Sue, Jim & Cody on the 14,433' summit of MT Elbert, CO - The highest peak in the Rocky Mountains


More AT Photos


Runtrails Home Page




Appalachian Trail Conference


Roanoke Appalachian Trail Club


Fueled by:
























































Runtrails' 2005 AT Journal
Previous          Journal Topics by Date            Next
"All the disruptive arguments among my friends as to whether or not
I was sane when I took up marathon running have been entirely
resolved since I ran my first 50-miler."  -  John Kendall

Sue, Jim, and Cody on the 14,433 foot summit
of Mt. Elbert near Leadville, CO August, 2004

Although I’ve been dreaming about this trek for 36 years, I’ve “only” been training for it for the last 25 years – since January 1, 1980 to be exact.

That’s the day I started running.

Oh, sure, I ran here and there as a kid, but not as a sport.  I was almost 31 when I took up running and it was specifically to get rid of the extra pounds I “suddenly” acquired. I’d always been skinny. How did I manage to put on twenty excess pounds in my late twenties??

Little did I know that running would become a passion that would be a major part of my being and basically dictate my lifestyle for decades.

At the time, I lived near Stone Mountain Park east of Atlanta.  It had lovely shaded trails along a large lake, as well as paved roads.  I soon learned the joy of running trails in lieu of pavement.  I was even happier when I started running the plethora of trails in the north Georgia mountains, including the famed Appalachian Trail, where I had previously hiked some.

By the time I switched from running road races to running trail ultra marathons in 1992, I was running almost exclusively on trails.

Although my mileage isn’t as high now at age 55 as it was when I was younger and faster, I’ve been able to do the 50K distance or longer in about fifty* ultras up to 100 miles, and many training runs in the 26- to 30-mile range. (* Some of those were DNFs where I went beyond 31 miles; I have officially finished about forty ultras.)

I enjoy about any kind of trail - I like a variety of surfaces and elevations. I’ve run everything from deserts to knee-deep icy swamps, from sea level to over 14,000 feet, from soft pine needle and sandy desert surfaces to boulder-strewn “trails,” root-infested trails, and “squirrel paths” through muddy (that WAS mud, wasn’t it?) cow pastures.

That should be good preparation for the wide variety of trail conditions I'll encounter along the length of the Appalachian Trail.  Prep4 describes those conditions pretty thoroughly.

I prefer hilly or mountainous terrain to flatter trails. Good thing, considering the jagged elevation profile of the AT.  My research indicates there are areas where the trail builders apparently never heard of the concept of "switchbacks."  Another common complaint among thru-hikers is the proliferation of "PUDs" - pointless ups and downs. (One of many acronyms I've learned reading their trail journals. I'll share more later.)

Anyway, I should get enough elevation gain on this adventure run to satisfy my craving for "hills" for a good long while - an estimated one million feet of elevation change over 2,175 miles.


At least I shouldn’t have to worry about the altitude too much. Sucking air at 6,700 feet on the AT won’t be anywhere near as difficult as 14,000 feet in Colorado.


There was a time long ago that I was competitive in my age group in road races when I lived in the Atlanta, GA area. Most of my PRs (personal records) in those races occurred when I was 37 or 38. Oh, how I wish I’d taken up ultra running earlier so I could have been more competitive in them!

These are my road race PRs:

1 mile              5:59   Peachtree Mile, Atlanta, GA         4-86    Age 37

5K                18:49   Macon Running Festival, GA      11-85    Age 36

8K/5 miles     31:53   Strong Legs, Atlanta, GA             5-86    Age 37

10K               39:36   Macon Running Festival, GA     11-86    Age 37

15K               61:37   during Philly Half Marathon         9-87    Age 38

½ marathon 1:27:27   Philadelphia Half Marathon, PA  9-87    Age 38

Marathon     3:05:16   Shamrock, Virginia Beach, VA  5-87    Age 38

I was disappointed for years that I was unable to break three hours in the marathon; I can barely run a MILE at that pace now!!


I was 43 when I started doing ultras in the 50K to 50-mile range. I didn’t do any 100Ks or 100-milers until I was 49 and had slowed down considerably in the intervening years thanks to several stress fractures and sprained ankles, osteoarthritis, and mid-life hormonal changes.

Hope springs eternal.  I think I can still improve on the 100K and 100 mile times below:

50K (road/trail) 4:50:40   Aiken Ultra Classic, SC            1-99     A50

50K (trail)         5:55:26   Frosty Trails, Denver, CO         2-99     A50

50 mi. (dirt rd)   8:20:58   LeGrizz, Hungry Horse, MT    10-93     A44

50 miles (trail)    9:53:28   Sunmart, TX                           12-98     A49

100K (trail)      14:56:--   Miwok, SF Bay Area, CA        5-00     A51

100 mi.(rd/trl)  28:35:13   Vermont 100                            7-00     A51

100 mi. (trail)   28:36:02   Arkansas Traveler                   10-99     A50


I’ve gone from placing in the top quarter or third overall among women AND men to middle- and back-of-the-pack in my 50s. <sigh>

Beating cut-offs in mountainous 100K and 100-mile trail races, the ones I enjoy the most, is becoming a real challenge. I usually do fine in tough 50K and 50-mile races, but I haven’t been able to finish a 100-miler since 2000.

I’ve DNF’d seven 100s, including The Bear, Leadville 2x, Western States, Rio del Lago 2x, and my first attempt at the distance in 1998 at Vermont. The main reasons were altitude (LT), problems finding markers at night (Bear, RdL),  injuries during the race (WS), and being unable to train adequately or consistently because of injuries I've incurred in training. 

I’ve gone from kamikaze-style downhill running to carefully picking my way through rocks and roots so I don’t fall and hurt something again. That now-necessary caution plays havoc with beating time cut-offs in some races, but a DNF is preferable to me than one more injury that will keep me from running for several weeks or months.

The astute reader is thinking, “Well, dummy, why not just do shorter ultras that you know you can finish? Or easier (if there is such a thing) hundreds?”

If you ask me questions like those, you just don’t understand what makes me tick.

Like many of my ultra running peers, I love a good challenge. I don’t WANT to run only “easy” courses. I want to run the gnarly mountain courses where I can see magnificent scenery in one day that it takes most people three days to reach. I like to test my limits of endurance.


Since I love good quotes, here’s one that explains my mindset pretty well:

”Perhaps the genius of ultra running is its supreme lack of utility. It makes no sense in a world of space ships and supercomputers to run vast distances on foot. There is no money in it and no fame, frequently not even the approval of peers.

But as poets, apostles, and philosophers have insisted from the dawn of time, there is more to life than logic and common sense. The ultra runners know this instinctively.

And they know something else that is lost on the sedentary. They understand, perhaps better than anyone, that the doors to the spirit will swing open with physical effort. In running such long and taxing distances they answer a call from the deepest realms of their being – a call that asks who they are.”   -  David Blaike

One of the beauties of this adventure run on the Appalachian Trail is that there are NO CUT-OFFS. I can go the pace I want, while still facing the greatest running challenge I’ve ever set for myself.

I am anxious to get started!  Less than two months now . . .

Happy trails,

"Runtrails & Company" - Sue Norwood, Jim O'Neil, Cody, and Tater

Previous       Next

Send an e-mail message to Sue & Jim  

© 2005 Sue Norwood and Jim O'Neil