Thursday, January 9, 2014

The Pistol 100 mile: Bottle-Rocket and the Deathly Hollows

In Harry Potter and the Deathly Hollows, Harry, Hermione and Ron have to flee and hide as they search for the last remaining tools, (horcruxes), needed to kill Voldemort. My Pistol 100 mile run was basically a reenactment of this Harry Potter novel... well, the boring part at least where Harry and Hermione bumble around for seemingly endless eons trying to figure out where the horcruxes can be found. JK Rowling, the author, really does a great job getting the readers to feel the boredom and stir-crazy-cabin-fever that Harry and Hermione must have experienced as they fumbled around endlessly in the middle of nowhere, knowing that an epic battle was awaiting them. 

Likewise, a hundred mile run is a waiting game amid an epic backdrop. Pure boredom is required for success to beat the Death Eaters, er...I mean... negative thinking, that can accompany a run of this length- a huge task. So Stephanie, (Hermione), Matt, (Ron), and I had our work cut out for us.   

I've often heard, "Hundreds are all mental." when people discuss the differences between a one hundred mile ultramarathon and every other distance. In some regards, this is true. A great 50 mile ultra marathon in the mountains requires pure physical brutality, muscle, strength, and toughness to run at the top. A mountain 50 can be raw and carnal. The mind must push the body to its threshold or breaking point, but the body's responsiveness is the limiter. 

A 100 mile ultramarathon is different. To run a beautifully crafted 100 in which one maximizes their potential, they must run with restraint, and mentally this is very challenging. The mind must deal with the most inconceivable concept of running non-stop for 100 miles. The body will inevitably falter, and the only thing that will get you through is mental strength. You won't want to run anymore at some point, but you must. 

Going into The Pistol 100 mi, not only was my body fatigued from a strong run at the Lookout Mountain 50 miler only three weeks prior, but I had managed to catch a nasty virus only a few days prior to The Pistol in my weakened state. Mentally I was beat down as well. I felt a cloud of negative energy, (argh...those damn Death Eaters again), and I swooned under the darkness. I knew I had to find a positive vibe somewhere in this sick, drained body and fatigued mind. (If I only had a wand). I had to be completely lost in the moment while running The Pistol 100 mi,or I was sure to buckle under the pressure of the distance as it weighed on my energy levels.

The first step to finding the light was calling in to work sick on Thursday before the race. My head was pounding and the day before I slept nearly 20 hours, my whole body aching. I knew I needed another day as I was under the weather and I'd been seeing record numbers of patients in my nursing job. I've never called in sick in my many years and this was a first, but it was warranted given my extreme lack of energy. 

Mentally I took the load off. I allowed rest and recovery mentally, as well as physical. I decompressed which is the heart of success for me at the 100 distance. The first step of many steps en route to another 100 mile buckle. 

Thursday afternoon, a talk with my pacer, local runner stud Matt Hoyes was another step in the right direction. Seeing his enthusiasm to not only race the 50K distance, but then come back to pace me got me stoked. Mentally I began to free myself from my surroundings and focus solely on the run ahead, tunnel vision with a buckle at the end of the light. 

I ran the race cautiously in the opening miles. Ice formed on my beard in the sub twenty degree temps and I reeled in my pace without much desire to go any faster. I ran the first two of nine laps with longtime friend Brian Pickett who was also looking to stay strong mentally throughout the day. Brian constantly edged his way about three steps ahead of me. I was disciplined to not follow suit, and warned him it was a long day and to take it easy in the opening laps. He would then come back shoulder to shoulder as we laughed about his desire to pick up the pace. Brian is crazy strong and smart pacing would pay off in the end.  

My splits the first several laps were dead even. I was running like clockwork, and my splits were right where I wanted them. I wasn't focused on a goal time, I was solely focused on the moment, and maintaining a constant pace throughout the day until lap nine of nine was complete.

It was entertaining watching the 50K unfold at marathon speeds as we slogged along at a snail-like 100 mile pace. Matt looked strong as ever, fresh off a 2:39 road marathon and yet another win at Otter Creek trail marathon. I couldn't fathom racing a 50K that day...especially at Matt's pace. He finished in just over've got to be kidding me. Beast- scoring another podium.

Midway through lap 3 around the 25 mile mark Brian finally left me and gained a gap which would lengthen all day. I stayed content plugging along at what I could manage and kept my splits consistent. I wasn't there to race. I was there to get a buckle and finish a 100. (and Maybe kill Voldemort in the process...) 

I ran the race in thirds. After the completion of the third lap, I only envisioned the second third, and vowed to not walk or take a break until the completion of the sixth lap, at mile 66.6. Ironically, hell must have frozen over as it got very cold again at this point.

Adding to the challenge mentally is that the race has multiple distances...runners can "drop" down and quit and still be awarded their 50K or 100K finish given they complete that distance. In the Harry Potter analogy I guess this is like when Harry has the chance to just be evil, and opts for honor knowing what in the end is right and just. He follows his true calling and duty, what he set out to do, and forges on through increasing odds and challenges.

Stephanie, (Hermione), was flawless in her crewing and contributed to my successful pacing and continuous energy. The lap format made it easy to ensure I ate the same thing throughout the day. I forced nutrition every twenty to thirty minutes like clockwork. Fuel of choice was gels mostly and occasional Clif Bloks, with caffeinated gels thrown in the last half of the race. I knew in my physical condition that failing to eat would be my death, and so regardless of nausea, I ate on schedule.

Starting at lap 5, I thought I'd hold off on picking up the iPod but Stephanie handed it off to me and DAMN. It blew my mind... hearing music was like that scene in The Wizard of Oz where the world turns to color from black and white. I immediately vowed to myself that I would stray strong and after completion of the second third I would run though lap 7 before potentially taking a break for several minutes... ah, constant mental games to continue. Starting at lap 8 was when my pacer would pick me up, so it was a logical choice.

Mentally there were some ups and downs, but I stayed on task and didn't walk. I just zoned out for the lows and ignored my thoughts, and I rode the highs for all they were worth when they presented themselves. My splits grew longer each lap but I was golden as long as I continued to run at any pace, and NOT walk.

I kept hitting the reset button on lap 7 by telling myself, "OK- this is last lap, and then all I have is a 22 mile run with Hoyes." I can't remember how many times this popped in my head, but it sounded so great, to think that all I had left was a 22.2 mile run with Matt. I wasn't racing, I was just going out for a stroll with my buddy. (It just happened to be at the end of an 80 mile run...)

Matt picked me up a little early as my pace had dwindled a little more, and so he got in a few extra miles. (Yeah, after racing a I said, BEAST) I was surprised how much time we spent chatting. (Yes...once again, just like Harry Potter when Ron shows up at the lake to save Harry...heh heh heh) 

Mentally I was still somewhat coherent and wasn't completely in shambles...Matt was pretty awesome throughout the day, calling and checking on Stephanie to see if she needed anything while crewing, even though he had already run his own race and still had to pace my slow ass through the dark and cold.

I whined a little and grunted and groaned through the closing miles but I never stopped and only sat for a few seconds to put on some tights once it got cold... You know I have to be going slow to rock some tights...I ALWAYS wear shorts. The final lap I picked up some energy and began talking more to Matt, enjoying the experience along the way. 

I crossed the line in just over 18 hours. I was told by the RD I was 4th overall, but I'm pretty sure I finished in 5th overall. I was far from my PR of 15:27 which happened on a harder course, but The Pistol was just about finishing on that given day. I felt it was a victory. The timing screw-ups still haven't been fixed. My official time as of now is 17:41. (but I was 18:06)

I've always been horribly bored in hundreds and prefer the explosive physical brutality of a fifty mile mountain ultra comparatively. The challenge of the boredom which accompanies a hundred has beat me in the past, and I'm determined to rise to the challenge and become stronger at the one hundred mile distance. This run at The Pistol was a step in the right direction. 

Saxx Compression Briefs
Pearl Izumi Fly Shorts
Mountain Hardware Wicked T Shirt
Patagonia Zip Neck 
Mountain Hardware Cohesion Jacket
Salomon Ear Warmer
Smith Optics
Pearl Izumi Road N2 with Superfeet Insoles
Swiftwick Socks

Petzl NAO light / Black Diamond Sprinter
Mountain Hardware Gloves (Powerstretch)




  1. I love the Harry Potter comparisons!

  2. Good report, Troy. Great to hear that things went well for you. Sorry for the finish line timing info snafu. Running 4 concurrent races was a first for the timing company and it took them a bit to get it all sorted out correctly. But they got it. Thanks for your understanding. Congrats on a great finish!