Seems like part of being an ultra runner is writing a race report. Maybe it’s because you get tired of repeating the same story over and over and over? So, here is my report for my first 100 miler at Arkansas Traveller last weekend.
I’m as running fit as I’ve been since moving back to Oregon 4 years ago. I had a great summer of training and actually put together 8 weeks where I averaged 85 miles. Most of you know I did a lot of running with Lynn Nelson and that helped both of us (for those of you living in a cave she ran 4:01 at McKenzie River 50K in her ultra debut). My training also included lots of time in the mountains. This included time on Jefferson, Washington, 3 Sisters, and Broken Top. The biggest day being my 22 hour “adventure” where I climbed Washington and the 3 Sisters, running the PCT between them. This effort included 15,000 feet of climbing and 15,000 of descending and covered about 45 miles. (I fell short of my original goal of climbing Broken Top, too.) Another big weekend was a 2 day run on the PCT from Waldo Lake to McKenzie highway. The first day was a 38 mile solo run and the second was 26 miles with Lynn (well, it was solo too as she dropped me after about 7 miles). The latest big day was climbing South Sister and Broken Top with Lynn and neighbor Jonathan – a mere 8000′ gain. Who needs an ecochallenge when we have all we need right here in our backyard!!!
The ultras I ran this summer also went very well. The training races at SOB 50k and White River 50 miler were awesome. And running McKenzie River under 4 hours and winning it was very encouraging.
So going into the AT100 I went back and forth between thinking I should be conservative and make sure I have a good solid first 100 or going for it and trying to win it. Winning my first 100 miler sounded pretty good, but I really just wanted to experience 100 miler and learn about running that far before tackling the big goal (Western States).
Before the race I was telling people I thought I would run about 18-20 hours. On one of the many planes out to Little Rock we sat next to a woman also doing her first 100 at AT. She wanted to “just finish” and would be happy with 29:55. When I told her it was my first 100 and that I thought I would run 18-20 hours she immediately said something like that’s pretty fast for your first one. Oh well, I didn’t and still don’t think it is fast (for me). This happened a couple of more times at the pre-race gathering.
OK. I’ll get on with the race. Race day began at 6:00am in the dark and it was significantly cooler than the 90 degrees when we arrived in Little Rock. It was probably in the low 40s and wasn’t supposed to get above 60 during the day. Perfect as far as I was concerned. I wore a short sleeve shirt and gloves (of course) and carried a single water bottle around my waist. Gu, electrolyte caps, and ibuprofen in my short pockets. It was very easy running at first, but kinda hard to identify people in the dark as most people weren’t using lights like I was. The names in the race I knew were Joe Hildebrand (3 time winner) who recently ran 14 something at Rocky Racoon, Stan Ferguson (second last year in 17:58), Scott Eppleman (recent winner of Cascade Crest 100 and top finisher in lots of long races recently, Bones Bailey (also a 3 time winner), Amanda Macintosh (who beat me at Sunmart last year) and Janice Anderson (with outright 2nd and 3rd places at 100s this year). Joe and a few others were ahead and out of sight after a few miles. At 9 miles we got on the Ouachita (sounds like washitaw) Trail. I ran with a Scott, Stan, and “Davie from Alabama” (that is how he introduced himself) on the 8 miles of the barely visible trail (they must not have chainsaws in Arkansas). Both myself and Davie from Alabama were the only newbies up there. Scott was very friendly and we ran together or near each other for about 35-40 miles. During this time I asked him tons of questions about drinking, walking, changing shoes, etc. I knew he had run 19 hours last year and figured this was the right place for me to be. Once he asked me how I was doing and I said I didn’t know how I was supposedly to be feeling. He said, suprisingly, that I still looked real “strong”.
Somewhere around 35 miles I felt my feet blistering. The rocky sections were doing a number on my feet and pretty soon that was all I thought about. I was also annoyed with my watch as my arms must have been swelling so I ditched the watch with Laurie. My fluid/electrolyte intake was awesome as I peed continually (sometimes on myself as I tried to pee while moving). The pork and beans that Laurie was feeding me were working awesome and except for a few low points around 25-40 my blood sugar level was good. I was expecting that the course would have more hills early so I would walk, but the hilly sections which are never steep or very long are mostly later in the race (there was supposed to be 12,000 feet of climbing, 12,000 descent). But the blisters were getting worse and I eventually felt a big one on the ball of my right foot. At 52 miles I stopped at an aid station and popped it – the guys at the Buffalo Gap station were helpful and they found some baby powder to help dry my wet soggy dogs. I stopped at the next aid station and changed socks. But no powder was to be found.
I told Laurie I didn’t want to worry about what place I was in until way late in the race. I was in 6th place at the 58 mile turnaround. We go back the same way and get to see everybody in the race. Joe was leading, then Janice and close behind was Scott who looked the best at that point. Jim Musselman and Davie from Alabama were next but I thought they’d be coming back. Not far behind me was Stan and Bones and I thought I might see them again. Next time at Buffalo Gap (64 miles) I see Kyly and in the confusion the guy makes this bean burrito with grilled chicken and cheese for Kyly. She didn’t want it, so I took it. Wow was it good. I ate the burrito while walking out of the aid station. I moved pretty well after that and as I passed people they kept saying that I looked “strong” and that the guys ahead were walking, etc. I figured I was far enough into the race now to be thinking about my place.
Coming back to the Powerline aid station for the second time (68 miles) I changed my socks for the last time and put some more powder on them that Laurie had managed to borrow from Chrissy Ferguson’s crew. I kept expecting Stan and Bones to show up while I screwed around with my feet. This was also the point at which I had to pick up a flashlight. I left in a hurry and forgot the light. Laurie sprinted back to get it and then sprinted back to give it to me while I walked eating my pork and beans. I wasn’t sure if the extra batteries were in my pack or not… At this point I knew my feet were fucked up bad but I was taking ibuprofen and hey, they’re only blisters. My legs were feeling fine and I had two guys in front of me that I thought were coming back.
I got through one of the rockier 4wd sections before it got dark and on the way down from Smith Mtn. I see a guy ahead of me. Now most of the last people have already passed me heading out to the turnaround. I figured it must be a real slow person coming toward me. It wasn’t. It was Davie from Alabama and he was not good. I asked him if he needed anything and he said he needed a new pair of legs. I thought he was done for good and would drop out but he hung on and finished in less than 21 hours. It gets dark and the flashlight is working great as I run hoping to make up time on Jim. I go through a couple of aid stations making no progress on Jim or the others and finally at about 80 miles I hear that Jim is not feeling good and is walking. The next time I see Laurie is at Lake Winona (86 miles), so when my flashlight goes from full strength to no light in 2 seconds at 81 miles I think OK I’ll change batteries and then get new ones at the lake. Well, I can’t find the extra batteries anywhere. I try to use one of the glowsticks for light but it doesn’t work. At about 84 miles I finally see Jim’s light ahead and he hears me but can’t see me. He asks who it is and I tell him that my batteries are dead. He says he always carries 2 lights and that he’ll give me his extra. That was pretty cool. He was suffering but ran the next 1.5 miles to the aid station where I got a change of batteries and also picked up my headlamp (the micro, not the zoom) for backup. We figured I must have lost the extra batteries for the flashlight since there were no more in the box that Laurie had. I leave Lake Winona quickly as Jim sits in a chair. I’m feeling good and now I’m thinking that may Joe or Janice will come back to me.
The last 15 miles were pretty fun. It was strange seeing the mileage signs 85, 90, 95 go by and I’m still running. Very surreal. I’m just doing coke and potato soup at the aid stations and my stomach and energy level are fine. I ask at the aid stations what’s going on in front of me and it sounds like they are 45 minutes to an hour ahead but I get conflicting stories on who’s in the lead (turns out they weren’t conflicting but the lead was actually changing in the last miles). Nobody else was coming back to me. I still think that Stan and Bones are on my tail and I didn’t want them to catch me. I had read a newspaper article the day before about the 1998 race in which Stan catches Ann Trason with a half mile to go. He says in the article that he didn’t want her to know he was there so he and his pacer went stealth with lights off and caught her near the finish. I didn’t want this to happen to me. I kept looking back for lights. At about 96 miles I’m without light again (batteries don’t last as long in cold temps I find out) but manage to borrow a light from a guy 1.5 miles from the finish. He wanted to give me some batteries, but I didn’t want to stop and change them that close to the finish since I figured Stan was coming. So I asked if I could borrow his light for a few minutes and that my wife would bring it back to him in about 1/2 hour. I left my headlamp as collateral.
Laurie met me with less than a mile to go and she ran in with me. She said she now knows how we can run together. I run 99 miles first and then we go. She was an awesome crew! My final time of 18:35 put me in 4th place overall. Scott won with a great final push and ran 17:34. Janice was next at 17:47. Joe was third in 17:53.
A great learning experience for both me and Laurie. And I really did have fun. My legs are suprisingly OK after the race. I have some swollen tendons and feet but for the most part I’m physically doing pretty well.
Craig Thornley October, 2000