It always seems like a waste not to use the Christmas and new years holidays to get up to some kind of adventure. I’ve managed a few over the years. Everything from Ice climbing in Sunny Scotland, Adventure race training in Cork and Kerry, to the obvious but classic skiing holiday in the Alps.
One thing has been on my mind for a number of years though. My friend, and inspirational hero, Tony Mangan had regaled his fellow ultrarunners with stories from a race he had done in Phoenix Arizona called Across the Years. This was a 3 day race (with options for 2 and 1 day races as well) which started on the 29th of December and finished on the first of January… hence the name! Tony had run it twice and had great races against his friend John Geesler on both occasions, with John winning the race in Tony’s first year, and Tony winning on his second go. It sounded like a great race.
I had looked into entering the race last year, but a few things stopped me going through with it in the end. The proximity of that year’s Adventure Racing World Championships in Tasmania, which I took part in, meant that I probably wouldn’t be able to get there in optimal running condition. And it was going to be a lot of organisation for a potentially sub-optimal performance.
So yet again this year I found myself thinking about how I would spend the Christmas holidays, and yet again Across the Years was an obvious candidate. This year there were no obvious impediments in the way though. So I’ve bitten the bullet, signed up for the race, booked the flights and accommodation, and focused my thoughts and training on the race for the last month or two.
Unfortunately, almost as soon as I had spent all the money on flights and fees I managed to crack one of my ribs when I fell in the last IMRA mountain race of the year (and only lost one place in the process!). A full six week recovery time would have been disastrous for training, but luckily I was able to do some slow running after two weeks, and started to get back to full speed training another week later.
Since then training has gone very well. Weekday evening runs have been lengthened a little, and gradually increased in intensity. Weekend runs reached their apex two weekends ago with a 5 hour run around the hills of Dublin/Wicklow on Saturday, followed by a 4.5 hour run on the Sunday. I’m running out of pre-race excused for a bad performance, maybe apart from over-training 🙂
For me the more interesting aspect of preparing for a race like this is the mental preparation. This is particularly interesting for this race, since its the first time in a few years that I’ll be pushing out way beyond anything I’ve done before. Up until now the longest running races I’ve done are 24 hour races (which I have done 7 times). My first UTMB took me 29 hours to complete, so that was the longest time I have run continuously. 72 hours is a considerable push beyond these races.
I have done many multi-day adventure races (the longest being Primal Quest in 2006, which took 9 days to complete). Having this background behind me means that I don’t have any fear or apprehension about being able to race for 3 days continuously. But multi-sports races are very different to doing the same thing repetitively. And going around in circles (even with direction reversals) is much mentally tougher than the continuously interesting journey of an adventure race.
So I’ve had a lot to think about and focus on for the last month or two, and I’ve loved it! I’ve been mulling race tactics over in my head, trying to strategise effectively for myself. I’ve used what information I can find from previous competitors (and more specifically winners) in the race, and tried to merge it with my own ultrarunning and adventure racing experience to come up with the tactics best suited to my own ability.
Trying to stick to race tactics in the competitive heat of the event itself will be quite a challenge. But I’ll also have to adapt and react as I go, as I simply don’t have a complete enough knowledge of the event, or how I will react to the stresses and strains of competing in an event of this nature.
I had the pleasure of meeting Tony Mangan in the flesh last Wednesday, as he is currently in Dublin on a short break from his inspirational run around the world (I couldn’t recommend Tony’s Blog strongly enough). So I was able to chat to him for a while about his own experiences of the race, and see if I could benefit from his wisdom. I was delighted to hear he had been in communication with John Geesler, and John will be taking part in the race this year. John is one of only 2 people to ever exceed 300 miles in the race (the other being the greatest ultrarunner of all time, Yiannis Kouros)
The winners from the last 2 years will also be taking part in this year’s race. So there could be a very high standard this year. Hopefully this will push all of us on the getting good performances from ourselves.
Bags are finally packed, and I will be flying to Phoenix tomorrow morning. I can’t wait to get started. The funny thing is that I’ll probably spend most of the race wishing it to end, and wondering what the hell I was thinking of signing up for it in the first place, all to be forgotten once the elation of finishing finally comes around. Time will tell…