Runtrails' Rocky Mountain Journal
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"I'm never doing this again."
- your basic frustrated ultra runner after a DNF,
or a very tired one at about mile 75 in a successful 100-mile race 


[Note: all the photos in this entry except the first one are Jim's from forays he's taken around the Leadville area: Clear Creek Reservoir after it was drained and the mining district above town where he likes to acclimate.]

We're still hanging out in Leadville even though the race was over four days ago. There are several reasons why we just can't seem to leave:


As you'll remember, our truck chose the most inopportune time to become impaired: half an hour before I was to use it to crew Jim during the hundred-miler on Saturday/Sunday.

Jim's first thought was that he'd gotten some bad fuel on Thursday, but a local friend who buys diesel fuel for his F-250 at the same station has never had problems there. While Jim was running the race, he thought up some other potential reasons but had to wait until he was done to check them out.

The first chance Jim got to look at the truck was Sunday morning while the last few runners were going by us on Sixth Street two blocks from the finish line. He decided that maybe a clogged fuel filter was perhaps the cause of the sluggishness, shaking, and weird engine noises, although he'd changed the filter just before we left home at the end of May. He put in the new one he'd brought on the trip, checked the cam position sensor, and looked for loose wires, etc. Then he drove the truck to the parking lot behind the Laundromat on the north end of town so he look some more while I did a load of laundry.

The truck still sounded like it was going to self-destruct. OK, let's check some more:

Isn't this what everyone wants to do after running 50 miles?? Jim practically has to crawl inside the cavernous engine compartment to see all the various gizmos and whatchamacallits under the hood. As uncomfortable as this looks, he decided the stretching was probably better than sitting in a lounge chair all day.

[That's Mt. Massive in the background of the photo above, with some menacing storm clouds. It's about 11:30 AM on Sunday. Rain struck during the noon-to-1 PM race awards ceremony but was gone by the time everyone left. At least none of the final runners got wet at the end of their trek.]

Another local friend had recommended the mechanic at the Conoco station nearby. Jim drove the truck there and left it until Dan-the-mechanic could diagnose the problem the next morning. Meanwhile, Jim spent several hours on the internet Sunday afternoon investigating various possibilities and came up with some good information to discuss with the mechanic.

On Monday Dan, a former Ford-dealer mechanic, hooked up the truck to a computer. At first it diagnosed four bad injectors, which would have been VERY expensive to repair. Dan decided that wasn't very likely and kept looking manually for problems (bless him!). He discovered a loose plug under the left valve cover. The plug needed replacing. Jim could repair the plug, but couldn't have gotten the valve cover off so he left the job to Dan.

However, Jim DID find an even cheaper "fix" to the problem, a $17 clip Ford makes for this "known problem." He printed out what he found on the internet and discussed it with Dan, who agreed to order two of those (one for each side) instead of a $200 harness.. Although the parts were late coming in the next day, Dan managed to fix the problem that afternoon (Tuesday) and we got our truck back -- sounding and handling like it's supposed to! The labor cost puts a dent in the wallet, but not as deeply as we expected. We've been "had" before by out-of-town mechanics, especially at dealerships, so we're wary and proactive. This guy was honest and helped us keep the cost reasonable.

We reaped additional benefits in this process, too. Remember those new overheating problems we had on 11,000-foot passes going to Silverton and Leadville? Jim has already talked to several mechanics about it, but Dan had another idea: using a totally different kind of air filter that keeps the engine cooler. Dan could have ordered and installed one, but he suggested Jim research THAT on the internet, too, since it's something Jim can install. Jim found one for a good price, although much more expensive than your average air filter, from a manufacturer in North Carolina. Now we're hanging out in Leadville until it arrives on Friday or Monday.

Beauty found in the drained Clear Creek Reservoir

This morning Jim was getting ready to take Cody for a run on the trail at Turquoise Lake -- and the truck wouldn't start. It's always something! That problem was more obvious: one or both batteries were low (he knows why). It took a while to get the batteries charged up. Once they were, Jim decided to get two new ones since one is original equipment (seven years old) and the other isn't heavy duty enough. He found a better price on the batteries he wanted here at a parts dealer in Leadville than on the internet, bought them before they realized their price was lower than anywhere else, and installed them himself this afternoon. We gave the newer one to Jack and disposed of the old one.

After spending several hundred dollars on parts and labor for these three repairs, at least we'll have some additional peace of mind before heading out on the next leg of our 2007 Rocky Mountain Adventures.


On Monday after the race we were already looking for reasons to stay in the Rockies and not go home yet. Our business here was finished after LT100 but we didn't want to leave Colorado.

Our original plan was to either go home soon after the race or stay a few more days so I could run parts of the Continental Divide Trail. But I've given up on the CDT this year for various reasons and I'm unable to do any more 14ers right now (more about that in #3 below). We've been gone since the end of May and it's time we "should" go home. Right?

Wrong. It's too hot there. The eastern U.S. has been broiling with 100-degree temps recently. Even though it's "down" to the 90s now in Roanoke, we have no desire to head back until it's cooled off a bit more than that. We've been living with low humidity and temps in the 40s to 60s and the occasional 70 degrees Fahrenheit for three months. We remember what it was like as soon as we hit Denver after leaving Leadville last year, and it only got worse as we entered the humid zone east of the Mississippi. It took weeks to acclimate to the heat and humidity. So we're exhibiting some avoidance behavior.

Close-up of birds in Clear Creek where reservoir has been drained

We probably shoulda stayed in Montana instead of moving to Virginia three years ago! But there's that s-n-o-w thing, a four-letter word to us. We love our home in Virginia. We're just happier there when it's cooler from September to April or May. The Rockies suit us just fine in the summer. We consider them our "second home."

And like last year, we've had such a wonderful time out here in the mountains that it's hard to go back to "real life." I think I could live in this camper year round, even though there are definite advantages to having a home base. So we're prolonging the fun a couple more weeks.


I wish I could be running more of the CDT or climbing 14ers now, but I can't. Hopefully this isn't a permanent run-ender.

I apparently over-did it ten days ago when I had that terrific Mt. Oxford-Mt. Belford climb (see August 13 entry). Although my knees didn't bother me any more than usual during the climbs and descents that day, it's obvious that 12,000 feet of elevation gain and loss in eleven miles was the "straw that broke the camel's back."

I've had increasing pain and lack of flexibility in both knees since I put more strain on them than an arthritic 56-year-old woman should have two years ago on the Appalachian Trail (2,200 miles in 4+ months and about a million feet of elevation gain and loss). But I've been able to continue running and hiking since then, including another 500 miles on the Colorado Trail, some 50K races, and several 14ers. No matter what the consequences are, I'm grateful to have had the opportunity to do the AT and I don't regret doing it for one minute.

It may have been my last ultra hurrah, though.

A few weeks before we left home in May my left knee began feeing unstable periodically and unexpectedly. I sometimes feel like I am going to fall, but I never have. It also occasionally locks up and I have to massage and stretch the outer quad to get the knee to straighten out. Strangely, this has never occurred when I'm running or hiking, only when I'm walking around the house, camper, or another building and most often when I'm making a right turn. Weird.

View of Leadville and Turquoise Lake from the mining district east of town

I probably should have tried seeing my orthopedist before leaving home, but the sensation happened so infrequently that I blew it off. And I got away with it until Belford-Oxford Day.

The next day (August 14) I couldn't put my full weight on the knee and could barely move around the camper or take care of the dogs outside. My knee was swollen, sore, and wouldn't bend even to a right angle. I figured it'd get back to "normal" soon with rest, elevation, and ice, but it took several days for it to gradually improve. I was afraid I couldn't crew effectively for Jim four days later. I managed to get around OK on Saturday. However, walking three or four miles that day made it worse on Sunday.

Since we've decided to stay here a bit longer, I made an appointment Wednesday with a local doctor, a general practitioner, to get his opinion. Jim saw Dr. Callen a couple weeks ago about a worrisome spot on his forehead (a non-cancerous AK, it turned out). Jim liked him. I've already made an appointment in mid-September at my orthopedic practice at home and assume I'll need an MRI then, but I mainly wanted to see what Dr. Callen suspects and get advice on what to do -- and not do --in the meantime.

Dr. Callen listened to my symptoms and ordered X-rays at the adjacent hospital. The X-rays, the first I've had in about fifteen years for either knee, indicate there is very little cartilage remaining in my left knee. No surprise there, considering my age (58), family history of arthritis, and 28 years of distance running!

It's still not something any runner wants to hear, however, especially an ultra runner.

Dr. Callen also warned me that I could have some loose and/or torn cartilage and/or a ligament problem that's causing the instability and locking up. I'll have to wait for an MRI for a definitive diagnosis. I'm trying to be optimistic, hoping surgery won't be necessary. I've heard too many horror stories regarding knee surgery over the years to want to experience that.

Dr. Callen clearly has no sympathy for silly ultra runners, especially aging ones, but I'm glad I went to see him. I got a copy of the X-rays and the radiologist's and doctor's reports will be faxed to my orthopedist's office in Roanoke. I'll be that much ahead when I get home. Meanwhile, he offered pain meds (I refused because generic acetaminophen is adequate) and said to continue wearing the stretchy knee support I'm using because it stabilizes the joint pretty well and doesn't restrict movement, ice the knee when needed (no swelling now), and walk for exercise if it feels OK. No running, of course.

Today I went out for my first sustained walk since the ones on Saturday while I was crewing and my knee felt fine the whole 35 minutes on a flat dirt road. Since I've had of never being able to run or hike again, it felt great to get out and walk!! Tater enjoyed it, too. Neither dog has been out running much with us the last ten days and they're getting pretty wild. I know the feeling.

Low morning clouds hang over the Arkansas Valley, as seen from the mining district above Leadville

Cody and Jim had a pleasant six-mile hike and run around the lake, Jim's first run since Saturday. His legs felt pretty good but he doesn't want to overdo it before his next race. And that would be the Hinson Lake 24-Hour Run in North Carolina at the end of September, right?

Nope. Mr. "I'm not doing another one of these" has signed up for another one of these on Labor Day weekend!


I've learned in recent years that when Jim DNFs a 100-mile race he's eager to find another one soon to take advantage of the training he has. I've done it, too. It's that "all dressed up and nowhere to go" feeling. You usually know what you did wrong to cause a DNF and you're certain you can do it right the next time. And you just had a great 50-mile or 66-mile training run, right? So let's find another 100-miler that's convenient!!

It didn't take long to find one, either -- just a bit of internet research on Monday. Since Jim's still toying with the idea of entering Hardrock in January, he needs to finish one of its qualifiers. There are about ten races that can be used to qualify for Hardrock, all but one a mountainous western race (the only one in the East is Massanutten).

We're already out West. That's convenient. We'll just stay a little longer . . .

About half of these qualifiers have already occurred this year: Massanutten, Bighorn, Western States, Tahoe Rim Trail, Leadville. The choices remaining are Wasatch (great race, great timing, and Jim loves it -- but it's full), Angeles Crest (too far away), Cascade Crest (too soon -- this weekend -- and too far away), Plain (no way! dismal finish rate), The Bear (one of Jim's favorite races, but not until the end of September -- that's pushing it too much re: time away from home), and Grand Teton -- ah, perfect! It's in two weeks, not too far away, not full, and it has a 36-hour time limit.

But our knowledge of the race was slim. All I could remember is that it's a multiple-loop course and the weather was terrible the first year. It's been run only twice and it's still a small race. We had to do some homework, quickly.

Jim went to the college library (he's been there a lot this month) to read every page of the web site, print out all the information he could, and search the ultra list for previous reports. We don't have access to reports in our old Ultra Running magazines and there was only one report in the ultra archives. But the one that's there is very complete, written by Rick Sandison after last year's race. It has valuable information we can both use. Thanks, Rick!

Jim also talked to one of the race directors on the phone, is corresponding with Rick, and has investigated camping options in the nearby national forest and at the resort where the race HQ and start/finish area are located. We should be able to camp free or inexpensively when we get up there.

Abandoned mine building in the hills above Leadville; Sawatch Range in the distance

Jim's psyched that he has another chance to redeem himself and qualify for Hardrock. I'm psyched because I love going somewhere new (although we've both been to the Tetons) and this gives us another two weeks in the Rocky Mountains.

We'll stay at Jack's until the air filter is delivered. That's good because Jim can maintain his altitude acclimatization better here at 10,200 feet the next few days than near the race start. The Teton race ranges from  6,730 to 9,840 feet. Jim will be in excellent shape for the altitude there. Can you be over-acclimated? He'll probably feel like he's flying at 7,000 or 8,000 feet!

I think he's gonna do great as long as the weather is decent. He's trained, hungry for a finish, and does well on mountain courses with more generous time limits, like The Bear and Wasatch.

Stay tuned for photos and stories from the Teton area next week. We know several of the people in the 50- and 100-mile races (Hans-Dieter Weisshaar, Monica Schultz, Olga Varlamova, Milada Copeland, Kevin O'Neall, and Eric and Elizabeth Hodges) and we'll make some new friends. I won't be able to get out much on trails to take photos but I'll get what I can from roads and encourage Jim to take the camera with him if he does any training runs on the course.

This is gonna be fun! Wish I could do the concurrent marathon or 50-miler, but I'll be happy playing the role of Crew Babe again.

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

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2007 Sue Norwood and Jim O'Neil