Desert Solstice 24 hour Race Report – Matt Urbanski

Brother Jeff Urbanski wearing matching space-cat-taco tanks with me behind him

Desert Solstice Track Invitational is a 24 hour event on a 400 meter track, put on by Aravaipa Running, held in mid-December in Phoenix, and is an invite-only event. Elite ultrarunners have the chance to break records across many distances and age-group categories and is an incredibly fun, unique event to be a part of, whether as a runner or a crew member.

Race: Desert Solstice 24 hour

Runner: Matt Urbanski

Race Date: 12/11/2021

Location: Phoenix, AZ

Results: 7th OA, 4th male, 131.7 miles;

3 Bests – What aspects of the race did you like the most?

  1. Such a unique format! I’d never raced anything like this before, and I felt very much like a newbie, which is tough to accomplish after being a runner for 40 years!
  2. Race organization. Everything was super organized and smooth.
  3. Aravaipa puts on good races. This one made the runners feel exceptionally special, and I felt privileged to be part of it.

Weird factor – What’s the weirdest thing about this race?

Nothing weird per say about the event itself, but 24 hours running around a track is definitely unique! Seeing your crew every 400m, seeing your splits and your ranking on every lap – those things are not something I’ve ever experienced in a race before.

Highlights of your race – What did you do well and enjoy about your race in particular?

I kept my cool early and never totally wrecked my legs. I made some mistakes and I can do better next time, but I was running at 8am on Sunday morning when the time was up. I also had a good mental attitude for the majority of the race and never went totally dark in terms of my mood.

Lessons for others – Share your pro-tips on the race to help the next runner

Chill early! Everyone says this, but the reality was that out of 25+ starters, only 7 of us were still on the track at 8am Sunday morning. Sure, there were a handful of people who had planned to stop early, but not everyone managed to go the full 24 hours who had planned on doing so. I was told by some veterans in the sport the night before the race to keep it chill, to avoid running faster than 2:10 laps for the first 6 hours if I wanted my best odds of hitting 150 miles. I was pretty good about this and I do think it helped later in the race. After midnight, I was cruising at that 2:10 pace for many laps and had my legs thanks to this good advice I received pre-race.

Heading into the track with brother Jeff

Lessons you learned that will help you next time around

I need a better plan for how to manage the overnight. I got sleepy. I didn’t think it’d be any issue to stay up all night, and that was what really did me in. I laid down on the track for an hour on two separate occasions, primarily because I was just sleepy tired! Yeah, maybe my stomach would have gotten me, or maybe my legs would have crapped out had I not stopped and slept, but the sleep monster is what derailed me and ultimately impacted my total mileage the most. I will be better prepared for this next time!

Sleeping on the track while Papa bear Urbanski watches over me

Most important course specific knowledge to know about the race

It’s a track! Thankfully, we got to change directions every 4 hours. That felt like such a nice thing to look forward to! Crew were all in popup tents set up by Aravaipa along the homestretch of the track in lane 4, two runners per tent. There were toilets on the back corner of the track and I never had an issue needing a toilet and having them be full.

Aesthetics – Is it a pretty course?

It’s a track in the middle of PHX, AZ. But it had its elements of beauty. The sunrise was pretty, the sunset was pretty. The green color of the infield felt nice, the red of the track. It was all crisp and vibrant.

Sunrise after nearly 24 hours

Difficulty – Is it a tough course?

haha. Just seems like a funny question for this kind of race! It’s so easy yet so challenging!

Organized and well run – Did it feel like a well-oiled machine or were they flying by the seat of their pants?

Aravaipa is arguably the best race organization in North America. They put on a great event and I couldn’t have asked for more!

Competition – Is there a strong field?

The best. All kinds of records went down. It’s invitation/qualification only.

Logistics – Does it require a special handshake, registration a year in advance, hotels all booked? Give us the low down on the nuts and bolts of making the race happen.

Other than getting into the race by meeting their qualification standards, it was all easy and straightforward. We happened to have chosen poorly for our airbnb – next time we’ll go to Scottsdale most likely. Restaurants, groceries, coffee – it’s all nearby and easy.

Aid Stations – Standard fare or anything special to know about the aid stations in terms of what’s available or when?

At the 300m mark of the 400m track, there was an aid station. I hadn’t intended on taking anything from them – I brought my own gels, blocks, Tailwind, and specialty items.

However, they had all kinds of vegan foods and they were advertising them so nicely that I ended up trying a lot of their foods. They had fruit smoothies, vegan chickpea sandwiches, and more. We saw them every lap so it felt like we got to know their faces quite well, and they were always willing and eager to help.

Setting up our own personal aid station tent with myself and my brother, Jeff

Weather and typical race conditions

It got into the 60s during the day and was sunny. At night it gets chilly – 40s. It felt colder than 40s in Boulder feels. It can get a bit hotter some years, and thankfully we didn’t have any wind. All in, it was ideal for this event.

Gear – Did you need anything special or is there anything you’d recommend for the next runner?

I actually changed shoes – not something I often do during an ultra. I started in the Nike 4%, but my feet were hurting after a few hours so I switched to the Hoka Rincon 3. I didn’t have to carry anything with me, which was wonderful!

Spectators – Is this a friendly course for your friends?

It’s a really intimate setting and if you have people there for you, they can be right there cheering and helping you the entire time. I felt like I got to recognize the crews of all the other runners, throughout the course of the race.

Aid every 400 meters – no complaints!

How’s the Swag?

Nice zip up sweatshirt jacket. Buckles.

The Overall Score – How many stars do you give this race and do you recommend that others run it?

5 out of 5. While during the race I kept thinking about how silly the race was and that I didn’t think I’d ever do it again, within 24 hours of the finish, I was already convinced I wanted to try again. Aravaipa rocks, and I’m eager to get back out there again in 2022!

Matt Urbanski is the Co-Founder and a coach at Team RunRun. Reach out to him at [email protected] with any questions/comments!

Considering what my feet went through, they look pretty good!