Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Across The Years: Part 1

When Rob first mentioned the idea of us doing Across the Years, I wasn't quite sure if he was serious.  Because the race spans 6 days, and because 24-hour runners can elect to race on any day of the event, his suggestion was that we could both do it, while trading off childcare.  Even as he said these words, I thought, this idea, it is horrible.

I didn't know what running for 24 hours would do to me (50 miles had been my longest/farthest run to date), but I suspected it would not do good things.  My recovery from ultras generally involves up to 12 hours of hard-core vomiting and the need, but refusal, to be hospitalized or at least administered an IV.

I told Rob if we were doing this, he'd have to go first.  We couldn't count on me being able to take care of Will after my race.  So Rob registered for December 29th, and I got the big dance-- December 31st.  The run that is actually across the years.

We road tripped to Phoenix right after Christmas, and in typical Ragfield fashion, stopped at Arches and the Grand Canyon on our way.

We arrived at Camelback Ranch on the afternoon before Rob's race, got our bib numbers, and set up our tent right along the course.  The parking lot was a bit far away, so it was kind of an ordeal to unload and carry all our excessive amount of gear.  We could have taken our station wagon/camper over to the separate RV area and camped there, but at the time it seemed like we wanted to be closer to the start/finish line, where most of the action was taking place.

The orange gray tents in the background are the ones you could rent from Aravaipa.  In the foreground: an actual tumbleweed.

The race was already underway when we arrived. All the 6 day runners had begun on December 27th, and there were some runners of other distances out there as well.  The tone was rather subdued. Most participants were walking or running at a very controlled pace (as you do when you're in it for the long haul), and none of the spectators or crew were cheering.  At first I thought it was because they didn't want to break the concentration of the participants (there were people out there trying to break various world records), and I felt like I needed to whisper or something.  Then I realized, it was a constant stream of people going by.  You'd lose your voice cheering for all of them, all day and all night long.  This was no typical ultra.

Prior to the race, I'd been dimly aware that Phoenix was experiencing some kind of cold snap, but it hadn't concerned me too much.  There was almost a foot of snow on the ground and it was 8 degrees when we left home.  Phoenix was bound to feel tropical.

Phoenix did not feel tropical.  As the sun set, Phoenix became freezing.  I've camped in 18F and snow  in Colorado before.  We have sleeping bags that are supposed to keep you warm even in temperatures as low as something like -20F.  But that night in Phoenix was miserable.  I couldn't get warm, no matter what I did.  My body shook.  My teeth chattered.  My toes felt like blocks of ice.  And all night long, there was the sound of the shuffling footsteps outside our tent as runners continued their never-ending laps around the 1.05 mile dirt path.  Footsteps that would be Rob's the next night, and mine two nights later.

I don't know how low the temperatures got that night (my phone weather app never registered below the high 30's), but there was a hard frost over everything the next morning, and my friend (whose husband is a meteorologist in the Phoenix area) had said it was supposed to get down to 22.

The sun rose, but didn't bring much warmth with it, and at 9am, Rob's race began.

It's showtime.

The 24-hour runners were the "sprinters" of the group, I could tell it was very hard for Rob to hold back.
Looking at his watch thinking, "Holy shit, I need to go slower, but I cannot possibly go any slower."
And so he didn't hold back.  He ran hard, circling around to our tent every 10 minutes, where Will and I mixed up 6-ounce gel flasks full of Tailwind for him.  I remained miserably cold, with my sleeping bag wrapped around me.

In the background, Ed Ettinghausen (The Jester), who was participating in the 6-day race

I finally made some coffee around 11am and started feeling one tiny iota better.

I'm sorry for the things I said when it was cold.

It was much warmer for the runners than the spectators, and Rob took off his shirt around noon.

Will put on a Star Wars costume and made friends with a grandfatherly gentleman named Frank, whose son was a real contender in the 6 day race.  Frank was doing the 6 day race himself, walking around 20 miles per day.  Frank readily admitted that he was no athlete, though.  He said he'd asked himself how on earth he was going to do this, and his solution was, I'm going to stop and talk to everybody I see.  So he stopped at our tent for a long time on each lap to talk to Will and me.

By around 4:40pm, or 7 hours and 40 minutes into the race, Rob was at mile 48.  Someone had mistaken him for Rob Krar at least once.  I can see why.

"Is that Rob Krar?"

I have to admit, I thought that what Rob was doing was crazy.  Not just the running 24 hours part of it.  But the extremely aggressive pace he was keeping up.  I wondered what on earth he was thinking.  I thought, he either really knows what he is doing, and is taking a huge gamble, or this is about to be a catastrophe.

He hit 50 miles just before 8 hours into the race, and for the first time all day he stopped.  In all honesty, he didn't look so good.

He foam rolled, put on some more clothes, and decided to walk a few laps.

I think mile 50 was a real turning point in Rob's race.  He went much more slowly after that and walked frequently.  Will and I even checked out some guest bibs just before sunset and walked a lap with him.

The problem was that the temperatures were getting so cold.  I couldn't even get myself together to make dinner for Will and me from the stash of supplies we had brought from home; I just managed to boil some water on the camp stove and make one of those pre-packaged camp meals (rice and beans). We were both too cold to feel much like eating anyway.  By 7pm, Will was ready for bed and wanted to crawl into his sleeping bag to keep warm for the night.  Bless his heart.  Unlike me, he never once complained about the cold.

I stayed out of the tent (as my body temperature precipitously dropped) and watched for Rob to come past each lap.  It was just before 9pm when he reached 100km-- 62 miles.  He had slowed down a lot, but that was less than 12 hours into the race. For reference, it had taken him 16 hours to complete 100km at Never Summer last July, on ridiculously technical mountainous terrain.  What a difference.

I couldn't really sleep even when I went in the tent, and after my body temperature had dropped so much, I just couldn't get warm.  The only thing that seemed to help was when I was moving, accompanying Rob on a guest lap around the course.  It gave me the slimmest margin of hope that when it was time for me to do my own race, movement throughout the night might keep me warm.

It was an odd experience, trying to sleep in the frigid tent right along the race course.  All night long I could hear the constant parade of footsteps passing by on the gravel path.  A sense of doom grew in my stomach as I got colder and colder.  I kept touching Will's cheeks and was amazed that he felt warm.  As for me, I felt like I was trapped in a snowstorm on Mount Everest, awaiting rescue.  I didn't see how on earth I would be able to run my own race.

At some point in the night, I discovered I could use my phone to connect to the race website and track Rob's progress.  It helped me keep an idea of what pace he was going and when he might be back to the tent.  I tried to sleep for a couple of hours and then go back out again to check on him.  He was wearing his winter coat and moving fairly slowly.  For the first time, I began to doubt that he would make it to 100 miles.

My timeline and memory of the night is foggy, but maybe it was around 76 miles when I went back out to check on him again.  The water bottles and gels and other food we had outside the tent were all frozen. Rob looked miserable when he came by. He explained that the problem was, if he ran at all, his winter coat was too hot.  But if he walked, he was too cold.

I knew he needed some calories and fluid, and everything at our tent was frozen.  I walked with him to the aid station and they had vegetable broth in styrofoam cups.  I spoke loudly and more cheerfully than I felt.  "Why don't you take some broth, that will help you feel better!" I said.  He looked numbly at the broth, as though he couldn't compute.  He blinked.  Took a cup.  Moved resolutely on.

It was far too cold for me to stay outside so I went back to the tent and huddled in my sleeping back for a few hours.  I dozed a little, and when I woke and checked my phone again, Rob was at mile 96.  It was sometime between 4 and 5 in the morning.  Holy shit, he was going to pull this off.

My own mind was a wreck, and my body ached with cold.  Will still slept peacefully next to me.  I stayed in the tent for almost another hour and then went up to the start/finish line close to the time I expected him to arrive.

It was 5:45am, and they were playing "Hello" by Adele as Rob came across the timing mat to start his 100th mile.  I ugly cried so hard.  I absolutely couldn't believe it.  Rob's face was utterly expressionless.

Hello from the other side.

For the first time, it occurred to me that he might not stop at this point.  After all, there was still more than 3 hours on the clock, and there was nowhere to go to get warm.  He kept moving and said, "You stay until the job's done."  Well then.  His crazy eyes didn't seem to recognize me, but he was lucid enough to quote Brad Pitt from the movie Snatch.

I went back to the tent and stayed there, willing the sun to rise and for some warmth to creep into my bones.  I was so happy for Rob, but the cold and raw emotion of the night had completely wrecked me, and my mind went to a very bad place.  I didn't see how I would be able to run.

When Will woke up well after sunrise, he asked me if it was time for my race yet.  "No," I told him.  "It's tomorrow, but I don't think I'm going to do it.  I just want to go home."

"Oh, mommy," he said, from beneath the puffs of his -20 sleeping bag. "But it's your big day!"

That kid.

We assembled all our courage and emerged into the cold new day so we could use the porta potties and wait for Rob.  He crossed the start/finish mats with 111 miles and said, "One more lap."

Of all the things Rob has done in his life, I've felt like I've at least been able to relate to or understand them on some level, even if they were things I could never have accomplished myself.  But this.  How he had done this.  It was unfathomable.

He finished the day at 8:45 in the morning, with 112.33 miles.  He was in first place.

Thanks for reading.

There were still several more days of racing left, and on any of those days someone could accrue more mileage than Rob.  But here is a screen shot of the results for the moment that he was in first place.


Anonymous said...

WOW!!!! WOW!!!!! WOW!!! UNBELIEVEABLE!! YOU STAY TIL THE JOB IS DONE! And STAY he did! MILE after MILE AFTER MILE!!!!! incredible! AND THEN it was YOUR TURN!!!! 😳💃🏼. FYI I GOT COLD just reading your blog!!! , Can't wait for YOUR story!!! THANK GOODNESS I know the end results!!! which are . amazing , BTW!!! big hugs and luv! 😘Mama

Unknown said...

I'm staying til the job is done ... have listened to the entire podcast -- read from start to finish of PART 1 -- am now going to PART 2 -- and i'm warm and not hungry!! Awesome, Rob -- no, Awesome Rob!!!!

Melissa said...

Thank you, Auntie and Mom <3