Arkansas Traveller 100 Mile
A Pacer’s Report by Deborah Sexton
Last year, I attempted to run the Arkansas Traveller 100 miler. I had been injured and not raced for a full year, but I had a sound reason for choosing this as my comeback race. All my friends and quite a few of my fellow North Texas Trail Runners were going. Not to be left out, I signed up but as it turned out, although I had a blast, by Chili Pepper at 52 miles, I decided I’d had enough fun and got my bracelet cut off.
Originally, I was supposed to be at a trade show in New Orleans this weekend, but when that was cancelled, I thought, “I could go to AT and pace and see what the course looks like coming back!” So I e-mailed my friend, Mary Vish, a runner I had met from New Jersey (my home state) at Bandera and said, “Hey, do you need a pacer for AT?” She did, and I booked a flight for Little Rock where I would meet Mary and her boyfriend Bob Curcio, who was coming to attempt his first 100.
This race is worth going to just to listen to Chrissy Ferguson who is the RD along with her husband Stan. If you’d like to get her going, ask her how she really feels about the fact that bow hunting season opens the same day as her race. Many of her remarks during the pre-race meeting were hilarious, and she had the whole crowd laughing. She warned us about the nasty, evil hunters who would take down all the glow sticks and markers if they got a chance and shared a story about one year where hunter was caught with a truckload of glow sticks.
The pre-race dinner was the usual spaghetti, bread, salad, and three cakes: brownies, lemon cake, and carrot cake. I enjoyed seeing returnees such as Vincent Swendsen, (also from NJ) who Lisa Butler came to pace last year and he dropped after she paced him one mile. He works as a consultant in Iraq and had just come back the jet lag defeated him. He had a great race this year in the 27 hour range and is planning on going to Heartland this coming weekend so Paul Tidmore and Ryan need to be looking for him. Super nice guy.
Brian Tidmore was there with his wife and two darling children. I saw his wife all day long as we met up at each crew spot. He looked strong all day and had a great finish in 29 hours 19 minutes.
On Saturday, since we stayed in Little Rock and had a 45-minute drive to the race, we got up at 3 a.m. and at 4 a.m. were out the door. There was no one there when we got there, but the room filled up with a bunch of fully decked out nervous runners waiting to start. It was cold by my standards, but probably around 50 something degrees. I finally saw Scott and Kelly and someone Jay Norman knows named Teddy. Apparently he’s been in NTTR in the past. Gene and his crew friend Doug also were there.
The gun went off and Jay, Doug, Kelly and I headed up to a local café to have a breakfast suitable for running 100 miles. Huge omelets, eggs, hash browns, bacon, toast and coffee. (Well, I had milk.) The most excited member of our crew was Archie (the dog) who was absolutely beside himself with joy. He wiggled and jumped around in the car, out of the car, everywhere. If you didn’t watch it, he’d plant a great big kiss right on your face as I found out the hard way. What a surprise!
After breakfast we headed out of Lake Sylvia to the first aid station. It’s about 17 miles. James Kirby came running down the hill into the aid station like he was doing a 10K. Scott with Tim ? followed soon after. Gene came in around 9:50, a little less than four hours. Mary Vish, the woman I was pacing came in around 10:00 a.m.
Next stop was Lake Winona. Gene cruised in around 1:35 p.m. and Mary followed around 2:04. So Gene was just under eight hours and Mary just over. They both looked great and seemed to be holding a nice steady pace.
Our next stop was Powerline (48.2 miles). It took nearly an hour to drive there on a very rocky dirt road. We had a good long wait here and I started getting dressed to run. The plan was for me to pick up Mary at Powerline coming back (32 miles) but if she was discouraged or in bad shape, I decided I would start earlier. Gene came in around 6:10, just 10 minutes over 12 hours and Mary followed around 6:40. Definitely tired but still doing OK. Scott came in much earlier in the lead. We were all surprised to hear that the leader Jim Kirby had dropped due to a hamstring pull. So Scott might win! Woohoo! Not bad for someone who said he hadn’t been training. He was experienced some tummy upset and Kelly was instructed to have his Tums ready at Lake Winona.
We had another 45 minute drive to Turnaround. Out and back from Turnaround to Powerline on the trail is about 20 miles. It was dark now and I decided to pick Mary up at Turnaround, which would be 43 miles for me. I was concerned that she would be dreading that 10 miles alone in the dark (I know I would) and I wanted to make sure she didn’t drop at Turnaround. We got there around 8 p.m. and I told Jay and Doug to come to the car and “wake” me when Gene came in because I knew I’d have about 15-30 minutes from that time to be ready for Mary. I laid still but thanks to some wonderful mosquitoes whining around my head, I didn’t fall asleep.
Around 9:30 p.m. Jay and Doug came to get me and let me know Gene was in and out. I scrambled up, strapped on my waist pack and finished getting ready. They left for Powerline as Jay still had to change. Mary cruised in around 10 p.m. Tired but not even thinking about quitting and we started off in the dark together. Man, that’s a long stretch. You go about six miles until Chili Pepper and then another four miles from there. Up and down, up and down. In my opinion this course rivals Vermont for hills.
Last year Chili Pepper was like a Mexican cantina. Quesadillas, burritos, all kinds of great food. This year, there was nothing left by the time we got there. Stale potato chips or the usual turkey or P&J sandwiches. I was very disappointed.
We pushed on to Powerline and Mary changed her shoes. I dumped off with glee my jacket with Doug as it was nice and warm. Such a difference from last year when we all froze our butts off. There was a balmy breeze and I never had to put any more clothes on than I started with. That part was great.
At Chicken Gap, which last year has roasted chicken legs, we again found out we were too late. When the lady asked me what I wanted, I said, this is Chicken Gap, I want chicken! We found out that there had been chicken quesadillas early but they had all been consumed by the faster runners. So Mary and I left Chicken “Crap” whining about the depressing food choices and wishing they would leave a little bit for us slowpokes. But we got over it. I actually started eating gels as this was the most appealing option. All the aid stations did have a nice selection of Hammer gel in a variety of flavors. So that was nice. I hate gel, but it does keep you going.
Out of Chicken Gap and over Smith Mountain. Now that I have Hardrock as my reference, Smith Mountain is nothing but a big hill, but the terrain sucks. Frankly, this course rips up my feet more than any other course I’ve been on. Lots of rocks everywhere and they just keep jabbing your foot making it very sore and giving you more blisters than anywhere else.
We get to the aid station at the bottom of Smith Mountain and it’s Mickey Rollins! The former race director of Rocky Raccoon. Then I hear “Deborah.” First I see Jay kneeling over someone on the ground who is white as a sheet and then I realize it’s Gene! Oh no! The first thing that went through my mind was: He looks dead. Then the next thing was right before Jay and Doug left me at Turnaround I said jokingly, “OK, Jay, you better be looking over your shoulder all night because if Mary has an ounce of extra juice left, I’ll be pushing her to catch you and Gene.” Jay replied, “Well you can try.” But this wasn’t the way I wanted to catch them.
I took Gene’s hand and it was cold and clammy and I thought, He’s in shock. During this time he’s saying, “I’m OK, Jay, I’ve got to finish.” His heart was ready to take him the remaining 27 miles but he wasn’t going to be able to get his body to do it. It was so heartbreaking after he had trained so hard all summer.
Mary and I left with instructions to let them know at the next aid station that Gene needed help. For some reason, this was the only aid station with no radio, of course. We flagged down the first car we saw but he was already on his way with a truck to get Gene.
Mary and I pushed on. We’re looking at our watches and knew it was close. Mary didn’t think she was going to make the cutoff and I told her, well, we won’t make it walking. We’re going to need to do some running. She kept saying she didn’t think she could run anymore, but I when we hit a downhill I kept asking, can you run this? And sometimes she could and sometimes she couldn’t.
When we got out of Pig Trail (which I kept calling Pig Tail and kept getting corrected) we must have gone 1-2 miles without seeing any glow sticks. We were freaking out. I assume the nasty evil hunters pulled them down. Finally we saw a pink ribbon they must have missed and breathed a sigh of relief. We definitely didn’t have time to get lost.
We finally hit Lake Winona with 16 miles to go. Mary didn’t think she could do it but I knew she could. It would be close but it was do-able. She kept moving at a steady pace and she ran as much as she could. We got to Rocky Gap and they were all but closing up. A well-meaning worker says, Only nine miles to go and it’s all downhill. This guy obviously had never been on the course. There were still plenty of hills to do and every time we saw one Mary says, “Oh look another hill.” I have to say it was very discouraging when you are so tired and you look up to see what you have to climb. Mary insisted we’d never make it with all the hills but I said, well it’s up to you. How bad do you want this buckle? She said, “I have a buckle.” (She finished it last year.) I thought that was pretty funny, but I don’t think she did.
Finally at Pumpkin Patch, we only had six miles to go. The first four miles was relatively flat on pine covered trail with some rocky spots. Mary really kicked it in there. She would run for a couple of minutes and walk, run and walk. I knew what this cost her but she really dug deep and kept going. We got passed by two guys during this time. One of them came by just as we were taking a potty break. Well it’s broad daylight now so this was a little embarrassing. Oh well.
We kept looking for the road that would take us the final two miles into the finish. Mary kept saying, I hear cars! I think I see the road! But around the corner, there would just be a long stretch of trail. I finally said, “There is no road, It was a lie. Forget the road!” Then I finally ran ahead and said, "I’m going to run to the road and yell so you will know how much farther.” So I ran ahead, found the road and yelled, I found the road, I found the road. I promptly sat down and drank a nice cold bottle of water some nice guy handed me until Mary reached the road. I am such a slacker.
The road was way farther than 2 miles but it was nice smooth black top. We ran as much of it as we could. I pushed Mary because at this point, she had a chance of beating last year’s time. Of course, she could care less, but I wanted to prove I was a better pacer than Bob, her boyfriend who paced her last year. Up the last bit of hill, and down the driveway to the sounds of some Chariots of Fire type music. Everyone shouting and clapping. I did my usual jumping up and down and screaming you did it! 29 hours 36 minutes, 5 minutes faster than last year. Woo Hoo!
But so much fun. I loved crewing with Doug, Kelly, and Jay all day. We had a great time and really enjoyed seeing everyone come through. Pacing rocks! You should try it sometime.