First I would like to talk Versteeg, and his FKT last year of the Arizona Trail. And the best way is in his own words during a Post Arizona Trail Interview from the man himself by Run Steep Get High.
As he mentioned in the interview, past Arizona Trail fkts had been in "fast packing style". And that nobody had really attempted a through run of the AZT. If I remember correctly, the past "crewed" fkt was about 22 days and some change. While Versteeg ended up with an fkt of 15 days, 22 hours, and 19 minutes.
As he mentions, the Arizona Trail in many ways is more rugged than some of the ones that come to mind like the Appalachian Trail and the PCT.
"it's really not the same type of endeavor as Pacific Coast Trail or the CDT or the Appalachian Trail...or any of these long trails. The Arizona Trail is a lot shorter obviously...but I would argue that potentially the 800 miles of the Arizona Trail is more difficult than any 800 mile stretch of those trails. It's because you can't just show up to the Arizona Trail just being an ultrarunner or a speedhiker...or whatever. It requires a lot of different skills. A lot of it's route finding...you're bushwacking through miles and miles of extremely rugged...extremely rocky and technical...extremely steep terrain. You're going through wilderness areas that have not been maintained for who knows how long. It's not necessarily a trail where you can come in superfit and being able to run a certain amount of mileage per day and expect to be successful on...there's a lot of other factors that go into the Arizona Trail. And that's one thing that makes the Arizona Trail unique and special. The rough miles...the rough going... They take a long time to get through. And they can really frustrating and overwhelming for a person trying to run the Arizona Trail. When you feel good physically and are able to move...and able to run and put down mile, the trail and terrain just simply won't allow it.... Bushwacking in the desert is not a pleasant experience... Everything wants to cut you...everything wants to poke you...and spike you...and all of those spikes, and all of those pokes...all of those bushes have...the majority of the time are coated on the spectrum from anything from an iratant to a poison... There is just a lot to deal with that the Arizona Trail throws at you that none of the other trails come even close..." Michael Versteeg
Outside the Confines of the Race Format
I don't think that I actually found running til I was in my early 30's. But in my youth, the passion was beginning to show signs of its existence. We lived for a few years in the mountains of Western North Carolina in a city called Brevard. Mom didn't allow us to just stay in the house. So I spent my days building trails in the woods. Then I would see just how fast that I could run them afterwards. It was a climatic finish to all the hard work put in with axes, shovels, and rakes. And even when I wasn't doing that, our days were spent running to the top of the mountains nearby. I ran track for one year in school, and I soon lost the passion I had for it. Only to begin my cycling days. Racing mountain bikes...
Fast forward to my early 30's running was soon back in my life. Only I wasn't doing any races. I just loved to run for hours all night after work. And I mean hours...many hours. It was more than running. I found it gave me peace.
Soon running developed into both a place for peace, as well as another challenge. I would begin mapping routes to the next city. Or a route to somewhere that normally I would drive in the car. How far can I go today? How far can I go tomorrow? It became something very personal to me. To see just how far that I could push myself.
Fast forward a bit more...I don't want to write a book. In 2013, I ran my first ultra event, having never run a 5k, half marathon, or marathon. I went in with a plan to just run my own race. With the only expectation being that I would finish in the top 100. I finsihed 9th I believe it was in this 50k. Had I been properly hydrated that day, it wouldve been 6th. I lost a few spots just before the end, when I crampled up severely in my quads.
Three weeks later I ran a 12hr event, with the the goal of top 100. Went on to win the event.
"The purest essence of running ultra distances is outside the confines of sanctioned events that cater to your needs…." ~Masumi
There would be more events to come, but in the end for me it has more rewarding outside of the confines of the "sanctioned" event. Events are for me just the communal element. And although that is needed sometimes because of the competitive side of me, it wasn't where my love for pushing myself through running.
Over the next few years I would find ways to use running to also give back through 24hr and 72hr runs that I hosted and ran.
2017 AZT | FKT Attempt
This began as just a whim. The way that all my plotted runs outside the confines of sanctioned events have begun. The fact that the Arizona Trail passes about 9.5 miles from my front door, and is technically in the backyard that I run everyday is a plus as well.
I began the process by breaking down every aspect of the AZT. Speaking to others that had done the entire AZT for advice. And I continue to seek more. Created a spreadsheet of every piece of data that I could find via multiple sources. Data included for each passage consisted of mileage, total ascending/descending, elevation low/high, difficulty level (based on others experiences), and map points for individual passages(start/finish). More data will be added including all points of possible crew/pacer access, as well as possible water locations that I can filter my water when needed using the Mini Sawyer that I currently take out on some of my runs. Much of this data will be plugged into my Delorme Inreach Explorer+, that I will utiilize for navigation and safety. My location will be pinged every 2 minutes, and map embedded on my website. Will get into gear another time...
I will be running this 800 mile rugged trail in Luna Sandals, which adds what some would think is unorthodox even on flat tailored surfaces.
Years ago, I never imagined that I would be running in a pair of sandals. I am always a skeptic. And seeing my friend Karen Jackson (Via Luna | Via her site) race wekkend after weekend in them still was not convincing. My ideal footwear over the years had been honed down to minimal drop, minimal stack height, roomy toebox, and sub-8oz. But certainly not a sandal, although it fit. And to be honest, I wasn't convinced the first few months of wearing my first pair a few years ago. There is always an adjustment to change with anything in life. But I quickly fell in love with them, and have since run multi-days, and thousands of miles in them. I've always avoided what I call trends, fads, or popular opinion.
"Great things are not accomplished by those who yield to trends and fads and popular opinion." Jack Kerouac
Although I do have a pair of Innov8's that I keep will all my gear, I do all my running in my Luna's. Think I have about 20 miles in my shoes.
There is a freedom in wearing them that is simply unparallel. The lessons I've attained wearing them have changed my running profoundly. Making me both more efficient an in the moment. Feeling one with the earth below my feet. I know...sounds a bit silly. I know. But for me, there simply is no substitute.
I'd like to take the time to thank Barefoot Ted, Irem Guroglu, and the rest of the lunatics there in Seattle for all their support. And for giving all of us that run in Luna's the tools to transfer our passion to the earth. They have always gone out of their way to keep me on the trail.
A few last words...
If you would like to crew/pace at any portion of my AZT fkt attempt, I would be be both humbled and grateful. Below are a few links.