Pistol Ultra 110K Race Report
UPDATE: I changed to title of this race report to reflect the race director’s official change due to the mismeasurement on the course. You can see on this page where all of the “K” distances were changed by 10% because those courses couldn’t be modified on the fly like the “Mile” distances could. I RAN A 110K, Y’all!
Why The Pistol?
I had been looking at the Pistol Ultra for my first 100K since 2014 but didn’t think it was a good idea to try that AND Grand Slamming in the same season. The reason I liked it was:
A) It was kind of a “local” race since my Mom lived nearby and my high school friends are in the area
B) It was a greenway which eliminated my fear of running through the woods at night
C) It was reasonably-sized loops…not too short to make me crazy, not so long that I’d ever be too far away from my self-support station.
D) It was close enough there would be Huntsvillians running it too.
Once the Grand Slam season was over, I settled into know that the Pistol 100K would be my first 100K. I had no desire to try a 100-miler until I had done one race that allowed me to experience a little bit of that running-past-bedtime sensation.
This is the first time I’ve come close to sticking to a training plan. Of course, by some people’s standards I didn’t stick to one at all, but my past year “plans” were just back-to-back long runs on the weekend totaling a 50K as often as possible, and weekday runs when/if I could squeeze them in. This year I used this 50-mile training plan as a guide. Basically, I looked at the weekly totals and try to stick near those in whatever combination I could. I also made the weekend of my Dizzy Monkey the “goal race” weekend since that was essentially like doing a 100K in one day. You can see a photo of my almost-complete run log here. I did try to do at least one of my long runs each weekend on pavement to keep my concrete legs trained, dirt is so much kinder that I would have been in a lot more pain if I had only done long runs on the trails.
It was about 27 degrees at Race Start in Alcoa. We noticed people already set up tents in the “self support” area the night before the race so I was REALLY worried about not getting a decent spot on the actual route of the race. I didn’t want to have to detour at all, I wanted my chair to be something I passed every loop easily. SO! Of course we got there early. Race started at 8am and we got there around 6:30am to set up my spot.
I packed food, clothes, winter gear, medical gear and my Ewok as my spiritual totem. Then we went back to the car where I stayed in the warmth and greased up every inch of my body to prevent chaffing. (Spoiler Alert: NO CHAFFING!) About 30 minutes until race start we went to the common waiting area inside the school until RIGHT BEFORE the start and BOOM! It was time to go.
I kept my runkeeper app on the first loop so I could get an idea of what the exact measurements were between certain points. Donnie, my pacer Colleen, and two local friends Ashley and Dana were all going to try to see me at some point during the day so I wanted to be able to maybe give them some approximations about timing which would be easier to do knowing the distances. My app was reporting in my ear that I was staying between 10:15 and 10:30 minute miles and that was – honestly – much too fast. BUT, I was cold and the pace felt good so I stuck to it.
The “loops” (certain points of the course were actually an out-and-back but for explanation purposes I’m using the term “loop”) were divided into a Large South portion and a very small North portion. The South portion had a few small hills. They were short, but steep which is not the “flat” I was expecting. The kind of thing you don’t fret about for a short race but for a 100K you get a little stressed when you’re expecting it to be flat. (Although most people probably still call it “flat” because relative to most 100Ks it was.) When I passed the school to start the shorter North portion I text my nearby friend who ended up meeting me and running with for the small North portion. It was an unexpected treat and something I really needed considering my runkeeper app had me logging 11.3 miles on that loop and that was stressing me out since the loops were only supposed to be 10.3 miles. The runkeeper app is sometimes off in the woods, but not 10% off on a greenway.
I turned off the app for the second (of six) loop and settled into walking all of the uphills since I had successfully run the entire first loop no problem. It was starting to warm up and I decided I’d take off my windbreaker the next time I passed my chair. My two local friends Ashley and Dana surprised me at a point along the South Portion and ran a couple of miles with me. Again – it was unexpected but LOVELY. I loved just chatting with them as we ran a few miles because it made it just feel like one of my regular runs instead of a race. It especially helped get me to the start of the next loop which I’d be doing with Donnie.
If you’ll recall one of the reasons I chose this one is because other Huntsvillians would be there and that proved awesome even starting with the first loop. I knew people doing the relay, the 50K, and people there just to pace so I saw people I know several times throughout the day and it was a lovely and quick boost of energy to receive/deliver a greeting from/to a friend!
By the time I finished the second loop I had given up on my A Goal of doing it in 13 hours. If I had known the course was actually long, I might have at least tried a little bit harder the next loop but it felt impossible when I was still thinking the loops were 10.3 miles. Donnie joined me for the tiny bit of the North portion of Loop 2 and then all of Loop 3 and it was wonderful. He was wearing the “pacer” bib they allowed me so it made me feel all official and stuff with a pacer. He didn’t seem to hate running slow and just used the time to focus on form and he didn’t whine when I walked all of the hills.
The only problem was the asphalt was hurting his knees. Ever since his Ironman his knees have been really sensitive to concrete and asphalt so about 1 miles from the end of the South portion of Loop 3 he started walking and I ran ahead to tell my friend who was taking him back to his car. At this point I got to see my friends AND Nikki again and all of that was a great way to round me to the halfway point of my day. All I had to do was make it through Loop 4 on my own and then I’d have company the entire time. However, I was starting to feel my typical back pain that I feel after about 4 hours of running, so I ended up telling my friend to meet me before the small North portion of my 4th loop.
As I hit the South portion of Loop 4 Ashley texted me that she was going to try to catch me one more time which she did and then she ended up running with me all the way back to the school where I was going to catch my last pacer: Colleen. I would have never asked Ashley to do that but it was FANTASTIC. She basically pulled me through that last stretch to get me to Colleen and it was exactly what I needed.
I had taken some Excederin for my back and it had helped a little but I decided to brave some Ibuprofen (not recommended EVER during long endurance events) because it was wearing off and I didn’t want to overdo it with one type of medicine. I just decided to really focus on staying hydrated to balance the potential damage an NSAID can do on an endurance event. So, starting off Loop 5 with Colleen I was already in pain but hoping to manage it with Ibuprofen.
Poor Colleen. Little did she know she’d spend the next 2 hours listening to me whine about my back. The Ibuprofen basically did nothing and I was REALLY struggling. I was also getting cramp twinges in my quads which had me a little freaked out. I’m sensitive to cramp twinges ever since my Mountain Mist last year when I full-on cramped and collapsed in a creek and then never recovered enough to run again. I did NOT want a full-on cramp so I was taking salt like a mad woman. Between my back and my quads I was walking a LOT. But never for too long and I was still trying to walk fast. I was also starting to get REALLY cold and decided I’d pile on some layers for my last loop as well as go back to Excederin. Colleen was very patient with me and never complained about the excessive walking OR complaining.
We stopped for a bit before starting the last loop to pile on layers and take meds. This caused us to REALLY get cold so we detoured by the “warming tent” before heading out. THIS was when we really got the confirmation what we’d been hearing earlier, that the course was long and they were cutting one loop off of the 100-milers because it would still give them 100 miles. There was no easy solution like that for the 100Kers so we were just stuck with the extra miles. I did the math based on my 11+ mile first loop and realized I was actually at 56+ miles at that point in time which was really only 5+ miles away from a 100K. So, even though my loop would bee 11+ miles, knowing I was only 5 miles from the 100K mark gave me a boost.
Between that knowledge and the Excederin helping AND the finish-line euphoria, the last loop went MUCH better. I still walked a bit but according to the results, I did it almost 8 minutes faster than my second-to-last loop. I was texting Donnie updates. Unofficially? I hit that 100K mark in under 14 hours which was my B goal, but the official race would be at least 5 miles longer so I was wondering if I’d be able to officially make it under 15 hours which had been my C goal. I was feeling better so we were running more.
Donnie was at the school when we crossed before doing our last 1.5 mile North portion. I was feeling GOOD. I had 30 minutes to do that 1.5 miles in order to come in under 15 hours and I was determined which I think helped Colleen because she was cold and I’m sure preferred running over walking to stay warm! We made it on that 1.5 miles in PLENTY of time and I crossed the Finish Line (after saying “HOLY SHIT, COLLEEN. I DID IT!” at least 100 times) at around 14:48 with an unofficial distance of 67 miles.
The whole thing was great. I never had any of the really severe problems you can have on a long race like chaffing or blisters. My back was terrible but it didn’t keep me from running altogether. My slowest loop still kept me at a 14.4 min/mile pace which is STILL mostly running. I never did cramp, I think because I did a really good job keeping my salt levels up. I never got dehydrated. I never got too cold. It was cold for sure, but not unbearable. I had several surprises with friends meeting me up on the course which was lovely and then I had Donnie and Colleen officially pace me for half of the race. It was all perfect and lovely and I know I couldn’t have done it without my support team. I’ll be forever grateful for each of them.
NOT a 100-miler next year. Nope. This level of training was almost more than I could handle. It was like having a part-time job. I spent 8 hours running on a light week and 14 hours running on a heavy week. That’s not counting the time for getting to-from runs and soaking and prep etc. To do 100-miler I’d probably have to increase that by up to 10% and there’s just no way right now. Not while the kids still have extra-curriculars they need me to attend or at least chauffeur. Maybe after we sell our house I’ll feel like I’ll have more free time, but I doubt it. I will do a 100-Miler someday. And probably the Pistol 100-Miler because it was just what I’d like in a 100-Miler, but not any time soon.
What I’d love to do is convince my Knoxville friends to train up to the 10-mile distance and the 3 of us do a relay together some (next?) year. But they’re both busy with their own kids and I’m not sure when that would be in the pipeline. I might do the 50K just as a fun long run next year though, it really was a well-run race, even with the distance snafu. There’s one huge aid station on the South end of the loop named “Woody’s” and they even had a MENU. They had WONDERFUL stuff. It was amazing.
All in all it was exactly the race I wanted and needed. The location allowed for blessings of friends and the kids could hang out with my Mom instead of spending 15 hours chasing me around. Donnie was a great support crew chief even if he did complain I woke up him race morning. (“So you woke up at 5am! We had to be AT BODY MARKING at 4:30am of your Ironman and I had both kids. YOU CAN DEAL WITH IT.”) He found local beer to put in the fridge of our hotel and he carried all of my stuff to the car so I could just sit in the warmth. He was wonderful.
I’ll be back again. Someday for the 100-Miler, but maybe next year for the 50K. I highly recommend this event, especially if any part of you is nervous about any of the distances. It’s SO beginner friendly that you can’t help but feel confident. Now, onto my second Mountain Mist 50K which is in 3 weeks!