I’ve put a lot of pressure on myself this year with the races that I’ve been choosing . After some disappointment, I just wanted something that felt successful. I wanted to have some fun. I knew that I still wanted a 100M this year, and I wanted to do it for myself. It wasn’t about redemption; it was about growth. I love running long, so fitting on those long runs doesn’t require a huge goal on the horizon for me. So I decided to train forward with a fall 100M in mind, but without anything fully nailed down. Arkansas Traveler was on my radar, but it was sold out. Sometimes things just fall into place.
The weekend of the Hawk 100 I was slated to pace my friend Carol from miles 50-75. Another friend who had planned not to use a pacer ended up wanting some company, so I joined him later for some miles and ended up getting in closer to 40. I was planning on running Rockbridge Revenge 50k the weekend of the AT, so I was already tapering back down. With the extra big mile run and the taper in the right spot, when an AT spot opened up I took it as a sign and jumped on it. I would be leaving for it in less than 2 weeks from that point, so I didn’t have the time to even stress about it. My friend Deb was running as well and was driving down with just her and her husband. It was so last minute and I wanted something for me. I wanted to remind myself that I’m growing, so I decided to ride down with them and run it solo. I figured if anything Deb was doing the same and I could spend some miles with her. Plus for some reason she and her husband, who have some pretty major combined ultra running experience had faith in my tagging along, being the baby ultra runner that I am. My coach (dear friend) Coleen and I processed through the race, and with her blessing, I was in a car on the way to AR.
It was a pretty low key trip. We left Friday morning to drive down, check into the hotel, and head to the pre-race check-in and meeting. The Traveler is an older race. It’s been around for 27 years, and people return year after year. It has a lot of tradition, and a family feel. Going with Deb and Stu made that even more special. Many introductions later I was chatting with people and thrilled to be a part of the event. The pre-race briefing was great. There is a new RD this year Thomas Chapin, but the previous RD’s Chrissy and Stan are still heavily involved to make sure that the transfer and traditions go well. It did. Pre-race meetings for me involve paying all the attention to anything about course markings. (I mean I pay attention to the whole meeting, but I hate the idea of being off course.) It was mentioned that there were big red arrows put on the course at turns that people had missed in the past to make them even more clear. There are 12 red arrows (one turn having two). Each of those red arrows has a name and you do not want to become red arrow number 13. Chrissy (the previous RD) stood and spoke about the race. She and her husband co-rd’d, so she’d been able to run it. This year she was going for her 20th finish. She talked about how there are going to be low points in 100’s and you have to dig deep to get through them. Take time now and think about why you’re out there. What are you running for?
The next morning we got ourselves together and headed to the start. The race starts in the dark, and as you head to the beginning animal noises are being played over the speakers. It’s done every year and I kind of love it. Once at the start line, the entire field does the calling of the hogs (the Arkansas Razorbacks chant that I haven’t heard or thought about in years) and the gun goes off. I spent the first 10 miles with Deb. It was the best choice I could have made. She pushes the downs a little harder than me, but my legs can handle it and it put me in the right headspace. The first 16 miles are a figure 8, then you head off for an out and back for the next 84 miles. There are 23 aid stations on the course. The frequency of aid stations is part of what made me comfortable trying this solo. It was also something to be careful with. One minute per aid station is 23 minutes right there. The first few in the figure 8 I basically grabbed and left, spending next to no time there at all. I hung out with Deb until we hit the only true stretch of single track and we started to split off. We both were running own our races, but I missed her company.
From the beginning of the race the humidity was really high and I knew that the temperatures were going to rise. I started out putting ice in my bra by mile 10. I figured that if I could run for survival until around 4pm the heat would drop and then overnight would cool down and I would dry out (ha!!!) There were 139 starters so it was fairly social for a while. I would run a few miles here and there with people chatting the miles away. The whole day was just heat management, don’t drink unless I’m thirsty (I guzzle water when I’m hot) and get whatever food in I could manage with the temperature rising. It was HOT by 11. I got a little concerned by how early it hit. Each aid station became a routine of ice in my bra, in my bandana around my neck, ginger ale with ice, and find some food I could stomach. I just controlled my pace, picking it up on the downs and whenever there was cloud cover, paying attention to how hot I was and if I would feel my rising heartrate. There were a couple of stations I hung out at for a few minutes to cool down enough to leave. Bless the guy with who sprayed me down, at Electronic Tower (I think) and the spray mister at Bahama. I cannot even express how incredible the aid stations and volunteers are at this race. They’d run down, check on what you needed, have your drop bag waiting in a chair for you, and get you in and out. I quickly realized why people come back year after year. My feet were completely soaked from sweat and dripping ice, and a volunteer that I don’t know helped me to change my socks.
I had some low points here and there with frustration with the heat. It makes it really hard for me to eat, and mile 3o is way too early to screw around with that. I’d try to find someone to chat with for a few miles, and the lows would pass. Having a couple of low points early was actually really helpful because I had to get through them. That way when they came later I could remind myself that they’d pass too. Eventually mile 40 started to come around. It was getting towards the time in the day that I was expecting temps to drop. Typically this is a great mile. In a 50 miler or even a 100k you’re almost done. In a 100M you’re about to get a friend. Wait. I’m not getting a friend. I’m not getting a friend and it’s not cooling down. This mile 40 is lame.
Eventually I left the Powerline aid station at mile 48. I ended up running with a girl named Deb. This was awesome. I had a replacement Deb! We ended up running to the turn around together. Another fun feature of this race, because of the figure8 at the beginning, the turnaround is over half way at mile 58!! Those miles clicked by. Deb was chatty and knew so many people on the course as we passed them going our way or the other. We hung together for a while headed back and I was thrilled with the company. I was still feeling good and we ended up splitting apart, but reconnected back at Powerline momentarily. Those were a very social 20 miles. There are people headed both directions so “good jobs” abound. It was dark and I was feeling good. Unfortunately it hadn’t cooled off. I was able to ditch the bandana, but was still filling my bra with ice. It’ been so hot for so long that food was becoming more of an issue. I was taking tiny bites of things, sticking more to soups and broths, and it was causing me to take a little longer at aid stations.
I was …still running…and I ended up running with a woman and her pacer from Colorado. We were both feeling good at the same time and kicked it in for about 6 or 7 miles together. We yoyo’d back and forth a while after that. I came upon them taking photos of the mile 80 marker and they took one for me. We bunny hopped some more until we hit the aid station Lake Winona at mile 84.
I was rolling in with some stomach trouble. I saw Stu, which was such a gift. I knew someone!!! He got my drop bag, helped me change the batteries in my headlamp, and I was ready to head out. I stood up and started to wretch. I could not throw up. This was not the time. I sat back down. I went through this a couple of times and decided that I just needed time to cool back down a little and let my stomach settle. I pulled my headband over my eyes and told him to come back for me in 5 minutes. This was the closest I came to really falling apart. I ended up there for 15-20 minutes. I hate spending that much time at aid stations, but knew that if I left I’d waste more time death marching and puking to get to the next one. There were only 16 miles left. So close. So far. The way that I processed this was telling myself all I had left were 6 miles. After that I’m in single digits. Do those even count?
I got out of Winona pretty wobbly from the time spent, but within half a mile was going again. The worst part at this point was trying to get down food and the chaffing. For the love of all things holy the chaffing. I had been wet the entire time. It was hot, humid, and I kept putting on ice. It didn’t matter how much I tried to prevent it. It was just too much water and sweat for too long. I had three aid stations left. Just keep moving from aid station to aid station. Rocky Gap…done. Electronic Tower…done. Then there’s just a short 2.8 miles to Pumpkin Patch. As I neared it there were little pumpkins laid out on the road leading you in. They were carved and lit. The sun would be coming up and I’d leave there to finish the last 6.6 I hated the idea of stopping there, but I was hungry. The kind of hungry that would cause me to fall apart. I sat down at pumpkin while the sun started to peek up. I put my headlamp in my pack and figured out what I could get down. I had some potato soup and coffee, chatted with the incredible volunteers, and left with a biscuit.
6.6 miles left.
That felt long, but it also felt incredibly attainable. 6.6. I started heading out running, looking ridiculous. I was so chaffed. This was the only aid station that I hadn’t gotten ice at. I was “running” with my legs spread, taking little bites of this biscuit. It was slow going because of how chaffed I was, but I alternated power hiking and running. There’s one more check in just so that you’re still being tracked on course. I gave my number and headed out for the final two miles. It was a mile downhill and then I hit pavement. That meant that I would be heading into this finish. I passed so many people all waiting for their runners. Lots of cheering and support. That’s where I started to get a little emotional. I was finishing. I was finishing without crew or pacer. I was kind of giggling in my head because I did this all by myself!!!! You know, except for the 23 aid stations the help from the most amazing volunteers, the guy who changed my socks, the people who covered me in ice, Stu taking care of me at Winona, the guy who helped me up when I made the mistake of sitting on the tarp to get into my drop bag, Deb, replacement deb, the two amazing people from Colorado, the support of my husband family and coach, and I could go on and on……. but you know, by myself.
I rounded into the finish line and they play this kind of silly epic music for each runner that really does make you feel like a champion. I got a handshake from the RD and a hug from Stu, and then I wandered over and fell asleep by a rock for a little bit. It was amazing. The Coloradans got some pictures of me finishing. I got to see Deb (the original) and Deb (the replacement) and lots of other people I had met that share a special place in my heart because that’s how the ultra community works. I loved that the weather was still crappy and the race was that hard. It was the hottest that race had been in the last ten years and had the highest drop rate in that time. I didn’t need perfect weather conditions to have a race that I did well at and was proud of. I didn’t just survive, I finished it solidly. I did that due to all of the rough races that I’ve had this year that allowed me to learn, I still feel like a baby ultra runner, but I also see more growth. I’m excited to keep on the journey.
Some final thoughts:
- When Chrissy asked us to think about what we were running for, there were times during the race that I just went with “Don’t embarrass Deb and Stew.”
- Those big red arrows, they are BIG, as in 3ft x 3ft big with reflective tape. They’re hilarious and awesome.
- It’s always amazing when the right people show up at the right time. Someone to chat with in a low point, or a flag showing up just when you’re trying to figure out how long it’s been since you’ve seen one.
- It’s always good to put on some glitter at the start.
- It was gratifying to run this crew/pacerless. However, One of the things that I realize my crew really does for me, is take my trash away. It was outrageous how much just stuff I ended up with in all of my pockets. I never swapped things out well I just added.
- With all the chaffing, the shower at the end was the most painful part. I mean…so painful. I just stared at it for a while and then whimpered. Fortunately I survived.
- I saw two copperheads, 3 frogs, and a tarantula.