Monday, October 6, 2014

Grindstone 100


Friday Oct 3rd
Grindstone doesn't start till Friday 6pm. Meaning that we slower runners get to spend 2 nights out on the course. I knew that was going to be my struggle, but I have never done anything like it so I was unsure how I would feel. I got in good rest Thursday night with a sleep in and then an extra nap in the car. I knew sleeping before the race would be impossible at camp.
I felt strangely calm going into the race not quite knowing what to expect and just to take one section at a time, step by step. 
My plan was to really key into my heart rate and go out slow. In fact at 6pm when we were 'go' I ended up at the back of the pack straight away and rolled through the first aid station 15 mins late (but they had a soft cutoff) so that made me nervous but I knew I could make up time.
The weather was warm (high 60s?), humid and lightly raining at the start which quickly turned into heavier rain and creating a fog that was very hard to see ahead of you. There were a couple of really heavy downpours and I worried about getting hypodermic, but I remained warm enough as Grindstone sends you 3500ft up in 5 miles to the summit of Elliott Knob. I was having a slow climb but feeling good about making steady progress and picking up time later. 
 Climb up Elliotts by day
Made my way to the Dry Branch aid station down the technical, rocky North Mountain trail, which had me stumbling a bit, making it in just 10 mins before there cut off at 10:30pm.
Next up is Crawford Mountain and its a slow climb, up almost 2000ft in less than 2 miles which comes at you in extreme steep stretches. Still feeling good and glad to be moving along at my own comfortable pace. I enjoy the descent into Dowells which is 3 miles of downhill and mostly runnable. The rain is still light and visibility is not so good, that helped with a nice smooth slow run down to the highway. I saw Dani briefly at Dowells draft aid station - Mile 22 - but she was quickly gone. After some trouble finding my drop bag I ditched my poles and restocked on a few supplies. Thanks to Bob Gaylord who helped me put some things away. The oranges tasted really good and I ate a bunch of them, apologizing to the volunteers for my greediness! Now I am 20 minutes ahead of the cutoff.

A long but mostly low angled climb is next up to the top of Hankey mountain. Soon after the summit I catch up on Dani and we make our way to Lookout mountain aid station, another amazing crew of volunteers. They had grilled cheese that tasted good. Dani and I quickly got out of the aid station to make our way 6.5 miles to North River over mostly rolling, technical trail. We saw some cool salamanders and having a great time rolling into North River aid station. North River is very well set up and organized with a variety of hot foods to choose from. Tater tots, porgies, rice, soup ... you name it! I made a quick change of socks, shirt and was soon on my way up the slow long climb to Little bald knob.

picture taken from a training run
A very challenging climb up almost 4,500 over 7 miles. The front runners were starting to pass us on the out and back about half way up.
Dani Loving the climb up Little bald Knob (from MMB 50K)
  Sunrise was coming soon and it was a lovely thought to soon have the sunlight to light the way and be able to see the beautiful views around us.  The sun was up as I arrived at the summit at around 7:10am ( and I was still able maintain my usual little bald knob climb-pace of 2 hrs 40 mins.)  Dani caught up to me running through the open meadows along our way to the aid station, and WOW the foliage was amazing!! This stretch is mostly low angled downhill that keeps popping out in open meadows, very enjoyable running and we now had the sunshine starting to warm our bones.

picture from training run but this is just how I felt!
  They were all out of soup at Little bald which was upsetting, but I tried there scrambled egg burritos that I wasn't sure was going to go down well  but they were amazing!!  We were quickly out of Little bald aid station getting excited to be drawing closer to the turn around. More enjoyable running and up to the summit of Reddish knob was some easier climbing.   The views up on Reddish were the best I had seen. Mostly cloudy but with some sun reaching through the clouds onto the mountains around us. The fall color was spectacular and It felt great to be alive.

picture by Dani Seiss from the race
We were soon joined by the always smiling Gary Knipling, who is 70 years old with 30 years of Ultra running under his belt. We enjoyed his company and enthusiasm as we chatted and passed out encouragement to runners headed back.  This is a 2.5 mile paved road section I wasn't looking forward to, but it actually felt great... we made the turn around at 9:30am, now gaining us 2 1/2 hrs on the cut offs and that felt really good. We were still running strong and felt we were going to make a great time If we could keep the pace going.

It was exciting to be headed back, we were relaxed, making awesome time and enjoying all our surroundings. Dani said there was "no place I would rather be." You just had to stop for a second to take it in.  I felt good and strong running the downhill back into Little Knob aid and was excited for my change of shoes.  My feet were starting to feel more sensitive and I knew my brand new Montrail Masochists with all there fresh cushioning were waiting for me! They felt wonderful. I took an ensure that tasted so good and a thick cheese quesadilla that I had trouble getting down. Again we quickly made our way out of the aid station. I was hoping to find the flashlight on my way back that I had lost on Little bald that morning, but it was gone.  The sections of going down Little Bald that we didn't get to see in the darkness earlier that morning where just mind blowing. Really I had to stop and just say "wow Dani - how amazing is this!" Its a steep and tough descent going back down to North River and Dani's feet were blistering - but she ran strongly into the aid station and we couldn't believe the great time we made, arriving about 2:30pm.

I got my lights, changed fresh batteries into my headlamp, grabbed a buff and change of shirt.  Ate some of that amazing food again, tater tots, ham/cheese sandwiches and soda.

Headed back up Lookout mountain (training run)

We are now 64 miles in and on our way back up Lookout mountain. We were joined my Jack Anderson and we enjoyed many trail miles together back to Dowells.  Spirits were high along Lookout mountain, we were still feeling and moving along at our steady pace. Dani got a crazy energy high and was even doing short sprints! I was floored by her energy and it was motivating so that we all starting to jog down the dirt road into the Lookout Mt aid station at Mile 72.  They had pancakes and just a couple of M & M pancakes which were actually more tasty than I though they would be. Jack was jealous of the extra 3 M&Ms that I had in my pancake. I took another plain pancake, some soda and we were good to go.  We thanked the volunteers and were on our way.  We had about a 50k left and now were coming up on Hankey mountain.  The dirt road up to Hankey seem to go by quickly with the great company.

Mmmm runnable dirt road (training run)
The sun was getting lower and we all felt the chill coming, we put layers on and jackets, knowing we would soon hit the 3 mile downhill run into Dowells Draft aid station. I was shocked that I didn't fall on this section as I have every other time I have been on it. I heard some cussing behind as a couple of stumps were found.  I couldn't believe the fact that we would get back into Dowells before it was dark. 

atop the Hankey Mountain (training run)

Mile 80! Dani and Jack both got foot work done at Dowells, I grabbed all the layers I had packed to keep my upper body warm but decided to not wear the tights, knowing that my legs can take 'a little' cold and I had a lot of climbing coming up.  I ate lots of oranges again since I hadn't been able to find many anywhere else and they tasted so good. Jack and Dani were still getting work done, Jack draining the fluid from his blisters, he was surprised to find one that was in between the toes. I started to chill fast I told Jack that I had to go and I would be walking slowly hopping they catch up.  My feet were doing great - no blistering issues that I could feel.  The outside of my heels are usually the most common spot I get them and maybe there was something there but I really didn't notice. 

The climb up Crawford was immensely long.  Starts off with an easy flat section but is a little too technical to run. I typically walk this section on my training runs anyway and enjoyed this stroll as a long climb was coming.  I was still alone and started the climb up.  Its a consistent low grade climb up to the top of Crawford. It felt relentless and much longer than it should. Dani joined me about half way up after I had to make a pit stop.  Happy to be back together to struggle through the climb. I tried not to complain, I didn't want to share my negative energy, but some things did slip out a couple of times.  The wind was picking up from the west and finally... finally saw a couple of headlights moving in the opposite direction meaning the switchback was not far ahead - which means not too much further to the top of Crawford.  A few rocks later we were up to the top of Crawford and we celebrated and enjoyed a recovery walk along the grassy flat top of Crawford.  Running was not as consistent now, but I could still manage a run-walk. A shorter stretch of running followed by a longer stretch of walking.  The wind was getting relentless, very strong and the temperatures felt like around freezing. It felt as though it blew through all my layers. Even with 3 layers and a layer tied around my legs to try keep them warm, I was miserably cold (how I regret not bringing those tights with me from Dowells!!!) The steep descents were soon coming and I wondered how they were going to feel on the legs - Now nicknamed 'the 5 bithces'.  Turned out I couldn't run those steep downhills, no real surprise there... my quads starting to feel well trashed and we slipped and slided down the descents. When I thought we were on the last one I was wrong... but I was still very happy thinking about getting into Dry Branch - the 2nd to last aid station! Mile 88. It was great to see Gary Peterson again, as he had been all over the mountains, shuttling and helping at aid stations. Gary asked how I was feeling and for the first time during the race I gave a negative reply that the last section felt the longest, the descent was hell and that the cold wind was bad news.  He knows the course from the training runs last year, unfortunately he got injured and was unable to run it this year but came out to help anyway.  He lifted my spirits in his consoling and understanding of the hell I had just been through.

We made our way a little too quickly out of the aid station. Dani wanted to get moving and I wanted to eat more but I didn't want to lose her. I got in some soup, took a whole banana with me and more soda. 

I knew a fairly easier climb was coming but its loaded with rocks. It starts off nice and pleasant for a good mile and your like 'where's all the rocks'. Then you find them and you really don't want to trip, so each foot placement is careful placed. Still managed to trip and stumble at least 20 times or more. Dani was behind me and she was  'owwing' for me each time I took a bad one. Profanity found it way to my mouth and I just wanted off this section badly. The cold night plus continuous wind, the lack of climbing and the slow technical trail meant not generating much heat.  Balancing became tougher, sleep deprivation now really hitting hard and the trail just becomes a blur. Dani headed in front and I was just waiting for her to turn around and tell me the road was there.  We passed a group of people that were also not moving any faster and stumbling greatly over the trail. 


It was just past midnight and finally the dirt road, Dani turned to give me a smile. A couple of people were just sitting on the road taking in the stars to celebrate being there and headed to the finish. 
Running down Elliotts dirt road was out of the question... I tried to see how my shuffle was, but it was no faster than my walk and it caused less slipping on this steep descent.  I heard and saw Enrique (who is a very fast runner) and was sad to see him limping down the steep grade, his pacer holding on to him for support and a stick in his other hand.  Running downhill too fast caused him a serious injury to his IT band meaning he was not be able to bend his knee at all.  I was sad for him but I was happy he was going to make it. I though maybe this had just happened to him but later learned that he struggled for 40 miles with it. He told me he would finish and he did.

Dani had a upset stomach and I stopped with her, I was expecting a nice big vomit but nothing came out. She was still moving along and it would come back again. She could move quickly down Elliotts with her shuffle - still feeling some gusts of wind and now our body temperatures were really dropping. We felt ill with cold. It didn't feel as long as I thought to the Falls Hollow trail and we found some runners not sure of the way through the creek crossings. One guy was standing in the middle of the stream bed not sure where the trail was. I told them the way and soon we were on a nice level wide dirt trail on our way into the last aid station.  Dani looked really cold now and was folding her arms in front to try and get some warmth.  She picked up a vest from someone at the last aid station and she asked me if I could run - I told her "no - you should just go - you need to keep moving to stay warm.".  I was sad I would lose not being able to finish together after coming so far but I knew I was moving slowly and I know what its like to be in her situation.
I was upset they didn't have anything warm to offer at the last aid station, so I got moving quickly out of there.  This section of trail I know well as I have done trail work on it the last 2 years for the race.  I even noticed some of the work we had done not too long ago.
Grindstone trail work day
  The moon was eye catching and the chill wasn't as bad now. I had put on my extra layer from around my legs - So I now had 4 layers on top! I reached the dirt road and spotted somebody ahead of me. I thought it might have been Dani but it wasn't. I could imagine her running along this dirt road and probably somewhere close to the Camp Shenandoah. The course turns off the dirt road for some technical trail and then there were plenty of rocks to navigate. I got stuck behind a couple of groups and was eager to pass them. The first group moved right out of the way and the second group were having much trouble stumbling along through the rocks and I finally asked to get around them and then to my surprise there was Dani popping out of the bushes!

I was so happy! We would be able to make it together but I still wouldn't mind if she ran ahead - she was still so full of energy - at least from my perspective! I knew I had her for at least for a few minutes because of all the rocks.

trail getting closer to camp (trail work day 2013) not too many rocks in this picture, but here was plenty!
When we got onto the camp grounds I was able to do a slow shuffle run for short stretches. We pass the showers and the last section takes you around Hope Lake, more runners losing there way, they can't see any markers.  I tell them the way and off they go.  Dani and I are so happy and we plan to run it in when we get to the grass. I managed to shuffle run a bit before then too.  A few tricky steps down to the lake and up the dam. I shuffle run, Dani was running with her same steady pace and pulled ahead.  She was slightly ahead of me and she walked for just a couple of seconds so I did the same. Maybe she was trying to let me catch up but I just couldn't before she started running again. I am happy she came this far with me and is feeling that pull and surge you get from approaching the finish line. I hear them call her out and she finishes in 33:49:04 and I come in 33:49:40. 

To be a finisher you must also hug the Totem pole. After a congratulations from the Race Director Clark Zealand we gave the big totem pole a hug and I look up to the top of it at the bird and the stars are amazing - I just stand there looking up holding onto the pole. 

Thank you to all the volunteers, Clark Zealand, Dani and all the great ultra runners who toed that line and gave it everything.

245 Starters
52 DNFs
Dani and I were 149 and 150th finisher.
Not bad since I was 196th place at 22 miles in.