Monday, October 8, 2007

Arkansas Traveller 100 Report

Friday morning Tiff and I picked up Rick Mayo at 5 a.m. and headed south to Arkansas for the Traveller 100. The only thing I was sure of was that it was going to be hot and humid on race day.
We checked into our hotel in Morrilton, about 30 minutes north of the start/finish line and then headed for the prerace weigh in and meeting. We were already getting sweaty from just being in the tent a few minutes and recorded my weight of 190. I had held off on eating any lunch until after the weigh in, I sweat a lot and wanted to be as light as I could to help avoid any issues during the race. There were 3 weigh in locations throughout the race at which you could be pulled if your weight loss was more than 7%.

After the prerace meeting we went to Walmart and grabbed a few things, on the way back to the hotel we passed a wreck where a car had taken out power line pole and had a few problems getting back to the hotel. We were waiting to go meet Carey Smith, his dad, and his pacer Andrew when everything in the hotel room shut off. The power was out due to the to car accident so now the whole town was without power and we were stuck driving to Conway, AR to eat dinner.
After eating way too much at Ryans we headed back to get some sleep. We had decided I would drive us to the start in the morning so Tiff could sleep in and ride over later with Carey's dad and Andrew.
We arrived about 5:30 for the start and waited around to get going. There was a loud boom and we all hit the road for the first few miles on pavement. Rick myself and Carey started out together. The first 11 miles we pretty much ran everything, which was really Rick's doing, Carey and I just followed along. It took only about 10 minutes before I was soaked with sweat. My plan was to take 2 Scaps and 1 Ecap every 45 minutes which may sound like a lot but it really isn't for me. After leaving Flatside aidstation we hopped on the Quachita trail for 8 miles. The trail was very beautiful but very technical. I caught my right foot in between 2 rocks and really aggravated my foot injury which had kept me from running the past few weeks. I was trying to take all the hard landings on the left foot and was really favoring it on every stride. I could see the aid station up ahead. At the entrance to the Sylvia aid station there was a high school cheerleading squad cheering us in which I had never seen in an ultra and it was pretty uplifting. Tiff swapped out my bottles and I was out quickly along with Carey. Rick was a few minutes ahead.

The next 8 miles I kept running the flats and downs, walking the hills. I was really surprised at how many hills there were. It was just a constant barrage of up and down. The course was in charge and I could only do what it would let me. There weren't many flat sections, it was either up or down. After Electronic Aid station I missed a turn and went up to the power station building, circled around it a few times and then realized that I was not on course. Luckily I had only gone a few hundred yards of course. I was now starting to have some problems running. My legs were getting tired and the temps and humidity were getting to me. I was getting a lot if intermittent cramping and stomach issues and was trying to get enough Electrolytes to get through it. I was emptying my water bottles before every aid station to ensure I was drinking enough.

The next crew aid station was Lake Winona, I had been really struggling for a long time now and my left leg was really shot from overcompensating for the injured right foot. My wife could tell I was really having a bad time. She got me reloaded really quickly and kept me from losing hope. I knew what she was going to say before she said it. " This is your bad time, just keep moving, it will get better". I was getting worried because it was almost 1p.m. and I was only 32 miles in. Rick was staying steady and was about 45 minutes ahead of me. The next crew access point was Power Line, where pacers can start also.
The climbs started getting worse, which meant Smith Mountain was approaching. Carey was now a bit behind me, he was battling the stomach demons, I knew he wouldn't drop, he told me so earlier, I just hope he could keep enough down to make it through the weigh ins. I was now relegated to a limping, hunchback like walk, my right leg which was the bad one going in, was now dragging the left one along. I was in a lot of pain and trying to avoid the Ibuprofen since I might need my kidneys later. The next 16 miles were complete hell. I guess I was passed by at least 30 people. One after the other they kept passing me, asking if I was ok, if I needed help. I could not run, not even the downhill portions. I kept eating at the aid station and trying to do everything I should. I just hobbled along forever. Every step just got harder. I started to weigh my best course of action now. My head was fine, my body was failing though. The pain in my left quad and shin was extremely bad. How long will I be out if I keep pushing it on this bad leg? Do I really want to be out here hobbling along all night just trying to beat a cutoff time? In the last few miles before the powerline aid station I had couple people say to just keep going, the aid station is just ahead, you can drop there. Now I knew I was pretty bad since other people were telling me how far was left until I could drop.

As I approached the turn to head into Powerline Aid Station there was a man in a yellow shirt at the top of the hill. I told him I didn't even see him pass me, and was glad he was feeling better. I thought it was Carey but it was actually the race doctor. He asked if I was ok, I told him that I really wasn't seeing things, he just had the same colored shirt on as Carey. The doc said he was more concerned about my leg than my head. I told him it hurt like hell but it was still attached so I guess it's ok. As I approached the aid station I had all of the questions answered indicating I should drop, except one. Am I prepared to go home and tell my kids that I quit? NO.

As I approached the aid station my pacer John King, and Rick's pacer Mike Prentice accomanied me in. I sat down and put on different socks and shoes. John wasn't planning on pacing me yet unless I was in bad shape, and I was. It was 5:45 and had taken me almost 5 hours to go 16 miles, you do the math. John grabbed his stuff, I told him I couldn't run and barely walk and I needed some company. This was his first time pacing and being at 100 miler. We left the aid station and started to walk for a bit. I knew he was willing to do whatever I needed to finish and it was a great boost to have him along with me. I decided to try and jog a bit and it started to not hurt quite as bad.

I started to get the negative thoughts out of my head. I told John how frustrating it was having so many people passing me and how I was sick of being asked if I was ok. We reached the 50 mile mark at 6:20 pm, 12 hours and 20 minutes for 50 miles was not good but reaching 50 is a big deal for me, it meant I just have to get back to where I started. Before I knew it I was running again. The best way to motivate me is to piss me off, and now all of those thoughts were pissing me off. I told John I was going to catch every one of those people that passed me earlier and make sure they didn't have to ask if I was ok either.

We ran to Chile Pepper aid station and got to see Stuart and Deb Johnson and Paul Schoenlaub. They were a great help and were very positive to be around. I was having a few dry heave and stomach problems and they gave John some tips on helping me out throughout the night. For the next 30 miles we ran strong. At every aid station we came to John would get what I needed and have me out of the aid station within a minute. When we got close to Rocky Gap we lost the course markings. There were no glow sticks, ribbons or anything to indicate where to go. This had also happened about 10 miles back but I knew we were supposed to stay on gravel from the course map and description I had been carrying with me. We weren't sure what to do now, I just sat down on a rock and John ran back for a bit to see if there was a marking we missed. After a while we decided to just continue on and eventually ran into a course marking just before the aid station. We told the volunteers and they got the message to send someone out to fix the vandalized markers.

We were making such good time that I started thinking I might have a chance at pulling off a negative split and still coming in under 24hours. Then my left leg told me otherwise. I was having a lot of lower leg pain, I stopped to look at my left shin and there were some purple knots on it, like it was bleeding inside and then swelling. It was agonizing to put any weight on it at all. Every mile or so I would look at it and it was just growing in size. I was basically reduced to a shuffle/hop for the last 13 miles. I grew very tired and was having trouble moving so slowly and staying awake. We saw lots of tarantulas, copperheads, frogs and bats while shuffling, John kept me moving as best as we could. Carey passed me with 8 miles left and was moving well. That was the first time I have been passed at night in a 100, but there was nothing I could do. Carey was running strong and I was reduced to a hop. The next day his pacer Andrew said I looked like a big pogo stick out there when they passed me.
Finally about 7 AM we came to the finish line. We ran very strong all night long but unfortunately I couldn't keep it going for the last 13 miles. The beautiful music played over the speakers as we crossed the finish line just over 25 hours. "Congratulations, you have just finished the Arkansas Traveller 100" was announced and the job was finally done. Rick, Mike, Tiff, John's wife Stacy and others cheered us in and we all sat down and told our stories and compared battle wounds. A few people looked at my leg but no one had seen anything like it so I was pretty proud of that. Rick had a big gash on his head from head butting a rock while crossing some water a few miles before the finish. Rick finished in 23:33 and Carey in 24:35.

The Arkansas Traveller 100 had a high temperature of 90 degrees with 87% humidity. There were 140 starters and only 66 finishers. The most entrants ever and the lowest finishing percentage ever also. The awards ceremony was a lot less crowded than the pre race meeting. Crissy Ferguson's first and last comments at the awards ceremony were the same. If you finished this race, you are an animal.

I was more satisfied with this finish than I would have thought for not going under 24 hours, mainly because of all the struggles throughout the day. I was reduced to a hobble for the last 13 miles and was still only 20 minutes slower the last 50 miles than the first 50 miles. The night was strong, with the help of my pacer John, I was able to pass about 25 people the second half of the race.Yesterday driving home I told Rick and Tiff that I wouldn't try this race again. Today, I think I could go under 24 next time.


Shane"Crash"Jones said...

I think you deserve some time off. Good job!

Carey said...

Great Race Gabe! Way to power through; as Andrew and I were passing people I kept saying I wonder if that's Gabe ahead. Of course when we'd get up there it wasn't and I'd say to Andrew "We're flying, he must really be pushing himself; he's one tough dude!" What a great experience and I'm happy and proud to have shared it with you! I, too, said that I had enough 100 milers for a while but found myself today wondering when I'll run the next one; how quickly we forget :-)
Can't wait to run with you again soon,

Ben, aka BadBen said...

Great job out there in the sweltering heat. Rest up, you've had a big year for hundreds.

Anonymous said...

Good job brother. way to stay focused when things started turning to crap. You should feel very proud of yourself for finishing. A lot of the top runners dropped for whatever reason and you stayed strong. Thats the great thing about ultras. It isn't about who is the fastest at every race. Sometimes its about who is the toughest. You, Rick, Carey and Willie all proved that. Again great job!

Amanda said...

awesome race report. sometimes the finish line isn't about getting there in a certain, it's just about getting there. what an amazing testament to your determination.

olga said...

Dude, this is great! I love it when the struggles come and challenge (well, I love it a day or few after, not during:), but the satisfaction is much greater. Congratulations on concurring AT100! Would you recommend the course?