Grindstone 100 Miler Race Report
Grindstone 100 Mile Endurance Run is actually 101.85 miles of an out and back course in the beautiful George Washington National Forest. The race features 23,200 feet of uphill on rugged rocky terrain. From what I hear, not quite as gnarly/rocky as the Massanutten 100, but you’ve got a lot of attention to pay.
I was in 2nd place. I had run 72 miles, but this was a 100 miler and I f’d up. I had nothing left. I. BLEW. UP. My broken toe was throbbing and I found myself in that desperate place where your thoughts more often than not skip around from the dramatic to the self deprecating. Is it weird that the hashtag #EpicFail kept running through my head while I was “walking it in” the last 28 miles?
Before this race I was feeling pretty good with the exception of a broken toe. I’m sure it’s broken now, but at the time I had convinced myself the pain wasn’t a broken bone. My response to “How’s the toe?” was “It’s probably not broken, but it’s definitely infected”. As per my usual, I was confident in my endurance, not my speed. I hadn’t specifically trained for the Grindstone 100, but figured my training was mostly applicable and I didn’t have any weight on me about this. I was just going to go run 100 miles and enjoy it. Grindstone is quite unique in that it starts at 6pm at night, assuring that everyone, regardless of speed, runs through every second of darkness the nigh provides. This intrigued me, as I truly love night running.
Before the race I enjoyed anonymously observing the Virginia trail running community, as I only knew a handful of people at the race. It’s obvious that they have a strong community of passionate runners.
Patagonia UltraRunner Clark Zealand is the Grindstone 100 Race Director. He played straight man to Dr. David Horton‘s pre-race meeting shenanigans where he repeated “Don’t be stupid!” to the runners. My race strategy was to cruise on the 20hr splits as long as they felt comfy and push the last 20 miles if I had it in me. I wasn’t going to pay any attention to the race going on around me.That plan lasted all of 32 miles. Once a race presented itself, I could not resist.
There was a front pack of about six of us that went out at a moderate pace for the first few miles. As the trail turned up, the effort to stay with them put me uncomfortably close to going anaerobic. So I just let them run away while I rocked some dubstep on the ipod. I wasn’t sure how agro the 20hr splits would feel. It soon became apparent that they were perfectly in my comfort zone. I was just running, not pushing, not running hard, just cruising at “long run pace”.. perfect. The trail was rocky and technical. This made my toe very unhappy. I struggled for what seemed like endless miles of the pain associated with a poorly placed right foot. All of sudden my “last resort ibuprofen” became “first resort to continue ibuprofen”. The medicinal dose quicly made the punishment more tolerable as night fully descended on us. From there I fell into a state of anoesis, pure ultrarunning bliss.
To my surprise I was a minute or two ahead of my 20hr splits and just a couple minutes off Karl Meltzer’s record run splits (18h 45m). The front pack started to come back to me, putting me in 3rd or 4th by mile 20. This was my first time ever running 100 without crew or pacers. I have to thank AJW and especially Horton for the help in digging through my drop bags and getting me out of the aid stations quickly.
At North River Gap Aid station, mile 36 Horton and Clark specifically told me “Don’t push this climb. Or the return. Just don’t push it on this section at all.” I effectively did the exact opposite of this sound advice, and it ended my race. North River aid station is where the biggest climb on the course began. Unfortunately I felt amazing leaving that aid station AND I had someone right on my tail. This guy had left an unsavory taste earlier when I caught him leaving his hip pack and bottles at the base of the first out and back climb. This allowed him to tag the summit without the extra weight. Maybe not illegal, but definitely lame. After quickly dropping that 4th place runner I didn’t consciously think to slow down. I just kept feeling good, so I kept putting in work. Eventually I could see the lights from 2nd place, which just fueled my new ‘racing’ mentality even more. I didn’t ever consciously think about what I was doing. I was just caught in the race moment, to my detriment. Eventually I passed and quickly put a few minutes 2nd place as well.
Something happened in my head that told me now that I had 2nd I shouldn’t give it up. This is totally illogical at mile 40-70 in a 100 miler, at least for me. What I needed to do was just keep running my splits and not worry about placement. So by the time I returned to mile 66.5 and the North River Gap aid station I was fried. I kept nose diving until around mile 72 when the wheels came completely off and my mental state turned to just getting to the finish line. From 2nd pace and racing, to out for a hike in the blink of an eye. I guess that’s 100 mile racing. I thought a lot about a friends idiom “I do this for fun. If it’s not fun anymore I drop”. What I was doing at that point, was decidedly not fun. I’d say that my discomfort with dropping is likely a character flaw that only Freud could diagnose.
I had blow up so bad I could not longer eat. After the race eventual 2nd place David Ruttum told me when he passed me I was staggering side to side. And as is customary he more than paid me back by dropping me very quickly. Honestly I’m surprised only five more people passed on my hike to the finish line.
Hundred milers are hard beasts to figure out. They are so very long they leave lots of time for morons like me to make costly mistakes. Grindstone 100 is truly a first class event. Next time I’ll follow Dr. Horton’s advice.
Gear: Montrail Rockridge | UltrAspire Race Isomeric & UltrAspire Synapse w/the Atom belt