I am happy to announce that Jim has resumed training for and competing
in ultra-distance running events after being unable to do so for the
past seven years!
Yes, it has taken a lot of sweat, determination, and hard
work on his part.
No, he still isn't able to run, but he can sure walk
fast -- and for a very long time! It's amazing how many miles you
can rack up if you just keep at it for hours on end. It's historic
"pedestrianism" updated and at its finest.
Jim (blue shirt) maintains a fast
walking stride at The Endless Mile 48-Hour race. (10-19-18)
He's not the only one walking, either. Even most ultramarathon runners do a
considerable amount of walking in 24-hour and multi-day events, and many
injured or aging former runners do only walking
in the increasing number of fixed-time races
that are now available. (It's often impossible to make the time limits
in fixed-distance races if you can't run some of the miles.)
FROM ULTRA RUNNER TO ULTRA CYCLIST & BACK AGAIN
In order to understand the significance of what Jim has accomplished
this year, I want to give a little history of Jim's ultra running "career," the
accident that ended it, his unsuccessful attempts to resume running, his
transition to cycling, and his comeback to ultra-distance foot races.
Jim's first ultra run was at the Bighorn Mountain Wild & Scenic 50K
in Wyoming in 1997, a couple years before I met him.
Ironically, the last event in which he could run some of the distance
in a race was the Bighorn 30K in 2011, not ultra distance but kind of a
bookend to his ultra career because he ran the various ultra distances
there from 50K to 100 miles over the years.
Jim and me at the start of the
Bighorn 30K on 6-18-11;
this was my last organized race,
Jim had what I consider to be a very successful -- and fun
-- ultra running career during those fourteen years, finishing many trail
50Ks, 50-milers, 100Ks, and 100-milers like Kettle Moraine, Western States,
Wasatch Front, Leadville, Vermont, and The Bear in his 50s.
His fastest 100-miler was a sub-24 at Kettle Moraine but his
favorites were the more scenic and more difficult ones in the
mountains at high altitudes:
Jim chose a tough 100-miler for
his first one, and he finished! This is the
finish line of the 1999 Leadville
Trail 100, when we were 19 years younger.
competed in some 24- and 48-hour events around the country in his early
The 24-hour event at Across the Years (ATY) in Arizona on New
Year's weekend was his favorite of those:
Jim at his last ATY 24-hour run
He had dreams of finishing a lot more ultras through his 60s, 70s,
and beyond -- as long as he was physically able to train for and
run them, and was still having fun.
His plans came crashing down in November of 2010, however, when he
landed hard on his right knee in a fall off my cyclocross bike. That
was a game-changer but it took several months to realize his running
career was over.
End of an era: Jim finishes
his last ultra in which he could
still run at Jemez Mountain 50K
Meniscus surgery a couple weeks later by our knee doc in Roanoke, VA
Despite months of various types of rehab, visco-supplementation
(gel injections), cortisone, and further evaluations by orthopedists in Durango and
Leadville, CO as we were traveling during 2011, Jim's knee was in
continual pain. He couldn't sleep well, couldn't run, couldn't even hike
comfortably with me for more than a few miles.
The only thing that didn't hurt was riding his new mountain bike!
Cody greets Jim at one of the
trailheads along the Mickelson Trail through the
Black Hills of SD. Jim rode the
whole 109-mile trail that day. (9-19-11)
So he mostly gave up ultra-distance walking (forget about running) and
"shifted gears" into ultra-distance cycling.
He did only a few bicycling events, preferring instead to do
occasional solo long rides like the Michelson Trail in South Dakota.
His most memorable competitive cycling event was the tough
Leadville Trail 100-mile bike race in August, 2013, at the age of 65.
(The foot race on a comparable high-altitude course at Leadville was his first
100-mile run in 1999.)
Teeth gritted, a few feet before
the finish line of the 2013 LT100 bike race
After seven years of frustration because of the near-continual pain
in his knee, Jim finally decided to get a partial knee replacement at the end
of 2016 while we were spending the winter in Southeast Georgia.
Because he was in such good shape from cycling, his recovery from that surgery was
fast -- even for someone much younger than 68 -- and he was soon
able to start walking more. And more. I was excited because I had a
hiking buddy again (in addition to Cody, my faithful ultra Lab).
Jim and Casey on a moderately
difficult trail at Valley of Fire SP in Nevada (April, 2016)
Soon after that we decided to buy another house after thirteen years
of extended and full-time RV travel around North America. We enjoyed hiking and cycling on
our new community's extensive network of paved multi-use paths and stopped
traveling for 20+ months.
My own knees were
giving me more grief, too. After eight years of
successful treatment with Orthovisc and other types of visco-supplementation, I
finally needed two total knee replacements in the fall and winter of 2017.
Jim was as impressed with my new knee doc as I was so he decided to
see him in December, 2017 for the one-year follow-up for his partial
knee replacement. He liked the orthopedist in Brunswick who did his
surgery, too, but it wasn't
practical to drive all the way down there to see him since he wasn't
having any problems.
There are lots of diversions
along our path system to make our walks and rides interesting.
Everything looked great so Dr. Schmidt gave him the go-ahead to do
as much walking as he wanted. Yes, even ultra distances! His only
admonition was "no pounding," which means "no running"
-- same thing he told me after my total knee replacements.
Jim was ecstatic. He began increasing his walking distances right
away and spent hours online researching fixed-time races in the
Southeast and around the country.
Soon he was back in the (ultra foot race) game again.
JIM'S FOOT TRAINING & RACING IN 2018
Jim is a man of many fewer words than I use so I will supplement the
summary he wrote for this entry with some additional information I
gathered from asking him questions, the race websites, and my own observations, as well
as photos I took at the last three of his first five events.
I wasn't at the
first two events he did because they were "training runs" for his first
goal race, A Race for the Ages (ARFTA).
Jim (L) looks happier his third
day at ARFTA than the guy with the "Happy" shirt! (9-2-18)
Jim's words are in italics throughout
the rest of this entry. I've added additional information.
Jim: I first considered ARFTA about one year ago. I started training on
the one-mile walmart / home depot / aldi loop about the first of
December. I registered for ARFTA in mid-December. I still like doing
loops there because of the amenities.
ARFTA = Gary Cantrell's popular A Race for the Ages, which is
designed to give aging runners the edge in a fixed-time event. Each participant
has as many hours to compete as their age in years.
meant Jim had a fighting chance to walk at least 100 miles;
he turned 70 a few weeks before the race.
Looking good near the end of the ARFTA race!
It has a little bit of
elevation gain and loss but not
nearly as much as Jim trained on.
Peachtree City has over 100 miles of hilly, paved, multi-use paths.
Although Jim trained on hills almost every day this year, he also did
many flat one-mile loops at the city's shopping area anchored by Walmart and Home Depot.
The "amenities" he mentions are air conditioning inside the stores
during the summer and readily available food and fluids to purchase,
restrooms if needed, and sometimes a chair to sit down in to rest while
he was doing long training sessions.
RACE #1: OPERATION ENDURANCE RUN @ FT. BENNING,
Jim: My first race was Operation Endurance Run 24-Hour
at Ft. Benning on March 24. Training included long walks of 24, 26 and 29 miles. I
walked 40 miles in the race.
I had to take a break after 6 hours, and went back to the camper
and slept 2 hours. I also did this one other time during the early
morning hours. I thought it was a tough race because of the one-mile
loop and my inexperience. I might go back as a training run.
event is conducted by GUTS (Georgia Ultrarunning and
Trailrunning Society) and offers 6-, 12-, and 24-hour races. A portion
of the proceeds benefits members of the military. The course is a
one-mile flat loop at Stewart Field on base. Jim was
14th of 19 people in the 24-hour race.
We store our 5th-wheel camper at Ft. Benning, which is about 90 minutes
from our home. Since the storage area was only about a mile from the
race venue on base, Jim drove over there to rest twice during this
event. He also did some work on the Cameo while he was there and spent the
night before the race in it -- in the storage area, not the campground.
Jim: I wasn't real happy with the OER experience. I stopped
walking between April 7 and June 2. I guess that's why I had such a poor performance
at A Midsummer Night's Dream. I got interested again and started walking
after June 2.
Because of the heat, Jim often got out the door to
walk by 5 AM in the dark. He never did feel really acclimated to the heat and humidity,
though. It was a hotter, wetter summer and fall than average in our area.
RACE #2: A MIDSUMMER NIGHT'S DREAM IN CANTON, GA
Jim: My second race was Midsummer Night's Dream 12-hour in Canton on June
16. I could have done the 24-hour but it was too hot. I started at 9 pm
and got 34 miles (they say 40). I slept a couple of times in the back
of the Honda on a lawn chair. I might go back again as a training run.
Jim's race singlet and medal
event conducted by Tortoise & The Hare Racing includes races
lasting 3, 6, 12, and 24 hours. All distances start at 9 PM, which is
good because of the heat this time of year. Jim was done by 9 AM. The course is a flat,
hard-packed dirt and gravel 1.2-mile loop in scenic Boling Park. Canton is north
of Atlanta, about a two-hour drive from our house.
Jim took our spacious Honda Odyssey minivan so he could sleep briefly on
our chaise lounge chair in the back. I didn't attend this race because
Jim didn't need me to crew for a 12-hour race with an aid station every
mile and it wasn't practical to take our three Labrador retrievers or board them.
RACE #3: A RACE FOR THE AGES IN MANCHESTER, TN
Jim: ARFTA was too hot. I won't go back. I didn't care
for Cracker Barrel food. I liked the course and the location of our
canopy, but 72 hours is too long. I prefer 48 hours; I can get a 100-mile buckle
in that time.
I saw several people I knew, but didn't talk much. I was too
focused on getting miles. I enjoyed that Sue and Holly were there.
ARFTA logo from the race's
And since I was there for most of Jim's race, I got some photos.
popular race is held on Labor Day weekend at Fred Deadman
Park in Manchester, TN. Jim drove up in the truck on Thursday to set
up his canopy in a shady spot near the course. Although he had a
chaise lounge chair set up for short naps, he also got a room at Sleep
Inn for four nights so he could sleep better before and during the
race. Many entrants sleep in their tents or in a building at the
Shady, grassy area by the creek where some participants
set up their aid tents
I drove up separately on Friday with Holly-pup,
arriving before Jim began his race at 2 PM. Since he was 70, he
started 70 hours before the end of the race at 9 AM on Monday. We
boarded Casey and Cody near home for two nights.
The one-mile paved course is a convoluted "loop" with two out-and-back
sections. All of it is sunny except for a scenic section along a creek.
Jim set up his canopy, chairs, and table with supplies in the grass
and shade at the bottom of the diagram below. Although it was about 50
feet off the course, it was a convenient place for both of us because
Jim passed by twice each loop.
Jim's canopy, chairs, and supplies in a nice shady
spot near the course;
Holly-pup was a good girl during the race and Jim
loved seeing her frequently.
From our canopy area I had a good view of Jim
coming up the road and coming from the
other direction toward the right. He could let me
know what he wanted and
I could take it out to him ~10 minutes later when
The race provides meals from Cracker Barrel restaurant every six hours
to the participants. There is no typical aid station like most races have.
Jim got very little food inside the building because he didn't want to
stand in line to wait for it. Runners got in line every six hours and
the food was soon gone if Jim waited until there was no line. In
addition, he really doesn't care for Cracker Barrel-type food. He ate
mainly food and fluids we took from home.
I love how many men and women in their 70s and 80s run/walk this
race! The oldest participant, 86-year-old Donald Jans, accumulated 120
miles. An 81-year-old woman, Sylvia Quinn, got 150 miles and ended up
18th out of 173 participants! Most runners walked during the heat of
the day, even the younger ones. Many of them did more running and
walking after dark when it was cooler.
Jim is ready to roll on Friday
afternoon! 2PM is an unusual time for a race
to begin, especially on a hot day, but that's
when 70-year-olds start at ARFTA.
He sometimes walked with other participants going
One reason Jim chose this race was the opportunity to see some
runners we haven't seen for several -- or many -- years,
like Julie Aistars, Joe Lugiano, Dave Combs, Mike Melton, Deborah Sexton, Doyle
Carpenter, Bill Keane, Ann Trason, Jeff Washburn, Kim Sergeant,
Joe Fejes, Don Winkley, Bill and LuanneTurrentine, Ed Demoney, John Price, David Wright,
Karsten Solheim, Liz Bauer and others.
We've missed the camaraderie we used to have with old running buddies
from around the country and world. We're both glad we can reconnect
with some of those runners again.
Unfortunately, the race
founder, Gary Cantrell AKA Lazarus Lake or "Laz," wasn't present
during the race. He was nearing the end of his own transcontinental
walk across the USA. His wife and other family members did a good job
directing the event in his absence.
Jim talks with Sandra Cantrell, Gary's wife,
shortly before his start on Friday.
Holly and I returned home on Sunday so I could retrieve Casey and
Cody from boarding sooner. The boarding facilities were both closed on
the holiday Monday, which meant they would have to stay an additional two nights
if I didn't get them on Sunday. In retrospect, I should have taken
Cody to TN with me instead of Holly; with his doggie dementia,
he did not do well without us.
Jim continued in the race until it ended at noon on Monday, Labor
Day. He reached 100 miles . . . and then kept going to 106! He was
75th out of 173 participants.
I admit to being a long-distance enabler -- I encouraged him to
keep going after 100 miles, via text messages and phone calls, because he
had time left on the clock. I knew he'd regret it later if he stopped at
100 miles because he placed higher with 106.
He was tired but very happy with
his results and I'm really proud of his accomplishment. It's been a
long time since he did 100 miles or more -- ten years, in fact
(116 miles at Across the Years 48-hour race in 2008).
GOOD JOB, JIM!!!
RACE #4: THE ENDLESS MILE IN ALABASTER, AL
Jim: I liked Endless Mile. The camper location and food were
good. The course was nice with small hills and lots of trees. It was nice to
stay at Ft Benning before and after the race. I will consider going back
for higher miles.
event conducted by Southeastern Trail Runs includes 6-,
12-, 24-, and 48-hour solo races and relays for 24 and 48 hours. It
appeals to runners/walkers of all ages.
The races were held on October
18-21. Jim liked the cooler weather much better than the events he did
during the summer. The venue was also very scenic in
Veteran's Park in Alabaster, AL, about 40
miles south of Birmingham.
Above and below: one of several lakes the
race course passes by
I think I had as much fun as Jim at The Endless Mile as Jim did.
This is one of the nicest city parks I've ever seen, with paved and dirt
trails through the woods and grassy areas, several ponds, nice landscaping, a fabulous
Beneful "Dream" dog park, lots of
shelters and picnic areas, a challenging disc golf course, a place to
fly drones, several ball fields that were busy two of the
nights we were there, and other amenities.
It is a great place for a race and a great place for runners' family
members, including kids and dogs.
Holly and Casey (under the red dots) wait for a guy
to throw the ball again with a Chuck-It.
This is one of the best-equipped dog parks we've
ever seen; only a third of it is shown here.
The race director gave us permission to park our camper close to the
course because there is a large parking area near the start/finish of
It was fairly easy for Jim to access his supplies and take rest breaks, and
for me to do any crewing he needed.
Since we took all three of our Labs with us, the location was perfect
for walking them around and taking the two younger ones to the dog
park, which was about 100 feet from our camper. Jim was happy every
time he saw me out walking the dogs near the course and took time out
occasionally to give them a hug:
This was the first time we've been out in our 5th-wheel camper since
we bought our house 19 months ago. It was a "shake-down" for the
longer winter trip we're taking to Arizona in December. We stayed in a
nice campsite at Ft. Benning, GA two nights before the race, then
drove over to Alabaster, AL (about a two-hour drive), on Thursday.
Jim's race began Friday morning.
We also stayed one night in the camper at Ft. Benning after the race,
before putting it back in storage on base and returning home.
Uchee Creek Recreation Area, Ft. Benning, GA
Jim began running on Friday morning at 9 and ended over an hour before
48 hours were up on Sunday morning because he met his goal of
at least 100 miles by then.
The one-mile certified course is a paved loop winding through the
park. It has some hills for variety. You can see a diagram of it on
the race website. The races are
run clockwise and the direction doesn't change. The path is open to the
public during the race but locals never impeded Jim's progress.
The painted lines in the grass are for high school
cross country meets that are held here.
During the race I walked the dogs near the path on
the grass and in the woods.
Runners were so spread out that I walked with Jim his last five miles
in the dark and after daybreak on Sunday morning. By then he was going
slow enough I could keep up with him!
Jim was very pleased to reach 100.2 miles with more than an
hour to spare. He stopped at 46:52 on the clock and
placed 19th out of 29 entrants in the
At one point before the race began Jim said he'd be happy with 70
miles. That was based on his pace and the sleep/rest breaks he took at
Jim approaches the chip timing mat at the
start/finish on Saturday. A screen by the
timer's table showed runners' accumulated
distances each time they went over the mat.
While it wasn't easy for him to walk 100 miles in less than 47 hours
at The Endless Mile, he discovered that he didn't need as much sleep
or other rest breaks as he expected in that amount of time. More
training, experience, and cooler weather helped, too.
Jim doubts he'll do any 72-hour events, at least in the foreseeable
future. He's happy with 100 miles or a little over, the distance usually
required to get a nice buckle:
Above and below: Jim at the finish with the
RD and his 100-mile buckle
RACE # 5: THE STINGER 24-HOUR IN HAMPTON, GA
This event conducted on November
17-18 by Revolution Running featured 6-, 12-, and 24-hour options on a
USATF-certified rubberized track.
the 24-hour race
like a low-key training run for his next goal race at the end of the
year, Across the Years (ATY) in Arizona. It was a good way for him to
maintain his fitness between races.
It's a lot easier for him to get in long distances during an
established race than it is by himself on the cart paths in Peachtree
City. It's an MO we often used when we ran ultras previously
-- use a 50K race as a training run for a 50-miler, e.g., or a
50-miler before a 100-miler.
The timing and location of The Stinger was just right. Hampton, home
of the Atlanta Motor Speedway, is only
about 45 minutes from our house so Jim was able to sleep in his own bed
the night before the race and drive to the high school track on
Saturday morning before the 8 AM start.
He took a cooler and chair and found a spot on the inside of the track
to set them up in the shade of another runner's canopy:
I drove separately and spent a couple hours at the track in the early
afternoon. There was plenty of aid station food and fluids, as well as
supplies Jim took, every quarter mile so he didn't need me to do any crewing.
I took photos while I was there. It was good to see Joe Fejes, Ray
Krolewitz, and Don Winkley again, as well as meet Pete Kostelnick, a
young runner who had just finished a fast journey run from Kenai, Alaska to Key
West, Florida. I enjoyed following his 5000+ mile trek every day on
After I went back home Jim and I talked on the phone and texted each
other a few times until I went to bed. That's easier done when he's on
a track or one-mile loop than out on a trail, like we used to run.
Jim had until 8AM on Sunday to walk but stopped after reaching
miles in 18:37 hours. He got home about 3:30 AM. His pace
was an improvement over The Endless Mile 48-hour event, where it took
him 23:45 hours to reach 50 miles.
Of course, he knew he had a lot more time to keep going at The Endless
Mile so he had to pace himself with that in mind.
Jim wrote this to our friend Matt Watts after the race in response to
Matt's teasing "congratulations" for not sleeping while he was out there,
and his question about Jim's opinion of the quarter-mile loop:
Of course I would liked to have gone farther, but it was cold, I was
tired, it was past 3:00 AM, and I didn't see the point, etc., etc.,
etc. wha, wha, wha.
It was fun when it started, but it sure seems to take a long time
to rack up miles, they come so slowly. I prefer a 1-mile loop course.
I tried to hug the inside curves as much as possible. I
cringed every time I saw someone in lane 3 or 4, knowing how much
father they were running than necessary. Some of them stayed out
there the entire race. None of the record seekers grumbled at me or
my fellow walkers for doing this, and there were several of us
including Ray K and Don Winkley. They didn't have to go far at all
to pass us, but we would have added many uncounted miles had we
stayed out of lane 1 for any length of time.
In this shot, Ray K (red shorts)
and Don (in tights) are in lanes 2-3.
I got 50 miles in 23:45 at Endless Mile, and I got almost 52
miles in 18:37 at The Stinger, so I guess that's an improvement. I
could have kept going, but - see above.
Part of the reason for not taking a three hour nap was no camper
close by. The humidity was so high that everything out in the open
was wet , including my zero gravity chair. I couldn't get comfortable
in the pickup.
So, next up for both of us is ATY. Gotta get my head around that.
RACE #6: ACROSS THE YEARS 48-HOUR IN GLENDALE, AZ
Jim is walking the Across the Years 48-hour race starting at 9 AM on
Friday, December 28 and ending on Sunday, December 30.
The event features a six-day race that starts on December 28 and ends
on January 3, plus multiple start times for 24- and 48-hour races
during those six days.
We ran and volunteered at the 24- and 48-hour events at ATY in 2007,
2008, and 2010 when it was held at Nardini Manor in Buckeye, AZ, and
volunteered in 2011 when the event moved to Camelback Ranch in
Goodyear (next photo):
I think that is Anne Watts in the white jacket.
The race attracts a variety of ultra-distance folks ranging from
pedestrians like us to runners of all ages who are hoping to set new
state, country, or world records -- a virtual all-comers ultra-distance event.
Camelback Ranch is the beautiful venue where the Chicago White Sox and
LA Dodgers do their spring training. It features lush flowers and
greenery, a lake and other water features, sculptures, and smooth dirt
and gravel paths. The ATY course winds through the landscape for
almost exactly one mile.
Jim's final thought (for now):
I'm looking forward to ATY as part of our winter trip. Seeing Matt and
Anne will be fun; maybe Matt will motivate me to go more miles.
Matt (L) and Anne (R) at the 2011 ATY awards
ceremony on 1-1-12
Matt is also in the 48-hour event and starting the same day as Jim.
Matt still runs, but he'll have to walk some, too. Should be fun to
watch those two! Anne is running the 24-hour race starting on December
Next entry: on the road again -- our first real RV road
trip in 20+ months
"Runtrails & Company" - Sue Norwood, Jim O'Neil,
Cody, Casey, and Holly-pup
© 2018 Sue Norwood and Jim O'Neil