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Runtrails' Rocky Mountain Journal
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"Obstacles don't have to stop you.
If you run into a wall, don't turn around and give up.
Figure out how to climb it, go through it, or work around it."
- Michael Jordan


Even before I dropped out of the Bighorn Mountain Wild & Scenic Trail 100-miler I had begun the analysis.

You've most likely heard the phrase, "Monday morning quarterbacking" before. My interpretation of the phrase is that it is when folks figuratively gather 'round the cooler at work after a weekend game (not necessarily football) and dissect every move or play - often implying they'd have done it differently, i.e. better than the coach or players.

Hindsight is almost always better than foresight, isn't it?!

At Bighorn, neither Jim nor I met our race goals. That's happening more and more frequently, to our dismay. When we do well in a race, we barely analyze it. Maybe we should scrutinize those successful efforts as closely as the ones where we fall short (notice I didn't use the word "fail") so we'll ingrain in our minds what we did right. We certainly analyze the times we don't meet our expectations, sometimes ad nauseum.

The process boils down to this: what did we do wrong, and how can we do better next time?

(Also notice that I said, "next time." Neither of us is ready to completely give it up yet.)

I feel the need to go through this analysis even more than Jim because I've had more 100-mile DNFs (did not finish) than he has. I haven't completed the distance since 2000, although I've come close a couple times since. I'm now 2 for 11, which is pretty dismal except for the fact that most of the DNFs are in difficult mountain races with finish rates of 50-60%. Those are the ones that draw me, not the flatter, "easier" ones that I should probably focus on if I want to continue doing 100-milers and actually finish them.

Something draws me to the ones with the more insurmountable odds, and I think it's more than just the drop-dead scenery.

Although Jim has about eight DNFs in fourteen 100-mile attempts, he has more recent finishes (Vermont, 2005), a sub-24 hour finish (Kettle Moraine), and some tough mountainous finishes (Leadville, Wasatch, Western States, The Bear) to be proud of. And he is more capable than I am of continuing to find "success" at the 100-mile distance because of his faster speed, sturdier body, and tougher mental determination.

Not that I'm a mental weenie. There is something that drives me to keep trying at this distance despite all my DNFs. Stupid maybe, but tenacious!

Some women have the grace and dignity to quit running 100s when they are at the top of their game, before they start having problems finishing these races. Suzi "T" Cope comes to mind. She was either the first woman, or one of the first, to complete the Grand Slam of Ultrarunning and finished many other hundreds before announcing that a particular one would be her last. She finished it, and never did another 100-miler again (she continued running shorter ultras). It was a classy way to finish her "career" at the distance. I admire that.

But for some reason, my own psychological wiring is different (my family and friends can attest to that!). I seem to be an eternal optimist in this regard. I have continual hope that next time I'll get it right. I'll train harder and smarter and maybe everything will fall into place in the next race - good weather and trail conditions, proper hydration and nutrition, smart pacing, no injuries, all the variables managed well.



Then I wonder if I'm just fooling myself and I'll never be able to finish another mountain 100-miler. Like many runners about 75 miles into a race, I tell myself I'll never, ever enter another 100-miler. They hurt. They aren't any fun at that point. Why put myself through this again? (At Bighorn, I was doing this at ten miles!!)

Jim does the same thing. So do a lot of other 100-milers.

Whether Jim and I finish or not, within 48 hours we're usually plotting our next attempt at the distance. If we just do this differently next time, maybe the outcome will be better - we'll finish, or we'll finish faster and feel better. We laugh about it because every time it's the same drill.

Eternal optimists? Stubborn fools? Or typical, very determined ultra runners who seek to constantly push their limits?

We prefer to think of ourselves as the latter, of course!

But it's clearly getting harder and harder for both of us as we get older. Yes, there are some tough 60- and 70-year-old men out there who still crank out one or more 100s a year. There are many fewer women doing it, even in their 50s, let alone their 60s or 70s. Yet I still wonder why I can't be one of them.

It's not for lack of trying.

It drives us crazy to concede to age. Typical Baby Boomers, you say! If you've read much of our 2005 Appalachian Trail or 2006 ultra journals you know Jim and I tease each other about "not being 35 any more." We both had some excellent PRs (personal records) in our late 30s and early 40s. Jim ran a 2:47 marathon at age 36. I had an 8:20 50-miler at age 43. We still remember our lean, taut muscles and age-group wins from those days, and it's hard to reconcile our more recent back-of-the-pack results now in our late 50s - let alone those increasing DNFs.

There are lots of reasons we're slowing down and aging is just part of it. Other factors include:

  • Less speed work each year. When each of us transitioned to trail ultras (1992 for me, 1997 for Jim) we began reducing the amount of both speedwork and paved running we were doing. Now both are minor parts of our training - too minor. To run faster on trails, we have to train faster on trails, roads, and maybe the track. Yuck.

  • More injuries/slower healing. I had stress fractures and ankle sprains and various strained muscles when I did road races in my 30s and early 40s, but I always healed up pretty fast from them. Not any more. My injuries the past five years have been more serious (numerous falls, surgeries for two torn tendons in one ankle and two more in a toe on the other foot) and they have affected my training more significantly. It's a similar story for Jim, who's had four surgeries for foot neuromas, bunions, and tight gastroc muscles (calves) in his 50s. Each injury or surgery seems to set us back farther.

  • Lower mileage. I simply cannot do as much mileage now as when I was younger. I break down too easily. Jim is more sturdy and can probably handle as many miles as when he was younger, just not as fast as then.

I seem to have some additional factors to consider:

  • Hormone and joint challenges. My body hasn't been the same since osteoarthritis and menopause hit simultaneously at age 48. The only thing I've taken for the arthritis, which is now surely in every joint in my body, is Ibuprofen and the occasional Celebrex I can get free from doctors (my insurance won't cover them). Neither drug takes all the pain away in my hands, which are most affected, but I don't want to take anything stronger. Fortunately, my knees and hips rarely hurt. I've been on hormone replacement therapy for nine years, perhaps not the best solution in some regards (heart health, breast cancer) but the only effective way to control my hot flashes and night sweats. All this affects my running negatively but I refuse to let it stop me.

  • Affects from the Appalachian Trail Adventure Run. Last year, at age 56, I ran and walked 1,000 more miles than I've ever done in any one year since starting to run at age 30. That's a thousand more miles than when I was a young, fairly fast marathoner in my 30s. I was a lean, mean running machine when I got off the 2,175-mile Trail last September, and then my body and mind crashed in exhaustion for two months. After that, I was able to train decently for Bighorn (I thought). I don't think those miles and mountains ruined my knees or other joints. I fell a lot, however, and still do. My right arm and left thumb aren't the same after a nasty fall three months ago, but everything else seems to be in decent working order. Still, there are probably long-term affects from that monumental effort. I think they were worth it. I persevered, and with Jim's help, I succeeded beyond my expectations in realizing that dream.

  • Decreased mental drive. I hate to admit it, but DNFs bother me less and less as they accumulate. I train the best I can, I try as hard as I can during a race, and if it isn't working, I either get pulled for missing a cut-off or I stop so I don't do permanent damage to whatever hurts the most.  Finishing 100s (and even shorter distances) isn't as important to me since I've discovered how much fun adventure and journey runs are. I still get to see beautiful, remote scenery without the pressure of time cut-offs! I'll be doing more and more those trail runs as I age, and fewer ultra races.


Jim's DNF is easier to analyze than mine this time, so let's start with his training and race.

Inadequate mileage and speed work were his biggest obstacles at Bighorn and he knew it going in. He usually trains longer and has more races leading up to a 100-miler. He didn't have a good mileage base last summer and fall because of helping me reach my goal of running/walking the entire Appalachian Trail. He sacrificed his training and racing to crew for me from May to September.

In the late fall he had neuroma (foot) surgery and treatment for pre-cancerous skin growths. This interfered with his running for almost two months. He resumed training in late December, but by early spring he strained his back and narrowly avoided surgery. The ruptured disks pretty well healed themselves with physical therapy, chiropractic care, stretching, and strengthening and he was able to start training again in April. However, he had only two months to get ready for Bighorn, which he'd entered in January and didn't want to miss. He persevered in the high heat at Berryman to finish 50 miles three weeks before Bighorn, and he hoped it would be enough.

Unfortunately, this training prepared him for only 48 tough miles at Bighorn, not 100. 

More speed work would have helped him, too. Both of us tried the Maffetone/Mittleman method of "slow burn" training from December to March. We used heart rate monitors to be sure we weren't running over our target zones. We tried to give the method a fair shot, since it's worked well for a couple of our friends, but we never saw any improvement in speed vs. effort and gave it up by mid-March. In retrospect, we wish we'd done harder efforts earlier in the spring.

Jim's other major problem was not getting enough fluids and calories after the sun went down. He probably didn't get enough fluids during the heat of the afternoon through the canyon and up to Horse Creek Ridge, because he was already dragging by Dry Fork. He seemed to be getting enough calories from Perpetuem and aid station food until Footbridge at 30 miles. But he lost all interest in eating and drinking after Footbridge when it got dark and his body said it was time to sleep, not hike out of the Little Horn Canyon for eighteen rugged miles.

This same problem has dogged him in nearly every 100-miler he's done, even the ones he's finished. Without enough fluids and calories he goes slower and slower, feels worse and worse, gets nauseous or has dry heaves, and either misses cut-offs, feels like crap and voluntarily quits, or feels like crap and hangs on to the finish.

Non-runners are thinking about now, "Gee, that sounds like a lot of fun! Think I'll do one of those races!!"

Previously we attributed part of this problem to the codeine Jim took to relieve the pain of his neuromas during 100-milers. But he's not taking codeine any more, and still had digestive "issues."

Since I had so much success using Perpetuem energy drink daily on the Appalachian Trail last year for periods of up to 14 hours, I encouraged Jim to use it throughout this race as his main source of energy and see if he could stomach it during the night. Perp has proteins and fats, as well as carbs, for endurance activities lasting many hours. Jim's been training with it and likes the taste, but gets tired of anything, including Succeed's Clip 2 drink, after several hours, especially after the solution gets warm from carrying it. So he drank hardly any of it after 30 miles. He also wasn't drinking much plain water or Heed from the aid stations or eating any of the bountiful spreads of "real food."

It's no wonder he was more than ready to quit at Porcupine (48 miles). If there had been an accessible aid station and a way to leave the course before that, he'd have quit sooner.

Then there's the rattlesnake bite. That had to have affected Jim both mentally and physically during the race, but there is no way of knowing how much. The odds are pretty slim that he'll have to deal with that problem again in the future!

Jim knows what the problems were this time. The lack of training (mileage and speed work) should be remedied before his next 100-miler at Leadville in mid-August. After hitting a couple sections of the Colorado Trail south of Denver this weekend, we're driving to Silverton and will have the opportunity for many training miles at high altitude on the Hardrock course and Colorado Trail for several weeks. Altitude is always a problem for us at Leadville. We'll both be better trained by the time we get there than we've ever been previously.

Jim's other problems - dealing effectively with dehydration from heat and disinterest in drinking fluids, and lack of calories - are more difficult to resolve. Hopefully with more mileage, more speed work, and more altitude training the next two months, he'll be able to run fast enough on Leadville's road sections to compensate for his slower pace at night. If I don't run it (I'm not registered yet), I'll probably pace him the last 50 miles and encourage him to run more at night.


As for me . . . I think I had adequate mileage, long runs, and hill work to finish Bighorn. I did NOT do enough speed work, heat training, stretching, yoga, or massage. During the race, I may have mis-managed my fluids and electrolytes. That part is always a mystery to me.

I've never had muscle cramping like I've had this spring, not in 27 years of running nor on the Appalachian Trail last summer when there was more than adequate opportunity through the hot mid-Atlantic states to cramp up. Now it's turned into a major problem for me.

The first time it happened was at the Catawba Run-Around in early March near our home in Roanoke, VA. This is a low-key VHTRC fun run with about twenty people on a challenging 35-mile course on mountain trails where Jim and I like to train. It was the first hot day of the season, in the low 80s. No one was heat trained, but I seemed to suffer more than most. Although it seemed like I was drinking plenty of fluids and taking lots of Endurolytes, my calves, then hamstrings, then adductors cramped badly from about 13 to 23 miles, when I quit in agony. About every 20 minutes I had to stop to massage and straighten out whichever muscle was cramping before I could continue on. Any long or different strides would send my legs into spasms (a long reach up or down on a boulder, e.g., or crawling over a downed tree I couldn't bypass). Agony.

The second time I was in April on a long training run with Jim on David Horton's Promise Land course. It was hot again after a month of cooler weather, and we'd been running about 16 miles already. After a steamy climb up Apple Orchard Falls, my legs again started cramping badly on the next exposed, hot loop on the other side of the mountain. It hit my adductors more severely this time. Not only was it extremely painful every 15-20 minutes, I was also afraid of tearing the muscles. I sent Jim on ahead so he could run his pace, get the van, and come back for me at the next intersection. I had to cut that run short by a couple miles.

Then there was the Berryman debacle that I described in the May 28 entry: temps in the 90s (again, we'd had cooler weather in May at home and we weren't prepared for that heat-plus-humidity) and severe cramping that forced me to quit at the marathon mark and not complete 50 miles as intended. Not only did it strain/tear the muscle fibers more, I also didn't get in a 12-hour run that I could have used for Bighorn. By then, it was too late to do another really long run. I needed to taper for Bighorn.

I had no such problems after Berryman. It was hot there, and it remained hot (80s and 90s) in Dayton. We had two weeks' worth of good training runs on the Bighorn course and I had no muscle problems then, even on June 5 when we went up to Horse Creek Ridge and back (about 8,000 feet total gain/loss in 12+ miles).

Yet on race day, when it wasn't any hotter and I wasn't going any faster up to that same ridge (just not stopping every 200 feet to take pictures), my calves began cramping at only five miles! Then the hams went, and closer to Dry Fork, the adductors went.

How totally frustrating!!!

Now my job is to figure out why this is occurring and how to prevent it. I don't want this happening on the Colorado Trail or in future races. In our limited internet time, I've read everything I can find on heat, hydration, electrolytes, and cramping in the ultra listserve archives, Kevin Sayer's UltrunR site, and relevant web searches. I just can't believe I'm not taking in enough fluids and electrolytes. I think there are other problems.

An article I read on the University of Florida's College of Health and Human Performance site indicates that advancing age and a long history of running are both associated with the onset of leg cramping in older runners. Not much I can do about those two factors! (There's that age thing again, doggone it.)

Other problems various articles cited besides dehydration and loss of electrolytes were inadequate training in the heat, iron deficiency, problems with meds for hypothyroid conditions, and not enough massage. I'd already considered the massage thing, and this reinforced it.

Since 1982 I've been getting regular sports massages (every 2-4 weeks). However, during the AT trek last summer I cut back on them since we were on the road and I wasn't doing yoga or as much stretching on my own. I hardly ran in October and November because I was so exhausted. When I resumed training in December and throughout the spring, I tried to save money for this summer's trip by not getting massages.

Big mistake, I now believe. My muscles have become so tight that infrequent massages can't loosen them up. I've already begun stretching more regularly and have scheduled a massage in Sheridan tomorrow to start working on my sore muscles. I've got to pay more attention to stretching, yoga moves, and massage. Although my right hamstring and adductor were my major concern Friday when I was in the race, now both my calves feel like someone whacked them with a board. They are sore to touch and it hurts to walk unless I load myself up with Ibuprofen. There will be no running for a few days, and it's questionable how soon I can begin the Colorado Trail run.

So there you have it - analyses of our current state of body and mind. I have confidence I can do the Colorado Trail (CT) this summer. There are 28 segments and I have over two months to complete them. I'm encouraging Jim to do as many of them as possible, too (we can run opposite directions each day, using the one vehicle). Although he's discouraged about Bighorn, he's already planning his training schedule for Leadville.

I'll have to see how I'm feeling on the CT before deciding on Leadville. I felt strong on the AT after the first two months, then started breaking down. If I'm in top shape from all the climbing and altitude by August, I might consider running Leadville one more time. It would be my first finish; I've DNFd there twice at 50 miles because I barely missed the time cut-off. If I'm not able to do it this year, I'll never be able to do it!

You'll have to wait until August to see if I try it again. I'm not teasing; I just don't know yet.

A little humor now, since I don't have any relevant photos for this entry. Here's Jim playing tug-of-war with Cody and Tater today:

We can't believe the Bighorn segment of our trip is over already. We trained and thought about it for six months and spent over two weeks here in the area before the race. Then the weekend went by in a fast blur . . . and now it's all over.

We'll hang around Dayton for a few more days. I'll have a couple more entries regarding our further Wyoming adventures this week.

Not quite as "down and out" now that we've analyzed the heck out of our races,

"Runtrails & Company" - Sue Norwood, Jim O'Neil, Cody, and Tater

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