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Thursday, October 8, 2015

#100- The Arkansas Traveller 100!

While grieving a shocking and gut wrenching break up, I threw myself into my running even more (to escape the sadness and the horrible anxiety that came with it) and set some pretty high goals for myself which included qualifying for Boston, running 365 days straight, running a 50 mile trail race, and running my 100th marathon.

One morning, I was having a particularly low moment, where I could barely get out of bed, when I picked up my phone and got on Facebook just to get my mind off my broken heart, when I came across a post that my friend Gail Martin wrote the day after running a 100 mile race. She wrote:

"Over a 100-mile foot race, runners get to experience today, tomorrow, and yesterday all in one event. It's a journey where you meet kindred spirits along the way, sharing both shallow, and deeper conversation of who we are, where, and who we came from, and what we're made of. There are times of peace, and solitude to reflect. It's an opportunity to fear success, and failure, and feel the emotions that go with irrational fear.

There is light, which provides contrast, and darkness for shadows. During the day, there is warmth And the night brings cool. Perhaps it is the yin and yang of running?"

This spoke to me. I NEEDED to know who I was and what I was made of. I NEEDED peace, solitude and time to reflect, and I NEEDED to feel my fear and the emotions that went with it. I also felt that my life had suddenly, in the blink of an eye, become unmanageable. I NEEDED my balance back.

The thought of finding myself, and leaving all pain, doubt and fear out on a trail somewhere sounded better than the depression and anxiety medication that I was taking to get through the day, so I added one more goal to the list. I would run a 100 mile ultra marathon.

Living in Utah I have been asked why I picked the Arkansas Traveller 100? There were a few reasons:
  1. The man I was involved with and a few other friends had run it last year and I followed their progress all night from home. I watched the live tracking and listened to the Central Arkansas Radio Emergency Network as they called the bib numbers into mission control, making sure all runners were accounted for. I cheered when I heard runners left and aid station and I felt heartbroken when I would hear that someone was dropping. I just wanted jump on a plane and go help them!
  2. When I got the big idea (that sounded so great 6 months out) that it would be cool to run a 100 miler for my 100th marathon, this one fit perfectly into my schedule.
  3. This race would mark 25 years of experience. They pretty much have the logistics down after 25 years.
  4. A beautiful and challenging course. With 12,000 feet of ascent, this race is not the Wasatch 100, but it certainly was not flat.
  5. Lots of aid stations fairly close together. For a first time 100 mile attempt, it was nice to know that I would only have to go 3-5 miles between aid stations instead of 6-8 on other ultra races I have done. Every aid station was like a little oasis.
  6. I must admit at the time, there was something therapeutic and motivating about wanting to crush last year's time of the man that broke my heart. It's petty I know. It was just where I was at that time.
With all these reasons, it seemed like the only logical choice. AT100 it was!  

On Thursday, October 1st, I flew into Little Rock where my friend Marc Gill (fellow Maniac pacer, speedy and all around cool guy) picked me up at the airport. We met Chris Ho and his wife Tina at the Olive Garden for dinner and to organize and ask any last minute questions we had. Tina had run AT100 several times and Marc, Chris and I had never run a 100 mile race. It was good to hear first hand from all three of them about the course.

At 12:00pm the next day, Chis came over and picked up Marc and I, we got some lunch and made our way out to the mandatory runner and crew meeting. Here we were weighed in, picked up our shirts and packets, left our drop bags and were given rules and instructions.  

Race Director, Chrissy Ferguson addresses the crowd.

Runner and crew listen to the pre-race instructions.

Marc and Chris were gentlemen and carried my drop bags for me, even though they made fun of me for how much I had in them (which was not that much)! 

My good friends Annette and Arland Blanton were also going for their first 100!

Marc, Chris and I in front of the famous AT100 sign. These guys make me look fast!

I started to feel real when they clipped my bracelet on. The key was to keep it on the whole race. It gets clipped off if you drop. 

AT100 Program

The Elevation Chart.

These were made by a local veteran and bought for all the runners.

After the meeting Marc, Chris and decided not to stay for the pasta dinner and instead get some good, fatty protein in. We went for steak! We were heading to Outback, but traffic was so bad, we just ended up at Marketplace Grill and was that a happy accident! The steak was one of the best I have had in a long time!

Pasta my a$$! We are having steak!

After dinner we headed back to Marc's apartment and I got my race stuff laid out and got to sleep. My alarm was set for 3:00am. Knowing I was going to be up for over 30 hours put a lot of pressure on me to get a good night's sleep. You can imagine how well that worked out. I never felt like I got into a restful deep sleep and before I knew it, it was time to get up. Marc came out of his room and by 4:00am, we were on the road to Camp Ouachita!

When we got there, we picked up our race numbers and joined the other runners sitting at tables doing last minute adjustments, catching a power nap or just talking.

I was bib #147. Every bib had the phrase "Finishing is winning" hand written on it.

Ready to go!

Maniacs running AT100!

At 5:45am, we headed to the start line and before we knew it, we were off!

The course starts with a 17 mile figure 8 loop on the Ouachita Trail. This part of the trail was pretty technical, so I decided to start running in my Altra Lone Peak 2.5's. I originally was going to wear them later in the race, but they have a lower profile than my Hoka Rapa Nui, which for me works better for more technical terrain. They were awesome!

The course map

There were 4 aid stations in this section of the course: Brown's Creek at mile 5.2, Flatside Pinnacle at mile 8.6, back to Brown's Creek at mile 11.9 and finishing the figure 8 at the Lake Sylvia aid station at mile 16.4.

The Brown's Creek aid station had mini pancakes and syrup!

The Lake Sylvia aid station was the first aid station that allowed crew and drop bags. I packed my Hoka's in my drop bag at Lake Sylvia so I stopped to change my shoes and socks. Had I known, I would have kept my Altras on a little bit longer, but dry socks felt good. 

Bill and Hill came out to support the runners!

I loved this section of trail!

There were a lot of rocks on this part of the trail. I was just glad we did this section during the day and didn't have to revisit it at night!

The aid stations were AWESOME!

Coming into one of the aid stations. (Photo by Sheldon Smith taken from the AT100 Facebook page)

Once out of the Lake Sylvia aid station, we started the 83 mile out and back. I usually am not a fan of out and back courses, but I really liked seeing the faster runners as they started back. 

Here is the rest of the aid stations, the mileage and the terrain we were running on for each section.

The Red Zone times let you know that at that pace you may want to pick up your pace if you want to beat the cut off of 30 hours.

I was running very conservatively the whole race. The whole time I just wanted to shift my thinking from trying to go fast and trying to endure.

I took the advice I learned when I ran the Rocky Raccoon 50 miler back in February and volunteering at the Salt Flats 100 in April:

  1. Stay as little time at the aid station as NEEDED. I tried to stay no more that 2 minutes at each one unless I was changing my shoes or doing foot maintenance.

  2. Take care of your feet! With all the rocks on the trail, my feet were taking a beating. I never waited for hot spots to get too hot. At every aid station that I had a drop bag, I quickly stopped, lubed up my feet, and changed my socks and I luckily didn't have one blister!

  3. Keep on top of my food and hydration. I love this part when running ultras. No GU! I get to eat all the stuff I avoid at home. Cookies, chips, PB&J, candy, grilled cheese sandwiches, etc.I thought I was doing great on this until about mile 65. I had just had an extremely painful and emotional altercation which left me feeling spent, gutted and hopeless. I will leave it at that, but shortly after, I couldn't walk in a straight line, was super dizzy and nauseated. I had to be held up by other runners when I could actually stand on my feet. I had to sit on the trail with my head between my knees 4 times in about 3 miles. 

  4. Beware of the chair, unless it is a deciding factor in which you my drop and power naps can change your race. When I finally made it to the Powerline aid station at mile 67.9, I wasn't sure what my fate would be. I sat in a chair and had 2 cups of hot potato soup. A wonderful volunteer put a big comfy quilt over me. I asked her if she had a timer on her phone and she said yes. I asked her to set it for 15 minutes as I was going to try a power nap before throwing in the towel. This was something I saw more experienced runners do before throwing in the towel at the Salt Flats 100. While less experienced runners just quit, these guys took short naps before deciding what to do and they always went on to finish. So, that's what I did. I had already changed into warm clothes, and after the alarm went off. The nice aid station lady, shooed me off and I felt 100% better. I didn't have anymore dizzy spells and my legs felt strong.
Right before or after the Pigtrail aid station at mile 36.1 (I can't remember) I was running with a few AT100 veterans and one guy was talking on his cell phone. We were all amazed that he was getting coverage up there, but this was valuable info on the way back when at mile 80ish. I was all alone in the dark, it was 4:00am and I was thinking about the altercation I had earlier and I started to sob uncontrollably with nobody to hear me but the few deer that ran across the trail. I saw the lake in the darkness and remembered the man on his phone.

I reached in my vest, took out my phone and called my twin sister in Atlanta. I know she was up tracking me and I just needed someone who loved me to talk to. She gave me a pep talk and told me I was doing great and told me that all my friends were online too. That made me feel good.

Another Maniac friend and fellow pacer, Andrew Aguirre knew I didn't have a pacer and offered to stepped to help me in the last 16 miles. I expected to see him at the Lake Winona aid station at mile 83.9. About a mile before the aid station I saw another runner on the course wearing a Maniac pacer shirt. He said "Hi Angie!" and I said "Hi!" back. It took me 10 minutes of chatting to realize that that was my pacer Andrew! It was dark and I was just so out of it, I didn't even recognize him!

When we got to the Lake Winona aid station, we saw another Maniac, Cody Jones who was volunteering. He told me that I looked better than most that came through at this point because I was still smiling and could hold a conversation. This was good news to me. It was here that I found out the Marc had to drop at this same aid station earlier. That was a bummer to hear.

Getting in my drop bag for one more sock change at mile 83.9

While my legs felt great considering, those last miles had some long and rocky hills, that started to zap any energy they had left. The Rocky Gap aid station was like an oasis in the dark complete with disco lights and music. It sure gave me a shot of energy at mile 87.2. 

The Rocky Gap Aid Station made me so happy! (photo by Lisa Mullis)

As the sun came up and we were closing in on Pumpkin Patch, I got very emotional. I just cried every time I saw people! I was so close and smelling the barn now! Those last few miles seemed to drag on forever, but once we dumped out onto SH 324 (the paved road), I knew I was about a mile away from finishing my 100th marathon/ultra and my first 100 mile race. 

Pumpkin Patch was the last aid station!

The tears flowed freely at the thought of all I had been through, the pain both physically and mentally that I have endured and when I came across the finish line to the sound of triumphant music, I lost it. I felt broken and empowered at the same time. 

I just realized what I had accomplished!

My sweet friend Annette did not finish, but she was at the finish to welcome me in with a hug! 

This was the most physically and emotionally challenging thing I have ever done. I found my strengths and my weaknesses. I said an did things that I regret, but what I also learned is what is said and done on the trail, stays on the trail. Running a 100 miles is like therapy. Sometimes you are emotionally stripped naked and the ugly truth shows itself. But, in order to survive, we have to pick ourselves up off the trail, dust off our running skirts and keep moving forward!

After the finish, I changed my clothes, got some food and waited for the awards ceremony to begin where we would be presented with put belt buckles. 

Getting my buckle!

A hug from the RD!

In addition to our buckles, for the 25th Anniversary, we were all given a cool old railroad spike taken from when there was a railroad running through the area. They were hand collected by the AURA. I love it!

Me and my buckle!

I am so glad I picked AT100 as my first 100 miler! I could not have selected a better race. The people are friendly, the organization is superb and the course is challenging and beautiful.

Now for the thank yous! 

First, THANK YOU to my AWESOME host Marc (Pretty Boy) Gill. What a cool guy he is to pick me up, show me around and let me sleep in his bed so I would be comfortable! He is hysterical too! 

Marc and I before the race!

Now it is time to sing the praises of my late night pacer Andrew. I have always heard if you can make it until the sun comes up, you've won! I was in a dark place alone in the dark, but I knew I had the drive to finish. Having Andrew (the Sheik) Aguirre show up in the darkness just made things 100% better. He would talk to me, make sure I was fed and hydrated (he even brought me special snacks). He listened to me cry when I was sad, and cry when I was happy. He even threw away my plastic baggie of poopy baby wipes for me (leave no trace)! THAT is a good friend! Andrew, pal, you are the best! I can't THANK YOU enough for saving me!

Andrew and I after the race.

To Chrissy and Stan Ferguson and all of the AMAZING volunteers! WOW! Without you this amazing moment would not have happened for me. YOU ALL ROCK!!! THANK YOU!   

And now I present you this:


Oh! In case you are wondering if I beat the time of the man that broke my heart? It really doesn't matter now. I moved past that long ago, but yeah, I did. 


Patty said...

Congrats Angie!! You are much stronger than I am.

patrick voo said...

wow - fantastic report angie, and so inspiring! i'm hoping to tackle my first 100 miler next year and your insights and narrative are both compelling and incredibly helpful. congratulations!

Jessica I said...

I am sobbing right now. Congratulations on such an amazing feat! You are such a courageous woman!!!