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"Ya know, right now I'm trained for a 100-miler."
- Jim to Sue, during a pleasant run at McDowell Mountain Regional Park
about ten days after his 75-miler at Across the Years

Southern Arizona in January. It sounded so inviting in December when we got the first sub-freezing temperatures and a little coating of ice on our deck in Roanoke, Virginia.

We'd originally planned to leave home in early December, travel to Houston, and run the Sunmart 50K and 50-miler as our last long training run three weeks before the 24-hour race at Across the Years (ATY) in the Phoenix area. Then we could hang out in the warm, sunny Sonoran Desert for a few weeks and return home after the likelihood of snow was gone . . . like in March. We'd be "snow birds" for our first time ever!

But high diesel fuel costs gave us pause and we decided instead to go to ATY in our van, out and back in less than two weeks. We'd save money that way.

Plan B had its drawbacks, however, and we ended up making the decision shortly before Christmas to haul our camper out West once again with a mere five days to pack and make arrangements both at home and in Arizona. Plan C.

Talk about being adaptable. We're getting to have a bit of a reputation for changing our minds . . .

I like the spontaneity! It's fun to be flexible and play some things "by ear." It's a nice benefit of being retired. We do have a house and property to maintain, however, and volunteer jobs in the community that we enjoy, so we aren't quite as footloose and fancy-free as couples who full-time in their RVs. We like having a home base from which to venture out and return again.

The day before we left home we got about half an inch of snow (photo below). I love snow but Jim's a snow-phobe after living in Illinois and Montana for 55 years. Definitely time to get going!! We were really looking forward to the warmth of Phoenix.

Better get outa here before it gets worse . . .

"Warmth" was a long time coming. The four nights we spent on our 2,200-mile drive to Phoenix were all quite chilly. Fortunately, the water in our tanks didn't freeze, nor did we run into any ice, sleet, or snow on the roadways. We expected it to be warmer in Phoenix when we got there on December 26. We arrived to below-average temperatures both day and night. No fair!!

We came better prepared for the race than some folks, however. We knew from reading previous race reports that Phoenix can get mighty cold at night on race weekend. And it did. The folks on the ATY course the night of December 29 who were in the 72-, 48-, and 24-hour races (Day 1 runners) darn near froze their butts off. Even Jim, bundled up in multiple layers and a resident of Montana for eighteen years in the not-so-distant past, got hypothermic that night.

Fortunately, it began warming up a little bit by New Year's Day -- more like the normal mid-60s for highs. That's in the Valley, however. After the race we moved to the other side of the metro area from Nardini Manor to the McDowell Mountain Regional Park. Our campsite sits about 1,800 feet in elevation, which results in temperatures about five degrees cooler than the city both day and night. 

Scenic view from our campsite SE toward the Goldfield and Superstition Mountains. 1-10-08

To our chagrin, it was warmer in Roanoke (and my brother's home near Cincinnati) than it was in the Phoenix area on a couple days . . . but at least it has been sunny every day except one or two and there hasn't been any snow below 4,000 feet. Some days haven't reached 60 degrees. Most nights are in the low to mid-30s. Wind is common, adding more of a chill.

It's not as warm as we expected but it's still better than whatever it's doing in Roanoke in January! (Don't worry. We'll get a dose of winter when we go back home sometime in February.) We were wise to bring more winter than summer clothing with us.


We love our current "home" at McDowell Mountain, one of ten beautiful units in the Maricopa County Regional Park System. We first stayed here four years ago, right after Jim retired. I ran the Pemberton 50K trail race in early February that year, two loops on the undulating Pemberton Trail that encircles the 21,000-acre desert park.

After moving our camper to McDowell we discovered most of the ten regional parks have campsites, but we weren't sure about the availability of trails at the other nine parks. We knew McDowell has over fifty miles of trails, and decided that's where we'd spend a few weeks playing in the sun.

View along the Pemberton Trail.    1-12-08

After we chose a nice campsite on the outside of the North Loop I walked down to the visitor's center to pay for our first week. A tall gentleman heard me talking to one of the rangers and realized I looked familiar -- he was a volunteer at Across the Years!

Now what are the odds, in this metro area with millions of people, that one of them would recognize me from ATY??? And he's wasn't even a runner in the event!

Rand Hubbell is marketing coordinator for Maricopa County AND the manager of McDowell Mountain Regional Park. I mentioned that the Pemberton 50K is held on these trails. Well, so is the popular Javelina Jundred race, founded by ultra runner Geri Kilgariff several years ago and ably directed the last two years by Jimmie Wrublik, Rodger's teen-aged son. As park manager, Rand has been involved in the JJ race and got to know the Wrubliks. This year he decided to volunteer at ATY because he'd heard so many good things about it.

L-R: Park Maintenance Worker, Mark Ostapczuk; Park Supervisor, Rand Hubbell,
and Park Maintenance Worker, Tony Blanco 

I didn't get a photo of Rand but found the one above from the following web site: http://www.mcdowellparkassociation.org/

So we've felt even more "at home" at McDowell Mountain Park with its special connection to ultra running and some really nice people we know! 

In the photo above taken on January 12, Jim and Cody pose by one of several attractive stone benches located throughout the park. That one is dedicated to Geri Kilgariff.


You know how, um, adaptable we are, right? Shortly after we decided to bring the camper to Arizona and spend more time here after ATY, I suggested to Jim that he run the Pemberton 50K on February 9. I figured he'd be well-enough recovered after the 24-hour race to run it, and it'd be good training for his later spring races since he hates doing long training runs alone.

He concurred and sent RD Brian Wieck a check. Fortunately, the race wasn't filled up and he could still get in. Great! We knew there was plenty to do in the Phoenix area for several weeks and could train on the Pemberton Trail.

Through e-mail correspondence with Brian we re-remembered (remembered again after forgetting!) that Brian spends a couple months each winter with his parents in nearby Fountain Hills, then returns to his home in Montana after the Pemberton 50K. Still, we were a bit surprised one day when we returned from a run to see a car with the Montana tag "50K BUG" at a trailhead near our campsite.

The fountain for which Fountain Hills is named.  1-3-08

We figured it HAD to be Brian. I left a note on his window to come by see us if he had time. He found us about an hour later and we talked for a while. It was great to see him again. He's the only ultra runner we've "run into" since ATY. We talked about upcoming races, his desire to concentrate on shorter races to regain his (considerable) speed, and our Montana connection.


This also happened to be the morning that Jim mentioned to me how good he was feeling (quote at top of this entry). We were having an enjoyable run on the Pemberton and Scenic trails, below. We were both amazed at how quickly we recovered from ATY. This was only ten days after the race and our six- to ten-mile training runs on the rolling, sandy trails were feeling easy.

Jim and Cody ascend the Scenic Trail on January 10

Jim commented that the 75 miles he ran at ATY was good training for a 100-miler. Whenever we DNF a race, it ends up feeling like "only" a training run and we want to finish our unfinished business. It's that "all dressed up and nowhere to go" feeling of frustration. Been there, done that.

We both knew his next 100-miler (Umstead) isn't until early April. I admit I'm the one who responded, "Well, why don't you run Rocky Raccoon?"

I'm not sure if Jim had even thought of it, or if he was setting me up to suggest it first! Doesn't matter.

Neither of us has run Rocky but we're familiar with the trails at Hunstville State Park north of Houston, Texas. We've both run the 50-mile Sunmart race there. The terrain is undulating forest trails with roots -- and memorable shoe-sucking mud after it rains (ask us how we know). It's considered one of the "easier" hundred-milers and attracts hundreds of runners for the 50-mile and 100-mile races.

We also knew it'd be fairly convenient to our route back home, especially if we have to stay farther south because of wintry weather. What we didn't know was the exact date and whether it was filled.

Jim did his homework on the internet when we returned to the camper. While waiting for Brian to come by, he learned the February 2nd date would be great timing and the race has no limit to the number of runners allowed. So far, so good. He scanned the entire race web site and several runners' reports and by the time Brian came by to see us, he had decided to run the race -- set for one week before the Pemberton 50K.

Oops. Can't do both. Jim told Brian he'd let him know about the Pemberton race as soon as we figured out whether we could get into the campground at Huntsville SP on race weekend. Later that afternoon Jim made the campground reservation.

Everything was in place. A new place, but in place! One more adaptation. We wouldn't be staying in Arizona as long, but we could hang out in southern Texas until we decided to return home.

Sunset reflected over the Superstition Mountains, as seen from our camper on January 3

The next day I saw Brian again in our campground, finishing up a hike with his mom and dog. I told him Jim sent in his RR100 entry that morning so we wouldn't be here for the Pemberton race. Brian was disappointed but said he'd mail Jim's shorts to him when they come in. That was a nice gesture, and unexpected. The race has a no-refund policy and we accepted that without question. Hopefully, Jim will be able to run the race in the future. It's a good race on a very runnable, scenic course.

I'll have more information in upcoming entries about the great trails we've run and hiked in McDowell Mountain Park, the interesting critters and plants that live here, more photos of sunsets, and a bit of history about the Hohokam tribe that inhabited the area a thousand years ago.


You have seen several examples in just the last couple months of how our plans morph, sometimes quickly. So I've changed my mind about revealing what our current plans are for the rest of this year because they are very likely to be different in a few weeks or months! I'll focus instead on our general running goals.

Jim's still interested in 100-milers but admits that his motivation to adequately train for them is waning. He'll see how he does at Rocky and Umstead before deciding if he'll run the Bighorn 100-miler again. He can get part of his entry fee back later in the spring if he determines he's not ready to finish it this time. If he doesn't run Bighorn, we may not go out West this summer. With fuel prices getting higher and higher, we may save our money from that trip and use it for our winter 2008-9 trip to Arizona.

Jim would like to concentrate on shorter distances and speed work this year so making cut-offs in ultras isn't such a challenge. His wants to run both the Hinson Lake and Across the Years (ATY) 24-hour runs again in the fall and winter. They are more "user-friendly" races than the gnarly 100-milers we love but can no longer finish within the time limits. We both really enjoyed those two races recently.

I have no intention of running any races until the fall, although I could easily change my mind! My plan is to reduce my overall mileage this year and avoid steep downhill running to preserve my knees a little while longer. (For anyone who hasn't read the 2007 journal, I was diagnosed in September with having a serious lack of cartilage in both knees.) After pacing Jim at Rocky I'll rest up for four to six weeks, then gradually increase my mileage, uphill strength, and speed as I train for Hinson Lake in late September. My biggest goal race will be ATY at the end of December -- if I can get in again. Like Jim, I want to increase the distance I ran the first time in both of these races.

Sue and Cody pose with a Saguaro Cactus in front of the McDowell Mountains.  1-8-08

My longer-term goals are for 2009. I turn 60 at the end of March next year. I'd love to be in good enough shape (i.e., faster than I am now) to kick some ultra butt in 2009 since I'll be in a new age group. A lot depends on the condition of my knees then, however.

Runners joke that they don't have to keep getting faster to win their age groups as they get older, they just have to outlive their competition. But that's not really true any more. Sure, there are fewer and fewer participants in the older age groups and they do slow down, on average, each decade. And there are fewer women than men who still compete after turning sixty. But there are still some remarkably fast men and women in their 60s, 70s, and even 80s who continue to run ultras well.

I used to dream that I wanted to beat the incomparable Helen Klein's records in my 70s and 80s, but that's not looking real likely unless knee replacements significantly improve by the time I need them! Helen's still able to run marathons in well under six hours at age 85. I'll be happy just to be able to ambulate on my own two feet when I'm her age -- forget about how far or fast!

Stay tuned to see where in the world Sue and Jim are in 2008. We aren't even sure how long we'll be gone this trip, let alone what we may be doing the rest of the year.

We're not indecisive. We're flexible!

Next entry: enjoying the Sonoran Desert sunshine in January, a new treat for us


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

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2008 Sue Norwood and Jim O'Neil