2016 Arkansas Traveller 100 Race Report By OneBiteAtATime A quarter mile out of the Powerline Aid Station, I realized I’ve made a big, big mistake. “Should I go back? Can I live with it for 16 miles?” I should have just put my Luna sandals in my pack. But I didn’t. I’m 68 miles and 18 hours into a 100 mile race and I cannot get my favorite footwear back. And, by a stroke of bad-decision making, I’ve switched to shoes which are providing MUCH less protection from the rocky hardness, the unforgiving jagged footing of the Ouachita Mountains. If I felt like I was feeling every footfall through the Luna’s, these Vivobarefoot Trail Freaks are providing pure proprioception! OUCH! “Your Altras are 16 miles away at Lake Winona.” I say to myself. “Can it really be that bad between here and there?...” 24 hours earlier, I was lying perfectly still on a cot. Eyes closed, not moving, but not sleeping either. I had crawled into my sleeping bag at 8ish. What a joke. At least I got a good night’s sleep the evening before. My friend, David, lies across the tent. Same situation. We’re going to lay still for the next several hours, but we won’t be sleeping much. 100 miles of ups and downs, both physically and mentally, is sitting on my chest like a big curious elephant of doubt. He sits there staring at me, occasionally tapping me on the forehead with his trunk, “Are you sure you want to do this to yourself?” He stares at me with his big elephant eyes, “Do you remember how you felt after the last time?” He taps me gently on the chest with his elephant toenail. Wait… maybe I am sleeping after all. The alarm pulls me into reality. We get ready and head up the hill to the starting line. The sound of wild animals fills the air. Goats, monkeys, cheetahs. The stereo outside the cabin is blasting this madness. “Welcome to the zoo!” I’m greeted as I enter. I get my race number on my leg. #91. My identity for the next 30 hours. Dexter and Wayne, two unsane brothers who have come down for the race with David and myself, sit in the van before the start. (Dexter and Wayne both follow the “Rest, Rest, Taper Training Plan”, Dexter’s brainchild. These two trailblazers are pioneers in the sport. You should check out their book: “Why Train When You Could Drink? A revolution in Ultra-Training”). We blast “Stay” by Lisa Loeb and scream it out the windows at the top of our lungs! That’ll pump you up. People pass by and look in, who are these fools? The air is cool and the breeze drags the warmth out of the van. It’s ok. We’ll be warm soon. The race director calls us to the start. “Nuckin’ Futz, dude” a racer exclaims. “Nuckin’ Futz,” another responds. We count down from 10 and bang! Screams and yelps fill the crisp air. 160 runners tear off down the road. (6 am). Dex, Wayne, David and myself stay in the back. We settle into a good, slow pace at the beginning. We watch the mob disappear into the darkness in front of us. “Let them run away,” I tell myself, “You’ll be catching them for the next 24 hours.” It is difficult to hold back when the adrenaline beckons you to push, but we do a good job of it. Even walking a bit to warm up slowly. The Arkansas Traveller 100 is run largely on Forest Service roads. There is a figure-8 to start the race which includes 8 miles of single track, and then its an out-and-back on rock roads and jeep trials. We turn onto a rock road that is well groomed. We’ll be on it until the first aid station. It is mostly flatish for a few miles, and then we start to climb. The road just keeps climbing. Switchbacks, and more climb. The footing is rock. Groomed crushed rock, with loose rocks that get underfoot and cause discomfort with every step. I search out the path that appears the smoothest and try to settle in. I notice that as we climb the quality of the road seems to degrade. There is more and more loose rock and they seem to be getting bigger and sharper. Flatside aid station is 8.6 miles in. They offer a nice mix of breakfast fare like bacon and pancakes as well as standard aid station treats. Mountain Dew, Ginger Ale, Gatorade, tequila. Tequila? It’s not even 9am! I’ll pass, but Dexter has a shot! We turn onto the Ouachita Trail. The next 8 miles is the only single track trail section of the race. Tequila must be great race fuel, because Dexter takes off! The Ouachita Trail is beautiful, there are boulders and rocks everywhere. The single track climbs and falls, twists and turns. We charge down the hill to Browns Creek aid station. David and I are running together. We’ve made the decision to stay together for the first 32 miles. We will help each other get out, but not get out too quickly. Just after Brown’s Creek (11.9, 9:16a), David and I pick up Chrissy Ferguson, one of the race directors. She’s been up for hours and she will be running for the next 24 hours, wonderfully tough gal. I tell her that I think the Ouachita Trail is beautiful. “IT SUCKS!” She shoots back, “I can’t wait to get forest service roads beneath my feet.” Chrissy is never short of opinions! David and I stay with Chrissy for a couple miles and then leave her and tear down the hill to the Lake Sylvia aid station (16.4, 10:02a). We say goodbye to single track trails. It’s all roads and jeep trails from here. The next section is a 2 mile climb that we had driven the day before. They gravel is smooth for this section, but you can still feel the unforgiving rock beneath. We climb to crossroads, and head down a rocky jeep trail that quickly gets rockier and rockier. There seem to be less “good paths” and the rocks start getting underfoot again with every step. We make our way to Pumpkin Patch Aid Station. (22.1, 11:26). Pumpkin Patch has good aid station fare. Including Pumpkin Pie! I take a couple bite-sized slices and enjoy them. Wow! So. Good. I take a few more. The next section is lots of small ups and downs on gravel roads. We just start putting one foot in front of the other. Electronic Tower aid station (24.4, 11:50a). I honestly don’t remember E-Tower on the way out. Between E-Tower and Rocky Gap is a jeep trail. It’s largely overgrown, and there are baseball sized stones littering the path. Sometimes they are packed neatly together to create a dozen or so steps that are particularly excruciating, and sometimes they’re just spread out enough so you “think” you can avoid them. But you step on the sharper, nastier little stone brother right next to it. And hilly. It’s getting hilly. We arrive at the aptly named Rocky Gap aid station (28.6, 1:01p). Immediately following Rocky Gap, we go through a section where the path is worn into large rock formations, like boulders that are buried and crushed – but they still retain they’re shape. Beautiful really, and dreadfully awful on the feet. It climbs and descends, and we emerge onto rock roads. The occasional car or truck passes and spits clouds of hard grey dust into the air. I try to cover my mouth with my shirt or a bandana, but I’ll be coughing Ouachita Mountain dust from my lungs for the next 5 days. Lake Winona (31.9, 1:34p). I grab my drop bag and fill my pack with GU and Nuun. I don’t feel like I need much. David and I agreed to stay together until this spot – and then just see what happens. We head up the hill and around the corner, discussing the situation. We’d both like to try to stick together for a while longer – if we can. Ideally, I’d love it if we finished this thing together. We’ve trained together, off and on, and we don’t annoy each other so badly as to make it uncomfortable. Although, I can say for sure that I annoy him worse than he annoys me. J We are both starting to feel the effects of 50k. There’s a lot of climb. My feet are starting to hurt. David has some hip pain. There’s just a lot of climbing in this section. Our pace is starting to separate. I climb pretty well in low gear. David bombs downhills better than I do. We arrive at Pig Trail aid station (36.1, 2:48p), which is honestly just a spot in the road, and we catch up with Dexter! It’s nice to have team Illinois together, even for just a couple minutes! I don’t know how they did it, but the race directors have figured out how to make this race have an uphill when you leave every aid station (this is not true, but it sure seems true). We leave Pig Trail and start trekking up more hills. David and I are separating. I’m wanting to move a little faster, and honestly he is going through a rough patch. For the next 10 miles, we will yo-yo with each other. I’ll climb and get away, and then I’ll look over my shoulder and he’ll catch me on the downs. He’s hot. It’s getting hot. I arrive to Club Flamingo aid station (39.4, 3:30). I gather what I need (namely bacon and Mountain Dew!) and I’m set to take off when David rolls in. So I stick around and talk with him while he’s getting a snack and some water. We set off together. There is a short, quick steep downhill. And then we turn and there is a long, long, and I mean long uphill. David and I stay in contact with each other. If you’ve ever ran an ultra, you know that you can go through some pretty difficult lows. David is experiencing a pretty hard low (physically and mentally). He admits to me that he is having doubts. I try to be an encourager, but I can see that he is having a really hard time. Physically, he’s hurting. Mentally, he’s wrecked. He’s hot, too. Ultrarunners go through these things. We stick it out together to Bahama Mama aid (43.2, 4:42). I come running in, get my stuff and then encourage the aid workers to soak David’s head and hat with water. It seems to help. David and I set out together up Smith Mountain. This is a big climb, and will be the highest elevation we’ll reach. David and I are discussing our race and he tells me it would be “ok” if I left him. I tell him I believe in him, “You can do this.” I put my head down and climb. Before long, I’m alone. Approaching the top of Smith and the view is incredible! I laugh heartily at the hills through the trees! I’m happy to be alive and moving forward. This is the other side of ultrarunning. I don’t get over-the-top euphoric, but I definitely get an overall feeling of well-being. Typically somewhere around 40 miles, it sets in for a while. I’m over the peak and descending, when the eventually winner is charging toward me. “Now you’re talking turkey!” I shout to him. He smiles and we pass. This really is a beautiful place to run. The hills and trees and yes, even the accursed rocks are really beautiful. Into Powerline aid station (48, 5:51). I gather my drop bag and grab a fresh helping of GU and my headlamp. I tell the aid station volunteers, “My friend, #94, is hot. Ask if he needs water on his head and hat.” I’ll admit, I thought David may drop at Powerline. He had been going through such a tough time, I thought he wouldn’t be finishing 100 miles today. Out of Powerline Aid and more runners are starting to pass me headed back in. Arkansas Traveller 100 is a really neat race because you get to see every other runner. Either they pass by you on your way out or you pass by them on your way back in. We’re back on rock roads, and they’re taking their toll. I go through Copperhead Rd Aid on the way out (52.1) but I don’t remember it. I’m alone and giving encouragement to each runner that passes my way. The sun is setting. They’re headed home and I’m still headed out. “Good job, runner.” “Looking good.” “You look strong.” I flick on the headlamp. “Damnit.” I think. “Where is this turn-around.“ I see a light through the woods and hear noises. “Finally! There it is!” I think. The road continues. And I leave the light behind me. I keep passing runners. It seems like I’ll never get there. “Where is it?” I finally arrive at Turn Around aid station (57.9, 10:26p). Turning around felt good. About a mile out of Turn-Around, I see David coming toward me. “David?!?!? You son-of-a-b!%(#!” “WHAT?!” he exclaims. I’m just so happy to see him. And he looks like he’s feeling better. What a tough guy. Soon I get to see (or at least hear) Dexter too. It’s good to see friends. It helps. Back into Copperhead road (63.7). I have a cup of soup and a coffee. The rocks and rocky roads are taking a toll on my feet. They just ache. They hurt. And in the dark, I’m stepping on stones with every step. I make the decision to dump the Luna Sandals at Powerline and throw on the shoes I have stashed in my drop bag. Powerline (67.9, 11:24p). I sit down and kick off the sandals. Dig in my drop bag and grab socks and shoes. “Surely that will help.” I like the minimalism of the sandals, but at 70 miles, I just want some comfort. I pull on my Vivobarefoot Trail Freaks. Socks feel nice. I pull myself back to my feet and head down the trail. A quarter mile out of the Powerline Aid Station, I realized I’ve made a big, big mistake. There is less between my feet now (in the Trail Freaks) than there was before (in the Luna’s). “Should I go back? Can I live with it for 16 miles? Your Altras are 16 miles away at Lake Winona. Can it really be that bad between here and there?” I make the decision to just keep going. (A decision that I would not make again). The next 16 miles, my pace slows considerably. My feet ache, each footfall I feel every stone. Back over Smith Mountain in the dark. Down the hill to Bahama Mama (72.6, 12:52a). The pace to Club Flamingo slows even more. Pushing 24 m/m. The rocks are killing me. Club Flamingo (76.4, 2:21a). On down the trail to Pig Trail. It’s hard to find a path that has less rock. I search for a few steps of reprieve. My feet are burning. Every step brings me closer to different shoes. Every step brings me waves of agony. The rest of me isn’t so hot either. 76 miles is a lot of wear on the body, and mind. Pig Trail Aid (79.7, 3:28a). I’m 4 miles from my other drop bag. Honestly, the miles, roads, rocks start to melt together in this section. I just know that I’m hurting and want to get to Winona. This is the section where I experienced my first ever trailside in-race bowel movement. Would you like some details? (I had TP with me.) I finally arrive at Lake Winona Aid Station (83.9, 4:45a). I’m having a lot of thoughts. I’m ready to be finished now. Maurice, who is a legend at this race, was working at the aid station. He helped me get my shoes changed, he encouraged me to get up to E-Tower and then “try and run a little”. I’m not going to quit, but I don’t want to continue. I’m only 16 miles away, but it may as well be 50. My feet hurt. I’m just tired of doing this. I know I’m going to finish, but I just don’t want to go. Maurice helps me get moving and I take out my trekking poles. Maybe they’ll take a little heat off my feet. I head out and up toward Rocky Gap. Again, it feels like this is mostly climbing. But my feet are feeling much better in my old busted down Altra Superiors. I don’t know how many miles I’ve put on these, but they’re wrecked. Wrecked and wonderful. I reach Rocky Gap and realize I’m the only sober person in the aid station! Rocky Gap was a blast! Rocky Gap (87.2, 5:44a). The section between Rocky Gap and Electronic Tower is largely jeep trails again, with the toe-buster stones, but it’s ok in the Altras. I find I can walk 24 steps and run 24 steps. I count in my head “One, Two, Three, Four, Five, Six. One, Two, Three, Four, Five, Six.” This is how my mind operates at this point. Just making a cadence and following it. And the occasional burst of “You say…” Verses of Stay by Lisa Loeb. Those crazies (Wayne and Dexter) put it in my head 24 hours before in the van. The sun is rising, and I start laughing at it and feeling good again. Hopefully it will warm my mood and get me home. I get up the trails to Electronic Tower (91.4, 7:07a). “91 in.” I yell as I come trotting in. I’m eating bacon and potato when the Aid Station Captain says, “I have 91 as a drop at Rocky.” I’m pretty sure I still had a slab of bacon hanging out of my mouth when I exclaimed, “Ha! Good one! I’m right here!” (there had been a missed communication, but they weren’t going to pull me or anything.) E-Tower was kind and encouraging and sent me on my merry way. Another 2.3 miles back to Pumpkin Patch where I enjoyed a little more pumpkin pie. (93.7, 7:45) The next 5 miles on the jeep road back to crossroads dragged on. And on. I could only run 12 steps for every 24 I could walk. And I’m certain “run” probably wasn’t the right word for the motion my body was making at this point. Although I had the cushion of the gushy Altras, my feet still hurt, my legs still ached, my will to finish was getting stronger – but dang. It was just so far. Crossroads (97.7, 9:02). Just 2 miles down the hill and 1 last climb to the finish. I’m stumbling bumbling my way. I pass an injured runner and give away one of my trekking poles. Its just a matter of getting there now. The legs are wanting to freeze up. Everything is tight. Down the hill and a final ¼ mile climb. Climbing, I hear the music of the finish, I hear the cheers as racers are finishing their ordeals. I’d be happy, but I just want to be done. Almost to the top of the hill, and I can see it. My legs regain strength, my heart beats hard, I straiten and run as fast as I can – I’m about to be done! Running hard, I finish the Arkansas Traveller 100. 27:41:48 Later on, David finishes his first 100 mile race. I’m awed by his grit and determination to get through the rough patch he went through. We pack to leave – taking down a tent after running 100 miles is a comedy. Pulling out of camp, the transmission on my van breaks, but that’s a different story.