The ultramarathon. Not many people know what one is. In fact, very few people tend to even know the distance of a marathon. When people ask me what an ultramarathon is, I let them know it's any distance longer than a marathon, anywhere from about 30-100 miles (sometimes even up in the 200's these days!) Now that I'm no longer running for hours at a time most of the week and my body is starting to feel more like it should, I am able to reflect on what it's like to complete 100 miles in less than a day and a half.
The mini expo for this race is always the day before the race and I rode out there with some friends of mine to pick up our bibs and our swag. The swag this year was great - a running duffel bag with a separate shoe compartment (which holds 2 pairs of my smaller shoes!), one of those towel/seat cover things that you can use to keep your car clean during a smelly run, a free pair of Injinji socks for the 100K and 100 milers, and then a "choose your own swag" table where you could get stickers, koozies, chocolate, chapstick, etc. There was an option to buy a hoodie, tech shirt, and then, of course, they had the Pistol Store where you could buy other various merch - pint glasses, stickers, shirts leftover from previous years, etc. Another fun option was the gear swap table, where you could leave and take things as you pleased. I got a really awesome Pearl Izumi cycling shirt.
Morning of -
I was planning to wake up at 5 a.m. to have time to get ready and get picked up by my friends so I went to bed early the night before. Unfortunately, I woke up at 4 a.m. and couldn't go back to sleep. Since I was about to be awake until easily 2-3 p.m. the NEXT DAY I wasn't super happy about this. I got picked up at 5:45 and we got to the race before 7 a.m. Since this race allows you to crew out of your vehicle, we wanted to get there early enough for a good parking spot minimal distance from the actual course. Panera Bread supplied free bagels to the runners so I was able to eat before the race. Obviously, we took some photos before the start! The 50K runners start 5 minutes before the 100K and 100 mile runners just to thin out the crowds a bit. The 50K runners take off and we line up at the start. Before I know it, months of training are now about to start working for me!
Miles 0-30 -
The first 50K of this race was great. I ran the 50K distance last year and it didn't feel too difficult. I ran with two other friends for most of these miles and we chatted and kept attempting to slow our pace as to keep our legs fresh. When you're used to running a certain speed and you're slowing yourself down by nearly 2 minutes per mile it can be really hard to keep yourself in check. Other than our first 10 mile lap, we began walking all the inclines as well. Saving energy is so important when you know you have 24 more hours on your feet! The morning started off gray and misty, but the sun shone brightly throughout the afternoon and during the third lap of my race the heat started to beat me up. Thankfully, the aid stations had popsicles and ice, so that was extremely helpful!
Miles 30-60 -
The friend I came to the race with was battling nausea all morning due to the heat. Several times I went on ahead to let him try to rest up. By the end of lap 4 though, he was feeling rough. I changed my shoes at the end of this lap and headed back out, trying to keep his mind off his stomach. On lap 5 is when the weather started to turn. It was around dinner time for most folks when the winds started to shift and the air had that thunderstorm smell. By the end of lap 5, we were dealing with heavy rain, thunder, and lightning. In fact, lightning struck the sidewalk at the school near the start line when we were only about a quarter mile away! It was at this time my friend's stomach really was beating him up and he decided to take a break, so I went on alone. Lap 6 was slower for me, but I was walking at a really great pace in the 16-minute mile range. Of course, the darkness was starting to set in and the 50 milers, who started at 8 p.m. (at the 12-hour mark) were now out on the course. Now, the 50 milers start this late to give the 100-mile runners someone else to see out there in the dark. For me, this was so incredibly defeating. These runners with their fresh legs were powering past me while I was feeling sore and tired from the hot day followed by the nasty storm. I came in to mile 60 and I was definitely not in the best head space.
Miles 60-70 -
These 10 miles get a paragraph all their own. This is where I fell apart. Since the rain had definitely stopped and the course dried out, I decided to put on my thicker-soled shoes for the padding. When I went to change shoes, I didn't have the socks I thought I packed for these laps and I had a mini meltdown. Then, when I went to put the shoes on, my feet had swollen so much that they physically hurt to walk in. As I passed through the start line to head out for lap 7 I had a text from my two friends asking where I was. I answered I was crying and changing my shoes. They told me to cry it out and get moving. Progress was slow to the aid station 2.5ish miles away. When I saw my friends there they had decided to stop at 100K (they were half a lap behind me), but they were going to help me finish. I broke down ugly crying and they told me exactly what I needed to do to finish before the cutoff. I cried a little more and they pushed me out of the aid station. The next 4 miles were the most painful thing I've ever done and I was barely walking 2 mph at this point. I was crying. I've never felt that much pain. At Woody's aid station, about 4.5 miles from the start point, I had been on this lap for 2 full hours (when it usually only takes me 3 to walk the full 10) and I cried some more. The volunteers asked me what hurt and when I told them they let me know that it was COMPLETELY NORMAL at this point in the race to feel this way. They talked me down and told me, again, how to get through the laps. I walked another mile before sitting down on a curb because I couldn't take another step. At this point, I knew NoKey was coming in about an hour, but I was going to quit. The best 'trail angel' I ever met comes into my race at this point. Rebecca, the volunteer course monitor, asked me if she should call the RD so I could quit. I cried and asked her to help me off the ground, which she did. She walked with me back to the aid station 2.5 miles from the start line. We talked the whole way, and when she left me at the aid station she triple-checked with me that NoKey was coming. I gave her his description and told her he was headed my way when he got here. The folks at the aid station fed me ibuprofen, two go-gurts, and offered to let me warm up. After sitting for 10 minutes or so, I stumbled away. I later learned the volunteers were super worried and thought they shouldn't have let me walk. NoKey met me about 1.25 miles from the start line and walked me up the hill. By then, my ibuprofen had kicked in and I was ready to head out for another lap.
Miles 70-90 -
With the worst behind me, my friend who wasn't feeling well came out and walked with me for about 10 minutes. He reiterated I should keep going, gave me a strategy, and told me I could do it. I hugged him and NoKey and told NoKey to come find me in 3 hours. I did miles 70-80 in 2 hours and 50 minutes, and I even managed to shuffle-run a little. When I got back to the aid station, the volunteer who basically thought I died was shocked. "HOLY HELL!" He said when he saw me booking through. Everyone was super excited and it gave me renewed energy. When I was getting ready to head back out for miles 80-90 I had slowed down a bit and I was at a mere crawl when it came to walking up the now monumental hills on the back half of the course. The sun came up during this time as well and now I was worried I'd run out of time. When I met up with NoKey again to walk up the hill to the start line, I told him to go in and get me a pacer for my final lap. He told me he'd do the whole lap with me, all 10 miles, despite being in his sandals. As I shuffled through the start line for the final time, the RD told me to keep moving and I'd be fine. The volunteers at the start all cheered for me and told me I could do it.
Miles 90-100 -
The final lap was super, SUPER emotional for me. I felt like I was hardly moving, but NoKey told me I was moving really well. In retrospect, I honestly was moving better than most everyone still out on the course at this point. It didn't feel like it at the time, that's for sure! When I was headed back in for my last 5 miles my swollen feet were throbbing and my quads were killing me, but NoKey never lets me stop moving. As we neared the aid station for the final time, the volunteers all congratulated me and the crying started again. The hill going up to the high school felt like it would never end. The final half mile, I was able to pick up my pace to a gentle run, and I rounded the corner to the finish line with arms raised, tears streaming, and legs that refused to quit. My final time was somewhere around 28:40:00 (I'm not sure right now, as the race results need to be verified still). My body and my mind were in total shock that the months of hard work finally could end.
Post Race -
I was ushered inside by a volunteer, and as I was making it inside I see Rebecca, my trail angel, who had come back to the race because she had forgotten her bag. I thanked her and hugged her, crying of course, letting her know how much she helped me in the middle of the night. I went inside to collect my belt buckle and finisher hat only to be told I was 2nd in my age group. I also got a coffee mug and a giant bag of chocolate! I took my finisher photo and the photographer had NoKey come take a photo with me since he was my "crew" for the final difficult miles. I grabbed some food and cried with some of the other participants as well. I threw on a pair of slippers for the ride home. I got home and showered and fell into bed for a well-deserved 5-hour nap.
The Days After -
My feet are so swollen they burn after I wake up on Monday. I've got busted blood vessels in my right foot and three of the biggest blisters I've ever seen (which I equate to the swelling more than anything else). I was fortunate enough to use a hot tub, get a chiropractor adjustment, and get a sports massage on Monday afternoon. Monday night I'm even able to walk my dog, albeit in a pair of flip flops since my feet can't fit into regular shoes. By Tuesday, I've got normal shoes on, the blisters are drying out, the swelling is nearly gone, and I'm able to spend about an hour at a time on my feet before getting worn out. Three days out, I'm doing even better. I'd say I'm only about as sore as I would be from running a really hard marathon or technical trail for around 15 miles.
The Race Itself -
For those wondering about The Pistol Ultra, I absolutely recommend this race despite all the pain I endured during it this year! This was my first ever ultra distance when I ran the 50K last year and I knew I wanted to use it again for my attempt to go 100 miles. The aid stations, volunteers, and general experience CANNOT be beaten. The fact that you really only need to carry a minimal amount of fluids and really no food because of the nature of the course and placement of the aid stations really takes a lot of stress out of the planning. This is an urban ultra, so it's on pavement the entire time. It's really tough on the body. There's grass right next to the pavement though, so you can get some relief when you need it. Because you're doing out-and-back "loops" on the greenway, you really get to know your other participants and there were so many people cheering for you every time you saw them. There was so much encouragement from the participants themselves, as well as the volunteers. If it hadn't been for the middle of the night Woody's crew and Rebecca on her bike I very well may not have finished this race. It's the support like this that makes the race what it is.
So, I'm only a few days out from Pistol and I can safely say I'm still not ready to say I'd ever do another 100-miler again. I am willing to take on the Double Barrel challenge next year (the 50K and 50-mile race for a total of 82 miles, with a few hours of break time in between). The 100-mile race really brought me to a whole other level of endurance I've never experienced before, even with doing multiple thru hikes! I'm already planning my return trip next year.
I want to take this opportunity to thank those who took the time to send me Instagram and Facebook messages, as well as text messages. Every time I checked my phone I had dozens of notifications (seriously, 25-40 every time!) and so many of you supported my journey. From corny jokes to ridiculous memes, you guys supported me so much from far away and I couldn't be happier to share my finish with you all.
Would you ever consider doing 100 miles at a time? Have you ever run an ultramarathon? What is the furthest distance you've traveled on foot in a day?