Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Pistol Ultramarathon (100 Miles DNF)

I decided to take on a winter 100 miler because the temperature in Tennessee could be perfect.  I enjoyed running in cool weather, with my best marathon PBs achieved in sub 5 degree Celsius condition: 4hr 33mins (Seoul, 1 degree Celsius, 2009), 4hr 39mins (Copenhagen, 5 degree Celsius, 2008), 4hr 40mins (Tokyo, 4 degree Celsius, 2008).  :)  But I knew I had to prepare my gear since I would run through the night where temperature could drop further and I had no option to depend on the sun for heat.  In total, I packed 2 short-sleeved dri-fit tees, 2 long-sleeved dri-fit tees (including the event tee from Milano Marathon in 2007 where I achieved my first ever sub-5 marathon in 1 degree Celsius on my 22nd try), my favourite CW-X Insulator tights (Stabilyx and Endurance Pro), hydration bag, 2 pairs of gloves, 3 pairs of socks, cap, wrist band, race belt, 2 packets of hand warmers, 4 bottles of sports drinks and my usual gels into my check-in luggage.

 The Pistol Ultramarathon in Tennessee!

Unfortunately, bad weather at Newark forced me to stay there for a night.  As I had my check-in luggage with me as Newark was my first point-of-entry into USA, I decided to keep it with me.  After I arrived at the hotel (near Newark Airport), I took out my Milano Marathon long-sleeved tee as it was getting chilly.  Turn out this was the best thing I did for the trip!  The next day, after I successfully flew out of Newark, I was stranded at Washington DC!  United Airlines couldn't get me out till the next day.  I was totally pissed.  Not wanting to miss the start of the race, I decided to check if I could find a flight on Friday night to Knoxville.  I was lucky to find one flying through Charlotte by US Airways.  Unfortunately, the plane was delayed and we took off about 50mins late!  Fortunately, due to the direction of the headwind (or tailwind), the plane arrived with sufficient time to allow me to catch my connecting flight to Knoxville.  Unfortunately, there was a plane still parked at the gate where this plane was supposed to park!  :(  Another 10mins went by before the plane moved into the gate.  By the time it arrived, which was some 10mins later, my sufficient lead time to board the next plane was reduced to less than 8mins.  Luckily, while I was no speedster, I had sufficient energy to dash to the boarding gate!  Phew!  The rest of the trip was as smooth as one could hope and arrived just 5mins before midnight.  Unfortunately (yes again), my check-in luggage didn't appear.  After lodging a missing luggage with the service agent, I went to the hotel.  It was almost 12:30am.  The service agent handed 3 parcels of Amazon products which included my newly purchased CW-X long-sleeved Insulator Web Top and CW-X Endurance Generator Tights.  There were my lifesaver as without them, I would have nothing to wear for the race!  By the time I get ready to sleep, it was close to 1:30am.

Looking out from Newark Hotel; Plane @ Newark; Defrosting of Plane; Lunch @ DC before Flight Cancellation!

I woke up at around 5:30am - just 4 hours of sleep after 54 hours of ultra flying!  After a quick washing up, I changed into my running gear and went to the hotel lobby for breakfast.  At around 6:45am, I shared a cab with 2 other runners (running the 50km) to the race start at Alcoa Elementary School.  I quickened my steps and walked into the sports hall as soon as we arrived as it was really chilly in the cold morning.  I was not sure what was the temperature like but was told it was around 18 degree Fahrenheit.  I picked up my bib and race packet and went towards the spectator stands at the other side of the sports hall to get ready.  I was very nervous.  But this time, even more nervous as I didn't have a cap or gloves to keep myself warm.  In fact, I was not even sure if I wanna start the race at all.  The 2 ladies whom I shared the cab with earlier, told me to look for the RD or volunteers to see if they could help me, after hearing my predicament.  So I decided to go ask the volunteers.  The lady who gave me my bib and race packet took off her beanie and put it on my head upon learning that I had yet to get my check-in luggage.  I was almost in tears.  After the race briefing, the RD asked the crowd if anyone had a spare pair of gloves and again, a runner gave up his to me!  (I presumed that he had spare gloves).  With that, I joined the rest of the 50km, 100km and 100 miler runners at the race start for my first race of 2014!  :)

The Volunteer in Yellow who gave me her Souvenir Beanie; The 2 runners who gave me advices; The RD Will; Playing of the US National Anthem!

I usually depend on the photos I took during a race to help me recall what time I took for the segment of the race, as well as what I encountered during the race.  This time round, as I didn't have my hydration bag and I didn't fancy carrying my camera in my hand, I had little recollection.  It didn't help with the loop course as I couldn't recall much after the lack of sleep!  Besides, every loop looked the same!  :p  In total, 50km runners had to do 2 complete loops and a shorter 3rd loop.  100km runners had to do 4 complete loops, a shorter 5th loop and a 6th loop less the smaller loop.  For the 100 milers, we just had to complete 9 full loops - the most straight forward combination.  (Note: 1 complete loop comprised of a big loop of about 9.4 miles and a small loop of about 1.8 miles).

Loop 1 - I slowly plodded along since I needed time to warm up in cold weather.  But once I started running, I felt more and more comfortable.  We were running on pavement through a park, although there wasn't much to see due to the winter season.  Markings on the ground was very clear and I doubted anyone of us got lost.  The route was extremely flat as indicated in the website, though there were a couple of extremely small hills.  However, it was too cold for me to run fast.  After a few rail and road crossings, I came to the first aid station situated near the turn-around of the big loop.  Perhaps due to the cold weather, I didn't really felt thirsty even if the humidity was low.  I took a small cup of water before I completed the round and came back to the aid station a short while later.  Since I didn't have any gel with me, I had half a banana (recalled to the best of my knowledge).  I thanked them before running back to the start.  We had to pass the start line before doing our short loop to complete one complete loop of 11.2 miles.  I took about 2 hours plus for my first loop.  :s

Loop 2 - For the 2nd loop, I felt warmed up substantially, and was able to take off my Milano Marathon dri-fit long-sleeved tee (I think).  I tied it around my waist and ran.  The sun was up shining, doing its best to warm us up, as correctly predicted by the weatherman.  Phew.  By then, I saw the front runners running past me to do their 3rd loop!  :(  All runners said hi to each other, which was possible when running a loop course.  I also began to take note of the various rail and road crossings.  I took almost 3 hours for this loop.

Loop 3 - For the 3rd loop, I kept my Milano Marathon dri-fit tee tied around my waist as I covered this loop in the hottest part of the day (between 1~2pm).  But I didn't sweat.  However, I did get bored since there was nothing new to excite me.  Even if there was, I had no means to capture the moment.  :(  Before I reached the aid station at the big loop, I was able to keep pace with a (Japanese or Korean) lady.  She was running the 100km and was on her 4th loop!  After we completed the loop back to the aid station, I let her go as I could no longer keep up with her pace.  It took me more than 3 hours for this loop.

Loop 4 - I was getting tired, which was unusual since I had been running for less than 12 hours.  I slowed down for this loop and did more walking than running.  As the sun was about to set too, I put my long-sleeved tee back on.  Then, after the aid station on my way back, I started to fall asleep while walking.  Obviously, I wasn't able to walk on a straight path as I couldn't keep my eyes open.  I kept moving as stopping to sleep out in the open was not an option.  The sky was also getting dark (can't recall though).  Then, I heard 2 ladies talking, coming up from behind me!  They were the 100km runners and they would be walking to complete the race!  I asked if I could join them as I needed someone to talk to in order to keep myself awake.  Their obliged.  Throughout the remaining journey, we talked and pushed each other to catch up when one of us dropped back.  Near the end of the big loop, Heather asked if I wanted her sweat shirt since she brought extra.  I was extremely grateful as I could feel the temperature dropping further.  This loop took me a long time to complete as I was walking most of the time.

Loop 5 - Heather and her friend decided to take a break at the sports hall while I wanted to continue.  After a cup of hot soup noodles, I continued in the dark.  Although I didn't have my headlamp with me, I could see the path I was running/walking on as there were street lamps lighting the path.  :)  I decided to do a run-walk-run strategy.  Somehow, I was more awake after walking almost half the distance and having someone to talk to in the earlier loop.  And it was definitely feeling chilly and cold.  My mind started playing games, urging me to do a shorter loop and dropped down to the 100km category as it would get progressively colder late into the night.  Eventually, I gave in to temptation and didn't do the shorter loop after reaching back to the start.

Loop 6 - With the decision to forgo doing the shorter loop, I effectively gave up the chance to be ranked officially in the race, although the RD mentioned that we would still be ranked but among those who chose to drop down.  I wasn't sure if it was the correct decision and I probably wouldn't be able to find out.  At the aid station of the big loop, I decided to spend more time in the tent to warm myself up.  It was between 11:00pm~12:00mn.  One of the volunteers asked if I needed anything, for example, hand warmer, hot soup, etc.  I said yes to everything!  He quickly tore open a packet and handed me the activated warmer, which was slowly warming up, before making a cup of noodle soup.  Once I was sufficiently warmed up and refueled, I thanked the volunteers there and left.  It was the home stretch now.  And I completed the drop down distance of 100km in 16hrs 57mins!  A slow time considering I was usually faster in cool weather.

Photos Courtesy By Ethan Turner and Chris Hagood.

Top and Bottom Left - by Ethan Turner; Top and Bottom Right - by Chris Hagood!

Post-race Thoughts
As with my previous races, I always learned something knew.  This time round, I learned the following:
- That I could do an 100km with just 4 hours of sleep!
- That I should pack the minimum race requirement in my hand-carried bag!
- That I should not choose a race in the winter season due to possible flight delay!
- And lastly, that I could count on the friendship and support of the ultra running community, including both runners and supporters!

I still felt a tinge of sadness for another 100 miler DNF.  Could I have pressed on and suffered at the end of it?  Maybe.  Yet, another part of me wanted to enjoy the race and have good memories of the great support and friendship.  Besides, I felt that I already "suffered" enough for the trip.  Looking at how well some of the runners prepared themselves, I would never have started the race had I not received my new CW-X products purchased from Amazon.  Or maybe I was just trying to give myself excuses.  Perhaps.  But for now, there was no point wondering.  I just had to look ahead for my next race and be happy!  :)

Top Left: With Heather & her Friend; Top Bottom: Race  Packet Items; Right: With a 100km Finisher!
Ethan Turner
Ethan Turner

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