Dr. Brendan Connell: From Stress Fracture to Ultramarathon Victory

The Arkansas Traveller 100, known for its challenging terrain and immense distance, is not a race for the faint of heart. Yet, it was here that Lyon College’s Dr. Brendan Connell, assistant professor of Political Science, defied the odds, emerging victorious in a remarkable display of endurance and determination.

Last weekend, Connell achieved a feat that many could only dream of; he won the prestigious Arkansas Traveller 100, the state’s most esteemed ultra race. With 182 runners at the starting line, he managed to outlast 126 of them, crossing the finish line in 15 hours, 48 minutes, and 53 seconds. His closest competitor trailed by over an hour, a testament to his incredible performance.

Connell shared his thoughts on crossing the finish line, “It feels awesome to win any race and meet my goal. But this time around, there has been a special runner’s high from completing the 100-mile distance. I feel at peace with myself right now, very content with the outcome, the effort, and the overall experience.”

The Arkansas Traveller 100 is not an ordinary race. It’s a grueling test of endurance, with participants facing both challenging terrain and the psychological battle of conquering such a formidable distance. 

Connell revealed his motivation for tackling this unique challenge, “Last February, I got a stress fracture in my femur which put me on the couch for several months. It was super frustrating, and I needed something to get me thinking more positively. So…I promised myself that once I get healthy, I’ll sign up for my first 100 miler and just go for it.”

He emphasized the valuable life lesson he learned through his injury and recovery, “Sometimes you need to go to the lowest of lows to grow as a person and gather enough courage to go for something big. You wind up being better for it.”

Before this monumental victory, Connell had participated in various ultramarathons, including the Finger Lakes 50 Miler, the Behind the Rocks 50 in Utah, and the Razorback Running Revival 55K in Western Arkansas. However, the Arkansas Traveller 100 was a league of its own.

Key to his success in the race was his training regimen. He focused on hill training and ran mountain single-track trails in Colorado, accumulating thousands of feet of elevation gain.

Returning to Arkansas, he continued his rigorous training on the back roads of Cushman ensuring that he was well-prepared for the challenging terrain of the Arkansas Traveller.

Connell also emphasized the importance of heat training and efficient nutrition consumption. He meticulously practiced hydration and eating on the go, a crucial element for sustaining his energy over such a long distance.

With his finishing time of 15 hours, 48 minutes, and 53 seconds, Connell maintained an impressive pace. He attributed this to his preparation and confidence, “I honestly didn’t view the 100-mile distance as unique or requiring any herculean effort. I just thought, ‘Okay, I just need to do what I’ve literally been doing all summer.’ And although I hit several walls during the race, I never panicked because I knew I’ve made it through those rough points before—both in training and past races.”

In the world of ultrarunning, mental resilience is just as crucial as physical endurance. When asked about advice for aspiring ultrarunners, Connell offered a valuable perspective, “Fight off the fear of failure! Fear of failure is normal. However, you can’t let it deter you from going after something new. No one likes failing, but what I’ve learned is that you actually need to fail to get better at something and push yourself to break new barriers. You should be failing.”

Winning the Arkansas Traveller 100 has been a transformative experience for Connell. He admitted to having imposter syndrome in the world of ultrarunning but now feels differently, “After this race, I finally feel like I can really do this. It doesn’t feel like a fluke anymore.”

Looking ahead, Connell’s running agenda remains packed. After a two-week recovery period, he’s gearing up for the Georgia Death Race in March, a 74-mile race with substantial elevation gain. Despite his nerves, he is determined to continue pushing his limits and striving for greatness.

Connell’s journey from a stress fracture to an ultramarathon victory is not just a story of physical prowess but a testament to the power of resilience, determination, and the willingness to face failure head-on. His experience serves as an inspiration for all of us to chase our dreams, no matter how daunting they may seem.