I suppose I could lie and make up a good reason why I ran the AT100. But I won't. I ran so I could get an enameled belt buckle that I could put in the drawer with my other buckles. It's a very pretty buckle. Unfortunately, you have to run under 24 hours to get one (over 24 hours and you get a single-color buckle). I also had another reason: I ran The Ring in early September and figured that that was a good training run for a 100-miler. And then in the back of my mind I had the silly notion that perhaps once--just once--I would be able to run a 100 without any major problems. That didn't work.
The arrangements. This is a very easy race to get to. Fly to Little Rock, rent a car and drive under an hour west of the city. Packet pickup started at 2 p.m., and the pasta dinner was at 4 p.m. There is only one place to stay nearby; it was full, so I stayed in a town called Morrilton a little over 20 miles north of the start. It's a great town. It's got one of them big Wal-Marts with a grocery store in it. Reminded me of when several of us went to Kettle Moraine in June. I don't know how many times Jaret went to the Wal-Mart there. Several of us went with him so he could buy stuff to make his own trail mix. Then he went back again and again. Our motel was across the street, and one time I looked over there he was test driving a riding mower in the parking lot. I guess that was his way of relaxing before the race. Anyway, I went into the Wal-Mart in Morrilton looking for an individual bagel. I had about as much success there as when I asked for grits in North Dakota a couple years ago.
Then I drove down the rode just a bit until I came to the Super 8 where I would be staying. I couldn't believe my eyes. Nestled in front, right there in the parking lot was a Waffle House. We don't have Waffle Houses here in northern Virginia. I think you have to go to Fredericksburg to see one. In the Deep South, it's another matter. In Florida, for example, state law requires a Waffle House be built every mile. So, it didn't matter to me now how I would run the next day--I knew I was going to get my day off to a good start. And I did. I got up at 4 a.m. and walked over and had a waffle and two scrambled eggs.
Goals. A goal is a thing you set, such as a time, so that you'll know how much you missed it by. Looking at the times from past AT100s, I thought I could finish in 24 hours. If all went well, and I had absolutely no reason to suspect that that would be the case, then perhaps I could run it in 22 or 22.5 hours.
Trail run? No, this is not a trail run. And it's not advertised as such. And let me say a few words about what is a trail. To me, a trail is a path, typically through the woods. A trail is not something that has the word "road" after it. Such as fire road, forest road, service road, dirt road, or jeep road. It's also not a jeep trail because that's just another name for jeep road. This run is called AT 100 Mile Run. Doesn't advertise itself as a trail run. It has 8 miles of trail on the Ouachita National Recreational Trail. Hardly a trail run. If you want a trail run, do Bull Run Run 50, Laurel Highlands, or Superior Trail 100.
An article on the AT 100 web site says this:
Running strategy: Generally, the footing is excellent, but the Ouachita Trail is quite rocky. Since the trail section is early in the run, the tendency is to run the hills too fast. Take the trail slowly and save yourself for the good gravel roads which come later.
This is bad advice. The best part of the race is on the Ouachita Trail. And you don't need be go tip-toeing along it. It's all very runnable; "quite rocky" is not the best description. If you want rocks, go to Massanutten. You should just let it rip as you go through this section because this is going to be the most fun you'll have all day. Who cares if you wear yourself out? It's only 83 miles to go after that.
Bees. Or were they hornets (as someone said)? Whatever they were, I got stung twice--once in the butt and once in the back. I never saw them, but I figured they weren't yellow jackets because they weren't that painful. When I came to the next aid station a short while later, there was another guy who was rubbing his butt complaining about being stung. A woman volunteer came over to him and said he was about the 6th person to say he had been stung. He was about to leave the aid station when he asked her if she would kiss his butt and make it feel better. If you are a woman reading this, you're probably thinking, "What a boorish, sexist pig." And if you're a guy reading this, you're probably thinking, "Hey, it was worth a shot." The day before at the briefing, Chrissy Ferguson, the race director, said the volunteers would do anything for us. That turned out to be a lie.
Getting lost. I had a chance to talk to Chrissy after the trail briefing with a couple other people, and she said the course was very well marked. She said that if you run a 100-miler, you were stupid and if you got lost on this course, you were stupider. I didn't think I was stupid because I knew that "stupider" wasn't even a word. Before I explain how I got lost, I would like to say I never got lost before I went on a training run with Mike Bur. I think I outdid him this time. And that's why I probably won't train with him anymore. Bad karma. And he still owes me $22 for the belt I got him.
It happened at night at an aid station called Powerline (at mile 67). Since this part of the course is an out-and-back, this is the second time I was there. It is a big aid station because it has crew access. It is on a road and as you leave the aid station you walk up the road for a very short distance and turn left onto a jeep road. The turn was marked with a pink ribbon (maybe a glow stick), and a huge sign. It wasn't exactly as big as a billboard, but it was close. I had just changed shirts, and my shirt was bothering me a bit. I was fiddling with it and walked straight past the turn. I just followed the road. I was still trying to adjust my shirt, when my flashlight started acting up. It would get dim, then bright, dim, then bright, go off, etc. That was annoying. I spent a lot of time trying to get it to work as I was running down this road. After a while, a thought suddenly came to me: I haven't seen a glow stick for a while. And then I got this terrible, sinking feeling in my stomach. And that's when the still Arkansas night was pierced with some pretty innovative epithets.
I had been running okay so far and felt fairly confident that I could run under 24 hours. But now that I was on some deserted road, I thought my chances of doing so were gone. I ran back toward the aid station (of course, it was all uphill going back) and saw where I had missed the turn. If you could see how well it was marked, you would not believe someone could miss it. I probably lost 40 minutes going down that road and back. Now I was real skittish about glowsticks. I made the turn onto the jeep road and followed the glow sticks. Then they stopped, or so I thought. Two guys came up behind me and said this was the right way. I said I'm going back. I passed a third guy, and he said this was the right way. I said I'm going back. I went back up that jeep road until I came to the last glow stick I had seen. As it turned out, I had been going in the right direction. It took me a long time to catch up with those 3 guys.
From then on, I tried to press it a bit to see if I could still make 24 hours. It would be close. When I got to mile 92.3, I realized that I had 2 hours and 15 minutes to finish in 24 hours. That's when I sort of lost my drive. I now knew I would finish under 24, so why kill myself? Even if I continued to press, my finish time still wouldn't be what I could have done. So, I took it easy. Real easy. As I was nearing the finish (or at least thought I was nearing the finish because we were near the campground which was just down the road from the start), guess what happened? The glow sticks were no more. There was a guy behind me, and I waited for him. We talked about where to go. We decided to walk back up the road and cut through the campground. I was really upset now because we were now lost, and the clock was ticking. I just couldn't believe there were no glowsticks. As we were about to cut through the campground, another runner came down the road and told us we needed to go back down the road where we had come from. So, we followed him to an intersection and turned left on the main paved road that led to the start. My time was 23:31.
Based on my failure to make the turn at Powerline, I feel pretty comfortable in making the statement that there isn't a race director out there who can mark a turn well enough that I can't miss. If I'm ever a race director, I'm going to have enough glow sticks that you can see the next one from the one you're at. And I'll have state troopers at every turn in addition to bright neon signs powered by portable generators. The entry fee will be $2,632.47, but it will be well worth it.
Vinnie. I've written about Vinnie before in my Superior Trail 100 report. What a finish he had there! It was a finish of epic proportion. It rivaled both my MMT100 finishes. I saw Vinnie during the race as I was coming back from the turnaround. It was less than mile 50 for him, and I knew he was very close to the cutoff at the previous aid station. He said he had been throwing up for a couple hours earlier in the run. I thought there was no way he could finish in 30 hours. The awards ceremony is held outdoors and started at noon. No Vinnie. At about 30:13, Vinnie came staggering (or whatever it was he was doing) off the road down the short drive to the finish. Several of us got up to greet him at the finish: a Molly Gibb from Colorado, David Hughes from Indiana, and Hans from Germany. As we all stood there, I was reminded of my two MMT finishes, and I thought: "You know, some of us really are stupid." Despite the 30-hour cutoff, Stan Ferguson awarded Vinnie his belt buckle.
The Virginians. The day before the race I met several people from Virginia: Kevin Black and Roy Marshall from Woodstock and Larry Heishman. Kevin remembered me from MMT100 in May. He said he saw me on the bridge above Elizabeth Furnace with all my stuff spread out. He said I didn't look too good then. I told him I was just faking it. To this day, I still remember that group passing me on the bridge. Kevin caught up to me at Powerline the second time. We were going to run out of that aid station together, but he had to go to the bathroom. Minutes later, I was off on my unwanted detour. He went on to finish 12th in about 21:30. Roy Marshall had a great race as well and finished in 22:20 (or thereabouts I think). Larry was crewing for them. It was nice seeing him at the crew access points, and he helped me when I needed it, bought me a cheeseburger at one point, and picked up my drop bags after I passed through the aid stations.
Is this run for you? If you like constant rocks, trails, and hills, no. Otherwise, yes. It's very well organized--on a par with MMT if I can be so heretical. Aid stations were well stocked (I recommend the chicken fajitas at the Chili Pepper aid station), the volunteers swarm over you, and the race logistics are easy because of the out-and-back. The pancakes, bacon and ham at the finish were superb. And for the Whining Bunch (Kerry, Gena, John, and Jaret), let me conclude with:
If I were to say the course was benign,
I know you would surely whine.
So, naught I'll say and let you find out
What this 100-miler is all about.
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