Sweetwater Creek State Park, Georgia


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"If we all did the things we are capable of doing, we would literally astound ourselves."    
~ Thomas Alva Edison

Jim and I have enjoyed challenging ourselves running either faster at shorter distances, or longer at very long distances that people say they don't even like to drive! We were astounded the first time we reached our own personal records for speed or distance, and then it became more routine for us -- but still enjoyable for us and an increasing challenge as we got older.

Many people are astounded that Jim and I have run or walked 100 miles in a footrace, yet the explosion in ultra-distance running and walking in the 21st Century proves that many people can do this if they put their minds to it and train adequately.

Race humor at The Endless Mile

Even though Jim and I can't run any more, Jim is still capable at age 72 of walking a hundred miles in a 48- or 72-hour event. He loves the challenge and is willing to put in the work to achieve his goals. I'm no longer interested in doing long distances, and just try to stay fit.

Last year the Covid pandemic put the kabosh on many road and trail races but Jim was still able to participate in several with modifications. This year's race schedule was more full around the country, as restrictions were eased a bit.

Participants' tents near the creek on the ARFTA course

Jim trains year-round in our relatively mild climate in Peachtree City, Georgia, so he's pretty much ready for any ultra-distance races he decides to walk. He prefers dry, mild weather for his races, although that doesn't always work out so well. It's hard to find everything he'd like in one race.

For 2021, he chose three fixed-time running/walking events. In May he participated in Three Days at the Fair in New Jersey for the first time, then in the fall he repeated walks at ARFTA (A Race for the Ages) in Tennessee and The Endless Mile in Alabama for the fourth time each.


Jim waffled about driving up to New Jersey for this race until it was time to go -- or stay home -- because of the strong possibility of cold weather and rain. Rain is not fun for three days during a long event, sleeping under a canopy or in his truck, even when it's warm.

He decided it was a go, and on Saturday, May 8 he headed north for the two-day drive to the race site at the Sussex County Fairgrounds in Augusta, New Jersey.

A variety of races from six hours to six days long were held on a one-mile certified paved and gravel loop. Jim signed up for the 72-hour event, with a goal of reaching 100 miles. 


Jim slept the first night in transit in his truck and reached the race site on Sunday afternoon. He set up his canopy along the course (orange dot on map above). He was tired from driving and slept poorly both nights. He was cold and neither the truck nor lounge chair under the canopy provided good sleeping surfaces. That affected his body, his mood, and his race.

He began his event on Monday morning at 9am. Someone got this shot at the start and posted it on Facebook. Jim is in the blue rain jacket at lower right:

Because of the rain Jim took only a few photos along the course. Here are two:


By 26 miles into the race Jim had blisters and a sore back. He withdrew from the race, got some sleep, and drove bacl mostly through the night to avoid traffic and construction.

Although he didn't earn a 100-mile buckle, he still received this nice entrant's sun shirt:

He arrived home after lunch on Tuesday, discouraged but not defeated. He knew why he didn't do well. In addition to the long drive, lack of sleep, and rain, his longest training walk had been only 22 miles, which contributed to the blisters. He resolved to do better before ARFTA.


This is one of Gary Cantrell's unique signature races and it's designed for Olde Pharts like us, aging runners who have gotten so slow that it's hard or impossible to make the time cut-offs in a 100-mile or other fixed-distance ultramarathon. Some of the older geezers are still able to run, some not. It's an ideal event for former runners who do all or mostly walking now, to still be able to reach 100 miles.

How do they do that? Relentless forward motion over two or three days or more, with enough downtime to eat, rest, and get a little sleep if they want.

Jim taking a rest break at his canopy; he's right off the course and in the shade.

The "ages" part of the race = how old you are. Participants get as many hours in the race as their age in years. The event ends at a certain time (usually 9AM on Labor Day Monday). Each entrant begins at a different time and day, based on their age.

Jim was 73 a month before the race this year, so he got 73 hours to compete. He started 73 hours before the finish time. Runners/walkers older than that began before him.   

Jim's friend Doyle Carpenter, age 82, was one of several 80+ year old participants.

Jim was 70 when he first ran ARFTA in 2018. He got 106 miles in 70 hours that year. He reached the same distance the next year with 71 hours to walk, and 113 miles last year at age 72.

His goal this time was at least 100 miles in 73 hours. Each year gives participants another hour to run or walk, but it gets increasingly more difficult as they get older. Still, it's amazing how many miles the over-80 participants can rack up!

Three tough geezers in their 70s, I think  (Jim in middle)

This event is usually held Labor Day weekend in Fred Deadman Park in Manchester, TN but it was a week later this year to avoid a conflict with a large music event in the small town. The oldest participant, Donald Jans, age 89, began on Wednesday, September 8. Jim began the next day at 11am.

This is a map of the slightly rolling course through the park:

All of the course is paved. I added the blue dot at the bottom to show where Jim sets up his canopy each year in the shade, close to Doyle:

It's a 3+ hour drive from our house to the race site. Jim got there the afternoon before his race began so he could get the tent spot he wanted in the shade, right next to the course and parking. He got a Subway sandwich for two meals, since he couldn't get official race food until after his start time the next morning.

Participants could set up their tents/canopies well before their start times but had to wait until an hour before their official time to check in and get their timing chip and other race swag:

Here's a picture taken by a friend of Jim right before he started above the timing area:



Jim holding an umbrella, one type of "sunscreen"
that's useful if you're just walking

Participants were livestreamed on the internet as they walked or ran slightly downhill from the timing mat to the timing canopy. It was a lot of fun to watch for Jim when he came by.

Jim carried his cell phone as he walked, and we talked or texted each other several times every day. He gave me a heads-up when he'd be approaching the camera so I could be watching. There was a lag of about two minutes when he'd say he was coming around the corner until I could see him go around the corner behind the "finish" sign.

This live stream shot I took from my computer was at 23 miles. Jim is holding his hands in a heart sign. When he reached his tent he took his first long break but kept going off and on throughout the first night.


After it gets dark is a good time to rack up more miles when it's cooler and more quiet, but the body clock naturally says SLEEP! Caffeine helps the runners stay awake.

I wasn't able to access the live stream again until Jim reached 59 miles. He accumulated 50 miles in 24 hours, which was ahead of his goal of 40 miles. He rested for several hours in the heat of the afternoon on Friday -- it was mid-80s F. and sunny -- and reached 62 miles a little after it got dark.

Live stream shot of Jim at 61 miles; look at that big smile for me!

Since he was ahead of schedule, he slept a little more that night. After 46 hours (Saturday morning), he had 82 miles and plenty more time to go. He rested for several hours while it the pavement was hot in the afternoon, then got back out after eating some supper and reached 91 miles before 8PM his time (Central Time Zone).

Here's a live stream shot I took of him at 88 miles:

Still smiling at 88 miles!

Jim reached his minimum goal of 100 miles at 11PM Central, the slept most of the rest of the night. He got back out on the course early in the morning and did another ten miles, stopping at 110 miles.

Almost done at 110 miles on Sunday morning

Sometime during that last ten miles he packed up all his equipment and supplies so he could leave soon after turning in his timing chip and collecting his finisher's buckle. He added that to his ARFTA buckle collection at home:


As you can see from his picture at the end of the race, he was happy with exceeding his minimum goal and not dealing with blisters or the dreaded "lean" that occurred in only 26 miles at Three Days at the Fair in May. He trained longer and harder -- and got better rest -- so he could succeed this time, and he recovered relatively quickly afterwards.

Here's the part of the ARFTA results page that shows how Jim placed -- 31st out of 80 participants, with 110 total miles. That's just walking, no running.

Four men in the 80+ category got 100 miles or more. Donald Jans, the oldest at 89, reached 115 miles. I'm sure he'll be back again next year at age 90! Jim's buddy Doyle Carpenter, 82, reached 144 miles.

You can see all the 2021 ARFTA results at this link.


Since he was well-trained in mid-September, Jim decided to walk the Endless Mile 48-hour event for the fourth time in a row, too, planning again to reach 100 miles but in less time. He had about five weeks to rest a bit, then continue to train for it. He's hoping someday they'll add a 72-hour option because that allows him more time to rest when his goal is 100 miles.

I like the one-mile Endless loop much better than the convoluted "loop" at ARFTA. Both courses are on asphalt, but Veteran's Park in Alabaster, AL is so much more scenic than the park where ARFTA is held. However, Jim never knows as many of the participants at Endless Mile and since it's held in late October, the weather can be quite chilly at night.

I took this picture of one of the pretty ponds in 2018.

View across another pond to one of the best dogs parks we've ever seen in all of our RV travels

Around and around they go; the public also has access to the multi-use path during the race.

Jim drove to the race in central Alabama on Thursday, October 21. It's about the same distance as ARFTA from our house, 3+ hours. He got there mid-afternoon and had plenty of time to set up his canopy between his truck and the course:

He camped next to his ARFTA friend, Doyle Carpenter, again. Both of them slept in their trucks overnight because it was raining and only in the 50s F.

Endless Mile has race options of 6, 12, 24, and 48 hours, with the direction changing every six hours to make things more interesting. Unfortunately, this race has no live online timing system or live stream videos, so I had to rely on Jim to let me know how he was doing.

The 48-hour event started on Friday morning. We talked/texted several times during the day. After ten hours, he had 27 miles and was a little ahead of schedule. He took only short breaks during that time. The weather was good the first day and he was still having fun the last we talked that evening.

The view from Jim's chair during a rest break

I talked with Jim on the phone mid-morning and mid-evening on Saturday. On our last conversation he was up to 75 miles with more than 13 hours to go and figuring out how many hours he could rest during the night and still get 100 miles. At that point he was feeling very tired and was having problems with blisters.

He decided to stop at 77 miles and get some sleep. When he woke up he wasn't motivated enough to keep going, so he slept some more, packed up after daylight, and came back home.

I don't know if it would have made any difference if I was there or not. Since we don't have a camper any more, I've been staying home with the dogs when Jim goes to races. He probably just had accumulated fatigue from ARFTA five weeks earlier, and he wasn't as excited about doing this event as ARFTA.

Jim doesn't know if he will do another 48-hour event again, but he's still interested in three- and six-day events where he can get more rest.

Next entry: photos from fall and winter hikes at Sweetwater Creek State Park

Happy trails,

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

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2021 Sue Norwood and Jim O'Neil