Runtrails' Rocky Mountain Journal
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" . . . I believe I speak for all the core organizers in saying that it breaks our hearts that we are
unable to enroll everyone who registered, excluding even a few people who have run
with us on several occasions, and others who I know were deeply hopeful of getting in . . . "
- Across the Years race committee member and fellow ultra runner Lynn David Newton in a letter
to the internet ultra list on August 7, 2007 regarding this year's race selection process 



The sport of ultra running has changed significantly since Jim and I began running 50K to 100-mile distances ten and fifteen years ago, respectively -- and we're considered relative newbies by the folks that were running them prior to that!

The biggest changes we've observed are in the increasing number of runners, especially younger ones, and a corresponding increase in the number of races. Veterans would also add that there are fewer road and track ultras now and a much higher percentage of trail races than there used to be back in the 1970s and 1980s.

There are a number of reasons for the explosion, chief among them the internet, publicity from high-profile runners like Dean Karnazes, and simply word of mouth as friends tell friends just how much fun it is to spend all day and/or night running in the woods or some other venue! Like every ultra runner before them, newbies discover they really can run farther with reasonable training than they think is humanly possible.

It's an empowering, addictive discovery.

Now I happen to think the big increase in numbers of ultra runners is generally A Good Thing for the runners and the sport. I'm all about being healthy, setting goals high, and challenging myself and I love it when I see others doing the same -- especially when over half the adult population in this country is overweight or obese.

With more runners there has been an-almost corresponding increase in the number of races available all over the country. We often hear about new races and new twists to appeal to runners who may be jaded by the current choices.

It's hard to beat the scenery at the relatively new (3rd annual) Grand Teton Runs held on Labor Day weekend in 2007. There is a marathon, 50-miler, and 100-miler. Photo by Sue

However, there's always a downside to just about anything, right? Here's the "bad news" part of the equation: in recent years it has become increasingly difficult to gain entry into several very popular races.

This is interesting, considering the hundreds of ultra marathons that are now available. But some have such spectacular scenery, stellar reputations, and/or bragging-right appeal that it's almost harder to get INTO them than it is to FINISH them. Those are the ones I'm going to emphasize in this entry.

My first nineteen years of running were in the Atlanta area. I watched first-hand as the Peachtree Road Race gained in popularity until it reached its critical mass of 50,000 runners in the early or mid-1990s and was capped at that huge number. There's a good reason the Atlanta Track Club was the second-largest running club in the country when I moved away in 1999; it had about 12,000 members then.

Why, besides being a, um, well-run organization?

Because all 12,000 members received early entry privileges into the Peachtree Road Race!  Non-members had to wait until the whole world knew about it and scramble for the remaining spots. For many people it was the only reason they joined the club. Only a couple hundred stalwarts ran or volunteered regularly at the numerous other races the club held.

Jim and I first encountered the phenomenon in the ultra running world when we entered the Leadville Trail 100-miler in 1999. I clearly remember we each paid $16 for overnight delivery of our entries to ensure we got in. Back then the race had begun to fill in just a week or two and we were paranoid about not getting in since our entries had to travel across several states. We did get in and (at the time) didn't regret that delivery cost. You just do what you have to do.


There are various ways for race directors to address the issue of too many runners wanting too few race slots.

The Leadville Trail management team dealt with it by steadily increasing their numbers until last year they allowed over 600 runners to register, making it the largest 100-miler in the country. But Leadville is an anomaly (in several ways!). The former Colorado mining town needs tourism to stay alive, and every dollar Ken and Merilee can bring in is applauded by most of the residents, even as they grumble about "losing their town" to all the runners and cyclists invading the little area every summer.

[Note: there is now yet another foot race in the Leadville Trail series, the Silver Rush 50-Miler on July 20, 2008. I'm just surprised it took this long to add a 50K or 50-miler to the other six running and cycling events.]

Jim and Sue at the finish of LT 100 in 1999 Sue got pulled at 50 miles 
but Jim finished his first 100-miler there! Photo by Richard Neslund

Most races don't have the luxury of being able -- or allowed -- to expand seemingly without limits, however. Most place restrictions on size based on what the venue or race director/management team can comfortably handle or they have governmental limitations on how many people can use the public lands where the race is run.

Across the Years is a good example of the former. You can see in photos on the website that the path around Nardini Manor sometimes gets a bit crowded with "only" 60-some runners at any one time. It's obvious that more people on the course wouldn't allow runners to freely run their best race. Limiting numbers also allows the volunteers to provide the high quality of service that they pride themselves on giving at ATY. Other races sometimes limit the number of participants because they can't get enough volunteers to handle more runners, the logistics just won't work with more runners, or it would strain the whole system too much .

Western States is the best recent example of races that are limited in number by a governmental agency. There's been quite a lively discussion on the internet ultra list following the early December lottery for entry into next June's race. The race committee is bound by the US Forest Service to limit the field to an average of 369 runners each year (long story having to do with the Granite Chief Wilderness Area and race management going over the USFS's head back in the early 1980s to run the Tevis Cup and WS100 through the area).

Thirty-four seconds to go! Runners anxiously await the
early morning start of the WS100 in June, 2004. Photo by Sue

After "two-time losers," former winners, and other selected runners were put on the list this year, the chances of the remaining hopefuls gaining entry through the open lottery  system were only about one in six, the lowest odds ever. About 800 people who registered didn't get in for 2008 and it doesn't look real optimistic in the future. Western States is the ultra equivalent of the Boston Marathon. Its appeal will probably always be there and many runners will want to do it at least one time. Been there, done that.

This, despite the fact that there are upwards of FORTY 100-milers in this country now and some have only a few dozen runners. It takes time for quality races like The Bear 100 and the Grand Teton 100 to catch on. Soon it might be nearly impossible to gain entry to those races, too.


So how do these races cope with the problem if they can't expand the field to accommodate all the runners who want in?

They resort to on-line registration, lotteries, or some other sort of unique selection process.


More and more ultra race directors are using online registration with active.com and other services to make the entry process easier for themselves and the runners (no checks involved). The process has gotten frenetic in some races, however, with all the available slots filled in a matter of MINUTES in some cases! The only way for the average runner to get in is to know exactly when registration opens, have fast fingers, and use anything but a slow dial-up connection.

You snooze, you lose. When the slots are filled, registration closes.

In 2003 I ran the popular 'Way Too Cool 50K in the vicinity of the Western States course near Sacramento. California is Race Central for ultras, with by far more races than any other state -- and a corresponding glut of ultra runners. Fortunately for me, living in Montana at the time, I didn't have to mail in an entry that would get there later than all the locals' entries. I was at the computer and ready to zap my entry as quickly as I could fill in the information (I studied the application early so I'd know what information I needed).

It worked. The race filled up within minutes and I was IN. We had a great trip to the race but it's not one we plan to run repeatedly. California is a long way from Virginia!

Jim took this photo of me at an aid station at the 2003 'Way Too Cool race.
His oldest son, Jim, Jr., is in the center.

We also have experience with two 100-milers in the East that have become so popular they fill up within a few hours or days: Umstead in NC and Massanutten in VA. Runners must enter as soon as entries open (several months before the races) to have any chance of getting in -- or even being placed on a wait list. Of course, a lot can happen in six or eight months, so runners who gain entry initially may not be able to run the races. At least these two races offer refunds with advance notice of withdrawal so you don't lose all your entry fee. That's still fairly uncommon with races, and we appreciate the option.

Jim registered for Massanutten last winter before having any first-hand knowledge of the course. He knew it would fill up quickly. He got in. Then he did the first VHTRC training run on the course. He hated all the rocks and promptly withdrew so someone on the wait list would have plenty of time to train. Jim entered knowing 1) he could withdraw later without wasting a coveted slot (since there's a waiting list) and 2) he could get most of his money back if he gave adequate notice..

Massanutten rocks, literally and figuratively, during a training run 1-14-07. Photo by Sue

We both registered for the April, 2008 Umstead race this past August when the entries came out. The race closed quickly in 2007 when Jim entered the first time and we knew we'd better get our dibs in early for the coming year's race. Then I injured my knee and subsequently got the bad news that I'm bone-on-bone in one knee and nearly so in the other. My running days now have a definite limit and running another 100-miler so soon after ATY is not an option any more. I withdrew after my MRI results, got my money back, and someone else slid into my spot. They have plenty of time to train for the race. I'm happy, they're happy. (Thanks, Blake and Joe!)

Jim comes into the start/finish area during Umstead 2007. Hannah Lugiano,
wife of co-RD Joe Lugiano, tirelessly helps with timing all day and night.  Photo by Sue

Unfortunately for runners, the majority of races do NOT refund entry fees if you're unable to run the race and many don't have wait lists, either. Race directors with no wait lists probably count on a certain attrition rate to get the number of starters down to where they really want it. Different races, different philosophies and willingness to deal with the extra work that both options entail.


The use of lotteries is becoming increasingly common in overly-popular races. There is a certain time period in which runners may submit their applications, usually through the mail, and a drawing is held. Some lotteries are open to the public, such as Western States. Others are in-house and announced later, such as ATY. We've won some lotteries and lost at least one.

We lucked out in the Western States lottery the only two times we tried to enter the race. We both got in on our first try in 2001 and Jim repeated in 2004. I know people who seem to "win" the WS lottery every year, and others who've used the "two-time loser" option one or more times to get in (after "losing" the lottery twice in a row, the runner is automatically entered the next year as long as he or she qualifies again and jumps through all the proper hoops).

Jim wasn't so lucky with Wasatch this year, however. He ran and finished the race in 2002 when it wasn't as difficult to enter. But as it gained popularity, the approximate 125 slots filled so quickly the RD instituted a lottery for the 2007 race and Jim didn't make it in with about 50-50 odds. His consolation letter indicated he'd have double the chance to get into the 2008 race. He hasn't decided whether to try again or not. It's tempting, since his odds are better this time than last.

I don't know whether I prefer the odds of speed-registration online or taking my chances in a lottery for races like this that fill up so fast. There are advantages and disadvantages to each method.


Two of the most unique entry procedures for super-popular ultras with which we are familiar are for the Hardrock Hundred and Across the Years 24-, 48-, and 72-Hour Runs.

For several years Hardrock has used a very complicated selection process to fill its 130 or so slots. Because the race traverses sensitive alpine and sub-alpine terrain, it's critical to keep the number low. But it's such a beautiful, difficult, and well-managed race that double or triple the number of runners who are able to meet the strict qualifying standards apply than there are available slots to fill. Fortunately, there is a wait list and usually another 20-30 runners can usually get in during the six months between selection (January) and race day (July).

Lynn DiFiore took this picture of us waiting at Grant-Swamp Pass for
Hardrock runners to climb up the insanely-steep trail. 7-14-07.

Hardrock's selection process involves "tickets." The more tickets runners have, the better their chances of gaining entry. You can read the entire drill on the Hardrock website if interested in the details.

Here's my simplified explanation of the selection process. The more times runners have participated in the race, the better their chances of getting in again -- whether they finished the race or not. Top finishers receive more tickets than other finishers or non-finishers. Runners who participate on two trail work days (which is hard work!) receive a ticket. And runners who do a significant amount of other volunteer work, such as captaining an aid station, receive one or more tickets.

On lottery day, runners with the most tickets have the highest chance of getting into the race. Those with only one or two have the lowest chance of being chosen, just like in any lottery or raffle. Since it's a game of chance, some folks with several tickets don't get in and some with only one do get in. It's pure luck. Being a previous winner doesn't even guarantee entry into the race. Just ask David Horton (from a safe distance!).

Jim has vacillated in his desire to run Hardrock but we both love hanging out in Silverton and helping with the race. He knew that being an aid station captain would probably garner him a ticket if he ever decided to run the race so he volunteered to co-captain the Cunningham aid station with Dave Coblentz in 2006. I was also very involved with it (part of the marriage vow, you know?). That year Cunningham was open for about 21 hours because it was the last aid station (this difficult race has a 48-hour time limit). Jim and I put in many hours of work before and after the race, too.

Giant Tinker Toy? Sue helps Jimmie Wrublick (in black) set up our aid station tent at Cunningham on 7-9-07. Photo by Jim

Jimmie Wrublick holds the tent up while Jim (rear) and a passing Hardrock runner (showing his crew where to go on race day) try to find a missing link. Photo by Sue on 7-9-07

This past summer Jim was sole captain of Cunningham with me as assistant. Our duties required as many hours before and after the race as it did last year even though we were the first aid station this time and not open nearly as long during the race (direction is changed on the race loop each year). Jim also put in four full days of trail work on the course to earn two more tickets. So now he has four tickets and a decent chance to gain entry if he ever wants to run Hardrock and can qualify for it.

Cunningham AS on the first day of the 2007 Hardrock Hundred. Above, front row: Lynn DiFiore, Lianne Jollon, Brent, Chris Gerber. Back row: Paul Ralyea, Gary Rieder, David and Trilby Gordon, Scott Brockmeier, Joe Lugiano, Mike Rutledge, Steve Stull, Sue Norwood, Jim O'Neil. I don't remember who took the photo of our fine staff.

But even if Jim never decides to run Hardrock we'll still volunteer our time at this race because it is so much fun and we want to help maintain the quality of the race for the runners. It's not easy to find experienced volunteers who will come back every year to work a race. We've also put in a lot of hours at Leadville and several other races over the years.

There are numerous entries and photos in this journal from 2006 and 2007 regarding both of these races and nearby trails. Just go to the topics pages for each year on the frame at left.


I mentioned ATY in the section above regarding more "unique" entry procedures. Since it's our next big race let me explain how we got in.

ATY is an exceptionally well-run event that has become so popular in the last couple of years that it is nearly impossible for a first-time participant to gain entry unless they're adopted by the "ATY Family" or get extremely lucky in the race's lottery. Lynn Newton describes it well in his 2006 race report (he's run all three distances, and the 72-hour event the last six years):

" . . . The 2006 edition will be known as the year of the ATY Family. The race has numerous participants who return faithfully year after year. These include runners who are not exactly in the elite category. Elite and big name runners are as welcome as anyone else to sign up for the race, but it is current official ATY protocol *not* to cater to or attempt to attract them, certainly not in preference to the roster of loyal supporters that return annually. Forty runners have run the race between five and fourteen times. Race founder Harold Sieglaff has done it 23 times. Needless to say, there will always be a place for Harold as long as he wishes to continue running.

After last year's race the organizers realized we had a megahit on our hands. If the race was to have open enrollment as in the past, it would sell out in minutes, with many of our old friends being left behind. Not good.

Therefore, at a committee meeting some parameters were set by means of which we defined a list of runners we call the ATY Family. We extended advance private invitations to them in May to register for the race. The response was overwhelming and immediate. By the time general registration opened, there were only five race spots still available. Within ten minutes of opening we detected fifteen people hitting the web site attempting to get those spots. Prudently, we also arranged for a waiting list, and before long we had to stop taking additions to that as well.

As race day approached cancellations enabled a few more new ones to participate. A quick visual check indicates about 20 new ones of 105 total runners, with at least four of those being relatives of veteran runners.

The next race we intend to switch to a lottery system to choose runners. No matter what happens, some people will be left out because there are stringent limits to the number of people that available resources will support . . . "

Mark Dorian and John Geesler run by the manor
house in the 2006 race. Photographer unknown.

Fast-forward to 2007. In a letter to the internet ultra list on August 7, Lynn wrote the following about enrollment in this year's race:

" . . . We [the ATY committee] have also agreed not to discuss the criteria by which selection was made, other than in these general terms: Some runners were invited, including some long-time friends of ATY, and also some new ones; and some people were selected by means of a weighted lottery. The results are what you see.

We are excited to see the best field ever in the race for this year.

At the same time, it has been difficult for us. I believe I speak for all the core organizers in saying that it breaks our hearts that we are unable to enroll everyone who registered, excluding even a few people who have run with us on several occasions, and others who I know were deeply hopeful of getting in.

There *is* a waiting list for those people who wish to be on it, so no one who wanted to get in is entirely without hope of yet making it . . ."

Some of the flags representing runners' states and countries. Runners wear a bib with their names and state flags on their backs (butts!) for easy identification by other runners.
Photographer unknown.

Jim and I fall under the category of new-ones-who-were-invited-to-participate for the first time and I'll explain how that happened because it illustrates so beautifully how volunteering at ultras is a win-win situation for everyone involved. 


Some luck in our timing, and a lot of hard work!

Although there are several key members of the ATY committee who make decisions affecting the race, host and ultra runner Rodger Wrublick has considerable sway. Rodger built the path at Nardini Manor that is now used as the ATY course specifically for this race several years ago when the race was at a critical juncture. Without the Wrublick's generous offer to provide a more permanent venue, the race may have been discontinued. Instead, it has become wildly popular because of all the reasons noted in my last entry 

The Wrubliks have also become heavily "invested" in the Hardrock Hundred race. Rodger loves running and being otherwise involved with that race so much that he and Tana decided to make Silverton, Colorado their second home (they may consider it their main home now). They even purchased and now manage the old Wyman Hotel there.

Part of Jim's group doing trail work on Handies Mountain 7-7-07 for Hardrock. Photo by Jim

Jim and I got to know the Wrublicks and their young adult son, Jimmie, in July at the Hardrock race while we were sharing multiple volunteer tasks described above. One day while Jim was working with Rodger he mentioned our interest in ATY without any clue as to how difficult it is to get into the race. Lo and behold, Rodger invited us to enter because of all the volunteering we've done at Hardrock and other ultras. We thought about it for, oh, about five seconds and said we'd LOVE to participate!

ATY has been on our list of races to do for several years. We considered entering in 2002 but decided not to. We don't remember the reason now, but we still have a file with race and training information and e-mails to and from Lynn Newton and RD Paul Bonnett regarding the race that year. Entry wasn't difficult back then. Entry became difficult soon after the race moved to Nardini Manor! But we didn't know that.

Runners who have worked ATY over the years or have otherwise demonstrated their willingness to "give back to the sport" at other races are given top priority for entry into ATY. So are runners who have shown their loyalty to ATY or the Javelina Jundred that Jimmie directed for a couple years.

Needless to say, we feel very honored to even be IN this prestigious race and we want to do well there for a lot of reasons. We've trained hard for it. And when we aren't sleeping or running our respective 24-hour races we'll be working several six-hour shifts throughout the holiday weekend, helping out wherever we are needed.

Beautiful sunset over the canal adjacent to Nardini Manor at ATY.
Photo taken by Don Charles Lundell at the 2006 race.

ATY is both a reward for past hard work and an opportunity to become involved with another high-quality race. I can't think of a better way to celebrate the New Year or our seventh wedding anniversary on New Year's Day than this!


There are ultras for everyone, from low-key "no fee, no shirt, no whining" Fat Ass-style runs (popular in early January!) to big, expensive, glitzy affairs like Western States -- and everything in between. Jim and I have sampled the entire range and love the diversity. We're game to try just about any race once.

Some folks eschew races with too many rules and high fees and large numbers of runners, preferring more "pure" runs with less hoopla. Others are intrigued by one or more races that have become so popular it's almost impossible to gain entry -- and they'd like to get in at least one time to see what all the fuss is about -- or they have done it previously and KNOW why it's a great race, but they have problems getting in now because the race has gotten too popular.

How do they get in?

With considerable advance planning and a lotta luck!

Runners who have been doing marathons the past few years are probably more familiar with races closing in a few minutes or hours than people like us who have run primarily ultras the last 10-15 years. This is a more recent phenomenon in the ultra world. Although Jim and I pretty much lucked out with our timing regarding ATY, we've had to use our O-C planning skills in recent years to get into some of our races on time.

We've learned some important lessons about getting into races with more interested runners than available slots and share some coping strategies here:

1. Understand which races are the most difficult to enter (due to numbers, not qualifying standards) and plan your race schedule well ahead, sometimes by as much as a year or two. Some of these races can sneak up on you when you've had plenty of time previously to enter but suddenly the race fills up much more quickly the next time -- and you inadvertently miss getting in. Some race directors will notify the internet ultra list when a race is almost full, but most don't. If you want to run a particular race really badly, enter ASAP when registration opens, then cross your fingers that you don't get injured.

Scheduling so far in advance can be tricky. If you think it's a pain in the rear to figure out all the logistics for five or six ultras a year, try scheduling an ultra almost every weekend like Rob Apple! This guy has to be the most prolific ultra racer in modern history. In the past few years he's wracked up over 500 ultra finishes from one coast to the other at distances from 50K to 100 miles. He recently ran race #504 at Mountain Masochist:

L to R: Bill Turrentine, the ever-smiling Rob Apple, RD David Horton, and Bill Gentry right after finishing the Mountain Masochist 50-miler 11-3-07.  Photo by Sue

Imagine the spread sheet Rob needs to accomplish this feat! All those race entry requirements and other details, all the travel arrangements. And he's always got a huge smile on his face! He's one of the nicest people you'll ever meet. Remember Rob the next time you get frustrated trying to get into a popular race.

2. Know the details of the selection criteria/process of the super-popular race(s) you want to enter. When do entries open? close? Do fees increase closer to the time of the race? Do you need to run one of a specific list of races to qualify (as for Hardrock)? Do you need a particular time and/or distance in a qualifier? What is the time period in which you must qualify? (Latter two are pertinent to Western States, e.g.)  Is there a volunteer requirement? What are the details of that?

You get the idea. Do your homework. Arm yourself with relevant information so you're ready for a lightning-fast online registration process or to have all the proper documentation for a lottery drawing.

3. If you can send in a SASE to receive early-entry information and an application, use that option. You might be able to fill out an envelope at the end of the race for early notification the next year. Some RDs send courtesy notices or applications to folks who ran the race the prior year before opening entry to everyone else.

4. Consider running and volunteering at your favorite race each year so you become part of the race "family." As you've seen, some very popular races like ATY and Hardrock highly value that loyalty and commitment.

Mendota Ridge / Virginius Pass trail work for Hardrock, 7-3-07. Photo by Jim

5. Know whether you can get a refund if real life (injury, illness, work or family commitments, etc.) intrudes on your race plans and you can't run the race. Are you willing to sign up six months in advance and lose your $200 entry fee? Is there a final withdrawal date to receive a full or partial refund?

6. Consider whether you want to get on a waiting list if you aren't initially selected for the race. Some ultra-popular races have wait lists (like Hardrock, ATY, and Massanutten) and some don't (such as Wasatch and Western States). Find out how many people from the wait list got in the previous year or two. If you're high enough up to possibly get in, train for the race (or another one close in time) and hope for the best. I've seen runners from the Hardrock wait list get the go-ahead to run just a few hours before this grueling race!

Don't enter a race frivolously if there is no wait list. If you aren't serious about training adequately to finish the race, it's not kosher to take the spot of someone who is. That doesn't mean you're selfish if you trained, did your best, and DNF'd or missed your goal. That's entirely different. It doesn't matter as much if there is a wait list and you withdraw in a timely manner when you realize you aren't prepared to do justice to the race -- another person can take your spot if you give adequate notice. And it doesn't matter at all if anyone who wants to enter can get into the race. I'm talking about the races that have two or three times the interest as availability.

7. Play by all of the rules. If the race policy is "no refunds," don't ask for one even if there's a death in your family!! RDs have innumerable expenses, some not obvious to the runners, and most of them aren't in it for a profit. Some end up using personal funds to cover expenses. And if it IS a business for profit, like Leadville, you are even less likely to get a refund -- they are there to make money.

Scott Jurek (in yellow shirt) helps other Hardrock volunteers with trail work in the Bear Creek area above Ouray on 7-5-07, several days before he set a new course record. Photo by Jim

8. Races aren't democracies. If you don't like the rules of a particular race, find another race instead of griping or trying to change the rules for your personal benefit. Better yet, start your own race and make your own rules!

9. If you don't get into a popular race because you lost the lottery or didn't/couldn't do the online registration fast enough, learn from the experience and choose from among the dozens or hundreds of other interesting ultras in this country. Some of the best are virtually unknown. Try a newer race (although doing one the very first year involves some risks) or one totally different than what you've done before -- such as we're doing in a few days at ATY. Or make up your own adventure run somewhere interesting, either alone, with a crew, or with buddies. Those can be more fun than "real" races. Be creative and adventuresome.

10. Remember that gorgeous view of the west side of the Grand Tetons near the beginning of this entry? (Yeah, I know that was a good while ago because this is insanely long!)  That is but one of many awesome scenes along the Grand Teton Runs course. Here's my last tip: these races (a trail marathon, 50-miler, and 100-miler) are gems and I predict they will all become difficult to enter before long. You can see lots of photos from the course in the journal entries I wrote in early September. Get in while you can!

Next entry: how two mountain trail runners (us!) trained to run and walk for 24 hours on a flat, looped course at ATY


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

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2007 Sue Norwood and Jim O'Neil