LITTLE ROCK, Ark. – Little Rock to Tunica, Mississippi, Jonesboro to Sherwood or Texarkana to Hot Springs, the connection between these cities is that they are about 100 miles apart.
When you think about covering 100 miles, you’ll more than likely associate it with driving. You’d have to be some type of person to cover that ground by foot, and more than 200 of these types of people did it at the 32nd Arkansas Traveller ultramarathon.
Brendan Connell came in first in the race through Ouachita National Forest with a time of 15 hours and 48 minutes, He believes running this kind of endurance race shows a lot about a person.
“You always kind of surprise yourself with what you are able to do,” Connell said.
Runners say there are two emotions they feel when crossing the finish line. One is happiness and the other is pain, with the body weak as can be after 15 or 20 or 30 hours of putting one foot in front of the other.
Wesley Hunt came in 4th place. He holds the record for the fastest finish time for the Arkansas Traveller 100 with a time of 15 hours and 36 minutes set in 2015.
Hunt won four years in a row from 2014 to 2017, but he says the challenge of the race isn’t about winning, it’s about not giving up, saying, “Our motto is, ‘Finishing is winning.’”
The Arkansas Traveller 100 is one of the oldest ultramarathons out there, and it can be dangerous.
Hunt took a nasty fall in this year’s race.
“Even an experienced runner like me bites the dust,” he said, before noting that the race is so much about the competitor’s mindset. “You just got to bounce back up and keep going.”
With the dangers and risk of this race, Dr. Mickey Deel, medical director of ProMed Ambulance, was on site to do what was needed to get runners back to running or back to feeling normal after finishing.
Deel explained that the race causes harm to multiple parts of the body.
“The kidneys produce less urine. We’re not able to deal with metabolic waste as much. We even make a joke that the spleen doesn’t spleen anymore,” he said.
Preparation is key, Deel said, a sentiment echoed by runner Dorian Riley in Russellville. He did not compete this year but did place 24th in 2022 in his first 100 miler.
“I’m going to be honest, running for 24 hours is probably not the best thing,” Riley said.
Riley just started running competitively a year ago and said when he “first started running it wasn’t fast, it wasn’t pretty.” He shared that he trained in the dark to imitate difficult race conditions and learned to eat on the go, which runners say is vital for keeping their energy up during ultra events.
Even with all of that preparation, though, the race still took its toll.
“My legs were all swollen,” Riley remembered. “I had to walk down the stairs backwards.”
The aching seems to be an unpleasant satisfaction for runners, especially when they break a record. Making the trip from Oklahoma, Nicole Laughton set a new women’s race record by crossing the finish line at 16 hours and 53 minutes.
“I think the biggest thing is realizing that your limits are not finite,” Laughton said of her record-breaking victory.
Many runners associate the difficulty of the distance to life, all while trying to answer one question, “How do you know you can’t do something without giving it a shot?”
“I never thought 10 years ago I’d run a 100, and not until yesterday did I think I could break the record,” Laughton said.