Swoope, VA: Friday October 2, 2009: Here we go! Grindstone 100. 1’000’s of training miles, several Ultras ranging from 50k’s to 70.5 miles, and it’s time to see it all come together starting this evening. My buddy Todd’s mom lives less than 10 minutes from the Start/Finish at Camp Shenandoah and Todd has volunteered to be my Saturday crew in my long journey. We arrive midday to drop off my night drop bags and attend the pre-race meeting. Lots of familiar faces of those new friends I met at previous Beast Series races and many VHTRC friends will all share in what is billed as the hardest 100 miler in the east. My first decision is what shoes to wear. The cushy and lighter Mountain Masochists, or the bullet-proof Vasque Blur SL’s? Forecasted showers made this one easy; it’s got to be the Blurs as they’re far better on wet rocks. The MM’s will soon be on their way to the Little Bald Knob aid station in hopes I can switch to them for the more runnable, and firmer midsection of the course.
My goal? Since this is my first, it must simply be finish. Although I’m thinking 32 hours is a realistic number. The plan is to just start out slow and take what the course gives me. That means walk the ups, run the flats (all what, 100 yards of it total?), and run the downs as long as can. Grindstone challenges us with over 23,000 ft of elevation gain and the same amount lost on an out-and-back course over some pretty technical terrain. Take a look at last year’s elevation profile. The course was modified slightly this year to push it out to 101.85 miles.
We gather at the start and at 6PM we’re off! Yes, one of the things that makes this 100 miler different is the evening start which means I should be moving well into the 2nd night of the race. The first segment is over some trails, fireroads and, of course, some rocky single-track. Approaching aid station 1 it’s time to break out the lights. I use a Petzl MYO XP for general lighting and a Fenix L2D handheld.
I hung with Kam and Jaime for a while early and we set out on the first steep climb up towards Elliot Knob. Here’s a pic of the 2 of them and Dorothy heading back down on day 2 of the August training run. Unfortunately the 3 of us would never see this section in daylight.
The closer we get to the top, the thicker the fog gets. By the time we are there, we can barely see 10 ft ahead of us. The people we pass on the short out-n-back to punch our bibs (to prove we were there) would all tell us where it is. That’s the way everybody in these types of races is – always helpful. Here’s a pic of Sniper, Kam, Dorothy and Jaime on top of Elliot Knob during the training run. The orienteering punch was attached to the fence.
Now it gets “fun” as we have to go down the other side. We get our first taste of nasty, rocky, single-track. This is off and on all the way down to Dry Branch Gap. It’s somewhere around here I had my first ankle roll of the race – ouch! Next it’s time to climb Crawford Mountain. Yeah, pretty much the story of this race is up a mountain, down a mountain and repeat until done. Although this is all single-track, it’s similar to the first up/down in that it’s far more technical on the down side. My biggest weakness in running these things is rocky downhills, so I just take it easy. Soon I’m getting close to Dowell’s Draft and roll that same ankle again, but this time hard and I yelled! This one’s going to take a bit to walk off. Now I’m favoring that leg and my knee’s acting up. Perfect for only 22 miles into the race huh? So, I slow down and tell myself all I have to do is keep moving. Coming out of Dowell’s I think about how nice the trail is. Oh yeah, I remember it from the training run as my favorite part of the course. I just hope I have legs to take advantage of it coming back down.
After climbing and climbing and coming back down a bit, there’s some very fast, runnable fireroads leading up to Lookout Mountain aid station. I was asked how I’m feeling, “Great now”, I said. “Because you’re here now?”. “Nope, because I just ran a couple miles hard and it was great.” Head on out and a bit later roll into the North River station at what they call the TWOT parking lot (The Wild Oak Trail). This is one of the busier stations and I swich out my iPod, that I started using when I was first by myself, for a fully charged one. I fill up the Wasp and begin the long climb to the “easy” section of the course. Later I pass Donna who says, “You’re the one that talked me into this thing.”. Yep! HA!
I’m feeling pretty good on the climb and eventually I’d see Karl flying down the rocky trail effortlessly. One thing I liked about the out-n-back course is that I’d get to see people. Much later, I saw a few more of the leaders and was just getting very tired of climbing, it’s approaching 7AM and I’m around mile 40. Ugh, 62 more to go. Then, I finally pop out on top and the Sun is starting to rise.
Shortly after that it was like magic when that first ray hit me. I had new life and I was running hard; probably too hard. I saw Gary and Dave hanging out at Little Bald, I grabbed a blueberry pancake and flew out of there. (Notice, I didn’t change my shoes as planned.) About a mile or two out from Reddish Knob it finally happened; I saw my first bear on a trail run! Awesome! Then, shortly after, another was crossing the fire-road in front of me. “Hey Mr. Bear”, I yelled; it took one look and was gone. Finally I reached the top of Reddish Knob – Stunning views! Punch the bib, and head back down. Now I’m on a paved road running pretty hard. I feel every shocking step in the Blurs. Oh my I wish I had changed shoes.
Wohoo! There’s Todd and lots of other people cheering. Q informed me that my Terps were already down 2 touchdowns. Not good since the game doesn’t start for 4 more hours. Brenda yells “Hey!”. Up to the turn and back and there’s Todd coming up the road to inform me he locked the keys in my truck. Woops! No more iPod or the sunglasses. No worries, he’ll figure it out and I head out. Hmm, the road hills are much steeper than I thought. So, that’s not good that I pounded down ‘em. Yeah, it did a number on the legs. I wasn’t running very fast now. I roll back through Little Knob and began the long descent to North River. I had seen John a few times during the race and we do some more back-n-forth. He informs me, “I’m tired of downhills.” Me too! He may not be too tired of them since he always pulls away from me on them.
Yep, Todd made it along with lots of others and had my camera. I didn’t witness this, but here’s Horton putting the Sharpie mustache on an unsuspecting sleeper.
And, sporting a chain saw…
66.5 miles is in the books. Todd gives me a bag of giant cantaloupe slices and I grab a Nesquik, head out and encounter this nifty bridge.
I navigate some rocky single track while eating the fruit; it’s awesome! Then head up…
…around more turns…and up…
Then, I had this “doubt” moment. Todd had asked me if I wanted my light. No, I’ll get it at Dowells. The math started playing tricks on me. Maybe I wouldn’t make it there before dark. So I took off. I finally caught back up to John and he mentioned I found new life. “Nope, I’m just going uphill now!” We reached the top and I was running the downhills again. The long climbing break helped a lot. I rolled right through Lookout and began the 8 mile stretch to Dowells; some more climbing then down for a long time. It was this stretch where things started getting interesting… Why did somebody leave a fancy camoflage outdoor lounge chair out here? Is somebody in it? Oh, it’s a moss covered log. Check out the crane. They’re water birds, so why is one here? Yeah, it’s a stick. I should note that my ankle and knee were feeling very good much of the race. That quickly changed as I rolled it once again and almost fell off a ledge. I had managed to grab a small tree and had one foot near the top. It wouldn’t have been a long death-type fall, but it may have ended the race for me. And there were no other trees near it… So, my wish of flying into Dowells wasn’t going to happen. My downhill running is done for the race, I think.
Todd hooks me up with some more fruit and another Nesquik and I’m gone. This is where it gets tough. I “only” have 22 miles to go, but I know it’s going to take over 7 hours to do it and there goes the Sun. Although I never had a doubt I could do the climbs. Crawford is a long one that also teases. You think you’re at the top and even have a nice, runnable single track section only to learn you need to go up another 1k ft or so on rocks that just make me wonder who put them there? Part of the trail is rocks piled on rocks to create a “passable” stretch. Click, click, click as they knock together crossing them. I think about who was out here creating these trails and how they did it. Todd had mentioned earlier hearing there were sections that took an hour to cover 2 miles. Yep, this would be one of them.
The climb does reward you with some awesome running at the top and I was flying. Well, at least it felt like it. I had the iPod cranking some fast paced tunes and was having a blast. Down, down, down the other side, slowly and there’s the aid station. Hey everybody! I’m in a great mood and grab the last Nesquik off to do what is probably the most evil section of the course.
The climb up to Elliot is just nasty in sections. Again rocks piled on rocks and thinking you’re near the top and you’re not. Then I start losing it. Physically I’m fine climbing, but now I’m wondering if I’m going the right direction? Was this trail even here before? No way! Well, I see markers. It’s so much longer. Maybe they sent me the wrong direction at the aid station and I’m on the wrong mountain? I’m seeing all kind of animals and objects that turn out to be a few leaves or sticks lit up by my lights. This is actually amusing because I know logically they aren’t there, but I see them! Now I’m on a bunch of smoother single track just gradually going up and up. Where in the heck is the top? More rocks, more switchbacks, argh! It won’t end! Finally I pop out onto the fire road! I was going the right way after all. That was the last major climb.
Now to go down this awful, rocky road. And, no running downs on shot legs any more. This too goes forever. There’s the turn! Nope…there it is! Then I see the reflector way down the hill. This has to be the turn coming up? Nope…finally I make the sharp right and am on some overgrown single-track. Crap! My handheld loses power down to almost nothing. But Todd just changed the batteries. This isn’t good. So, I adjust the headlamp, which I don’t like shining down, and very slowly make my way forward to the creeks. This is unbelievably confusing. Which way do I go? Where are the markers? Somebody redid this section and is sending me the wrong way! How am I going to get out of here? I guess and move on. Didn’t I just do this section? I keep going and later I recognize I’m in the correct place. Phew! So, one thing Vicki told me was how helpful a pacer would be the 2nd night. Oh my she was right! Just somebody who wasn’t a mental wreck would’ve been nice to have around…HA!
Let’s review the race description: Grit, endurance, temporary loss of sanity. You might need all of these if you want to attempt Grindstone. If you want to finish, well, just keep in mind this is, without a doubt, the hardest 100 miler east of the 100th meridian.
How in the heck is this section taking me 5 hours? (It didn’t. My math was way off.) Finally way down the grassy, rocky fire road that went on way too long I popped out at the last aid station. This time I was freezing from going to slow because of the light. I grabbed the jacket and some stretchy gloves. I’m OJ and can’t get them on because my hands were now huge! Todd hooks the light up with fresh batteries, I drop off the Wasp and grab a handheld and I’m off for the last 5+ mile stretch.
I cross the railroad tracks and here we go again…where’s the turn…this trail wasn’t here! I’m going in circles…the wrong way! It certainly was a lot hillier than I recall and I did a lot of climbing. No, I didn’t imagine that part. There are the nasty rocks and another creek crossing. I think I’m going the right way. Then I get near the camp and what’s evil is as soon as you see it, you head away from it. Argh, I was just here, right? Then I’m running around the back of camp, yeah running pretty hard and had been a lot during this section. The gloves were in my pocket and I thought about taking the jacket off. Some more ups, downs, twists, turns and now I really know I’m in camp. It’s the one mile to go sign!!! Hey, there’s another racer. I say “hey” as I run by and just keep on running. Finally I reach the end of the lake where we have to drop straight down a tiny hill then climb back up. Of course I couldn’t find the climb spot at first. Run across the field. Run down the road and I see the finish! Somebody yells, “Who’s that?”, and I shine the light on my number. I hear Todd yell and get to the totem pole and hug it as we were instructed.
Oh, I didn’t cross the finish yet? Guess I better do that huh? So, I do then hug the totem pole again. Clark then gives me my first buckle and finisher’s shirt. I’m done in a little under 33 hours. Clark and team did a fantastic job with this race. Thanks to him and all of the volunteers!
No need to hang around at this time of night. I just wanted a shower and I remember Todd’s mom saying she had ham for sandwiches. I want one! Sitting down in my truck felt great as it’s the first time I sat since getting out of it late Friday afternoon. Todd drove me back and as soon as I got out I was shivering uncontrollably. Get me inside fast! Check it out. I’m so dirty I look like I’m wearing white socks after I take the black ones off. No blisters, no hot spots, nothing. Drymax socks rule! While I showered Todd had made me 2 sandwiches and even brought them upstairs. It was awesome having him around Saturday. It really made a difference having someone to look forward to seeing and knowing he’d have stuff there I wanted. What a great friend! And, he’s not even a runner. As we runners do while on the trails, he too made friends with the other crew members. The Ultra community is a great bunch of people.
Four hours later we got up and headed back to camp for the post race breakfast and awards ceremony. Where’s the coffee? I love caffeine! But, how did I do that whole race without any? Adrenaline of course. It was neat seeing people and sharing stories. Probably the best story was Kam (in the picture on top of Elliot above). Kam missed the cutoff, but kept going anyway and finished around 9AM. How awesome is that? I think he came in while we were inside. Unfortunately I didn’t get to see him, but I will soon…Mountain Masochist awaits…