“ANOTHER ONE?” “You just did 200 miles!?!” “Isn’t that too soon??” Yes, yes, and yes were the answers to these and other similar questions before running the Arkansas Traveller 100 this past weekend. It would be a month after the Tahoe 200 and I put it on the schedule for a few reasons. 1) It’s a Western States qualifier that fit my schedule (kinda) 2) It’s near my parent’s house so I could visit and 3) It was a fun race last year!
Right after Tahoe, I felt a deep soreness in my legs that I have never felt before. That many miles (205) with that much climbing (>40,000ft) was new to my quads and calves. Two weeks after Tahoe, I was feeling pretty good. Three weeks after, I felt normal. The week before AT100, I felt great! My resting heart rate was still hovering around 5-6 bpm higher than pre Tahoe, but my legs, muscles, and joints felt pretty good. I was able to do a Saturday-Sunday back to back 10 miles after the third week and everything fired on all cylinders. I was well aware that 30 miles into Traveller my body could rebel, but I figured I’d just slug it out and get a finish if that happened. Adventure!!
I left work early on the Friday to get to Perryville, AR for the mandatory pre-race meeting at Camp Ouachita. Once I arrived, I weighed in, checked in, dropped off my 2 drop bags, and enjoyed some time visiting with other Ultra friends who were running or crewing. There were a few aid station changes announced at the meeting, but nothing major. After Tahoe, where many of the aid stations were 20 miles apart, a few 6 mile jaunts between aid didn’t phase me. Once the meeting was done, I passed on the spaghetti dinner and headed to Mom and Dad’s to visit, some amazing grub, and to plan the next day. Jen had a family wedding so she wasn’t able to come. Even though I told them they didn’t need to, my parents wanted to crew me for the race. What a long, boring, thankless job, but they did it with gusto and excitement! I love my parents so much! Anyway, we decided that they would crew me until dark and then I’d just finish up with drop bags. Of course, they offered to crew me the whole time, but I told them I’d be fine to finish up at night and that if I was in a bad spot, I’d let them know so they could stay.
Anyway, we got to bed early and I managed to get some solid sleep for a few hours before the alarm went off just before 4am. Check in was from 5:-5:45 with the race starting at 6AM. It was a 30-40 minute drive to the start from their house so I needed a little cushion of time. I got my stuff together, double checked it, triple checked it, then headed out the door! It was kind of cool and humid and a nice quiet drive alone. My parents would just meet me at the first crew accessible aid station later in the morning around 8:30 or so. I got my bib #5 and headed out to the start/finish. We chatted a bit as we waited. Then we(they) did the razorback pig souey thing. I wanted to yell “Go Tigers!” as an LSU fan, but decided to just stay quiet. 🙂
The gun went off (literally) at 6AM and we were off! The first mile or so is on downhill pavement. There was a nice cluster of us in the front and we talked as we ran along. Daniel Arnold, who I knew from last year and from the Full Moon 50K, and I chatted about Tahoe and other stuff. We follow each other on Strava and social media, but it was good to talk in person. He’s a strong runner and had been training hard for this race. As we turned on the dirt road and some slight uphill action, our lead pack slowly dwindled. I felt really good. No soreness and my everything was firing on all cylinders. We ran through a couple aid stations then onto the Ouachita trail. This would be the only single track section of the course and was about 8 miles. I remembered the first half of it as being fun and the second half being a rocky uphill slugfest. So, I enjoyed the first half. Daniel was ahead of me with a stick for spider webs. He had gotten out of site, but I caught up on a downhill section before the aid station about 4 miles in. By this aid station it was Daniel, myself, and Daniel’s training buddy, Sean in the top 3. Well, we left the aid station and hit the second half of the Ouachita trail and that was my first indication that my body was not fully recovered. As I slugged my way up the technical, rocky trail, the climb caused me to have to step up on rocks and push using my quads and hamstrings to navigate the trail. I began to feel a deep burn in my quads that was reminiscent of the deep soreness I felt the week after Tahoe. So, I decided to back off and take it slow. It was early into the race (only about 12 miles). So, as we climbed, Daniel and Sean went ahead, and I got passed by 3 other runners pretty soon after that. Oh well, I’m just running my race.
The trail dumped us out onto the Lake Sylvia aid station where my parents were waiting. I refilled my hydration pack and grabbed a couple food items and headed on down the road. From the pictures, I can see I was already soaked in sweat. Fun. I was still feeling pretty good on the roads so I just kept my pace and continued on. I would see my parents again at Lake Winona (mile 31). I had highlighted the projected times for each aid station based upon finishing either 18, 20, or 22 hours and gave my parents a copy before the race. I was hoping for about 18 when the weather was supposed to be cool, but once the forecast warmed up, I was open to whatever I could do. I was still on schedule for 18-20 hr finish and feeling pretty good about it at this point. <Que the sun.>
Much of the rest of the race is mushed together in my mind as times of fun amid times of suffering. Smiles mixed with frowns. Feeling heavenly vs. feeling like heaving. I was in pretty good shape at mile 31 but the heat and humidity was wearing on me. I was putting ice in my bladder and in my hat to keep me cooled down. I was still having fun and still in the top 10. It was here that my stomach was a little funky and we only put half of my Tailwind mix into my 70oz bladder. It would only get worse and I would have to switch to just water for hydration.
My next major memory was at the Powerline aid station, mile 48, sipping on a cold bottle of Gatorade, trying to get some calories, telling my mom, “I’m not having fun. I don’t want to go back out there.” She said, “It’s only a race. 48 miles is good. You just ran 200 miles. You can come to the house and relax. Up to you.” Oh so tempting!! I said again, “I don’t want to go back out there, but I’m going. I signed up for 100 miles, not 48.” As always, I’m glad I kept moving. I wasn’t injured or putting my health at risk. I was just having a tough time with my stomach and calories. It would pass. And it did! By the next aid station 4.1 miles down the trail, I was in a much better mood and happy again. My stomach was still jacked, but I was a little better. This was Copperhead aid station and my parents were there too. It was the out and back portion of the race so I would head out to the turnaround aid station at mile 57.9, then see them there again.
The out and back section makes it fun to see where you stand and also greet other runners. I end up running alone so much in Ultras that it’s nice to have that stimulation and encouragement and to encourage the other runners. I crossed Daniel and saw that he was still leading the race. He looked like he was working hard to keep the lead, but determined. Others crossed at various stages fatigue. I believe I was in 7th or 8th place at the turnaround. I was also at mile 57.9 and more than halfway done! Wow! Good times! I ran back to Copperhead(63.7), ate a few calories and headed to Powerline (mile 67.9). This would be the last time I would see my parents. They would have stayed if I asked them to, but I had 2 drop bags at a couple of the aid stations waiting for me and I was feeling okay. I wasn’t feeling good, but at this point, I really didn’t care too much about how quickly I finished. I was running on cold coke, ginger ale, grapes potato soup and whatever else I could eat without wanting to puke. It was at here, I sat down in a chair for a few minutes. I saw a couple runners pass through the aid station. I was losing spots. I honestly didn’t care at that point. I shrugged my shoulders and ate the cold grapes that had been handed to me. As I left Powerline aid station, I had to go around a little fence to go from the crew area to the road. There was lots of gravel in the road there. As I rounded the corner of the fence to turn to move on, my feet slipped out from under me and I wiped out hard landing on my palm and hip. I felt a pull in my right hamstring. “Great” I thought. I looked up and saw Chris Baldwin sitting there asking if I was okay. I got up and said, “That’s the first time I fall on this run!!” My parents hadn’t noticed because they were gathering supplies so I just limped off until my leg loosened up. It didn’t bother me anymore after a few minutes. Only my pride was hurt.
As it got darker and cooler, I was able to drink more some potato soup and keep more calories down. I was just getting a good pace going again a few miles before Bahama Mama’s aid station at mile 72.6 when I crossed a runner who was still outbound. He warned that he saw a 6 ft. rattlesnake about a mile back. Great! This part of the trail was rocky with some grass and hard to see the ground in areas. I slowed my pace and watch the ground like a hawk until I was about 1.5 miles from where I had met him. Then, just as I was starting to run hard again, I saw a copperhead on the trail! I shooed it off of the trail and got to the aid station.
After Bahama Mama’s station, I had a long section where I was able to run hard and fast. I ended up catching up with a friend who I shared some miles with the previous year, Steven Carr. We visited and I ended up pulling away in the night. My lead was short lived as my stomach started giving me trouble again. I had to slow down to get it to settle. He caught around the last aid station (Pumpkin Patch 93.7) and passed me, along with another runner. I shrugged. Oh well. I’m still in 10th place and on pace for a sub 21 hour finish. I pushed when I could and slowed down when I couldn’t. Before I knew it, I I was off of the ATV roads and at the last checkpoint – 2.5 miles from the finish! For some reason this year was just like the previous year. I was able to run that last 2.5 miles hard! It helped that most of it was flat or downhill, but I ran with no walk breaks except for one incline on pavement about .5 miles from the end. I looked back a couple times to make sure no one was sneaking up on me like I did to Daniel last year. I saw a guy changing the tire on a truck. He jokingly said, “Hey buddy, come help me when you are finish with the race.” I just laughed and said, “Yeah, I’ll do that!” The guy next to him said, “David?” and ran out to meet me. It was Daniel! He had won the race. I congratulated him and continued on. I heard the noise from the finish line and quickened my pace. I was almost there. I heard the finishing music they played the year before. Yeah, that was for me. I kept up my pace and crossed the finish line feeling surprisingly good. Done. 20:41:49 and 10th place. Not quite as good as last year’s 20:24:45 for 5th place, but I’ll take it 4 weeks after a 200 miler!!
At the finish I saw Jake, another Altra runner who I knew from online, but got to meet with and visit at Traveller. He was one that passed me up at Powerline while I was sitting down. He ran great and had a strong finish along with Steve at the end. They ended up with a sprinting photo finish. Good times. We talked about the race and how it went. I went inside race headquarters and met up with Steve who was laying down on a bench and congratulated him. We shared a few stories, then I headed back to mom and dad’s for a much needed shower and some sleep!
This race didn’t turn out exactly as I expected it could, but I am pleased with it and the things I learned. I’m hoping to figure out how to get my nutrition dialed in well for heat. I’ll need to play with that. I made it a point, as I did at Tahoe, to stop and thank God every 10 miles. Sometimes, I found myself thanking God for what I was learning through the pain. Other times, it was the relief from the pain, the views, my family, my parents, the ability to be out in God’s creation, the potato soup I had just eaten, etc. Always so much to be thankful for. Though not my best race, I’m thankful that I got my Western States ticket and my second sub 24 hour buckle from AT100. Now I need to rest for a bit.
For this race I wore the same Altra Olympus 3.0 I wore for the Tahoe 200. Love that shoe! I wore injinji trail socks. I didn’t change either the whole race. I also wore my Altra shorts that are so comfy and reduce my chafing issues. I used my Ultimate Direction SJ FKT with a 70oz bladder and had my Orange Mud Vest 2.0 for backup. During the race I tried my new Kogalla light and battery backup, but I hadn’t tested the setup on an actual run. Yeah, I know….rookie mistake to try something new on a race. Oh well, I had my Petzl Reactik headlamp and it worked fine as usual.
I want to thank my mom and dad for taking care of me and Jen for taking care of things at home while I was gone. Thanks to thank Altra for their amazing shoes! Also thanks to Thomas Chapin and all of those that helped put on the AT100! Every aid station was top notch and helped wherever we needed! Thanks for taking such good care of us!