Fastest Known Time Attempt – Arizona Trail (2 weeks to go)

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Butterflies in my stomach

Zombie land. That’s where I am living right now. Peak training complete, now on the final straight. I can’t believe after months of thinking about it, that I actually pushed the button in the beginning of July, and now I have arrived. I am both terrified and excited at the same time. This is real. This is happening.
I will be running North to South (so right to left)
I am attempting to set the Fastest Known Time on the Arizona Trail. Me. Is this madness? stupidity? I hope not. 800 miles. I will be on my feet for 16 hours every day for 15 consecutive days. I will have to cover 50 miles a day (approximately two marathons), every day. I will have to climb and descend 110,000 feet (the equivalent of climbing Mount Everest four times). I will wake up in freezing cold temperatures at 3:30am every morning, get myself ready and hit the trail by 4am. Every day, for f-i-f-t-e-e-n days. I will be finishing on the trail when it gets dark and cold in the evening. Every day. It’s going to suck. Big time. So, this begs the question, why? And why do I have a big grin on my face just writing about it? Honestly, I find it difficult to put into words. There is this need inside of me to keep pushing myself. To go outside of my comfort zone. To see what I am capable of. Not to settle for average. To always try to live my best life. To constantly try new things. To put myself out there. To better myself. To learn and to grow. To be happy. This is going to be one of the most incredible journeys that I have ever been on and the biggest challenge I have set myself to date. Physically, I don’t feel I can be any more prepared. Will it be enough? We’ll soon find out! Here is a summary of my 10 weeks of training. [table id=5 /] *because I don’t have a car, I have to use my 2 legs to commute everywhere. I personally believe movement is medicine and this is good for active recovery, but the miles certainly add up! My training has included multiple back-to-back days of training, a 100 mile week, fast-hiking workouts, threshold workouts, incredible scenery, lots of hills, early mornings, big mileage days of 34-44 miles, multiple 10+ hour days, ski runs, 12,600 feet peaks and lots and lots of smiles. You can find all the detail in my Strava account if you want to see more information. An integral part of my training, keeping me fit, healthy (and sane!) are the classes I attend at Paragon Athletics. The team there have kept me strong throughout my Ultra journey and I often refer to them as magical unicorns with their unique skillset to assess my athletic needs while taking into consideration my mental well-being and keeping workouts fun and challenging. Without them I don’t believe my little body could withstand all of the miles and the hours that I train. If we put the physical aspect of things to one side, the second biggest challenge has been the logistical planning. This has been all consuming and quite frankly very stressful. Trying to put all the pieces of the jigsaw puzzle together from trail planning and mapping, to organising support – both in crew and running and gathering intelligence. Some days I feel like I am barely keeping my head above water. On the verge of tears, balancing on a cliff edge doing my best to remain calm, keeping hold of my faith that everything will come together. When I set the green light back in July, I pulled together a high level plan of how many miles I would need to cover each day to ensure I would achieve my goal of completing the AZT in less than 15 days, 13 hours and 10 minutes. I based this plan largely on where there were vehicle access points and taking into account basic knowledge of how difficult the terrain would be (volume of climbing, technicality) and therefore, ability to cover the necessary mileage in a day. What I have been working on and no doubt will continue to do so up until the very last minute with the time it is taking me (!), is to now break this plan down into the detail for each day, so that I have a comprehensive understanding of the route ahead of me and what support is needed.
  • Reaching out to my community to find crew chiefs, support and pacers.
  • Organising the team and making sure they are prepared and have all the information they need to be able to support me
  • Reaching out to the AZT stewards with a short questionnaire asking about the conditions of the trail they look after, whether it is runnable, water sources that are available and vehicle access
  • Downloading all available information from the Arizona Trail Association. Including descriptions of each passage, topo maps, vehicle access data/road status, latest news on trail segments and any re-routes
  • Re-writing all available passage information (as the ATA is set up for following the route South to North, whereas I will be going North to South)
  • Meeting with runners and hikers who have covered the AZT to gather as much information as possible
  • Reviewing Youtube videos, blog posts, websites on the AZT
  • Speaking with seasoned veterans such as Mike Wardian and Ray Zahab to gain knowledge on how to tackle multi-day events to be as prepared as I can be
  • Obtaining the Guthook app and downloading the AZT onto it. Creating routes for every section I would be running between seeing my support team, so that I would have elevation profiles for each section (approximately 100 routes!)
  • Reviewing all the latest intel from people’s posts to the Guthook app to gather data on trail conditions and water sources
  • Reviewing any trail changes from fires or maintenance to make sure I am following the correct route
  • Reviewing the topo maps to build confidence on route navigation
  • Obtaining the GPS co-ordinates for each vehicle access point and loading these in Google Maps to get driving directions for each segment, ensuring driving time is less than running time
  • Estimating what my pace might be for each segment taking into account terrain and elevation profile
  • Correlating this to the intel I had gathered about water sources and pulling together a fuel and hydration plan for each day
  • Looking at the satellite images for each planned end of day stop to ensure there appears to be availability for camping
  • Making sure I have all the necessary gear I need and testing everything out
  • Pulling together a checklist for each day for my crew chief to be able to manage my support – including gear requirements, schedule for the day (meeting points, fuelling strategy etc.), tasks (such as checking weather, roadworks, trail changes etc.), team contact information and co-ordination
Phew! Is that it??!
Of course, there is only so much planning I can do and I need to be prepared to be flexible and deal with issues on the fly. This may mean adjusting my planned mileage or possibly running through the night. The most important thing for me though is to have a crew I can trust. One that I can hand over all of the logistics to the day before and rely on to make the necessary day-to-day decisions. As much as I am a control freak (what, me?!), I know that I will not have the mental capacity or energy to be able to make important decisions while out there on the trail, and I need to be able to trust my crew to make the right decisions for me, when I am most vulnerable. For this, I am so grateful to have such a badass team of support and runners, and I get to share this special experience with my friends, my community, those who have been on this journey with me from the beginning and without whom I wouldn’t be here today. It means so much to have you in my corner and when I think about you all it gives me so much strength and power. Thank you. Lets get this done. Fun times ahead