The Arkansas Traveller was held on 6 October and is directed by friends Stan and Chrissy Ferguson. This was the 22nd annual AT so this one has been around for a while and it shows in how well organized and supported the run is. Liz and I flew into Memphis and hired a car from there to drive to the race. After we had landed I gave Billy Simpson (a Hardrock friend) a call and he happened to be sitting in a restaurant having breakfast with his son so we popped over and met him there. We had a nice chat and made arrangement to stay with him on Sunday night as we were flying out of Memphis on Monday afternoon.
We arrived in the middle of Chrissy's race briefing and got ourselves checked in, chatting with friends the whole time. We decided to skip the pre race meal so we could get to sleep as early as possible. We grabbed some quick takeout and hit the hotel room. We managed to get to sleep pretty early and got a good night's sleep before driving to the start of the race. The weather forecast was for a good chance of rain and thunderstorms during the day and the weatherman got it right this time. The course starts with a figure of eight that is 17 miles long and about half single track trail. This was the only significant section of single track with the rest of the course being all gravel roads and old logging roads, with various levels of maintenance form well maintained to not maintained in many years. Overall the tread was very runnable and while there was a fair bit of climbing the course really felt pretty fast.
This year Stan was doing the bulk of the race directing and Chrissy was running the race. I was running with her a bit early in the race and came into the second aid station a bit ahead of her. There were some scraps of bacon at the station which I gobbled up as breakfast. Chrissy then came running down the hill into the aid station screaming for bacon. Uh-oh. I told the aid workers not to tell Chrissy I had just eaten the last of the bacon but I was ratted out as soon as she got there! I got out of there quickly to avoid being DQ'd!
It was about mid morning when the rain started. It was a nice gentle drizzle at first but we could hear the thunder off in the distance and it wasn't long before the skies opened up. The rain came dumping down and the temps dropped dramatically. I had been debating on whether I should carry my rain jacket because it really wasn't that cold at the start but I was glad I had it in this tempest! While running along a guy caught up with me that did not have a jacket and we started to chat. His name was Rob Siebert and he was cold. He was a first time 100 miler and I could tell talking to him that he was worried about his race. He asked me about how many times I had dnf'd and how he wouldn't see his crew for a while and how cold he was getting. I told him that he was young and strong and fit and that he would get through this speedbump and feel just fine later. I told him that they would likely have some extra trash bags to make a poncho at the next aid station and that as long as he kept moving he'd be fine.
As we talked, I mentioned Hardrock and Rob asked me if I knew a guy named Billy Simpson. Well, well. It turns out that Billy had been informally coaching Rob and I knew now that I had to make sure that Rob finished this thing. We continued to run together for a while and I tried to give him as much help and motivation and confidence as I could. I gave him the "quitting is not an option" speech and felt pretty sure that he would tough it out. He had crew and pacers later in the race and it sounded like they had experience and would not easily let him quit. At the next aid station they were in full on garbage bag poncho production. It seemed like half the people leaving that aid station were wearing black plastic bags! Just another example of how well prepared these folks were.
Many of the aid stations had been manned by the same groups for many years and it really showed. The food selection was excellent, they were good about helping you get in and out quickly, and many were runners themselves which always makes a difference. I don't remember when Rob and I split paths but it was after the 50 mile mark. Because of the unrepeated figure of eight at the start the out and back portion of the run had the turnaround at mile 58. I really felt early in the run that I was moving really well and that a sub 24 was a real possibility. The rain didn't seem to have slowed things down and I felt good. I really felt I was moving well but when we go to the 50 mile mark Rob said the elapsed time was 12:05. With night coming on and some sections of rocky road and grassy sections that would be slower in the dark I knew that sub 24 was out of the question.
Liz caught up to me somewhere between 50 miles and the 58 mile turnaround and we ran much of the section to the turnaround. She was faster out of that aid station but I never did see her until the finish because it turned out that she had taken a wrong turn just past the turnaround and ran about 1/4 of a mile up the wrong road before discovering her mistake. So while I thought she was ahead of me on the last half she was actually just behind. I really felt quite good through the night and still felt I was moving well except for a very rocky section where we went uphill for a long way and the road was solid loose rocks. This section would have been slow in any event but I got terribly sleepy here and really struggled though I only laid down for a short 5 minute break where I wasn't even able to fall asleep. Eventually I reached the top and got back onto a good, well maintained road and once I was able to run again I felt better.
Towards daybreak I did start to feel tired and low energy but still felt I was moving well. Somehow I learned that Liz was behind me and I felt that I was moving well enough that she had probably dropped back quite a bit but it turned out that she had run strong through the night and only finished about 15 minutes behind me. In the hours before sunup and between then and the finish I passed many people who were either sitting in aid station chairs, limping along with blown legs or injuries, or just moving slow. I figure I moved up in the standings at least 20 places through the night. I was at the finish and after sitting and resting for a while and changing into flip flops I started to walk towards the car which was parked about 1/3 mile down the road and I stopped at the timers table at the finish line to see if they had any idea where Liz was and they said that she should be in at any minute. I was surprised but waited to cheer her in. She was moving well and finished with a smile.
We hung out at the finish enjoying the nice pancake/bacon/egg breakfast and watching folks come in. I asked about Rob and found that he was in fact going to finish and introduced myself to his crew person and his wife who had only arrived that morning. It was an emotional finish for him and fun to watch him succeed at his first 100 mile attempt. It was hard and he was sore and whupped but he did it! Good job Rob! We stayed for the awards ceremony where Liz got her 5 year award on this the 10 year anniversary of her first 100 mile race at the 2002 AT.
Before attempting the drive to Memphis we drove to a shady spot and napped for a while. We then drove to Memphis with a food stop or two and contacted Billy. When we got to his house he set us up with some fine Memphis BBQ sandwiches and greens. Perfect! A shower and some race recapping and we were ready for bed. The next afternoon Billy gave us a tour of Memphis including a wonderful lunch at the Soul Fish Cafe. It's all about the food! Thanks, Billy!
This race has been around for a long time and the organization and aid stations really stand out. It would be a great first time 100 and everyone should do it at least once. They give a nice buckle and a tech shirt and having a gathering place post race is really nice. We were able to sit around telling lies and eating yummy breakfast food. This one shows it's old school roots. Well done Stan and Chrissy and thanks to you and all the volunteers!
Race count: Liz (27) Scott (19)