Outrunning the rest in a race with no finish line
The concept of the race caught my attention. It had no defined distance or time. It was unlike anything I had ever done. Called a “Last Person Standing” Race, the entire point of the event was to last longer than all the other runners. Every 15 minutes, competitors would run a 1.04-mile loop…equating to 100 miles every 24 hours. The race only ends when every runner except one has either timed out (taking over 15 minutes for a loop) or decided to quit. The style was unique because the pace was forced. Even if a runner finishes the loop in eight minutes, they must still wait seven minutes before beginning the next lap. Strategy and mental toughness rose to the forefront of this unique race, which is exactly why I signed up for it!
I drove down to Arizona with the hope of organizing my gear along the way. But, knowing that I could change shoes, eat, and hydrate every 15 minutes quickly negated any prior organization or preparations for the event. My baseline of fitness was there, but the strategy eluded me. What was the ideal speed to run each loop? How often should I change my shoes and socks? How often should I eat and drink? Should I set a goal for the race or simply try to stay in as long as possible?
New Year’s Day came, and I still had no answers. The race was at noon, and I arrived two hours early. I started tearing apart my car and throwing it all in a bin. Fashion was paramount, but I also packed spare shoes and socks, nutrition, water bottles, and body glide. Overall, I didn’t pack much. The more I considered the timing of the event, the more I realized that there would never be more than three to four minutes of downtime once the race started. I set up my items around a chair and felt confident.
Ready to begin, all of the competitors walked up to the start line, and we took off right at noon. The endless race had started. Different styles emerged. About half the field took off, leaving me and the slower half behind. I saw no benefit in torching through the laps, so I stuck to my slow pace. If I could stay comfortable running the loop for as long as possible, then I could push this thing far beyond 24 hours. I stuck to my pace, resisting the urge to stay with the faster runners. I settled in, and each lap clicked by between 11 and 12 minutes. It was my sweet spot and offered just enough time between laps to eat, drink, and adjust gear.
The miles added up slowly. It was challenging to focus on anything other than the slow pace we were going. In three hours, we were only at 12 miles. I was impatient to be deep in the race, but the beauty of this style is that the pace is limited to four miles per hour. Everyone is in it together, and the mental aspect quickly rises to the top. But that doesn’t mean we weren’t all impatient as we kept running slow loops through the night. Sporadically a runner would complete a fast lap, more to ease the boredom than to exercise any unique strategy. This was contagious, and out of nowhere, at 1 a.m. I ran my own fast lap. The blood was flowing, and it warmed me up against the 35-degree Phoenix cold.
A few runners dropped out on the first day, but most of the entrants began to call it quits overnight. It was cold, slow, and mentally draining to stay on top of layering, nutrition, hydration, and foot care. Over the first 50 miles, my mind shifted into only thinking in 15-minute chunks. My task, my race, my world was 15 minutes. The previous 15 minutes could not be changed, and the next 15 could not be impacted. It was as simple as running a loop, sitting for two minutes, getting up, and repeating. It wasn’t boring at all, and my body fell into a trancelike mindset. It was so simple, but those two minutes of free time each lap could be used in so many different ways. I tried to think about what to do with them on each loop but often would forget the second my body fell into the chair. Then I would remember the task I had assigned myself in the middle of the next loop and try once again to complete it. Life quickly became simple… just keep moving forward, 15 minutes at a time.
A few strong runners quit before sunrise, and by morning there were just two of us remaining. I did not expect the field to drop so quickly, but my mindset never faltered. As long as there was another person running, my race would go on. Paul and I ran some laps together and some laps apart. We chatted or listened to music, but for hours we continued to log miles on the loop. At midday, the 100-mile mark came and went, but we both looked strong. When would it end? Much like thinking about the end of a 1,000 mile-thru-hike, I tried to push out of my head any thoughts beyond the next loop. Dropped runners came back to see who was left. They looked fresh and well-rested.
After 12 hours of just Paul and I, there started to be some visible wear. My legs were stiff at the beginning of every lap, and his stomach had turned. We were shells of our former selves, but the loops kept going. Paul’s loops started to eclipse 14 minutes. One loop he finished with only seconds before the next loop would begin. I thought the end was near, but he held on. For two hours, he kept making it to the start line and back around just in time… until he didn’t. After 28 hours, Paul didn’t complete the loop in time. I ran the celebratory loop to make it to 115 official miles and 120 per my watch. It was over so suddenly.
For hours I had been operating with the intention of endlessly running loops. I didn’t think beyond it or have any idea when real life would resume. And when it did, it felt strange. I did not have to keep one eye on the clock or operate with haste. The pressure was released, but so was the goal. The last person standing victory was simply an exercise into seeing who could continue to operate within the confines of the most strange race criteria out there. It was such a cool way to spend 28 hours.