Friday, January 3, 2014

Across The Years Race - Phoenix

Okay, I understand that being completely satisfied with your performance in a race does not happen often.  I wonder if Kenyan's feel a twinge of disappointment when they break the marathon record by "only" 12 seconds.  Probably not!

Lee Anne Cohen, Sharon Zelinski and I headed down to Arizona to meet a fair contingent of Canadians running a race that I can only describe as "the fringe within the fringe".  I signed up for the 24 hour race.  Why?  Because there was nothing shorter.  Lee Anne signed up for the 48 hour to make an attempt on the Canadian record in her age category (F60-64 100 mile).  Sharon was also in the 48 hour because it sounded like so much fun!

My race plan was simple:  Run 1 loop (about 1.05 US miles), crew Lee Anne and Sharon for about 12 hours, then run at night.  I could not run with Lee Anne as pacing is not allowed during a record attempt.  I'm not sure if this is true for Canadian records, but it does hold for US and international records.  Lee Anne was not chancing a DQ.  During the night I hoped to run an ultra.  If I chanced to run a bit with Lee Anne, it was permissible as I was also registered in the race.

Sharon's race plan was to have fun (note to Sharon:  sign up for a 48 minute race if you want to have fun) and gain experience at the 48 hour distance.

Lee Anne had to run 100 miles in under 28 hours 14 minutes for the Canadian record in her age category.  Very tough, but within reason.

Race conditions were close to ideal, with a high of 18 (I think it hit a bit over 20) and a low of 5.  The sun was a factor for me, but I don't think it had much of an impact on Lee Anne or Sharon.  My A goal was to finish well ahead of last place.  I did admirably in this context, as a 9 year old obliged by running only 22K.  Later in the day, Tony Feiter from USA showed up after surgery (I am not making this up!) and ran one lap, knocking me off the last-place-podium.  No amount of cajoling from me could convince him to run a bit further.

Sharon is an experienced 24 hour / 100 mile runner and her race proceeded like clockwork through the first 12 hours.  Then something almost inexplicable happened.  We are calling it the December 28 curse (the 3 of us started on the 28th).  For both Sharon and Lee Anne, the wheels seemed to fall off in a very short period.  Sharon experienced fatigue (expected) and very large blisters (a bit early for this).  No problem, a bit of rest is fine as Sharon is running the 48 hour, fix up the feet and get back out there!  Woohee!

Lee Anne ran a near-flawless 12 hours.  Perhaps flawless is closer to the truth, because at 10.5 hours, the race director told Lee Anne that she had just broken the world 12 hour road record for F60-64!  Lee Anne was ecstatic.  The RD and I joined Lee Anne for the loop that passed the 12 hour mark and the RD dropped a flag at the exact spot where his watch indicated 12:00:00.  Lee Anne continued to run well, but was tiring fast.  At about 15 hours, an old injury (possibly IT band) started causing her problems.  She started walking more.  Around 18 hours, her calf gave out.  Just microtears, but enough to cause her problems with maintaining a 5K walking pace, mandatory for breaking the 100 mile record.  Decision time.  She would need to take a significant rest / massage / fix blister break in order to resume a record-breaking pace, but she did not have enough time.  The wheels had fallen off and exceeding a 5K pace was not in the cards.  It was about 5 degrees at 3:30 Sunday morning, so we went into the warming tent to formulate a plan.  Lee Anne could continue to walk, hope for a miracle and break the record, continue to walk for 48 hours to see how far she could go, or pack it in.  Factoring in the existing injuries, the very real chance of causing more serious injuries (you will understand when you turn 60), we decided it was best to pull the plug.  All that was left was to figure out how to support Sharon while Lee Anne rested in a hotel room.  Step one was to inform Sharon of Lee Anne's decision.  I had been running / walking for a few hours (not crewing) and had not seen Sharon for a while.  It was quite funny, I had just mentioned to Lee Anne that I would need to talk to Sharon when the person beside us in the warming tent turned around.  It was Sharon!  We had been within 3 feet of each other for 20 minutes.

Sharon's race was not ideal.  No actual problem, but Sharon is used to running at a steady pace for hours.  Her pace had dropped considerably, which is fine in a 48 hour race, as you simply take a break, then crank it back up.  Hence the warming hut break.  Unfortunately, Sharon also had some freak-show sized blisters.  Fixing these, then continuing to run on them would not be pleasant.  I don't know the full reasoning for Sharon's decision, but I can just imagine the logic.  30 minutes of blister work, then back running / walking / staggering on tired and aching legs, or rest up in a hotel room.  Hmmm...  I can't be certain, but I assume that our decision to pull out of the race greatly influenced Sharon's decision.

Things now become a little hazy, but I think we arrived at the hotel around 5:30 Monday morning.  Try to imagine the reaction of the front desk when we ask for early check-in!  The hotel was incredibly accommodating.  Lee Anne and I had reserved a room for Monday night.  They gave us the room we had stayed in the previous night (Saturday) without an early check-in fee!  Sharon was also given a room (she had not booked a room for Monday night) without early check-in.  The gesture was simply incredible, given how tired we were.

Lee Anne's record:  52.49 miles replacing 45.94 miles (Woman 60 - 64 road 12 hour world record)

Now the funny part!  Lee Anne's world record was broken AGAIN at Across The Years by American June Gessner the next day!  June went on to break the US 12 and 24 hour records.  Lee Anne's reign was short-lived, but a world record nonetheless.

A note on the records.  I am not entirely sure why, but the old world record (45.94 miles) is less than both the USA and Canadian 12 hours records (F60-64).  This might have to do with the world records differentiating between road, track and trail, or might have to do with submitting records to the IAU.  I'm not sure.  The current Canadian record for F60-64 12 hour is 100K.  Canadian records are not subdivided into road, track and trail, although (this is funny), the Canadian record was set on a looped road course, the same surface as Across The Years...

I was very impressed with the organization of the ATY race.  It was well thought out, executed without apparent issues and everyone from the volunteers to the RD were friendly and accommodating.  This is not a 5K race, requiring a few hours work to set up (see the tents?) and 40 minutes to execute.  Even the timing database was impressive, with a listing of both the records that had been set and the record attempts.  The record attempts (world, US, other countries) tracked a runner's progress against the existing record.  Right now (the 6 day will complete in 75 minutes) Joe Fejes has 1K to go, to break the US men's open 6 day record.  Go Joe!

It was also inspiring to see Joe Fejes and Yannis Kouros (Yannis who?) duke it out in the 6 day race.  They were hitting 12 minute loops 3 DAYS after starting!  Fellow Canadian Michel Gouin has cracked 500K in the 6 day.

And then there is Charlotte Vasarhelyi (I have known Char for a few years, but I still have to look up the spelling of her last name...) and Marylou Corino in the 72 hour race.  Char started a day early as she had to work before the regular 72 hour ended.  She put in an impressive first day total and was leading the 72 hour race when her back problems (sciatica) became unbearable.  Char was forced to retire at the end of her first day of running (I don't recall her first day mileage).  Marylou started the next day and by the beginning of day 2, was in a race for the lead with Michael Miller.  Char showed up at the race on day 2 (her day 3) and watched.  Then Char walked a bit.  Then she started running.  Amazing!  In her second day of running (day 3 of her race) Char ran 160K for a total of 312K!

And Marylou?  She put in a stellar performance, running 427K for first place overall and good enough to break the open Canadian 72 hour record.  Of course in my consideration, Marylou's most amazing feat was that she continued to smile, even on the 3rd day.  Sorry, but that seems impossible!

So, was the trip a success or failure?  I think Sharon summed it up appropriately (I was going to take credit for this) by stating that there are no failures in racing, just races that are successful and those from which you learn.  And the opportunity to see Yannis Kouros run was quite the bonus!

1 comment:

  1. Pierre, another great report. It seems like much longer than a couple of days ago that we were basking in the sun. I forget already, what was it that we learned???