RACE GOALS & OUTCOMES
The last training
update I wrote about both Jim
and me was on September 11.
Jim did a long run of 30 miles a day or two after that, then
tapered a bit for Hinson Lake. This was to be a "practice" race
like last year.
His original goal for Hinson Lake was to run and
walk his planned distance (87 miles) for the first day of his
48-hour race at Across the Years (ATY) at the end of December.
He also wanted to practice sleeping for about three hours and
getting back out on the course; at ATY he intends to nap
two or three times. We know from other multi-day runners that it
can be mighty difficult to get moving again after a sleep break,
so Hinson Lake would be a good test.
Jim and I had several discussions about the advisability of that 87
miles the last couple of weeks before Hinson Lake, mostly that it might be too big
of a leap from his last long run of 30 miles. There's always a
fine line between pushing your body far enough that you benefit
from the training effect -- and getting injured because you
pushed too far. That's especially more likely to happen
when one is age 60 than age 35! Jim decided somewhere
between 100K and 75 miles might be more wise at this point. He
can aim for 87 miles at Ultracentric in mid-November when he has
a bigger mileage base and he's closer to running ATY.
Jim and me a few minutes before the race
started. Photo by Lynn DiFiore.
I think making this decision took a load off his mind before
Hinson Lake and he was able to have a great run there. To cut to
the chase, he ran within a hair of 71 miles and was off the
course for over four hours to sleep, etc. He felt good when he
returned to the course the last few hours. More about his race
As explained in the September 11
entry, my plan was to use
Hinson Lake as a training run for the New River Trail 50K two
weeks later. Although I had some well-paced long runs up to 23
miles on the greenway and a great 15½-mile
training run on the NRT course September 17, I still wanted
reassurance that I could run 32 miles in seven hours (about a
13-minute per mile average, including stops). That
was my goal at Hinson Lake.
Well, apparently I was a little too exuberant during that run on
the New River Trail and/or I didn't taper adequately for Hinson
Lake because I didn't meet my time goal. All my enthusiasm and
optimism for Hinson lake couldn't compensate for my dead legs! They
just never felt good during the race, even after my muscles got
warmed up. I accomplished my goal of running and walking 32 miles OK
but it took longer than I planned.
PRE-RACE PREPARATIONS: FRIDAY
It was still
raining Friday afternoon when Jim and I arrived in Rockingham.
We were able to check into our motel early and spent a couple
hours watching the drama of the evolving U.S. financial meltdown and
congressional "bailout of
Wall Street" on TV while waiting until closer to packet pick-up
to go over to the park.
When we got
to the park at 5 PM to walk the
course with Cody (above), the rain had stopped. We discussed where we wanted
to put the canopy for our personal aid during the race (decision:
place as last year). Jim carried
the GPS so he could mentally note the location of
½ mile and one mile on the
loop to help with pacing.
We dodged the puddles
and the long muddy area, wondering what the trail would be like
during the race. We knew it would be more challenging than last
year, especially if it continued to rain during the race.
We got our
race numbers and shirts, then talked with Tom and several
runners for a while before heading back to the motel for supper
in our room, more TV, and a poor night's sleep. Our room was
fine and we couldn't hear any noise with our ear plugs in, but
neither of us slept well. We probably should have kept the TV
off and just read something relaxing. Over-stimulation was part
of the problem -- all the political and financial turmoil, the
first McCain-Obama presidential debate, etc. Knowing it was
raining again didn't help, either.
RACE MORNING #1: SATURDAY
We woke up to
a cool, foggy morning -- but it wasn't raining! Yes!! That
helped get us moving out the door at 6:15 AM and over to the
Rotary Lodge to get set up for the race as the sun was just
beginning to light up the sky. The lake area looked
last year with all the clouds
but the sunrise was brilliant (more photos in the sunrise series on the
Several volunteers had already arrived and were putting up the
two canopies for the timing tent and official aid station. Jim and I were
among the first runners to arrive other than the ones who slept
there in their vehicles overnight. There were
several parking spots available near the lodge, about 75 feet
off the trail. Some runners set up their crewing chairs, tables,
and other equipment and supplies behind their vehicles. Jim and
I kept Cody-pup in the van during the day (with the windows down
and back gate open) and checked on him most laps.
Jim at our van (R) before the race; Quatro
Hubbard (blue shirt) talks with Scott Brockmeier and Liz Bauer.
We were early enough to score our favorite self-crewing spot one canopy past the aid
station -- it's flatter and wider than most other places at this
end of the dam. We wanted to be close to the start/finish area
and lodge because I'd be working the timing tent during the
night; it was nice to be close to our supplies (and
Cody, who slept there after I finished running) in case Jim
needed crewing assistance.
We put up our canopy first, then carried our equipment and
supplies about 250-300 feet from the van. We were grateful it
wasn't raining -- or as windy as last year.
One of the
best things about this race -- and most other ultras -- is
socializing with old friends and meeting new friends. We
were happy when Joe and Hannah Lugiano set up their canopy just
past ours (in photo above, Jim is sitting under our green canopy
and Joe is standing near him in the blue shorts and white shirt). We hadn't seen the
Lugianos since the race last year.
Unfortunately, we didn't have much time to talk to them before
they left in the evening.
Lynn DiFiore. It had been
even longer since we saw her at Hardrock in 2007. Now that she's
moved back to the Southeast, we hope to see her more often at
races. She set up her bag under our canopy but had to return
home to her new home in Tennessee after
running 30+ miles. Jim took this picture of Lynn and me
before the race began. (No, we didn't plan to wear nearly-matching
EQUIPMENT & SUPPLIES
We used much of the same equipment that
worked for us at this race last year -- the green canopy, a
four-foot table, two comfortable chairs, a lightweight
battery-operated camping light for at night, a large hard-sided
cooler on wheels, and two 5-gallon water coolers
we borrowed from Jim's Rescue Squad. You can see our setup in
the next photo. Our other equipment and
supplies are the same ones we put in drop bags or our crew
vehicle at just about any ultra.
Jim wanted to take two water coolers this
time since he'd be running longer than last year and we'd be
giving Cody some of it. We filled them with ice on Friday
morning before we left Roanoke on the four-hour drive to
Rockingham. Most of that ice lasted 46 hours until Sunday
morning! We added water to the coolers before leaving our motel
room Saturday morning. In the end, we didn't need that much
water but we had it handy in case we did. (Note: the
official race aid station had plenty of water but it was easier
for us to mix our electrolyte drinks at our own table.)
Jim chills out before the race (smart fella!)
while Lynn organizes her drop bag and I take photos.
We kept several bottles of freshly-made
Perpetuem cold in our food cooler, along with a few
servings of V-8, Sam's Club's version of Boost, milk, Starbucks frappuccino, and
Jim's soft drinks. I drank concentrated Perp chased down with ice
water the 8+ hours I ran, supplemented with a side of raspberry Hammergel. The sodium
in a small can of V-8
during the afternoon tasted good, too. Jim drank Perp for about
nine hours, then switched to Heed, V-8, and ginger alel. He also
drank caffeinated coffee and
some Coke in the early morning hours after his nap. He saved his
caffeinated espresso Hammergel for the night time and used
chocolate gel during the day.
LOSING OUR COOKIES
I just put that in there to keep you awake! Although Jim did
throw up once late in the race when he gagged on two electrolyte
capsules, neither of us had stomach problems while we were
running. We DID lose our cookies, however.
We took plenty of "real food" with us like
yogurt, bananas, tangerines, apples, cereal,
cookies, Pringles, sandwiches, and other solid foods to eat
during the race, when we got done running, and for the four-hour
on Sunday. Somehow, somewhere at the race we misplaced two
plastic Wal-Mart bags with a large container of cookies, several bananas,
half a dozen Clementine tangerines,
and a package of saltine crackers. We really missed 'em, too!
However, we inherited someone's beach towel,
so I guess we came out about even. It seems we always lose
something at races. (We found out later that the Sponge Bob
towel belongs to Lynn's daughter.)
Bryon Backer gets some fluids from the aid
Although we mostly ate our own foods and
drinks, we enjoyed a few things from the well-stocked aid
station, too. I had some orange slices when I was running, and
home-roasted turkey, boiled potato wedges, and hot home-made
chicken/veggie/noodle soup when I was done. Jim
enjoyed the turkey, soup, three slices of pizza, and cashews
from the aid station. There was a lot more food available than
that for the runners to enjoy. Even though many runners have
their personal stocks of food in varying degrees, that's not
necessary at Hinson Lake. (The Lugianos even brought a grill for
By the time we got set up and had everything
organized under our canopy, it was
almost 8 AM. I took
several photos of friends while Tom (center, below) was giving
his pre-race presentation:
Hannah Lugiano took this great shot of Jim as he listened to the
That's our favorite Lieutenant Colonel on the left (Fred "Doom"
Dummar). Jim is #89 in the blue-gray shirt and Tom-the-RD is in
the navy jacket on the far right (we don't know the name of the guy in the blue
A few minutes after 8 AM, Tom had us walk over the bridge to the
timing table and said "GO!" It was time to get this show on the
road, er, trail.
Since the large group of runners was still
walking fifty feet later when we got to our canopy, I left my
camera there and took it on only two subsequent
laps later in the day when I was doing more walking than
running. Most of the photos of the course and people are from
before the race and after I stopped running late in the the
afternoon. I never did catch a picture of Jim running!
It didn't take long for the runners to spread out. Although we
occasionally ran or walked with other folks for short periods of
time, both Jim and I were running alone most of the time. We
never did run with each other and we'd go for a couple hours at
a time without even seeing each other because of our
different paces or when one of us would be off-course to walk
Cody or go to the bathroom.
THE FIRST EIGHT HOURS
I had high hopes for this race -- 50K (31.2 miles)
in seven hours -- which meant running a comfortable,
steady pace and not walking very much or spending too much time
at our canopy. I needed to maintain a 13:27 per mile pace
including all stops for any reason: getting fluids
and calories, going to the bathroom, changing shoes or socks,
checking in on Cody, etc. And since 20 laps comes up short of
31.2 miles, I'd need to do 21 laps (31.92 miles). That
meant each 1.52-mile lap, including stops, should average
about 20 minutes.
My overly-optimistic goal was to run almost all of each
lap at a comfortable, go-all-day pace of about 10:15 to
10:30 minutes per mile, walk about a tenth of a mile before and after the
start/finish area, get needed fluids and calories at our canopy
(I didn't carry a bottle most of the time), then repeat over and
for exactly two laps (three miles). <sigh> Then I had to start walking
more when I realized how dead my legs felt. After an hour my
muscles should have been all warmed up and I should have been in my
happy zone. I did enjoy the camaraderie and the scenery but I can't
say I enjoyed any of the running that day. It came as a shock
because my training runs had gone so well. I'll analyze what I
think went wrong in the next journal entry.
Before long, I began finding what I considered to be very
legitimate reasons (others might call them excuses!) to further
sabotage my race. For example, I went over to the van about every other lap
to say hi to Cody and/or to take him for a little walk to "go
pee." Jim later told me he was also checking up on him every lap
(I told you we didn't see each other very often during the
shoe change, a blister repair, and stopping at the car and
canopy frequently, I managed to run ten laps -- 15.2 miles (not
quite half of a 50K) -- in 3:20 hours. I should have run
it at least 20 minutes faster (an entire lap) in order to get 31+
miles in seven hours, like I have to do at the New River race. That
discouraged me a lot and I deliberately slowed down even more.
A brief glimpse of blue sky and sunshine on
most of the 11th and 12th laps, then found some new energy to
fight the rising heat of the afternoon. I ran much of the
remaining nine laps (for a total of 31.92 miles) but I
took more time taking pictures, walking and feeding Cody, and
hanging out at the canopy. I completed only 27+ miles in seven
hours, not 31 or 32 miles. I'm still optimistic that I can finish the
New River Trail 50K in under seven hours if I rest sufficiently
between now and then, and if the weather is cool and dry. I
won't have nearly as many distractions and aid station stops
Jim was two or three laps
ahead of me by the time I stopped running at 4:40 PM. He
was keeping a steady pace throughout the day, aiming to run and
walk each loop in about 23 minutes, including stops at the
canopy (he didn't carry fluids either), bathroom breaks, a
change of shoes and socks, and saying hi to Cody in the car
about every lap (Jim liked the excuse to walk over there,
Jim ran his first laps in 18-20 minutes, which was faster than
he needed to be going. It was several hours before he slowed
down to the 23-minute goal lap time. After 8 or 9 PM he slowed
down to about 27 minutes per lap, a natural reaction to the
darkness and his increasing fatigue.
While I was still on the course but not seeing Jim very often, I
could track his progress on the split sheet he kept as he passed
the canopy each time. He is much more organized in this manner
than I am. He printed out his intended splits for each lap up to
100 miles, then recorded his actual times by hand during the
race (not on every lap). I did the math for my own run in my head, much as I
did at ATY last year. Hey, it worked that time! I knew I needed
to do a minimum of three laps (4.5+ miles) per hour for
seven hours at Hinson Lake. I also knew before half way that I
wasn't on pace, but I couldn't make my legs go any faster.
LATE AFTERNOON & EVENING
At 4:40 PM I finished my goal of 21 laps (almost 32 miles) and told the
timers I was taking an extended break. I originally planned to
walk another lap around sunset so I could take photos from the Leath
Footbridge at the far end of the lake, but it was so
overcast that the sky never got very colorful. I just took the
photo below from our canopy. I also planned to
go back out with Jim during the night for several loops to keep
him company. That didn't materialize, either (mostly a lack of
motivation on my part -- and sore feet.)
The only color when the sun set was to the
east, not the west.
By the time I stopped running, Jim was getting tired of Perpetuem
and had just one remaining energy drink bottle mixed up and
chilled. I made him a couple bottles of Heed with ice for
a little variety and set out a cold can of V-8 -- those are
always good in a warm, muggy race. Jim really didn't need me to
do much crewing. Everything was within easy reach and he pretty
much took care of himself. He'll have to do the same at
Ultracentric and ATY, so that was also good practice.
I got cleaned up as best as I could in the bathroom at the lodge
and sprung Cody from the van. It wasn't as confining or lonely
there as it sounds! He had plenty of room, air circulation,
water, food, walks, and attention from other runners and crews. He spent the rest of the race
under our canopy, tethered so he couldn't reach the runners on
the trail but they could come in and pet him if they wanted; he
loved all the attention he got! Our friend Quatro wanted to take
him out for a loop but I discouraged it because I didn't think
Cody could keep up with Quatro in the heat of the afternoon. Leashed dogs are allowed in
the park and at least two other runners besides Jim took a
well-behaved pooch on a loop when the runners were all spread out.
Jim took Cody with him once on Saturday morning when it was
still cool and again on his last loop early Sunday morning.
By now (about 5:30 PM) I was pretty hungry and ready for
some solid food. I supplemented food we brought with some warm
potato wedges and real roasted turkey breast (not sliced or
the aid station, crewed for Jim, took photos of runners going
by, and relaxed for a couple of hours.
I had a great view of oncoming runners from
the vantage point of our canopy. There's Bill Keane.
It was comical when about a dozen pizzas were delivered to the
aid station at suppertime. Runners (and volunteers) came out of the woodwork to
surround the table! There was bit of a feeding frenzy for the
next half hour as each runner came back through the start/finish
area at the end of a lap and heard there was pizza. Jim sat down
to eat three slices; he was ravenous by that time. I
don't think I could have run with all that solid food in my
stomach, but he's used to doing it.
From about 7 to 10 PM, I helped with timing. It was a lot of fun
to encourage the runners and to work with Tom, his extended
family, and a couple of non-related volunteers who manned the
timing tent and aid station. Each timer kept track of about 25
runners who were still in the race, letting each one know which
lap they'd just completed. The race doesn't use chip timing. As
freely as runners can come and go, I don't think chips would
work here unless the rules were more rigid.
Every hour we'd help Tom re-write the men's and women's top ten
"leader boards" so runners could see how they stood. There were
also lists posted so runners could convert laps to miles. It was
fun when runners reached their distance goals, such as 50 miles
or 100K, and happily announced they were done. Eighty-three
runners completed ultra distances (50K or longer), but only 35
of those went beyond 60 miles. Some of them took naps, like Jim,
so there weren't a lot of runners on the course between midnight
Timing tent and volunteers (R). Hannah
Lugiano (L) and Susan Dummar (on crutches) check out the leader
boards during the afternoon on Saturday. Susan has a stress
fracture and couldn't start the race.
Like most trail ultras, this course isn't lit up at night.
Because of the heavy cloud cover almost everyone needed to carry a light
after dark. The trail surface is very light-colored in many
places so even with all the leafy trees, if the sky is clear like last
year lights aren't mandatory on this course.
Jim's plan was to lie down for a
few hours in the van
when he got sleepy, not at a particular time or after a certain
number of miles. It was good advice he received from some multi-day
runners who learned this trick the hard way. And it worked
beautifully for him, at least in this 24-hour race.
About 11 PM Jim told me he was ready to go to sleep. He'd been
on the course for 15 hours and had completed 36 laps (54.72
miles, an average pace of about 16:26 minutes per mile).
That was a good pace, considering all his stops at the canopy, potty
breaks, a shoe and sock change, and time with Cody. He said goodnight and went to the
lodge to clean up a little in the bathroom before hunkering down
in a sleeping bag in the van. The parking lot was brightly lit
all night but a towel over his head for darkness and ear plugs
in his ears to mute any noises helped him sleep well for over
three hours. He woke up on his own a little before his alarm was set to go
By now the lake and beaver pond (below) on either side of the canopy
were shrouded in fog and it was getting rather chilly for crew
members and volunteers who weren't circling the lake like the
runners were. After Jim laid down I asked Tom if he needed help.
The timers all said they were good, so I decided to take a nap
Thick fog overnight and on Sunday morning
That didn't work out as well for me as it did for Jim. There
wasn't room in the van for all three of us so I opted to sleep
in one of our chairs under the canopy with Cody lying next to
me on a blanket on the ground. I couldn't get comfortable
scrunched down in the chair with my legs propped up on the cooler. I was cold
despite several layers of clothes and a thick fleece blanket,
but I did fall asleep for at least an hour. Most of the time I
was pretending to sleep in hopes I'd doze off. I should
have taken the other sleeping bag and pad to the canopy and
slept on the ground; it would have been more comfortable.
Thank goodness it wasn't windy or raining.
UP & AT 'EM: SUNDAY MORNING
I knew Jim set his alarm for 3:30 AM and wanted to be
back out on the course by 4. I was partially awake and saw 3 AM
on my watch. I knew I should be awake around 3:45 to go
check to make sure Jim was up.
About 3:15 AM something woke me from my half-sleep. I
opened my eyes and was surprised to see Jim standing a few feet in front of
me. We sort of startled each other! He was trying to get a drink
from the cooler without waking me up. He was up early, refreshed
and ready to get back out on the course. His sleep experiment
worked very well.
After assuring me that he was able to crew himself the rest of
the race, he encouraged me to go sleep in the van. He had set
the alarm for 7 AM so I could watch the end of the race. Cody
was sleeping well under the canopy and Jim wanted his company at
the end of each lap, so I "let the sleeping dog lie." I kissed
Jim goodnight and wished him luck, cleaned up a little in the
bathroom (brushing my teeth was wonderful!!), laid down
in the sleeping bag in the van, and was asleep in, oh, about ten
Fisherman on the pier early Sunday morning
Meanwhile, Jim continued running and walking another nine laps
around the lake before I got back out to the canopy a little
after 7 AM. He felt
good after his nap and was able to resume a good pace.
He was running and walking each lap in about 23 minutes,
his original goal.
His stomach was behaving well (that's often a problem, but not this
race), his feet were good until the last couple of laps, and he
still had energy and a good attitude. While he went out on his
46th lap, the last full one that would count toward his mileage, I started packing up our
belongings and carrying them to the van.
At Hinson Lake runners have a choice whether to stop running
after their last full lap before the clock hits 24 hours, or
continue for a partial lap that will be added to their mileage
About half an hour before the end of the race, Tom starts asking the runners if they are going out on
another loop. If there's a good chance the runner won't make it
all the way around the loop before the 8 AM finish, someone
writes the runner's name on a banana. The runner drops the
banana on the trail when Tom sounds a horn that can be heard
around the lake. Tom and one or more volunteers circle the lake,
recording the distance of each runner's banana location.
And they bring all those bananas back, of course! Seems to me
that a CD or something small would be more practical, but hey,
I'm not the race director.
Jim with banana in one hand, leash in the
other, heading out on his last lap
About fifteen minutes before the final cut-off Jim came into the
finish area, got a banana with his name written on it, put Cody
on his leash, and patiently posed so I could finally get a photo
of him on the course. Then he and Cody set off on their final
lap. When Jim heard Tom's truck horn he dropped his banana at
precisely 1.02 miles into the course. Since he was more
than halfway around the loop, he continued around to the finish.
His official 24-hour race distance was 70.94 miles.
Including all of his time off-course for every reason, including
a nap, his average pace was 20:18. He had an average of
16:28 minutes per mile for 19½
hours on-course, including all stops except the sleep
break. Jim really ran and walked a total of 47 laps for
71.44 miles, plus additional distance to see Cody in the
car about 30 times and go to the bathroom on the back side of
The first man and woman are the only runners who receive an
award after the race. Tom keeps the presentation very simple.
Many runners had already left by the time runners returned from
their partial loops. I was busy carrying our equipment and
supplies back to the van and didn't even see Tom give Liz Bauer
and training partner Scott Brockmeier their metal sculptures for
their decisive wins (see results
here), although we talked with them after the race
since they were parked next to us.
Liz Bauer (yellow top) and another runner
head out on their last partial lap Sunday morning.
Liz won the women's race and placed third
overall with 114 miles in 24 hours.
I visited with other remaining runners while Jim changed clothes
in the restroom. Then we headed home. As soon as we got out of
the park, the fog was gone and we entered into a world with blue
sky! The fog we'd been in for the last fourteen hours was simply lake-effect moisture.
It's always a weird sensation when you pass through that
"barrier" near a river, lake, or beach.
Even though Jim had just run and walked more than double the
distance of his longest training run in the last five months, he
felt good enough to drive more than half way home on Sunday
morning. We did take nice long naps in our own comfy bed that
afternoon, however. We talked all the way home about the great
time we had with our friends during the race and our plans for
training and racing this fall and winter. The country's economic
tailspin was the last thing on our minds for at least two days.
Thank goodness for diversions like running.
Next entry: self-analysis of our performances at Hinson
Lake, and where we go from here
"Runtrails & Company" - Sue Norwood, Jim O'Neil, Cody, and
Tater (in spirit)
© 2008 Sue Norwood and Jim O'Neil