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  • Writer's pictureMiriam Diaz-Gilbert

My 2019 A Race for the Ages (ARFTA) Race Report & Fun Times: Age is Only a Number

Updated: Jul 4

112 miles at A Race for the Ages. Photo by Jon Gilbert

Run as many hours as your age. What a concept! That’s the idea behind Lazarus Lake’s A Race for the Ages - a multi-day ultra for geezers. You know Laz, creator and RD of quirky and irrational ultras like the Barkley Fall Classic, Big’s Backyard Ultra, and the infamous Barkley Marathons.

Because I’m not as crazy as my family and friends think I am, and because I’ll never step foot in any of these bizarre ultras and be a loser, I was happy to be a geezer and take on A Race for the Ages (ARFTA) on a much kinder and less physically and mentally grueling one mile jagged course on an empty concrete asphalt parking lot in Fred Deadman Park in Manchester, Tennessee.

Running a marathon around a parking lot is not at all appealing but logging as many miles as I can or want in 60 hours was super appealing. And I wanted to get my third 100 mile buckle.

The fifth annual ARFTA ultra took place Labor Day weekend August 29 - September 2, 2019.

It was my third race-cation. My husband Jon and I combine my running an ultra with some hiking in nearby national parks. In 2018 we combined hiking in Cuyahoga Valley National Park in Ohio with the Burning River 50 miler. In 2017 we combined Biscayne National Park and Everglades National Park with the Wildcat 100 miler in Pensacola, Florida.

Before heading to Manchester, Tennessee, Jon and I drove from New Jersey in the north to South Carolina for two days of gentle hiking in Congaree National Park. Then we spent two days in Mammoth Cave National Park in Kentucky.

The next day we left at the crack of dawn for ARFTA. But before checking in to Motel 6 at $45/night in Manchester, we hiked the morning in Old Stone Fort State Archeological Park not far from the race site. It was a beautiful summer day and a great hike.

Jon setting up our tent and canopy.

We then headed to the race site to set up our tent and canopy, and pick up my bib and swag - a black Geezer hat and a black ARFTA hoodie.

Along the way in the park, I ran into Laz. I was honored and happy to meet Laz, the legend. We chatted about this, that, and the other. He asked how many hours I was running and I said sixty. “You’ll definitely do hundred miles,” he said. While I held my breath and he puffed away, I asked, “Why do you smoke?” In typical Laz wit, he responded, “My dad taught me to never be a quitter.”

With Laz the afternoon before my midnight start.

Our surprisingly spacious Motel 6 room was walking distance to restaurants and Walmart, and 3 miles from race site.

Even though runners would be fed breakfast, lunch, and dinner every six hours with food catered by Cracker Barrel, we packed our own food. Unfortunately, we are not fans of Cracker Barrel cuisine. We eat Paleo at home.

We returned to race site at 10 pm. I was ready to run.

While waiting for my midnight start Saturday August 31, I sat in the dark on the tent floor with my headlamp wrapped around my head and I wrote an article - Write Anywhere, Anytime - on my iPad.

Writing in the dark before my start.

As other runners ran/walked through the timing mat under the quiet black sky as music played from the timekeeper’s tent, I and four other female runners started our 60 hours at at midnight. There were no age 60 male runners.

I’ve run through the night before at 24 hour ultras and 100 milers but this was the first time I started an ultra at midnight. The night air was cool, about 64 degrees. I wore my capri running tights and my long sleeve Dawn to Dusk to Dawn 24 hour track ultra shirt. I ran this event in May 2019 in Pennsylvania.

My headlamp was strapped around my head. After a lap, I realized the the parking lot was well-lit and removed the headlamp.

The night was uneventful. To keep me alert, I listened to my Spotify music on my iPhone with my earbuds. About 6.5 hours later, I had logged 22 miles on the concrete parking lot.

I was glad to see the sun rise before 6 am and the sky turn a bright blue Saturday morning.

At mile 22.

Breakfast was being served. I picked at the Crackle Barrel scrambled eggs, bacon, and pancakes. Not appetizing or tasty.

The weather got warmer. I changed into my skort and running tank. By10 am it was super sunny and hot. It was in the 80s.

Jon applied sunscreen on my arms and legs. I applied sunscreen on my face and nose. I wore my prescription Oakley sunglasses and I strapped my dollar umbrella hat to my head for some shade and to help protect me from the sun. Other runners got shade from their handheld umbrellas.

As the day progressed, the scorching heat and sun, and the foot pounding on concrete began to slow me down.

Lunch was served at noon. I’ve never had chicken fried steak, which is neither chicken nor steak. It tasted awful. I didn’t eat it and nibbled on the mash potatoes. But I kept very hydrated with Nunn and ate potato chips and avocado wraps that Jon prepared.

Around 2:15 pm I took a break, sat on my pink folding hair, and immersed my tired, beaten feet in ice water in a container I take with me to ultras. Jon filled it with ice and water from the cooler. It felt so good.

Then I ran/walked for about four more hours under the scorching sun. By about 5:45 pm I had logged 50 miles. It took me about 17.5 hours - much longer than I anticipated. My best 50 miler in 2016 at the Lake Waramaug 50 miler in Connecticut is 11:14:09

After logging 50 miles, I took a break and sat in a blow up kiddie pool we purchased at the 5 and Below store for our grandchildren. As I sat in the kiddie pool, Jon poured ice cold water on my legs and filled the pool. I sat in it about 15 minutes. It reinvigorated me.

Partially immersed in ice water.

I don’t remember eating dinner but I know I consumed enough calories to keep me going through the night.

After sunset, the temperature dropped and I put on my leggings and my NorthFace jacket, and wrapped my Burning River 50 Buff around my head.

I did about six laps with Gary, a runner from Texas and 12 years my senior. We kept each other company and great conversation helped us to move along. Then feeling a little nauseated, I took a break.

While Jon slept in the tent, I sat on my pink folding chair and took a couple of swigs of home-brewed ginger root. We packed a jar full of it. Ginger root is great for nausea. I felt better.

I went out for another lap or two. I began to zig-zag with my eyes closed along the course. It was about 2 am Sunday morning. Sleep-deprived, I finished the lap, went back to the tent, and lied down next to Jon on the air mattress. I slept about 2 hours.

I went back out around 4 am feeling better.

Around 6:15 am, exhausted, I took a break and I sat with a plate of tasteless breakfast eggs on my lap, and no appetite. But I forced myself to drink dark chocolate almond milk and eat an avocado slice between a piece of bread that Jon prepared for me.

Jon had also gone out to buy delicious homemade donuts from the Donut Palace. I had a chocolate donut.

I changed clothes. I put on a pair of running shorts and my blue Wildcat 100 t-shirt. I got back on the sunny course under the beautiful blue sky. By 7 am Sunday morning, I had completed 60 miles.

60 miles done!

I was moving very slowly and taking my time. What was the rush?

Laz kept reminding us to keep moving via laminated inspirational quotes peppered through out the course and taped to orange traffic cones, including “Running slow isn’t a character flaw, quitting is.” I was on the right track!

Sunday was a beautiful but scorching day.

I changed clothes again around 11 am and put on my 2012 Around the Lake t-shirt. This race was my first 24 hour ultra. I placed third female.

I had a blister or two that Jon drained. To give my feet and toes some relief, I removed my Asics Gel Nimbus running shoes and began walking with my Birkenstocks and then shuffled my feet In my Oofo sandals.

My goal now was to log 100 miles and secure my buckle, and then take a few hours break at the motel, shower, eat a good dinner, and sleep.

At about 6:49 pm Sunday evening, I crossed the timing mat with 100 miles in my Oofos in 42:49:03 - my longest 100 mile time. My best 100 miler is the 2011 Beast of Burden in Lockport, New York in 27:10:03.

100 miles!

With a little over 17 hours left on the clock, Jon and I left for our motel to shower, eat, and sleep. After we got to the motel, I puked and felt better. I showered, washed my hair, and felt refreshed.

Jon ordered take out dinner. We ate pretty good chicken tenders, a salad, big fries, and ice cream.

I needed to rest and sleep, and so did Jon. He was tackling stage 4 cancer and undergoing chemotherapy.

I slept from about 11 pm to 3 am. I woke up energized and ready to hit the course but Jon was still sound asleep. I didn’t want to wake him up. He needed his rest more than I needed mine.

I got dressed and put on my green 2015 Defy Your Limits Montour 24 hour trail ultra


We got back to race site around 8:30 am Monday morning. It was Labor Day and the race ended at 12 noon. I had a little over 3 hours to log more miles. I did not want to confine my feet and bandaged pinky toes in my Asics so, I slipped on my Oofos.

It was another beautiful and super hot day. I strapped my umbrella hat around my head.

I ran side by side most of my remaining laps with fellow runner Jim, two years older than me. We had run a few miles together through our time on the course. I was feeling strong and felt I could run all day but the clock was ticking. Jim stopped at 120 miles.

With Jim Labor Day morning.

Inspired by my 81.0264 miles at the Dawn to Dusk to Dawn 24 hour track ultra in May with the last 11 hours in the rain, I came to A Race for the Ages with a goal of logging 120 miles in the allotted 60 hours.

I fell 8 miles short of my goal and crossed the finish with 112 miles in my Oofos with about 13 minutes to spare before the clock ran out and we all headed to the banquet hall and awards ceremony.

The banquet and awards ceremony was great fun. The folks who logged unbelievable miles were so inspiring. Bob, 74, placed first OA and first male with 230 miles. Lethra, 61, placed first female and 5th overall with 175 miles. I placed 46/133. I was happy.

I wasn’t very hungry but I devoured two generous pieces of homemade Coca-Cola chocolate cake. It was so good. I packed a few pieces for the road on our way home from Tennessee to New Jersey the next day.

Taking a long 13 hour break after I logged 100 miles was not smart. If I had returned to the race after my four hour sleep, I would have met my goal. But Jon needed his rest.

And Jon tells me I would have logged more miles if I didn’t talk so much with other runners while on the course. He said it slowed me down. He might be right.

But I’m glad I chatted on the course. I met wonderful folks like Mary Ann, a retired social work professor, Jim, a biologist, Dean from Utah, fellow Nuun ambassador Sheree from Florida, Bill from Maryland, and Don the oldest runner at age 87 who logged 109 miles. He inspired all of us.

And I got to chat with Laz, 65, (and whose real name is Gary Cantrell), during the night as he slowly walked the course and logged 65 miles.

A Race for the Ages (ARFTA) was my 27th ultra and my first multi-day ultra. I told Laz I hope to return to ARFTA when I’m 90.

With Laz, my 100 mile buckle, and finisher's trophy. Photo by Jon.

Our time and my miles at A Race for the Ages were a great experience! It was another fun race-cation combined with hiking in nearby national parks.

We took turns driving 12 hours home from Tennessee on Tuesday. The next day I returned to the start of the semester and my teaching duties at the university, and Jon had another chemo infusion.

Age is only a number! Keep moving!

Watch my YouTube video by Jon.

This race report was originally published in Ultrarunning World Magazine.

I am the author of Come What May, I Want to Run: A Memoir of the Saving Grace of Ultrarunning in Overwhelming Times,. My awesome experience and sharing the parking lot with so many awesome runners make an appearance in my book. You can order the book exclusively from the Wipf and Stock Publishers website, use code ultrarunning40, and receive a 40% discount. Offer expires 9/3/24. You can also order It on Amazon, Bookshop, or Barnes & Noble. It's available in hardcover, paperback, e-book, and Kindle.

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