2019  HIKING, ULTRA-WALKING,

& RV TRAVEL ADVENTURES

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

 

   
 
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   A SUMMARY OF JIM'S ULTRA-DISTANCE WALKS @ 
A RACE FOR THE AGES & THE ENDLESS MILE EVENTS

SUNDAY, OCTOBER 27

 
"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 buckle in that time."
 
~ Jim's reaction after walking 106 miles at the 2018 version of A Race for the Ages
 
 
After walking 100+ miles in two subsequent 48-hour events later in 2018, however -- The Endless Mile in Alabama and Across the Years in Arizona -- Jim changed his mind not only about ARFTA but also about his preference for 48-hour races.

He did return to A Race for the Ages again in 2019 and he decided he prefers having more time than 48 hours to complete 100 miles so he can either rest more frequently and/or for longer periods of time. Although he signed up again for The Endless Mile 48-hour event, he enjoyed ARFTA more this year and will probably return in 2020.

2019 A RACE FOR THE AGES (ARFTA)

Gary Cantrell's unique fixed-time race that gives an advantage to older ultra runners is held on Labor Day weekend. The certified, paved, one-mile "loop" runs through Deadman Park in Manchester, TN:

What makes this race so unique? It is designed to give a time advantage to older runners, many of whom are virtually legends in the sport of ultra running.

This event ends at noon on Labor Day Monday. Runners and walkers start at different times during the long holiday weekend, based on their specific age -- one hour of time on the course is allowed for each year of the person's age. That means there are dozens of starting times spread over several days.

Since Jim is 71, he had 71 hours to walk as many miles as possible. His race began on Friday at 1PM. Runners who were 70 on race day began an hour after Jim, and so on.

This year's event drew 133 entrants ranging in age from 6 (race director Gary Cantrell's granddaughter) to 87. Seven competitors were 80 or older and they all accumulated a lot of miles running and/or walking. The one 80+ years old with the fewest miles still got 88 miles!

The oldest entrant, Donald Jans, had 87 hours to run and walk as many miles as possible. He completed 109 miles. The oldest female, 82-year-old Sylvia Quinn, had an outstanding 153 miles! 

How many women -- or even men -- do you know in their 80s who can pull off something like that??

This year's overall winner was 74-year-old Bob Becker with 230 miles, 18 miles ahead of his nearest competitor. You don't see that happen in any other race, either.


Front of this year's race hoody; numbers indicate ages of some participants year of the cars.

In most ultras, runners/walkers in Jim's 70-79 year age group aren't very prevalent in fixed-distance races, especially the 100-mile trail races we used to run, because so few of them can still beat the cut-offs at various aid stations.

That's why we started doing more fixed-time events as we got slower in our 50s and 60s. In those events your goal is to reach as many miles as possible and the only cut-off is at the end.


More cars on the back of this year's race hoody

Fixed-time races like ARFTA and more traditional 24-, 48-, and 72-hour events give older runners a much better chance of meeting their distance goals. They have the endurance; they just need more time to get there.

At ARFTA there were at least 36 participants in their 70s -- and only ten under age 40. That's the reverse of most ultras.

When they registered, entrants were asked to list highlights of their running history, then were presented with a nice booklet with the information everyone provided. It was fun to read through it because I know so many of the runners from back in the 1980s and 1990s.

Runners 40 and under all start at the same time at ARFTA and are allowed 40 hours to compete. Folks age 41 and up are given the same number of hours as their age in years.

ARFTA TRAINING

Although Jim's training mileage was lower for this race than last year's, he had a better base than he did in 2018 and reached the same distance again -- 106 miles. As shown on this screen in the timing tent, he did it in 67 hours, 24 minutes, and 30 seconds:

That means he had another three hours he could have walked but didn't. That was enough.

In 2018 he was pretty much starting from scratch for ultra-distance walking, as I described in the December 1 entry last year. He walked several races in preparation for the 2018 ARFTA and did two more 100+ mile efforts after it. He reduced his training mileage significantly from January to April of this year and began ramping up again for the 2019 ARFTA in May.

All of Jim's training for this year's event was on the extensive network of paved multi-use paths and residential streets in Peachtree City. We haven't been traveling much since we sold our RV in February and he didn't compete in any other races leading up to ARFTA this time.


When Jim was cleaning a tarp for the canopy on our patio a few days before
the race, Holly (paws barely showing on the right) put her favorite tennis 
ball on it. She really, really wanted him to stop working and throw it!

Prior to the race Jim spent a lot of time making detailed plans -- what exactly to take with him, which vehicle to take, what to eat and drink, when and how long to walk, when and how long to rest/sleep, where to rest (in a motel like he did last year? in the car or truck? on a lounge chair inside the race building? on a zero-gravity chair in his canopy with or without tarps on the sides?).

Because it's usually in the 80s and 90s F. in the afternoons and evenings at this race, his final potential plan(s) included more time trying to rest during the day when it was uncomfortably hot and more time walking late evening, overnight, and before noon.


Jim and some other runners/walkers -- two shown here -- carried umbrellas when the sun 
was the most merciless to stay a little cooler and avoid getting sunburned. 


A few places along the course were in the shade at various times of day.

Jim discussed the pros and cons of a number of plans with me and I tried to assist but my advice was likely influenced by my own experiences in several Across the Years 24-hour races I did. Unfortunately, that isn't  comparable to 48-72-hour events. I was able to run and walk for 24 hours with no sleep but most mortals need some sleep during an event longer than that.

The best advice I could give Jim was to be flexible because there would be so many variables over three days and some of them would be out of his control.

During the race he did make a lot of modifications along the way but he met his distance goal with time to spare.

ARFTA PRE-RACE

Jim drove up to Manchester, about a four-hour trip via metro Atlanta and Chattanooga, on Thursday morning and secured his first choice of a spot to set up his canopy, table, and lounge chair with a thick pad.


Jim wanted this corner because it was just off the race course (arrow).

Jim's canopy site was near the spot we used last year but just a few feet off the course on the inside of a turn. Doyle Carpenter and another runner asked if they could set up their chairs nearby and Jim said of course. It was a prime spot and he didn't want to hog it.

Despite the fact that Doyle had that spot last year, he graciously gifted Jim a handsome walking stick he carved:

Other popular spots for runners to set up their tents or canopies are in the grassy area near the start-finish and on either side of the shady path by the creek:

Last year we saw only one small camper that was in the parking area near us. This year there were more in another location that was close to but off the course:


There's a second pop-up trailer and a Class C motorhome in the background.

I'm guessing Jim wished he had an RV to take to races again!

There is also an indoor air-conditioned option for the older runners -- spaces run out before the younger ones can claim a spot. Participants have to wait until an hour before their official start time to choose from available spots inside the building, if they want one.

Jim didn't want a space inside the building last year because he had both the canopy outside and a cool motel room a few miles away. This year he didn't have a motel room during the race so he put a zero-gravity lounge chair inside the building:

Since meals are served there every six hours, he made sure he wasn't trying to nap inside when it was noisy.

After Jim got set up on Thursday afternoon he checked in at a nearby motel. He used it only the night before the race so he could sleep in a real bed overnight and take a shower the next morning.

DURING THE RACE

Since I was there for the first two days of Jim's race last year I knew what was going on with Jim until the last day. This year I was at home with the dogs, not worried but curious -- and a little guilty that I wasn't there cheering him on and crewing for him.

Thank goodness for smart phones. We were able to text and talk with each other during the race and Jim sent me a couple photos. It was hard to keep his phone charged up, however, so that limited the number of photos he took as well as our communication.

I was also able to follow his progress with Mike Melton's excellent real-time results online.

Jim took this picture of Mike in the timing tent (above) just before he hit 100 miles (below).

I can imagine that Jim was antsy to start walking all morning on Friday, since about 34 men and women older than him were already on the course.

Jim didn't start until 1 PM that day, a rather difficult time to start since his first few hours were in the heat of the day and that's exactly when he wanted to avoid being on the course. His general plan revolved around walking more when it was cooler and resting when it was hotter.

But he would have been even more agitated if he waited until it was cooler late that evening to start, knowing he'd lost a lot of time on the course. So he walked a few hours in the afternoon -- using an umbrella to shade him from the direct sun -- rested and ate supper around 6 PM, then resumed walking.

After that he was better able to implement his plan of walking more when it was cooler and getting some rest while it was hot.


Never any shade on this part of the course during the day but it was well-lit at night.

Since he had a chair in the building he was able to plan his "real" meals better than last year. Although he's not a fan of the Cracker Barrel food served every six hours at the race, he did eat some of it. He didn't want to waste time waiting in line or miss a meal entirely, so he would go inside for rest breaks on his lounge chair before meals were served.

That way he could see what was on the menu each time and get closer to the front of the line when it was almost time for food to be served.

He took plenty of his own beverages and food, too, and kept all of it iced in a large cooler under his canopy outside:

 


Before the race Jim (second from left) sits with some other runners who were camped out near his canopy.

Jim enjoyed the camaraderie of this race with so many people we either know or have heard about through the years.

Many of the sport's oldest legends run and walk this event, including race director Gary Cantrell AKA "Laz," short for his pseudonym of Lazarus Lake.

Last year Gary was busy walking across the USA. This year he was present for the race.


View from front of Jim's canopy, with the course (my arrow) right outside his door. The building
served as HQ for meals and cots during the race and the awards ceremony afterwards.

Jim was more than happy to reach the same number of miles he did last year, 106, with some time left over on Monday morning to pack up his tent and other belongings before lunch and the awards ceremony. Although he had over three hours to walk several more miles he didn't feel any need to go farther.

At the awards ceremony at noon on Labor Day he received another handsome belt buckle honoring his achievement. All participants receive the trophy, shown below, but they have to cover 100 miles or more for buckles:

 


RD Gary Cantrell AKA Laz is in the white shirt, standing and facing the camera.

Right after the ceremony Jim drove home, tired but proud of his accomplishment. He wasn't (yet) thinking of doing another race this year . . .

You can read more about ARFTA on the RunSignUp website and follow posts on its public Facebook page. Race results by UltraTimingPros are here.

THE ENDLESS MILE

If you've ever been or lived with a marathoner or ultra-marathoner you know the drill -- three-fourths of the way through a long event you swear you won't ever do it again. After reflecting and resting up for a few days . . . you're already planning your next similar grueling race!

Been there, done that and so it was with Jim.


Logo on this year's short-sleeved race shirt

He kinda, sorta wanted to do another race this year "because I'm trained for it already" but he had a devil of a time figuring out which one to enter. He didn't want to travel too far, he preferred another 72-hour race (which aren't as prevalent as 48-hour ones), and he wanted the weather to be just right. 

He had trouble getting motivated for a second race because he couldn't find one that met all of his criteria. He finally settled on walking The Endless Mile again but didn't register until a couple days in advance.

TRAINING FOR ENDLESS MILE

A new wrinkle in our lives that complicated his decision was driving down to Palmetto, FL two days after ARFTA to pick up our first guide-puppy-in-training at Southeastern Guide Dogs.

Jim was understandably tired after just walking 106 miles in three days but he was as excited as I was to drive seven hours to Florida (well, maybe not excited about that part), tour the beautiful canine campus (nicer than some college campuses!), meet an adorable 13-week-old Lab puppy named Don, and bring him back home to raise for the next year.


Holly (2) upper left, Don (13 weeks, in the middle), and Casey (7) play tug.  (9-7-19)

(I promise lots more about "Don-Don" in my next entry.)

With the addition of a new puppy, our lives soon revolved around three Labrador retrievers in three different life stages -- even more of a change in our lifestyle than when Cody was still alive.

Don's guide dog training is different than training a pet puppy and much more time-consuming. Even though I am the primary puppy-raiser for Don, having to spend more time walking and caring for Casey and Holly limited Jim's training for another race to some extent.

Last year we still had our spacious 5th-wheel RV and were able to park it within about 20 feet of the Endless Mile race course:

Jim didn't need to set up a canopy or sleep in a lounge chair. He could just walk over to the truck or camper, get whatever he needed, and go inside the camper to rest.

We took Cody, Casey, and Holly with us to this race last year. Cody had some old-age issues but was much lower maintenance than puppy Don is now. Jim didn't need a lot of crewing so I was able to help him when needed, walk several miles with him at the end of the race, and take care of all the dogs while we were there.

This time I opted to stay home with Casey, Holly, and Don so we didn't have to board the girls. Don cannot be boarded -- he is not even allowed to go to day care or dog parks. It would have been difficult to stay in a motel with him at just four months old and keep him occupied at the race site for three days with only a car or truck and canopy.


Don graduated from his Puppy Kindergarten classes Oct. 15,
two days before Jim drove to The Endless Mile.

Jim was concerned about being gone for three or four days and leaving me alone with the dogs but I assured him that was much preferable to any other alternative.

So once again, Jim was on his own for this race.

THE RACE

"Endless Mile" sounds grim but this is a beautiful one-mile loop course on paved paths through Veteran's Park. I like it a lot better than the somewhat-strange and less attractive ARFTA  "loop" with an out-and-back section.

The Endless Mile course runs past several ponds and through pretty woods and large grassy meadows. Here are two photos of the course that I took last year:

 

Although Jim likes the scenic course at The Endless Mile, there were some other downsides there for him this year besides the dogs and me not being there. (He loved seeing the dogs periodically during the race last year.)

One problem was the weather in the six weeks between ARFTA and Endless Mile.

We had record-breaking 90+ F. heat in Peachtree City in September and October, so training for Endless Mile was as much of a drudge as it was for ARFTA. And it was still plenty warm in Alabama October 18-20 during the race. The Endless Mile usually has cooler weather than it did this year.

Above and below:  Milling around before the 48-hour race began.

Another downside is that The Endless Mile doesn't have a 72-hour option. At this point Jim doesn't really like the 48-hour format because he has to keep moving more steadily, with fewer rest and sleep breaks.

In addition, there were only thirty-one runners in the 48-hour race and Jim knew only four of them.  He set up his canopy next to Doyle Carpenter again:

More people were on the course when the 6-, 12-, and 24-hour events began but Jim didn't know any of them.

Because of his lack of motivation, the heat, and some residual fatigue from ARFTA, Jim didn't do as well at Endless Mile as he did last year. So much of a 100-mile race like this is mental, especially if you're going around and around in "endless" loops. One indication of this is that he took no photos once the race began (he did at ARFTA).

Jim also developed trouble with blisters on one of his feet and simply wasn't having any fun, so he stopped at 68 miles and came back home early.

You can find more information about this race on the Southeastern Trail Runs website and UltraSignup. Results of the 48-hour event are at UltraSignup.

NOW WHAT??

Will Jim do another 48- or 72-hour event anytime soon?

Probably not, because the only one that really interests him is the Across the Years 72-hour race in Phoenix at the end of December and that's totally impractical now that we have no RV.

He plans to take a break from long-distance training for a few months, ride his bike more and do other cross-training this winter, and hunt for another possible race in the spring. At a youthful 71, he isn't ready to hang up his running shoes yet!

Next entry: our first three months with Southeastern Guide Dogs' puppy-in-training, Don, an adorable yellow Lab

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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