Our world often seems cold and uncaring. Though the temperatures at the 22nd Arkansas Traveller 100 were unseasonably cold- hovering in the upper 40’s for the 6 a.m. start and barely budging for the duration of the event- warmth, compassion and courage were displayed in abundance.
To the casual observer, running 100 miles sounds like the epitome of a bleak, emotionless, even foolhardy endeavour. Saturday morning David Murphy, sporting a neon Idiots Running Club shirt, confided “Every runner has someone in their life who thinks they are an idiot. Why not embrace it?” Certainly over the course of the day and into the night there was plenty of time to ponder.
Conditions were nearly ideal for the 101 starters until a 10a.m. bone-chilling thundershower. Selfless aid-station volunteers were quick to assist the runners in any way possible, from offering encouragement and warm soup to loaning dry gloves. The test of commitment continued for several runners who got off course, adding time and distance to an already challenging day.
Participants who traversed the return trip over Smith Mountain in the dark (most of us!) were treated to an optically surreal obstacle course created by fog distorting the light cast from headlamps or flashlights. As the hours wore on, crew/pacers and those rock-steady volunteers became the pilgrims’ anchor, exemplifying the spirit that doing is living. Or as race co-director Chrissy Ferguson fondly notes, finishing is winning.
Indeed, how often are folks who finish after the official 30-hour cutoff given credit (and a coveted belt buckle)? How often are the official last place male and female given as much recognition (dubbed Mr and Mrs Spike) as first place? How often do competitors and volunteers recognize equal measures of grit, perseverance and inspiration in each other? At the Arkansas Traveller 100, there is no other way.
Mark DenHerder has been attempting to feed a running habit since seventh grade. Farming, work, family and the sporadic sapience that roaming the Arkansas Ultra Trail Series affords keeps him moving.
Thanks to Mark DenHerder for the story and to Robert Vogler and Scott Harper for supplying the photos. If you are competing in an event that Arkansas Outside can’t get to and would like to write a story please contact Joe.