Running 100 miles is not something people do casually. Running 100 miles in the Ouachita Mountains is another level of intense training and effort. The weekend of Oct 1-2 we witnessed the 31st running of the Arkansas Traveller 100 Endurance Run. Just one of many events in the Arkansas Ultra Running Association series, this run is the one people talk about all year. The race starts 12 months or more out as people get the spark of an idea that they want to accomplish this test of physical and mental endurance. For some, it has become an annual event in their lives. For example, Katsuyuki and Hiromi Hatta travel from their home in Japan almost every year to compete in the race. This was Katsuyuki’s 20th Arkansas Traveller finish and Hiromi’s 18th. Their dedication to distance running and distance traveling is inpirational. This year, besides the Hattas coming from Japan, there were official finishers from Switzerland, Montana, California, and Washington, among many other surrounding states.
The start happens in the dark at 6 am on Saturday. This year it was a cool 42 degrees at the start in front of Camp Ouachita in the Lake Sylvia Recreation Area which is managed by Arkansas State Parks.
“This was one of the first 10 100-mile races in the country, and of those first 10 is the only one that hasn’t changed the route from that first run.” – Chrissy Ferguson
According to the previous race director, Chrissy Ferguson, “This was one of the first 10 100-mile races in the country, and of those first 10 is the only one that hasn’t changed the route from that first run.” With over 12,000 feet of elevation gain on a little pavement, some singletrack trail, and a lot of gravel forest roads, the challenge is not just the distance. It is enough of a challenge to be a qualifier for the Western State 100 Mile Endurance Run, one of the most prestigious 100 milers in the country. The race starts on about a mile of paved road but then hits about 7 miles of gravel before getting on about 10 miles of the Ouachita National Trail. Once back on gravel roads, the race is an out and back on all gravel until about half a mile from the finish.
How to “watch” an endurance event.
Ultra Endurance races are not spectator sports. You have to be a participant to enjoy these events in real time, but you don’t have to run. For years, Arkansas Outside staff has spent time at various aid stations taking care of runners as they make their way through the course. Volunteering is how you “watch” one of these races. Volunteers are needed at the start/finish, aid stations, shuttles, race set-up and take down, and more. Spending 24-30 hours at an aid station is so much fun. Volunteers take turns filling water bottles, suggesting fuel, keeping runners moving, providing assistance to the radio crew keeping runners safe and accounted for, etc. It can be like working the longest party you’ve ever experienced. It’s very rewarding and a heck of a lot of fun. If you would like to volunteer next year, check this website for information. Like most ultra-distance runs, participants are allowed to have safety runners about halfway through the race until the finish line. Safety runners are partners who run with participants keeping them moving, on the course, and making sure they are eating/drinking/staying at their desired pace. If you think your friends are crazy for running 100 miles, go out and run 20 of it with them to find out why they do it. You may find out you are that kind of crazy, too.
“Finishing is Winning”
As part of the starting announcements, runners are reminded that for a race like this, “Finishing is winning.” There are a few times that runners have on their minds though. If you want to be an official finisher, you have to get it done in under 30 hours. If you want a treasured belt buckle, you will need to either finish as the first male or first female to get a sterling silver version, come across the line in less than 24 hours for an enamel-painted buckle, or if you get out of the final cutoff point (e-tower) and finish, you’ll get a bronze buckle. This year, out of 126 starters, 85 made the 30-hour cut-off and of those, 30 were under 24 hours. Also, congratulations to Katsuyuki Hatta who finished his 20th Arkansas Traveller 100 which earns him a sterling silver belt buckle.
The eastern Ouachita Mountains are a gift for outdoor enthusiasts in central Arkansas and a draw for competitors across the country and the world. This is one of many world-class outdoor events with a rich history in Arkansas.