I had the pleasure of running the Arkansas Traveler 100 this weekend near Perryville, AR. What an amazing experience and well organized race!
Jen, Autumn and I arrived on Friday in time to check in, eat, then walk around Perryville for a few. Turns out they were having a Goat Festival that weekend featuring a fashion show of goats in Lingerie!? Glad I would be busy running a race! After buying a couple things from the local flea market we headed back to Camp Ouachita for the pre-race meeting. We got all the particulars of the race, rules, markings, etc. and met up with a few friends from Tulsa area and met some new friends. Since we don’t partake of carbs much, we decided to forego the pre-race spaghetti and go check into our motel and hit the local steakhouse, Colton’s. It didn’t disappoint! We returned to the Super 8 motel and I went through all of my gear and checked it twice. Like the party animals we are, we were in bed by 8PM. I slept well until about midnight, then I was up and down until about 3:15 when I decided it was time to get up. I had my coffee, ate my turkey sandwich and took a shower(yeah, for some reason I like to do that before I spend 20 something hours in my own stank). We were about 30 minutes away from the start/finish so we left around 4:45 to be there for 6AM start. I still had to get my race bib and do the morning check in.
My parents, who were taking a week of vacation nearby, came to help with crewing. They’re pros with helping crew me by now. They joined us at the start/finish and we reviewed driving, supply and logistics. By then it was close to starting time. My friend Scott Smaligo came by echoed my thoughts, “I’m just ready to start this thing!” We took pictures next to the “Arkansas Traveller 100 sign” together, I hugged and kissed my family and I joined the runners on the road for the start!
Autumn is having a good time while we plan.
I ran back to Jen for one last kiss and was back with the other runners shortly before the gunshot(literally). I think we were all surprised when it went off. We took off down the mile of pavement before we entered the rocky, dirty, and often foot-hurtiness that would be the rest of the race. We all settled in and almost immediately started separating. My A goal was to finish in under 20 hours, but with the much warmer weather than I anticipated I would just take what the course gave me. The morning was cool and breezy so I decided to try to get some good mileage in before the heat. I ended up running with a strong runner named Sam for a little while. We chatted as we made our way down the packed gravel road. He was a principal at an elementary school from Michigan. Nice guy. I heard he ended up falling and having to drop later on. I looked him up but haven’t been able to find him online. It looked like he was doing great until he fell. Praying he’s fine.
After about 8 miles, we ended up on the Ouachita trail which was really rocky, but really fun. About half way through the roughly 8? miles of trail I hit the Brown’s Creek aid station for the second time. I remember telling the lady, “That was fun!” while pointing at the trail I just dropped out of. She pointed to more trail across the street and said, “Well, go get you some more!” I grabbed a strip of bacon, as I had the first time I hit this station, and took off. However, this part of the trail was not as fun. It felt like at least 2 miles of ascent. Very rocky. There were definitely still some fun parts before we dropped out of the trail and back onto the jeep and gravel roads. I opted to wear my Altra Timp trail shoes on this first section due to the trails. It was a good choice for this part. Great shoe! Because so much of this course was so rocky, I ended up switching to my Altra Olympus around mile 48 to finish out the race. They provided more cushion and gave my feet some relief.
For some reason, I seem to hit my lows in the early stages of these races. Around mile 30 as it was heating up, I was running on some parts of the trail that provide little coverage. My stomach was getting a little funky. I slowed down. I power hiked all of the uphills and gave my stomach time to recover. I was having trouble keeping up with my hydration and slowing down helped. I knew I was hovering around the top 10 runners, but I just wanted to run my race. I’d meet my day pit crew (my parents) every 16 miles and we’d refill what needed to be refilled, I’d lube what needed to be lubed, and change what needed to be changed. My daughters joined the crew at mile 48. It was so good to see them! Kayla flew in from California and Kristin drove up from Louisiana with their husbands and we used the race as an excuse for a mini reunion of sorts. Seeing them certainly gave me an extra boost! Kristin ran with me for a bit from Copperhead aid station. Loved it! Also, at this section, I could see the other runners coming back from the turnaround. Some guys were missing….and I was 7th! Nice! Evidently, I had passed a few guys who needed more time at one of the crewed aid stations and didn’t even realize it. Shortly after, I crossed them as they were still running to the turnaround. A couple of them looked like they were struggling. As always, I encouraged them and ran on. It was encouraging crossing the other runners and seeing the smiles, getting high fives, and seeing their determination. You feel and see a full range of emotions when running an ultra. Excitement, pain, sorrow, determination, joy….
I was a bit behind pace to get my sub 20, but I’d press on with what my body gave me. I had lost quite a bit of time in the heat but the night was coming and along with it cooler temps. My brother was going to join me for the final 16 miles so I was just doing what I could until then. I’d also get to see my Jen when I picked him up. I was really anxious to see her. She was supposed to meet me and take over earlier, but my dad was worried about her on some of those messed up roads at night with just her and Autumn(she’s 5) so they stayed on a little longer.
Running in the dark, just before my second crossing of Bahama Mama’s aid station at mile 72.6 I almost stepped on a copperhead. I had seen 3 other snakes on the trail but they weren’t poisonous. This guy, though he wasn’t huge, would have ended my run. After i left the aid station, I was so paranoid and watching the ground for snakes that I tripped on a rock, hit my knees, hands, and rolled. Side note: Judo and ju-jitsu prepare you for all kinds of things. Due to my training, when I fall on the trails, my body knows whether to just eat the fall or roll. Rolling saved my knees and hands big time on this tumble. Once I was back on my feet, I did inventory. I had a few little gashes on each knee, my palms were scratched and bruised, and my right wrist hurt. I made sure I hadn’t busted my hydration bladder and took a few steps. Everything felt fine ok. I sped up….still no hurting. Awesome! I kept cruising until I fell again a few miles later! Grrrr…. This time, I didn’t roll and jammed my right wrist again. Ouch. Might have to check on that after the race. One other time, I twisted my foot on a rock and hit the top of it really hard. That’ll leave a mark. I’ll post a post race pic. It left a nice bruise.
Throughout much of the race I had been leap frogging with a nice guy, and strong runner named Steven. This was his 10th 100 miler and he had only been running them for about 3 years. We’d cross on the trail and meet at just about all the aid stations and encourage each other. It’s hard to explain to non-trail-runner-ultra people the dynamic of encouraging and helping people you are technically competing against. I love it. I love seeing people accomplish this stuff and if my encouragement and competing against them helps spur them onto greater achievements, then that’s a really good thing.
I picked up my brother for the last 16. We ended up hanging with Zack and Daniel, his pacer and doing some leap frogging with them too. They were broth from the Tulsa area and I had met Daniel before on a training run. It was Zack’s first 100 miler and he was killing it. Though he was struggling with some leg issues, he was still moving well. My brother is a really fast hiker so he would pass me power hiking the inclines and I’d catch him on the flats and downhills. He told me to go ahead and go if I felt like I could and wanted to take off. When we finally reached the last aid station and I realized that I had 6.6 miles to go. It was on. I was ready to be finished. I was ready to see my wife again. I took off. With about 6 miles to go I met up with Zack and Daniel again. I told them I was ready to be done and I may blow up shortly, but I was cruising. I ran almost the entire 6.6 final miles at a really good clip. I power hiked one short incline and had to squat under a tree over the trail (it was hilarious because I could hardly squat!) When I came out to Crossroads check in, I was 2.4 miles from the finish! I ran harder.
When I got out on the road for the final mile I was so pumped. I knew there was a final uphill coming so I backed off a little. A woman who was on the side of the road with a headlamp said, “You know there’s a runner not far ahead of you and they way you’re running, I think you can catch him.” I said, out loud, “It’s ON!” and dropped the hammer. With about ½ a mile to go I saw 2 headlights, the runner and his pacer. They were fast walking. I thought about turning off my headlamp for the sneak attack, but didn’t. I should have. I could tell the moment his pacer saw me. His headlamp spun around and their headlamps started bobbing fast. I ran harder….still closing the gap, but was running out of gas and running out of road. Strava shows that I actually got below a 7 minute mile here. This uphill was killing my legs and they were still moving fast. I tried, but I couldn’t catch him! When I crossed the finish line, I found out that I was chasing a guy by the name of Daniel(another one) I had met at the Full Moon 50K. Good guy and very strong runner. He said, “Dude, where did you come from??” He left the last aid station (Pumpkin Patch) at 1:06 and I left it at 1:43 and in 6.6 miles I almost caught him. It made for a fun, competitive ending. I finished in 20:24:45 and he in 20:24:10.
This was a great race on a challenging course. The aid stations were top notch and everything was well organized. There was definitely a great atmosphere out there. I thoroughly enjoyed the challenge.
On a side note: I had my phone loaded with music and audiobooks for this race and planned on using them when I felt like it. Well, I never felt like it. I thought about it during some of the low times when I was questioning why I was even doing this crazy thing….or to distract myself from the pain, but decided to just stay in the moment on this one. It was a good journey in my head as well as on my feet.
Once again, thanks to my parents for their help and unwavering support. Thank you to my kids who came out to help and cheer me on. And a BIG THANK YOU to my wife who puts up with my training, my hyper-organized race prep, and grouchiness when I’m spent. I love being on this journey with you. Last, and most of all, I thank God for the ability and freedom to enjoy doing this thing that I enjoy so much.
On Sunday evening, my parents cooked a big gumbo at Maumelle park. We all hung out as a family and had a great time.