Monday, October 13, 2014

Grindstone 100 Race Report

"If you start to feel good during an ultra, don't worry, you will get over it." - Gene Thibeault

A few questions I have been asked one too many times are Why do you run so much? Why do you put your body through that? and, my personal favorite, What are you running from? My typical response is I like to test the limits of what my body can do.  Last weekend while I was at the Grindstone 100 - I realized why I run so much.  I train hard so that I have the opportunities to run races like the Grindstone 100.

Tent City
When I showed up to Camp Shenandoah where the start/finish was on Thursday, I wasn't sure what to expect.  After setting up camp I chatted with a few of the other racers for the rest of the evening.  By the time I woke up on Friday and ate a small breakfast, it was time to check in. After the prerace meeting I tried to relax for the next few hours before the race started.  I tried sleeping but that was nearly impossible... the adrenaline was starting to kick in.  Finally around 5:00 p.m. I slowly made my way to the start line to prepare for the race. We waited inside the dining hall for close to an hour due to the rain.  At 6:00 p.m. it was time to start, and 263 brave souls took off for the mountains in what would turn out to be a cold, wet race.

If the race ended here I would have won but unfortunately we still had 100 miles to go!
As we made our way around the lake in the opening mile, I was running in the front at a modest pace. I settled into a nice pace
Andrew Snope and I around 5 miles
early on knowing I had a long night ahead of me. The first 5 miles went by without any issues. As it grew darker, I started the first big climb of the race, a 3500 ft climb stretched out in to 5 miles.  It was raining as we made our way higher and higher.  I felt good on the climb up to the top of Elliots Knob.  Once at the top you punch your bib before heading back down the gravel road and onto a single track.  I didn't want to push the pace on the descent so I let the lead group go.  My lack of technical trail running showed up on this descent as I fell twice within a 5 minute span.

The next few miles were a blur as I pulled through Dowells Draft aid station at mile 22 in 3:54.  I felt good.  I grabbed some bananas and oranges and took off for the trail spending less than a minute at the aid station.  

Somewhere around the 24-25 mile mark things turned from good to terrible because I started to feel sharp pains in the knee that I had surgery on in late June.  I immediately started to walk because I was afraid of doing any more damage to it.  I was not sure if it hurt because I fell or if I stepped on it wrong, but either way I decided to play it safe and walk it out.  While walking I was on an emotional roller coaster.  My first thought was that I'd have to drop because I still had 75 miles to go.  Luckily I was in the middle of the woods so I had no choice but to keep walking.  Somewhere during my stroll I changed my mind - I decided I would walk the remaining 75 miles because I had 38 hours to finish. I knew that I needed to complete this race in order to qualify for Hard Rock and Western States.

I took some Ibuprofen and just continued walking. When I arrived at the Lookout Mountain aid station, I grabbed some fruit and refilled my water bottles.  As I was walking out of the aid station I decided to try running.  Low and behold my knee wasn't bothering me too much.  So for the next 6 miles I ran what I could and walked when I had too.  I caught up to John Robinson, and we ran together into the North River Gap aid station at mile 36.  

Typically I don't use drop bags because my wife crews for me - but since she couldn't make this trip, I had no choice but to use them. I've heard horror stories from other runners in different races about how long it can take to locate a drop bag.  To my surprise by the time I weighed in, a volunteer already had my drop bag ready for me. I was looking forward to the treat I had waiting for me in my bag... Naked Juice.  I started drinking these juices at Delirium 24hr, and I will continue to use it in the future because it tastes amazing.  It's not only refreshing but it also gives you the calories and sugar needed during a long run.  

This is where things started to turn around for me and I have to thank John and my mango Naked Juice for that.  We had a 7 mile 4,000 ft climb staring us in the face.  John was in front dragging my butt up this thing.  He was flying up it and I was doing everything I could in order to stay with him.  There were parts of this climb that were stupid steep but then there were runnable parts.  John and I didn't talk much during the climb.  We just put our heads down and kept climbing.  We passed a couple of runners along the way and 1 hr 57 minutes later we were at the top.  I can say without a doubt that if I was by myself during that section it would have taken me 20-30 minutes longer.

Once at the top, we started running again.  It was easy dirt road running which was a great change from the technical single track earlier in the race.  We made quick work of the Little Bald Knob aid station at mile 44 and kept moving towards Reddish Knob aid station, which was just 4 miles away.  The rain had stopped and the stars had come out which made it a little more enjoyable.  We had a quick climb up Reddish Knob where we punched our race numbers again before we headed to the turn around.  John and I ran a good portion of the road section before reaching the turn around 10:46 into the race.  I was extremely excited to feel this good 51.5 miles into the race.

We hiked a good portion of the road back up to the Reddish Knob aid station before grabbing some grilled cheese sandwiches.  I rarely eat things like that during a race but it was cold, and my body craved something warm.  John and I ran a pretty good pace on the road back.  We turned onto a single track trail which meant it was time for a long descent back into North River Gap aid station.  We could start to see the first signs of daylight. Not quite ready to turn off our head lamps, we took the beginning part of the descent slowly.  With a couple of miles left of the descent it was light enough to turn our headlamps off which gave me a jolt of energy.  John stopped to eat something and I pushed on down the mountain.  I picked up a couple of other runners and even caught up to my buddy Andrew Snope.  I was flying down the mountain and came into North River Gap full of energy.  I stuffed my face with a lot of food and weighed in.  Once again, the volunteers had my drop bag ready for me before I finished weighing in. I pulled out my other Naked Juice and hit the trails.

At that time, I was in 11th place and I was head hunting the people in front of me.  I was running fast and closing the gap on them.  The next 6 miles were runnable and I wanted to take advantage of that.  I had the feeling that we all seek during an ultra... a feeling that I could run forever.  With each and every stride I took I was gaining ground.  Within 6 miles I had gained 12 minutes on the runner ahead of me.  At the next aid station, I quickly refilled my water bottles, grabbed some oranges and kept going.

It was 8 miles to the next aid station.  I was still feeling good and ran a majority of the trail to Dowells Draft aid station.  I was hurting but knew I would be able to push through the pain as I only had 22 miles left.  I came into the aid station in 10th and left in 9th. Shortly after leaving the aid station, the trail turned up.  Up and up I went.  I did not recall any of this from earlier in the race.  It just kept going.  It sucked every bit of energy I had out of me.  For as good as I was feeling just a few miles ago, I was feeling that bad up this climb.  Eventually I made it to the top and when I tried running I had nothing.  I couldn't run the flats and I couldn't run the downhills.  I was in a world of hurt.

I walked as fast as I could hoping that I would be able to start running again but every time I tried I was unable to. My knee was practically screaming out at me. I walked all the way to the Dry Branch aid station at mile 87.  I left the aid station knowing I had one more big climb left.  About 1 mile up that climb I turned around and saw Andrew flying up the climb.  He said a few encouraging words to me before taking off for a strong 7th place finish.  After about 3 more miles, I made it to the turn off to head down Elliots Knob. I thought that I would be able to let gravity take over and run down the gravel road, however I was sadly mistaken.  I tried running but my quads and knee were shot. So I walked.  Eventually the road leveled off, and I was able to muster up an "ultra shuffle" into the final aid station.  

As I left, I really tried to enjoy the last 5 miles.  Knowing my race was almost over, my energy returned.  I was able to power hike the short climb and once at the top I was able to run again.  It felt good.  Once I was back at the boyscout campground, I only had 1.5 miles left.  I started to think about the journey that I just went on.  All of the ups and downs and how much I truly enjoy ultra running.  I made my way back around the pond and onto the final stretch.  I crossed the finish line in 22:33:30.  My comeback to ultra running was complete.

Clark Zealand, the race director, put on a first class event.  This race embodies everything that is ultra running. I rarely run the same race twice but I look forward to returning to this race next year at 100% and shaving a couple hours off my time.

1 comment:

  1. hi I am running the GS this year. Was wondering what kind of shoes your wore?