Written by Traviss Willcox - http://www.traviss.co.uk
Pistol 100 done! Buckle #14 earned... really very pleased with a 21:16 time, although not a PB was probably my most competent 100 mile run. Was an eye wateringly chilly start at -8C which caused a bit of a problem with my water bottle freezing up! Not to mention frozen everything, took maybe 6 or 8 miles to even begin warming up, feet felt like blocks of ice which made running oddly tricky! But the legs were semi-good and my usual strategy of running as fast as I could for as long as I could saw me through the first 3 loops (was 9 x 11.1 miles of undulating bike paths mainly) with no worries until the stomach issues hit me from about 25 to 35 miles, though marathon distance in about 4 hours, 50k in 5 hours and then 50 miles in 9 hours.
Now this normally is when things start to go awry, the lights go out, the demons come out to play and I manage to take 5 hours longer than I should to get home. Not this time! First up out comes the new ipod shuffle loaded up with a bunch of hardstyle songs to keep me ticking over and second up, I got a move on! I rolled around to 75 miles or so OK and then as luck would have it teamed with a chap called Will doing his first 100 and although a lap behind we spent the next 25 miles jogging, walking, waffling and playing, lets run to x, y or z which was really very effective and was only maybe mile 96 or 97 when the legs just totally gave up, and whilst sub 21 would have been nice, I'll take what I got, not least as my estimated finish time (there was a prize for the closest guess) was 23:40!
So this was the race that had decided this whole trip for me and whilst looped 100s really aren't my ideal cup of tea the two I have done on this trip I think have certainly swayed me in to liking them more than I used to!
It was a bit of a hike up from Houston to Knoxville with a couple of decent drives but all on good roads so all very straightforward, just dull and time consuming and the first surprise I had was to find that Eastern Tennessee is on a different time zone! So it was an hour ahead of what I thought it was. Luckily I was at the hotel a little bit early and made it down to the race briefing in time. Though must confess I could easily have missed it as seemed to go on for quite a while and told me nothing I didn't already know. On the plus side, I did at least scope out he optimum spot for the car to use as a "giant drop bag". The bad news was that whilst I was sitting there watching such essential race briefing things like "who could do the pistol squat the most" I got one hell of a headache and by the time I'd grabbed a couple of cookies from the pre-race dinner I was feeling really pretty sick, to the point I didn't even feel well enough to do my pre-race toe taping and was in bed before 8pm! On the plus side I got some decent sleep in and felt far better in the morning.
I opted for the "taping big toes" - diminish with all toes intact with the addition of compeed over the big toe blister from last week. I didn't tape my little toes as much anything as I feared when I took the tape off afterwards it would probably take half of my toe with it, the right one is a disaster at the moment!
I was there about 0630 for the 0800 start and grabbed the pole parking spot at the end of the race "shoot" - the route actually goes through the car park so there were a number of good spots, in fact I need not have got there so early as were maybe 30 places I could have got an equally good spot but wasn't 100% sure of the exact route and experience tells me that 10 yards makes a difference at 3am in the middle of the night at mile 80!
The weather forecast was for cold. -8C or -9C at the start, getting up to 6 or 7C during the day before getting back down to just under freezing for the night. On the plus side could have been far worse, the temperature for tomorrow is -16C at night with a high of -6C! But due to be bright all the time and with little wind, can't really complain at all at that.
The course was 9 laps of 11.1 miles on mainly wide tarmac bike paths, a park at each end with a "lolli pop loop at each end and the two aid stations "main" and "Woodys" at the base of each lollipop so that each lap you'd pass 4 aid stations. These were incredibly good, well stocked and the folk just couldn't do enough for you, I never filled up my bottle once, grabbed off me, filled and returned in flash!
I actually survived this 100 on the "Essential Cs" of running, cookies (fantastic huge cookies, one each lap), chocolate milk (one each lap consumed on the "main lollipop", crisps, coke and caffeine. In fact the aid stations were so good I barely touched my own supplies at all, one small packed of peanut butter M&Ms were all I had I think it was.
But am getting ahead of myself here, there were three events, 50k, 100k and 100m, all starting together and you were able to drop down or step up distance if you were so inclined and helpfully you could tell what event people were doing by both the number sequence and it was also printed on the bib. Thus I didn't try to keep up with the 50k guys at the start (not that I could had I tried mind you!)
I'd opted for a thick Nike Combat Pro base layer, a long sleeve shirt and my "Boston" mid weight jacket for the start, wasn't quite cold enough to abandon shorts mind you and as a nice touch they handed out "hand warmers" which I'd never used and were pretty useful at keeping the hands warm.
At 0800 we were off, and it was COLD! The worse thing actually was how cold my toes felt, to the point I almost stopped to check the taping as is felt like it had all fallen off it felt so odd, (it was fine) but took maybe 6 or 7 miles for my feet to warm up by which at that time my bottle had frozen! Any drips had iced up and the nozzle was just a lump of ice! My legs though (aside from being very cold!) felt fairly decent and soon settled in to a 8:15 type pace, pushing as hard as they wanted to go without going mad and I let the speed goats vanish (there were a couple of very quick 50k guys there)
The main out and back was sort of wavey through woodland and there were lots of little ups and downs which were to prove really useful as they always gave an incentive to run down them no matter how tired you were and whilst there were several short sharp little ascents, we're talking 20 yards short and sharp, so really no big deal.
Music on loud, head down and just settled in to it really, the field soon spread out and was nice to see folk going the other way for a wave, nod or word of encouragement. (Incidentally we were told at two (very quiet) road crossings not to wave, there was local ordinance banning it to make sure there were no misunderstandings!! Only in America...)
I went through the half marathon in about 1:55 and marathon in 4:05 or so, I was quite surprised myself to be honest how well I was going after the hard 100 the weekend before and a midweek marathon and whilst it all felt an effort, I was pleased that whenever I glanced at my garmin I was going at a reasonable pace.
I quickly decided that with 36 potential aid station stops that some discipline would be need here. The "Woodys" loop was really pretty short so I made a point of not stopping on the way out and just stopping on the way back, generally just for a cup of coke and a few crisps. At the "main" aid station I'd generally have a cup of coke, leave my bottle there, grab a bottle of the chocolate milk stuff for the mile and a half loop or so and then pick up a giant cookie and my bottle on the way back.
Trouble started on the third loop as my stomach decided to start misbehaving and a decent toilet break was followed by an even longer one on the next loop around. But still went through 50k not much over 5 hours, 40 miles under 7 hours and then 50 miles in about 9, maybe as much as an hour ahead of what I had hoped for.
At the race briefing there was a "marksmanship award" closest time to your prediction won an award and I'd gone for 23:40 which at this point I would have been disappointed with! The weather had warmed up in the afternoon somewhat, although I never actually bothered to take my jacket off or change shirts. As much as anything as I only had the one thick base layer with me so knew I'd need that in the night anyway. After 5 laps I took the cap off and at 6 the night gear went on, my "base layer hoodie" thick jacket and then gloves, annoyingly I must have dropped on of the thin ones!
I'd also invested in another ipod shuffle and had loaded this up with some thumping hardstyle/Manic Street Preachers stuff. And five loops down the other battery died and I was at Comrades distance in about 10 hours, 4 loops to go as the night came in and the temperature dropped.
This is when things usually fall apart for me but made a big effort to maintain pace, running was very intermittent now, but walking was always at forced march pace and with all the little undulations there was still lots of running involved, and at respectable enough pace for that stage of the game. Now all too often by the 60s/70s I'm just walking and the time goes up, but I made a conscious effort to run for as long as I could (and was maybe as late as mile 97 when the legs just about finally gave up the ghost).
As the night deepened (the path was decently lit and although I had my headtorch on as there were a couple of dark spots but it wasn't 100% needed) it got colder and colder and fortunately there was very little breeze but you could see folk get more and more wrapped up, some girls looked like snowmen with big thick coats etc on!
Towards the end of loop 7 I fell in with a chap called Will McCormick, from Nashville, who was doing his first 100 and a lap behind me and we fell to chatting and running/walking etc for a while and very quickly figured out that we were going along at the same kind of pace and agreed to do the next loop together as I found him an a very useful foil for the "lets run", "down the hill", "lets run to that lamp post" type game and kept me focused on maintaining pace (he was looking for sub 24) and also very pleasantly distracting from the coldness, tiredness and fatigue that was setting in.
Lap 8 went surprisingly quickly, new glove heaters helped no end and although sub 21:00 was drifting away we made very decent progress and then all of a sudden it was just the one lap for me to go. This was a struggle I must say, the running was getting less and less and we were both cold and tired, but we continued to make good progress until about mile 96-97 when I got an attack of the "tiredness" bug, but a "5 hour energy" vial, snapped me out of that and we, for the first time, really just plodded along. Did make several efforts to force the pace, both for myself to improve my time and for Will to give him the maximum amount of time to try to get to sub 24 on his final lap (Will finished in 24:16 in the end), but they didn't last for long and soon petered out into forced march..
Final plod up the mountain that the hill to the last aid station had become and I was done! Rather anti-climatically there was nobody there! The RD had been to go check on someone who was having some worries but eventually I got my lovely buckle (which comes with a display stand) and I hobbled back to the car, very pleased with my 21:16 effort!
I think for the first time I actually had a semi-decent night section, a 9hr/12hr split for a 100 is about right, and although the course was tougher than Houston in some ways it was quicker because of the undulations. When things are flat its hard to find a "trigger" to run when you're tired and worn out, if you've got a slope to run down, no matter how short or shallow, then off you go, and it takes very little running to make an 18 minute mile plod in to a 14:30 "that's not bad for mile 87" mile kind of thing.
My feet finished in remarkably good shape, I wore my other pair of Stinson Hokas and although the big toe on my right foot often felt a bit sore and "not right" - it only appears to have leaked a bit from the damage from last week and other than that, blister free and even the toe swelling which is quite usual for me seems less than usual. Best shape after any 100 I think. In fact overall, although not a PB run, I think my most competent 100 mile finish to date.
Certainly wouldn't mind coming back and having a go at this one again on better legs. Even if only for the cookies!
Things I Learnt
- I can have a decent night section of a 100
- A second iPod shuffle loaded up with load, fast paced music is useful for when the night comes in
- Company at night helps no end.
- Back to back 100s with a marathon wedged in the middle are possible.
- On straight forward 100 mile courses I can do 21 hours, and should be able to do sub 20 at least on better rest.