Whipping the Pistol: Ultra-marathon participants pound through Blount and back
By Marcus Fitzsimmons | (firstname.lastname@example.org)
It doesn’t happen to everyone who tries it.
Some people can run a 5K and be satisfied with no lingering compulsion. For others, that first run is merely the gateway race to a much longer and darker path. Dark because night tends to fall and sometimes pass back into day before that run is over, and long because 100 miles is a commitment when driving much less when traveling via foot.
And that’s exactly the endeavor that a group of ultra-runners was pacing out Saturday in the first Pistol Ultra. Coming from nine states — some as far as Texas — runners spent anywhere from a work-day-long trek covering 50 kilometers to a run that is finishing later today for some of the first-time 100-milers as they cover the Maryville-Alcoa Greenway from one end to the other and back along the banks of Pistol Creek six times.
David Snipes came from Mechanicsville, Pa., for his 44th 100-miler as he closes in on completing 250 ultra races.
“I was a road runner for a few years, and then I got bored. I’d run a 5K and be done in like 20 minutes and say, ‘What’s next?’” Snipes told The Daily Times while arranging his gear and supplies in the Saturday morning dark by the start line at the Greenway Pavilion. “Then I did my first trail run and got my butt kicked. I ran it like a road race, and it’s not the same thing. I dropped out of marathon one year, went back and finished it the second year and a month later did my first 50K race — the Swinging Bridge in Cumberland, Va. I did more road races, and I wanted to do more and started doing more ultras.”
It’s a similar story told by the other ultra runners, who got into running with a 5K and now run more in one day than most people do in a year.
Ken and Shirley Sirios made the drive over from nearby Clinton to participate in the 50K — almost the same distance it would take the couple to run back to their home in Anderson County.
“Neither one of us ran when we met, we started in our 30s and we started by running short distances, then got into marathons and some ultra-marthons, but mostly we do marathons,” Ken Sirios said. “It became a social thing. We met people and got into a group that was doing a marathon in each of the 50 states, and it just grew from there. We have about five states left on our second tour through the 50. We finished all 50 the first time about seven years ago.”
The common denominator for many of Saturday’s participants was knowing Pistol Ultra race director Will Jorgensen. Ultra-marathons are becoming more common across the country and participants more plentiful, but it was Jorgenson who organized the small event that grew a bit bigger than expected after his wife, Gail, unveiled the events prizes online.
“We’ve had a lot of interest expressed,” Will Jorgensen said. “We have a beautiful place, the Maryville area and the surrounding areas.”
Runners that finish the 50K are awarded a custom engraved pendant featuring dueling pistols. The 100K runners are awarded a custom engraved miniature pistol, concealing a 8GB flash drive, while those that finish the 100 miles receive a belt buckle engraved with a spinning-chamber pistol and four bullets.
“I told him we were going to do a buckle, and as soon as the picture of it went up, we got more interest from all over in participating,” Gail Jorgenson, who was managing registration, prizes, food and anything else that seemed to be taking place as the picnic shelter transformed into race central Saturday morning.
While Snipes at first says he came because of his friendship with Jorgenson, he laughs and provides a peak at some of the mentality of this niche clique in the larger running community.
“I’ve known Will for six, seven years now, but I liked the buckle. Honestly, it’s all about the bling,” the 100-miler said, before passing on the legend prevalent among the century club on the origins of the belt buckle awards. “That’s the standard finisher’s award for a 100-mile race. There are some races where you get a silver buckle if you finish and a gold if you break the 24-hour barrier. Most it’s just a finisher’s award because it started out as a horse race. It was a horse race in California, where they raced 100 miles for a buckle, and when one guy’s horse came up lame 30 years ago, he finished it on foot, in less than 24 hours. Then it became a 100-mile running event.”
As the field began to gather, many exchanged greetings with friends, some gathered for group photos, and there was plenty of good-natured chatter as runners marked down their hopes for finish times. The runners’ briefing included the call out to find the runner with the most 100s completed — Snipes — and let everyone know the six participants with a red star on their bib were making their first stab at the Century Club.
“It’s a different mentality with ultras and trail running than road running. It’s different people; we help each other. We’re not so worried about stop watch and pace like some road runners are. It’s more finishing,” Snipes explained, then let his grin grow as he continued. “I’m not out to set speed records. If somebody finishes before me, who cares? Do I get chicked? All the time. In fact, if I don’t get chicked, it probably means there are no girls running, so there are no girls to pass me.”
Almost half the field is running the 100-mile route, and the aim is to finish in under 24 hours but must be done by the Pistol’s 30-hour time limit, which means some could still be crossing Lamer Alexander Parkway for the final time this morning to reach the finish line. Ken and Shirley Sirios planned to be long finished by that time on the 50K course — a distance they prefer.
“My longest race is a 50-miler, but usually we do 50K ultras,” Ken Sirios said just before the runners’ call to the start line, his words almost visible as steam in the cold air of Saturday morning. “The 100-milers aren’t for me. I don’t like running through the night. I like marathons and 50Ks — the shorter distances.”
Daily Times sports writer Grant Ramey contributed to this report.