Runtrails' Rocky Mountain Journal
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"If I waited for everything to be perfect in training, I'd probably never make it to a starting line."
- elite ultra runner Paul DeWitt in his ATY training blog December 9, 2007

Paul makes an excellent observation, one that applies to preparations for many of the races Jim and I have run the last 28-30 years. Training plans almost never go exactly like we want because real life  intrudes on our play time.

We started our ATY-specific training in early October with the best of intentions to be ready for a great 24-hour race on December 29 and here we are with a week and a half to go, wondering what we could have done better. Tapering brings out the jitters regardless of how fast or slow a runner you are. This felt OK for six or eight hours, but will I be able to keep going for twenty-four?? Did I do enough long runs, get enough mileage?

Paul DeWitt has the goal of running a whopping 165 miles (266K) at ATY on December 31, which would set a new US record for a road 24-hour event. (ATY's surface is considered road, not track; there are separate records for track events.) I hope there will be someone close enough to help push him to a new record. At age 39 this Colorado resident has won three very different 100-milers (Leadville twice, Umstead, and Vermont) and holds several course records at various ultra distances. It will be interesting to watch him try to break 100 miles in his goal time of 12 hours and 55 minutes on his way to setting the 24-hour record.

In contrast, Jim is hoping he's done adequate training to reach 100 miles in 24 hours. That is a popular but challenging goal for mid-pack ultra runners. I think he'll do it!

It's refreshing to read the training logs of elite runners like Paul DeWitt and Scott Jurek. It's a pretty recent phenomenon for national and world class runners to share their training schedules and race plans on the internet for all the world to see. Scott was planning to run ATY at one point but he decided he needed a break. He has had a stellar year at a variety of ultra venues around the globe and doesn't believe he can put forth his best effort at ATY this year. He's wise to rest up and regroup for fast times in his 2008 races.

Other runners can learn a lot from the work ethic and training methods that athletes like Paul and Scott employ. And they seem more like they're one of the rest of us mere mortals when they express some self-doubts before a race - such as Paul's recent comment above and Scott's concerns after a soccer injury a few days before Hardrock last summer. I don't think their remarks are just "posturing."

Here are links to Scott's and Paul's blogs:.





I laid out our (mostly my) training plans for ATY in an entry about ten weeks ago, just after we ran the Hinson Lake 24-Hour Run. That was Jim's and my first attempt at a fixed-time event lasting one day. I had every intention of following my plan, with any necessary adjustments as I proceeded, and am pleased to report that I followed it pretty closely. I feel fairly optimistic I can meet my mileage goal at ATY.

Hill training at Explore Park on October 17 (left) and November 13 (right)

Jim feels less ready to meet his mileage goal than I do, mostly because he set a higher standard for himself than I did. He wants to get at least 100 miles, while I set my goal at "only" 75 miles because I wasn't sure how many training miles I'd be able to safely run with my rapidly deteriorating knees. I still think 75 miles is realistic, and "secretly" hope to be able to do more than that. But even 75 miles would give me a female age-58 course record at ATY (they keep course records for every single age, male and female, in all three races).

I certainly have no fantasies of beating the women's age 55-59 US road record for the distance! The amazing Sue Ellen Trapp set the current record for 126 miles at age 55 in 2001. I believe she's also held the current US female open road record of 145 miles since 1993 - when she was 47 years old. The men's 55-59 US age record is also unattainable for Jim this year at 141 miles (Roy Pirrung, age 57, 2005). (ATY is certified for road records because of the crushed and packed stone surface. Track records mostly reflect a little higher mileage than road records for various reasons.)


I've had a different perspective than Jim about this race and running in general the last three months since I learned how badly my knees are worn. Knowing that my ultra running days are seriously limited now, I've come to an acceptance that this race may be my last really long one. I don't even know how many more short runs or races I'll be able to do in the future.

This realization makes me grateful for every step I can run right now because each one could be my last. That has definitely helped motivate me to train hard yet smart for ATY. It may be my last "ultra hurrah."

Roanoke River at "low tide" at Explore Park on October 17 (we're in a drought)

On the other hand, Jim can probably look forward to many more ultras, barring any unforeseen injuries or health problems. Yes, he's really looking forward to ATY but it's one of probably a dozen races in his sights over the next year. So it's harder for him to get his butt out the door to train on a less-than-perfect weather day or when he's feeling tired. He's had a busy fall season with the rescue squad and fire department, and there's always a lot of physical work around our house and property like cutting and hauling wood. Those activities sap his energy for running.

After all, we aren't 35 any more! But by gosh we're both still out there having fun and doing the best we can. And I do believe that he will reach his goal of 100 miles in 24 hours. He's done it on the trail at Kettle Moraine, and he can do it again at ATY.


Here are the training plans I proposed on October 6, with a summary of the "reality" after each:

  • Train more on the softest, flattest sections of the greenway system in Roanoke instead of just the hilly trails we usually run (although Jim needs to run some hills in October for MMTR on Nov. 3)

We both logged many hours at the mostly-flat Wolf Creek Greenway, the closest part of Roanoke's disjointed hiking-biking trail system to our house. Most of the greenway is paved. Fortunately, Wolf Creek has primarily a soft crushed stone surface that looks similar to the course at ATY. The trail is only 2 miles from end to end, so we had to overcome some boredom doing our long runs there! More about that in a bit.

Jim did train more on hills than I did, but decided not to run Mountain Masochist (MMTR) on November 3. The 50+ miles probably would have done him good for overall mileage and time on his feet, but the mountains would have trashed his body more and reduced his time for more race-specific training for ATY.

It's hard to train for two such different race courses at once, and MMTR lost. The flatter training Jim emphasized for ATY left him feeling unprepared for the terrain at MMTR, where it's becoming increasingly difficult for him to beat the 12-hour time limit even when he's done more hill training. He withdrew from the race and volunteered to "sweep" the second half of the course, taking down ribbons and following the last runners for about 26 miles. That gave him a good 6 hours on his feet but didn't beat him up like pushing hard in the race would have done..

Jim (left) carbo-loading on Pringles before he and another runner
"sweep" the last 26 miles of the MMTR course (Nov. 3)

  • Run more in road shoes instead of beefier trail shoes so we can avoid sore feet and blisters at ATY

Soon after Hinson Lake I bought the first road shoes I've purchased in about five years. Wow, are they light compared to trail shoes!!! I love that feeling again. And I don't have to wear ankle supports every run, like I do on forest trails. I went to the local Fleet Feet store for their professional advice and walked out with the same model Jim's been wearing for several years - the common Asics Gel 2120s. They fit both of us comfortably even though our feet are quite different. We both have spare pairs half a size larger to wear later in the race as our feet swell. We found some at half price since a new model, the 2130s, is already out. (I'm glad Montrail doesn't "improve" its trail models as often as road shoes are "improved!")

Jim's been training with his custom orthotics and lightweight Smartwool socks, the same items he'll use in the race. I'm also training in what I'll wear at ATY: Montrail Endurosole innersoles, Injinji toe socks with a lightweight sock over them, and Dirty Girl gaiters to keep out the grit. Jim doesn't use gaiters because he doesn't kick sand and rocks into his shoes like I do but many runners use them at ATY.

  • Do more speed work and/or tempo runs

During each of my nine hard training weeks I ran at least one workout of 45-60 minutes of speed repeats (usually 10 or 12 X 300 meters) or tempo pace (25 minutes at approximately 80% max heart rate). It doesn't sound like a lot, but it's the most speed work I've done in many years.

I did repeats on the 533-meter loop at Wolf Creen greenway that Jim measured with the GPS so we could simulate the 500-meter loop at ATY but count our distance more easily: three laps = one mile. About 300 meters are on the softer crushed stone surface shown below:

The remainder, about 233 meters, is on the asphalt entrance road to the park, shown to the left in the next picture:

The photo above shows the center of our loop. On long runs I often ran all of the soft gritty trail and over half the paved road section for a ~ three-minute/one-minute run-walk pattern (about 85% of the distance was running, the rest walking.)

When I did speed repeats I ran the soft part fast and walked the pavement to rest each lap.

For tempo runs I didn't do those loops. I ran the soft greenway trails from end to end so I could avoid most of the pavement. Two photos farther down this entry show other parts of the greenway we ran for more variety.

Jim didn't do any speed work, per se. Most of his runs were at a more race-specific speed of about 12 minutes/mile, including walking but not stops at his truck. I was doing about the same pace on my long runs, but ran more minutes than Jim (i.e., his running pace was faster than mine, but he walked a larger percentage of the time).

I don't know whether my speed work will do me any good at ATY, but it sure felt good to get in some faster-paced running.

  • Read as much as we can find about 24-hour race strategies (how to train, run/walk patterns during the race, etc.), then practice in training

We did that. We found relevant articles and race reports on the ATY website, the ultra running listserve archives and various other internet sources, in past issues of Ultra Running magazine, and in Don Allison's book, A Step Beyond: A definitive Guide to Ultrarunning. We have tried to incorporate that information into our training and will use more of it during the race.

  • Get used to running 500-meter laps repeatedly to toughen our minds so we don't slack off during the race when we're "tired." We will get tired and we will incur some pain. Pushing through it will make reaching our goals that much sweeter.

I was surprised that running our 533-meter laps at Wolf Creek didn't drive me nuts! I was able to run around and around like a gerbil on six long runs as I built my weekly endurance runs up to five hours, and the time passed quickly for me. The most loops I did was 66 (22 miles) twice - all of a five-hour run and the first five hours of a six-hour run (endurance run #7) that I finished on the rest of the greenway.

I don't listen to music when I run. I find plenty of things to occupy my brain and five senses when I'm running, regardless of the venue. One of the things I found quite satisfying with the little loops was seeing my mileage accumulate. I often don't know the precise distances on trails but it really doesn't matter to me most of the time any more. This training has been more like the road running I used to do when I was more certain of the distance, and it's been an interesting change to my routine.

For my eighth and last long run I did 34 miles in eight hours by running and walking end to end on the greenway eight-plus times. This route has much less pavement than our 533-meter loop. After about five hours my knees would get sore on the paved section. They didn't get sore until closer to eight hours on my last long run. I would have gladly done the loops the whole time if our measured course was all soft trail.

I'm hoping my knees don't hurt for at least eight hours at ATY. I'll use Ibuprofen sparingly, get massage if it's offered, walk when needed, and wear stretchy knee supports to finish out the race.

Another section of the Wolf Creek greenway trail (October 20)

Jim did find it hard to do long runs on our 533-meter loop. He preferred to do longer laps out and back on the greenway, interspersed with a couple miles at a time on the loop. And even that was boring to him.

Jim would much rather do any long run in a race than alone. It was easy for him to get 50 miles spread out during the Hinson Lake 24-hour race and mostly fun while he ran and walked about 26 miles "sweeping" the second half of the Mountain Masochist course behind the last runners (as mentioned above).

Typical scenic but unusual FLAT part of the MMTR course (Nov. 3)

He also ran the Derby 50K in North Carolina on November 24 (moderately hilly, mostly paved roads in 6 hours) and did several long runs of up to six hours on the greenway. Even listening to his radio or MP3 player, he didn't enjoy his solo training runs anywhere near as much as the races.

I don't worry about him at ATY, though. He'll have so many distractions and so much energy from the other runners around him that he shouldn't be bored with the repetitious loops (322 laps for 100 miles!). It's good that we'll reverse directions every two hours. That should be interesting, with people spread out along the course!

Wolf Creek greenway close to the Blue Ridge Parkway (December 6)


I concluded my plan in the October 6 entry,

  • Meanwhile, I need to do all this on lower mileage than I would if I had younger knees.

I tried to emphasize quality runs over quantity. I rested the week after Hinson Lake, walking and gently running only 15 miles. My mileage in the nine weeks from October 8 to December 9 ranged from 26 to 55 miles. My weekly average those nine weeks was just over 37 miles.

Jim did NOT need to restrict his mileage, although his average was a little lower than in the spring when he was building up to the Big Horn 100-miler. He rested for two weeks after running 50 miles at Hinson Lake, then he ramped up his mileage. His longest week ended December 14 at 70 miles. His average weekly distance during eight ATY-specific training weeks after Hinson Lake was 34 1/3 miles.

Jim with Anita and Jay Finkle before the chilly Derby 50K on Nov. 24

  • My current plan is for one speed session and one run where I push the hills (up, not down) each week, a long run every other week where I practice various run-walk patterns, and walking and cross-training (cycling and pool running) on the other days.

From the second week of October until the third week of November I was able to do a long ("endurance") run each week. I was operating under a six- to seven-day schedule. After I reached five hours in my long runs I either needed more rest after them or other events took precedence. I had eleven days between the five- and six-hour endurance runs and another eleven days before I did my last long run of eight hours.

I'm very pleased with my long runs. The time passed quickly each time, and even the eight-hour one didn't seem any longer than the six-hour one. I didn't "hit the wall" on any of them, although my pace slowed slightly the last hour each time. I practiced various run-walk strategies in my long runs and ran each of them at a 13- to 14-minute-per-mile pace, including all my stops for fluids, gel, shoes, bathroom, etc. That's faster than I need to go at ATY to reach my mileage goal.

As my distances increased, so did my fatigue for the next day or two. (Duh!) Every long run, however, I still felt like I could have comfortably run for a longer period of time. That is a Good Thing. It wasn't until the next day or two that DOMS set in (delayed-onset muscle soreness). I think I can keep going for 24 hours at ATY but I predict some big-time sore legs while we're volunteering the next two days at the race! I'll be needing the massage and chiropractic services. That I believe the race provides for sure.


Some notes about logistics of our long runs: we parked as close to our loop as possible (and often didn't count the extra distance of about 12-15 meters to our vehicles). It was easiest to count laps if we stopped every three laps = one mile. We didn't carry fluids with us on those loops. After so many years of running on trails, running without a pack or bottle on my long runs was a real treat -- I felt naked! That's also a real advantage of races that utilize a short loop.

We ate and drank about what we're used to eating and drinking on any other long runs we've ever done. I stuck to my mostly-liquid, quick-energy Perpetuem and Hammergel routine. Jim ate more solid food with his truck so handy -- and he tends to eat more solid foods in races than I do. He used Perp, Boost, and Hammergel, supplemented with bananas, cookies, jerky, and sandwiches. This is what he plans to do at ATY. The race is renowned for its near-gourmet food offerings, but I'll probably stick mostly to Perp and gel while I'm running it and indulge in the buffet while I'm volunteering.

Cody and Tater got to share some miles with us during our long runs at Wolf Creek and were happy to rest in the shaded grassy area next to our vehicles when we deemed they needed a break. It slowed me down a little when one of them was running with me but it made the time go faster. Cody, especially, is so much fun to run with because of his puppy-like antics. Both dogs had trouble keeping up with either of us on our speed workouts so they didn't come with us those days. They did join us for hill workouts on the single track trails at Explore Park.

Tater among the colorful leaves at Explore Park on November 17 

Back to my schedule . . . two days of rest were ideal after my long runs before I did either a hill or speed workout. For six weeks I was doing one long run, one speed workout (alternating repeats with tempo runs), and one uphill strength workout each week. I walked on alternate days. Those weeks looked like this: long run, walk, walk, hills, walk, speed, walk, repeat.

In the last three weeks of my buildup, when I had to do the six- and eight-hour runs farther apart, I did one hill workout and two speed sessions between them.

I never could get into pool running or cycling much. I'll save that for my post-race recovery period because I just don't enjoy them as much as running and walking.

Jim did a lot more hilly miles at Explore Park than my knees now allow me to do. Some days he would push up hills, some days down. He worked more on his anticipated ATY race pace and run-walk variations at the greenway instead of doing the types of "speed work" I did. He also ran our local club's annual half-marathon in November along the Roanoke River on city streets and a new paved part of the greenway system.

Jim near the end of the half marathon on Nov. 17

Jim pushes himself more in a race like that than he would running the same distance alone. I wish I could keep up with him like I used to when we met nine years ago, but alas, I've slowed down even more than he has. It was more fun to train together than it is simply to be on the same trails at the same time, going different speeds.

  • I will continue using weight machines three to four times a week at the YMCA, stretch and do yoga and ab crunches at home daily, and get regular massages and chiropractic adjustments.

I did all that as planned. I used a couple more machines, lifted more weight, and did more frequent workouts than Jim. He prefers to use only the machines that work his upper body, back, and abs -- not his legs. I use four upper body machines, back, abs, and five leg machines. Because I can lift a lot more weight with my legs than my arms I wrack up more total pounds - well over 40,000 each visit - than Jim on the slick FitLinxx computer system we use at the YMCA, to Jim's dismay. It's fun to watch our "fit points" accumulate each month for strength and cardiovascular activities.

Jim rarely stretches and hasn't had a chiropractic adjustment in over a year. He doesn't do yoga or get massages. I need all those things to remain functional with my osteo arthritis. They still don't make me as fast as I want to be when I'm running, however. <sigh>


At this point Jim feels like he may have needed more long runs and total miles for ATY. He had plenty of hill work for strength and he did a lot of race-specific pace work, which is good. I think I had a good mix of distance, race pace, speed, and hills and I'm feeling more optimistic than Jim -- but my sights are lower. We'll have to see how it translates on race day!

So that's where we stand now. We are tapering for the race, letting our bodies heal from training so we'll be well-rested and eager to run on race day. We aren't running/walking any more than 3-5 miles a day. There's no more speed work, hill work, or heavy weight work. At this point, we can only do damage to our bodies, not help our fitness levels.

We can use all the encouragement we can get, so please remember to log onto www.acrosstheyears.com on December 29 and 30 when we're racing. Click the link to send us a message. (The link won't be enabled until race weekend.) Each runner has a little mailbox for messages during the race. That is one of many cool features at ATY, as I elaborated on December 16. You can also watch the webcam to see what we look like at 3AM (ha!) and the tech wizards will provide near-live results as each runner wracks up mileage.

Maybe you'll even get to watch some of the festivities at midnight on New Year's Eve! We hear it's one big party for a few minutes, then the runners who are still on the course get back to business. The whole affair officially ends at 9AM on New Year's Day, followed by a scrumptious buffet and awards ceremony. Can't wait!!!

Next entry: another road trip Out West

Holiday cheers,

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

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2007 Sue Norwood and Jim O'Neil