Pistol Ultra 50M - Alcoa, Tennessee

Elevation Range: 720'-843' .........1000' elevation gain

March 16, 2019 - It was a perfect day to run long - full sunshine, cool temps, and finally - no rain. I traveled south to enjoy a bit of springtime in Tennessee, with aims to complete the one-hundred mile event, but opted for discretion over valor after fifty miles, satisfied with the progress of my healed injuries and conditioning. The race organizers allowed for dropping down in distance, so I took them up on it so as to at least walk away with a finish, ending a long spell of dnf's since my catastrophic injury last August.

This was a lovely urban course, following essentially a paved greenway along Pistol Creek in the suburb of Alcoa, just south of the Knowville airport. The photo below reflects the beauty of the place - with lots of wooden bridges and railings, fountains, viaducts, tunnels, grandmothers walking their dogs, and the first green leaves and wild violets I've enjoyed since last year. The eight-foot-wide trail was an out-and-back ten-mile round with the start and finish at the community's high school. It was quite an affair with hundreds of participants enjoying multiple distances over the weekend. Very, very well-coordinated event.

Temps at a very reasonable start time of 0800 were right at 38 degrees in full sun, just perfect for running. Through the day things warmed to 50 degrees without the hint of a cloud. I started easy. Running 12-minute miles on the level is very comfortable at this stage of my comeback, so I had no discomfort holding that. After the first lap I was a bit faster than I was aiming for at 1H 51M, yet running relaxed. I was focused on the task at hand and avoiding the social chatter that accompanies the early stages of these events.

The second lap saw me go even a bit faster, hitting 20 miles in 3H 37M. While still very much relaxed, eating and drinking according to plan, I purposefully slowed my gait on lap three to hit 30 miles in 5H 47M. My legs were still fresh and my injured heel showed no sign of pain. The level, predictable path seemed just what I'd hoped it would be - easy on my injury. The trail undulated with some mild risers and a couple of steep, but short climbs, all of which I ran through to vary the use of the muscle groups in my legs. I came to run, not walk.

At around mile 35 the tendons of my heel began to separate, leading me to take a break from running multiple times by stopping to chat with people. The breaks helped, but the heel became aggrevated and I could feel it inflaming. I sat down on a couple of park benches and looked after a couple runners in difficulty, abandoning racing in favor of nursing my injury - just to see if I could counter the inflammation and continue. I could easily have stopped after 40 miles, but I took up conversation at the start of the fifth lap with the colorful Catra Corbett, a very accomplished veteran of the sport, talking about friends we shared in common and challenges ahead. That distracted me long enough that I went on to finish the fifth lap in about two-and-a-half hours to reach the end of my day in 11H and 30M. So I collected my finishers cap and drove home.

It was a telling day, to say the least. My legs were good throughout, and not sore after. My heel is none the worse after some rest and feels like it is progressing. I try to keep reminding myself that it took four years to completely heal my Achilles injury; this latest severe injury has only been with me for six months. I had the fluids, gels, and aminos nailed, but I still need to work on eating solid foods during these diurnal challenges. Will resume my training schedule this week, returning to the trails I've avoided all winter, and will experiment with different solid foods in the next four training sessions before my next challenge in three weeks.