A Cold Start to the New Year – and a Buckle for Ben – Across the Years 72 Hour Footrace, Phoenix, AZ (December 29, 2014 – January 1, 2015)

I must admit I am a wimp when it comes to cold weather. Give me heat and humidity over icy breezes and dry temperatures any day. Even though I really wanted this ultra to be one of my best, and even though I desired to remain on the course for at least 2 nights out of the 3, it was not to be. The weather was the deciding factor for me in this race.

Despite this, it was a pleasant race, especially once I decided to just relax and do whatever miles I could manage. As long as I completed a 50k, I could count it for Maniac statistics. Although 100 miles seemed impossible at first, once I realized it was within reach, I decided to stop there and dedicate the 100 mile buckle to my recently deceased son Ben.

We left for Phoenix from Jacksonville on the first flight to Atlanta. After a short layover, we were soon on our way to Arizona. Because I have reviewed this race twice in the past, when I did the 24 hour 3 years ago and the 72 hour back in 2013, I won’t reiterate the details. Suffice it to say that this is one of the best organized ultras I have ever done and that probably explains why I continue to come back. The course is a 1.05 mile loop in the beautiful Camelback Ranch. On our trips here, we stay at the alternate host hotel, the Courtyard Phoenix West/Avondale. The primary host hotel is a Comfort Inn and is located very close to the Ranch. However, we prefer the Courtyard since I am a Marriott loyalty member and the difference in mileage is only a few miles.

I rented a large tent with a cot (cost $80) so I would have a place to rest, change clothes, and eat/drink/relax. It works well, certainly better than using a chair or bench for my drop bag, but the weather is usually the troublesome factor. The tent provides shelter but no warmth. It is so cold at night that I cannot sleep; even sitting for any length of time inside the tent is impossible. Although there is a warming tent for racers to use, it is not for sleeping but just for defrosting one’s body. Even though I wanted to spend the first and possibly the third night moving around, the cold was debilitating to me and made me yearn for a warm hotel room.

This race now has a 6 day option and several running and walking friends were participating in that crazy feat. By the time I started on the 29th, Marie, Terrie, and Kena and a host of others had already completed their first day. I, along with other 24, 48, and 72 hour racers, joined them. The weather during the day was cool but sunny. I was optimistic. However, as soon as the sun went down, the temperature cooled dramatically. Predictions were for 32 degrees and frost and I was already shivering. It didn’t matter that I had on multiple base layers, heavy gloves, a warm hat, long pants, and two heavy jackets. It was COLD!

Darcy checked on me several times during the day and took me back to the hotel around 9 pm. I basked in the warm room, changed clothes, and fell into a deep sleep. The next morning I woke around 4 am and began my circuit around the course. On Monday I had made my initial goal of 32k plus a few extra miles, so I was hoping to reach 70 miles before I gave in to the cold once again. On this second day, Tuesday, I managed to reach over 80 miles. I knew that, even with absconding to the warmth of the hotel every evening, I should be able to reach 100 miles barring any major problem. Darcy picked me up around 5 pm and it was another comfortable night of rest for me.

I have to admit that – thankfully – I was feeling good most of the time. I began each morning with a fairly strong pace and it was only after 8 or 10 hours that my legs and feet became tired and sore. Considering that I had completed 36 marathons and ultras in 2014, as well as 4 half marathons and a few shorter races, I was moving fairly well.

By New Year’s Eve day, I had already decided that once I had reached 100 miles I would leave early so I could get a good night’s rest and continue the next morning to add whatever extra miles I could. We had some rain – in addition to the cold – on Wednesday, so it was a good day to leave early. By 2 pm I had attained 109 miles. Darcy took me back to the hotel and ordered takeout from Red Robin. We celebrated the New Year early; by 6 pm I was sound asleep.

Fireworks woke me up at 11:30. I never did get back into a sound sleep, instead just dozing for 20-30 minutes periods, and then waking up and checking the clock. I gave up finally at 3 am, woke my poor husband, and said ‘get me back on that course.’ And, even though he was still sleepy, he drove me to the Ranch and dropped me off. I managed to complete 28.08 miles before the horn sounded the end of the race.

What did I learn this time?

  • I don’t like the cold. Well, that is not really news, but it seems to be the confounding factor in a lot of my races. Had the weather been warmer I might have been able to last through the night at least once. Since I had a cot and a tent, I might have taken short rest breaks without needing to return to the hotel every night
  • I don’t like the dryness of desert climates. My nose bled for five days straight. I went through an entire box of Puffs and a jar of Vaseline. I was desperate for some humidity.
  • As long as I could have a few good hours of sleep in a warm room, I could handle the early morning cold. It was only when the sun went down and I was fatigued that the frosty temps really got to me.
  • I wished I had pushed a little harder each day instead of trying to pace myself. And even more importantly, I should have stayed out there at least a few hours longer every day. Of course, hindsight is 20-20. When I checked the standings before I left each evening, I was in 5th or 6th place for females. When I returned the next morning, I had dropped to 10th place or below. By that last morning, I was determined to move up in the standings once again and I pushed hard. I finally managed to reach 6th place female by race end. Just think what I might have accomplished had I stayed out there a little longer (of course there was always the chance I might have had hypothermia, too, so who really knows?)

All but the 6 day runners were finished on January 1. I really felt for my friends left on the course because they were facing more cold weather. But I was satisfied. I returned my ankle chip and received a heavy glass stein and my 100 mile buckle. I stein I will use. The buckle is for Ben.

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