Ultra runners are not moderate people. They are wired to push their
personal envelopes not only in running exceedingly long distances but
usually in other areas of their lives, too. For example, they tend to be
better educated and have higher paying jobs than average. They want to
compete, succeed, and set ever higher goals for themselves.
I bet Jim's thinking, "This is fun! I wonder how far I
can go on it . . ."
Just because Jim and I can't run ultra distances (even short
distances) any more because of our deteriorating knees doesn't mean we
don't have the same predilection for aerobic excess that we've
demonstrated the last 30+ years of our lives.
By golly, if we can't run all day any more, let's hike or bike all
It's in our DNA and we're proud of it.
[Note: All but two of the photos in this entry are from
hikes and bike rides I've done the last few days on the
Falcon Trail loop at the USAF Academy. This 13-mile long single-track
trail is great for both hiking and cycling, although some parts of it
are a little gnarly on a bike. The photos show the wide variety of terrain
and trail surfaces.]
I often talk about the importance of adaptability in our lives.
Psychologists and physicians will tell you that people who can "go
with the flow" are happier and live longer than those
who get totally stressed out every time life throws them a curve ball.
I think Jim and I are fairly flexible in this regard. We have to be,
or we'd have gone bonkers long before now.
For example, the RV lifestyle we have chosen in this phase of our
lives requires us to continually
adapt to changing circumstances.
Some are in our control; we
often change our plans based on new knowledge or whims. Other factors
are not as much in our control, such as the weather or the price of
diesel fuel to get us where we want to go.
We each learned a lot about adaptability in 30+ years of running,
especially in the last two decades when we were competing in mountainous
ultra marathons up to 100 miles in length.
We were competing more with ourselves and challenging course and
weather conditions than with our peers. We had to learn how to deal with
fatigue, pain, nausea, dehydration, blisters, altitude, inclement
weather, staying awake for 23-35 hours on the trail, and whatever else
cropped up expectedly or unexpectedly on often-remote mountain courses.
Sometimes it was literally do or die. We adapted and learned a lot
about ourselves out there. We gained confidence with each success.
Such lessons can be transferred to other aspects of life, and often
Endurance athletes in a variety of sports often report gaining so
much confidence in their ability to persevere and meet difficult goals
that they seek to improve their entire quality of life --
education, skills, careers, personal relationships, etc.
Frazz cartoon by Jef Mallett
dated 5-29-11; Frazz enjoys both long-distance running and cycling.
So while one door to our lives has closed, Jim and I are opening new
doors for further exploration.
I'm still able to do all-day hikes. I prefer that to cycling,
although I'm increasing my bike miles, too. As long as Jim can't hike or
run, he plans to seriously increase his endurance on his cool new bike.
That may or may not include entering some bike races in the future.
LESSONS FROM A ROLE MODEL
One of our personal "heroes" is ultra running legend David Horton. He
recently taught us -- by example -- a great lesson in
adapting to unfortunate life circumstances.
When I began running in 1980 I lived in the Atlanta area. It took me
a dozen years to begin competing in 50K to 100-mile trail runs but long
before that I knew about David Horton. He was a legend not only in the
southern USA but throughout the entire ultra running community here and
Until recently David was one of the best ultra runners in the world.
Among other accomplishments, he used to have the course record at Hardrock. He's one of only
nine or ten runners who has completed the insanely difficult Barkley
"Marathon." He's run across the USA from the west coast to the east
coast in the TransAmerica foot race. He held the Appalachian Trail speed record
for several years. He completed the Pacific Crest Trail and I believe he held the
speed record on it, too. He's written interesting books and "starred"
in videos about his adventures.
David's also a doggone nice guy with a great sense of humor. He has a very
positive attitude about everything and everybody and usually has a smile on his face.
He makes people feel good about themselves, even when he's teasing them.
David teaches exercise physiology at Liberty University in Lynchburg, VA. He
has introduced thousands of students and other runners to the sport of
ultra running through his classes, his accomplishments, and his series
of challenging ultras in the Blue Ridge Mountains.
He is a proponent of what he calls Big, Hairy, Audacious Goals --
both for himself and for others.
David was the inspiration for my first ultra in 1992, the difficult
50+ mile Mountain Masochist trail run. Although he wasn't the
inspiration for my Appalachian Trail run in 2005 -- I had wanted
to hike the trail since college -- he set the precedent for
running it. I
I was grateful for his encouragement before,
during, and after my own AT adventure. I'm no elite runner but David
respected the goal I set and reached -- finishing that 2,175-mile
journey run/hike in 4+ months at the age of 56.
Even as he neared age 60 David was still active in the ultra running
community, both running and directing races. (David is 61 now, a year
younger than me.)
The last time I spoke to him was at the 2010 Hardrock race 12½
months ago (next photo). Jim and
I were working communications at the Grouse Gulch aid station. David
walked up to say hi a few minutes before Diana Finkel came into view --
she was leading the whole race and David was tracking her progress.
Note David's big smile and the license plate on his
At that time he mentioned that he had a knee injury and couldn't run
but I didn't realize it was as serious as it was.
I couldn't remember what he said about his knee so last week I sent him an e-mail to
congratulate him on finishing the grueling
Tour Divide bike race recently along the
Continental Divide from Canada to the Mexican border. I also asked some
questions about his knee injury. I mentioned our knee woes and our own
transitions from ultra running to long hikes and bike rides.
David graciously wrote back right away.
He said he has torn his meniscus twice, had surgery twice, and can
neither run nor walk for exercise right now. (He didn't say what his
prognosis is for running,) Like Jim, his knee doesn't bother him when
he's on his bike, even riding in the difficult 2,700+ mile Tour Divide
(he ended up with numb hands and a sore butt, though!).
David encouraged us to continue enjoying the trails and mountains by
cycling and getting involved in cycling events. He also responded to
subsequent questions Jim had about his bike, a carbon-frame Cannondale
29er mountain bike.
What a great lesson to every ultra runner from David!
Unable to run, at least temporarily, he threw moderation to the wind
and trained hard for one of the most difficult mountain bike events on
the planet. That is so like David!
No, he didn't win the race but he finished it, and for that he
can be mighty proud. He was competing against a lot of men and women who
were half his age or less. Cycling isn't the sport in which he trained
hard for decades yet he "switched gears" smoothly when he couldn't run,
he trained hard in his new activity, and he met his Big, Hairy,
Audacious cycling goal.
It was fun to track his progress during the race this summer. Until I
read about it on the ultra list shortly after the Tour Divide began, we
weren't even aware that David had transitioned to cycling -- let alone was
pursuing such an enormously challenging goal.
You rock, David. Thanks for the life lesson and your continued
Addendum February 13, 2012: Blue Ridge Outdoors, a chain of
sporting goods stores in the Southeastern USA, has a print and online
magazine for outdoor recreation lovers. It recently uploaded several
Vimeo videos to the internet about prominent ultra runners. The latest
is about David's switch to ultra-distance cycling. Click on this
link to watch the three-minute video.
WILL JIM BEGIN COMPETING IN BIKE RACES?
Ya know, with David's encouragement and Jim's satisfaction with his
new bike, he's definitely thinking about it!
When Jim first mentioned that he was researching bike races it came
as a surprise to me but it's something I'll definitely support.
I am delighted he's thinking ahead like this. I've been concerned
about how he will adapt to not being able to run any more. Running has
been such an integral part of his life for so long.
The transition from 30+ years of being pleasantly addicted to running
has been easier for me because I had advance warning about my deteriorating
knees from arthritis. In addition, I am still able to enjoy long hikes
in the mountains -- they just take longer than running and my
heart rate doesn't get as high. But I still see beautiful vistas and
produce feel-good endorphins if I'm out there long enough. I was getting
so slow in my late 50s that I was mostly walking anyway.
Jim's running career came to a much more abrupt halt. He wasn't
expecting it, which makes adjusting to his loss that much harder. He was
also getting slower with age but still able to meet most of his running
A brief summary -- he fell off my TriCross bike and tore his meniscus eight months ago.
After surgery to repair the meniscus he tried in vain for several months to jump-start his running. Now
it appears that surgery may have accelerated the loss of
cartilage in his knee. He's bone-on-bone now.
So far, visco-supplementation isn't working for
him like it does for me. Maybe more time is needed to see if
the Euflexxa injections start working to alleviate the pain. Maybe a second
series of it or another brand will work better after he waits the
requisite six months to try again. If not, the next step toward a functioning joint
is probably a total knee replacement.
Jim's prognosis for running again isn't very good. His prognosis for
ultra-distance running is worse.
Another Frazz cartoon by Jef Mallett, dated 2-27-11
It takes some time for a person to come to grips with the loss of a
passion as consuming as running has been. That's why I'm so glad to see
Jim start to focus on what he can do, not on what he can't do.
Researching bike races gives him a new focus and motivation to remain active.
He's already found at least three events he's interested in
riding and/or working this fall -- a 24-hour race in early
October on the Falcon Loop right here at the USAF Academy (we'll
probably just volunteer at that one), two shorter events he might enter
at the Senior Games in St. George, UT in mid-October, and a dawn-to-dusk
race on the Pemberton Trail at McDowell Mountain Park near Phoenix in
early December. That's one of our favorite winter camping venues and
site of the Javelina 100-mile footrace.
Even if Jim doesn't do any racing with his new bike this year he has
the goal of riding the whole Michelson Trail through the Black Hills of
South Dakota this fall. We've seen a part of it and both of us want to
ride more there. I'm looking forward to crewing for him when he does the
entire 109 miles in one day.
Sounds kind of like what we do at ultra-distance foot races, eh?
TENTATIVE REVISED SUMMER/FALL SCHEDULE
This weekend we've been busy trying to come up with a new travel
itinerary for the next three months.
Since Jim won't be able to do the races he'd planned to run this fall
and winter, such as the Grand Teton 50-miler, The Bear 100-Miler, and
one of the fixed-time events at ATY, we need to regroup to find
some other interesting places to camp, hike, and ride our bikes.
Coming up with new ideas is fun but it can get complicated because
there are so many possibilities!
The timing is good, though.
It's easier/faster/cheaper to do the requisite internet research while we
have free WiFi at the Academy, rather than using up the limited gigabytes
we have on our personal MiFi card. We usually have a good WiFi signal
here, as long as there aren't too many other people using it at the same
time we are.
We plan to keep some of our original plans and modify others. Our
very tentative revised schedule looks like this after we leave
- Camp at Kenosha Pass, CO for a few days on the way to
- Jack's house at Leadville, CO, where we'll stay for a couple weeks
to work the LT100 bike and run events;
- Possibly camp at Flaming Gorge NRA in UT and visit nearby Dinosaur
National Monument on the way to
- the Reunion Flat National Forest Service campground on the west side of the Tetons near the ID/WY
border (even though Jim won't run the Grand Teton race, we
might help and I love to hike on that side of the mountains);
- Spend a few days on the east side of the Tetons and in Yellowstone
NP in early September;
- Maybe camp one or two days in the Bighorns on our way to
- Rapid City, SD (Ellsworth AFB) to ride the 100+ mile Michelson
Trail and see the annual buffalo roundup at Custer State Park;
- Return to the USAF Academy in Colorado Springs to work the 24-hour
- Spend a few days in the Moab, UT area on our way to
- St. George, UT for the Senior Games Oct. 10-11;
- Head back to our house in VA in mid-Oct. for a few weeks.
This adds several interesting destinations to our original itinerary
and subtracts only the time we would have spent near the Bear 100 course
in northeastern Utah.
As usual, some of these plans may not materialize. It may be too hot
to camp at Flaming Gorge in late August, for example (no electrical
hookups there to run the AC). We may not be able
to reserve suitable sites at Grand Teton or Yellowstone National Parks
when we want to be there. Something else may happen that we can't
Or we might simply decide to do something different! We're very
adaptable people, remember?
Next entry: more scenes from the Falcon Trail
"Runtrails & Company" - Sue Norwood, Jim O'Neil,
and Cody the Ultra Lab
© 2011 Sue Norwood and Jim O'Neil