OK, Paul Bunyan, break’s over.
They say the American folk hero created the Grand Canyon by dragging his axe behind him.
The 10,000 lakes of Minnesota were formed by his footprints when he and Babe the blue ox got lost in a snowstorm.
But … what have you done for me lately?
When John Geesler called back two weeks ago, I set the over/under on “Holy moly” moments for me during the conversation at a cool dozen. Hope you had the over.
I used to cover the Boston Marathon for many years, and would always look for John at the finish line on Boylston Street near Copley Square, but hadn’t talked to him since 2015.
The 63-year-old still runs the mile and a half to his job as a maintenance worker at the Helmont textile mill in St. Johnsville every day, and on a grander scale, still runs the Across the Years race, the subject of our 2015 conversation, every year.
I saw a tweet in late December about Geesler approaching a milestone there, and it was about time to check in with him again.
If you’re not familiar with Across the Years, it falls in the category of ultramarathons, races longer than the 26.2 miles of the traditional marathon. The race annually starts just before New Year’s Day and isn’t defined by distance, but by the fact that the year of the date on the check you write for your entry fee will be different from the one you write for your next rent payment.
So on Dec. 28, 2022, Geesler left the starting line, and on Jan. 3, 2023 they told him to stop running … or walking, or hobbling, or whatever he was still capable of after 311 miles in six days.
He’s not thrilled with how he did.
He fell short of the milestone.
He still had fun.
Holy moly (last one, promise).
“No hallucinations or anything like that this time,” Geesler said. “I was just struggling to get through because of the foot pain.
“But it’s still fun. I still had a good time, I just have a lot of pain with it.
“So I did not hit 400 [miles], which I like to hit. And I did not get to the 6,000th mile. So, that’ll be pretty easy to get through next year. That’ll be a foregone conclusion.”
Six thousand miles. It’s very far.
Geesler first ran an ultramarathon 1991 and first ran ATY in 2003. The event is staged at Camelback Ranch, the spring training facility for the Chicago White Sox and Los Angeles Dodgers, in Glendale, Arizona, 10 miles northwest of downtown Phoenix.
The competitors run a 1.05-mile loop course, and your total distance is tabulated based on which time span you sign up for. The four options are 24, 48 and 72 hours, and six days, each starting before New Year’s and finishing after it.
Geesler’s first foray into ultramarathoning was the 1991 Vermont 100 Mile Endurance race, where he ran for 16 hours and 41 minutes, and, even as he was putting together a string of 35 straight years finishing the Boston Marathon, the ultra soon became his calling.
He’s done at least four of them every year since 1995 (except 2020), and finished eight in 2022, including ATY, for a total of 2,444.923 kilometers (1,519.205 miles).
How do we know this?
Because of the wonderful maniacs at Deutsche Ultramarathon Vereinigung (DUV), who run the website statistik.d-u-v.org and have been tracking ultra results for individuals around the world for decades.
They have data all the way back to the 19th century, Geesler said. By DUV’s count, he’s ranked 23rd in the world all-time in total ultra mileage from sanctioned races.
When Geesler says hitting 6,000 total ATY miles next time is a foregone conclusion (he needs about 70 miles), it’s based on the fact that, since ATY added the six-day option in 2013, his average mileage per year is just over 390 in the seven times he’s done the six-day.
ATY also introduced a 10-day race in 2019 and 2021 and may bring it back in 2023. Naturally, Geesler chose that one when it was available, totaling 600 miles on the noggin in 2019 and 475 in 2021.
The 2022 ATY didn’t go well for Geesler in part because 2022 in general didn’t go well.
“One thing is my body is falling apart,” he said. “I got scoliosis in my back. So the spine has a big curve in it, and it twists. There’s a lot of back pain, and I have something wrong with my knee. So I’m struggling with that, trying to work through the pain and everything.”
That’s chronic pain.
Then you show up for a six-day race, and the acute angle comes into play.
Geesler developed a big blister on his right foot about halfway through.
“So I sliced it, opened it up, drained it and it healed. Seemed to,” he said. “But then two days after I did that, my foot was hurting. And it’s still actually not completely over it.
“Every lap was very painful. I would sit there and break the lap down and say, ‘OK, I’ve got to get through this segment, and I’ve got to get through this segment,’ and then I can rest a little bit. I knew I couldn’t get good mileage after that. I still did get at least a mile in every hour, which is something I normally do.
“There was one other guy who did it, too, got a mile an hour. He started doing just one an hour a lot earlier, so he ended up doing 200-some miles, and at the end they asked him what he thought, and he said, ‘Never again.’”
Then there was the 90-year-old man that Geesler met in the six-day race who drove himself from Florida to Arizona, because he doesn’t like to fly.
“It was raining almost every day. He’s out there and did 127 miles. Ninety years old. That was the most impressive performance I saw out there,” Geesler said. “You ask him, ‘How was the drive?’ He said, ‘It sucked.’ I mean, he was pretty crusty.”
Nevertheless, the gentleman from Florida didn’t have to experience the fresh hell that was New Year’s air travel this year, unlike Geesler.
He was on a plane to Atlanta a few hours after finishing ATY, only for his connection to be canceled. He got an alternate flight to Detroit, but missed a tight connection there because of a thunderstorm that delayed the flight out of Atlanta.
By the time he got to Albany International, then back to St. Johnsville, he had burned the better part of 48 hours traveling while trying to recover from a six-day race.
But, “I had a lot of fun there,” Geesler said. “Everybody knows me out there, so they treat me great. I’m friends of the race director’s whole family, and like one of them.
“When you’re running in the race, every four hours they change directions. So when they change directions, you’ve got people running the other way, and I high-five everybody. The look on their face when they see me coming, you see the smile, they’ve taken off their glove so they can get ready for the high-five, because they know I’m coming, and I high-five everybody. It perks them up, and it perks me up. I had people come up to me and saying, ‘Keep doing that. That makes our day.’ It gets kind of boring or in a rut or something, and that just livens it up.
“The whole race is about having a good time. New Year’s Eve … fireworks. Everywhere. You’re in Phoenix. It’s a huge, flat area, and every direction you look, there’s fireworks. As soon as it gets dark, then midnight comes, and it’s something to see. It’s quite a spectacle.
“My bag, of course, didn’t get home with me,” he said.
But two days after the race, he got home, arround 2 a.m. That meant a couple hours of sleep, a 5 a.m. wakeup, and off to work. Running.
Take that, Paul Bunyan, and your blue ox.
Contact Mike MacAdam at [email protected]. Follow on Twitter @Mike_MacAdam.