ATY 2011: The Agony and Ecstacy of the Feet

In the wide world of sports, defeat can be sudden (ski fall) or a gradual breakdown (runner’s overuse injury). Either way, the dream just fades into history.

There we were, Erlinda(crew) and I (runner) in the medic tent for the 3rd time. “My advice is to call it a day”, suggested Chris O’loughlin RN. But it’s only a blister, I thought. He had broken, cleaned and taped it earlier. Still it had expanded and burst spilling fluid into the dusty shoe. The tissue deeper down was crushed like a mallet had pounded it, in preparation for baking. “The skin will continue to rip down the side”, he said (28 hours into the race and 48 to go). “There is a real chance of getting Valley Fever based on your medical history”. Years ago, I contracted cellulites (potentially life threatening) which originated from the same toe. It took a week of high doses of intravenous anti-biotic to stop it from spreading to the heart. I’ve run a full 100 mile trail race wearing a splint over a broken hand bone. But, this was different.

Here in Phoenix, we had followed a well detailed plan in our quest for a Canadian age record (265 miles). The forecast was a windless, sunny 45-73 degree three days. Ideal. The new course: flat, mostly fine gravel one mile loop. Perfect. A few runners and volunteers congratulated me on last year’s race. Grateful and focused, I marched on to the beat of my MP3. I hit exactly every 6 hour mileage goal. Erlinda managed the tent, food, clothes, time and strategy. I’m high maintenance, you see. Chisholm Deupree pointed out her value with “hang on to her”. The hours sped by.

“Your wife will probably want you to continue” Chris guessed. Erlinda jumped in, “No, I want him to stop!”

The Coury family works hard to make ATY the highly rated race, it has always been. I felt I let them down. More importantly, I apologized to Erlinda. We embraced as always. A few time we even shared tears. This time, only one tear trickled from my eye. Charlotte Vasarhelyi gave me a consoling hug. When she had hit a low spot I encouraged her to push through. Her husband, Chris Phillips and Erlinda helped each other crew. John Geesler wished me good luck with a knowing smile, when I said I was quitting for good. Ed Ettinghausen (who battled with me for !st place last year) had stopped this time, fearing a stress fracture. He had cheered me on. Now, we joked. I told him I was going back just to best his 111 miles. We laughed and shook hands.

I rushed to the hotel to follow Chris’s Valley Fever prevention procedure. This included sitting in a tub of cold water and 30 lbs, of ice. My heart pounded as parts of my body disappeared, parts that no man wants to disappear (Seinfeld Shrinkage).

Meanwhile, back at the ranch Joe Fejes galloped to an uncontested 1st place (280). After an 8 hour break, Ed bravely overcame his leg injury to come in 2nd (233).

On the women’s side, the outcome was uncertain. After day 1, Carrie Sauter was leading by 24 miles over eventual winner and 3rd overall Charlotte. Charlotte had lost a couple hours vomiting, but poise and patience brought her back into contention. She finished strongly (226). Martina Hausmann was next with a very steady performance (214). Carrie was 3rd with 212. All three women worked together to post these impressive numbers.