2019  HIKING, ULTRA-WALKING,

& RV TRAVEL ADVENTURES

Superstition Mountains at sunset, from Lost Dutchman State Park in Arizona

 

   
 
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   FAREWELL TO A FRIEND:  A PHOTO TRIBUTE TO
OUR ULTRA RUNNING BUDDY, MATT WATTS
(10-3-1956 to 5-3-2019)

TUESDAY, MAY 28

"Some people come into our lives and leave footprints on our hearts,   
and we are never ever the same."   ~ Flavia Weedn
 
 
OK. I made up that date above.

I'm really writing this in the middle of August, partly because I had to catch up on earlier entries (which are also back-dated) and partly because this one is so hard to write.

We lost a good friend in early May and it was totally unexpected for him, his wife Anne, his relatives, his friends, and everyone else who knew him. The last most of us saw him he was the same healthy, vibrant, funny, sarcastic guy we all liked to be around.

This picture wasn't taken anywhere near the last time we saw Matt but it illustrates those personal characteristics that made Matt . . . Matt (notice his "rabbit ears" behind unsuspecting Sandy):


L-R: Dick Powell, Matt Watts, Sandy Powell, and Anne Watts pre-race
at the Jemez Mountain 50-Mile Trail Run (5-15-09)

Then -- suddenly -- he was gone from us, not from something instantaneous like a car wreck or a lightning bolt but it seemed almost that fast. It was a total shock to everyone.

Somehow this superbly fit 62-year-old guy who had recently completed his 95th 100-mile foot race (plus a few others he didn't finish) contracted blood poisoning from a nasty bacterial infection that quickly spread throughout his entire body, completely shutting it down in a couple weeks despite emergency heart surgery and other medical intervention.

How does that happen to someone like Matt??!! 


Anne running with Matt toward the Dry Fork aid station at the Bighorn 100 in Wyoming; she's probably 
asking him what he wants at the aid station. She often crewed for him in his 100-milers.  (6-18-10)

Jim and I are over our initial shock but definitely still in a state of disbelief over three months later.

Even though we didn't see Matt and Anne at races very often after we had to stop running, we are grateful that we got to see them at the Across the Years 48-hour event in late December of 2018.

With all the ribbing and kidding between Matt and Jim, you wouldn't guess that we hadn't seen them for two or three years. It was just like old times.


Anne, Matt, and Jim before the start of the Across the Years 48-hour race in Arizona;
this was the last event where we saw Matt. He did three more 100-milers after that.  (12-28-18)


Matt (white shirt) on the first day of his ATY 48-hour race (12-28-18)


Anne with Matt on his second day; she ran the 24-hour event.  (12-29-18)

One reason it seemed like we took off where we last left off was because we'd kept in regular contact the last several years via e-mail about races, travel, and the funny cartoons, jokes, and articles Matt often sent us. 

He's the only person we allowed to send us these things because he's the only person who seemed to know exactly what we liked -- no politics, no controversial subjects, mostly dog- and running-related things that made us either laugh or think.

Damn, we miss those! And it's so sad to realize we won't see Matt at any more ultra events, now that Jim is participating in them again. We hope to see Anne at some races the future.


Running at Camelback Ranch on the second day of his
48-hour race at the 2011 Across the Years event  (12-31-11)

You'll notice that in most of these photos Matt had a big smile on his face. Sometimes he knew I was taking his picture but not always. He was just a happy, fun-loving guy, especially when he was running. He was definitely in his element when running.

We'll miss that smile, that zest for life, and even the verbal jabs he made at Jim to goad him into a faster pace or more miles. Jim just dished it right back!


Jim and Matt relax a few minutes before the start of the 2009 Bighorn 100-miler  (6-19-09)

Our favorite memory of Matt is his sense of humor.

Jim also remembers that it was Matt who was the first person (after me) that he told about his dream to do the high-altitude Leadville Trail 100-mile mountain bike race after he was no longer able to run the 100-mile foot race there.

He knew Matt would appreciate the new, ambitious challenge for a 65-year-old athlete and be supportive, even while ribbing Jim about it.

And by gosh, Matt and Anne were right there in August, 2013 to see Jim cross the finish line of that difficult bike race:

Here are some lines from his obituary that sum up Matt rather succinctly:

Matt was an avid walker, ultrarunner extraordinaire, trails and aid station volunteer and worked professionally when he had to. He completed ninety-five 100-milers many of which were extremely difficult mountain trail events. His best friends were family, fellow runners, race directors, race crew, volunteers and neighbors . . .

Matt was happiest whenever he was out running. What he loved the most during a 100 mile race was the nighttime just him and his flashlight, lighting the way along the trail.

Matt was our kind of guy.

MORE PHOTOS OF MATT AT ULTRA RUNNING EVENTS

My focus in this entry is 40+ photos of Matt and Anne at a few races where we got to spend some time with them.

We can't remember exactly when or where we met them, but it was most likely in the early 2000s at the Bighorn Wild & Scenic Trail Runs or the Leadville 100-miler. We lived in Montana at the time and they were in Colorado.

Bighorn '07 at packet pickup (above) and Matt checking his time as he 
ran into the Dry Fork aid station (below).   (6-14 and 6-15, 2007)

Matt ran a lot more races than either Jim or I did. You can see a list of many (not all) of the races he ran, as well as his times and rankings, at this UltraSignup link.

Jim ran a lot of those events, too, but not always the same year as Matt, so we don't have photos of Matt at the majority of the races he ran. I'm including in this entry some of the shots I got of him from several different races around the country.


Running toward the Leatham Hollow aid station at the 2010 Bear 100 in Utah

Matt's devoted and equally fun-loving wife of 43 years, Anne, is in many of these pictures, too. I doubt she ever missed any of his ultra-distance races, especially the 100-milers and 24- to 48-hour events.

Anne was very dedicated to crewing Matt during those very long events. Many were run on remote mountain trails where she'd drive from one aid station to the next on dirt forest roads and wait hours for him to come in so she could get him whatever he needed to keep going.


 Anne waits for Matt to come into the Twin Buttes aid station at the 2011 Bighorn
100-miler, when the route was changed due to heavy snow at higher elevations. (6-17-11)


Anne runs out of that aid station with Matt for a little bit, probably to see how
he's feeling and to get an idea of what he'll need at the next aid station.

While waiting for Matt at aid stations Anne usually helped other runners get in and out as quickly as possible, assisted the volunteers, and socialized with other crew members.

Here are some more memories from various races:

2007 ACROSS THE YEARS 24-HOUR RACE IN ARIZONA


Jim, Anne, and Matt at the December 29 start at Nardini Manor (there were several 24-hour starts).

 

2008 ACROSS THE YEARS 24-HOUR RACE IN ARIZONA


Jim, Matt, and Ann before the race began at Nardini Manor in metro Phoenix.  (12-29-08)

 

2009 and 2011 ROCKY RACCOON 100-MILER IN TEXAS


 (2-7-09)  


That deer-in-the-headlights look!  (2-5-11)

 

2009 UMSTEAD 100-MILER IN NORTH CAROLINA


Pre-race dinner (Matt facing camera in gray shirt, Ann in pale yellow shirt,
and Jim to the right in gray shirt with arms crossed)  (4-3hb-09)


Matt running up toward the timing table after one of his 20-mile loops  (4-4-09)

 

2009 BIGHORN WILD & SCENIC TRAIL 100-MILER


Diane Van Deren and Matt check out the course map before the race.  (6-18-09)

Above and below:  Anne and Matt nearing Dry Fork aid station; I saw Matt there a lot of 
years, either crewing for Jim or waiting for my own 50K or 30K race to start.  (6-19-09)

 


Happy guy after the race, with his 100-mile finisher's jacket  (6-21-09)

 

2009 BEAR 100 IN UTAH

Above and below:  Matt and four other runners completed the difficult Rocky Mountain Slam in 2009.
This series of 5 mountain races is more difficult than the better known 4-race Grand Slam. (9-25-10)

 

2009 RUN TO THE FUTURE IN ARIZONA

Above and below:  This event was held at another venue in Phoenix in lieu of
Across the Years when that race was in hiatus for a year.  (12-31-09)

 


Anne, Matt, and Jim reminisce after the race.  (1-1-10)

 

2010 BIGHORN WILD & SCENIC TRAIL 100-MILER IN WYOMING


Even pre-race medical checks were fun to Matt!  (6-16-10)


Anne runs toward Dry Fork aid station yet again with Matt!
(Like I said, I was there a lot of years.)  (6-18-10)


Sometimes Matt had a pronounced lean at the end of a 100-miler but look at that grin!
Jim was smiling, too (above, left), with pride in what Matt had accomplished. (6-19-10)


A few minutes later they were comparing
notes while Matt soaked his tired feet in the cold river.

 

2010 ACROSS THE YEARS 24-HOUR RUN IN ARIZONA


Men's 24-hour champ with 111.8 miles!!  This was a very wet race and 
the last year the ATY events were run at Nardini Manor.  (1-1-11)

 

2011 BIGHORN WILD & SCENIC TRAIL 100-MILER, WYOMING


Matt (in foreground, left) at the start of the 2011 Bighorn 100-miler; the start
location and the course were changed that year due to the high snow pack. (6-17-19)

Above and below:  Anne accompanies Matt toward the Dry Fork aid station; note all the snow!

 

2011 ACROSS THE YEARS 48-HOUR RUN IN ARIZONA

Above and below:  This was the first year the ATY events were run at Camelback Ranch in Phoenix.
The one-mile loop is mostly wide crushed gravel. Just look at Matt's smile for the paparazzi!  (12-30-11)

 


Matt, Paul Grimm, and Anne relax after the race.  (1-1-12)

 

MATT'S FINAL BIGHORN TRAIL 100-MILER

As you can probably tell from the photos in this entry, one of Matt and Anne's -- as well as one of Jim's and my -- favorite races is Bighorn, held in the exceptionally scenic Bighorn Mountains in northern Wyoming in late June every year when parts of the course are covered in beautiful blue lupines and other parts are either under snow and/or very muddy from snowmelt.

The two longer courses are difficult even in a dry year because they get up to the highest altitudes but the scenery is totally awesome and so are the people involved with the race -- staff, volunteers, other participants and their crews.


Gorgeous blue lupines and yellow Arrowleaf balsamroot
on Horse Creek Ridge during the 2007 race (6-16-07)


One week earlier, higher up near the Porcupine Aid Station; Jim, Cody, and I were on a work detail
  to help clear the course. Chain saws and sunshine were more useful than snow shovels!  (6-9-07)

The Bighorn 50K was Jim's very first ultra. He ran it in 1997, more than a year before we met.

Between 1999, when I moved to Montana, until 2011, when we could no longer run because of our knees, Jim and I both participated in every distance this awesome trail race offers -- 30k, 50k, 50-miler, and 100-miler.

Neither of us was ever able to finish that tough 100-miler. Matt was tough enough, and well enough trained, to finish it nine times!


Matt with his 2011 Bighorn 100-mile finisher's jacket at the awards ceremony;
L-R: Dennis Aslett, Matt, Anne, Jim, and Phil Wiley  (6-19-11)

Matt was entered in the June 22, 2019 version of the 100-miler, which was to be his tenth Bighorn finish.

He was there and he did finish with a little help from his friends, but it was posthumously.

This year race organizers put together a special tribute to Matt and another one of our running friends who died since the previous Bighorn race, Bob Hayes. At the start of the race a random runner's name was drawn to carry Matt's bib number and a little bit of his ashes to the first aid station. Then the runner was to give Matt's number and ashes to another runner -- and repeat over and over again with other runners, until the race was done.

Matt's number and ashes were carried by ten or twelve runners to the finish and a celebration of life was held in his honor after the race. Per participants' reports written after the race, Matt's memory and spirit helped more than one runner finish that brutal course when some of them just wanted to quit.

Katrin Silva put it most eloquently in her report, which Anne posted on her Facebook page: "And the biggest thank you goes posthumously to Matt Watts, for getting me out of that chair at mile 66. Matt, I never met you, but without you, I would not have finished. "

I know Katrin's inspirational race report and all the support from new and old friends at the race meant the world to Anne.

This is how Jim and I want to remember Matt, laughing with friends at the awards brunch the morning after his 2011 Bighorn 100-mile finish:


Jim. Matt, Anne, and Phil share a good laugh. (6-19-11)

Rest in peace, good buddy. Run free and forever.

**************************

Next entryspring and summer flower and landscape scenes from our yard

Happy trails,

Sue
"Runtrails & Company" - Sue Norwood, Jim O'Neil, Casey-Girl, and Holly-Pup

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2019 Sue Norwood and Jim O'Neil

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