As I type this I am in a sudafed induced trance, due to the fact that I have slept very little as of Thursday 10/6 and I have spent many of my waking hours wet, cold and tired, so now I am a bit "Under the Weather" so to speak. Over the past year or so I have been training to be a stronger, faster runner. I have been doing things I don't like doing, such as strength training and speedwork and hill repeats, and I have stopped doing things that I loved to do, like drinking craft beer. Being that I am the Facilities Manager at a regional craft brewery drinking is part of the culture and is/was a large part of who I am, so this has not exactly been easy for me, but it has not been difficult either. Like many of us that run far I have spent a lot of time away from my family, preparing to be away from my family even longer. I have been building myself up to see just how “fast” I can run 100 miles. This report could be its own ultra marathon, so don’t stop reading now or you will DNF, and we wouldn’t want that, would we?
The Grindstone 100 would be my first go at 100 miles not on home turf. I drove down to Virginia alone on a beautiful fall day, relaxing listening to Running Inside Out podcast while the miles ticked by. Grindstone starts and finishes at Camp Shenandoah in Swoope, VA, this would be base camp for the next couple of days. What sets Grindstone apart from most 100 mile races, is that it starts at 6pm. There is a large contingent of campers at this race, so there is a lot of sitting around and geeking out about gear, and eating tons of food. The pre race scene was pretty awesome, as I was camped out with a bunch of MPF/RNR teammates and met some really cool people as well. Before we knew it 6pm had arrived, and it was time for the journey to begin.
We gathered between two Totem poles and RD Clark Zealand sent us on our way. It had been raining or misting all day, so the course had softened up nicely. My plan was to go out comfortable and not start "racing" until at least mile 50. I ran at the back of the lead pack somewhere in the top 20 until we started the first big climb, an out and back climb to the summit of Elliot's Knob. Nearing the summit I see the headlamps of the leaders coming back towards me, and in third place is my teammate Carlo Agostinetto! I start counting head lamps and before I know it I'm at the summit in 6th place with New Hampshire bad ass Adam Wilcox, and my friend and teammate Ryan Welts (another NH badass) is not far behind.
Am I running way too fast? No. My legs feel great and I am not laboring to keep the pace. As we begin to descend the course gets rocky, and I get passed by a lot of runners, due to the fact that I suck at running technical downhills. Especially in the rain. No worries, I'll make up time on the climbs. And so the headlamps disappeared one by one, and I was left to run alone. It wasn’t until just before Reddish Knob that I encountered people again. At this point there is a long paved downhill to the 50 mile turnaround at Briery Branch Gap. I had been alone for quite a while, and was looking forward to chatting with Joe Azze who was filming the event, or other people I knew that were crewing. I rolled into the aid station and did not see one familiar face! Oh well, I changed my socks and restocked on Gu gels and Stroop waffles while chatting with the volunteers and eating some homemade pancakes! It had taken me 11:32:00 for the first half, and I was feeling good going back out for round two….
"My Feet Look Like Bratwurst That Were Left On The Grill Too Long"
I felt pretty strong headed back up the long paved road and ran most of the way. The sun was starting to come up which always gives me an energy boost in long races. I got to aid station 8 at Little Bald Knob and the volunteers were charged up. They had a bonfire going and breakfast burritos! There was starting to be more two way traffic on the course and I could actually see people in the daylight. After inhaling a couple burritos I continued onward. “Breakfast Burritos Ahead!” I yelled to oncoming runners. I received some looks of disbelief, as well as some “Hell Yeah’s”. I was starting to see and chat briefly with friends which also lifted my spirits. About the only thing I could complain about was the rain, and my feet that I couldn’t keep dry……
Now this is where everything goes south. My feet got angry quick, real quick. I started to get hot spots and blisters- Trenchfoot, my worst enemy had reared its ugly head. My pace began to suffer with my feet and my mind began to wander. I’m pretty certain that I got behind on my nutrition schedule while my mind was meandering about, and I turned into a sweltering hot mess. I looked down at my watch and saw 18:21:00 and got really depressed. I came into the Dowell’s Draft aid station at mile 80 and saw my friend Eric taking a rest. I was pretty psyched to see him, but told him I was probably going to drop. I was feeling pretty wonky-my nutrition was way off and my feet were killing me. One of the volunteers went and got me some broth, and then got me more (I love a good force feeding) as I very slowly removed my shoes and socks to assess the damage. Eric got up recharged and said he hoped to see me finish, then headed out looking strong.
I looked down to see what looked like a couple of Bratwursts that had been left on the grill too long. Blisters on on top of blisters, wrinkles as deep as the Mariana Trench, toenails heaving towards the sky, my feet were in a word FUBAR. What was worse was that I had 20 miles to go and it was 6pm-where had the time gone? Was I really moving that slow? Wait a minute- it was still really light outside. As I was clearly incapable of doing math I asked what time of day it was, “3pm Honey, you’ve got plenty of time”. Damn was I out of it, when I had looked at my watch I read it as 18:00hrs, not time elapsed, or something...I still am not sure. Ok, 21.5 miles to go, get your shit together. I started to clean and dry my feet, as another cup of broth was thrust in front of me, “we’ll get you back on track Hon.” the volunteer said calmly. Luckily I had fresh socks and shoes in my drop bag, which made me feel a bit better about the death march I was about to embark on. I got up and headed out for what would be the hardest 20 miles I have ever travelled.
I had about three hours of daylight left and moved as fast as I could during that time. There was a long climb out of the aid station and I felt like I was moving well for the shape I was in, but I know it was not fast. At some point during this death march I saw Joe Azze, and I think he filmed me babbling about how my feet were mangled, but I would get it done anyway- I just have no idea when that was :). As darkness fell again it started to get cold and the wind picked up. I probably would have been fine if I wasn’t moving so slow, but I got pretty chilly, which was not helping my cause. Every step was agony, as my feet were once again soaked and miserable. Regardless I soldiered on, knowing that the only way I would stop at this point was if I was facing a serious injury. I was on a really long downhill stretch to the last aid station and my toes were hammering the front of my shoes hard. Blisters were popping between my toes. “Only a few more hours” I thought. The long downhill finally ended as I reached the last aid station at Falls Hollow. All the volunteers were quiet. “We have coffee” someone said quietly, “yes” I responded.
I took the warm cup of coffee in my hand and heard “Holy shit, Scotie!” I Iooked way up to see my friend and teammate Jim Jansen standing over me. “Come on man We’ll bring you in.” I welcomed the Idea with open arms-psyched doesn’t even begin to explain how I was feeling. Jim’s girlfriend Kim was there with a giant bag of homemade cookies, and his pacer Ned was there to guide our weary souls to the finish.
We started the final shuffle towards the end of our journey, recounting the events of the last 28 hours or so for each others amusement. I think I managed to stub my toes on nearly every rock leading up to the finish, my “ultra shuffle” status had reached the level of “legendary”. Before we knew it we could see the lights of Camp Shenandoah. Jim and I decided to “run” it in together hand in hand like Killian & Schlarb at Hardrock. We crossed through the totem poles and ended our journey. Joe was there once again to capture the moment, and Jim and I hugged the totem pole, as is custom at the finish of Grindstone.
To say things didn’t go exactly how I wanted them to would be a bit of an understatement, but things did “go” and I finished, which is still huge in a hundred miler. The lessons learned from being on your feet for 30 hours are invaluable in that you really figure out how low you can get and what kind of trench you can dig yourself out of. I went into this race really fit (Thanks to my coach Elizabeth Azze at Mountain Peak Fitness!) and healthy, so when things went south I new that I could stick it out if I kept my head in the game. Just finishing Grindstone earns you lottery tickets to Western States AND Hardrock, so I’m pretty psyched that I buckled down and kept my head straight when it got tough. So now the cycle begins again, rest and recover, and then back to the things that I once didn’t like, but that I know pay off. On to Hellgate 100k!
Bonus section for gear geeks!
As some of you may be into gear as much as I am, here is what I used at Grindstone:
- Patagonia Air Flow Tee & Strider Pro 5” shorts (MPF/RNR team kit) - Hands down the Strider Pro shorts are the best I have ever worn-perfect fit, super comfortable waist band and tons of pockets that hold supplies snug to your waist, so the gels etc. don’t flop around.
- Ultimate Direction Ultra Jacket - This jacket is packed with features like zipper-less pit vents, an articulating vented hood, deployable mittens and it is super waterproof unlike most in its class. I’ve worn others from Patagonia and Arcteryx, but the ultra jacket puts them to shame.
- Ultimate Direction Anton Krupicka Adventure Vest 3.0 - Again, I’ve used hydration packs by MANY other companies, but this pack is SUPER comfortable and has all the right sized pockets in all the right places. This pack fits under the ultra jacket, so you can keep it dry during Monsoon season.
- Drymax Trail Running Socks ¼ crew - Super durable, moisture wicking and protective. These socks are just the right height to keep out debris. Out of the 4 times I changed socks I never found anything in them other than my feet.
- Scott T2 Kinabalu 3.0 Trail Running Shoes - I wore these for the 1st 80 miles and they were amazing. The great thing about these shoes is that they drain like a sieve and have great traction on wet rock. This shoe has a fairly flexible rock plate and has a responsive yet cushioned ride. Don’t let the 11mm of drop deter you from giving this shoe a try- it wears like a shoe with 7-8mm at most.
- La Sportiva Akasha Trail Running Shoes - I wore these for the last 20ish miles. In a word these shoes are bombproof. Yes my feet were wrecked when I put these on, but I may not have had any feet at the finish if I didn’t. The Akasha has deep lugs and grippy rubber, and did I mention that they’re bombproof?
- Petzl Myo Headlamp - I started the race with a different lamp, but I always revert to this one. This lamp is plenty bright, comfortable and is fairly light weight.
- Merrel Endothermic Jacket - You never know what you're gonna get on the trail, but you can be sure that this hybrid, packable jacket with insulated front and back panels and fleece side panels will warm your core while you're out there.