06 October 2019

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A I approached the completion of "The Last Great Race" series this summer, I realized that while it was too late to join Sean Nakamura in pursuing the "Great Eight" series since the Mohican 100 had already taken place, I could still join him at the Arkansas Traveller 100 in early October. While this wouldn't "count" towards any particular series, I really just thought it would be cool to actually run 7 of the 8 oldest 100 milers in the US in one Summer anyway. There would be no self-imposed pressure on myself, but first I had to see if there were even any slots left. To my surprise, there were still 5 spots left about 5 weeks out, so I signed up.

The Arkansas Traveller 100 Miler is one of the oldest and longest standing races for good reason. It is a race with amazing support and with too many aid stations to count and volunteers that definitely know what they're doing. The terrain is generally very runnable with a short bit of single track (on the Ouachita National  Recreation Trail) followed by lots of double track trail, jeep and forest roads. The course has about 12,000' of vertical gain and consists of a 16 mile loop followed by a 84ish mile out & back.

Training had been nonexistent leading into this race. While 4 weeks don't seem to be much time between 100 milers, I did want to get a few quality runs in. However, after being hit by a virus immediately following the completion of the Wasatch Front 100 Miler, I was taking a longer than usual break from running, 10 days to be exact. Once I got over the virus, I managed a few easy runs with friends with my longest run being a 14 miler in 90+ degree heat and humidity about 5 days out from race day, I mainly used the runs I did manage to reconnect with my usual running crew.
As race weekend approached, I decided to actually take my car to make the six and a half hour trip to  the Ouachita National Forest and spend the night leading up to the race in the rooftop tent on my Jeep. I loaded up my car camping supplies, my drop bags and my racing gear and made the trip to Arkansas early Friday morning. I'd stop halfway through my drive in Memphis to catch up with ultra legend Billy Simpson over a cup of coffee to convince him to run a few miles with me that weekend. When that failed, I settled for some very useful recce from the race before continuing on to Perryville, AR. 
The Arkansas Traveller 100 Mile Endurance Run is the eighth oldest 100 miler in the US and as such has been on my bucket list for a couple of years. To be honest, a big motivation for me was to join Sean Nakamura and Walt Handloser for just one more 100 miler this year. We'd all been pursuing our own challenges and after running the same six races this summer, I figured I'd join them for one more before calling it a day.
I arrived at Camp Ouachita at the edge of Ouachita National Forest in time for race check in. After getting weighted and signing in, I left to find myself a spot at the group campground about half a mile away at Lake Sylwia that had been reserved for us and paid for by the race organization. After setting up basecamp, I hitched a ride back to the Camp for the mandatory pre-race briefing. I decided not to drop off my drop bags until the next morning as I was prepping some Avocado sandwiches to be stored in small portable soft-sided coolers inside my drop bags. I had brought a large hardshell cooler with a couple of smaller cooling elements that I placed alongside the sandwiches. These sandwiches would be a welcome snack well into my race on Saturday.
At the pre-race briefing, I caught up with Sean and Jenny Nakamura and I even had a quick chat with Walt Handloser before he disappeared to catch some shuteye after another long road trip. The briefing was interesting and entertaining (there was a "jorts" competition involved) and after about 45 minutes, Sean and Jenny were kind enough to give me a lift back to the campground.
Once I geot back, I packed my racing kit, finalized my drop bags and got to cooking my pre-race dinner, vegan hot dogs with a big salad and Tahini dressing. By 7pm, I had pre-taped my feet and was laying inside my tent on top of my Jeep's roof watching a couple of episodes of Van Helsing before dozing off. I got nearly 8 hours of sleep before my alarm went off at 4:15AM.
I decided to break down camp prior to the race, so I wouldn't have to do it after running for 24+ hours. I failed to realize that it would mean sleeping in the front seat of my Jeep prior to being able to make the long drive back home again. We started the race on the main road just above the Camp and would finish right in front of the Camp.
I had three goals, to run sub 22 hours, sub 24 hours or, if things went wrong, just to finish under the 30 hour cutoff. Everything went according to plan for the first 50 miles, which has often been the case for me. At about mile 25, I had caught up to Sean and at this point, we both seemed to be running a fairly similar race pace, so we stayed together. In fact, we stayed together for the next 75 miles.
The race continued to go pretty well after Sean and I caught up with each other. I managed my food and hydration without any problems. I stuck to my usual schedule of a Spring Energy gel every 45 minutes and Salt as needed, usually every hour or so. In order to avoid having to mix my own caloric drink, I decided to reply on the aid stations, instead. AT100 provides Gatorade at its aid stations and since I'm no longer used to the large amounts of sugar in my drink, I opted to go half water half Gatorade in my bottles for the entirety of the race, which seemed to work pretty well.

The animal encounter highlight of the race was something that apparently everyone but me knew about and wasn't freaked out by at all, unlike me. As Sean and I were running down another jeep road together, maybe mile 40 or so, a runner ahead yelled something like "watch out, there is a blahblahblah on the trail". I turned to Sean "what'd he say?", he said "Watch out, there is a Tarantula in the middle of the trail". "WTF" was all I could mutter in disbelief. We're not in the jungle, why would there be Tarantulas. He must be joking, probably just a larger than usual spider. Nope, it was a freakin' Taratula! Just what a guy scared of spiders and snakes needs to see before running through a large dark forest at night, a big hairy Tarantula just crossing the trail 1 foot in front of him. This is the stuff nightmare are made of and now all I would be thinking of at night was not to step on or trip over one of these cat sized spiders that could probably just lift my foot up if I accidentally stepped on them.

What didn't work well for the second race in a row were my feet. While we cruised into mile 50 in ten and a half hours, well on pace to run sub 24 hours, my feet had already started to develop two hotspots, both on my right foot. The first one on the edge of my heel and the second one at the bottom of my right foot, just below the toes and inside the ball of my foot. This would be my downfall once again. I attribute my foot issues largely to the extreme humidity on race day and while this was only the second time I had this issue, it did happen in my last two races, so it is time to reevaluate my blister prevention and treatment strategies. I can no longer ignore it as it is having a serious impact on my finishing times.

As "luck" would have it, Sean was experiencing very similar issues, so we would spend 75 miles together, jointly suffering through the final 50 miles. The real struggle didn't start until 35-40 miles to go, but it would reduce us both to mostly walking. While it sucked to be having these issues, I was glad to be running alongside Sean. We got to share some quality hours together, which felt like a perfect conclusion to my summer. After 26 hours and 39 minutes, we finally crossed the finish line to earn our buckles and to complete our respective challenges. While it may take some time to fully process this summer of running, I am ecstatic to have stayed healthy enough to complete it. It has confirmed one important lesson for me: You are capable of a heck of a lot more than you think you are.

"The Last Great Race" plus one is now completed and while I will enjoy this feeling for a while over a beer or two, I cannot wait to plan for the next big challenge. Well, some of that planning has already commenced:-)

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