Blog Subtitle

Reverse-engineering the Ultramarathon

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

A Race for the Ages

The more things change...
(Photo credit - John Price)
All ultras are races. Some are more serious than others.
All ultras are social events. Some more so than others.

Perhaps more than any other race I have run, A Race for the Ages (ARFTA) was both in great measure.

The Race

Another brainchild of Gary Cantrell (known as "Laz" to many), like most of his races, ARFTA had a unique twist. This was a fixed-time ultra with a finish time of 6:00 P.M. on Labor Day. Starting times, however, varied based on each runner's age. The race clock started at eighty-four hours at 6:00 A.M. on Friday, September 4th - the start time of the oldest runner, 84-year-old Dan Baglione - and counted down. Runners would start at the race time that matched their age. With few exceptions, another runner or small group would start on the hour each hour for the next two days or so. At 54 years old, my time would come at noon on Saturday. Whoever completed the most laps of the one-mile loop course in their allotted time would be the winner.

This race was designed to give every advantage to the older runners, and Gary had determined that statistically the format favored men aged 71-77 and women aged 51-66. From his introduction in the race brochure: "This is not a 'handicapped' event. The old guys have the advantage…. It is about time."

The course was a one-mile loop in Fred Deadman Park - a city park in Manchester, TN. For those who wished to sign up for it, food would be provided every six hours by Patch Manor, a local caterer with an excellent reputation. Camping was allowed in the park, or sleeping space for a cot or sleeping bag was available on the floor of the Ada Wright Center - the headquarters building for the race.

No one can doubt for a second there was a very deliberate joke in Gary's choice to hold a race for old folks at 'Dead Man Park.'

I chose not to bring much with me to the race, as my wife Karen and I flew out of upstate New York to Nashville. I brought an army surplus quilted poncho liner (known to ground-pounders as a 'woobie') that I could sleep on, wrap up in, or use as a pillow, and I would claim one of the floor sleeping spots (it turned out there were also some thin exercise mats provided as sleeping pads, and I grabbed one of those). We bought a couple of cheap styrofoam coolers at the local Walmart to fill with ice and drinks that I like. Eventually we commandeered two of the banquet hall chairs from Ada Wright and set them in a spot outside, just around a corner of the building, where it was shaded by both the building and some nearby trees. One chair to sit on, one to prop my legs on, and coolers of drinks right at hand - that was my personal aid station. Karen had a room at a nearby Super 8 hotel, and that was also an option for me if I wanted a longer, more luxurious break.

The People

One of my favorite photos from the race.
Front, l-r: Dan Baglione, Laz, Me. Matt Mahoney is in background
(Photo credit - Ray Krolewicz)

This race did exactly what it was designed to do, and that design was all about people. Ultrarunning in the "modern era" is still a fairly young sport. Most credit Ted Corbitt (1919-2007) with inspiring renewed interest in ultra-distance running in America in the 1960s and 1970s (it had once - in the late 1800s - been the most popular spectator sport in the country).

The oldest current organized ultramarathon races in America date only to the late 1970s. Almost anyone who ran ultras back then would be approaching sixty years old or older now. Many are no longer active, but among those who are still running ultra distances, many no longer run in organized races because of difficulty making cutoffs. That does not mean that they no longer want to compete!

I think Nick Marshall must be credited for the genesis of ARFTA. It all began last year when Nick, well-known as an ultrarunning historian and statistician, published a set of lists of runners who had the longest careers completing ultras of various distances (that is, the longest span of time between first ultra and last - or most recent - ultra). One was a very short, elite list of runners who had completed 100-mile races over a span of 30 years or more. Instantly there was a new measure of ultrarunning success - longevity - over which older runners could compete with each other!

Gary took that concept and 'ran' with it. He had, for some years, been organizing long Labor Day weekend races with generous cutoffs, mostly for old friends. This time he would go a step further. He would create a race with ample opportunity for aging runners to extend their careers and compete with each other for places on Nick's list - but he would add to that concept something truly unique: the very real possibility that an older runner might win the race.

I saw ARFTA as the young sport of ultrarunning figuring out how to make a place for its elders.

Gary worked his network, letting as many old-timers as he could reach know what he was offering, and getting them to pass the word. Over time, the list of people entering ARFTA grew - and the longer it grew the more awe-inspiring it became. To some (perhaps many among the crowds of younger trail runners in the sport today) the names on that list were unknown. To others, they were legendary - names known only through stories told by a few veterans who are still around. To many among the growing list of entrants, they were old friends. ARFTA would very much be a reunion.

A few on that list were like me. I am not one of the old-timers - not one of the pioneers. I'm a Johnny-come-lately to ultrarunning, but one with an appreciation for its history. I came to run with the legends, to be there as a fly on the wall as old friends swapped old stories, and to be inspired by the spirit that still burns in these people (since I hope to still be running ultras when I am their age). I would not be disappointed.

About My Story

Before the race. l-r, Karen, Sharon Zelinski (rear), Brad Compton, the back of my head, Bill Schulz, Ben Pennington (orange shirt, seated), Laz, Sue Scholl, unknown (far right).
(Photo credit - unknown)
What a race comes to be about for you is sometimes hard to predict in advance, but rather something that unfolds on its own as the race happens. This is one reason among many why you actually run the races. My commitment to enter came when I was challenged by the aforementioned Dan Baglione (The "Bagli One" - or "D-Bag") just after the New Year (when Dan set an age group world record for 100 miles at ATY):

"Pat, if you do the Great Age Race of 2015, I'll do my best to run you into the ground."

"Okay, mister – it’s on! I just registered and will be expecting to run you down next September in Manchester! Be ready."

'Baglione' is
Thus began eight months of sporadic, good-natured smack talk about ARFTA, eventually involving others in Dan's family (who took great offense when I stated that one of my goals for the year was to, "crush D-Bag"). Harboring no real illusions about my talent as an ultrarunner though, I jokingly billed our competition as, "an epic battle of age versus mediocrity," and I made plans to arrive in time to be there when Dan started so I could heckle him for a while before my own start.

Actually Dan and I were a near-perfect example of the beauty of the race design. Between his time advantage and my younger legs - along with all of the normal variables in ultra-distance running - there really was no telling which of us would come out ahead. I would meet my long-time internet friend and inspiration and have a legitimate race with him too. What could be better than that?

Meanwhile, the race continued to fill with legendary runners. When I first learned that the incomparable Ann Trason had registered for ARFTA I was simply excited about it. I would have a chance to meet one of the most dominant and well-known people in modern ultrarunning!

It would be more than halfway through the event before both my race and my opportunity to be on the same course with Ann became something else - came together to become kind of the same thing, really. I thought quite a bit about whether to even acknowledge this aspect of my experience, but there was no way to ignore it because somehow it had become central. As I struggled for a while with how to write a narrative of my own race, it suddenly became clear to me that the only way to make it work was to embrace this unexpected theme in all of its improbable absurdity. To tell you my personal story of A Race for the Ages then -  and with tongue firmly in cheek - I now give you...

The Hacker's Guide to Beating Ann Trason

(Photo credit - Ray Krolewicz)
Note: the author is aware that he is not worthy even to be a bug crushed underneath Ann Trason's running shoe. He is also aware that everything about this guide is a bit sleazy, and he actually considered calling it "The Sleazebag's Guide to Beating Ann Trason" but felt in the end that "Hacker's Guide" was more in keeping with the theme of the blog. The author also freely stipulates that Ann looks way cooler in a straw fedora than he will ever look (in anything). Feel free to think less of the author after reading this if you must.
It was an idle thought I had before the race: "Wouldn't it be something to be able to say that you beat Ann Trason in an ultra?" Please don't judge me harshly until you've entered a race with her! You know the same thought would cross your mind at some point too. No? Well... er... I'm sure I wasn't the only perennial back-of-the-pack yutz to have that thought in this race... maybe?... I hope?

Anyway, as it turns out (improbably) I did actually beat her. This now qualifies me to instruct others in the methods and approaches for doing this. I also expect fame and fortune to flow naturally from accomplishing this feat once word of it reaches the important ultrarunning news outlets. This guide will soon be available in both hardcover and Kindle editions. Please watch for official announcements coming very soon.

It is easier to beat Ann Trason than one might think . You need only follow the few simple rules I will share with you here and you too will be on the road to the respect and admiration of your peers! Let's dig right in...

Rule #1: Wait until after she has won the Western States 100 fourteen times and set numerous eye-popping records. She might be a little tired.

Timing is everything! Would you race Killian Jornet today? Of course not! Don't race Ann Trason at the top of her game either. Wait a few decades, if necessary, to find an appropriate time. Be patient, because this is very important.

Fortunately for me the timing was at least kind of okay at ARFTA.

Rule #2: Race her when she is three weeks out of knee surgery.

Again, patience is key here (unless you're going to pull a Tonya Harding, which I strongly advise against because - as Tonya found - it is hard to win when you are worried about avoiding jail time).

I'd like to say I thought of this rule ahead of time and registered for the race precisely because I knew this to be the situation, but the truth of the matter is I do not stalk Ann and I do not stay that well-informed on her condition. I may at times be sleazy, but I do endeavor at all times to avoid being outright creepy.

You are free to choose your own point of comfort along the sleazy-creepy spectrum and position yourself there. I do advise against creepy, but I am not naive enough to think that anyone truly creepy would be inclined to take such advice.

In any case, I got lucky here again and was racing Ann at just the right time (although I saw no hint of a limp in her gait at any time and believe there is a small, but non-zero probability that the whole 'knee surgery' story was deliberate disinformation put out by her publicists in an effort to lure any possible competition into over-confidence).

Rule #3: Make sure the race format is not her best but plays to your strength (if you actually have one of those).

Ann is primarily known as a trail runner. Don't race her on trails! On the other hand, nobody thinks "queen of the fixed-time, short-loop multiday" when Ann's name comes up. Race her in a multiday on a one-mile paved loop! Simple.

Somewhat in seriousness, I did notice beforehand that the last time Ann ran a race in this format was the 24-hour at Across the Years in 2000, at which she logged 80.281 miles. Knowing I did 82 as the first 24-hour split in a 72-hour this past May, I couldn't help but think, "Hmm." Of course I knew nothing about her race at ATY other than her total - nothing to let me gauge the circumstances and assess whether that was a representative performance.

On my side, in the past two years I've done two 72-hour multidays, plus the ten-day journey run that was the Vol State. If I indeed have a strength as an ultrarunner, the fixed-time, short-loop format seems to be it, as all of my best placements have been in that type of race. I also have some experience with Tennessee summer sunshine. To the extent it's possible for me to say this about any venue, I could say it here: Ann was coming to run in my house!

Still, I knew the outcome would mostly hinge on Ann's intentions. If she was actually coming to race I was dead. If she was mostly coming to socialize then I had a sleazebag's chance!

Rule #4: Race her when she's not actually racing.

One of the great things about this format is that you eventually get to talk to almost everyone, and I did actually walk and chat with Ann twice during the race. The first time, I happened by as she was talking with another runner about her decision to enter ARFTA and I interjected, "... and I'm really glad you did, because now I get to say forever that I once spotted Ann Trason an hour in a race!"

I fell in with the two of them for a bit at that point and got to learn about Ann's motivations for being there, which were twofold. First, she is crewing someone in the 6-day at ATY this year and wanted to get some personal experience of multiday racing to be better prepared to help her runner. This led to some discussion of multidays, with Ann actually probing me a little about my experience with them.

Second, like so many others, she was there to see old friends.

The nice guy in me thought (and I believe I actually said), "This is quite a commitment as preparation for crewing." I guess that sort of commitment might not be unusual in the upper echelons of the sport (that is, in serious 6-day racing and with crew of the caliber of Ann). It really elevated my respect for her yet another notch though.

However, the sleazebag in me thought (and I scrupulously did NOT say this), "Alright! She's not here to really race this! I really do have a chance!" This brings us to perhaps the most important rule...

Rule #5: Do NOT let her find out you are racing her!

Keep any thoughts you may have of racing Ann strictly private. She may not be there to race, but let's face it, she has been a fierce competitor and the last thing you want to do is inadvertently trigger her killer instincts by letting on that someone the likes of you has the temerity to think you are actually racing her. You will soon be that bug crushed under her shoe that she scrapes off in the grass before going in to enjoy the post-race dinner!

Be quiet and inconspicuous. You are just running laps, minding your own business - running your own race like everyone else. "Pay no attention to this nobody who happens to be lapping you (again). Nothing to see here!"

I apparently did this extraordinarily well. One morning Mike Dobies told me I was invisible. He had no recollection of seeing me at all during the previous night - even though I had spoken with him at least three times as I came through timing! This may be a difficult skill for you to learn (particularly if you are an extrovert) but it is well worth cultivating if you can.

Rule #6: Have your wife volunteer to work in the timing tent so you can get regular inside updates on whether Ann is on or off the course, how she's looking, etc.

Karen looks just like this - only cooler.
Mike Melton needed some help. He had Dobies pitching in early in the race, but once Joe Fejes started at 49 hours, Dobies' attention shifted to supporting Joe. That left Mike alone in timing for over two days except for whatever volunteers he could get to help out.

Karen was ideal for this! She had no other responsibilities with the race except occasionally fetching something for me or giving me a wake-up call when I took a short nap. In contrast with me, she is an extrovert and would really enjoy hanging out with Mike and talking with and encouraging all of the runners as they came through lap after lap. She's a quick learner, and once Mike had her trained she could run timing herself and let him get some occasional sleep.

By the end of the race, Karen had connected more faces to names among people I know from the ultra list than I had!

She could also keep track of Ann for me, and she could also let Mike know that I was interested in keeping track of Ann. This may sound extra-sleazy, but I'm pretty sure Mike freely gave competitive intelligence to any runner who asked for it. All part of the fun!

How it all Played Out

Dan starts it off...
...and begins racking up his lead.
It would be three hours before anyone else joined him on the course,
and thirty hours before I could start chasing him!
Meanwhile, we all lounged around and talked about him.
l-r: Marv Skagerberg (talking to John Price, I believe), Gary, Sandra,
Mike Melton (seated, in the Vol State shirt), and Karen
l-r: Nick Marshall, Richard Innamorato, Marv Skagerberg, and Bill Schulz.
Finally, Dan is joined by the other octogenarians - first Ed Demoney...
...and then Gene Bruckert
Just over a day later, Ann Trason is in the house...
(Photo credit - Karen McHenry)
...along with some other interesting folk...
That's Heather Whiteside running in a period 19th-century 'pedestrienne' costume,
and ultra lister Keith Dunn, who I'd been hoping to meet.
(Photo credit - Karen McHenry)
...and an hour later (finally) me!
Starting with the age-54 group: (l-r) John Leighton, me, Sal Coll, and Bill Allen (rear).
The race is on now!
(Photo credit - Karen McHenry)

The chart above plots my mile split times versus Dan's and Ann's. The race clock started when Dan did, at 84 hours on the left side of the chart. Ann started at 55 hours and I started at 54. You can see us running essentially even, mile-for-mile, through my first forty miles, at which point I took a little break to recover from the heat of the day in preparation for pushing through the cool of the night.

When Ann took her first real break I quickly caught her. She was back on the course soon after, and we ran neck-and-neck from there until about mile 70.

Coming through timing and checking the board with Kent "Retirement is fun" Holder.
You can see by the clock this is a little more than six hours into my race.
(Photo credit - Ray Krolewicz)
If you really looked at the board closely every time you came through, you'd spend way too much
time just standing there with your mouth hanging open realizing who you were running laps with.
(Photo credit - Ray Krolewicz)
Despite the effort I spent writing my thoroughly tongue-in-cheek guide, I was not consciously racing Ann at all during any portion of the race up to that point. I really only know all of what I just described in hindsight from looking at the data. At the time I was mostly concerned with how quickly I was catching Dan. However, as we approached noon on Sunday - the end of my first 24 hours - I realized I was dead even with Ann.

Day two of a multiday is a real killer for me though. I always hit the sleep wall really hard going into the second twenty-four hours and in this race that came at noon, the heat of the day had already firmly asserted itself, and everyone was looking at six solid hours of brutal slogging through temperatures that would approach 90 degrees Fahrenheit. Doing that again for a second day in a row would put me in a deep hole, so I opted to tuck tail and hide. I only began to think of it as smart race strategy after I had Karen drive me back to the hotel and I got showered and into bed in the cool of an air-conditioned room.

"Let the youngsters just starting - and anyone else who wants to - broil themselves out there this afternoon! I'll come back fresh in the cool of the evening and run them down in the night!"

Still, honestly I was thinking more about some of the younger runners I would like to hold off than about Ann. Anybody starting Sunday morning was in a very difficult position if they were trying to catch me. They were time-limited, and they would have to run hard through the brutally hot afternoon to have any hope of closing a sixty to seventy mile gap by the end of the race at 6:00 PM on Monday. Whatever ground they gained that first afternoon I might well recover some of when I came back fresh in the evening. If we ended up close by Monday morning it would come down to who had guts to stick it out through the last hot afternoon - but it would be the second in a row for them and not for me! I felt like I was in the driver's seat, sitting on a huge advantage.

When I came back though, my focus did very much shift to Ann. I asked Karen how she was doing when I woke from my long nap and called for pick-up.

"You were so right to sit the afternoon out! Everyone who stayed out there really suffered! Ann looks really bad!"

I had given up eleven miles to her, but Ann had paid a high price for them. I may not have been racing her before my break, but catching her again became my singular focus now. By the time I reached eighty miles I'd cut her lead by five. By the time I reached ninety she was only a mile ahead of me. I'd regained ten miles on her in twenty.

(Photo credit - John Price)
We again ran neck-and-neck through the nineties. By that time my freshness had grown a little stale and miles were coming more slowly and painfully. Each click past ninety-five felt like a major accomplishment, and it had been quite some time since I'd last lapped Ann. I was just trying to get to 100 so I could go down for another nap with my belt buckle earned. Finally I came through timing to log mile ninety-nine. Just one more lap to go!

Mike Melton greeted me. "Patrick, ninety-nine - and you're on the same lap as Ann Trason!" Mike knew from Karen what I was up to, and they'd both watched me chase Ann through the evening and into the night.

"Oh, you're going to tell me that now, are you?"

What else could I do with that information? I went out hard to try and catch her. Running along the winding path by the creek it hit me: "I'm in a race and I'm actually hunting Ann Trason." No matter how sleazy it might be, that's heady stuff and I was amazed that after hours of effort not only was this happening, it was happening on the 100th lap.

It was dark and difficult to recognize other runners until you came right up on them. Finally I spotted her ahead of me on the back-stretch, out-bound past the ball field. She was walking - and I had her. I passed, trying to maintain the invisibility Dobies had assured me was mine. She didn't know and probably wouldn't have cared, but I felt a little like I was sneaking out of the store with something tucked under my shirt. One of her companions at the moment was explaining to another runner, "This young lady is finishing her 100th lap and is going to go and get cleaned up."

"Well," I thought to myself, "this young gentleman is also on his 100th lap and is passing that young lady - and is going to get there ahead of her after spotting her an hour... and is going to keep going too, because there is still a lot of nice, cool running time left!"

Hopefully no one begrudges me at least that much inward gloating. I'd worked pretty hard for it. Once past her I kept pushing on around to the timing gate just to make things certain. Mike greeted me again with some comment about how I had indeed come around again ahead of Ann. "Now you can say that you beat Ann Trason to 100 miles!"

Ann's handler was there waiting for her. He overheard and looked at me a little oddly, but with a smile on his face - and I immediately felt a little sheepish. "Well, yeah, but not the Ann we all know and love," I said (and meant it).

"Hey, it's all about the spin," Mike replied - at which point I switched back into exultant mode.

"Yeah! I even spotted her an hour!"

She came in presently to a good round of applause (including mine) and I watched her turn in her timing bracelet. She was headed for a shower and a bed. She asked something about getting the bracelet back if she wanted to go back out again later, but didn't seem very serious about it.

I went into the Ada Wright Center to enjoy a well-earned nap on my sleeping pad on the hardwood floor. All of my major goals for the race were accomplished (I had passed Dan a while ago and led him by ten miles at that point). It was about 2:30 in the morning. I would come out a few hours later and tack eleven more miles onto my total before things started heating up again for the final afternoon. I was just about to declare myself finished when Dan came out to do one more lap. He'd taken a short break after reaching one hundred, but another lap would move him up quite a few places over others who had stopped there. For my 112th and final lap then, I would join my friend and inspiration as he did his last one. It would be a perfect way to end my race.
Sunday morning. Debris from Saturday afternoon's violent thunderstorm still littering the course.
That's Vol Staters Sue Scholl (l) and Karen Jackson, foreground. I do not know the other runner.
(Photo credit - Bill Haecker)
After that easy lap walking and chatting with Dan, I decided there was nothing left to be achieved. There was nothing else out there but a random higher mileage number. No PR, nobody I was all that eager to come out ahead of - no reason to put myself through the punishment of another Tennessee afternoon. I told Karen I was done and that she should drive me back to the hotel again. I even turned in my timing bracelet too.

If you looked closely at that chart up there though, then you know the story doesn't quite end here...

Well, crud!

I woke up at about 2:30 in the afternoon, after about two hours of sleep. I was clean and I was cool and I was comfy in the king-sized bed. I decided since I was awake anyway I'd check Facebook and email and learn what I could about what was happening with the race. I saw this post from Mike Dobies on the ultra list:

Overheard in the timing tent:

Ann (getting her chip back after turning it in yesterday):  I have to be crazy to go back out there.
Voice #1: Yes, you are crazy.
Voice #2: You're at the Crazy Convention.

Mike Dobies

Well... crud! Ann was back on the course. There was no telling how long... and twelve is not a lot of miles. I really didn't want to get all lubed up and taped up and go back out there though. I called Karen.

"I heard Ann is back on the course. How's she looking?"

"Well, she's not moving really well... she might not catch you."

"I'm going to hang up and think about it. If I decide I'm coming back I'll call you back to come get me." I really didn't want to go back out there though.

<sigh>... It really didn't take all that long to decide.

Yes, when I left I was sure I was comfortable and happy with my decision to sit out the rest of the race. Two hours of sleep really changes your outlook on life in one of these things though. Was I willing to jeopardize something as extraordinary as my name ahead of Ann Trason's in a set of race results because I was 'comfy' and didn't want to sweat anymore?

I knew I could go again. It was only a question of whether I wanted to tackle the preparation and actually do it - but really, how could I not? All I had to do was get back on the course and go around at almost any pace and I would successfully defend my lead!

Also, did I really want to wuss out and not be running hard to the very end, getting all of the miles that I could? I'd made that mistake at the end of my first 72-hour and I'd paid for it in regret for a full year before I could redeem myself. There might never be another ARFTA, and I know almost nobody among this group of grizzled veterans would respect such a decision by a perfectly able-bodied runner! Did I really want to do that in a Laz race??

I pushed the Karen button on my phone, "Come get me." - and I started lubing up.

Best decision I've made in a long time! Not only did I successfully defend my lead against the late-surging Ann (she finished with 115, so my 112 would not have held up) but I found that many runners ahead of me had retired from the race and I had quite an opportunity to improve my finish position.

I had a target of 120 in mind when I returned, since that had been my very first estimate of what I might do in the race, many long months ago after I registered. I reached that mark with just over twenty-six minutes left on the race clock and I knew then it was time to finish well, as I had at 3 Days at the Fair earlier this year. Two more miles would get me an even ten for my return, and two more miles should be very doable in that kind of time.

I pushed it and came around again in 12:09, leaving a little over fourteen on the clock - plenty of time for one and only one more. I felt good and I decided to finish in real style. I tossed aside all of the junk I'd been carrying (my water bottle and my sun umbrella) as I kicked into an even higher gear coming through the gate. The cheers that had begun as I came through kicked up as well.

"And he's not done yet!" I heard somebody yell.

Gettin' ready to dump the junk and kick it up for one more lap.
(Photo credit - Fred Pilon)
I felt like I was flying as I stretched my legs out on the rest of the downhill toward the creek! On the way around the ball field (on the out of the out-and-back again) I passed Ray K and he told me that as long as I stayed in front of him I'd be okay. I told him I knew I was running harder than I had to, but it felt great to be finishing this strong, so I just kept going as I headed for the turnaround. Heading back the other way around the field, I saw Sherry Meador coming at me. She was trying to squeeze out one more too, but looked to be flagging and losing confidence that she could make it. I threw all the encouragement I could muster at her: "Go, Sherry! You just have to get ahead of Ray! You can do it! Go!"

Then I was past her, and I continued on to put the period on the end of a 54-hour, 122-mile effort with a 10:10 final lap. I had Frozen Ed Furtaw and Don Winkley shaking my hand and congratulating me. Priceless!

...and done.
(Photo credit - Karen McHenry)
Frozen Ed extends a hand.
Karen behind me, Bill Allen, foreground.
(Photo credit - Kimberly Dawn Boner)
A little while later, Sherry came through and collapsed in a heap, sucking for air! She'd made it and would be fine. Finally, Ray K came in, sweeping the course and leaving less than a minute on the clock. ARFTA was over. Smiles, hugs, handshakes, photos, slaps on the back - no other race ends like a short-loop multiday, but this one felt even more special. Soon we all filed into the Ada Wright Center for the post-race feast and the awards.


Well there's a story for you. It's even true as far as it goes. It fails so badly though to capture this race that I almost decided it wasn't worth publishing. I could have written other stories. There are so many different possible narrative slices through this experience!

I can't write the story of ARFTA though. I'm not sure anyone can.

Gary... maybe Gary can... maybe.

I've had three weeks to reflect on the experience now and I still can't come up with a way to explain the undeniable, indefinable, unique quality that being there had. At the same time as I made it about running as good a race as I could (as I think almost everyone did) it was so much not about that! There was an 'ambiance' - a feel - to the whole thing that just defies putting into words. You had to be there.

It comes back to the people, I suppose. The resumes of so many of these people were staggering.

I've been to races where an older runner or two with decades of ultra experience showed up, and I took notice of the easy confidence and assurance with which they handled themselves (and the same in the crew that they brought, usually family - most often a spouse). It really is quite remarkable.

That was almost everybody in this race. Almost everybody ran the best, hardest race that they could. Everybody worked, everybody chased big goals, everybody hurt - but they did so with the most relaxed, easy, practiced... naturalness... that you can imagine - comfortably in their element.

If you can imagine what it might be like to be in an ultra full of people like that, you might have a glimmer of an idea what it was like to be at ARFTA. No other race has felt like this, and it was a privilege for me to be there and to experience it.

"I ran with legends, and they talked with me as though I belonged there."

Maybe that gets to the heart of it. It's the best I'm going to do.


Thank you, Gary Cantrell, Sandra Cantrell, Amiee, and Chrys. Thank you for the work each of you did to make this happen.

Thank you, Karen. Thank you for giving so much of your life to what I want to do. I don't deserve it.

Thank you, Dan. Thank you for the fun we had leading up to the race, and thank you for the race you ran. Once again, I am inspired by you, sir!

Thank you, Ann Trason. Thank you for coming out and letting knuckleheads like me chase you around for a couple of days. If you've read this, I hope you understand that the fun I had with it was born entirely out of the respect I have for your record of achievement. I may never have tossed a ball with Joe Montana, shot some hoops with Michael Jordan, or played a round with Jack Nicklaus - but I ran a race with Ann Trason once.

Thank you all - all of you who were there. Thank you for being there. Those of you I met and talked with, I remember those moments and I treasure them. Those of you I did not get to meet and talk with, I sincerely regret the missed opportunity. I watched you though. You inspired me, I learned from you, and I thank you.

May you all continue to chase big goals and big dreams.

Official race results can be seen here.


  1. I agree with everything you said about the race. It was a great experience, I wish I could express how I felt as well as you have. Dan and Ann are also some of my heroes and inspirations. If they have ARFTA again I will be there. Harry J. Strohm II CPA, GCR, DPJ, BSS, LLD & MSM

  2. Beautiful, beautiful writing. Inspiring story.

  3. Loved your report. Racing Ann and Dan what a concept and what fun.