Running through my fears and Across The Years. By Tony Mangan.
Just after 24 hours into the Across The Years 72 hour race I grabbed a water bottle from my table while running at full speed. My right foot hit the kerb. I bounced off the table and went into orbit. In slow motion I seemed to spin around and around as though I was in a spin dryer. Oh no! I thought. My worst fears flashed through my mind like a bolt of lightening. As I fell people reached out to catch me, but missed. I fell heavily and awkwardly on the compacted brown 500 meter gravel track cutting my left leg in the process. I remembered last years second place finish when my mind gave up and I lost my spirit with only six hours to go. It had been a long hard year waiting and preparing to get back here for another chance. I stayed down for a couple of seconds and wondered what were the odds? 50-50 injured or ok? If I am injured it will be a long, long flight back home and an even longer 2008.
I slowly got up. Dusted the blood off my leg. I felt very lucky I was just badly shook up. For the first time in the race I walked. I walked for a couple of minutes. In the first 24 hours I had run 212km/131.73 miles.
My had flight landed in Phoenix, Arizona on December 27th after a 30 hour journey from Dublin,Ireland via Paris and Los Angeles. In LA I had slept in the airport as I had to get up at 4 am to make my final connection. It was not the most direct route but due to the holiday season I didn’t have many choices. It was not a bad journey. I had managed to get a lot of sleep. I love this 3 day race. I can prepare properly with about a weeks rest over the Christmas holidays and I will still have a couple of days left to recover afterwards.
What will the race be like this year I wondered as I pulled my 3 bags containing almost 50 kilos of equipment through customs. Every single item I had packed was race related.
I had a cappuccino and a blueberry muffin in a cafe just across from the car hire company while I waited for 24 hour runner David Elsbernd to arrive from Seattle. The race will start on the 29th and end on New Years morning. That’s why it’s called Across The Years. There will also be a one day and a two day race. Forty runners in my race and about a hundred in all. Dave and his brother Roy had managed to secure us a 3 bed room in the Hyatt Regency, in downtown Phoenix. Roy is not running. He came to help his brothers for the first 8 hours before his flight home. After a shower I took a nap for a couple of hours. We went to a supermarket for our race supplies and continued on to a lovely pasta dinner in local runner Ricky Cheever’s Sun City home. It was a great spread, prepared by Rick’s friend who is a chef. There we met some of the other runners. Multiday evergreen,Martina Hauseman from Germany runs about 3 six-day races every year. She will be looking for 400km in this 3 day. It must seem like a half marathon to her. She is relishing a battle with last years women’s champion and course record-holder, Tracy Thomas.
Corrie Sauter will be helped by her partner, Craig. They are laughing and smiling the whole time and you can tell they are such a happy couple. Corrie tells me she has won some 100 mile trail races in and around 20 hours. This is her first multiday race. I make her a good outside bet for victory in the women’s race. Craig kindly offers to help with some crewing for me. I offer to help Corrie during the race with advice.
Next morning before we checked out of the hotel we went out for breakfast. David and Roy allowed me to make the choice of breakfast diner as this will be the only time in my week here, I will go anywhere!
Later we went to meet the third Elsbernd brother, Brian who will be running in the 24 hour. His wife Elaine and son Joseph will be crewing for them and they offer to help me also. We drove the 40 minutes to the race site, Nardini Manor owned by race director and ultra runner, Roger . Once there I set up my race gear and walked a lap of the track. The organizers provide a large heated marquee. Dave keeps calling it a circus tent… I guess we are the clowns. I pitched my tent just inside the door beside a heater. I put my spare running shoes, sock and gloves into plastic bags under my table trackside. I was warned not to leave any food out the night before the race as there are bears in the area! I went over to talk to Dave Combs in the timing tent. Then I saw my old buddy, John Geesler. We had a laugh. We are both seriously pumped up for the race. Last year John won beating me into second place by 12km. On that occasion my mind, concentration and spirit had deserted me with only 6 hours to go. It would be different this year. I had learned a lot since and have had a great running year.Now is the test. We try to suss out each others tactics! The big man looks like a Harley biker with his trademark headband and long hair. He introduces me to Dave Putney. Dave is a member of John’s New York running club, the Kuyahoor Kickers. He is entered for the 24 hour and will be helping John for days 2 and 3. Dave is primarily a 50 mile trail runner and this is his first 24 hour race.
Last year after my battle with John, Dave and the Kickers sent me a couple of signed photos of John with his clubmates taken in their clubhouse. I couldn’t believe this incredible sporting gesture they afforded me. Meanwhile, the Elsbernds are planning to visit some Native American ruins around 2pm. I decline as I am not here to sightsee. I mean business! They say they will return in a couple of hours and go out to dinner with some of the other runners. At first I agree, but by 5pm I am sorted and decided to have an early night. Later that evening when they returned they told me they had a long wait for dinner as the restaurant was very busy. They didn’t get back till after nine o’ clock. I was glad I dined on bagels, cheese and cranberry juice in my tent.
I slept well, on and off for about 12 hours.
Race morning arrived. I lay there for another couple of hours wishing I was a 200 meter runner instead of a 200 mile runner! The body and mind tend to forget what the upcoming effort will be like – till you get going again that is. It was ice cold outside because the marquee is only heated once the race starts. Time for a shave. No point in a shower, besides it’s too cold. I went over to the medical table and had a chat with ultra running doctor, Andy Lovy. Andy is the USA 24 hour team doctor. His passion for ultra running has led him to do research into little known areas of our sport. None of the medical companies would find this research into a minority sport financially feasible. I had been having a small problem with an old ankle injury on my right foot. It was more of an irritation and a discomfort that I just wished wasn’t there. Last weekend while my running club MSB, www.msbac.com were having our Christmas 10km handicap race, I just ran a short training run instead. I was so concerned that I cut that run scheduled for 16km to 13km. Andy got me onto the massage table in the medical area and pulled off the compression strap I was going to wear. “You won’t need this”, he said. ” It will probably cause you more problems than it is worth.”
“I see the problem here. Its minor. You have a dropped navicular bone!” He then performed what he calls a ‘ Y maneuver ‘ He held my ankle in a Y position and snapped it back into its normal place! During the race I was only aware of the discomfort for a couple of short spells.
I finished sorting my race food,drinks,medical supplies and clothing in and around my designated table which I was sharing with the Elsbernds. We were beside Craig and Corrie’s table.
While the rules and announcements were being made just before the 9 am start I was still taping the Irish flag to my table along with a special Ireland / USA flagged handshake emblem I always display when competing in the USA.
Roy was going to be my handler for the first few hours. I showed him my log book and explained my system. We walked over to the start line. The flags from each of the runners state, province and country were flying proudly in the start/finish area. It was windy. John and I shook hands again and also with many of the other runners I have met before at other races. One big happy family! We both laughed when we saw each other were wearing a timing chip on each foot. Runners going for records have to wear a backup chip in case of a malfunction. Unfortunately a small bug in the system meant the double chips canceled each other out and our lap times were never displayed on the race website in real time. However, we were always credited with our laps.
Bang on 9 am. the hooter sounded and we were off. I was feeling good, the weather was nice and fresh. I was near the front. John was a few places behind as we paced out the first few laps there was great excitement as we tried to settle into an early rhythm.
For the first few hours I was averaging about 10.5 km per hour. I felt comfortable but knew it was too fast. Funny how it’s sometimes so hard to slow down.
After 8 hours Roy left and I was now been handled by Elaine and Joe, a young lad who got a great kick out of giving me my drinks bottles. Whenever I came around at the end of a lap he would dive and try to catch my empty bottle to make a touch down!
The first night was cold, very cold. I hate the cold. I have a circulation problem. Back home I tried to condition myself by not wearing gloves during my training runs. I often cycled without gloves at the coldest times in our damp climate to condition myself. That didn’t work too well. Every hour was a battle. I couldn’t believe Joseph’s energy. Hours later he was still diving for my empty bottles. He must be the NFL’s MVP by now! Elaine was giving me great moral support also mixing my drinks, giving me my gloves and whatever I needed. The volunteers at the aid tables were cheery. Nothing was too much trouble.
Craig was attending to Corrie so well and took over from the Elsbernds to help me out for a while. The true spirit of ultra running… Help your opponent. Not too many sports like ours – certainly not soccer.
I managed to stay on my schedule for the first 28 hours then I started to slip a bit. One expends a lot of energy just trying to stay warm. I don’t think this is a race for running a big distance…. It’s a tough slog – mental and physical… But an incredible event! What dedication the organizers put into it. I remember sending an email on Christmas night and not expecting a reply to my last minute question – and quick as a flash I had a reply – almost like auto reply!
Just at the halfway point and the start of the second night I started puking. I couldn’t hold solid foods down. Dr. Andy was keeping an eye on me. He told me my system was in danger of closing down, totally. I was worried he would pull me out of the race. There and then I decided I would forget about distances and just concentrate on trying to win… I would settle for a scrappy win as I felt so sick.
I marked John running some of the laps with him and some about ten meters behind.
We had a bit of fun. Sometimes John would shout back,
” I hear you scraping the ground behind me Mangan… Come out and fight like a man! ”
” Hey Mangan, You got a shoe sponsor, Pearl Izumi I see?”
“How did you know Geeze, I don’t have their logo on my back!”
I’m wearing Pearl Izumi’s Synchro Floats. They are a tough, hard-wearing and comfortable shoe.
During that second day and night I continued vomiting and held my lead over John to between 35 and 40km. It was mind over matter stuff, sink or swim, pain or discomfort? John was having a hard race too.
He doesn’t nap much. He more or less runs and runs and runs for about a day and sits down to do a few stretches and then goes out and runs for another day or so. I took a few short naps.
At 48 hours I had 340km. Much less than I wanted but never-the-less an Irish 48 hour road record.
That last day was tough. I don’t remember much. I can’t believe I only ran about 100km.
What was I doing?
My stomach was still giving me problems. The only food I could hold down were ginger nut snap biscuits and the odd bit of banana.
At home I remember reading a health supplement article for an upset stomach in which it was mentioned that ginger settles the stomach and ginger snaps are the best as an upset stomach is usually associated with low blood sugar levels and ginger snaps contains sugar. I thought I had my own secret remedy till I came here and saw race sponsor Zombie Runner had bags of ginger lumps, in addition to ginger pills and ginger ale! My secret remedy is out!
I sometimes managed by rotating a chicken broth and then a vegetable broth. Once the two broths were accidentally mixed in the same cup and I threw up on that and also on a coffee.
So, we ran on. Tracy Thomas withdrew with an IT band problem. I felt so sorry for her as she was close to the finish. Martina was having a battle with Glen Turner. I walked a few laps with Dr. Andy and Glen. Glen is setting out to run around the world on July 1st. www.worldrun.org.
Eleven pm on New Years Eve I ran some laps with John. We talked about what we would be doing if we were not ultra runners.
” Do you often wonder why we don’t just do something easier?
” Like putting our feet up and smoking a few cigars, have a few beers and play a few games of poker? ” I asked him.
” Sure I do! But like you Tony, I don’t think I would be happy… We are replacing a negative addition with a positive addiction!”
The New Year came as some exciting rock music boomed out of the stereo speakers. An incredible firework display lit up the sky. It seemed a bit easier now! Our spirits were lifted by the excitement of the New Year. I stopped for a juice and a chat with some of the runners for a few minutes and ran on. Some were running, others walking, wearing party hats, blowing whistles and singing. Others drank champagne on the go.
I was still maintaining my big lead over John and took another couple of naps. I am starting to think of my next race now. (Brno 48 hour indoors March 28-30) It was rough going in the early hours of that 3rd morning. My stomach was now feeling a lot better. I managed to hold some food down. We change directions every 2 hours and at the last turn around John gave me a big High 5!
” That’s 3-2 in our mini-series to me Tony! I will be doing my very best to make it 4-2 next time!”
” I know you will John! I wouldn’t have it any other way! You are my mentor. I have learnt a lot from you over the years, thank you very much.”
With about 2 hours to go I found my legs again and started knocking out the laps. In the last hour I was flying and lapping the other runners a lot. I was running the laps in around 2:40-2:45 and in the last 20 minutes they were sub 2:30. In that last hour I managed almost 11.5km and missed another lap by a mere 6 seconds as the hooter sounded for the end of the race. It’s all over! 440km. John ran 403 and Martina won the women’s race with 376km. Hans Bern Bauer won the 48 hour with 306. John’s protégé and my new buddy, Dave Putney, finished 6km behind Daniel Larson’s 217.5km in the 24 hour.
This is a wonderful race which despite the time of year it’s run. It just keeps excelling itself.
So, after the dreaded wrap up of all my gear we make our way into the awards ceremony. I made my way back to Ricky Cheever’s house with Martina. Ricky’s mam was so incredible! We had 3 huge lots of running gear and she didn’t mind in the slightest doing the 40 minute commute each way to drop off our stinking gear while we ate, drank and swapped battle stories. When she returned for us we all feel we have aged 30 years in 3 days. She told us she was so privileged to have the men’s and women’s 72 hour winners stay in her home. I fell asleep and had a long, long happy sleep. Until next year.Crossing another year, a happy running year.
Special thanks to all the organizers,volunteers,people that crewed for me, all the runners, Dave Elsbernd and family,Ricky Cheever and Mom Cheever and especially Ger at Pearl Izumi Ireland.My advisors, Phil Essam, Alan Young and MSB psysio Mick Farrell. I hope I have not left anyone out!
Thanks to Don Lundell for the photos
THIS WIN IS DEDICATED TO ALL OF THOSE PEOPLE WITH MOBILITY PROBLEMS.