Runtrails' Rocky Mountain Journal
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" . . . I am totally hopeless in my love of these things, perhaps more so with every
missing brain neuron. If anything, they are more interesting and enticing than ever,
and as I grow old of limb and loin, I seem to become ever more impassioned
with the very soul of what stirs this thing we call ultra running. May it long survive."

  -  Pete Stringer, 66, in a post to the internet ultra list after running
155 miles in the 72-hour event at ATY

I love Pete's attitude. This was his first time at ATY, although not his first time running a multi-day event; he ran a Sri Chinmoy 6-day race in May and believed he was trained to do 210-215 miles at ATY. He was "on track" for that during Days 1 and 2, then caught a particularly nasty flu-like bug. He spent about 22 hours off the track on Day 3 with severe nausea and diarrhea, coming up well short of the total distance he planned to run, then gamely returned to the course for the last two hours of the event to get another five miles.

Despite his misery and fatigue, Pete showed his sense of humor after the race on New Year's Day and in subsequent letters to the ultra list. I included a photo of him in the last entry posing with a comical gesture about the insanity of it all (those missing brain neurons!)  That's one of the things I love about ultra runners -- their indomitable spirit and courage to carry on. Pete continued to have problems on the long plane ride home to Massachusetts, and later wrote about that unpleasant experience, too.

Then his wife Jane got the same bug. She was not a happy camper, after all the trials and tribulations they experienced at ATY. She says this is the last race she'll crew for Pete other than Vermont 100, but I'm guessing she's almost as addicted to the sport as Pete and we'll see her again at a race. I hope so.

I guess Jim and I lucked out. We were two of several more runners who came down with similar symptoms after the race. In our case, it was Wednesday night. Jim just had some diarrhea. I spent a fair time hugging the toilet that night, with problems at both ends, and was ever-so-grateful that it wasn't during the race or on a plane ride home!! It was most unpleasant and really wore me out. I got over it fairly quickly, however, and had no fever or chills. Food didn't appeal to me the next couple days but what I did force down didn't come back up. My case was more like food poisoning than the flu, but with such close contact (hugging, e.g.) with several other people during the race that also became ill afterwards, I have to wonder if we all just kept passing it on to each other.

Now there's an ultra running hazard most people don't consider!

Otherwise, Jim's and my recovery has been great and we're ready to resume running again. Our leg soreness quickly faded, even faster than after 75 miles on a mountainous course. That surprises and pleases us. No, we aren't 35 any more but we're doing right well in our late 50s, thank you.


I realize it's 2008 now but I want to do one more entry in the 2007 journal as a synopsis for both the recent Across the Years race and for our ultra running adventures in general during the past year.

The only thing I can complain about with my running in 2007 is that my knees began bothering me more when I was doing a lot of running on steep terrain in Colorado, leading to medical confirmation in September that I have little to no cartilage left in either knee. <sigh>

At first I was upset about the finality of that diagnosis, but I'm more optimistic now. Yes, I will probably need knee replacements in the future and it's highly doubtful I'll be running in my ninth decade as I'd hoped . . . but since making some changes in my training and racing the last three months I've had absolutely no knee pain except going down the stairs in our house and have perhaps found some ways to delay the inevitable. I'm also more hopeful about other medical research and advancements I learned about from some of the sports medicine experts running at ATY.

Yup, I'm still in the denial phase!!

I managed to run and walk 1,846 miles in 2007and nearly every one of them was enjoyable. That's about my average yearly distance since I began running twenty-eight years ago (my first run was on New Year's Day in 1980). I'm not sure about the average because I don't have my running logs with me on this trip.

After recent years with more DNFs in races than I care to count I entered -- and finished -- only four ultras in 2007 and had fun at all of them: Capon Valley 50K in May, Bighorn 50K in June, Hinson Lake 24-Hour in September, and Across the Years 24-Hour a few days ago. I'm pleased with how I did in each of them. The 75 miles I completed at ATY is the longest I've gotten in a race in about five years. In addition I was able to finish the segments of the Colorado Trail that I missed in 2006 and I had great fun on beautiful trails all over the Rockies.

What a terrific year!

Jim had lots of fun this year, too, but he is not as pleased with his race results as I am. He continues to be drawn to difficult mountainous 100-milers like a moth to light but hasn't been able to finish one since Vermont in 2005. That frustrates him to no end although sometimes he admits he should have done more miles, more speed work, and/or longer races to train for the 100s. Usually he believes he has trained adequately to finish them but something goes wrong with one or more of those variables that make ultra distances so challenging -- and enticing. He didn't reach his goal at ATY but realizes 75 miles is the longest he's run in a race since July of 2005.

It just wouldn't be as satisfying to run an ultra if we always knew we'd finish a race or reach all of our goals! I'm glad Jim has the guts to keep on trying. It's that indomitable spirit displayed by so many of the folks who are drawn to the sport of ultra running. We just don't give up our dreams.

Jim also enjoyed the many hours he spent training and working on gorgeous trails in the Rockies last summer --the last TWO summers, in fact. We love spending time in the Bighorn Mountains of northern Wyoming and the San Juans and Collegiate Peaks areas of Colorado so much that we will probably find ourselves out there again in 2008. Not very original, I'll concede, but we are a part of the Bighorn, Hardrock, and Leadville race "families" and we'd hate to miss those events. And now we hope to remain part of the ATY family, too.

Whether Jim signs up for the Bighorn or Leadville 100-milers again -- and whether my knees will allow me to run very much in the Rockies any more -- remains to be seen, but I can pretty well bet we'll be spending this next summer in our camper in those areas again. And I'll record the adventures  in our 2008 journal.


"We are so happy that you guys had so much fun. If you start running too many of these races we'll have to start calling you RunLaps insteads of RunTrails."  - Eric Rathbun

This year we tackled an entirely new race genre, one very different from the rugged mountain trail  ultras we love: the 24-hour event. We learned a valuable lesson or two in the process, such as never put off trying something different because you assume it will either be boring or drive you nuts!

Neither one of us has ever been fond of repeat loops in a race of any distance on any terrain, even on a hilly single-track trail. I remember thinking many years ago that a two-loop road 10K or marathon was horrible because of the repetition. Doing eight or ten loops at a trail ultra like Umstead was simply unthinkable. How utterly boring, we assumed.

In retrospect I think we mostly feared the temptation of dropping out, DNFs from lack of mental fortitude to keep running past the finish line so often. But we didn't want to verbalize that beyond the walls of home. We were tough enough to handle temptation, we rationalized, we just didn't want to deal with the boredom.

Jim sort of broke through the mental wall we'd built when he ran fifty miles (four 12-mile loops plus an out-and-back) at Umstead last spring as a training run for Bighorn. He even decided he could run four more loops without going bonkers if he ever runs the 100-miler. I liked the Umstead trail, too -- so smooth I didn't have to worry about falling, and with enough little hills to work different muscle groups.

Umstead was a start down the road to repeat loops, but it wasn't flat and it wasn't on short loops like ATY.

Our next big step was meeting and working with the amazing Rodger Wrublik at Hardrock in July. We decided to take him up on his invitation to experience a fixed-time race on a little flat loop at Across the Years. I'd almost entered the race in 2002, shortly before it moved to the Wrubliks' Nardini Manor and became an "overnight" success in that beautiful venue. We soon learned how difficult it is to get into ATY nowadays and we trained as hard as we could to make it a personal success for us.

Jim strides past Nardini Manor's house on Day 1

The Hinson Lake 24-hour run on a 1.5-mile rolling loop around a lake was the next step before tackling ATY. The loops didn't drive us nuts in the time we were out there, although we had lots of breaks and didn't try to accumulate mega miles. It taught us some important tips for training for ATY three months later.

Now after all the fun we had with the socializing, beautiful scenery, and other special qualities of the Hinson Lake and ATY races we are hooked on fixed-time events on flat or rolling little loops! Or at least I am. I had more fun during the race than Jim because I felt better physically but he definitely wants to do the race again.

Neither of us got bored mentally from circling the loop 242 times (!!). There were just too many distractions to get bored. Nor did we have leg or joint problems from the flat surface using the same muscle groups over and over. Jim was tempted off the track several times but it was to warm up, not give up. I had a big smile on my face the whole time because it was just so doggone much fun to socialize with the other runners, see instant results as the miles added up, and not have to carry anything or wear heavy trail shoes or ankle supports. I call it "freedom running," like backpackers call slack-packing "freedom hiking."

We both continue to love mountainous single-track the best, but we've found a new niche that is fun and a different kind of challenge for us. It's a particularly good niche for me as I find myself having to regroup to save my knees from hilly and gnarly courses. There is also less chance for me to get injured from falling and I don't have to worry about not making cut-offs as I slow down with age. Running a fixed-time race is still a challenge, depending on the course and how high we set our goals. Jim will continue to run  those gnarly mountain trails as long as he can but it'll be fun for him to mix it up with this type of race, too.


I described our training for ATY in an entry dated December 18. Did it work for us?

Yes and no.

I think my training was just right for the distance goal I had: 75 miles. I was secretly hoping for more, but the pain from a large blister on one forefoot put the kabosh on that. Otherwise I still had energy when I stopped running after reaching 75 miles, my GI system was operating just fine, and none of my joints or other body parts were sore -- just the bony foot with the blister. I'm pleased with the results my training gave me:  I reached my goal, improved a bit on the previous age-58 age record at ATY, and had an absolute blast participating in the event.

The only thing Jim says he'd do differently in training is a longer training run or race two or three weeks before ATY to better condition him for his goal of 100 miles. He should have had a 40- or 50-mile run in there. Our original plan was to run the Sunmart 50-miler (Jim) and 50K (me) three weeks before ATY but we changed plans a couple times. I think he would have been able to get more than 75 miles if he'd done Sunmart.

You're putting us on! Robert Andruilis (center) and Jim react to
something Don Lundell said after the race at ATY.

Of greater significance were the race-ending blisters we both got. Neither one of us should be having blister problems after so many years of running ultras!! We should know better how to prevent and/or treat them so they don't cause so much pain or force us out of races early. Back to John Vonhof's books on foot care . . .

A few weeks before ATY the participants were given the opportunity to sign up for pre-race foot taping. I signed up. Jim didn't. But on race morning I saw that Chris O'Loughlin was busy with other runners and forgot that Kachina Rescue was also doing taping. I just didn't have it done nor did I tape anything myself. I wore my Injinji toe socks and a thin oversock on top of them. That has served me well previously. I wore gaiters to keep the grit out, and never did need to empty any sand or pebbles from my shoes.

Jim wore thin Smartwool socks during the day and warmer calf-length wool socks at night. Although he didn't wear double socks, Injinjis, or gaiters he didn't have any grit in his shoes that he knows of. Grit often causes blisters.

We each wore two pairs of road shoes (Asics 2120s), one half a size larger than the other, that we'd been training in for several weeks or months. We both wore the same inserts (prescription or OTC orthotics) that we wore in training. The only thing I did differently was to leave out the very thin green Spenco liners I usually wear under the EnduroSole inserts -- to leave more room in my shoes to avoid blisters! But that may have backfired and contributed to the big blister on my forefoot. And perhaps our lightweight road shoes had inadequate cushioning or support for so many miles after all the years we've been wearing heavier, more structured trail shoes.

Jim says he should have inspected his feet when they began hurting. That was probably "hot spots," the precursor to blisters. He came into the camper around 8 PM the night he ran to change into his night clothes, including warmer socks and his bigger pair of shoes. At that point he'd gone about 45 miles. His feet were getting a little sore, but he didn't suspect blisters or we could have worked on them in the comfort (and good lighting) of the camper. He went back out into the dark.

After his feet began hurting more and more he simply didn't attend to them by going into the medical tent and working on them himself or by asking for help from Chris, Andy, or the EMTs. That was his biggest mistake in the race. As his feet got worse he couldn't run or walk fast enough to stay warm in the frigid wind and he spent more and more time in the warming tent trying to stave off hypothermia. He should have inspected his feet when he was in the camper about 12:30 PM. He complained they hurt but didn't want to take his shoes off. He soldiered on until he reached 75 miles in the morning and quit. It wasn't until about noon, after he'd taken a long nap, that he took his (now bloody) shoes off to inspect the damage!

Talk about denial . . .

Jim and Dave Combs share good times at the ATY race

I was more proactive with the two blisters I got. I popped one on top of a big toe just five hours into the race. That surprised me because it's been a good while since I've gotten a blister. It was daylight and easy to fix. I put on a clean sock and my larger pair of shoes, and was good to go until my right  forefoot became noticeable about 9 PM, twelve hours into the race.

I've noticed for several years that it's becoming less and less pleasurable to walk barefooted, especially on hard surfaces like our hardwood floors at home. I'm losing the fat pads on the bottom of my feet as I get older. In addition I had surgery on that foot for a ruptured tendon in the second toe and have to wear a metatarsal pad to relieve the pressure on the met heads. I assumed for several hours that the pain was from bony feet and not enough cushioning in my shoes, not a blister.

When I went into the medical tent at 10 PM to see Chris for the second time about tight, cramping muscles, I told him about my sore foot. He inspected it but couldn't see anything. I'm not flexible enough to see the spot that hurt, so I continued to assume the pain was caused by lack of cushioning. When I rubbed it, I couldn't feel any fluid buildup.

The pain remained at a noticeable-but-not-unbearable level for the next seven hours. About 5 AM the pain suddenly became more intense and I could feel fluid under the thick skin on my forefoot without even taking my shoes off. Uh, oh. Blisters are notoriously difficult to find and drain under calluses. I know the skin is pretty thick in that area.

I asked Chris for help yet again. He initially couldn't see a blister, but another runner with a bright headlamp spotted it. Chris was able to lance it and I thought my problem was over. Not. It hurt just as much when I went back out to the track. I bore the pain for two more hours, reached my distance goal, and quit. Without the lost time and agony of the blister I could have gotten another five or six miles just walking, more if I could have run after daylight when ultra runners just naturally wake from the dead.

So . . . Jim and I both have to resolve this issue before another 24-hour or 100-mile event. Otherwise, we're generally pleased with how our training worked for ATY. All the miles, pacing practice, and little loops paid off. If all goes well the next eight months and we are able to return to the race we'll do much the same type of training regimen but also include Sunmart as our last long run before ATY.


After most races we send thank-you letters to the race director and occasionally to others with significant involvement in the race. After ATY we not only sent the following letter to the entire race committee, we also thanked each sponsor. This letter serves as a good summary of our feelings about ATY:

To Paul, Rodger (+ family), Sandra, Lynn, Dave, Chris, Frank, and everyone else on the race committee:

Jim and I have run ultras all over the country for the past 15 years, from fat-ass style runs to first-class events like Western States. After participating in ATY for the first time, we understand why this race ranks up there with the very best. The organization, the venue, the race committee and other dedicated volunteers, the numerous amenities and special services to the runners -- it just doesn't get any better than this!

We hesitated to run ATY for many years, thinking we'd be bored silly on a little flat loop. After all, we're mountain trail runners, right? How wrong we were, and how glad we are that we had a chance conversation with Rodger at HRH about this event. Thank you so much for letting us participate this year both as runners and volunteers. We had an unforgettable experience.

We've sent thank-you letters to the sponsors. Thanks for your efforts to secure those products. We are Hammer-sponsored runners (because of our AT trek and web site exposure) and love to see their products at races. The Northface shirts are just beautiful. We even wore them in the race to keep warm!  I wore the gaiters and Moeben Sleeves, too -- very appropriate products. And we always like getting little Zombie goodie bags.

I'm behind on updating our web site (computer and internet connection problems, illness like Lynn had, and general fatigue) but hope to get the ATY report up soon. It will be in the 2007 journal. Meanwhile we're having fun running on the Pemberton Trail and exploring the Phoenix area as we avoid winter in Virginia for a few weeks.

Thanks again for making ATY so special for the runners. We had a great time and would like to return.

All the best in 2008,
Sue Norwood (and Jim O'Neil)
Roanoke, VA




Despite less than perfect race performances we thoroughly enjoyed our ultra running experiences and new adventures this past year and we'll probably do much the same things in 2008 (except for the occasional MISadventure). If it works, don't "fix" it! We had wonderful times with friends from all over the country and world. We ran and hiked on some of the most beautiful trails you'll ever see. We challenged ourselves in many ways, and hope our example continues to inspire others to reach a little beyond what they're comfortable doing.

My last bit of advice for readers at the end of 2007 is to try something totally new next year -- regardless of the sport or activity or interest. You might be surprised how much fun it is!

Our further travel and running adventures will be chronicled soon in our 2008 journal.

Have a great year!

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

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2007 Sue Norwood and Jim O'Neil