When I'm running or hiking on trails, especially above tree line
where the panoramic vistas reach to the far horizons, I make it a habit to
occasionally stop, turn around, and observe what I might be
missing behind me. Some of my best scenic photos have
resulted from this practice.
Looking back as I'm making forward progress can also be a
metaphor for life: it's good to reminisce and even
analyze the past as we plan for the future. The beginning of
each new year is a natural time for me to reflect on what went
well and what didn't go as well the previous year in order to
maximize my potential and enjoyment in the future.
Since the context of this journal is primarily running and
traveling, I'll focus on those aspects here.
The thoughts for much of this entry bubbled to the surface
during a peaceful run and walk I had with Cody this week at
McDowell Mountain Regional Park east of metro Phoenix. We've
stayed in this park twice before and just love the scenery,
trails, and spacious campsites. This is the venue for both
the Javelina Jundred and Pemberton 50K ultra running events.
read a lot more about the trails, flora, and fauna at McDowell in
last year's journal (several January, 2008 entries). I'll add some new
photos and information this year, too.
Distinctive spire of Weaver's Needle (center back),
a prominent landmark
along the east side of the Superstition
As I climbed to the ridge of a line of hills on the
appropriately named Scenic Trail with Cody I reveled in the
beautiful mountain and valley views in every direction: the McDowell
Mountains to the west, the Mazatzal Mountains and the town of Rio Verde to
the north, the Four Peaks Wilderness and Rio Verde Valley to the
east, the Goldfield and Superstition Mountains and the tall fountain
in Fountain Hills to the south . . .
. . . and I felt almost as happy that day as I feel in
the San Juan Mountains of Colorado!
Being above tree line is being above tree line even if I was
only at 3,000 feet elevation. My favorite views on
any trail in the Appalachians or Rockies or any other mountain
chain are usually the ones from above tree line.
McDowell Mountains toward the west
The more relaxed I became running and walking along the ridge, turning in every
direction to capture the views in my mind and with my camera,
the more I thought about last year's running highs and lows and
where I'm going from here.
2008: NOT A TOTAL LOSS
Last year was not our best year for running or anything else,
but it was still a good year in comparison to what's occurring
in the lives of many folks around the world.
The global economic downturn and high fuel prices six months ago
influenced our decision to stay at our house in Virginia instead
of traipsing around the West to our favorite summer races. We
whined about that but thank goodness we didn't have jobs to
lose, our pensions are as secure as anyone's can be, and we
aren't forced to take money from investments that have tanked or
to sell our house after it has lost value.
Having to put one of our dogs to sleep last July took the wind
out of our sails for months. Tater was part of our family for
twelve good years and we still miss her. So does Cody. Even
though he relishes getting double the attention he'd probably be
happier with a new four-legged companion to play with. We
haven't decided whether or when to get a new running buddy but
readers of this journal will be among the first to know if we
Cody on the Scenic Trail, looking northeast
As far as running, I think both Jim and I would just as soon forget about most of
our race performances last year -- except the recent Across
the Years 24-Hour Run. That whole event and the days leading up
to it were the highlight of our running year.
I didn't mention this in the 2008 journal
but I'll confess it now: I almost didn't do ATY even though it
was my race focus the entire year, the shining light that kept
me going when my training and racing failed to meet my
Before the race I considered withdrawing because I wasn't as
well-trained as I wanted to be. I hurt one of my hamstring
muscles after running a 50K too hard in October and not resting
properly afterward. I had to modify my training the next two
months, almost eliminating running entirely so the injury would
heal. I focused on walking faster because that didn't hurt. I was
concerned about whether my hamstring would hold up
the entire 24 hours at ATY, even if I just walked and didn't do any
I was also concerned that I was taking the place of a better
trained runner who might be on the wait list. ATY is small and
not everyone who wants in can run it. Was I being selfish to
remain on the entrants' list?
Saguaro cactus skeleton in foreground,
Mazatzal Mountains and Four Peaks Wilderness in background
The Sunmart 50K gave me some confidence that I could rack up a
decent amount of mileage at ATY by just walking, yet I still wasn't
sure my hamstring would hold up more than 31 miles. But I wanted
so much to be a part of the race again that I stayed
in despite my doubts. I still had hope that I could reach my
revised goal of 75 miles; I simply couldn't give up and
If you've read my ATY entries recently you know how glad I am
that I ran the race! It was one of my best race performances in
the past decade, not just in 2008.
I realized this week that I
haven't run 82 miles in an event since the 2000 Vermont 100 race! Mostly walking as fast and as
relentlessly as I could with just a few miles of actual
running, I went seven miles farther than my goal and
out-distanced two-thirds of the men and women in
the three 24-hour races. Most of them were younger than me. To
my dismay (and pride), I discovered after the race that I was
the oldest woman in the 24-, 48-, or 72-hour races at ATY this
year. Ugh! And I'm not even 60 yet!
Neither Jim nor I ran mega-mileages in 2008. I ran and walked
1543 miles and Jim did 1561 miles.
As Cody and I wound up and down along the ridges at McDowell
Park enjoying the warm sunshine and cooling breezes, I thought
about my recovery in the past week. I had no knee or hamstring
pain during or after the race. Even if I hadn't surpassed my
mileage goal at ATY, that alone would have spelled
At my age, injuries occur more easily and take much longer to
heal than they used to. And my Granny Knees aren't getting any
younger, either. I'm fast running out of cartilage and just hope
this isn't the year I have to start getting injections or some
other type of treatment for them.
With all these great trails to run and hike at McDowell Park it's
hard for me to sit around the campground and not run and hike
So far I've been out there more than Jim. Not only did he
run and walk more miles in the 48-hour race than I did in the
24-hour race, but he also has another race in ten days -- the hilly
Ghost Town 38.5-miler at 5,000-7,000 feet in New Mexico. He's at
that point where he's saying, "What was I thinking?" when
he registered for a hilly, moderate-altitude race to run so soon
after a two-day flat race at 1,000 feet.
Consequently, Jim needs to adequately rest for a couple weeks from his
116-mile effort at ATY, the most he's ever done during one event.
Whenever he has races this close together he jokes that he
doesn't know if he's recovering from the last one or tapering for the
The town of Rio Verde lies in the valley
below the Four Peaks Wilderness.
So most of my runs, walks, and bike rides right now are with
Cody but not Jim. When he's back to normal training I'll
still be doing most of my runs and walks without Jim because
he's faster than I am.
That's OK, though, because when we're visiting new and/or scenic
places I like to poke along, taking pictures and admiring the
views. Cody is more tolerant of that than Jim. When I'm alone, I
can take as much time as I want on photos and get a nice aerobic
workout. Cody just sniffs around until I start moving again.
When I'm with Jim I follow behind, lose ground while taking
pictures, then have to sprint to catch up -- it's a real
anaerobic workout sometimes, depending on how scenic the trail
I joke with Jim that you just never know when National
Geographic will want one of my landscape pictures.
Yeah, right. I
simply have fun composing the shots, editing the photos, and
sharing them in this journal or on our Picasa site. I do much
better with my landscape photos than indoor and people shots;
I need to work on those.
NEW AGE GROUP
This time last year, approaching age 59, I started thinking
about which races I'd choose to run after entering the 60+ age
group at the end of March, 2009. I thought it would be cool to
run a few races where I'd be the first F60+ to finish, or set a
new F60-69 course record somewhere.
Since some popular races now fill up in only a few minutes or
hours on the internet when registration opens, often many months
before the races occur, I needed to get my ducks in a row by the
middle of 2008 for my 2009 race season.
I'd rather be hiking over in those
mountains! See Fountain Hills' fountain to the right?
That didn't happen. Even though smoother, flatter trail races
are better now for my deteriorating knees than mountainous
single-track trail races, I've had difficulty admitting and adjusting
to my new reality. The only races I can get really motivated to
train hard for are Across the Years (flat, fixed-time, just
because I love the race) -- or scenic, mountainous single-track!!
prevent me from indulging in endless training miles in the
Rockies and Appalachians. If I can't train properly, how can I
finish my favorite races without considerable pain and/or possible
injury? With virtually no cartilage left in
either knee, I'm forced to limit running and hiking on
any terrain that is steep or gnarly (AKA "technical"),
especially steep downhills. I'm beginning to feel a bone-on-bone
pain sometimes. And if I trip on a rock
and fall, I could do irreparable harm to my knees. It's not so
easy to recover from injuries any more.
So previous race favorites like the Bighorn Wild & Scenic Runs
in Wyoming are pretty much out now. Unless tremendous strides
(pun intended) are made soon in cartilage or knee replacements, I'll never realize my dream
of running Hardrock or the Pacific Crest Trail or climbing all
the 14ers in Colorado.
Rio Verde Valley and Ft. McDowell Indian
Reservation to the east
I can still comfortably run and walk on rolling, more
user-friendly terrain like that at Huntsville State Park in
Texas (Rocky Raccoon and Sunmart races), McDowell Park in the
Phoenix area (Pemberton 50K and Javelina Jundred), Umstead State
Park in North Carolina (Umstead 50- and 100-milers), bike paths
and rails-to-trails courses around the country, and most venues
where fixed-time races are held (e.g., ATY in Arizona and
Hinson Lake in North Carolina ).
But it's hard for me to get excited about any of those except ATY. <sigh>
I did some cursory research to see which races might fit my F60+
age group scenario and also fit our tentative travel schedule
for 2009 but lost the motivation to really dig into it because I
couldn't decide whether to be conservative (smoother, flatter,
more boring courses) or run the type of races I really want to
run. Until I hurt my hamstring last fall I was focused on speed
work for ATY and beyond, but that's as far as my list of races to
"conquer" went -- no specific races after my 60th
birthday in March.
When Umstead registration opened last August (eight months
before the race!) I decided I didn't want to do
any more 100-milers, just 50Ks and fixed-time races. I'm still
OK with that decision. Right now I still don't have a specific list of races I want to do
this year except ATY at the end of December, if I
can get in again.
I'm stuck in neutral, having trouble making race decisions and
just enjoying walking and running for the sheer joy of it (and
to stay younger!). Nothing wrong with that, right?
But I reserve the right to change my mind.
OUR TENTATIVE 2009 RACE & TRAVEL PLANS
At this point neither of us has very solid race plans for 2009.
Jim's running Ghost Town in ten days, a new race for us, and
probably Rocky Raccoon 50- or 100-miler in early February. Rocky
doesn't fill up so he'll wait until after Ghost Town to decide
on that one.
The only other race Jim has entered is Umstead in early April.
His current intention is to to run the 100-miler but that
depends on whether he decides to
run a 100-miler out West in June or July. He might
run "just" 50 miles at Umstead as a long training run for a
later race. That's one of the beauties of Umstead -- you can run
anything between 50 and 99 miles and get credit for the
McDowell Mountains to the west; park
campground (white specks = RVs)
barely visible toward the upper right
I'll crew and/or volunteer at Ghost Town, Rocky, and Umstead.
The only race on my schedule for 2009 so far is ATY in late
December if I can train adequately for it. Jim wants to run it,
too. We have become much
more involved with the race this year and plan to do even more
for the next race. If I
can't run it or don't get selected, I'll still volunteer.
We plan to go out West again this summer but haven't decided which
races one or both of us will run and which we'll
work. More on that later. We missed that trip so much last year
that we're determined to do it this year unless fuel prices rise
to an exorbitant level again.
We'll update our race and travel plans as they develop. Stay
Next entry: enjoying some trails new to me at McDowell Mountain Park
"Runtrails & Company" - Sue Norwood, Jim O'Neil,
and Cody the Ultra Lab
© 2009 Sue Norwood and Jim O'Neil