2008 ULTRA RUNNING ADVENTURES

 

   
 
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  CATCHING UP ON THE EVE OF OUR DEPARTURE

MONDAY, NOVEMBER 17

 
"Don't throw good money after bad."
- popular saying
 
 

It's been a busy couple of weeks since the Mountain Masochist race and would have been even more intense if we'd followed our original race and travel plans. Once again, we adapted to changing circumstances. We're glad we did.

Several months ago we signed up for the Ultracentric 12-hour (Sue) and 24-hour (Jim) runs in McKinney, TX, a little bit north of Dallas. The timing, distances, and location were ideal for our training build-up for ATY (Across the Years) at the end of the year. The races were scheduled for November 15, two weeks after MMTR, three weeks before Sunmart, six-plus weeks before ATY. Jim could practice his run-walk-sleep patterns again for his 48-hour run at ATY; I could get in a good 50-miler and have plenty of time to recover before my 24-hour race at ATY. And it was "on the way" to Sunmart (Huntsville, TX) and ATY (Phoenix). Since we didn't take a long trip this past summer, we'd go for about three months this winter and take in about five ultras in the Southwest.


Most of our leaves were still green in late October.  (10-20-08)

It all sounded good on paper. In retrospect, we should have waited longer to enter Ultracentric (we were afraid it'd fill as fast as some other ultras have been filling) and asked more questions about the format and logistics. We also should have realized how difficult it might be for race organizers to keep up with so many simultaneous races for runners, walkers, duathletes, and cyclists in the 6-12-24-48 hour events, all of them on the same day we'd be running.

I don't think the foot races ever did fill up. Information on the web site was not only lacking, it was also confusing and contradictory right up to race date. We've read negative comments from runners about the previous race courses but hoped those issues would be resolved this year with a new venue and path. It was difficult to plan logistics (parking, setting up our personal aid station and tent, etc.) before seeing the course with so little information available. The RD did answer some of our questions via e-mail but we hesitated to bother him with more.

We should have. We really wanted to have our ducks in a row before we got there so we could focus on our races. But we were left with a lot more questions than answers.


Soon to be out of dry-dock! Some leaves are starting to turn. (10-20-08)

Even though we began calling for camping reservations two or three months prior to the race, finding a suitable campground was also a challenge because the only two private RV parks near McKinney were reluctant to take reservations until a few days before the race. The public campgrounds were too distant to be realistic.

With only a couple weeks to go we learned we couldn't park anywhere near the site during the race but would have to shuttle from a remote area. That made race day logistics extra difficult at every level: setting up and tearing down our table, tent, and running gear/supplies, and taking care of Cody. We did find a professional pet sitter who could come to our camper twice a day to feed and walk Cody while we were involved in the race but that meant an additional expense.


Beautiful leaves at Explore Park  (10-28-08)

After Masochist, Jim expressed his lack of interest in running Ultracentric. I assumed it was because of his disappointment about not completing MMTR. The more we talked about the problems associated with Ultracentric, the more we realized we'd just be "throwing good money after bad." We'd have to forfeit our entry fees but we could save money on pet sitting and expensive private campground fees (c'mon, $35 a night to sleep right next to the freeway??) and get more done around home if we bagged the race and waited a bit to head out West.

We are very glad now that we withdrew from the race. Several people we know expressed great displeasure afterwards to the internet ultra lists about the course itself, the venue, the organization, and misrepresentations told by race management to runners who hoped to set records. Although considerable prize money for new records was offered, no one could come anywhere close to them because the course was much hillier than advertised. That alone wouldn't have bothered Jim and me so much, since we're slower and really prefer some elevation change to a completely flat course. But the other problems runners mentioned would have bothered us to distraction. Since this race continues to elicit more bad publicity than good, I doubt we'll ever enter again.

BACK TO THE DRAWING BOARD

Once we made our decision to withdraw from Ultracentric we had to re-think our training and travel plans. At that point we still planned to do either the 50K or 50-miler at Sunmart but hadn't entered yet (no hurry on that one; you can enter up to the day before the race).


Cody at Explore Park  (11-5-08)

Step One was to register for Sunmart.

I entered the 50K because the 12-hour time limit on the 50-miler is too tight for me and a faster pace than I need at ATY. The cut-off for the 50K is more than generous: over 11 hours. My plan is to go at a 16-17 minute pace at Sunmart and then do a long run/walk on the same trail system the next day, for a "long double." Jim entered the 50-miler and will need to go at least 14:24/mile, including all stops, to finish. He's more likely to accomplish that pace at Sunmart than MMTR. Sunmart is truly 50 miles and the trails are much flatter and smoother.

Step Two was scheduling another long training run to replace Ultracentric.

We figured we could just do that at home in mid-November, although probably not for 12 and 24 hours as in the race. I wanted to be on my feet about ten hours in early November, with enough time to rest for Sunmart. Jim wanted to recover from Masochist, then do a long run the same weekend as Ultracentric. Unfortunately, neither long run has happened yet. I've been "hamstrung" with a sore hamstring for over a month and Jim's simply been too busy with other things the past week. <sigh>


I took this photo of Jim in March, 2007 but the drill is the same before every trip: check the brakes.

Step Three was making new travel plans.

We'd already made reservations post-Ultracentric at Lake Whitney, a Texas state park south of Dallas. Then we'd stay at one of the campgrounds at Fort Hood until moving on to Huntsville SP for Sunmart. Even that plan wasn't solid, however; Fort Hood doesn't accept reservations like some other military installations do. Just how busy might it be the week of Thanksgiving? A phone call to our first choice of campgrounds there, Belton Lake, reassured us that we'd probably be able to get in OK.

We ended up canceling our reservation at Lake Whitney and decided to head straight for Fort Hood, arriving early enough to secure a spot before Thanksgiving week. We don't really know what to expect there but photos on the Hood MWR website look much nicer than the campground closer to the main post. Jim was stationed at Fort Hood for sixteen months when he returned from Viet Nam 38 years ago. He vaguely remembers going to Belton Lake for recreation. He hasn't been back to the post since. It'll be interesting to see if he recognizes anything now. Our reservation for Huntsville SP remain the same. The only issue there is whether we can get one of the few spots suitable for our camper.


Jim is also a firefighter. He's at the top of the ladder in the photo above, taken in early November
when his crew fought a chimney fire. (Someone in the fire company took this photo.)

Step Four was deciding when to leave home.

We finally picked tomorrow, Tuesday, November 18, so Jim could attend his rescue squad's election of officers tonight. That decision was good. Not only is Jim the organization's VP again, he also received his 2008 mileage reimbursement early in the form of Visa gift cards. The total is substantial enough to pay for our diesel fuel all the way to Phoenix! That's a huge help. The reason we cancelled our summer trip out West was the high cost of fuel. The price is down quite a bit now (although diesel isn't down by half, like gasoline) so our fuel money will stretch much farther on this trip.

MAKING A LIST, CHECKING IT TWICE

There are so many things to do before our long trips that we have to make long lists to avoid forgetting something important. We've gotten almost everything done with about nine hours to go. Good thing we had that extra week!

We deliberately put off doing some yard chores until close to the time we left: cutting back the perennials and pulling out the dying vegetable plants, for example. I left some mums that were still blooming but topped off everything else and pulled out the tomatoes, peppers, and annual herbs -- even though they were still producing in the middle of November after a couple of early frosts. Wow. We definitely got our money's worth out of that garden this year.


More fire wood  (11-12-08)

We spent most of one day last week doing an unexpected yard chore. AEP (above) came out sooner  than we expected to cut down a large dead oak tree near the power lines. They left a big pile of mulch at the end of the driveway at our request and we had to distribute it before leaving. This is what the long bed along the driveway looks like now:


Putting it to "bed" for the winter (11-17-08)

Quite a bit different than the spring and summer photos of that bed full of flowers, eh?

Waiting a week to leave also gave more time for leaves to fall. We had a beautiful leaf season and lots of leaves have come down, but there are still a bunch clinging to branches. Jim wanted to remove as many leaves as possible from the lawn and gutters before we left.


Dramatic back-lighting on trees across the road from our house at sunset (11-17-08)

We can get a neighbor to cut our grass in the summer. It's another matter finding someone to bag leaves or get on our roof to blow them out of the gutters. Those jobs, and weeding, simply won't get done while we're gone this winter.

NEW TECH TOY

In addition to all the normal chores of prepping the house and yard for the winter, readying the truck and camper (below) for a long trip, and packing what we need for three months away from home, we added to our list of things to do by making a last-minute decision to buy a new computer three days before departure. Jim spent several hours over the weekend getting it up and running.


Almost ready to leave  (11-17-08)

This is the first time we've taken two computers with us in the camper. On recent trips we took only Jim's HP laptop with Windows Vista. I really liked using my Dell desktop with Windows XP to download and edit photos for our web site. My photo downloading software (Windows Scanner and Camera Wizard) will not work with Vista. I so disliked the software on the laptop that I didn't upload many of the journal entries from our last sunbird trip until we got back home in February.

Since we plan to be gone so long this trip, I talked Jim into taking my PC, too. That meant getting a new, more manageable monitor. Although my 10-year-old Panasonic CRT is still working great, it's too big to haul around in the camper. I tried -- and returned -- two well-known brands of flat screen monitors that just weren't acceptable. What I really wanted was a sharp, shiny HP monitor, but the prices seemed awfully high.


More colorful leaves (11-5-08)

We were back at Best Buy and Sam's Club on Saturday, looking for an alternative. Let's look at HP monitors again. Or maybe we should get another laptop to replace the Dell PC, since it's old(er) and slow. But that would mean getting Vista, not XP. I don't want Vista.

While wandering around at Sam's Club, I stumbled on a beautiful little HP Pavilion Slimline desktop computer with a tower that is only about one-third the size of normal PCs (11"H, 4"W, 13"D). It is loaded with features, power, memory/storage. And it came with a shiny 20" monitor, keyboard, and mouse -- all for a price we couldn't believe, a six-month return policy (even usually-generous Walmart's return policy on computers is only 15 days), and no interest if we choose to take a year to pay for it with the Sam's Club card we already have. Jim was very pleased with the package (it's a better system than his laptop) and I decided I could adapt to Vista. Here's a picture of it in our camper:

The only downside was the time it took Jim to load all the software from our old(er) 32-bit computers. Despite what a dishonest sales weasel told us at Best Buy (not Sam's Club), all our current software loaded just fine on the new 64-bit Intel Dual-Core processor. (Best Buy wanted us to purchase a big package of software and we wisely decided to investigate further.) As expected, the Camera Wizard program did not load but that's because of Vista, not the processor. I will experiment with a new Canon photo program that came with the digital camera we recently purchased. Who knows, maybe I'll like it even better than the Wizard.

MORE ADVENTURE THAN WE WANT?

Now here we are on the eve of our departure. We've accomplished everything on our lists that can be done until a few minutes prior to locking up and driving away. Our timing is perfect except for one little glitch . . .

. . . while listening to the local news this evening, we discovered it is snowing in the mountains west of here, with a possible accumulation of an inch in Roanoke and up to three inches in the New River Valley (through which we intend to drive on I-81 in the morning). Uh, oh.


Snow? But autumn just started!  (11-5-08)

Now where the heck did that come from?? We've been paying close attention to the weather lately but snow wasn't predicted (until now) to fall this far south in this storm. We discussed whether we should leave soon after Jim returned from his Rescue Squad meeting tonight so we could get far enough south to beat all or most of the snow. We still hadn't decided when he left.

I spent the next couple hours preparing for the possibility that we'd be leaving about 10PM. We could do it, but if it was already snowing on I-81 it could be more dangerous at night than in the morning, after more traffic had driven over it (and we could see better). We were also really, really tired from the extra yard work we'd done in the last few days, the stress of preparing to leave for three months, and lack of sleep.

After Jim returned home about 9PM we decided we were too tired to leave tonight. Since we don't have reservations at Fort Hood, we can leave on Wednesday if it looks too dangerous in the morning.

And that's where we stand at 10PM on Tuesday, November 17 . . .

Next entry: a new adventure begins

Always adapting,

Sue
"Runtrails & Company" - Sue Norwood, Jim O'Neil, Cody, and Tater (in spirit)

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2008 Sue Norwood and Jim O'Neil

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