Eastern tiger swallowtail butterfly feeding on Miss Huff lantana flowers in our yard


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"Pain will pass. Results stay on the internet forever."   
~ motivational sign along the ARFTA course
That sign was a good reminder to all sixty race participants in the COVID-19 edition of ARFTA when they passed it every mile on the loop course in Fred Deadman Park in Manchester, TN:

So many different kinds of foot races -- and most other group events on the planet! -- were cancelled in 2020 due to the pandemic that it was a relief to the lucky few ultra runners and walkers who were able to register for A Race for the Ages and participate live, not virtually.

Gary Cantrell, race mastermind and director, allowed only a fourth of the usual suspects this time in order to conduct as safe a race as possible. That was extra important since most of them are "seniors" in their 60s, 70s, and 80s and more susceptible to the virus simply by virtue of their age.

Race logo on back of this year's fleece hoodie

Their more advanced ages give them an edge in this type of race, however, whether they are walking or running because participants are allowed as many hours on the course as their age in years. Hence, the name of the race.

The race has historically ended at noon on Labor Day. Start times vary by age. This time Jim is 72 so he began at noon on the Friday before Labor Day Monday.

Start/finish line of the one-mile paved loop course through Deadman Park; building on the right
that runners were able to use in previous years was closed this time due to the pandemic.

It was the third time Jim's done this race and his goal was similar to previous years when he had less time -- do as many miles over 100 as possible. The 1,000+ miles Jim walked in Gary's Great Virtual Race Across Tennessee (GVRAT) during May, June, July, and August prepared him well for ARFTA.

Executive summary = he completed 113 miles in 69 hours 35 minutes and decided that was enough. In the 2018 and 2019 ARFTA races he walked 106 miles, so even with two + hours of time left this year, he did better.

Timing tent; all participants wore timing chips.  Jim took this picture before he started
on Friday, with only eight of the oldest runners/walkers on the course so far.

Jim spent several days gradually getting all of his gear and supplies ready for the race. He's done it enough times that it's not a big hassle. It's also easier for races like this that he is familiar with, although thanks to the coronavirus, this year's event was different in many ways than previous editions of the race.

In addition to a race field only one-fourth the normal size, each participant was limited to only one crew member.

Use of the air conditioned building in the park was also prohibited. That meant runners couldn't eat in there or set up cots to sleep or rest. And tents had to be spaced farther apart along the course than in previous years.

Below the timing tent, a runner heads to the path that winds next to the creek at the low end of
the course. The shelters on the far left and far right were used for meals for the participants.

Food was catered again by Cracker Barrel but served under three separate park pavilions outdoors where runners could socially distance.

Participants were also advised to wear masks when they couldn't stay six feet away from each other. That didn't happen very often since most of the paved course is on roads and in parking areas that are wide enough they could spread out most of the time.

One of the Cracker Barrel meals; not Jim's favorite type of food
so he supplemented with things he took to eat.

Jim has had practice at several races setting up a nice personal aid station/rest stop along this and other courses and usually doesn't want or need a motel room nearby.

This spacious canopy has sides that can be used in any combination to protect his gear from rain or wind and provide privacy when changing clothes or sleeping:

Jim's personal aid station was just a few feet off the course (course is not shown in foreground).

Jim sets up a table for supplies and has a chair to sit in when he takes a short break. He naps and sleeps on a zero-gravity lounge chair with a thick pad over it. If it is too chilly or noisy to sleep in the canopy "tent," he can sleep in his truck (he prefers that to my SUV).

I didn't go to the race this year or last. Crews really aren't needed in an event where food is provided and participants pass their personal aid stations (tent, canopy, vehicle) every mile. If we had an RV that we could park on site we could take the dogs and make it a family affair. But we don't have an RV any more and we don't like boarding the dogs.

Jim knows enough people at this race that he has all the social contact and support he needs to have a successful and fun time. Each year at ARFTA he has set up camp next to the same folks.

View from Jim's space in the shade

It was fun for me to track Jim's progress online at home and see Facebook photos and comments posted by runners and their crews during the race. Jim also sent texts and called me periodically. All the photos in this entry showing race scenes are ones he took.

Gary Cantrell AKA Laz is a master storyteller. We both enjoy reading just about anything he writes.

Even though he directs the race he also participates in it. The best post he wrote was about the ghosts he "saw" along the course one misty night during the race when he was mostly walking it alone. The ghosts were three veteran ultrarunners who've participated previously in the event but have since died.

Jim took photos that night with lights around the ball field penetrating the thick mist:


He didn't know yet about Gary's post but did say it was eerie walking through the mist on that dark night.

Jim always has at least one plan for these ultra events with how far he wants to walk at what times of the day and night. Like 99% of the runners out there, however, he inevitably has to modify those plans during the race based on the weather, how he's feeling, and other variables both in and out of his control.

He has enough trouble sleeping at home that it's no wonder adequate sleep during a multi-day race is even more of a problem. He's learning to take shorter, more frequent rest periods during ultras and just powering his way through 48 or 72 hours without a "good night's sleep." If he ever goes longer than 72 hours, it'll be a whole new ball game sleep-wise.

This time he stopped with over two hours of time left due to fatigue and developing blisters. He told me about hot spots that were developing on his feet after about eight hours of walking the first day.

Feet swell during these long events, especially warm ones, so
sometimes a little shoe surgery is necessary to prevent blisters.

Early September is still quite warm in Manchester, TN and there is minimal shade on the paved course. Jim's plan for warm races is to do the most walking when it is cooler and try to sleep when it is hotter. Of course, that messes with his normal sleep cycle! I used to love walking or running through the night in ultras but Jim's not real fond of doing that.

Jim started the race at noon on Friday. He had 50 miles by 1PM on Saturday and 100 miles after midnight Sunday/Monday. He finished about 9:35 AM local time on Monday with 113 miles.

All entrants received a thick cotton fleece hoodie with this year's design.

He told me he didn't hurt much but was just too tired to be motivated to get any more miles than that. He was happy with his performance because it was the most miles he's gotten in one race since he had to stop running several years ago.

Jim finished in 22nd place out of 62 people, mostly over age 50. The amazing Donald Jans, 88 years old and the person who started the race first, had 101 miles. Three guys 57,57, and 66 were over 200 miles. Here are the results for the top 22 of the 62 participants:


All participants who reached at least 100 miles received this buckle.

Although Jim had a good time at the race his post-race comment was the usual remark that he'll never go back. I've heard that for one or two days after every ultra he's ever done! Of course, I know he'll change his mind.

It wasnít as hot this year, and there was no rain, but without an air-conditioned building it wasnít as comfortable for the runners. I think a big reason Jim got more miles this year, however, is because he didnít have an air-conditioned building or motel room for an escape!


So, as usual, within a few days Jim was hunting for another 48- or 72-hour race to walk!

When we had our RV we enjoyed driving to metro Phoenix around New Year's several times for the Across the Years ultras. That's not practical any more with no RV and three Labrador retrievers so Jim was looking closer to home for another event.

I suggested The Endless Mile 48-hour race in Alabaster, Alabama on October 16 because it's just a three-hour drive and I really like the nice one-mile loop course through scenic Veteran's Park. Jim has done it previously and knows the drill. There are also three other events ranging from six to 24 hours.

Above and below:  one of my favorite parts of the course

Jim wasn't keen on the idea at first because there is no 72-hour option in this event. He knows it's harder to get 100 miles in 48 hours than in 72 hours! There is simply less time to rest and more time on his feet.

He finally decided to register eleven days before the race. He remained ambivalent about whether he'd actually go, however. He wanted to see what the weather would be like.

The weather report was good, so he drove to the park Thursday afternoon to set up his canopy along the course close to the spot where he parked his truck. It's also close to the spot where we parked our RV in 2018, the first year he ran this race:

No convenient RV this time!  (Oct., 2018)

Jim picked up his race number, set up his canopy right in front of his truck,

got his gear and supplies ready, walked around the course, watched dogs playing in the nearby fenced dog park, talked to a few people, and read part of a book on his phone.

He was hoping to get a good night's rest. That didn't happen, with a noisy baseball tournament and bright lights that evening on the other side of the parking lot:

That surprised both of us, with the COVID pandemic still raging. Jim got some sleep in his truck, where it was only a little quieter than in the canopy tent.

It was windy that night, blowing over this large tent someone set up but didn't occupy overnight:

Jim's canopy was anchored well and didn't blow away.

The 48-hour race began at 9AM local time on Friday. The weather was good all day, sunny but in the 50s and 60s F., with 40s predicted overnight Friday/Saturday.

Jim had 30 miles after 11 hours. When he called me he said he wasn't very tired yet and because it was cooler, his feet weren't bothering him like they did at ARFTA. He planned to sleep three hours, then get back on the course through the night.

Another part of the loop course

He enjoyed seeing all the dogs at the race. His canopy was next to the path that leads to a large dog park that we loved when we were there in 2018 with Cody, Casey, and Holly. He took a picture of these two dogs under someone's canopy . . .

. . . and enjoyed meeting this man's yellow Lab that looks and acts just like our silly Casey:

He really misses our dogs when he goes to these races and they aren't there.

When Jim reached 50 miles in 23:14 hours (8:14 AM on Saturday), he decided to stop and drove home that morning.

Above and below:  Jim's name is at the bottom right after he crossed the chip timing mat.


This year's long-sleeve, lightweight technical shirt

I think he made a good decision. It got down into the 30s F. overnight Saturday/Sunday and he had trouble sleeping.

However, he wasn't in pain or too tired to continue. He stopped for safety reasons. He was concerned about the risk of catching COVID with 90 more people starting the race at 9 AM on Saturday and lots of locals using the same narrow paths.

Endless Mile did not take the same safety precautions as ARFTA. Tents and canopies were placed close together, twice as many runners were allowed to enter, an unlimited number of crew members were allowed, food was inside one aid station, no one wore masks, and there were too many people around to socially distance.

It was a potential COVID super-spreader event.

Jim came home Saturday and vowed never to return to that race again even in a non-pandemic year. Where have I heard that before??  <grin>

Next entry:  photos from PTC's network of scenic multi-use paths, where Jim and I both walked many miles this year

Happy trails,

"Runtrails & Company" - Sue Norwood, Jim O'Neil, Casey-Girl, Holly-Holly, & Dapper Don

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© 2020 Sue Norwood and Jim O'Neil