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The Journey to Win Her First 100 – Melissa Linan at the 2010 Arkansas Traveller 100

“Along the way at the AWESOME aid stations I’m being told that I’m in 8th place overall and on sub 24 pace.  Wow, I can’t even digest that. Then things take a turn for the worst.” – Melissa Linan at the Arkansas Traveller 100

TALON athlete, Melissa Linan, won the historic Arkansas Traveller 100 trail run a little over a week ago (race results summary). Melissa finished with a time of 23:34:57, less than three minutes in front of the next chaser, Monica Scholz. This is an extremely close race in ultra land.

Melissa was kind enough to share some of her exciting and challenging journey with us.


Team Trail Freak which consists of Dave Carder, Suzi Turner and I arrived at the start at about 5:15am.  Didn’t notice I parked right next to a drainage ditch until I went back for my camera.  Feeling pretty lucky at this point!

Before the race I had my normal pre-race breakfast ½ can of Monster, bagel w/peanut butter and a banana.  We were all a little quiet getting our numbers on, adjusting fuel belts etc.  I wasn’t nervous which is what I love about ultras…I was always a mess before 5k’s, and marathons.   That’s how I decided ultras and trail running was for me…particularly 100 milers.  I am really new to the sport…did my first ultra in Dec. of 2008 (Sunmart 50 miler).  This was my 3rd 100 miler.

The gun went off at 6am and the weather could not have been better.  Team Trail Freak started out together and we joked around the first 1-2mi. then we all kind of drifted apart.  My goal going into the race was to run a sub 24 however I knew it was going to be a tough course so my plan was to just run comfortably the first 30 miles and not dwell on splits but just do what I love to do…RUN!  If it happened great and if it didn’t I was ok with that as well.  Decided not to wear my Garmin and just go with the flow.

The first part of the course wasn’t bad then we hit the Ouachita Trail which was pretty rocky and very hilly single track trail.   I don’t remember a whole lot of the first 17miles just know I got passed by quite a few people.  I just kept thinking keep moving forward and get these 17 miles out of the way because I knew I would not have to see them again.

When we started the out and back portion that’s when I started to pick runners off.  Felt really good on the uphills and decided to just run them.  If they were pretty steep I would use a run / walk strategy.  Met lots of awesome people along the way.  When I reached an aid station the girl taking my number said, “you’re doing good, you’re in 3rd place (2 females ahead of you).”  I think my reaction was “shut up!”  I could not believe that!  She said the 2nd place girl is 15 min. ahead of you.  Thought, ok, keep moving forward and keep pushing on the hills.  Eventually caught her on a hill and was so excited that I was in 2nd place.

Before I reached Powerline a hunter who had just parked said to me, “you have a long way to go!”  OMG, I laughed so hard!  At Powerline which is almost the halfway point I got a warning because I had lost a few pounds.  Starting to freak out a little bit.  I felt like I had been drinking quite a bit but apparently not enough.   Changed into some dry clothes, filled a baggie full of food to take with me out on the trail and headed out.  Was told I was 30min. behind the leader…woo hoo!  Knew the next 20mi. were very runnable so I pushed on.  Was also looking forward to my Monster waiting for me at mile 67.  And by this time was already jamming to the Red Hot Chili Peppers.

Saw the leader heading back to Powerline and she looked really fresh so I knew I had some work ahead of me, but it really pumped me up.  At Turnaround I scarffed down as much food as I could as fast as I could and flew out of there.   I kept drinking like crazy because I knew I was going to get on the scale again at Powerline.  As this point I had to pee like crazy but decided to wait until after the weigh in (smart thinking).  I passed my friend Dave and he cheered me on.  Also saw Suzi who was making her way to Turnaround.  They both looked great!

Met more cool people along the way and didn’t even know I passed the leader.  Until the guy I was running with said you know that was the leader you just passed.  OMG!  I didn’t even notice, thought she was a pacer.  I am really stoked at this point with the prospect that I could actually win a race.  Along the way at the AWESOME aid stations I’m being told that I’m in 8th place overall and on sub 24 pace.  Wow, I can’t even digest that.

Then things take a turn for the worst…I start having problems with my vision.  Which also happened on my last 100miler.  I think it was a 6mi. section of the course that I had to walk?  The terrain was very rocky and my vision was really bad.  So I decide to play it safe and walk rather than risk injury by taking a fall.  This really sucks because I want to run sooo….bad, especially when I’m being passed by other runners.  Then to make things worse I miss a turn and realize it pretty quick, so I turn back to find the turn arrows but then I can’t remember which direction I was coming from (I got turned around)…#^%7*.  Not good!  So I make a decision and soon realize I’ve gone the wrong way (I’m back tracking) as I see a headlamp running towards me.  I am so mad at myself, so I turn around and pick up the pace this time in the right direction.

As I arrive at the last aid station which I believe is pumpkin patch the guy I am running with tells me Monica the second place girl is right behind me.  At this point my competitive nature kicks in and I yell my bid number to the aid station attendant and fly out of there.  My vision is horrible but I don’t even care anymore.  I wanted to win so bad!  Decided to leave it on the trail, no regrets.

This part of the course was very runnable so to compensate for my vision I stayed on the very right side of the trail and was brushing against the plants along the way to help stay on course.  My only problem was when the plants ended I ended up at someone’s campsite.  I was told there was going to be a station with no aid but just someone recording our numbers, so I thought I was there.  I started yelling, “I can’t find the trail which way do I go?”  And this poor guy who I completely startled comes out and says it’s right over there, see that other runner?  Then proceeds to ask me, how long have you been running.   Of course he thinks I’m insane as he is pointing me in the direction of the trail.

The other runner on the trail was Brian Kuhn from IL who I had run with for a little while earlier.  OMG…was I happy to see him!  I asked him if Monica had passed him while I was off course and he said, “no.”   Saweet! Ok, so I tell him I can’t see so I am going to hang with him.  He is in no rush because his goal is to come in under 24 and he has that in the bag.  I explain to him that I am in first place (I think) and want to keep it that way.  So this incredibly nice guy who I have just met on the trail decides to help me get to the finish.

We start to run together and I apologize for bumping into him like 10 times because I literally cannot focus and am just all over the road.   At about ½ mile to go he says, go on. I’m going to walk a little.  He assures me I cannot get lost…so I am literally following the white line on the road and can see the finish and hear the music.  Only problem, I don’t know where to turn to get to the finish and I am so focused on the white line that I pass the turn.  Then the music begins to fade and I know I have gone too far…this cannot be happening to me!  I stop dead in my tracks and yell anyone please tell me how to get to the finish.  Then several people yell it’s right here come back this way.   OMG…I was so happy to cross that finish line and see Brian and I WON!!  And Sub 24!!

Three days later I still can’t wipe the smile off my face!  A million Thank You’s to Brian!!  Could not have done it without his help!  Chrissy and Stan put on a 1st class race and I can’t say enough about the volunteers.  They are Rockstars!  All of Team Trail Freak who also happen to be NTTR members returned home with buckles! (-:

Congratulations Melissa (and Team Trail Freak)!

A special thanks to Melissa for taking the time and sharing her report with us.

Be active – Feel the buzz!

David –

(Photos: Courtesy of Dave Carder, Melissa Linan, and Black Dog Photo Productions)

About the author

David Hanenburg David Hanenburg is the passionate dirt-lovin' creator of Endurance Buzz and has been playing in the endurance sports world since 2000 after knockin' the dust off of his Trek 950 hardtail thanks to a friend asking to go ride some local dirt. In 2007 he ran his first ultra on the trails and fell in love with the sport and its people. For more information on David's endurance sports journey, check out the About page.

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