Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Pistol Ultramaraton 100 Miles 2016

Two years ago, I arrived in Knoxville, TN just minutes from midnight of 4 Jan (Saturday).  It was about 8 hours before the start of my Pistol Ultramarathon 100M race and my check-in luggage had been "in-transit" in Washington since my flight was delayed on Thursday (scheduled arrival) and Friday (yes, again) due to heavy snow storm across the USA.  Luckily for me, I had a set of running gear in my carry-on bag.  Kindness shown by a race volunteer and a fellow-runner meant that I was able to start the race.  Unfortunately, I was too tired after not being able to get a good sleep in the past 48 hours.  Still, I was allowed to drop down from 100 miles by completing 100km.  I wasn't happy so in December 2015, I decided that I should go back to Knoxville in January 2016, hoping to nail the 100M this time round.

Pistol Ultramarathon 2016!

This year, I again timed to arrive in the town of Alcoa 2 days prior to the start of the race and hoping for good weather.  Luckily for me, although the weather prediction was a low -1 degree Celsius, there was no snow storm predicted and so I arrived in Knowxville as scheduled.  :)  I managed to get a good night sleep on Thursday, while on Friday, I slept till late morning.  Then, I went to the Alcoa High School in the afternoon to attend a talk by David Horton, a very accomplished ultrarunner who completed the Appalachian Trail (AT, 1991) and Pacific Crest Trail (PCT, 2005).  I also met the RD, Will Jorgensen who remembered me.  I picked up some cool swags like the Injinji toe socks, a race bag, water bottle, a pair of arm warmers, a Tailwind endurance fuel, 2 packets of Fuel 100 Electro-Bites, a cotton event tee and a dri-fit event tee!  I had a quick carbo-loading pasta dinner, which was included in my race registration before going back to the hotel for an early rest.

 Cool Swags (Top); David Horton's Sharing (Bottom Left); Pasta Carbo-loading (Botton Right)!

On Saturday, I woke up at 6am, had breakfast, changed and checked-out from the hotel.  I brought along my drop bag using the race bag given.  At the Alcoa High School, I decided to place my drop bag inside the hall even though that meant I had to detour about 50m to the hall and out again.  But that also meant that my drop bag would be dry (in case it rained or snowed).  I kept myself warm by waiting in the hall and drank a bottle of Chicken Essence - my special concoction to keep my energy level high.  Three minutes before the scheduled flag-off time at 8:00am, I reluctantly moved outside of the hall to the starting line.  At 08:00am sharp, RD Will flagged us off!  Runners running the 100 miles had to complete 10 loops, which meant that each loop was 10 miles long.  One loop comprised of a big loop followed by a small loop, almost like the figure of 8.  Also, new for this year, runners must finish the distance we started.  I.e. unlike 2 years ago where we could drop down, there was no change in race distance once you started the race.

 Start / Finish Line!

For the first loop, I could feel the cool air even though I was wearing long tights and long sleeves shirt.  But 10 minutes or so, I warmed up and started to feel better.  In fact, it didn't feel that cold at all.  There was a slight breeze but it wasn't anything that bothered me.  Running the Pistol Ultra was like running along our East Cost Parkway's Park Connector, i.e. on concrete pavement.  There were a lot of trees (though they were bare) on both sides of the pavement as we ran through the park, and some road crossings which I could vaguely recalled from two years ago.  The route was mostly flat with some climbing near the turn-around for the big loop.  I also remembered the famous aid station at the turn-around.  After coming back to the start/end point, I went for the small loop and completed the 1st loop in 2hrs 25mins 15.79secs.

The Pistol Ultramarathon Running Route!

There was another aid station at the start/end point and I helped myself with the food, topped up my drink bottle before I commenced my second loop.  By then, the sun was out and the weather was excellent for running.  There were runners in front and behind me but mostly, they were in front.  We also acknowledged to each other when we ran past one another back to the start/end point.  Most of them would give encouragement with a smile, a nod, a thumbs up, or a simple "way to go".  This was what's so great about doing a race, running in loops as you can see and greet other fellow runners.  For this loop, I was still enjoying myself.  Still, I slowed down a little and completed the loop in 2hrs 35mins 3.96secs.

Fellow Runners I Met During The Race - It Was Indeed A Joyous Occasion!

For the third loop, I started to get bored and decided to count steps while running.  I ran 1,000 steps, before doing a recovery walk of 200 steps.  I also broke up the bigger loops into 4 segments on my outbound run: segment to railway crossing, segment to the bridge and mobile toilet, segment to the lake, and the turn-around aid station segment and back.  The counting of steps wasn't boring and kept my mind occupied rather than thinking about the distance or laps I still had to cover.  It felt manageable but I knew it won't be long before I got bored again.  Also, I was slowing down even more.  After completing the third loop in 3hrs 2mins 13.12secs, I decided to take a break and had some food before heading out for my fourth loop.

Approaching the Rail Crossing (Left); Lake (Top Right) and Xmas Tree (Bottom Right)!

When I commenced my fourth loop, it was in the later part of the afternoon.  I felt tired and ran lesser steps and walked more.  At the same time, my stomach wasn't feeling particularly good and I was not sure if it was due to what I ate earlier.  I managed to hang in there till I reached the mobile toilet.  The toilet break was a great relief and I felt so much better after that.  Still, I needed to slow down.  A fellow runner, who was doing her 5th loop, saw me struggling and asked if I was okie.  I thanked her for her concern and I tried to keep up with her.  She also asked if I was the one who took part in the race two years ago, before advising me to wear an additional layer as the weather would be cooler during the night after the sun had set.  Then, I regretted not bringing any long-sleeved tee-shirt which I had brought previously.  :(  In fact, I didn't bring additional clothing at all.  At this point, the word DNF flashed through my mind.  Nonetheless, the fourth loop was completed in 3hrs 17mins 13.54secs.

That's Me Running Alone Most Of The Time!

For my fifth loop, I somehow found my groove again probably due to a settled stomach.  At the same time I was feeling cold with the sun gone.  I picked up my pace a little and while I was not able to quite match my pace for the first two loops, I was closed to the same pace for the third loop.  Then, thinking positively helped me to focus on the task ahead and that was to complete the loop.  However, it was agonizing as I knew I had another 5 more loops to cover.  At the Woody Aid Station, I stopped for some hot chicken soup.  It tasted so nice that I decided to ask for another serving before reluctantly forcing myself to continue running.  After the big loop, I continued the smaller loop which I felt rather eerie during the night as it was very quiet with lots of trees in the park.  I hurried and completed the loop in 3hrs 9mins 53.69secs.

The World's Famous Woody Aid Station!

Just before I completed my fifth loop, a fellow runner going for his small loop told me the good news that the 100M runners only need to complete 9 loops instead of 10.  That was due to a longer distance of approximately 11.1 miles instead of 10 miles recorded per loop.  It was both good and bad news for me.  The good news was I left 4 more loops before completing the race!  Hurray!  But the bad news was that I should not quit.  I quickly asked around the volunteers at the start/end line if I could borrow a sweater as I was getting really cold.  A volunteered gave up her sweater without second thoughts.  I also saw RD Will, who confirmed the news.  Whether that had to do with me improving by almost 2 minutes for my sixth loop, I won't know for sure but it was definitely an incentive.  I completed my sixth loops in 3hrs 8mins 12.14secs:)

By the time I started loop 7, it was in the wee hours of the morning.  It was the kind of time where I felt extremely sleepy.  I badly wanted to lie down and sleep but yet, I knew doing so would mean I would most likely suffer a DNF.  And so I decided to take a short rest back in the hall and drank another bottle of Chicken Essence.  It perked me up a little though by then, no matter what I ate or drink, I would still slow to a crawl.  In fact, I ran / walked more like a zombie.  Even so, I didn't slow down by much and completed the seventh loop in 3hrs 31mins 54.04secs, while for my eighth loop, I managed to maintain my speed by finishing it in 3hrs 31mins 20.86secs.

The Early Morning View Of The Lake!

At the start of my last loop, I knew I would complete the race even if I strolled through the entire way.  Since I had written down my expected finishing time of 29hrs 00mins with the winner judged based on the smallest margin between expected finishing time and actual finishing time, I knew I had to walk slowly if I were to win the contest.  And so I walked.  Enjoying the views for one last time.  At the Woody Aid Station, I thanked the volunteers there before making my way back to the start / finish point.  There, I asked if anyone could accompany me as pacer for the last small loop and Eleanore came forward without hesitation, despite her working through the night supporting the aid station.  From there, I occupied myself by talking to her.  It really make my last part of the journey most memorable.  Eventually, I completed my last loop in 4hrs 13mins 49.83secs for an overall finishing time of 28hrs 54mins 56.97secs, with just a 5mins difference from matching my predicted finishing time!

Eleanore & Me With The Pistol Ultramarathon Belt Buckle!

The Pistol Ultramarathon was truly a great race and a highly recommended one (less the part on running in loops).  Although there were only 2 aid stations, both were extremely well stocked, especially the Woody Aid Station!  It was known as the "Near-World Famous" aid station but to me, that's was a world class aid station.  It had hot soups, hot drinks, cola of different kinds, chips, food, fruits and a nice heater.  They also had chairs and blankets for runners who wish to keep warm while sitting next to the heater.  As for volunteers, all I could say was that they were exceptional.  While they welcomed you at their aid stations, they would also coax you out instead of allowing the runners spent too much time warming the seats.  Without their encouragement, I would have DNFed.  Without one of them giving up her sweater, I would have stopped.  And without Eleanore's pacing me for my last small loop, I would have missed the final cut-off.  It was indeed a perfect race and I was glad that I came back to nail the race this time round.  A big thanks to Will and his merry men!

Completing The Pistol 100 Miles Ultramarathon!

 The Official Timing Certificate!

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