By Tony Mangan.
Across The Years 72 hour race winner, New Yorker,John Geesler and I have raced against each other on two previous occasions.The day before this race we both let it slip that we were thinking the same. He had beaten me into second place some years ago in Dallas. In that race, the Ultracentric 48 hour track race he had a 31 mile lead, and eventually triumphed by 19. I had beaten him in a 1 day in the World 24 hour championships in Taiwan last Feburary while running for Ireland, he was representing the U.S.A.This 3 day was to be our little decider.
John has always been my “American Idol” ultrarunner. He is as tough as nails, runs like a wild animal with relentless forward motion.But one of the nicest guys you could ever meet.This time I badly wanted to beat him. My mind was strong but would it be strong enough for what was to be a Titanic 3 day battle?The longest I had run before this was for 48 hours on 3 previous occasions.
I had always wanted to run this race.Every year I sat up till ungodly hours following it online.It had been very hard to get accepted.I was on a waiting list for 5 months before finally getting the nod a month before the December 29th start.
I flew to Las Vegas from Dublin on December 26th.Hired a car.I got hit an extra 200 dollars by the hire company.It was almost midnight. I got lost.Not being able to find a reasonable priced motel to stay for the night I drove on and ended up sleeping in the car in a service station in Henderson, Nv.
Next morning I drove through Hoover Dam past the Grand Canyon to the race site near Phoenix,Arizona.I set up my race gear and talked to the other runners who are known as “the across the years family”.I was now part of the family and loving every moment.
The course was a certified 500 meter crushed gravel road track.Rain the day before the start meant parts were almost like running on concrete.It was run around a country manor called Nardini Manor which is owned by ultrarunner,Rodger Wrublik who wanted to give the race a home.Rodger and his committee worked very hard to ensure the races future.The Manor is normally used for hosting wedding receptions so there were an abundance of tables and chairs for our personal aid stations in addition to a first class one provided which stocked everything from pizza to lasagna, energy drinks and gels by the wonderful cheery volunteers. There was a large heated marque in which we could pitch a tent or just roll out our spleeping bags for our naps.It is the most incredibly organised race I have been involved in.Our goody bags included 2 expensive pieces of clothing compliments of sponsor North Face.In addition the scoreboard read out a whole host of statistics as we finished each chip timed lap.Like time run for last lap,total kms/miles run.All these statistics including up-to-date standings which were updated every few seconds on the race website www.acrosstheyears.com for the entire race My family were able to follow the race back in Ireland.They had abandoned the television for the holiday season and all gathered around the computer! As were my many running friends around the world.A webcam also transmitted live race pictures.There were times when the going was really tough but the organisers had a facility where we could actually get a print out of e-mail messages of support and advice from our supporters. In addition to our race with about 38 starters there was a 48 hour and a 24 hour race, about 100 runners in all.John set off very hard.By the the end of day one he had churned out 135 miles which was about 2 less than what he had run in the World 24 hour championships! I ran 117 miles.This was about what I had wanted. I had taken a 1 hour nap at 18 hours which was just after my 100 mile mark.Each time I took a nap I just pulled off my shoes and dived into my sleeping bag .Not wanting to waste much time I slept with my MSB club singlet on.I was terrified I wouldn’t hear my alarm or I would make a mistake setting it.John continued pounding out the miles and only stopped to take his first walk break after 34 hours! By this stage he was about a marathon up on me.We both held first and second place for the entire 3 days. I felt I had worked a bit harder than I wanted to on day one.
Day two I got 71 miles and was disapointed with this. I also had a minor calf problemn and a blister that needed to be lanced.Dr.Andy Lovy and his fantastic medical team were doing a wonderful job working wonders on the wounded for 3 long days and nights.The first 2 nights were bitterly cold as we were not too far from the Arizona desert.The days were fairly mild.
All-in-all most people considered the conditions to be more or less ideal.
John had also slowed down a bit in the second day but was still moving fairly well.At this stage it was really his to lose so strong was his stronghold on the race.At about 45 hours I started to do the math and figured that to hold onto my second place from David Luljak and womens race leader Tracy Thomas who was having an incredible gutsy battle – despite injury – with Martina Hauseman and a couple of others who were all about 14 to 20 miles behind me.I decided to try to do a long solo run of about 10 hours at around 5 m.p.h. before taking my next walking break.Total for 48 hours was about 188 miles breaking the Irish National 48 hour road record I set in Houston,Texas 3 years ago by about a marathon.I managed to keep that run going for 13 hours.I was feeling strong and this prolonged effort only ended as the sun went down I stopped to put on my windbreaker.The lure of pot noodles also meant when I started back I couldn’t get the legs moving again.
That effort virtually secured me at least 2nd place extending my lead over third place David to about 20 miles.I was surprised to see that I was also now in a challenging position for the race lead as I had significantly cut the deficit down to about 14 miles.John eased down a bit more.He was just doing enough to protect his lead.
By now the gap was down to about 9 miles.At midnight there was a magnificient firework display.I was a bit worried I would get hit by a stray firework!Most of the runners went over to partake in the New Year’s celebration. Now the track was almost empty.I took some laps off John for about an hour. Then he came through his rough period and started to run strongly with me.I sensed he was a lot stronger now – this probally broke my spirit.John had suggested with about 8 hours to go that we run together as a pair and help each other to a coverted 300 mile buckle – only 2 had ever been awarded in the races 25 years history (John got one 2 years ago and the other was picked up last year when the worlds greatest ultrarunner,Yiannis Kouros, holder of countless world records, when he decimated the course record with 323 miles).I decided it was worth going along with and if he tired again I would try to take full advantage of any slip.I told him that I was not there to finish 2nd and would go for the win if I got an oppertunity.
A tired mind started to do the math.If I am honest I probally lost my “bottle” around 65 hours. Thinking if he stopped with 7 hours to go it would take me over an hour and a half to get his mileage back.We stopped for noodles for about 10 mins.I had about 42 miles to run.John needed about 33 so it would be much easier for him to claim a 300 mile buckle.For me it would have taken a huge effort.My tired mind told me I could not get these miles and would most likely fall a few short of this target – so what was the point in all that effort when he was running strong and was almost assured of victory.Instead of running on as I was – I used the excuse of a slightly sore calf muscle to take another nap.When I came back with less than 5 hours to go I couldn’t get running again.For the next 1 hour and 20 mins I could only walk fast.With about 2 hours 40 to go I started running fast.My second last hour I cut into his lead further running 10km and last hour I was like a train getting 11 km – 22 laps and every one of them under
3 mins. My last 2 km were clocked at about 9.30.I finished day 3 with about
92 miles run.Day 3 was my favourite day.My total was just shy of 280 miles or 450km. Seven and a half miles/12km behind John.
This race has set such an incredible standard raising the bar each year that it’s hard to see how it can get any better.