“Man... Am I glad to see you.” This is what I told him. He was just a kid really, barely 20, if even that. His enthusiasm displayed the innocence of youth. He had run a few hundred feet down the monster hill to meet me. His response was simple and welcome, “We’re glad to see you too, number 75.” The whole scenario seemed surreal, like a scene out of an old war movie. his headlamp had confused me at first because the trail was so dark with the fog muting the distance. I had been alone for so many miles that my first thought was that it wasn’t real and was, more than likely, one of the famous ultra-runner hallucinations that I’ve heard so much about but never experienced. I was somewhere between confused and in awe as he took “my order” and ran back up the hill. Wait.... let’s do the time-warp thing and go back a few miles......
2012 Arkansas Traveller 100 Miler has been on my radar for awhile. Partly
because it is only about 4 hours south and partly because I know the RD
is outstanding and partly because I wanted validation that I was really
an ultra-marathoner. Whatever the reason, I made the decision to register
for it earlier this year. This coincided with my decision to start
training with Coach Jeff from PRS Fit. ←--VERY smart move on my part.
friend, Charley had once again agreed to come crew/pace for me. I have
personally never paced/crewed anybody through one of these things but it
looks MUCH harder than running 100 miles. Fortunately Charley is a top
notch pacer and knows how to deal with my, uhhh, issues. I would have
loved it if that dude with the amazing mustache (Jon Wilson) could have
made it but he had some real life things to take care of. Charley and I
arrived in Perryville, Arkansas for the packet pickup. without a clue as
to where we going to stay. All I really knew for sure was that the
closest motel was 30 miles out and I had a tent. This is one example of
why I NEED Jon Wilson to crew for me, he is much more organized.
Sleeping in a tent is fun. Sleeping in a tent the night before a 100
miler is not so much fun. Sleeping in a tent after a 100 miler is
of the packet pick-up/ check in process is the required weigh-in. This
race followed the standard 3-5-7% weight gain or loss procedures. This
means that at 3% a warning is given, at 5% the runner must wait until
their numbers go under 5%. At 7% they are finished. I weighed in at 201
lbs. This meant that at 187 lbs my day would be over. I know that 14 lbs
seems like a lot but it’s not really that much for me and if the temps
got high.... Truth is, I was just nervous about the whole thing. Why? I
don’t really know. I knew for a fact that I could cover the distance. I
knew that my training was better than my previous 100’s. I also knew
that this was a much tougher course than the Rocky Raccoon, which is
relatively flat, and that is what had me nervous. I have always
questioned the legitimacy of my ‘ultra marathoner’ title and somehow, in
my twisted little brain, this race was going to prove or disprove the
validity of all my past ultras. Whatever.... on with the story.
Charley and I woke up on race morning to the sounds of... I don’t know, cows? Pigs? Sasquatch?
We were at the campground about a mile from the starting line. The
sounds had started at like 4 a.m. Since there was no way to sleep
through the racket we scrambled around in the cold and headed to the
start area. I’m still not sure exactly what the sounds were but we did
find the source. A large sound system at the start/finish line was
pumping it out. Whatever.... I needed coffee and went in search of a cup
on the way to collect my bib. I posed for the required “Search and
Rescue” pic and was ready to get started.
gun went off and the day began. It was dark but I chose not to wear a
headlamp or bring a flashlight. It was easy enough to “trail” off the
others as the first mile was pavement and the next few were on a gravel
road. I enjoyed these first few miles and passed the time chatting with
several runners. At one point, I was running with this English dude who
was wearing a pink tutu. We chatted briefly before I kicked up the pace.
Little did I know what a huge role he would later play in my race.
After an awesome aid station stop for mini pancakes and bacon, it was
time By to turnoff on the single track trail portion. Fortunately,
daylight had come and the trail had sufficient light to navigate.
really love to run single track trails. It seems to take much less
effort for me to run at a solid and decent pace. The uphills never seem
big and the downhills always make me dance. By dance, I mean that I find
my groove and am able to run with clarity and vision, hopping from side
to side, bouncing over rocks, logs and whatever potential hazards the
trail holds. During the final miles of this portion of the race, I
caught up to last year’s winner and we talked about the course. He had
run the Traveller several times and was able to relay a few tips about
what lay ahead. I eased ahead and came into the 16 mile aid station in
3rd place overall. Huh?
zipped through the aid station, telling Charley that I didn’t need
anything and I would see him at mile 31. Things felt great, my energy
was high and the adrenaline of 3rd overall had me ready to run. So I
did, and by mile 21 I found myself in 2nd place and “racing”. This was a
huge mistake and very much out of character for me. I don’t “race”
these things. Very few people can and do actually race a 100 miler. I’m
not one of them. At 5’11” and 200lbs, I look more like a spectator
than a runner and my plan is always the same. Go out, run MY race,
smile, laugh and don’t die. There is nothing in the plan, or even
remotely fun, about “racing”. Thankfully, the Running Gods recognized
this mistake on my part and punched me in the mouth around mile 25.
temperature was around 40 degrees, I had a long sleeve shirt on and a
doo-rag. Perfect clothing and perfect weather for me. Perfect. All was
right with the world, I was flying along, holding 2nd place and
daydreaming about 1st and then...... BOOOOOOM!!!! What the?? Then the
rain came. Just a few drops here and there at first but it very quickly
turned into a downpour, complete with crazy loud thunder and freaky
close lightning. Oh, and it was the coldest rain in the history of cold
rain. Within just a few minutes I was completely soaked and freezing. My
hands were numb and every part of my body ached because of the cold. I
it crazy how fast things can change? One minute, I was cruising along
at a decent clip, whistling zippity doo-dah and all that, the next
minute, I was dropping back, getting passed and hating life. All I could
think of was quitting. I really wanted to quit. I did not want to be on
the trail and I didn’t want to run another 75 miles. I took a wrong
turn and realized my mistake after the trail came to an abrupt end. I
had to backtrack to find the course. This didn’t add much, one mile
altogether, but it was incredibly demoralizing. This was the absolute
lowest point I have ever hit in a 100 miler. Of course, I knew with 100%
certainty that I wasn’t going to quit but I wanted to.
running through my head were not real elaborate or creative but they
seemed like excellent ideas at the time. I could fake an injury. Maybe
even throw myself on the ground, hopefully get muddy and draw a little
blood, then limp in to the next aid station where they could drive me
out on whatever ATV they had for emergencies. I didn’t really think my
ego could handle all the name calling I would get for that so I put it
out of my head. Maybe they would cancel the race due to the lightning
and inclimate weather. I could call it a day at 50k and save face. “I
really wanted to run the whole 100 miles but they cancelled the race.
Real bummer, yo.” This actually seemed like a rational and plausible
scenario. I mean, it COULD happen. ← Stupid things we tell ourselves.
was really struggling. The rain had tapered off and it was more of a
steady drizzle then downpour at this point. My legs were cold and tight,
fingers frozen and hurting and my face was numb. My focus was simple.
Just keep moving forward towards the mile 31 aid station. Charley would
be there with my bag and I could find some dry clothes, warm up and
figure out a way to keep going, though I didn’t know how in the world I
could. So many people had passed me that I had no clue what place I was
in anymore. 10th? 11th? 27th? No clue. Then I heard footsteps again.
Remember the dude in the pink tutu from earlier? Yep.
remember thinking about the irony of being passed by a dude in a pink
tutu. In that moment, miserable as I was, it made me smile and pick up
the pace just enough to stay with him. We started chatting, even though
it was very difficult for either of us due to our frozen faces, and
managed to bring each other from the depths of despair to a place where
it seemed possible that things might really get better. Keith Straw
travelled from Philadelphia to run this 100 miler just weeks after
completing the Grand Slam of Ultra’s. If you don’t know about the Grand
Slam, google it. In fact, google Keith Straw if you want read about a
real ultra runner and a very accomplished and impressive athlete. We ran
the next 35 miles together and his insight, stories and anecdotes made
the miles go by very quickly.
and I rolled into the aid station at mile 31 with a plan. We were going
to take some time, warm up, get some food and put on dry clothing
before getting back on the trail. Of course, this was not a legal
agreement. Charley brought my bag and I found a dry shirt, gloves, hat
and my good old Relay for Life jacket to repel some of the rain. After a
quick and cup of coffee, and having my water bottle refilled, I decided
to get moving. The rain had picked back up and I gave Keith a nod of
respect as I left the aid station, figuring he would take a few more
minutes. Within a few hundred feet he joined me with a look that said,
“Dude... thought we had a plan?” Turns out that we did indeed have a
plan. Just had to get past the low point to remember what it was.
ticked off the miles and our spirits rose. My legs never really
recovered from the cold but they still carried me at a semi-decent pace.
We told a few jokes, many stories and compared our running resumés as
we powered through the steep Arkansas terrain. His resumé is very
impressive, one of those dudes that I would call “the real deal”. I told
him about my pink tutu experiences like we had something in common. He
told me about running 135 miles across the desert. It seems like a
ridiculous comparison now.
first weigh-in came at the mile 48 aid station. Stepping on the scale, I
was surprised and relieved to see that my weight was 200.6. This meant
that through roughly 50 miles I had managed to keep my
nutrition/hydration in check. It also gave me a little extra confidence
for the second half of the race. The Arkansas Traveller is an out and
back course but the turnaround doesn’t come until around mile 58 and
pacers are allowed from 48 through the remainder of the 100 miles.
Charley joined Keith and I as we grabbed our headlamps and left for the
turnaround point. The next 10 miles were a lot of fun but seemed very
tough because there were so many steep downhill sections. I know it
sounds weird but the downhills were killing me and I really wanted to
walk. I remember saying, a million times, that I couldn’t wait for the
return trip so I could walk the entire 10 miles.
really odd thing happened at the turnaround. After running downhill all
the way there, I found myself running downhill again. Huh?? This is how
our mind plays tricks on us during these things I guess. Another really
odd thing happened at this point. I felt great. better than I had since
mile 16. Around mile 60, Charley and I started passing some of the
other runners. Unfortunately, Keith didn’t feel this same surge of
energy and, in the unspoken agreement common of all ultra runners, we
left him behind. I’m not sure what happened here but I found myself
running most of way back to the mile 48/68 aid station and passing
several more runners. We made it back for my second weigh right before
dark. I was very pleased to know that I just needed to run roughly a 50k
in the dark. I stepped off the scale at 201.2 lbs. This meant that I
had gained slightly over the past 20 miles. I understand the how and why
but it still seems insane to gain weight over that distance. Whatever.
this point, because Charley was the only crew member and the only pacer
(thanks Wilson), he had to drive back to the next aid station where
crews were allowed. This was mile 83 but we had hatched a plan. He would
drive to the aid station and run the course backwards until he found
me. Looking back, it seems insane that somebody would do that after
running 20 miles in the freezing cold. Throw in the fact that he had
been up since 4 a.m. and surviving on peanut butter and jelly sandwiches
all day.... well, he’s a pretty good dude.
is how I found myself in the “old war movie” with the kid taking my
order. I had just stumbled down the steepest, darkest and coldest hill
on the entire planet and was making my way up the exact same hill. Okay,
it wasn’t the same hill. Couldn’t have been. But it seemed like it. I
was sure that for the last six miles that I was in some weird parallel
universe or maybe just my own private version of Ground Hog Day where
nothing changes. Down one monster hill and up one monster hill. Repeat.
It probably was nothing like that in reality but I was past mile 70 and
that is the place where reality and fantasy converge. It has too. There
is really no other explanation of how we can keep going, keep running,
keep smiling, keep pretending that stumbling around on a trail in the
dark through the forests of Arkansas in search of a belt buckle is
somehow rational and normal behavior.
I left the “old war movie” aid station, the trail turned into a much
more runnable section and I was able to pick the pace back up. After
about a mile, I could see Charley. Even in the dark, his unique running
form was clear as day and made me laugh. Charley is a 2:49 marathoner
with the silliest running form you will ever see. He told me we had 5
miles to go before hitting the mile 83 aid station. This was good news
because the drizzle/fog had soaked my gloves and my hands were freezing.
Charley is a great pacer. He knows when to push, when to pull, when to
talk and when to shut up. He stayed about 10 feet in front and guided me
through the rocks and around mud puddles, going just fast enough to
make me want to cuss at him but just slow enough that I didn’t dare. For
somebody that has never ran a 100 miler, and never will by his own
declaration, his expertise and wisdom would make you believe that he is
an old and wily veteran. Guess some dudes are naturally gifted. He
75. 4th place. 202 lbs. 202? You’re doing pretty good for a big
guy....” This made me smile as I stepped off the scales for the final
weigh-in at mile 83. I didn’t think it was too bad either. I was pretty
pleased with the weight which was, again, a slight gain and right in
line with where I wanted to be. To say that I was very pleased with 4th
place would be an understatement. This was the first time since the
turnaround that I knew my actual position in the race. I hadn’t passed
or even glimpsed another runner, other than Charley and the kid from the
“old war movie”, since around mile 55. At this point, Charley had to
drive back to the finish line where he would park and again run the
course backwards until he found me. As we parted he predicted my finish
time to be 21 hours and 30 minutes. Yeah, right. I was just hoping to
finish under 24 hours and not die.
a weird feeling to be running on a trail through unfamiliar territory
alone in the middle of the night. Okay. It’s kind of creepy. Not like
Friday the 13th creepy more like Blair Witch Project creepy. The trail
was marked with yellowish glow sticks and they were staggered just far
enough apart that I would start wondering if I had missed a turn and was
off course. Every once in a while the glow stick would split into two.
And then move. Creepy, yo.... I never did see the animals behind those
eyes but some were small and some were big and they were all much faster
than me. My mind wandered and I kept thinking that if I got attacked by
a bear, mtn. lion or Bigfoot himself, would somebody find me? Would the
dude behind me stop to help or just cruise on by? What about my belt
buckle? Where was Charley?
was within a few hundred feet of the final aid station at mile 93 when
Charley came flying up the trail. Apparently, the captain of the aid
station had questioned whether or not our pacing plan was legal. Charley
had to wait there until she had contacted the race director and
verified that he was okay to bring me in. We had never thought about
this not being allowed but it was a legitimate question. Crews are only
allowed at certain aid stations and I’m pretty sure that this was not
something that had been discussed at the pre-race meetings with the aid
station volunteers and race officials. After a 15-20 minute delay the
decision was made that Charley could pace me the rest of the way and I
would not be disqualified. I laughed as he filled me in because I had
never thought about not finishing due to disqualification.
walked for the next 4 miles because the trail was covered with rocks.
My feet hurt, my legs hurt and the rocks were loose causing my ankle to
roll when I ran. Basically, I was 94 miles in and the wheels on the bus
were going flat. Charley had verified that I was indeed in 4th place
and, armed with this knowledge, I was very content to walk and hold my
position. We walked and laughed continuing to push toward the finish
line. At some point, I talked, slurred is more like it, about eating an
elephant and an IRC ghost. The only reason I know this is because it’s
on the video. After what seemed like forever, we hit the gravel road.
This signaled there was only 2.5 miles left to the finish line. The
first half was downhill and, in some cruel joke, the final half was
uphill. Charley tried ot get me to run the downhill section and I
refused. My quads were screaming and there was no way I could run.
as we hit the bottom of the hill, Charley pointed out a head lamp
bouncing around and coming down the hill behind us. “Man.... I don’t
want to race. #$%&!!!” Remember what I said earlier about not
“racing”? Yeah, that doesn’t apply at mile 98. I decided to race and
hold my position in 4th place. If this dude wanted it then he was going
to have to take it from me. Every once in awhile I surprise myself and
am able to push my own perceived limits just a little further. This was
absolutely one of those times. I ran. Not jogged. Not stumbled. Not pimp
limped. Ran, baby. It felt like I was rolling sub 6’s but I’m sure they
were 10’s. Uphill. I crossed the finish line in 4th place overall with a
time of 21 hours 29 minutes and 27 seconds. Looks like Charley missed
it by 33 seconds. Freak.
we stood at the finish line the dude that I was “racing” came across.
He looked crazy fresh. What the???? Wait a minute.... Where was his bib
number? “Oh, I’m not a runner. Just a pacer.” Uhhh.... So I killed
myself racing a pacer? Hmm... Cool. My guess is that Charley knew this.
Like I said before, dude knows me.
This is how it works-
I love to run but there are times when I would rather not. This is when the voices start. Chants, name calling, guilt and reverse psychology is how they get me up and out the door. I don't really mind the voices and have actually started looking forward to their daily calls. Together we have formed a running club that supports, encourages and competes with each other. I love these peeps. They are much more experienced, talented and tougher than I am. Pushing me out the door, through the hard miles and up the monster hills when I am feeling lazy or want to give up. Some people have "real" training partners, coaches and support crews. My team is ALWAYS with me and helps me to keep my eye on the prize and not veer off the track. Sounds crazy- Yeah, probably is.........