Runtrails' Rocky Mountain Journal
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"Remember, you can still register as late as race morning. You do have to register before the
lead runner completes one entire lap (1.52 miles) So if you know anyone who is on the fence
about running this race let them know that procrastination is not necessarily a bad trait.
Every level of runner is not only accepted but also very much encouraged."

- Race director Tom Gabell on the race website


That's just one more reason to love this race! With many ultras filling up in advance, some as early as six or eight months before the race, it's unusual to find a race you can enter the morning of the event. I'm guessing next year will be different, however, as this race has mushroomed well beyond Tom's expectations in two short years.

This is a continuation of the previous entry, which described the course and the concept of fixed-time races. Here's the course map again for easy reference:



Saturday dawned chilly and clear. Fog hung over the lake just after sunrise but burned off by the time the race began at 8 AM. We could see the almost-full moon in the western sky until late morning.

We had no problems getting our canopy set up because we'd practiced at home last week. We were able to find a great close-out price (40% off) on a sturdy dark green canopy a couple weeks ago. Since the prediction for the race was for clear, warm weather we didn't buy the optional "walls," but we'll probably get them for ATY in December -- even Phoenix can get cold or wet at New Year's.  Jim helped another runner with his brand new canopy, which hadn't been opened before race day -- not the best plan! I had to run to the van to get our hammer a couple hours into the race when the wind kicked up a bit and blew some of the canopies over. Ours held, but I pounded in some stakes anyway. We're very pleased with its design.

Here are Jim and our friend Jay Finkle under the canopy before the race began:

We already had a suitable four-foot folding table, chairs, sleeping bags, and tent. We didn't use the tent at Hinson Lake but could have camped there the night before the race if we'd wanted. We bought some good quality but inexpensive self-inflating pads to cushion the sleeping bags when we slept in the back of our Odyssey minivan during the race. We'll use them several nights at ATY and other races in the future. We borrowed a hard-shell rolling ice chest and five-gallon water cooler from the Rescue Squad and should be able to use them again in December for ATY so we don't have to buy them.

It seemed like we lugged a lot of stuff to our space -- all the items above plus several plastic drop boxes -- but we plan to take the same things with us in our minivan or truck/camper combo to ATY. The canopy kept the sun off our gear and supplies, although we had to move the table under it a couple times to keep it in the shade. It was very nice having the table so we didn't have to bend down to get the things we used the most (energy drinks, water, ice, gels, electrolytes, lights, etc.). We put less frequently used items under the table. Two chairs also fit under the canopy so we could sit in the shade to eat, change socks, and take breaks. A cute little $5 plastic LED lamp lit up the table area at night so we could find what we needed in our stash after dark.

The narrow grassy area on either side of the trail across the dam looked like a little village when everyone's canopies, tents, and tables were set up from one end to the other -- very cool: 



Last year the race drew 68 entrants when the RD expected maybe ten friends to show. This year over 80 people pre-registered and another 20 showed up on race day! (Next year Tom will set a limit so it doesn't expand that much every year.)

We knew only about a dozen people on the list, a lower percentage than usual -- Anita and Jay Finkle, Joe Lugiano, Joey Anderson, Mike Day, Tom Adair, Byron Backer, Susan and Fred Dummar, Doug Dawkins, Terri Hayes, Bill Keane, and Larry Robbins. All these folks started the race except Mike Day, who has been injured. As always, it was great to see our friends again and get to meet some new ones. Since you see the same people over and over during the race, it's very "social" and easy to make friends.

Roanoke friends Anita and Jay Finkle at the end of the race

Three ultra "legends" from the 1980s were also registered: Ray Krowlewicz, Steve Warshawer, and Doyle Carpenter. I met all three at races back in the early 1990s when I first began running ultras, but wasn't able to recognize any of them without some direct or indirect inquiry. It was fun to talk to each of them and watch their performances during the race. They are in their early 50s to late 60s now.

I took lots of photos of the runners all morning and have posted many of them on our Picasa photo-sharing site ("More Photos" link at upper left).


This is an informal race with Tom and his relatives serving as the primary volunteers. It's so informal that Jim and I beat them there in the morning. There wasn't all that much for them to set up, just a scoring table (lower right in photo below), a water/energy drink table across the path, and a food table (canopy isn't over it yet in photo below). Tom had enough help that he and some of his family members were able to run in the race later in the day and at night when many of the runners were off the course. Tom got in 33 miles.

Tom's wife and a couple other volunteers checked in the runners and handled about twenty race-day registrations.  Boy, was I surprised when I was handed a high quality short-sleeved "technical" (DriRelease) running shirt!! With such a low entry fee I was anticipating a thin cotton t-shirt. Wow.

Another indication of the level of informality of the race is the fact that we didn't get started until about 8:07 AM. No problem. As far as I can tell, the timers did a great job keeping tabs on everyone's laps and the race did last exactly 24 hours. Last year there were some problems keeping track of the runners because the timers sat beyond the food table. This year they sat just before the runners reached the aid station so the likelihood of missing someone was significantly reduced.

RD Tom Gabell conducts pre-race briefing in front of the Rotary Lodge

After a short pre-race briefing (is that redundant??) we filed through the bridge next to the Rotary Lodge and officially began the race in front of the timing table:

Jim and I were near the back, planning to walk or run most of the first lap to warm up:

Jim ran more of it than I did. I ended up walking most of the first lap with Doug Dawkins, then ran most of the second to tenth loops. I didn't see very many people, including Jim, until the third or fourth lap because of walking the first one. I expected them to catch up to me sooner..

Each time we passed the timing table we had to call out our number. The timer assigned to us repeated the number and told us how many laps we'd completed. I soon had trouble remembering how many laps I'd done, but since I was writing them down quickly on a notepad at our table each time I passed it, I could tell the timers were always correct. At Across the Years we won't have to worry about counting correctly. ATY uses high-tech chip timing, which is common in road races but rare in trail ultra marathons.

Tom (L), his wife (in orange), and the other timing volunteers

Jim and I were both very flexible regarding when to run, walk, and take breaks since we weren't trying to amass any great distances. We mostly wanted to get in a good training run, practice various techniques for ATY, and have fun.

I planned to carry my water bottle in a single waist/fanny pack so I could drink Heed or ice water while taking walking breaks on the course. I thought that would save a lot of time compared to standing at our table and drinking there each lap. That strategy worked for me. After hauling my Camelbak around all summer, the little single pack was barely noticeable. The only real reason I stopped at our table was to take a slurp of gel each lap and get more fluids every third lap (about an hour).

Joe Lugiano (L) and Ben Dillon refuel at their table; their wives (seated) crewed for them

Since I was planning to run only three or four hours I didn't use Perpetuem, which contains fats and proteins in addition to carbs. If I'd known how long I would be on the course, I would have drunk Perp from the get-go.

Jim used his fanny pack for a little while, then decided to just keep his bottle of Perpetuem in the cooler and drink from it at the end of each lap when he got his Hammergel. Except for the times he had to make up new bottles of Perp when I was running and not crewing for him, he didn't lose much time with this strategy. When I took extended breaks, I mixed up new bottles of Perp to save him time.

At ATY we will both be drinking Perpetuem as long as possible. We'll need to mix several bottles before the race starts, keep them on ice, and just grab and go when we need them. We don't know if we'll try carrying bottles there at all, even for one lap at a time. It depends on what run-walk strategies we're using.

Jim runs with a group early in the race (he's in center of photo, second person back)

My first 1.52-mile lap at Hinson Lake took me 25 minutes. The next nine laps each took about 18 minutes to run-walk, with additional time at our canopy to get water, gel, etc. between every couple of loops. I was happy to finish the first ten laps (15.2 miles) in under four hours, considering the amount of down-time I had for fluids, food, electrolyte caps, talking to the timers, taking pictures, taping a "hot spot" on my foot, etc. My longest break was running half a bonus mile to and from the van to get the hammer and batten down the canopy so it wouldn't fly away in the wind.

Jim was going a little faster but taking frequent walk breaks. He completed each lap in about 18 minutes including stops at the table. He spent less time at our table than I did and was also pleased with his pace the first few hours of the race.


It was so much fun all morning to run and walk with or near the other participants, regardless of their speed. Most of the runners were good about giving encouragement to the others, whether they were faster or slower. I thoroughly enjoyed the social aspect of the race and know that will keep me going at ATY even though I'll be much more focused on distance then. Running should be as much fun as work.

Bill Keane and Barbara Mack cross Leath Footbridge over the marsh

Never once did I get bored doing the same loop over and over. It was great fun to see the miles add up so quickly, even though I walked (no running) the remaining 24 miles periodically during the afternoon and evening. I was so happy to be out there even walking that I was ecstatic to find running so pleasurable the first fifteen miles. My pace was faster than most of the training and "racing" I did all summer, let alone the last seven weeks.

My knees felt fine. They've ALWAYS felt fine when I'm walking fast or running because 1) my foot plant is different than when I'm just walking around the house, yard, store, etc.; 2) my body is producing lubricating fluids for the joints (one good reason why people with arthritis should continue to exercise in moderation); and 3) I'm also producing feel-good endorphins that help to mask pain. Despite the lack of cartilage, that knee isn't so bad yet as to prevent enjoyable running on a soft, flat surface like this.


My plan was to stop after fifteen miles. At that point, Jim was already two or three laps ahead of me and he kept on going. I had fun watching runners going by repeatedly, helped Jim as needed, socialized with crew people I know, and tried in vain to read the latest issue of Consumer Reports -- but there was too much activity going on around me to concentrate on reading or anything requiring focus.

Jim saw how much fun it was to sit and watch everyone else run (above), so he joined me for a while around 1 PM. He also got a hankering for a Subway sandwich. That sounded better to both of us than most of the food we'd brought or the peanut butter sandwiches at the aid station. Since runners can leave the site during the race, Jim took off in the van for a few minutes. He soon returned with Subway grilled chicken sandwiches and yummy chocolate shakes from Sonic:

If you run this race, remember that you or your crew can go out to one of the many nearby fast-food restaurants for whatever you're craving!

About an hour later Doug Dawkins, who volunteered a lot more hours at the race than he ran, came back with a big stack of cheese pizzas for the runners. Jim helped himself to a slice of that, too!

Pizza in right hand, paper towel in left

All this running really works up an appetite, you know! It takes a lot of calories to run 50 miles and "real food" tastes mighty good after several hours of energy drinks and gels. I waited for a slice until after dark when Doug went on another pizza run. Tom's mother-in-law also contributed some very tasty homemade chicken vegetable soup around supper time -- yummy!


Although it was great fun to watch the runners go by repeatedly, it was MORE fun to be out on the course. After sitting around for two hours I was getting very restless. A dialogue between my left and right brains ensued, and the right, more playful, brain won. I went back out on the course around 2 PM and kept my promise to the more serious left brain that I would only WALK any remaining loops I did so as to lessen the impact on not only my Granny Knees, but also on my entire untrained (I mean, well-rested) body.

Our friend Tom Adair (blue shirt) and another runner having fun at Hinson Lake

I walked another few laps, took a long break, walked more laps, took another long break, and repeated this pattern until I reached 39 miles around midnight. It was the most fun I've had since I climbing those 14ers near Leadville in August!!  I didn't feel tired, I wasn't in any pain, I was having a blast. There was no pressure to beat time limits. The only stress I felt was concern about muscle damage I might be incurring that I would regret the next day.

Jim was getting tired about 8:30 PM and took a break after running 42 miles. Just sitting around, he got drowsy and decided half an hour later to take a nap in the van. He wanted to go back out to do at least another eight miles to total 50, but gave me no instructions on when to wake him up. I was feeling good and wanted to continue walking at least another hour. Jim said he'd go back out whenever I got in the van to sleep, figuring that might be about 10 PM. I missed seeing him on the course but about half the runners were still going so I had plenty of company.


There was no spectacular sunset in the cloudless sky Saturday evening, although this soft pink cast over fishermen on the pier was pretty:.

Darkness fell rapidly, completely, and too early. I needed my light by about 7:30 PM. The shady woods became pitch black in the time between sunset and moonrise and the nearly-white trail was difficult to see even when the moon rose higher in the sky. The leaves did a good job blocking the moonlight.  Most of us turned off our flashlights on the long footbridge at the far end of the lake and along the dam, savoring the moonglow on the water, but the rest of the loop was really dark.

It was magical moving through the night. The air cooled down to the 60s (later, 50s) and fast walking felt more fluid and easy than during daylight. I watched the slightly-lopsided moon rise higher and higher over the trees. I especially loved the marsh with the long footbridge. I expected a chorus of frog music there, but that didn't happen. My photos of the moon and its reflection in the water around the lily pads didn't turn out well, but I like this shot I took from the dam near the fishing pier about 10 PM:

It has been four years since I moved fast enough in a 100-miler to still be out there running after dark, and seven years since I ran and walked through the entire night at Vermont, the last 100-miler I finished. I haven't paced Jim at night for quite a few years, either. You just can't imagine how thrilled I was to be IN A RACE in the middle of the night -- even though I wouldn't come anywhere close to running a hundred miles.

I didn't want to stop.

Ten o'clock came and went. I wasn't sleepy -- too many endorphins and too much caffeine coursing through my brain. I was in my element, one with nature. My brain was going overtime from one topic to the next, able to focus on minute details that eluded me hours earlier. I mentally made training plans for ATY. I carefully listed Kubler-Ross' stages of grief, trying to figure out which one I was in at the moment because of my recent knee diagnosis (clearly denial). I had what seemed at the time to be profound, creative ideas about several subjects, most of which I forgot because I didn't write them down right away! I felt more fully alive than I have since my Appalachian Trail Adventure Run.

And I still didn't want to stop.

Eleven o'clock. Left brain (the logical, rational, objective side): I really should quit now. I'm going to regret this tomorrow. Right brain (the intuitive, subjective, holistic side): Naw. You're fine. Nothing hurts and you're having a grand time out here. You can do a little more.

That's about the time I came up with the theory that I wasn't under-trained, just over-rested! Right brain bargaining with the left brain, my version of another one of Kubler-Ross' stages of grief.


Both did. (Some might argue that neither did, since I must be brainless to run ultras!)

Around midnight I really had to force myself to quit. The logical left, which looks at sequential parts, and the holistic right, which thinks in terms of the whole picture, finally agreed on something, if only for the moment. The internal conflict was still alive, however, as I told my timer that I was "just taking a nap -- I might be back out again." What an optimist!

Hinson Lake marsh area during daylight

I woke Jim up about 12:30 AM as I crawled into my sleeping bag in the van but he was too groggy to get up and run. He was snoring again before I even found a comfortable position.  It was hard to get to sleep because I was still sweaty and dirty, the parking lot at the lodge was lit up like a shopping center, and even with ear plugs I could hear runners and crews getting into and out of their vehicles all night.

Jim woke up about 2 AM and decided to get up to run five more laps to make 50 miles -- maybe more, if he felt like going farther. I finally went to sleep until he returned a couple hours later. Once he got moving again, he felt fine and was able to run quite a bit of the remaining mileage. But his feet hurt enough that he quit when he reached 50 miles (33 laps). Many of the other runners stopped once they hit 50 miles. Jim didn't see nearly as many people early in the morning because so many had either left the race site already or were sleeping in their tents or vehicles. Only the diehards were still out there.

That can be viewed as either a Good Thing or a Bad Thing about timed races -- you have lots of flexibility to come and go and quit when you want, which is nice -- and you have lots of flexibility to come and go and quit when you want, jeopardizing your mileage goals if you aren't disciplined! One of the most important things we learned at this race is that ATY will require us to be a lot more disciplined with our time if we want to reach our more ambitious goals for that event.


I woke up again before sunrise, laid still so Jim could continue sleeping, and finally woke him up at 6:45. Not only was I desperate for the nearby restroom in the lodge, I also wanted to see the end of the race. We washed up as best we could in the restrooms and put on clean clothes, which made us feel better. Staying awake was a different matter.

There were still about twenty people running the last hour of the race. We carried all our equipment back to the car as we watched them pass the timing station a few more times. Most were still running, at least when they had an audience. The second sunrise usually gives runners a "second wind."

A few chose to stop on their last full lap even though they had a few more minutes on the clock. Ten runners took a banana with their number written on it (no joke!) and dropped it when the loud siren sounded at 8:07 AM to show how far they'd gone that lap. Some runners got an extra mile this way. The partial loop distances were added to the full loops for the final mileage totals after someone with a measuring wheel collected the bananas. The runners returned to the start/finish area the shortest direction, said their good-byes, and trudged off to pack their belongings into their vehicles.

There was no awards ceremony. Tom likes to keep it simple! However, two local artisans donated several awards. Tom handed the men's and women's overall winners, Brad Smythe and Anita Finkle, hand-crafted wrought iron trellises similar to ones they received last year. A local woman also donated six framed photos of sunrise over the lake for the overall winners and the first masters and grandmasters men and women. Most of them had already gone home.

You can find mileage results here for the one hundred runners who managed anywhere from one to seventy-six laps: http://www.hinsonlake24hour.com/2007.html.

We talked with Jay and Anita briefly, thanked Tom profusely, and headed home. It was another sunny day for a drive through some beautiful scenery on the way back to Roanoke. It was fun for JIm and me to reminisce about our race experience and make plans for Across the Years. We were sore for one or two days after the race, but recovered pretty quickly for Olde Pharts.

Jim follows other runners back into the deep, dark woods


Jim and I learned a lot about 24-hour races but we have our work cut out for us to prepare properly for ATY in three months. We need to:

  • 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)
  • Run more in road shoes instead of beefier trail shoes so we can avoid sore feet and blisters
  • Do more speed work and/or tempo runs
  • 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
  • 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.

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

Next entry: who knows?? whenever the Muse strikes -- maybe after Mountain Masochist, maybe not until near the end of the year and the ATY race

Still in the game for a little while,

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

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2007 Sue Norwood and Jim O'Neil