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"No matter how long the winter, spring is always sure to follow."  ~ Guinean proverb
It's been a very long winter for Jim in regards to his running. Now he's finally able to celebrate spring.

I talked about Jim's problems following meniscus surgery in the journal entry dated March 31. He had been plagued with soreness in his knee for four months whether he walked, cycled, ran, or did no recreational activity at all. Deep tissue massage, stretching, ice, OTC pain killers, and extended rest did little to help the inflammation and pain.

Frazz cartoon by Jef Mallett  (published 3-18-11); he often features running and cycling in his comic strip.

Jim had difficulty sleeping because the pain was the worst when he was sedentary. He wondered if he could ever run again. He didn't know how to plan for the summer.

He was understandably frustrated and getting depressed, not knowing what was wrong -- let alone how to fix the problem.

This is the second-longest time in Jim's 33-year running "career" that he has been debilitated -- five months. That's even longer than after the various foot and leg surgeries he's had. The only time he was incapacitated longer than that was after back surgery when he was in his early 40s.

Nice single-track trail at Chestnut Ridge along the Blue Ridge Pkwy. (4-15-11)
The dogwood trees are at their peak bloom this time of year.

I'm very happy to report that he found both relief and hope soon after we returned to Roanoke from our winter trip.

In this entry I'll describe what has made the difference and how his training has evolved during the past month. The photos are ones I've taken during hikes and bike rides in the Roanoke area in April and May.

Part of the 6-mile Chestnut Ridge Trail loop we like to run and hike  (4-15-11)

** Jim's e-mail addresses all begin with "Letsrun100." Now maybe he can!


At an appointment with his orthopedist on March 28 the doctor listened carefully to all of Jim's symptoms and an update on his activities in the four months since surgery. During that time we'd been wintering in the Southwest and unable to consult with Dr. Johnson in person, just on the phone.

A new x-ray of Jim's knee showed nothing that would explain the problems Jim had been having since surgery.

Most of the deciduous trees have new little green leaves at Chestnut Ridge.  (4-15-11)

That was good news, but it didn't answer the question of what the heck was wrong. Because Jim's knee was still hot to the touch, the doctor gave him a steroid shot at the surgery site to calm the inflammation.

The sorta bad news was that Dr. Johnson told Jim to do no running or recreational walking for two more weeks. If his knee didn't feel significantly better after that, he wanted to see him again. His next step would be to try an injection of Orthovisc, the viscous lubrication I get for my Granny Knees.

He reassured Jim that he does NOT have any significant cartilage deterioration like I do, however. That was great news for the long term.

One of our favorite running/hiking venues is Explore Park, which is
accessed at MM 115 on the Blue Ridge Pkwy.  (5-7-11)

To our amazement, Jim never needed to return to the doctor's office. I just gave Dr. Johnson verbal updates on Jim's knee when I went in two more times to get my Orthovisc injections. The steroid shot apparently was exactly what he'd been needing for several months. Within only a couple of days his knee was free of pain for the first time since November 14, the date he initially injured it.

Even better (for his health), he could finally sleep well again.

If you've ever had an extended period of time when you can't sleep well, you can understand the tremendous relief Jim had when he finally started getting adequate sleep again. That alone helped his outlook on life improve significantly.

Shady trail along a creek at Explore Park; notice how much more GREEN it is three weeks later.  (5-7-11)

We were very busy working on our house and yard during this period of time but Jim dutifully complied with Dr. Johnson's admonition to do no running or recreational walking for two weeks. The most he did was some indoor and outdoor cycling and weight machines at the YMCA, activities approved by the doctor so he could remain as fit as possible.

Jim resumed walking with some running on April 12.

Boy, did he feel good to finally be out on the trails again! That also made a significant improvement in his outlook.


Jim has been running long enough to know he'd need to resume running somewhat gradually.

 He soon discovered, however, that he had enough residual strength and endurance from so many years of running (and all that rest!) that he could build up to 8-9 miles fairly quickly as long as he interspersed the running with walking.

The roots make this a tough little hill to run up at Explore; note the little creek to the left.  (5-7-11)

Most of his walking/running miles while we were in the Roanoke area were on hilly single-track trails at Explore Park. His weekly mileages of 11 (partial week), 26, 27, and 28 miles included four runs that were about nine miles long, the longest distance he managed before leaving on our summer trip (we plan to leave tomorrow).

His knee feels fine. We have high hopes that those problems are behind him and he can continue to build up his training miles for the races he'd like to run this summer.


Other than wondering how long he'd be able to run before his knee began hurting again . . . Jim's main question after he resumed training 3 weeks ago was whether he should try to run either the Jemez Mountain or Bighorn Mountain 50-mile trail runs he'd already entered.

Both events fill up quickly, so he'd entered them during the winter in hopes he'd be able to run them. The Jemez run is May 21; Bighorn is June 18.

Cody waits for me at the top of a long hill; four legs give him the advantage!  (5-7-11)

Because Jim wasn't able to train for so long, we had kind of given up the idea of going to New Mexico for the Jemez race, even if he dropped down to the 50K. That gave him only 5 weeks to go from zero miles to almost 33 miles (it's a long "50K").

Would all that rest make him stronger and able to muscle his way through the race, or would so much mileage during the event cause an injury that would set his training back again??

The only flat sections of trail at Explore Park are along the Roanoke River.  (5-7-11)

I still thought running even the 50K distance was a bad idea on April 12 when Jim returned from his first run in several months. I didn't want to see him over-extend himself and get hurt.

Jim was still so optimistic a few days later, however, that instead of discouraging him from running the race, I decided to support his decision to drop from the 50-miler to the 50K and go for it. Jim knows the course. It's difficult terrain but the 50K has a very generous time limit, generous enough that he can walk most of the way and finish the race.

Jim took this photo of pretty blue flowers along the river with his cell phone;
 see close-up in next photo.  (May, 2011)

Jim's attitude brightened every day. He's been able to run more and walk less in each training run. His knee hasn't hurt afterwards. He's been sleeping well -- consistently.

And he's really psyched about running both Jemez and Bighorn, two of his favorite races.

Now we'll see if he can pull off the 50K at Jemez. Depending on how well he does there, and how good he feels afterwards, he'll decide whether to remain in the 50-miler at Bighorn or drop down to the 50K there (he has the RD's permission to do that if he wants).

Close-up of the blue phlox (?) Jim photographed with his cell phone recently.

So far, those are the only two races Jim's entered this summer. He'd also like to do the North Fork 50K or 50-miler in July, the Grand Teton 50-miler in early September, and The Bear 100-miler in late September. The shorter races would all basically be training runs for The Bear. He's also considering pacing runners at Hardrock in July and Leadville in August.

Our summer schedule will probably look a lot like last year's, with a few modifications for some variety.

Boulder-hopping is required on the challenging trail above the river
at Explore Park; I've never seen a cyclist on that loop!  (5-7-11)

That makes me very happy, too, because I had a great time hiking in those locations. I also need to resume a more rigorous training schedule so I can replicate some of those hikes and come up with some new adventures.


Although I no longer train for foot races, I do maintain a good walking and cycling base for my mental and physical health.

One of many little creeks at Explore Park  (5-7-11)

I built up to some pretty high bike mileage during the six weeks we stayed at Brazos Bend State Park. The trails there are el primo -- and they were very convenient, right out the door. The only reason I wasn't doing hikes any longer than three hours was my own knee pain. I needed more Orthovisc.

That's not a problem now; I've completed another series of Orthovisc injections and my knees feel good again.

Ferns love all the shade and moisture at Explore.  (5-7-11)

However, we've been so busy with house and yard projects while we've been at our house, and the roads and trails around here aren't as convenient or safe as at Brazos Bend, that I haven't done as much cycling or walking as I'm capable of.

Over the last six weeks I've averaged only 14 miles of walking per week and slightly more cycling.

Nice footbridge at Explore Park; this creek has water year-round.  (5-7-11)

Most of my hikes were on the dirt Wolf Creek greenway in Vinton and the single-track Stewart's Knob Trail near the Blue Ridge Parkway. I'll show photos of those trails in the next entry.

My longest hike was 8 miles at hilly Explore Park. I had hoped to do a 10-mile hike on the AT to McAfee Knob but inclement weather and all our home improvement projects put the kibosh on that.

I had several 10- to 16-mile bike rides on the paved Roanoke River Greenway on my Terry Isis road bike . . .

Part of the Roanoke River Greenway near Carilion Hospital  (April, 2010)

. . . and a few shorter off-road rides at Wolf Creek on the Specialized TriCross (a cyclo-cross bike). I'd love to ride on the Blue Ridge Parkway but folks drive too fast in their vehicles for me to feel safe on the two segments near Roanoke. 


I've got a funny story to tell you about a 16-mile ride I took on the river greenway about a week ago.

There is a paved three-mile section along the river between the Carilion Hospital and 13th Street with no street crossings or tight turns. It is fairly flat but has some elevation changes. I can really "hammer" this section (relatively speaking) on weekday mornings or afternoons when few other people are using the pathway.

I was on my Terry road bike, which is light and fast. I don't know my speed; I had my little bike speedometer/computer set on distance, not speed, but I'd guess I was doing an average of at least 20 MPH on the flat sections and even faster downhill.

Part of the "fast" section on the river greenway; photo from last November.

I noticed there were two cyclists behind me. Because I was trying to do a hard ride during that three-mile segment (and the three miles back), I did my best to stay ahead of them.

Lo and behold, I could see that I was gaining on them! I had no clue who they were -- Olde Pharts like me? young studs? (not likely) -- but it became my goal to gain as much ground on them as possible.

Who says I've lost my competitive drive? Mostly I just wanted a good, hard ride and this gave me more incentive to push my pace.

View from the river greenway (4-29-11)

When I reached the top of a hill on 13th Street at the trailhead/parking area where I turned around, I stopped for a minute to get my camera out of its pouch before heading back the way I'd come.

The two cyclists who'd been following me caught up, breathing hard. To my surprise, they were young male bike-cops-in-training! Roanoke PD has recently purchased some new mountain bikes for patrolling the city and the officers are becoming familiar with their new cycling routes.

Uh, oh. Instead of feeling good about my pace, I began to worry that I was in trouble because of it.

When they approached me, I figured I'd get admonished (or worse) for riding too fast on the greenway. There is no speed limit per se, just signs to ride at a reasonable speed. What I did seemed reasonable to me, considering nobody else was on the trail, but it would have been reckless with other trail users around.

Lots of ducks and geese along this part of the greenway  (4-29-11)

Not to worry. The bike cops actually gave me a huge compliment, telling me how hard it was to catch up with me! There was no mention of going too fast.

I laughed and replied, "I'm old enough to be your mother. You can't imagine how big of a compliment that is!"

I also pointed out to them that my bike is much lighter than theirs; I didn't want to damage their male egos! They were riding what looked like heavy bikes with saddlebags. They smiled, nodded, and told me about their training.

Two runners enjoy the greenway between Rivers Edge and Smith parks (November, 2010)

After turning 62 recently, their comment about my riding made me feel pretty good about my level of fitness. I don't consider myself to be much of a cyclist. I'm a runner.

Runner?? Ha!

I'm not even a runner any more, "just" a long-distance hiker now. I do have a fair amount of stamina and endurance left, however, even if I've lost all my speed. It's harder to compare myself with other folks since I'm not competing in foot races any more.

What about bike racing, you ask? That's not on my radar, although I'm considering doing a non-competitive Century ride or journey ride someday. I've got a lot to learn about bike maintenance and repair before I do that, though. I hate that part of cycling.


Although I can ride faster and shifting is smoother with the higher-quality components on my Terry Isis road bike, I really like the Specialized TriCross cyclo-cross (hybrid) bike we bought last fall. It is a good choice while we're traveling because of its versatility.

While we were in Roanoke we took the TriCross back in to Cardinal Bikes for a free tune-up, one of the services the shop offers during the first year of ownership. We can also highly recommend Cardinal for their expertise and service. They've done several things for free that other shops would have charged us for.

Frazz cartoon by Jef Mallett  (published 4-2-11)

Someday when we've got enough spare $$$$ we'd like to get a second TriCross bike so we'll both have one. It is so versatile. We've been able to ride it over varying terrain with the original tires -- even through a couple inches of sand or gravel. We'd get better traction through deeper sand, or loose rock going up and down hills, with more knobby tires. So far we haven't gotten another set of tires for it.

On our winter trip we had only the TriCross with us; this summer we plan to take Jim's old mountain bike, too. That way we can ride together sometimes. My skinny-tire road bike will remain in Virginia. It's the best of the three bikes but the most limited re: where it can be ridden. One sharp rock or a little thorn and the tires go flat . . .

Next entryspring photos from the Wolf Creek Greenway and Stewart's Knob Trail (more photos, much less verbiage) 

Happy trails,

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

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2011 Sue Norwood and Jim O'Neil