In my time as an endurance athlete, I’ve been to many races in many places. I’ve started an event at Everest Base Camp in Nepal, crossed tributaries of the Amazon in the Peruvian Rainforest, and climbed up the La Sal Mountain Range in Moab. Despite that, the race that seems to fascinate people the most from my young career is Aravaipa Running’s Across the Years. The reasons for the questions always stem from confusion and attempts at understanding. Although this was my third year doing the event, the question still stood: why run on a loop? Comments bring words such as boredom, dizziness, and lack of scenery. Truthfully, running six days on a loop is not easy but it’s also easy at the same time. Chasing the sun in these events comes with a lot of reflection.
The Flow State
Perception is in the eye of the beholder. Honestly, if you’re reading this, ask yourself what you want out of an event you’re considering. My perception of this event is I get to enjoy running in its purest form: no obstacles, no distractions, just me and the same flat path. Everyone I’ve met who does ultramarathons understands how much of these long and grueling events are mental. Doing a race where you’re on the same course for 144 hours is tapping deeper into that mental side. This creates a phenomenon I like to call the flow state. With no major outside factors between you, your body, and your goal, you are the master of your own outcome. Nobody is telling you to move. There isn’t any cutoff you’re trying to chase. There is nowhere to hide from your pain and from yourself. However, once you simultaneously make up your mind and let go of outside factors, you reach that flow state and suddenly it’s all about movement in its purest form. In my opinion, it’s an art form that only “loopies” (people who do loop courses regularly) can understand.
Sunrise and Sunset
With no distractions, everything you do at these events is magnified. The minimalist mindset is magnified. The food that you eat suddenly becomes tastier, the parts of the course you enjoy become more enjoyable, and you start having serious debates on which direction is the best direction (the course switches directions every four hours). Personally, I looked forward to the night times, when there were fewer people on the course. You could move freely and reflect on so many things. My favorite parts about these events from an internal perspective was sunrise and sunset. I cried during every sunrise because I felt I was chasing the sun in life and art imitates life. With nothing else between you and the rising sun, the feeling is magnified. You made it through the night and are rewarded with orange hues painting the dark sky. At this event, the sun is down for 14 hours, making each sunrise and sunset significant. All factors of this race don’t come from your relationship with the course. There is one factor that is often overlooked: community.
The ultrarunning community is one of the strongest and kindest of all the communities. The way this community brings people into its warm embrace is unmatched. From my experience, the loopies community is almost a bridge between other endurance sports into the ultrarunning community. The accessibility of these events is a factor that is very important. For example, Across the Years allows a person 72 hours to complete their 100 miler. My take is that 100 miles is a 100 miles, no matter how hard the tiny fraction of gatekeepers try to tell you it’s not because of the time. The unrivalered accessibility of these events is reflected in the different body types, skin tones, and backgrounds. No matter who you are, here is a supportive community and environment to help you achieve your personal best. The ability to find yourself chasing the sun in that flow state while surrounded by community is special to these looped events. So give it a shot!