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
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
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!
THE ENDLESS MILE
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.,
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
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
"Runtrails & Company" - Sue Norwood, Jim O'Neil,
Casey-Girl, Holly-Holly, & Dapper Don
© 2020 Sue Norwood and Jim O'Neil