I recently toed the line to run my first ever ultramarathon. For those of you who follow me on social media you probably know by now that I ultimately finished the race, too! While the euphoria of running The Pistol is definitely not wearing off any time soon, I'm about to dive into training for my second marathon, so I wanted to get this race recap up and going before I get too deep into training. This week's Sunday Runday post will be all about The Pistol Ultra Weekend - the best way I've ever rung in a New Year!
This entire weekend basically started off for me on Friday afternoon. I hadn't run this race and actually had never been to the location of the race before, so I headed out to the "almost mandatory" pre race meeting to pick up my swag bag and bib. Lazarus Lake, the founder of the Barkley Marathons, happened to be the keynote speaker of this mini expo and was doing a clinic while I was there, so it was pretty quiet when I was in to get my bib as you can imagine. This race offers four distances - a 50K, 100K, 50-miler, and 100-miler. When I was inside there were tons of people in line to pick up for the 50K and tons of people for the 100-miler. I guess those are the most popular distances for this race! I was through the line pretty quick and was ushered through by helpful volunteers to pick out all my race swag - a nice water bottle from Orange Mud, some Zen Evo chocolate, and two shirts - a cotton Tee and a hoodie! While you're in line getting your freebies, you also get your chance to attempt to win the markmanship award - given to the runner who guesses their actual finish time as close as they can. While I ended up doing pretty well (was off by about 4:29) the winner actually was only off by FOUR SECONDS!
So Saturday morning is race day! I was glad I went to the venue beforehand because the 50K parking is actually not in the same place as the rest of the event - it's further down the road. Since we had to leave the house at 5:30 a.m. I was grateful we weren't trying to find parking in the dark! Prerace they offered bagels and cream cheese with fruit for the runners, so I had a half bagel and a half banana while trying to calm my nerves. I also chewed a good handful of dark chocolate espresso beans thanks to my boss, Vesna! Just after the sun came up, Will, the race director, ushered runners outside for the national anthem. The 50K runners got into the chute first to take off, while the 100K and 100-milers were paced behind us a few minutes. Almost immediately, I could tell this race was going to be different. While in the chute I socalized with many people who were doing an ultra for the first time. Some of them stood casually, drinking coffee, saying their only goal was to finish. With a 30-hour cut-off, this race is more than just walker friendly - it's nap friendly! When the starting gun went off you could tell many people were just out to enjoy themselves and take it easy. It was so much different than going to a race where there is elbowing and vying for space on the course!
I really enjoyed that this race started off by going downhill. I took it easy at a gentle pace and the pack thinned out pretty quickly. This race runs loops of approximately 10 miles on the Maryville-Alcoa Greenway system, so once we left Alcoa High School we headed down and ran the Greenway following Pistol Creek the whole way (you were probably wondering where that cool name came from, weren't you?). About 4 miles in a photographer was grabbing photos of runners jumping. My photo is ridiculous. I apparently really need to work on those jump skills next year! About 5 miles in was the first time I passed the famous Woody's Aid Station, which is basically a trail magic stop on steroids. We ran a little loop in downtown Maryville before making our way back past Woody's and back to Alcoa High School. I was feeling surprisingly good and enjoying the rolling small hills on the Greenway. I had planned to change my shoes at the 10-mile mark, but since I was feeling alright I called NoKey on my way back to the high school and told him just to meet me with The Stick so I could roll out my legs to keep them loose. I knew I was running a little faster than I would have liked, but I was still feeling good and vowed to not take a break until the half marathon mark. I gave him my gloves and Buff, refilled my Tailwind, and kept on running.
I knew I'd need to slow down through this second lap and that it would also be inevitable I'd slow down. I gave myself the mental mile marker of 13.1 before I would take a walk break. Now, one thing that I absolutely hate is walking during a race. I knew with an ultra taking walk breaks were going to be something I just DID, but telling myself it was okay was another thing altogether! When I hit the half marathon mark I took a walk break for a little under a half a mile. Those teeny, tiny greenway hills were starting to feel a little bit bigger now anyway and conserving energy for a strong finish was my goal. By the time I got running again I realized my stomach was ANGRY and wanted food! When I got to Woody's again I gave myself the goal of running back to it before stopping again. I grabbed myself a piece of homemade banana bread and a few homemade trail mix bars and ran while I ate. This simple act got me lots of cheers from spectators and runners alike - telling me they liked my style. I told them it wasn't my first time stuffing my face and running! It's like I trained for this moment during most of my thru hikes! I intermittently stopped to walk every mile or so, power walking or slow jogging in between picking my pace back up. By mile 19 I had called NoKey to come out and meet me with The Stick, some new socks, and new shoes. The hill heading up to the high school seemed enormous now and many were speed walking the hills to conserve energy. I plopped on the ground and changed my socks and shoes before rolling out my quads and taking off again.
For my final lap I didn't hear the "what the hell am I doing out here?!" voice I normally hear this late into a race. I was oddly calm and at ease, almost like I knew I was going to finish and wasn't bothered at how slow I was moving. One thing I did take advantage of on this lap were the benches! I would stop at a bench to sit and stretch my IT bands or I would use it as a prop to do lunges without worrying about not being able to get back up. Every mile or so I stretched quickly to keep my muscles happy. On this lap the sun began to disappear and every once in a while it would sprinkle lightly. Despite the cold and sprinkles, there were still lots of spectators out cheering and having fun. It was definitely a morale booster! By the time I hit mile 25 I was getting tired, but still didn't feel myself giving up hope. Although, I did have the thought that if I were running a marathon I'd be almost finished by now! I passed Woody's the final time and stocked back up on that delicious banana bread and trail mix bars. A volunteer filled my water and Tailwind while another asked if I'd like something hot to drink since the wind had picked up and temperatures were dropping. I passed on the hot drink and continued to stuff my face while running away. While I was in the process of alternating slow jog/slow run I saw lots of other runners doing the same, people cheering us when we picked back up the pace and us doing it for others in return. It was an amazingly supportive running community. I called NoKey on my way up that hill (which now felt like a mountain) back to the high school before finishing my final mile. Now I was suddenly feeling reenergized and ready to tackle that big finish!
After running the final out-and-back mile, I was super disappointed when I ran through the finisher's chute that they were having technical problems. When you grab your bib at the expo they denote your first ever ultra and they told me the announcer would cheer you on at the finish. Due to a glitch, they said I was some guy from Kingsport, TN. I let out a loud cheer anyway and finished happily in 5:50:36. (and that was with approximately 15 minutes of stopped time according to my Garmin!) I was quickly ushered inside by a volunteer and, while I was waiting for my official results due to said glitch, another volunteer grabbed me a bottle of water. Once the results finally printed out, I discovered I was 20th overall female and 52nd out of 201 runners. Not bad considering my lack of actual training! They ushered me off to get my medal, take my finisher photo, and then hand me my finisher visor and T-shirt. I chugged chocolate milk and ate a banana before heading over to the Quest Therapy tent to have my quads stretched my the pros. I was definitely thankful they were there helping us all out!
I was overall so happy with my experience at The Pistol and I would definitely recommend this race to any runner wanting to try their first attempt at ultra running! I'll definitely be back next year and, provided I get the time to actually train, am even considering jumping up another level to a different distance. If all of this wasn't enough to convince you to try an ultra, check out my review over on Bibrave.
What's the toughest thing you've ever attempted? How did you feel when you finished? Did it make you push the envelope to try more difficult things?