in which you left. The race direction is reversed every four hours to give the runners fresh perspective and minimize overuse injuries as weight is shifted a bit differently on the curves.
I have never contemplated participating in a running event like Across the Years. Six days of going around and around on a 1-mile loop cannot be fun – boy was I wrong. In early December I came across a post on Facebook from Aravaipa Running advertising a 6-day work exchange opportunity. My family typically meets on New Year’s Eve for a family party but I was reluctant to dismiss an opportunity to experience “Across the Years”. I talked to my wife Jean about applying for the work exchange program and she gave me the thumbs up! I was ultimately selected to participate in the work exchange program and with the event immediately following Christmas, I had little time to really prepare or reflect on my week ahead. I typically don’t post my running endeavors on social media except with my running group. With my running
Reader’s Digest version of my schedule…
Wednesday, December 26th, I traveled to Camelback Ranch in the afternoon to set up camp on the south lot. I parked my camping trailer as far away from the track as possible NOT understanding that noise would not be an issue and that being as close to the track as possible would be highly advantageous. I slept 9:31 that night trying to bank sleep time for the week.
Thursday, December 27th, I worked 8am to 4pm helping set up for the race. I ran extension cords to the tents, helped “sweep” the pea gravel from the course, set up lights, set up heaters and generally did anything that was asked of me in preparation for the week. I slept a very long 10:05 that night in preparation for the race.
Friday, December 28th, I awoke early and prepared to run. I started the race at 9 am and ran 24 miles until my volunteer shift started at 2 pm. I worked until 10 pm, mostly adding lights out on the course. Aravaipa adds lighting to every unlit section of the course so that participants can run the whole 1-mile loop without a headlamp. After my shift, I added another 11 miles running from 10 pm to midnight. That night I slept 4:51.
Saturday, December 29th, I awoke at 5:10 am and ran 13 miles for a total of 47 until my volunteer shift started at 8 am. I worked the south aid station/gate until 4 pm. My duties during the day included providing water to runners and I monitored the south entrance to the park. During all of my volunteer
Sunday, December 30th, I ran 22 miles and I was able to take my first shower during the event – what a treat! The shower was only open from 7 to 11 am, so I needed to plan my shower around running and volunteering. If my volunteer shift started at 8 am, I would try to run and get in a shower before the start of my shift. Miraculously I had 100 miles completed before starting my volunteer shift at 2 pm. I was surprised that I made it to this milestone on schedule. My friend Derek unexpectedly showed up and walked the 100th mile with me. I got off of my shift at 10 pm and promptly went to bed. I slept 6:48.
Monday, December 31st, I woke at 5:45 am and I was able to shower and run/walk 32 miles (132 total) before my volunteer shift started at 2 pm. I worked from 2 pm to 10 pm with cold rain and mud. During my volunteer shift, I emptied trash, supplied propane to the heaters, tended to the porta
johns, and cleared mud/water off of the course. At 10 pm, I suited up to run/walk through the New Year. Champagne/cider was provided at midnight as we rang in the New Year and the whole group completed a 1-mile lap together. I was so exhausted that I chose to forego watching the beer mile and I went straight to bed at 1 am after running 7 additional miles for a total of 139 miles. I
Tuesday, January 1, I ran 6 miles (145 total) and showered after waking before my south gate/aid station shift started at 8 am. At 4 pm, I suited up and ran/walked 27 miles for a total of 172 total miles and then went to bed at 11:26 pm. I
Wednesday, January 2nd, I awoke at
I stayed up late celebrating with Christina, Josh, and Stanford Lake. Stanford’s daughter Shandiin completed her first ultra that evening and ran 42.92 miles. I also had a beer with Ron at the South Aid station before going to bed at around 1:30 am. I
Thursday, January 3rd, I awoke at approximately 6:30 and I was hoping to get the trailer packed up, get showered and enjoy the end of the race festivities. I popped into the main aid station to say hi to Pati and quickly realized I could help by wrapping some breakfast burritos. I did miss the end of the race but was able to attend the awards ceremony. After a chilly week, the sun was out in full force. Seating was set up in the shade, but all of the attendees that morning chose to sit in the ballpark seats with the sun’s heat upon us. It was appropriate that we had beautiful weather for the last day.
The awards ceremony was just amazing. There was a 10-year-old girl that earned a 100-mile buckle over the 6 days. Don Winkley (80 years old) broke the
Dashing dashers …
Unwavering fan support…
Thank you to the entire Aravaipa Running team for the experience of a lifetime. Thank you to race director Jubillee Paige for your leadership and dedication; ensuring that Across the Years was a positive experience for all parties involved. I am not going to mention all of the Aravaipa staff that I met and worked with that week, but I hope you know that I had a blast spending time with all of you.
In the first days of the race I felt out of place, but as the days progressed I became more comfortable and some of the stories that were shared require a mention. I often carry a recording device to make notes as I run or as I talk to other runners. You see folks going around and around, and unless you engage them you will not find out that most, if not all, of the runners have their stories of challenges and successes.
Brian Khepri, a 45-year old runner, shared his personal story of defeat and triumph at this year’s race. Brian ran a personal best of 90 miles in the first 24 hours of the event and he was well on his way to his goal of 300+ miles over the 6-day. Day number 2 however was disappointing for Brian as he was only able to complete 12 miles. Brian was disheartened and since he was local, he called his wife around 7pm on the second day to take him home. Brian slept in his own bed that night and awoke the next day (day 3 of the event) at 5am with no intention of returning to the race. He went back to sleep with the plan of taking day 3 off entirely. Brian awoke again at 6:30am and his body “didn’t feel quite so bad” so his wife returned him to Camelback Ranch. With 102 completed, Brain started running again and completed 70 miles on day 3. Brian ultimately exceeded his mileage goal with just under 315 miles.
Many of the Prescott Mountain Milers runners know Mark Hellenthal from his meanderings into Prescott for our local races. Mark has been out of the ultra-scene for a while because he and his wife Sharill have been busy raising two young boys. Mark reentered the ultra-scene this year with his entry into Across the Years. He quickly realized that attaining his goal of 200 miles might not be as easy as it was in the past. Mark was considering stopping after 100 miles, but Sharill reminded him that ultrarunners never quit. Mark went back out to put in more miles and eventually finished the 6-day race with just over 201 miles. You are the perfect ultrarunner’s wife Sharill for pushing Mark back out onto the course and kudos to Jaylen and Jeffrey for coming out to support dad!
I met “Chet the Jett” Blanton in the shower (wouldn’t you expect this from me?). Chet was willing to share his story and let me take pictures of his feet. Chet had 191 miles completed and only needed 9 more miles to reach the 200 distance. The only problem was that Chet had “HUGE” blisters under each big toe. Other than the blisters, he was feeling good and he stated that he never had such a problem before. To prevent further irritation, Chet cut the top of his shoes out and returned to the course to complete the final 9 laps for his 200-mile buckle finish.
So many amazing stories and I was aware of only a few…
Shout out to some of the other work exchange volunteers. Terri Biloski, a runner from Ontario, Canada was able to run over 310 miles while also volunteering each day. I don’t know how she managed it but I assure you that she will hold the “most mileage record” for work exchangers for many years to come. Colin Trower… what can I say? Thanks for all of the smiles and the “birds” throughout the week and good luck on your new Colorado adventure. Congratulations on your 200+ miles and I am sure you could have run a lot more if you didn’t try to win the beer mile J
One of the most memorable parts of the whole event was the last night. As I previously mentioned, my new friends Josh and Christina provided a “Watchman” IPA for the finish. I went into the heated tent to celebrate with them and an impromptu party commenced. Senovia Baca (156 miles total in
the 48-hour) and John Maroushek (441 total in the 6-day) were resting in the tent and John started to share with us some of his talents as a stand-up comic.
One of the other runners came into the tent and asked us if there were heated restrooms nearby. John went into a comedic monologue asking the questioning runner if he was afraid of freezing to the toilet seat or if he was concerned that his poop would freeze. I am sure there were a few other memorable bathroom jokes thrown out but I can’t recall exactly what they were. I remember looking across the table at Stanford Lake and he was laughing so hard I thought he would fall out of his seat. This was definitely one of those moments where you “had to be there”. As we all realized how late it was getting, some of us retired to sleep, and others like John and Senovia went out on the track to run/walk/crawl more miles.
6-day Rookie Advice…
Should you run this race? If you like a challenge and a good time then the answer is “YES”! Do I have advice for running this event? Plan for all contingencies and try to follow your strategy but do not be surprised if things come unraveled – just like
Take care of your feet and bring other types of footwear besides your running shoes. People wore slippers and sandals to give their feet a different feel for a couple of laps. I typically wear gaiters when I run trails and I wore and would recommend them at Across the Years. Try to camp right along the course if you can. Have your own favorites foods at your camp to supplement the food from the main aid station. Bring a coffee mug with a cap so you can enjoy your morning brew while putting in some miles. You may not know this secret, but Pati Coury serves the finest coffee for participants by grinding whole beans and brewing with a French Press. Don’t forget to bring warm clothes and be prepared for rain. Those runners that planned for all possible weather conditions were the ones that did not suffer from the cold. Make sure to take the time to be social, whether or not you are trying to PR. You will meet some amazing people and definitely makes some friends for life.
If you are looking for an audiobook recommendation for next year’s Across the Years, try The Long Walk, a novel by American writer Stephen King, published in 1979, under the pseudonym Richard Bachman. The story is about one hundred teenage boys who participate in an annual walking contest called “The Long Walk”. Each contestant, called a “Walker”, must maintain a speed of at least four miles per hour; if he drops below that speed for 30 seconds, he receives a verbal warning. A Walker who slows down again after receiving three warnings is “ticketed”. I don’t want to spoil the book but it is not good when you get “ticketed”. There is definitely a nexus between the book and ultra-races; you won’t go wrong giving it a listen on your next “Long Run”.
If I didn’t mention you personally in this report, it does not mean that you did not touch my heart during the week or that you are not a Rockstar. Rest assured that all of the participants were inspirational and uplifting. I can’t wait for the next Across the Years. I hope to return again in some role at next year’s event – either as a participant or a volunteer, or both?