2009 ULTRA RUNNING ADVENTURES

 

   
 
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  LOOKING BACK, LOOKING FORWARD

THURSDAY, JANUARY 8

 
 
"What lies behind us and what lies before us are tiny matters compared to what lies within us."
- Ralph Waldo Emerson
   
 

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.

GETTING HIGH

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.

You can 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 Mountains

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 do!


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 expectations.

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 running.

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 not TRY.

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.

POKING ALONG

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  s-u-c-c-e-s-s  for me.

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 most days!

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 next!


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 is!

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!!

My knees 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 50-miler.


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 tuned!

Next entry: enjoying some trails new to me at McDowell Mountain Park near Phoenix

Cheers,

Sue
"Runtrails & Company" - Sue Norwood, Jim O'Neil, and Cody the Ultra Lab

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2009 Sue Norwood and Jim O'Neil

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