I was running the out-and-back section of the Triple C Trail
a couple hours into the Sunmart 50K when one of the men in
the 50-miler, who was walking up a hill as I was running down
made the remark above. I don't know if he was trying to be funny,
friendly, sarcastic, or what, but my response was a non-verbal, "Huh?"
After all, I was running and couldn't quiz someone going the
other direction and already out of earshot.
When I run I dress for function, not fashion. Same with every
other hour of the day, for that matter. I haven't been concerned
with what's trendy since I was in my 20s. Comfort and durability
are important to me. Sure, I like my colors to coordinate in a
pleasing manner (so does Jim) but following fashion whims?
Jim took this photo of me at the finish of the race (it's cropped 'way down
from a distance shot behind the finish banner):
So is that "the look?" Sensible gray-green trail shorts
that don't show dirt, white
singlet and running bra to stay cool in the warm Texas sun, faded blue
Cool Off bandana to wipe sweat from my eyes, faded,
blue-and-black Dirty Girl gaiters to keep grit out of my shoes,
dusty gray Montrail Highline shoes that haven't been produced
for a couple of years (doggone it), sweatband and visor to keep
sweat, sun, and long, curly hair out of my eyes, and a
single-bottle fanny pack with two pockets attached to the front to hold my camera, gel, and
Yep, that's "the look" for me when I run trails:
Come to think of it, maybe that guy wasn't an idiot who was
being sarcastic, but was complimenting me because he could
tell I'm a trail veteran. In that case, oops and thank you to
Here's my sweetie about twelve miles into the 50K. Jim looks like
a trail veteran, too, except he didn't wear a bandana like he
usually does and he has no use for gaiters:
I'm sorry I couldn't get a shot of him at the finish, too, but
he was almost two hours ahead of me.
If you read all that closely enough, you know we both
finished the race. Keep reading if you're interested in the
details and more photos.
LET'S GET THIS SHOW ON THE ROAD
The 19th annual
Sunmart 50-miler began at 7 this morning at
Huntsville State Park with about 200 runners.
Since it was only 34 degrees F. Jim and I
didn't rush over to the start to watch them. They were long gone
by the time we got over there. I suppose we could
have hung out in the large heated tent (below) where volunteers were
but we chose to sleep an extra 45 minutes in
our camper, eat familiar pre-race foods, and walk two-thirds of
a mile to
the start/finish area as late as possible before the start of
our race. That served as a nice
warm-up and gave us time to put our drop boxes on a picnic
table near the
drop area (a mistake) before we got in line for the 50K race start at 7:45
About five hundred 50K runners plus families and friends who came to crew for them were milling
around the tents making last-minute race preparations,
socializing with friends, and trying to stay warm. Although the
sun had already risen when we reached the start, strings of
white Christmas lights were still twinkling a festive welcome.
The last two hundred yards of the course were lined with running
clubs' and runners' canopies, similar to the Rocky Raccoon 50-
and 100-mile races. It was
fun each loop to run through the canopy area to the cheers of
Since we were running only the 50K and had no crew, Jim and I
didn't set up a table, chair, or canopy. If we run this race
again we need to re-think where to put our drop boxes so they
are more convenient to the trail. We both lost time during the
race going out of our way to the official bag drop area, which was not
very accessible from the course during the race.
Both of us lined up near the back of the pack. Our intention was
to walk all or most of the first mile to thoroughly warm up,
then start running. That worked fine for me but it may have cost
Jim some time.
Notice the mist still hovering over the lake
near the start:
Although some hardy and/or fast runners started off in shorts and singlets most of
us had on more clothing for the first loop. I warm up quickly
even when I'm walking; I had my gloves off in a couple
miles but pants and long sleeves felt good the first couple
hours at the snail's pace I was going.
Because there are so many runners in the 50K race the course
follows the park's main paved road for the first mile. On
subsequent loops we used the single-track Dogwood Trail
paralleling the road to go in and out from the start/finish
area. It was very crowded with runners from both races my first
time in and out but not bad the next two times.
Jim (in foreground in photo above) stayed with me most of the
first mile on the road. I kept telling him to go at his faster
walking pace but he was content to stay near the back of the
pack. He finally started running as we reached the Nature Center
and turned off onto
the single-track Chinquapin Trail. He soon wished he'd gotten in
with a faster group of runners on the road.
At that point there were only about two dozen people walking
behind us. The narrow trail was so clogged with runners ahead of us that it was stop
and go for a quarter mile or more -- even if someone like Jim was
ready to run. He was more frustrated
with that than I was. I knew I had plenty of time and might walk
the entire race. I just
chilled out, enjoying the fresh early morning sights, sounds,
and smells in the woods as I talked with one of the runners Jim
and I had noticed on the road. I never did get her name
although we saw each other several times during the race.
In the photo above she's the woman wearing the white tights, which she kept on the
entire race. That was good because it helped me remember who she
was. If I don't see other runners' faces clearly when we're
side-by-side in a race, I often don't recognize them later when
they've taken off or put on some clothes.
I am impressed with this woman's walking pace. She usually walks
her races at a fast, steady clip with no running. Jim walks fast
but he had trouble keeping up with her on the road at the start
and I sure couldn't match her pace. She ended up beating me by
several minutes even though I ran off and on the
first four hours. The last time I saw her was about fifteen
miles into the race. I caught up to her and got ahead when I was
running but she got around me when I stopped the first time to
check on Cody. Since I walked most of the third loop and stopped
at the camper a second time, I never caught up to her again. If
I hadn't taken 20-25 minutes (total) at my stops at the camper
and drop bag area I might have finished in about the same time
she did. I wish I could train myself to walk as fast as she does!
(She told me she's self-taught.)
Jim was able to pass quite a few people on the narrow Chinquapin
Trail in the second mile of the race but it took extra effort.
I started running the smoother downhill sections once the "train" of runners I was in
began a slow run. And I promptly tripped over a root!
one. I fell a second time later in the race when I was walking
and not paying attention on the Triple C Trail. I was too busy
talking with a couple as we climbed up a hill. I'm glad I wasn't
wearing road shoes like many of the other runners. My Montrail
Highline trail shoes are fairly light but have grippy traction
and a sturdy rubber
"bumper" on the toes. I stubbed my toes into lots of roots
during the race but had no bruising.
I'm also glad I wore my gaiters. The trails at Huntsville State
Park were very sandy-dusty
despite some rain earlier in the week and there is a lot of pine
needle and leaf debris. I never had to
dump debris from my shoes during the race.
The only time Jim and I were together in the race was the first
mile. He got ahead of me in the second mile on the Chinquapin
Trail and steadily increased his lead once he hit the wider
Triple C Trail 2+ miles into the race.
That was the location for the busiest aid station in the race;
50K runners pass it five times and 50-milers ten times. The aid
station was crowded the first three times I passed it. I
was glad I could just keep on going.
I had a fueling plan that allowed me to bypass more than half of
the aid stations during the race, saving me some time. I
didn't stop at either aid station on the first 6.7-mile
I was carrying
a bottle with concentrated Perpetuem in my hand and had water in
a bottle in my fanny pack to wash it (the Perp) down. That
works better for me than carrying Perp mixed at regular
strength. I also carried a 5-oz. plastic flask with Hammergel
for additional calories. The only thing I got from aid stations
was water to top my water bottle as needed and to mix up a new
bottle of powdered Perp at the beginning of the second and third
loops. I drank enough fluids and consumed enough electrolytes this time to avoid dehydration and
cramping like I've had so many times before.
Jim used a totally different fueling plan. He originally carried
Heed in a bottle in his fanny pack but discovered he could
easily get between the aid stations (which were situated no more
than three miles apart) by drinking two cups of Heed at each aid
station and occasionally grabbing some food. He ended up not
needing to carry the bottle in his pack.
Back to the first 50K loop . . . after passing the
station we ran on the wide
Triple C Trail for about three miles around the eastern end of
the park. Even though I could see runners ahead of me in this
section we were spread out enough by now that our progress
wasn't impeded until we hit the two-way runner traffic a mile
from the start/finish/turn-around area at the lodge.
50K runners had the Triple C Trail to
themselves on the first loop.
The next two loops there was two-way
Fifty-mile runners always turned around about a mile into the
Triple C Trail and came back past the first and second aid
stations. They had all passed through here on their first long
loop when the 50K runners reached this trail -- so it was just
us heading toward the second aid station this early in the race.
This time the 50Kers ran over the timing mats and kept on going
straight. We didn't see any of the 50-milers for another three
On our longer second and third
loops (they were each about 12.2 miles long) we went out to this aid station,
ran over the timing mats to prove we were there, turned around,
and ran back to the first aid station (and beyond it). You can
see the timing mats to the left of the cones in the picture below:
Neither Jim nor I cared much for this section but it was fun
to see the other 50K and 50-mile runners on our second two
loops. We also saw them three times on the mile-long out-and-back section
of the Dogwood Trail near the start/finish area. It was also
great that Jim
and I could say hi, give each other some encouragement (and/or a
hug!), and see
how far apart we were.
I saw Jim for the first time on the narrow, very crowded Dogwood
Trail (below) as I was heading toward the start/finish area. I was about
six miles into the race and he was already more than a mile
ahead of me. I didn't see him enough in advance to get his
It was fun to run through the "gauntlet" of crews and runners at
their canopies going into and out of the start/finish area each
At the end of our first loop Jim and I each wound through runners' canopies to reach
our drop boxes and take off some clothes. Once the race started
there was no direct route to the bag drop area from the course,
to our surprise. I mixed up a fresh
bottle of concentrated Perpetuem and refilled my water bottle at the aid station,
then headed out for a longer loop of 12+ miles. I don't remember
my time, but I was pleased with it because I'd been able to run
more than I planned.
On my way back out the Dogwood Trail to the Chinquapin Trail, I
could see most of the 50K runners who were behind me. It was
reassuring to know that I had gained on some runners I passed
during the first loop. I wasn't in competition with them and
wished them no harm; I was just happy that I wasn't last, as
slowly as I was going!
LOVIN' LOOP 2
Both of us ran well on the second loop, which was almost double
the length of the first loop.
Jim felt really good and stuck to his intended pace through the
first two loops (19+ miles).
Based on several discussions we had about pacing, I thought he
was going to run and walk at the pace he plans to go the first
twelve hours at the 48-hour ATY race in three weeks. I didn't know until after the race that he
changed his mind while running and decided to aim for his 1999 Sunmart
splits which resulted in a time
of 5:38. That's a 10:46/mile pace -- much faster
than he better be going the first twelve hours at ATY!
I knew he was running well and feeling good when I saw him
smiling happily the second time I saw him during the race. I was
outbound on the out-and-back section of the Triple C Trail at 9½-10
miles. He was coming toward me, over a mile ahead:
The second picture I took of him at this location is near the
top of this entry.
The first nine miles of this loop (i.e., through about sixteen
miles of the race) I was easily running the smooth downhill and
flat parts of the trails and walking as fast as I could uphill.
Down to singlet and shorts, I stayed comfortable in the mid-60
degree F. sunshine. Much of the course is shaded by the tall
loblolly pines that dominate the park. Perpetuem and Hammergel
provided all the calories I needed to maintain my energy and I
felt absolutely wonderful running in the woods all morning.
The second and third 50K loops went outbound on the Dogwood
Trail to the Chinquapin Trail, then south to the first aid
station again and out to the timing mats on the Triple C Trail
at the second aid station. Instead of continuing forward, we
turned around here and went back to the first aid station.
followed this wide trail for several miles around the southern
and western perimeter of the park. The
50-milers were not on this section with us; they ran
somewhat parallel to us on the
portion of the Chinquapin Trail west of Lake Raven. In the photo
above you can see where the 50K runners are directed left to
remain on the Triple C Trail and the 50-milers turn right onto
the Chinquapin Trail.
After two or three roller-coaster miles on the Triple C Trail we
reached the third and most remote aid station:
Soon after this aid station the Triple C Trail morphed into
single-track for a couple miles until merging with the Chinquapin Trail at the
northern end of the lake. This is the headwaters of Raven Lake, with long sections of boardwalk crossing the wetlands.
Then the 50K and 50-mile runners shared the course the remaining
four or five miles back to the start/finish area.
My favorite section of trail in Huntsville SP is the
lower part of the Prairie Branch Loop Trail. It's not as
runnable for me as the rest of the course because of all the
roots and bog boards but the scenic beauty and waterfowl
sightings are a great distraction!
The fourth and last aid station was located at the "bottom"
(south) end of
the Prairie Branch Loop. That's also where we were camped. Since
my race time wasn't as important to me as Jim's was to him, I
agreed to run down about 200 feet to our camper to tend to Cody
on the second and third loops. The trail was roped off in that
direction to keep runners going UP the trail instead of down it
when they left the aid station.
I had to explain to two volunteers what I was doing the first
time, giving them my name and number and promising that I'd
return to the course in a few minutes. When I got done walking
Cody and returned to the aid station, the radio guy told me he'd
called the finish area for "permission." That was AFTER I'd
already run down to the camper! I was doing bonus mileage, not
cutting the course. It was no different than runners going off
the course at the start/finish area to get to their canopies,
tents, or drop bags. There certainly wasn't anyone monitoring
Aid Station #4 the day after the race.
Runners approached from the left (lake side) and made a left up
I went downhill (foreground) to our camper
two times to tend to Cody and return to the aid station.
Cody was very happy to see me after we'd been gone over four
hours. He pottied, rolled around in the pine needles, and
happily returned to the camper to sleep some more. Previously we've left
him for as long as eight or nine hours in the camper and
he's done fine.
It was a little bit over four hours into the race (not quite
noon) when I returned to the
course; I was at the camper 7-8 minutes. I had been
easily running the smooth downhill and flat sections of the
course from the second to the sixteenth mile, which pleased me a
lot since I started this race not knowing if I should try to run
I walked up the hill past the aid station on the upper
Prairie Branch Loop and ended up walking most of the rest of the
race. My hamstring was doing fine but my knees were starting to
get sore from all the downhill running and I didn't want to push
my luck with either body part.
I was happy to finish 19+ miles in 4:41 hours. I knew I had
plenty of time to walk the last 12+ miles and finish before
Runners leave the start/finish area to
begin another loop.
Jim finished that loop in about 3:50, which means he was
already three miles ahead of me when I was at the camper. That's
about the same time he ran 19 miles at the 1999 Sunmart 50K.
Could he sustain that pace the third loop??
DEJA VU ALL OVER AGAIN
Loop 3 was identical to Loop 2 but if you've ever run a loop
course, you know the hills get steeper and the miles get longer
after you've been out there for a while!
Fatigue colors perception.
I think I had more fun on my third loop than Jim did. Although I
had the energy to run I was happy to just walk to protect my
knees and hamstring. I felt no time pressure, which was a treat
-- so different from my last race.
I could socialize more with other runners who were walking
(unless they were too tired or demoralized to chat) and I could
observe my surroundings more closely. The weather was perfectly
sunny and warm, the trails were dry, the birds were singing, and
I could hear wildlife scampering in the forest as I approached
Triple C Trail on Loop 2;
by Loop 3, we were spread out farther.
I even saw my first
armadillo-in-the-wild (as opposed to confined or road kill) on
this last loop. I would have missed seeing it if I'd been
running. It was gone before I could get a photo.
I was surprised at the number of people I passed while walking
the last fifteen miles. I was able to maintain a very brisk pace
(for me) until the end of the race. That got me thinking more
about walking all or most of the ATY 24-hour race in three
weeks. It may be the best way for me to avoid hamstring,
blister, and cramping problems and stay on the track the entire
When I was coming into the last aid station near our camper I
could hear what sounded like our truck being started. I soon
discovered it was Jim but by the time I got down there he was
gone. (I had to go through the Trail Nazi again for permission to
leave the trail.) Jim had already finished the race, grabbed
some food at the
post-race BBQ, and walked back to the camper to see if I'd fed
Cody yet. He could tell I hadn't been back the second time yet
so he fed Cody and drove back to the finish area with him to wait for
50K runners on the Triple C Trail in Loop 2
Jim left me a note to call him when I got to the camper. He was
happy to hear I'd be finishing soon and I was glad he had a good
race. I estimated it would take me 50 minutes to walk the
remaining three miles. I returned to the aid station and
continued on the Chinquapin Trail.
About two miles from the end a chatty woman ten years younger
than me caught up and asked if she could walk with me to the
end. She was still able to run but preferred to talk! She wasn't
in any hurry because the friends she'd ridden with to the race
were well behind us. I was also glad for the company because it
made the time go faster. I was still able to maintain a brisk
walking pace at that point, but my knees hurt too much to want
to run. There just was no point to it.
As we entered the "gauntlet" of runners and their canopies, I
suggested Nancy run ahead to the finish line. Several spectators
encouraged me to run, too. My response was that I had one
speed left, and this was it! I continued my brisk walk.
In fact, I walked the last three miles faster than I estimated
and Jim almost missed me at the finish. He had just gotten behind the finish
"arch" and taken a test picture of Nancy. He looked up, saw
me coming several minutes earlier than expected, and snapped two
good finish photos of me. This is the first one:
The official race photographer is sitting on the ground taking
pictures. A rep from Nestle Co. is on the left in the goofy
outfit (the bottles of chocolate Nesquik sure tasted good at the
end). I cropped in closely to get the photo of myself at the
top of this entry.
My time was 8:26:59, a 50K personal worst, but
I was very happy with it. I'll explain the irony of that in the
next entry. (Clue: think "perspective.")
I figure I could have finished the race in a little less than
eight hours at the running/walking pace I was going if I hadn't
stopped at the camper twice, gone out of my way to get to my
drop box twice, and taken four dozen photos! That would have
improved my pace from 16:17 per mile to about 15:20 per mile. I
would be tickled pink with a 16-minute average at ATY over 24
hours -- that would give me the 90 miles I originally set as my
goal; I've lowered that goal since my hamstring injury,
Jim ran a comfortable race and finished
Jim finished in 6:36, slower than he was hoping for when he saw
how well he was doing at the end of the second loop, but a good
time for the training he had -- and a pace more like the one he
should be doing his first twelve hours at ATY. He had absolutely
no problems during the race, just slowed down the third loop
Jim placed 11th out of 19
men in the 60-64 year age group and 233rd
overall out of 279 male finishers. The slowest man in his age
group finished in 11:10 hours, which was also the
overall slowest finishing time this year (he had only five
minutes to spare on the cut-off). The M60-69 course record is
a quick 4:25.
I finished 7th of 9 women in the 55-59 year age
group and 174th of 203 female 50K finishers. I'm almost 60. In
the 60-64 year female age group, I would have placed a little
worse (7th of 8 finishers)! The slowest woman in the
F55-9 AG finished in 9:54. The F50-59
course record is 4:16, the F60-69 record 5:33.
That gives me something to
shoot for next year . . . yeah, right!
Happy to be done. Now, can I do another long run
tomorrow for a double?
According to the results on Roger Soler's
web site, there were 482
finishers in the 50K (279 men, 203 women). Kelly Mortenson was
first overall in 3:21; Wendy Terris was first female in 3:53.
These times were well off the course records of 3:07
(Ulrich Steidl) and 3:35 (Liza Hunter-Galvan),
One hundred sixty runners finished the 50-miler (112 men, 48
women). The overall winner, Matthew Lonergan, finished in 5:56;
Donna Palisca was first female in 7:10. Course records
are 5:20 (Charl Mattheus) and 6:14 (Ann Trason).
You can see all the results in both races at the web site link
above, as well as results from recent years.
Jim had almost two hours to kill after he finished the race,
waiting for me to come in. He picked up his finishers' medal and
silky sueded microfiber jacket with hood, ate some food, and
went to the camper to see if I'd been there yet to feed Cody. He
also thought to get a camera so he could catch me at the finish
line, which was a nice surprise for me! I forgot to suggest it
to him when I talked to him just after he left the camper with
Although I felt strong throughout the whole race, I was mighty
glad to chug down some chocolate drink soon after finishing, go
through the long food line (shown in photo above), and SIT DOWN! We found Georgia friend Tom
Adair and had fun talking to him and meeting some other people
There was still plenty of food left when I finished (probably
half of the 50-milers were still out on the course, and a few
dozen 50K runners). Those of us closer to the back than the
front really appreciate that. Too often the good stuff is gone
when slower runners finish or there aren't any finishers'
garments left in our size. Thank you, Sunmart folks.
I wasn't very hungry but the wide variety of
grilled and BBQ'd foods looked tasty.
I was plenty warm when I was running and walking during the race
but I get chilled pretty quickly when I stop moving after a
race. As soon as I got cold we decided to return to the camper.
Ohhh, was I stiff! I was glad I had to walk only a hundred yards
to the truck and not another two-thirds mile back to the camper.
We both slept well after the race, happy with our results even
though our races don't look all that impressive to anyone else.
Next entry: define "success" (post-race and other related
Cheers from Texas,
"Runtrails & Company" - Sue Norwood, Jim O'Neil, Cody, and
Tater (in spirit)
© 2008 Sue Norwood and Jim O'Neil