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
Most of our leaves were still green in late
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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!
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
And that's where we stand at 10PM on Tuesday, November 17 . .
Next entry: a new adventure begins
"Runtrails & Company" - Sue Norwood, Jim O'Neil, Cody, and
Tater (in spirit)
© 2008 Sue Norwood and Jim O'Neil