Runtrails' Web Journal
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"“We live in a wonderful world that is full of beauty, charm, and adventure.
There is no end to the adventures that we can have if only we seek them with our eyes open.” 
~ Jawaharlal Nehru
That quote pretty much sums up the philosophy of Jim's and my life in our retirement. There's a great, big, wonderful world out there and we intend to continue exploring it as long as we are physically able to travel and ambulate. In my case, it's more like perambulate.

And as long as I'm able to put enough arthritic fingers to keyboards and failing eyes to camera monitors, I'll continue to give you glimpses into our athletic and travel adventures. In our search for eternal youth (!) and the beauty around us we've sometimes found just a bit more adventure than we intended, but it does make for some good stories to relate in this journal -- what I call cautionary tales and my sister calls self-deprecating humor.

I figure if you can't admit to mistakes and laugh at your foibles, well, you're just taking yourself too seriously.


I took this year's theme photo at the very top of this and every upcoming 2010 journal page in the San Juan Mountains near Silverton, Colorado, one of our favorite places to run, hike, bike, and camp. Jim and Cody-the-ultra-Lab were taking a break to admire the stunning scenery as we climbed the trail from South Mineral Creek Road to Grant Swamp Pass last July. The next photo shows them as they neared the 12,920-foot pass:

This trail is part of the Hardrock Hundred course, a very challenging high-altitude foot race for which we often volunteer. We have some wonderful memories of all the summers we've explored this gorgeous mountain range in southwestern Colorado.


The folks who have read this journal with any sort of regularity already know who we are, even if we've never met in person. This introduction is mostly for those who are new to the site and a refresher course for those who wonder what we're up to now.

Jim and I originally designed this website to chronicle our Appalachian Trail Adventure Run in 2005:

L-R: Jim, Cody, Sue, and Tater pose at the southern terminus of the AT on Springer Mountain, GA (above);
2,175 miles later, we made it to the northern terminus at Mount Katahdin, ME (below):

We still miss Tater, who died in the summer of 2008 after many adventures running and traveling with us across the USA. One of these days we'll get Cody a four-legged companion but so far he's loving all the attention he gets being our sole (pun intended) ultra dog.

Jim's the main technical guy for our website and I'm the primary photographer and writer. Computer hardware and software problems drive me crazy, so Jim's my tech support. I'm his editor. He jokes that he doesn't even have to ask me to check his punctuation! Let's just say that many of our skills are complementary . . .

L: Sue on the laptop in camper during the AT trek;  R: Jim on the laptop at our house.  We both want
to use our computers so much that we take my desktop PC and monitor with us in the camper now, too.

I had so doggone much fun with the AT journal and the responses we got from it that I've just kept on writing and taking pictures and sharing them with the world for the past five years. Jim also jokes, "Don't encourage her!!"

He jokes a lot. At least I think he's joking. I do know that he enjoys the letters, too.

We love to get feedback from our readers so feel free to contact us at our e-mail link. One of the many reasons we began and continue this website is to provide information that might be helpful to other people. It's great that we still get comments and questions about the AT trek from hikers and runners all over the world. Some readers have also found our website to be a helpful resource for races they are considering running, training tips, injury treatment, and travel information. We also have numerous photos on our Picasa photo-sharing site.

Near the start of the 2009 Bighorn 50K, a popular ultra in Wyoming that fills up very fast

It may appear that all we care about is running and traveling. That's not the case; those activities are simply the main focus of this web journal. We stay busy and happy doing lots of other things, too.

You may notice that we don't mention our families and non-running friends as much as our running friends. That's deliberate. We respect their privacy. Of course, we respect the privacy of our running friends, too, but I'm as discrete as possible and relate their full names only if it's relevant to a race or other topic about which I'm writing. It's one thing to be as open (or "transparent," as one of my nieces diplomatically noted) as I am about our personal lives. It's quite another to involve others.

Good job, Bill!

Here are a couple exceptions I think are acceptable.

We are quite proud of both my brother and Jim's oldest son and namesake for their athletic accomplishments last year. Bill walked his first 5K race (above) and Jim, Jr. finished his first 100-miler at the Tahoe Rim Trail ultras:

Definitely time for a cold one to celebrate Jim, Jr's accomplishment

Congratulations to both Bill and Jim for those milestones! This running/walking stuff is addictive, isn't it?


If I was forced to pick just one word to describe Jim and me it would be this one: runners.

Both of us have been running for over thirty years now, one-half of our lives. The sport is one of our primary passions in life. It keeps us healthy and sane, allows us to see many beautiful places, and has given us the opportunity to challenge ourselves physically beyond our wildest expectations.

New friends Eileen and Jamie Sinclair from New Zealand at the 2009 Tahoe Rim Trail ultras

We've also made many friends around the world through running. Friends introduced us to this sport initially, and friends are one of the main reasons we continue to run and volunteer at races. I can't think of any marathon or ultra in this country that I've run the last twenty-eight years -- and there have been many -- where I didn't know one or more of the participants.

Jim relaxes with our buddy Matt Watts from Colorado at the start of the 2009 Bighorn 100-miler.

Mountain trail ultra running has been the subject of many of our entries over the past five years. We have participated in numerous ultra-distance trail races from 50K to 100 miles or more in length (ultras are defined as races that are longer than the standard marathon distance of 26.2 miles).

You may be amazed to learn that thousands of people do this -- and many of them are even older than we are! Some of our favorite ultra-distance role models are in their seventies and eighties. It's amazing what the human body can do. Although Jim and I are both in our early 60s now we stubbornly refuse to believe it and strive to remain physically active for as long as we possibly can. 


We also love to travel around this magnificent country of ours in our Dodge Ram 2500 diesel pick-up truck and HitchHiker II fifth-wheel camper to attend races, see new sights, and visit friends and relatives.

Since Jim retired in early 2004 we have spent an increasing amount of time on the road. We're close to being full-time RVers now. That's our goal.

 McDowell Mtn. Regional Park near Phoenix

The only problem is that we still have a nice house and twelve acres of land in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains in Virginia.

Owning a house puts a big crimp on our freedom to roam. Our tendency is to head west for several months at a time in both the summer and winter and to spend a few weeks each spring and fall at the house to keep it and the yard/gardens maintained and see our doctors and dentist for check-ups. 

Traveling in the summer and winter is the best way we've found to enjoy our favorite temperature range (40s to 70s F.) all year long:

  • Spring and fall are beautiful in the Roanoke area and the temps are pretty moderate then.
  • In the summer we head for high mountains out West, where we hunker down under flannel sheets on sometimes-chilly nights and it usually doesn't exceed 60-70° F. in the afternoon.
  • In the winter we like to head back out West, far enough south in Arizona and Texas to avoid any snow and enjoy those same 60-70 °temperatures that are the envy of most folks above the 32nd parallel.

Our house (L) and our home (R). The house is for sale!

When the housing market recovers sufficiently from the current economic recession we plan to sell our property (hopefully this year), put our belongings in storage, and traipse around the country full-time until we either get tired of it or are unable physically or financially to do it any longer.

We won't be homeless; we've been saying that "home is where our camper is" for several years.

Jim and I not only have runner genes, we also have "Gypsy genes." At this stage of our lives we like to be nomadic. Despite all the traveling we've done throughout our lives, there is so much to see in this country that we haven't even scratched the surface -- or our itch to see more of it.

For us, nothing equals the excitement of literally seeing "what's around the next corner," whether it's a trail we're running/hiking or a road we're driving in our truck. We love exploring new places, learning about the local history, culture, flora, and fauna, adding to our memory bank and photo collection, making new friends along the way.

We have a serious case of wanderlust and encourage you to join us vicariously on this website.

National Forest campground on South Mineral Creek Rd. near Silverton, CO

You'll find lots of travel and RVing information in this journal.

Many folks aspire to a lifestyle like this when they retire, just as we dreamed of it for many years. Over the past five years this journal has been both a how-to manual and a how-NOT-to manual (those cautionary tales, remember?) for both running and traveling. We aren't experts at much of anything but we generously share ideas that have worked for us, warn you about some that didn't, and occasionally address questions from readers in various entries.

If you have questions after reading something here, just ask. We'll respond either individually or in a new entry, if we think enough other people might also be interested.

And don't be surprised if I quote you sometime! I've maintained my habit of putting what I think is a relevant, thoughtful, or humorous quote at the top of each entry -- hundreds so far. I don't want to embarrass anyone so I might keep your name anonymous.


That's another reason we continue this journal -- to inspire readers to challenge themselves in every regard: dream big and little dreams, set goals, and reap the rewards of reaching them.

The joy of finishing one of my last ultras, the Bighorn 50K in June, 2009

Jim and I challenge ourselves continuously in both our athletic pursuits and daily life. When we were younger we never would have dreamed that we'd be able to run and walk 100 miles in one race! But we trained hard and we've done it multiple times. I didn't know when I started the AT trek if I'd make it to Maine in one piece, but I did (with considerable help from Jim's crewing) and became stronger because of it.

In a similar vein, we didn't just luck into this cool lifestyle; we worked toward it our entire lives by getting the job training and education we needed to succeed in our careers and save for an early retirement. Now we get to play! That's the reward.

Striking view of the "back" side of the Grand Tetons from the GTR ultra course in September

Everybody makes educational, career, financial, family, and lifestyle choices every day. They are cumulative and affect the rest of their lives, for better or for worse.

Like most folks, Jim and I both have some regrets about previous decisions we've made in our lives, like buying the house six years ago that we now want to sell in Virginia. If we'd known then how much we enjoy the RV lifestyle, we wouldn't have bought it. Hopefully we've learned enough from each less-than-stellar choice to make wiser decisions with each passing year. We should be geniuses by the time we're a hundred!

Whether your dream is to get a college education, run a 5K race, learn a new language or other skill, lose weight, become an astronaut, be the best parent in the world, win Olympic gold, overcome a bad habit, circumnavigate the globe, or climb the highest mountain . . . know what it is that you want, set realistic goals, and work steadily toward them.

Just another rugged day on the AT in 2005 . . .

I figure if an arthritic 56-year-old woman can run and hike the entire Appalachian Trail in one summer (a goal I had for 36 long years), you can do just about anything YOU put YOUR mind to!


Father, big brother, friend, loving husband. Volunteer EMT and firefighter. Ham radio operator. History buff. Computer guru. Mechanic and Mr. Fix-It extraordinaire. Internet aficionado. Practical joker. That's Jim.

Jim gets lots of practice fixing things on our vehicles, house, etc.  My job is to document it . . .

Aunt, sister, friend, loving wife. Amateur writer and photographer. Avid reader. Gardener. Scrap booker. Needle artist. Dog lover. Multi-tasking volunteer. Outdoor enthusiast. Optimistic cynic. That's me.

Both of us enjoy other physical activities besides running. We regularly walk, hike, cycle (road and off-road), work out with weight machines and free weights, and occasionally swim or do pool running with a water vest. We are about as physically fit as anyone can be in their early 60s (except for my doggone knees!) and it is our intention to remain as fit as we can until the day we die.

If nothing else, we hope to inspire other people of all ages to find aerobic activities they enjoy and pursue them with vigor, as much for their minds as for their bodies. Jim and I are big on staying fit and healthy so we can live long, happy lives.

If you haven't read it yet, find the book Younger Next Year by Chris Crowley and Henry Lodge, MD. There are versions for both men and women. We highly recommend it even if you really are quite young chronologically. It's never too early to adopt healthy habits.


At this point, Jim is still able to train for and run ultra-distance events. He's getting slower as he ages, of course. It's inevitable. Every runner slows down eventually, despite the best intentions and training.

Jim's not ready to give it up yet, however, and I admire his optimism and tenacity as he continues to challenge himself with a variety of difficult ultra events, such as the Bighorn Wild & Scenic Trail Runs, below:

Jim waves to me at the start of the 2009 Bighorn 100-miler last June.

Unfortunately, a couple of months ago I had to finally admit that my running career is almost over; I'll talk more soon about my process of adjusting to that reality in an entry I'll call "Once a Runner, Always a Runner" (not original, but definitely appropriate).

It will probably take many years until I no longer refer to myself as a runner, however. It's been such an integral part of my life for so long that I still have the runner mindset even though I do a lot more walking than running now.

Right now we are in the middle of our winter trip to the Southwest. The past three winters I've joked that we're avoiding the ravages of winter in Virginia -- but this time it's not a joke. Roanoke has had lots more snow than previous winters when we were there.

Ironically, we almost got snowed on in early December in Austin, TX, our first destination, just narrowly missing the brunt of a storm that delighted the kids and young at heart to the near west, north, and east of us; even Houston got an unusual 3-4" of snow. The last three weeks of December we had weather ranging from the 20s to the 70s in the Phoenix area. You can read all about that in the 2009 journal.

Have HitchHiker and bikes, will travel.

Now it's 2010. I haven't decided it I'll call it twenty-ten or two thousand-ten. Probably the former, since 1910 is called nineteen-ten. This early in the decade it doesn't roll off the tongue very easily yet.

We left the Phoenix area this morning and plan to explore southeastern Arizona for a few days in an area that we've never visited before. We don't know how long we'll stay. Sometimes it's fun to make up our itinerary as we go. You'll just have to stay tuned to see where we land next.

Exploring a new area . . . I can't wait! 

Jim and Cody admire this evening's sunset over Patagonia Lake State Park in AZ.

Here's hoping that 2010 brings us more happy adventures and fewer misadventures as we report from our home on wheels all over the country: no $10,000 bike wrecks (that was the total of the medical bills, not the value of Jim's bike!), no scary and even more expensive rattlesnake bites, no near-asphyxiations from carbon monoxide, no blown RV tires or truck transmissions, no tows from rotten bridges, no dangerous storms above tree line in the Rockies or the White Mountains, no flooded rivers to ford on foot, and other less adventurous misadventures . . .

Hope you didn't miss all that in the past five years in these journals. Those were the most memorable of our cautionary tales, as I recall.

Next entry: exploring Patagonia (the North American one)

Happy trails,

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

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© 2010 Sue Norwood and Jim O'Neil