Monday, October 4, 2010

Grindstone 100

Start/finish line, picture courtesy of Bobby Gill
Most people don't celebrate their 23rd birthday with a 100-mile race.  I'm pretty sure that my finishing Grindstone was against all odds.  Of the 106 starters, only 72 finished, and only 6 of us were women (11 showed up).  Not only was I a 100-miler virgin who picked the hardest one on the East Coast because it was local and started on my birthday (it was destiny), but I've been running trails for uh… 7 months.  The first time I even climbed up a mountain was after I signed up for it (confession).

At the start, picture courtesy of Bobby Gill
As the race approached, I was hit with exactly how long 100 miles is.  I recognized that this wouldn't be all fun and games.  Grindstone would be the hardest thing I’ve ever done.  I would likely spend most of it miserable.  I got to the race somewhat excited but honestly, I was not up for it. This course was going to chew me up.
The best advice I received was from Quatro, who told me “Don't run 100.  Just run from aid station to aid station.  It'll be all good - next thing you know, you will find yourself back where you started.”  I always did this during ultras, but I had never thought to really only think about each section and nothing else.  Anytime I let my mind wander to what I did or had yet to do, I told myself to forget it.  All that mattered was getting to the next aid station.  So, this is how I broke up my race report.  It was a somewhat uneventful race, but beware, it’s a long report!
Splits can be found at my eco-x runner page.
Start! Picture courtesy of Bobby Gill
 Start to Falls Hollow
Brian and I signed up for Grindstone together and so we ran the first mile together (how corny and sentimental, I know).  He’s the one who made me change from the North Face 50k to the 50 miler and sign up for the race.  The first portion was rocky but quick, and I knew the race didn’t really start until we got started on summitting Elliot Knob.

Me and Brian, ready to go
 Falls Hollow to Dry Branch Gap
Getting to Elliot Knob requires about 3,000 feet of climbing, two stream crossings (the day after 3 inches of rain), and a 1.5 mile climb up a crazy steep gravel road.  I played leapfrog on the still-crowded trail, and I ran a lot of the gentle uphills, the flats, and got my feet wet.  It got dark, and I was glad I couldn’t see the never-ending road.  It wasn’t as bad during the race as my hike (since we didn’t have 95 degree weather), but a cold breeze hit me on that road.  After the summit, I had never seen the rest of the trail in this section.
It was nasty.  I’m still scarred from my Ring experience in the Massanutten and I was not happy to see all the rocks!  I even yelled out to the group I was in "I thought MMT was the rocky one!" There was a little ridge running, and then the descent was switchbacks along a rock trail with a scary drop off.  I heard and saw Snipes and his group ahead of me, but mostly ran it by myself with my iPod.  I’m surprised I did this portion in less than 4 mph because was near impossible to run a lot of this and I wasn’t happy to give up a running descent.  But, it’s ok, I had plenty of chances later!

Mile 1.5
Dry Branch Gap to Dowells Draft
The main motivation for this section was seeing my crew at the next aid station.  We went over Crawford Mountain and this was probably my favorite section of the whole race.  There were rolling hills interspersed with steeper climbs on the way up and then I flew down it.  I’ve really just got the hang of running down technical trails about 2 months ago, and I totally put it to work.  I was laughing the whole time and had a blast.  I’m pretty sure that running down a mountainside is the closest thing to flying that man can get on its own.  I passed a man and yelled “this downhill is amazing!” and it really was.  I knew that if I didn’t let myself just fly down the hills, my knees would be destroyed.  If I wanted to finish, I needed to hold off the brakes and just go.  I flew through this section and had a blast.

Heading out of Dowells Draft, picture courtesy of Bobby Gill
My crew was amazing and Tyler got me out of the aid station in 7.5 minutes.  I ate butternut squash (it was perfect) and got refueled and on my merry way.
Dowells Draft to Lookout Mountain
This was another great section.  I made a friend and getting to talk and meet new people on the trail is always one of my favorite things.  He ended up deciding he couldn’t keep up and I ran ahead.  It ended with several miles downhill on a fire road that I took really easily.  The aid station came up sooner than I thought and it was the best aid station of the race (both times through).  The people were so supportive and energetic.  They screamed and clapped when they saw you coming, they had coffee, they were super helpful, and it really lifted my spirits.
I hit 30 miles in 7:08, only 45 minutes slower than my 50k PR.
Lookout Mountain to North River Gap
I had done Lookout Mountain as a hike, but I completely forgot how rocky it was.  It was really late and dark, and I started getting spooked.  A log was a wolf.  The moon was a fire.  A stick was a snake.  It was silent, I didn’t see anyone, and I was letting my imagination get the best of me.  I focused on my iPod and the trail, and belted out to Miley Cyrus.  I know, you thought I was hardcore until you read that.  But who can resist Party in the USA?
Coming into the next aid station, I was excited to see my crew and I finally decided road running was ok.  Running down the road to the aid station, the crescent moon was visible through a tree gap and the sky was covered in stars.  It was such a clear, gorgeous night!
There was a weigh-in at the TWOT lot and I had lost one pound.  Not bad for 35 miles, but I made a note to continue to hydrate.
North River Gap to Little Bald Knob
I knew this was the worst part of the race.  The 7-mile climb just got worse and worse.  I tried to run the flats and the downhills, and the climbs killed me.  I think I pushed it too hard.  I reached the “bald knob” that was covered in grassy meadows, but there was no aid station.  The mileage was off and instead of 7.74 miles, it was 8.83.  I was cold, tired, and was frustrated that the aid station wasn’t where it should be.  I saw Sean pacing the leader in and Keith, who was kicking ass as usual.  Finally, I got there and sat by the fire and had three cups of soup.  I dropped my pack, grabbed an extra handheld with some gels and salts in the pocket and ran toward Reddish knob feeling quite miserable. 
Little Bald Knob to Reddish Knob
Even though this was an easy piece of trail (other than the mud) I took it pretty slow.  My feet hurt, I was exhausted, and not feeling hot about the run.  I saw the first woman on her way back and Brian, who looked fantastic.
Before really getting to the Reddish Knob station, you have to summit it.  I caught up to Snipes and a group of us dropped our things and walked up the asphalt road. 
The view from Reddish Knob made the entire 47 miles to get there worth it.  We arrived as the sun rose and the 360-degree view of the Northern Virginia and West Virginia mountains was amazing.  I remembered seeing the intersection of the Black and White desert in Egypt and being motivated to travel and do more with my life if the world had places like that to offer.  I was sure that was one of the most beautiful, unreal views I’d ever see and the view from Reddish Knob topped it.
The mountains looked blue, and you could see about 8 ridges, the last topped with a line of red to bright pink.  The valleys were filled with fog and this really lifted my spirits.  It inspired me to want to run more trail races if this is what ultrarunning has to offer.
The aid station had brown sugar poptarts.  ‘Nuff said.

Still running at mile 66, picture courtesy of Bobby Gill
 Reddish Knob to Briary Branch and back to Reddish Knob
I thought for sure that when I saw my crew again, I’d take a nap.  I saw Mario on the way out and he said that he did it last year and woke up a new man and had a negative split.  I half ran the road down because my feet were throbbing.  I was worried I wouldn’t be able to run any more of the race.  I was determined to nap.
I got in, left my iPod to charge, changed my socks and shoes, and felt like a new woman!! The difference between my Inov-8 and Masochists was crazy.  I was so excited that I could run again! Mark took me to the turn around, and now I was headed back to the finish.  I saw Doug and Steve Pero and walked a lot back to Reddish Knob due to exhaustion.
Reddish Knob to Little Bald Knob
I barely stopped at Reddish Knob and had a tough time with this whole middle section.  I wasn’t feeling great when I got to Little Bald, especially knowing what was ahead.  I decided to cave and take some painkillers and holy crap, they worked!

Weigh-in at TWOT, picture courtesy of Bobby Gill
 Little Bald Knob to North River Gap
I don’t know if it was the painkillers or knowing that I’d be picking up my pacer, but I ran a lot of the descent into the TWOT lot.  I hung out and chatted with some cool people, listened to my iPod, and ran all but the very steep and rocky descent… which was most of the trail.  I knew if I ran those, I would have to put the brakes on and I might not be able to run downhill for the rest of the race.  Again, this section never ended and just got worse and worse.  I came into North River Gap saying that it was an evil trail.  Then I got weighed and found out I gained that pound back and I made a joke about running for 20 hours and not even losing a pound.  I was able to get down a rice and bean burrito (a little one) and my pacer and I went out for the finish.

Me and James out of North River Gap, picture courtesy of Bobby Gill
North River Gap to Lookout Mountain
James and I hauled up Lookout.  We made excellent time and started chatting about everything.  I could run well and I felt amazing.  He was surprised I had so much energy, and I was too!  The huge bummer about getting to this aid station was seeing Brian there shrugging and telling us he DNFed.  His ankle was irritated and swollen.  Since Brian and I were in this together, it was tough to know he was out. 
Lookout Mountain to Dowells Draft
From North River Gap, James and I passed 10 people through these sections.  He was really pulling me along and making me run everything that wasn’t uphill.  I felt so great, and I can’t believe I felt like this after how miserable I was earlier.  I remembered ultrarunnergirl telling me to remember that it doesn’t always get worse, and that was great advice.  James and I just had great conversation and he had so much energy.   One of the best things about having a pacer was being able to look forward to meeting him and then drawing energy from him.  It made me feel so fresh!
Dowells Draft to Dry Branch Gap
Clark Zealand is a sadist.  There are two, 2,000 ft, 4 mile (ish) climbs in the last 10 miles of this course.  It was hard to focus on just this section knowing I had to do it again.  The sun started going down, and James had heard it was 5 miles hard, 4 miles easy, and so we tried to run the easy parts.  It started off as a nice run and then we took the climb pretty hard.  Once the climb was over I told him I was finished running. No more running for me.  He says “But look what you just did… its like waking up Sunday morning and saying you’ll never drink again and then by Wednesday you’re out at a bar.” 
We took it slow for a moment to get our energy back.  This is when I started losing it mentally.  I was seeing crows everywhere, and sticks looked like they were twisted into some type of voo doo doll.  The sunset made the trees look like I was seeing the course ribbons everywhere.
James said we should try to run a quarter mile.  So, we did and I started to feel really good.  We got to a descent and I just leaned forward and ran effortlessly again (seriously, I just loved Crawford Mountain both ways).  When we hit the rolling hills part, running up the slight uphill rocked.  It was all new muscles being used and we tore through that section.

Me and my awesome pacer, picture courtesy of Bobby Gill
 Dry Branch Gap to Falls Hollow
The sun was down when we left the aid station, with just one to go.  I remember ultrarunnergirl also saying that at one point, you will want nothing more than to stop, and that’s where the race begins.
This is where Grindstone began.
The 4-mile climb on the rocks was downright dangerous.  I was cold and wobbly and the rocks were not stable.  For the first time, I sat down on the course.  James was smart and made me take some salts, gels, and water while I sat.  It was a really, really awful stretch.  When we finally hit the gravel road, I tried running but it didn’t work well.  I fell once and another time just sat right down, hugged my knees, and tried to muster up the strength to go on.  If it were possible for someone to drive up the gravel road, I would have quit right there.
When we were off the road and the ridge and finally out of the breeze and cold, I sat down again and was seriously so far gone.  James dragged me over the streams and we got a little running in on the jeep path.  When we hit the last aid station I ran (or walked) straight into Tyler’s arms and started crying.
I couldn’t fathom being out there for another few hours.  I put pants on, I ate (was hand fed) crackers, I closed my eyes, I cried, and I really felt awful.  I spent 23 minutes there and almost locked myself in the car so I could sleep because they wouldn’t let me.  Tyler literally had to drag me out of the car and push me back onto the trail. 
Falls Hollow to the Finish
I’ve never been so slow in my life.  I even needed a walking stick to handle the terrain at this point.  I was so slow but just kept moving and the miles came onto my watch so slowly.  When I finally hit 100 miles, James congratulated me and we discussed this whole “101.87” thing.  Can you imagine if you’re signed up for a marathon and you check out the elevation profile and it said 28.17?  Seriously, why can they do that in a 100-miler?! It just wasn’t fair.  We hit the 1 mile to go sign when I thought we had about 8/10ths and so that was a major bummer. Then James says, “look behind you”
There were 2 headlamps.
“Let’s move!” We did some running with some walking and I still had my stick.  Then I heard a female voice. I was not giving up my 5th place finish in the last ½ mile. Hell no! (FYI, she was a pacer)  I threw my walking stick and took off.  My pacer fell, and I left him there and damn near sprinted across the lake (ok, around it, I cannot run on water - and I really did sprint. I got my pace down to 7:23 min/mi!) and then got lost for the first time about a tenth of a mile away.  I ran through the flume and then stopped, done!  I did it!  Clark Zealand then told me I had to actually cross the finish line, and I got my first belt buckle and hugged the totem pole.

Finish photo
 I don’t believe (still) that I made it.  I made it to the finish line uninjured, with no nutrition problems, perfect hydration/sodium balance, a tough finish, but a good race, and a great time.

Totem pole hug
Thank you to Tyler and James, I couldn’t have done it without either of you.  The ultrarunning community is truly amazing.  Everyone has been so eager to help me, to share their knowledge, to give me a ton of advice and encouragement.  Grindstone was a success not just because I finished, but because it introduced me to so many great people.  There are few things I am more proud of than being able to call myself a 100-mile finisher and an ultrarunner.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Grindstone... its here!

If you wanna follow updates, Tyler (my crew) will be updating my twitter page, accessible at

Eat extra calories for me this weekend!