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A New Belt to Hold Up My Flat-ass Pants


(Tired, but happy!)

28 days/ 12 beds/ 0 miles of walking, for the love

 

We’re holed up back in the San Luis Valley (Colorado) after a whirlwind tour back to Minnesota, and then down to Phoenix. Now I know how Taylor Swift feels.

 

It’s really great to wake up in the dark and know right away where you are, and where the bathroom is (outside, btw.)

 

It’s 15 degrees with north wind gusting to 35 mph, and blowing snow. We’re camped at a hot springs, but it’s too windy and cold to soak at the moment. So, we are hanging out for a few days until “Winter Storm Finn” (next they’ll be naming dust storms…) passes over.

And then, back to work!

 

So what’s been happening?

Our last day of Walk for the Love was December 8th, when we ended our day in Blanca, Colorado—near Alamosa. Even then the cold and headwinds were brutal.

After meeting up with Julie’s mom—Cathy Haight—and her husband Ken, we aimed our gaze toward Minnesota, and then began our odyssey of hotels and beds in the homes of friends and family, and even a couple of nights in our own comfy bed in Grand Portage.

We packed a LOT of living into our time in the Duluth area, and got to see the kids, siblings, my mom—Jan Koski—and a passel of friends.

 

Finally it was time to say our giga-waabamins and head to Phoenix for  the event that I’d been “looking forward to” for two years—just a bit of unfinished business—the Across the Years 100 Mile.

As I’ve written about ad nauseum, the 100 mile was a distance that I’d never managed to complete in my 53 years of racing, and thus my last chance for running a PB (personal best) at a standard distance.

We scored accommodations at our friends, Jim and Julie Manley’s home in Tempe, and a couple of days before the race Julie Louise and I went up to Camelback Park to check out the course, and set up the big North Face that would serve as our headquarters during the event.

Julie had great company in the form of her friend, Sheila, whom she's known since high school and who has moved to Phoenix from Fargo (I know...weird huh?!)




(Our "home" for two days along the race course)


Jim and Julie are old friends whom I’d met 20 years ago not 100 yards from where I sit now, here at the hot springs. Teachers, they zeroed in on my young children as potential subjects for some games and activities they wanted to try during the upcoming school year.

While the kids tackled the games, we squared off at the picnic table with a 12-pack of beer and swapped stories.

And it turned out that they had some doozies!

(e.g. how about the time that Jim was in Washington DC accepting the award for National Science Teacher of the Year and had to use the bathroom. So he wandered in to the White House and as he was poking around, opened a bedroom door to see Bill Clinton sitting in there. They chatted for a few minutes, and then Bill gave Jim directions to the nearest pissoir.)

Every time I talk with Jim I hear another new and astounding tale. I think they are all mostly true, and I’ve been cajoling him to start writing a memoir.


(Jim, on one of our trips into the Grand Canyon)



Race Day: When a washed-up and broken-down, semi-alcoholic old geezer attempts to shuffle 100 miles on foot.

 

Across the Years is a 6-day event in which runners may choose the distance or duration they would like to complete. There is, of course the 6-Day run, a 200 mile, 6, 12, 24, 48, and 72 hour events, a Last Runner Standing, and my race—the 100 mile. You just show up the day of your event at 9:00 am, someone from the Aravapai Running crew gives you some brief instructions and you set off around the 1.4 mile loop (it’s usually a one-mile, but construction forced the change.)

There were some pretty well-known ultrarunners participating, and it was cool to watch them speed by chasing their various time or distance goals. The Badwater 135 record holder, Ashley Paulson, went by me, smiling, at least 50 times en route to her 100 course record of 14:37:09. She beat the first man by over 2 ½ hours!

 

Some among you might still be hung up, back there, on the concept of the “6-day race.” And understandable so. These are times when the marathon has become child’s play apparently, with more and more races of 200+ miles popping up everywhere.

The 6-day is actually an old standard among ultrarunners. It was usually run indoors in places like Madison Square Garden and attracted thousands of spectators who bet large amounts of money on the outcome.

In Phoenix, 6-day-ers had tents and campers set up along the course and would usually run/walk all day, and much of the night, resting only when they had to.

My favorite was 91-year old Donald Jans. He could be seen shuffling along, eyes down, watchful for any career-ending crack or pothole. Astoundingly, Don managed to complete 104 miles. Last year, at 90, he did 125 miles and THEN drove himself back to Florida. On the way, his car broke down in Texas where he slept in the car in his sleeping bag while he waited two days for parts!

 

My last attempt at 100 miles fell short when my lower back (sacroiliac joint) gave out at around 60 miles. Despite many visits to physical therapists, cortisone injections, and even (shudder) some stretching, I still suffer from pain that radiates from my lower back to my right hip and hamstring. I knew it would hobble me during the run, but I just hoped that I could bluff my way through it with the help of anti-inflammatories, a judicious mix of walking and trotting, stretching, and sheer will-power.

Which I did.

 

There is a far-too-generous 72-hour cut-off time limit for the 100 here, but my goal was to land somewhere between 24 hours (my ultimate goal and dependent on no back issues) to sub-30 hours (the usual cut-off for races of this nature.

At 45 to 50 miles, my projected time was right around 24 hours. But then my running sections got shorter, walking ones longer, and sit-down breaks more frequent. I watched as my projected finish passed the 26, 28, and then 30 hour marks.

And then it was just survival.

Twice I had to lie down in the tent as Julie massaged my lower back and I waited for the drugs to kick in. I even fell asleep once for about 45:00. Lap times, which early on had been in the 16:00-17:00 range for the 1.4 miles, now became 22:00…28:00… and finally over 50:00 as I was forced to sit down 3-4 times per lap.

Honestly, if Julie hadn’t been there, I couldn’t have finished, at least without taking an extended (5-6 hours) break to “fix” my back.

Runners are allowed a pacer during the night and for short periods during the day, and at about 88-90 miles (my memory was very unreliable at this point) Julie walked with me all the way to the finish. I had to keep my hand on her shoulder to hold myself semi-upright as I had degenerated into the “old man’s lean” a phenomenon in which a runner (yes, it can be a woman too) begins to lean to one side and forward and there is absolutely NOTHING you can do about it!

The aid stations at Across the Years are phenomenal. They have food for vegans, vegetarians, and carnivores. It was tempting to eat too much as you passed through the aid station every 1.4 miles.

As we slowly and painfully counted down the final laps we came to what we thought was my penultimate lap and calculated that I had a good 1:45:00 to get through so we sat down and slowly ate a loaded Beyond Burger. After wiping the ketchup and mustard mess off of my face and hands I hobbled over to the official timing screen and stared at it in astonishment: “Jess Koski  98.7 miles  70 laps.”

I only had ONE, not two laps left!  Had I known that I would’ve skipped the meal and pushed on to the finish—saving maybe a half hour.

That final loop, as painful and slow as it was, was also filled with joy, knowing that I would, barring something catastrophic, finally have my 100 mile finish.


(Aravapai CEO and ultrarunner par excellence Jamil Coury handing over my 100 mile belt buckle...yes, that's as upright as I could be.)



 

My final result was 33:50:28 which was good for 38th place, out of 84 participants.

Am I finally satisfied?

Well…… no runner is really satisfied and, once we’ve recovered from the last race we start calculating how much faster we could run the distance “if only….”

So, this is where it stands with me right now.

I will never run another ultra as long as my back is messed up. It’s just useless self-flagellation.

But, if I can figure this thing out, I guess I could be talked into going for a 24:00-30:00 finish.

This is just between you, dear reader, and I, as I haven’t mentioned this to Julie yet….

 

So that’s where we stand at the moment. Slowly working ourselves up to leaving the “known” of the hot springs for the “unknown” of the open road.

We are vacillating between heading due south toward southern New Mexico and slightly warmer weather, or taking a right at Taos and staying the course toward Flagstaff, Prescott, Yuma, and points beyond. This will require more weeks of snow and cold.

But, as “someone” described us in our Instagram bio, so it must be true, we are

“Jess and Julie--Adventurers."


 



 



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2 Comments


slvbarb498
Jan 10

Hi to Valley View HS! Great that you are having some R&R there. OMG, I don't know how you do/did it, Jess. As I was suffering from an injury on the Camino, I said to myself, my body isn't made to do this. It seems your body is not made to do that grueling 100 miler. And to go through that much pain. Hey, you were determined and you did it! Congrats! Loved the Jim Manley story! LOL

Off to the races - ha! Safe travels and adventures! XOXOX

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artbyhaight
Jan 10

Very interesting! It is fun for a non-runner to learn about it; and with knowledge comes empathy for you ultra/crazy/admirable athletes. Way to go, Jess!🏆🎈

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