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Jackpot 48 – The least introspective 87 loops

So, what would possess someone to enter a race of endless loops for 48 hours? Well, since I am no Nascar fan, I do not know what has possessed me to enter these loop races, but hopefully, describing what happens within 87 loops around a 2.3-mile route will justify my decisions… or not… who cares.

I decided to do a 48-hour race sometime last year. I had no plans for when I would enter such a unique fixed-time race, but I wanted to see how far I could go in two days. I don’t know exactly how I landed upon Jackpot in Las Vegas, but it probably happened because Rachel praised the race for the last few months and has won it every time she has done it. So, after a week of travel, including Michigan and Los Angeles, we drove into sin city the day before the race.

We were so early that Rachel suggested we go on a run. Sometimes we aren’t very creative, and a run is the only option we can think of to fill our free time. It was a beautiful jaunt through petroglyphs, but we didn’t see any. I had done this route once before and been amazed by the number of ancient drawings, but this time we talked so much that we missed it. We literally maybe saw one or two petroglyphs because we were not paying attention. Foreshadowing for the race? Probably

Now, running endless loops in the desert may sound boring, and it could be… actually it probably is for most normal people. BUT, we in fact are not normal people. In my abnormal experiences with such things as loops, mind-numbing road walks, fire detours, and treadmill (Dreadmill) running, it is a wonderful opportunity to think. There are few obligations, and the opportunity to escape into thought is perfect. It is a beautiful gift of time to spend however you choose. It can be introspective, meditative, and even mentally relaxing.


The Race

At 7 am, we left our hotel and hit the start line. We stayed at the Stratosphere hotel and really embraced the people-watching experience that Vegas can be. As we left to run for 48 hours, our inspiration was the people at the slot machines, who also looked like they had been up for 48 hours. Our common bond hung in the air like the fact I had forgotten deodorant.

Our pre-race preparation included me buying Red Bull, a giant box of Goldfish (Pepperidge Farm sponsor me!), and Sour Patch Kids, and Rachel buying Monster energy drinks and Poptarts. We have our styles, but they both involve a messy car. We “set up” the front seat as a defacto aid station and figured we might be ready to begin getting “loopy.” Rachel already had duct tape on her brand-new shoes, and I was wearing a “new” shirt purchased from the natural habitat of human beings—the Santa Monica Goodwill. Other runners had entire tents, tables, multiple crew members, and specific nutrition set up. We did not, and we were ready.

The winning nutrition strategy

Jeff’s Nutrition Strategy

  1. Goldfish: The largest box available at Walmart

  2. Red Bull: The original flavor because it tastes fine and wakes me up

  3. Sour Patch Kids

  4. Day old croissants: filling but not fulfilling

Rachel’s Nutrition Strategy

  1. Poptarts: a superfood

  2. Monster Energy Drinks: But only the white ones because she is classy

  3. Some of Jeff’s Goldfish and Sour Patch Kids

Rachel warming up with 3 minutes to go before the race

Rachel warming up with 3 minutes to go before the race

Now, Rachel has won this race every time she has done it, so I knew I should just stick with her at the beginning. That is my entire race plan in one sentence, why overplan a 2.3 mile course? I had my goldfish… what could even go wrong?

So, after a very anticlimactic “Gooooooooo,” from Jamil Coury, we were off. The 100-mile USATF championship started at the same time as our race on a slightly different course so it was crowded out there. But I unexpectedly enjoyed all the people. Racing has been this wonderful opportunity to do physically challenging things in the presence of others. For most of the past 12 years, all my endeavors were solo and very secluded. Despite being an introvert I have grown to really enjoy the opportunities to race and interact with others!

In these loop courses (this is now my 4th), it is so cool to see different people multiple times throughout the event and build a relationship and a rapport with them.

We shot off the start line at a blistering 9:54 pace. Others in the 48-hour started much quicker. But with Rachel’s experience and my background of solo stupidly long adventures, we did not care. “Let them run away from us; this race thing will take a while to shake out.” Our strategy was to not care.

Our paces were perfect for each other, and the miles ticked by. The introspection that often accompanies such a loopy endeavor didn’t arrive, though. We continued to talk and talk and talk and talk and talk and talk and talk and talk and talk and talk and talk and talk and talk. We made jokes, and puns, and just had fun conversations. A specifically memorable conversation was spending thirty minutes making Brad Pitt puns and jokes. If you are confused, you are a normal person and should be! Or you can choose to feel left out and have a Brad Pitty Party.

A few hours into the race Rachel ran by the race photographer and waved her hands around. Shortly thereafter, she decided we should do funny photos for the rest of the race. Why would I argue? So we did.

Photos of all the outfit changes during Jackpot 48 hour

A collection of our incredible poses for the camera. Doing our civic duty of bringing fun into loops. Kevin Youngblood with the captures

A connection with Kevin Youngblood, the race photographer, was quickly formed, and all three of us were laughing at every one of our new poses. We took this joke so far it hurt—literally. For one photo, I lay on the ground, and Rachel acted like she was pulling me. We switched the next time, and I was pulling her. Then I did the wheelbarrow with my hands on the ground and her holding my legs up. We did a fake proposal, took prom photos, ran backward, and even changed into each other’s clothing. When I say we took this joke a long way… I mean it. Like we took it so far that it became dumb, but we aren’t quitters and continued posing until it became hilarious again.

Like we took it so far that it became dumb, but we aren’t quitters and continued posing until it became hilarious again.

We didn’t get one normal photo out of the race… nor did we want one.

The photographs were a fun way to break up a seemingly monotonous loop. But to us, it wasn’t even monotonous—we just chatted the entire time. All through the night and into the next morning, we really didn’t have much silence or break stride. Those around us commented on our consistency, and we replied with a shrug. We just didn’t even notice; the miles just passed almost as a side effect of our continual chatter and fun time together. 

It was hot out there in the desert. I tried to use sunscreen and stay cool, but the heat always gets to me. Living in Montana probably doesn’t help. But, I think Rachel suffered the most significant aftermath of the weather. Wear your sunscreen kids! The shorter days seemed to work in my favor as it cooled off a lot at night, and I could catch back up with hydration and food in the cooler weather. Rachel, on the other hand, is much better at the heat and less accepting of the cold (she doesn’t live in Montana), so she suffered through a night that got quite frigid. As the 100-mile winners finished, the course became a little empty. There were a handful of 100 milers and just a few 48-hour runners who pushed through the first night. In small numbers came a closeness. 

We came to really appreciate the FIVE different 80+ year-olds running the 100 miler. When I say these guys are consistent, I mean they did each lap at nearly the exact same pace. They didn’t sit around, they didn’t stop, they consistently moved forward. They became our inspiration, and we grew to really enjoy interacting with them. We would say a couple of words as we passed each loop and became increasingly wrapped up in their race as opposed to our own. In fact, we began to only care about them finishing 100 miles. Our race just happened to be the activity we did while cheering for them.

With five laps to go, David Blalock (80) made a daring pass of Eddie Rousseau (83) and began increasing his lead. Even over 90 miles in, David was moving so well. His pace never wavered from about 3.5 miles per hour, and it really was a sight to behold. As we finished one loop and began another we heard some cheering and learned David was about to set the 100-mile age group world record, so we had to wait and watch.

As he crossed the line, he removed his hat and waved it to the crowd before collapsing into a chair. His time was 29 hours and 47 minutes, which is a good 100-mile time for someone half his age! Inspiration and emotion were everywhere as something so profound and incredible had just moved everyone lucky enough to be there in person. Of the five 80+ year-old starters, four of them would finish, and the one who did not, made it to mile 93! So, if you happen to have excuses… reread this paragraph.

Thirty hours in, meant that we still had 18 hours to go. It is when the race starts to feel stale and difficult. But it is also when I started to think about what meaningful goals I should attempt. We had covered the first 100 miles in a blistering 19 hours and 54 minutes, and closed out the first 24 hours with about 115 miles. We were well ahead of any pretend schedule we had made up before the race. Had we gone out too fast? Probably, but people in our race had also gone out a lot faster than us, so I wasn’t too concerned. We used our photo opportunities with Kevin to break up the laps and incorporated a very rigid walk schedule. On every loop, there were 2-3 places where we would walk for 100 yards. It broke up the loop and probably helped our pace overall.

Whoever is in the background reallly makes this photo, so Thank You!

Whoever is in the background really makes this photo, so Thank You!

The dreaded night 2 began. We were both getting tired, and the wind was pretty brutal. The forecast all week had been for high-speed winds beginning on the second day, and we figured our fast pace to start might actually help if we had to take some time off the course because of the weather. Well, the wind was bad, but never quite bad enough to justify some sleep. So, as it grew dark, we kept running into the dumbest headwind. The wind is frustrating and even more frustrating when you haven’t slept and are 170 miles into a running event. We took a short break in the warming tent and another short break to change socks in the car before trying to wrap up a few more miles and considering sleep. 

It felt like we were just stuck in a loop… well, we were. Everything happened on a 2.3-mile path of pavement and dirt. It is safe to say that after 40 hours, we were getting tired of it. Around midnight, Rachel opted for some sleep, and I decided to keep going. On day 2, as the miles piled up, I had this addicting fascination with trying to get to 200 miles. It just felt like a fun goal to chase, and I thought I had a chance. The other male competitors were also relatively close, so I figured if I got to 200 I should also get the victory. I tried running a few quicker loops to set up an easier morning, but nothing is fast after 180 miles. Eventually, I was one eyeing it and needed sleep. I checked the standings and saw that after being tied with the leader a few hours ago, I had pulled away to a 7-mile lead. Sleep was necessary, and it was acceptable.

Rachel had set up a large foam pad with some blankets in the middle of the grassy field near the car, and I crawled under the covers. I didn’t even take my shoes off, it would only be a 20-minute nap, and I didn’t really want to have to put them back on. I fell asleep quickly but also woke up shivering uncontrollably. Two things contributed to this:

1. I had been awake and running for 185+ miles and over 42 hours

2. My water bottle had leaked all over me while sleeping. I had meant to remove it from my pocket, but tired minds do not always deliver. My alarm went off, and I got back out on the course, mostly happy the liquid all over my jacket was water and not pee.

Don Reichelt was in second, and we ran a VERY fast loop together. When I say fast, I mean we probably held 11-minute miles. At the end of the loop, he decided to slow down and walk. He was in second, and I figured another lap or two and I would have a solid lead. So, the field didn’t matter anymore, simply just getting to 200. As I grew loopy, the Aravaipa team was so great about getting coffee and food out, and it turns out one of the volunteers had even read my book.

I was pretty delirious, but I tried to talk to everyone, even on the second night. There is always a balance in trying to run and compete in a race while not being an asshole to other runners and volunteers. It is hard to be exhausted, pushing toward personal goals, and feeling the need for quiet, only to have someone else want to chat and interact. I try my best to stay present and interact with all the other great people out there, but on this second night, it was especially hard. For some reason, everyone seemed chatty during the one period of the race I was not.

Rachel was up and moving around 3 am, and I welcomed her back with open arms. Having a partner moving at the same pace again was so great for morale. The loops went by as I entered the 190s. 200 was a realistic goal as the sun rose into the sky. Rachel’s lead of 50 miles over the second place woman continued to grow. It wasn’t too much of a competition as our friend Amy had opted to call her race early because the wind was so awful. But, that unfortunately meant there was little competition pushing Rachel. It didn’t seem to matter, though, as she also closed in on her PR for the 48 hour.

The second to last lap was the hardest. With 196 miles, I was pretty over everything. I had two hours left to get two more laps in. The wonderful volunteers had made me a pocket full of quesadillas, and I just had to put one foot in front of the other a few more times. It wasn’t the physical toll of 196 miles but the mental chasm of knowing that I had to do every one of these hills one more time. The last lap wasn’t the hardest, but the second to last, just knowing it wasn’t the final time around this dreadful loop. But, I got through it, got it done, and made it around to the last lap. It was more a relief than anything. I was so ready to be done and had already decided to call it right at 200.

Just your typical "Morning Run"

Just your typical “Morning Run”

There are a number of reasons I decided not to try to get another lap in or log more miles. My main goal was to push myself, do my best, and then chase a tough goal as I recognized how my race was going—and I did all that. The second reason is that I often struggle with not letting myself appreciate and be proud of achieving a goal. So, with the goal of 200 miles, what did getting 202 matter? I was proud of 200, and with a little less than an hour remaining, I turned in my ankle tracker and sat in a chair, proud and content with my race. Rachel ran another loop to reach 190, setting her new PR for the 48!

We finished first and second overall.

We were not tired at all at the end of the race

We were not tired at all at the end of the race

What I learned

  1. There is something special about finding a person that you can talk to and run with through exhaustion and wind, especially wind, for 40 hours. AND at the end of it, we weren’t even sick of each other.

  2. Also, these fixed-time races are pretty neat because you can do them however you want. They cater to all aerobic abilities, ages, and goals. It brings people together on a small course where they get to interact throughout the race and support each other. This differs greatly from the mountain races I have done in the past. During Beaverhead 100k, I didn’t see anyone for a couple of hours.

  3. Lastly, there are many races out there, but I have grown to appreciate what Aravaipa does with their events. They work so hard to give the first-place runner and the last-place runner an equally special experience and seem to have a formula for putting on great races. 

Now go out and run a stupid amount of circles yourself. There is nothing quite like going to a destination city and choosing to only see 2.3 miles of it… over and over and over again.

Lots of style on the mens podium!

Lots of style on the men’s podium!

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