Guest Post By: Tim S (Ultra Friend of Mine)
2nd Annual ”2013 Grindstone 100 Mile Endurance Run”
This race will always hold a very special place in my running resume. Not only was it my first trail 100 miler, but I’ve been wanting to compete in this since I became an ultrarunner.
Back before ultrasignup.com, us ultrarunners had Google and ultrarunningcalendar.com to search for races (besides word of mouth, of course). I can still vividly recall seeing the Grindstone 100 in Swoope, Virginia, and vowing to run it. At that point in time, my longest run was only 60 miles. I knew I wasn’t in the conditioning needed to complete the race at that point in time, but it always stayed in the back of my mind when I was deciding which Ultra to train for that Grindstone was still out there.
If my running career was Odysseus, then Grindstone was undoubtedly my Polyphemus. To continue my voyage and see other amazing sights around the world, I simply had to get past this monster.
And Grindstone certainly is a monster. The elevation profile even looks like a demon straight from the fiery depths of hell.
I paced my friend and fellow ultrarunner John Waite in 2012 through the last 20 miles of the course. The moment I crossed the finish line with him, the countdown began: 364 days til I raced this for myself. I signed up for the 2013 edition and trained my ass off. I did hill repeats in parking garages, ran on inclined treadmills, and made extra trips to Jockey’s Ridge and The Wright Brothers Memorial in Nags Head for specialty incline workouts.
Then life, as it usually does, threw a curveball. About a week before race, the governmental furlough closed Camp Shenandoah. Clark Zealand (RD) madly scrambled for a way to put the race on due to people flying in from all over the country. However, it was simply too daunting a task on too short of a notice. The race was postponed, and entry fees were allowed to be transferred over to the following year. Given my experience with other RD’s recently, Clark extended us an enormous olive branch by allowing an entry transfer. One RD I know of would have taken our money and, pun intended, run.
So 2013 came and went, and 2014 started shaping up to be the most epic running year I’ve ever had. I competed in my first point-to-point 100 (Graveyard), followed by Badwater Cape Fear and the Virginia 24 Hour Run for Cancer. In July I competed in and finished The LAVSRR 500k. I came home from work the Monday before the race and did an easy 4 mile run. After eating dinner, cold symptoms hit me like a ton of bricks. I went to bed Monday night sick, and ended up calling out Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday from work. Needless to say, I did not go into this race very confident. I thought, briefly, about DNSing, but my pride would not allow it.
After gorging on pasta Thursday night and getting a decent night’s sleep, Cassie and I headed to Swoope for pre-race check in. I got my number and a few additional items (tshirt, cookie, beanie, etc) that the race provided. I met up with John, who was running his third (technically) consecutive Grindstone 100. We seemed to have very similar attitudes: happy to see each other, but the basic small talk was stalled as we both needed to zen out before the start.
I went back to my tent and tried to nap, but I was too amped to sleep. I was opening my eyes every 10 minutes to make sure I hadn’t missed the start time of 1800 hours. At 1700 I packed everything I would need into my Nathan pack (2 water bottles, slim jims, cliff bar, GUs, batteries, headlamp, and additional clothes packaged in ziplock bags).
There was a light rain as I walked to the starting line. My stomach was in knots and I was trying to ignore the knowledge that my legs would be screaming in agony just a few hours from now.
We had a moment of silence for Major Donahue, a fellow ultrarunner who passed away in the line of duty earlier this year. Clark followed this up with a prayer, and then we were off!
A conga line of endurance athletes filed across the camp and into the woods as we began our triple digit mile journey across brutal terrain. The first 5 miles went along slowly but confidently. The next stretch was 9 miles with a significant climb. The rain turned from a comfortable drizzle into a torrential downpour. The rain instantly soaked me to the bone, and mentally I could imagine myself carrying all the extra water weight from wet clothes. The rain continued as I ran through the next aid station and approached Dowell’s Draft at mile 20.
I have NEVER thought about dropping so early into a race as I did here at Grindstone. It took em 5.5 hours to go 20 miles.I could not imagine running another 80. Cassie did her job as my crew chief fantastically. She knew what I needed before I even asked for it. She had gear ready to go and provided encouragement in ways only she knew how. After lying to me and telling me how great I was doing, I set out to North River Gap, which was 15 miles away. A small aid station in the middle provided some relief, but by the time I got to the 35 mile mark, I was exhausted. My back was killing me from the hills. It was still dark, and the sun had yet to rise above the mountaintops. I found Cassie in the line of cars. I asked her if she would think any less of me if I dropped. She told me that she would be proud of me no matter what I did, because she knew I gave it everything I had. I realized as she said this, that I had more to give. It wasn’t much more, but it was there.
The longest and hardest climb of the race was from 35 to 43. 7 miles, with most of it uphill. For almost 3.5 hours, my heart was beating out of my chest as I climbed the 4000+ foot mountain. I finally made it to the Little Bald Knob aid station at 43 miles. I sat in front of a fire, warmed myself, had some soup, and set out as fast as I could towards the next aid station. Again, I thought about dropping. If I had of seen Cassie at the 46 mile mark, I would have climbed in the car and admitted defeat.
But then I climbed Reddish Knob, and the whole race changed. I looked out upon the scenery below me and felt a sense of enlightenment. I felt my soul lift away from my body as I stood on top of the highest geographical point for miles. The sky was one of the most beautiful cloudscapes I’d ever seen. Dark gray storm clouds highlighted the landscape as random sun beams illuminated the treetops below. I stopped for a picture, then ran to the halfway point.
Cassie was tired as hell from driving to aid stations all night, but she didn’t let that stop her from completing her job as my crew. She helped me with a change of socks while we talked strategy. I warmed myself in the car for a few minutes, then I set out, knowing I would see her at the 65 mile mark.
I ran slowly, but strongly, to the next two aid stations. Then I started my downward decent towards North River Gap. I passed a lot of people on the way down. The confidence carried me through the next aid station and through the next few miles. Miles 75-78 were tough. My vision started to double and I could not fathom running another 25 miles, especially with the knowledge that the temperature was going to drop to the 30’s.
I fought through the miles, and decided to put on some music to focus on something else besides the pain. A Bliss N Eso song came on, and it changed my whole attitude. I felt an adrenaline rush from “I am somebody” and ran into the aid station with 20 miles to go at 14 minute mile pace.
I spoke to Cassie frantically. I refueled with Coke, wrapped up my massive blisters, fueled up with a cliff bar, and started the last 20 mile of Grindstone. The biggest advantage I had at this point was that I had run this exact route before- when I paced John back in 2012. I made mental notes of every rock, boulder, incline, decline, and water source back then. That mental imagery stayed with me so entirely that I felt I could have run this last 20 miles blindfolded. I continued to pass other runners as I zoomed by at what was comparatively super human speed to what I’d been running previously.
I came into the aid station at Dry Branch Gap. It was darker than black at this point, and the cold front had finally blown through to where snow could have fallen if enough moisture was present. I donned some gloves, and set out on the 9 mile stretch to the last aid station. I trekked a 3.5 mile mountain, throwing up along the way from the exhaustion and the cold. And then, finally, a downhill! My calves screamed at me, but I screamed back “ALMOST DONE! DON’T QUIT!” I rocketed down the mountain and into the final aid station at 12 minute mile pace.
Cassie was surprised to see me as soon as she did. I had continued to pass people and was now almost 40 places ahead of where I was at the 50 mile mark. I dropped off my pack, kept a water bottle, and downed a couple of GUs. With an electricity coursing throughout my body borderlining on biologically impossible, I gunned it towards the finish. All I heard was my music and all I felt was the earth beneath my feet. Everything that had hurt up until that point ceased. I felt that same enlightenment as Reddish Knob the closer I got to the finish line.
With a quarter mile to go, I put on a Hilltop Hoods song and sprinted into the finish at a speed a 400 meter runner would appreciate. I hugged the totem pole at the finish line, and Clark presented me with my belt buckle and finisher’s shirt.
I could barely move as my muscles froze up. Cassie was waiting at the finish line with a hug and a bag full of supplies. I took one of the most wonderful showers of my life before hobbling back to my tent. And after over 40 hours without sleep, I crawled inside my sleeping back and grew ignorant to all the other surroundings in the world. I woke up a few hours later to see the final finishers cross the line before chowing down on a memorable breakfast,
After examining my race and my race report, pacing John two years ago saved my race. It enabled me to finish strong and helped me reach an achievement that was almost out of my grasp. I learned so much about mountain running and trail running in this race, and I can’t wait to run it again. The confidence I have and the time I know I’ll be able to shed at the next race keep me so excited I can barely sleep. But, like other feelings from ultras, that will pass.
Again, I want (need) to thank Cassie for waiting on me hand and foot throughout 101 miles of misery. John Waite had a huge part in me finishing, even though he kicked me butt and dusted me with 95 miles to go! And lastly, thanks to all of those who provided support throughout the race. Knowing I had people cheering for me made this run tolerable, and at times, enjoyable. You will see me do this race again. And next time, my goals will be exponentially higher than simply finishing. #beastmode