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"It's not necessarily the amount of time you spend at practice that counts;
it's what you put into practice."  ~ Eric Lindros

Eric Lindros is not a runner. He'a retired professional ice hockey player but his quote is appropriate for any sport, including ultra running.

Jim and I have been putting more quality than quantity into our "practice" (i.e., training) this summer  and we hope it pays off in successful racing this fall and winter. Each of us has run and walked about 1,000 mils so far this year, which isn't a lot by ultra standards or even in comparison to our own running history. It's a concession to age, mostly. We've been trying to hone in on event-specific training and avoid "junk" miles.

I'll update how we're faring with the training plans detailed in the June 10 entry, which assumed we'd both be running 24 hours at ATY. That was before we knew for sure that we were in the race, and before Jim got a wild hair to run 48 hours there! As expected, we've both make some modifications to our schedules, but nothing drastic.

This has been our first full summer training in Roanoke's heat and humidity. It's been somewhat of a challenge for us, but our weather isn't as seriously miserable as other areas in our country that are even farther south. We've had to get on the trail before dawn for some of our long runs so we could avoid as much of the heat as possible (hard for folks who like to sleep till 7 AM!). And similar to the many years I lived in the Atlanta area, I still don't feel acclimated to the heat and humidity here, even at the end of summer. Nor does Jim, who lived in very dry Billings, Montana before moving to Virginia.

Temporary obstacle on our favorite greenway (Wolf Creek) after a summer storm.

Fortunately, autumn is just around the corner. The hummingbirds are mostly gone now, some mornings feel downright crisp at 60º F, life-giving rains have returned, and it's already dark by 8 PM. We hope to feel more energetic when we train in September and October as the air cools down and becomes less sticky.

Neither of us has lost the weight we thought we'd lose by now but we are both more "toned" -- less fat, more muscle. We still haven't found that effortless state of running that we had hoped to feel by now, either. We remain optimistic that we are on our way, however. Just give us some cooler weather as a little jump start . . .


Jim's training plan is more ambitious and schizophrenic than mine because it includes several flat or mostly flat race courses and one or two very mountainous courses. It's tough to train optimally for both at the same time. In the June entry I elaborated on the training conundrum that poses: how to train his muscles adequately for ultra marathon distances on both flat and hilly terrain, plus work on the speed required to beat cut-offs in fixed-distance races and meet his distance goals in fixed-time races.

It has definitely been a challenge for him all summer to figure out the right "mix."

Jim training on the hilly Glenwood Horse Trail near Apple Orchard Mountain on April 30 --
photos below show how high the weeds are this summer!

Jim decided to use his heart rate monitor more this summer, with mixed results. The main problem we both have is accurately determining what the numbers mean. There are various methods of figuring out our maximum heart rate. That step is crucial because all the training percentages are derived from it. Even when I was being coached back in the mid-1980s by an expert in the field (Roy Benson) and one of his protégés (Dick Bell), it was difficult to accurately determine my max. As a consequences, I've always preferred to go by "feel." I pretty much know when I'm at 65-75% (good for long runs) or 80% (tempo pace), for example.

Jim has been more scientific in his approach. He uses his HR monitor more for long runs, to be certain he's keeping his heart rate low enough, rather than for speed and hill workouts. He's comfortable for hours at a time at about 130 beats per minute, which he estimates is around 70%. When it gets higher, he backs off and runs more slowly or walks until the rate comes back down. Ideally, he'll use the monitor during his races so he doesn't have "happy feet" in the early hours and blow it.

Speaking of getting our heart rate up, I liked this panel from a mini-series of Non Sequitur cartoons where Danae gives her father (fake) startling news that shocks his system:

Non Sequitur cartoon re: cardio workouts by Wiley,  8-12-08

The cartoon is kind of hard to read, so here's the message in the last two boxes: Young Danae tells her father that getting a nose ring was a lot easier than she thought (she doesn't really have one, though). He freaks out. Her talking horse remarks that Dad's reaction sounded painful. Danae replies that her cardio workouts aren't for wimps.

Neither are ours, but our "quality" workouts are designed more for endurance than a high heart rate.


His tentative training plan from June is in red type; modifications and results are in black:

Increase distance gradually all summer so he can run as far as possible without trashing himself at Hinson Lake at the end of September

Three months ago Jim's average weekly mileage was about 25 miles. He has increased that up to an average of just over 36 miles per week over the summer. He's had two weeks of 60+ miles. At this point he knows he isn't trained for a trail 100-miler -- but he's not registered for one! He does have a reasonable chance of meeting his running and walking goal of 87 miles over 24 hours at Hinson Lake. He'll continue to increase his long runs and average weekly mileage after that race.

Outbound on Wolf Creek Greenway toward Stewart's Knob (in background),
near the Blue Ridge Parkway on a recent hazy September morning.

Do a long run every one to two weeks (he's not sure how long his last run will be before Hinson Lake) and practice his run-walk strategies for Hinson Lake and MMTR    - and -

Do some of the long runs on flatter terrain but most on hilly terrain, including the Promise Land and Masochist courses, which are about an hour from our home

Most of Jim's long runs the past three months have been on the rolling dirt and crushed rock Wolf Creek Greenway (pictured above) and adjacent Stewart's Knob single track trail. His longest run (six days ago) was 24 miles in 5:17 hours, a 13:12 pace that included walking and stops at his truck to re-supply. He plans one more long run of about 27 miles in 6½-7 hours tomorrow, two weeks prior to Hinson Lake. He's done three other runs of about 21 miles on the greenway, all in the 13-14 minutes-per-mile range.

He could do these long runs faster but he's trying to simulate a run/walk pace close to what he wants to use at ATY the first day. He would like to get 87 miles on Day 1, including a sleep break of a couple of hours. He'll practice for this at both Hinson Lake and Ultracentric. On Day 2 at ATY he'd like to get another 43-53 miles (including a second nap), for a total of 130 to 150 miles in 48 hours. He knows he'll be mostly walking on the second day.

Jim (in foreground) running at Hinson Lake last fall

When Jim was building up his long runs in July he did a moderately-long run of 2½ hours on the very hilly Promise Land course on Terrapin and Apple Orchard Mountains and two runs of about 19 miles each out-and-back on the second half of the MMTR course NE of Hwy. 60 in the Mt. Pleasant National Scenic Area (6 hours the first time, when he got off-course and was on the AT part of the time by mistake, and 4:40 hours the second time when he found the right jeep roads and trails). He plans to do Clark Zealand's training run in mid-October on the second half of the MMTR course two weeks prior to the race. (Clark is the new race director this year, as David Horton was planning to be on the Continental Divide Trail this summer -- more about that in the next entry.)

We got a big surprise at the end of July when Jim decided to do the Glenwood Horse Trail part of the Promise Land course. This 50K is held in April when the trees at the higher elevations (4,000+ feet) on Terrapin and Apple Orchard Mountain haven't even leafed out yet. At that time of year the "grass" is low and presents no problem. We've only run on the horse trail in the winter and spring, never the summer. The photo above illustrates what a nice trail this is in late April, just after the race was run.

Well, look at it now:

Obviously, there haven't been any equestrians on the Glenwood Horse Trail this summer!  7-30-08

Ha! It was so overgrown I gave up and turned around after a couple of miles because of the dense tangles of crown vetch (above left) and other plants. Jim persevered through about five miles of this mess before he came out to the single track on White Oak Ridge that was less overgrown -- but too steep uphill to do much running until he got up to the Blue Ridge Parkway (BRP) and came down the jeep road used in the race. I ended up running and hiking another part of the course near Sunset Field, where we parked up on the BRP. I got pretty distracted by all the flowers and butterflies along a runnable jeep road but still got in a good workout:

Can you see all three butterflies in the photo? (7-30-08 on the Promise Land 50K race course)

Do one or more middle-distance hilly workouts each week

Check. Jim does most of these six- to ten-mile workouts on the hilly single-track trails at Explore Park. Occasionally he runs the hills at Roanoke Mountain or Chestnut Ridge near town. He runs or power walks up the hills to build strength, maintaining a faster pace than on his hilly long runs.

[Note: Since the country and state no longer fund Explore Park and all the staff was reassigned, Jim and I are part of a small group of volunteers who maintain the bike/hiking trails now. We were in charge of July and August. Jim cut out some deadfall and reported larger downed trees to another volunteer qualified to use a chain saw on the property. I spent several hours on a walk trimming rampant summer growth and I always pick up smaller limbs and branches when I hike or run out there.]

Do one speed workout a week, usually on flatter terrain like our favorite greenway trail -- a variety of fartkek, repeats, and tempo work

Jim's been doing mile repeats at a steady tempo pace (ten minutes or faster), but not fartlek or longer tempo runs. He's worked up to about six one-mile repeats plus enough walking and slow running between them to equal about ten miles in these workouts. All these runs have been on the flatter end of Wolf Creek Greenway.

Part of the soft (crushed rock) Wolf Creek Greenway, which is great for speed work.

Use a hard-easy schedule like he always has

He's been doing this, too. We both have to take more time these days to rest and rebuild after long or hard workouts. Jim's rest days are usually more restful than mine, as you'll see below. Sometimes we just don't have "it" (energy, fresh legs, motivation, whatever) on days we plan to do a long or hard workout, and we bag the run. It's better to wait until our bodies and brains want to work hard than to force it and get injured.

"Sharpen" the speed and hill work after Hinson Lake so he can finish Mountain Masochist; it's got a pretty tight time limit for older folks to beat

This is still his plan during October.

One of the few "flat" spots on the MMTR course.  11-07

After Masochist, focus on ATY-specific training in November and December: short, flat loops, his favorite run/walk patterns, fast walking, more speed work, and more long runs 

Ditto. After Masochist, Jim doesn't need to worry too much about hill training since the races he's running the rest of the fall and winter are mostly flat or rolling (although Ghost Town in mid-January has a fair amount of elevation gain and loss). His primary long runs will be the Ultracentric and Sunmart races. He probably won't have the energy to do any long runs besides these races after MMTR. He'll be in that weird time warp of, "Am I tapering for the next race or recuperating from the last one??"

Probably run the Sunmart 50-miler three weeks before ATY as a last long training run, then taper for ATY

Jim's still debating the wisdom of doing the 50-miler versus the 50K. He'll have 23 days to recover before his 48-hour race at ATY. At this point, he's thinking the 50K will be plenty (we aren't registered for Sunmart yet.). The 50K cut-off is a very generous 11:15 hours, so he could do his planned ATY pace there and not get cut. If he does the 50-miler (12-hour cut-off), he has to run a faster pace that will wear him out more for ATY.


Jim's not as big of a fan of cross-training as I am because he's able to run more mileage than I do now. He usually runs four to six days a week, and I'm doing only three to better preserve my knee cartilage. Although he's done a little bit of mountain biking on local trails and greenways, the only cross-training he does consistently is core and upper body weight work and stretching his back on the machines at the YMCA three days a week. He doesn't do any leg machines.

Jim on his Trek mountain bike at a trailhead to the Roanoke River Greenway (above)
and on single-track trail at Explore Park (below).  Summer of 2008


Except for some chronic, low-grade back soreness, Jim hasn't sustained any injuries this year. He stretches and strengthens his back on the machines at the Y, uses the whirlpool to soothe his back muscles, and gets chiropractic adjustments as needed. He hasn't gotten a professional sports massage for several years. He's much sturdier than I am!

Jim's had some foot pain during recent long runs, both from blisters and inadequate fat pads on the bottom of his feet. He's working on that . . . those are chronic problems for both of us.


Same drill: my stated goals from three months ago are in red, and updated remarks are in black:

Increase distance gradually all summer so I can run 50 miles without trashing myself at Hinson Lake at the end of September; volunteer during the night while Jim continues running and walking

I've increased my average weekly mileage from 25 to 35 miles in the last thirteen weeks. I didn't break 40 miles in one week until this past week. I probably won't average more than 40-45 miles/week in the three months between Hinson Lake and ATY, with my longest run 50-55 miles at Ultracentric.

Soon after writing the goal above in June, I became more concerned about finishing the New River Trail 50K in the time limit (seven hours, an average 13:27 pace per mile) than running 50 miles at Hinson Lake. That distance would trash me for the 50K, which is only two weeks later, and I don't really need to run that far, that long, before ATY.

After my secondary goal changed, I began concentrating more on steady running and less walking during my long runs, trying to average a 13-minute pace or less. I've been able to do that and now have more confidence in finishing NTR 50K within the time limit. The steady pacing should also benefit me in my other ultras this year.

Wolf Creek Greenway -- great place for steady-paced long runs,
as long as I don't sit on the benches along the way!

Do a long run every one to two weeks, getting up to ten hours before Hinson Lake

Until mid-August I was able to do a long run most every week as I built up my distance to 20 miles in a little over four hours. As the distance and time increased in my next two long runs, I had to allow more time for recovery. That was also the time period when we were focused on Tater's illness and subsequent death, which took a lot out of Jim and me physically and emotionally. A couple times I aborted long runs because the first few miles felt so crappy.

I'm pleased with the 20- and 22-mile runs (at 12:13 and 13:06 pace respectively, including all stops) that I did recently with very little walking. However, I'm disappointed with a 25-mile attempt a few days ago that ended up at only 23 miles in 5½  hours. I simply did too much the day before that run and wasn't rested enough to keep a steady running pace after four hours; I had to walk most of the last five miles. I was fatigued afterwards, but not sore. I've decided that's the longest I need to be on my feet before running six hours (steadier and harder) at Hinson Lake.

A few weeks ago I also did an 18-mile fast walk in five hours (16:40 pace with stops), the first I've done that outside a race. It wasn't one of my best ideas, however, because I used my muscles differently than when I run and I'm still paying for it (stride and foot plant are different). More about that in the "injury" section below. I much prefer to run slowly than walk fast but I need to train for the last hours of ATY when I'll probably be walking more than running.

Do occasional back-to-back long runs in lieu of an extra-long run

I haven't done this yet; I probably will at least once in the five weeks between the NRT 50K and Ultracentric. I like long doubles but I haven't worked up to enough mileage yet to do them without risk of injury.

Do all my long runs on rather flat terrain on dirt or crushed rock

Check -- all have been on the slightly rolling, dirt/crushed rock trails at Wolf Creek Greenway. I've been doing the 4½-mile out-and-back course repeatedly instead of the little 1/3 mile loops that I did last year for ATY. I probably should do the short loop course at least once before ATY because it affects my legs and feet differently than more straight-line running does (more likely to develop blisters, e.g., on a little loop than when running longer stretches without as many turns).

Scenic, shady stretch of Wolf Creek Greenway near the Blue Ridge Parkway. 9-08

Do one 3-6-mile uphill trail workout each 7-10 days to maintain strength; run enough gentle downhill miles to avoid quad problems

I changed my mind about that much hill work soon after stating this goal. Although I still incorporate some gentle to moderate hills in most of my workouts, I feel enough discomfort in my cartilage-challenged knees going down steeper hills to know it's Not a Good Thing any more. I'll continue to do some hilly hiking, but not running.

Do one or two speed workouts a week, usually on flatter terrain like our favorite greenway trail; vary the type (fartlek, repeats, tempo)

Most of the summer I've been doing only three runs a week: a long run and two short (4-5 mile) speed workouts that have incorporated all three types of fast-paced running mentioned above. I prefer runs with 20 minutes of steady tempo work at about 80% of max heart rate, which translates into an 8:40- to 9-minute/mile pace on the flat to rolling greenway trail. I'm more likely to get injured with the harder (85%), faster pace I run doing fartlek (random speed work) and short measured speed repeats.  Sometimes I do a few strides at the end of a tempo run, where I get up to 85% for several seconds. Those feel pretty good.

Frazz cartoon re: fartlek by Jef Mallet  7-5-09

However, I've backed off a bit on even the tempo runs the past three weeks because of an overuse injury in my hip that is aggravated by the longer stride I use when I run faster. I'm working on a shorter stride for those runs so they don't aggravate the injury. At this point I think the most effective runs are the ones where I maintain a 10- to 10½-minute/mile running pace plus occasional walking. If I can maintain that for 31 miles at New River Trail a month from now, I'll be very happy.

Use a hard-easy schedule like I always have

Check. That's a good plan regardless of age, and totally essential for someone pushing sixty. It's all relative, of course. What seemed "easy" twenty years ago is now "harder!"

After Hinson Lake and the NRT 50K,  focus on ATY-specific training from mid-October to December: short, flat loops, my favorite run/walk patterns, fast walking, more speed work, and continued long runs in the 10-12 hour range

My modified plan is still ATY-specific training from mid-October to the end of December, but without a lot of speed work and only one or two runs as long as 10-12 hours.

Probably run the Sunmart 50K (not the 50-miler) three weeks before ATY as a last long training run; I want to be well-rested for ATY.

That's still my plan, plus running 50-55 miles in 12 hours at Ultracentric in mid-November (6½ weeks before ATY).


The three main types of cross-training I've done this summer are walking and cycling outdoors and using weight machines at the Y. I also do some stretching, yoga, and ab crunches at home every day. Attempts at pool running during the spring caused my knees to hurt, so I gave that up for several months.

A scenic paved section of the Roanoke River Greenway where I like to ride my bike. (Summer, 2008)

I do core, upper, and lower body weight work three days a week, usually on running days since I'm already in or close to town. I'm doing fewer sets and reps now with higher weights, lifting 40,000-45,000 pounds per workout instead of 55,000-60,000 pounds with lighter weights and higher reps.

I mentioned that Jim prefers to REST on his rest days. I don't. Physically, I feel like a slug if I don't get some aerobic exercise every day. Since I'm running only three times a week (to save my knees), I either walk or cycle on active rest days. The walks are usually either two miles in our neighborhood or longer if Jim and I are riding together and he's running for an hour or more on one of our local trails. I maintain a comfortably moderate pace of about 17 MPH on those walks. I'm not breathing hard but I feel much better when I'm done. I count walking miles with my running miles.

My cycling goals have morphed from my original plan to learn to ride single-track trails on Jim's mountain bike to focusing more on paved rides on my road bike. The main reason is comfort. My Terry bike was professionally fitted to my specific body measurements and angles back in 2001 when I had what was called a "Fit Kit" assessment to determine which bike brand and model would be most suitable for me. The initial testing took about 45 minutes, as I recall. The bike guy was familiar with Terry bikes but didn't carry them in his business. He ordered the most appropriate model (Isis) and size for me. After it came in (photo below), he set the seat, pedals, and handlebars to fit me and my unique specs:

Sue being fitted to new Terry bike in 2001

The bottom line is that I'm physically comfortable riding my bike but my knees hurt when I ride Jim's Trek mountain bike up hills. That was a little bit of a surprise because we have the same inseam (leg) length. However, I'm a couple inches shorter in the waist and arms than Jim, resulting in other differences like hip and knee angles (viva la differences!).


One day about a month ago I was finishing up a ride at a large trailhead parking area for the Roanoke River Greenway. I noticed another man and woman nearby who had finished a bit before me. As I got off my bike, I overheard the man say to the woman, "She's a serious rider. That's a serious bike."

I looked around to see who they were talking about, but didn't see anyone else. My internal reaction was, "He surely doesn't mean ME!" 

Soon they came over and introduced themselves to me. The woman is a local runner that I haven't seen before. The man is her father, who was visiting from out of town and is more into cycling than his daughter. When the woman told me what her father said about my bike and asked me if I am a serious cyclist, I had to laugh. "No," I replied, "I'm a serious runner. This may be a serious bike, but I'm not a serious rider. I just use it for cross-training once or twice a week." We talked a little more about the greenway and my bike, I thanked them for the compliment, and we all drove away.

Although I spent a pretty penny seven years ago for this bike, it's nowhere near the top of the line (even then). I did a lot more cycling when I lived in Atlanta and Billings, but I don't think anyone, anywhere has ever mistaken me for a "serious rider." That conversation gave me a little more confidence, however, and now I hold my head a little higher and I pedal a little stronger when I'm on that bike! After all, cycling may become my next athletic passion when I can no longer run.

Leaner and meaner seven years later  . . . my bike, that is!

I've been riding my bike a non-serious one to three times a week for 45-90 minutes (up to 20 miles at a time) and enjoying it. I go a moderate but not real fast speed, about 14-15 miles per hour on average. Cycling doesn't do for me what running does, but it's fun. In fact, I've even got a plan percolating in my brain to ride the entire 469-mile long Blue Ridge Parkway southbound next spring, and maybe add in another 100 miles on Skyline Drive through Shenandoah National Park! Jim and Cody would crew in the camper sorta like they did on our Appalachian Trail Adventure Run, only for a much shorter duration.

But don't tell anybody. It's just an idea right now, an interesting way to celebrate my 60th birthday . . .


Until about three weeks ago, I've been completely injury-free since last August when I climbed one too many fourteeners in Colorado. The beginning of my recent hip pain was that fast five-hour walk I did on August 15. Two days later, as usual after my long runs, I attempted a tempo workout and OUCH! my right hip hurt afterwards. It felt more like it was tight than torn, so I did stretching and self-massage with my hands, The Stick, and rolling on a tennis ball (that hurts!!). I tried another tempo run two days later. It still hurt. I was also losing sleep because that was the week Tater died. I was under so much stress that any type of hard workout just put me over the edge physically.

My massage therapist did some deep tissue work on my right hip and IT band that helped a lot. Her assessment confirmed my self-diagnosis of "tight, not torn." I continued stretching and got a chiropractic adjustment. I bailed out of a long run two days later (after 13 miles) because of fatigue from the stressful week, not the hip.

The last week of August I was able to do a good tempo workout and 22-mile run. Three days later (September 1), the hip hurt so much during another tempo run that I couldn't finish it. Back to the massage therapist. By then I hurt in an additional area (hip flexor) and I've had to modify my running since. My 23-miler several days ago wasn't my best, but at least my hip wasn't the problem. I have to be more careful now, and continue getting regular massage and chiro before we begin our trip out West.

Nice early fall flowers, but watch those bees and yellow jackets!

One day last week I was just starting out on a fast 10-mile walk on the greenway when DOUBLE OUCH!!!  I was stung twice by an angry bee or wasp near a section of flowers like those in the photo above. I felt a sudden, intense sting on my upper back thigh, instinctively slapped it, and was rewarded with a second sting between my fingers on that hand. I never did see what got me and there was no stinger to remove. The stings hurt a little bit but I was able to continue walking for about three hours. Both areas itched, turned red, and swelled up for two days. Since I've never had a severe allergic reaction to bee or wasp stings (like my airway closing up), I didn't seek medical attention.

It's ironic that after all the gardening I've been doing at home this spring and summer in the proximity of bees and yellow jackets, the year's first stings came while I was running!


Although neither of us is completely satisfied with our training for our fall and winter races, we still have time to improve. (If you're an athlete, have you ever felt completely trained before an event??)

I'm reasonably optimistic I can finish the New River Trail 50K within seven hours in October and meet my goals at Ultracentric and Sunmart. I'm totally pumped for the ATY 24-hour race, although I'm not quite as optimistic about my 90-mile goal there this year. So far I've had no problems with my knees this summer. Since I'm not running or walking big hills, the only thing that bothers them now is carrying something heavy (like a big load of laundry) down stairs at home. Solution: let Jim carry heavy stuff down stairs!

Another greenway scene; hiker sign is like the ones on the nearby Appalachian Trail

Jim's getting increasingly nervous about his 48-hour race at ATY. Not only is he concerned about the sleep he'll need -- when to sleep, how many times, how long, whether he can go to sleep, how he'll feel when he gets back out on the course -- he's also concerned about his feet. Already on long runs he's had pain from lack of fat pads on the bottom of his feet and he's actively trying to get rid of calluses so he doesn't develop blisters that are impossible to reach (during a race) under the thick skin. We both ran into those problem at ATY last year and we're trying our best to avoid them this time. Otherwise, Jim's fairly satisfied with his training so far. I hope his pre-ATY races go well so he gains confidence that he can meet his goal of 130-150 miles in the 48-hour run.

Check back in a couple weeks to see if we meet our goals at Hinson Lake.

Next entry: this was a summer where hundreds of ultra runners had to be even more adaptable than usual: major races that were cancelled or modified. What happened and how did they handle it?

Note: Our thoughts are with everyone affected by the acts of terrorism to our citizens seven years ago today. Even though Jim and I didn't know anyone personally who died or was injured in New York, Pennsylvania, or Washington, DC, it was a heinous act that has changed the way all of us live our lives. I know I lost some innocence and trust that day and it reinforced my belief in living each day as if it's my last.

Hug the ones you love,

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

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© 2008 Sue Norwood and Jim O'Neil