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2008 Grindstone 100 Mile Endurance Run Race Report


By hagrin - Posted on 08 October 2008

Pre-Race
My preparation leading up to the inaugural Grindstone 100 was the best I have had for an ultra in my short ultrarunning career. I finally made it through training without picking up an injury, I was able to run 70+ miles consistently per week, all of my miles were fast, quality miles and I was able to do more cross training/weight training than previously. I sincerely felt as if I had done as much as I had possibly could have in preparation for this epic run.

Starting my solo drive from Long Island, NY at 10:30pm after a short gym workout, I arrived at Camp Shenandoah a little after 4am Friday morning. Since it was pitch black out, I decided to forego setting up the tent and just crawled up in the backseat and passed out. I woke up just in time for the 1pm pre-race meeting where Race Director Clark Zealand and David Horton talked about the race, the logistics, the course and gave out what seemed like 30 raffle prizes (runners are automatically entered). David’s description of the course sufficiently scared me even though I was already expecting an extremely difficult course which definitely humbled my approach to the race. After the meeting ended, I went back to my car, packed my drop bag, got dressed and tried to sleep knowing I would be running into the second night even if my race went well. I woke up at 5:30pm, went to the starting line and 30 minutes later we were off.

Grindstone 100 Elevation Map
     
Camp Shenandoah
     
Right Before the Start of the 2008 Grindstone 100

The Race – The Beginning
The first challenging aspect to the Grindstone 100 is the somewhat odd 6pm starting time. About 75 runners left the campsite and started the run around the campsite and then out onto the trail. The terrain to the first aid station (Falls Hollow – mile 5.71) is some of the gentler, runnable trails you will find during the race. After crossing the double railroad tracks, I reached the first aid station and decided that with only another 15-20 minutes of usable daylight that I would forego picking up aid and continue right on the trail and would suggest this for most runners. The road to the second aid station is a long 9.53 mile section that starts with some easier trail, but then leads to an extremely steep climb up a loose gravel road. The terrain here is extremely poor, but somewhat better on the extreme right or left side so the climb here was slower than your normal steep incline. After the gravel road, you have to bypass a right onto the trail, which you will take later, and continue up the hill to get your first hole punch which was located on the fence. The road from here leads to a very rocky, steep decline and into the Dry Branch Gap aid station at mile 15.24. By this point, I had slowed down significantly due to the night time running and having the batteries in my headlamp fade and then die causing me to kick a few large rocks.

The next two sections, to Dowells Draft (mile 22.89) and Lookout Mountain (mile 31.24) were sections that I would consider your normal, technical trail running with some rocks, some roots, but only has one major climb that is shorter than the others in the race. I ran pretty consistent 15 minute miles through these night sections which I am happy with considering I probably needed to carry more light with me. My pace slowed some more with the climb to the North River Gap aid station (mile 36.69), but I was staying pretty well hydrated with no cramps and no pains outside of the rock kicking I did in the early miles. These last three sections were very non-descript for me as they were just nighttime trail running and I plodded along as best possible.

North River Gap (mile 36.69) to Little Bald Knob (mile 45.44)
However, the race started to take its first turn for the worse once I got to the North River Gap aid station. This is the only aid station in which your weight was measured and the scales said I was down 5 pounds which was basically impossible since I wasn’t sweating, I had consumed about 100-150oz. of water and was still eating peanut butter and jelly sandwich squares at every aid station. I checked my feet which were starting to fall apart, but I didn’t stay long enough to really take care of them as I was starting to get cold and tight. On the way out, I stood by the fire for a minute and then took off after 2 runners who were also leaving. Still under darkness, we almost missed a turn onto a very small “bridge” which then turned into a major uphill climb. This climb was extremely long and goes from a single, technical track trail that is moderately rocky to a more wide open trail that is easier to run, but still somewhat steep. During this climb my left ankle was starting to bother me and my pace slowed enough that I dropped to the lowest place I would all race long.

I walked into Little Bald Knob (mile 45.44) and thoughts of dropping started to creep into my mind due to the pain in my feet. This aid station and its volunteers saved my race … twice. I sat down by the fire and a volunteer, J.B. (who I owe my finish too), came over to check my feet. At the same time, the volunteer’s dog Diesel came over and licked my face and came and sat down right next to me and didn’t move as if he realized I was in pain. As a dog person, this little interaction really boosted my spirits and took my mind off the pain while J.B. wrapped my left ankle in an ACE bandage. I left the aid station after being down about 20-30 minutes, taking 4 250mg Ibuprofen and hobbled out of the aid station renewed, with my mp3 player for additional support and the sun now shining.

Diesel Dog at Little Bald Knob

Little Bald Knob and Back (mile 59.94)
As many ultrarunners know, the lows of a race are accompanied by highs as well. Miles 45 through 86 would be an extended high for me. I started to run out of Little Bald Knob with a pace I hadn’t had at any point during the race yet. I was able to run the flats and downhills very easily and aggressively walk the uphills. While I didn’t reel in many runners ahead of me, I definitely felt like I was making up time on the bottom half of the field so that my finish would at least be respectable. At Reddish Knob, I dropped my pack and proceeded up the paved road to the flagpole where, on a trailer, there was a second hole punch and some very good looking female James Madison University students. Inspiration comes in all forms and I suddenly found that good, upright running form as I trotted passed them. I took some photos with the photographer before heading down back to the aid station where I picked up my pack. Most of the way down to Briery Branch Gap (mile 51.99) is downhill paved road which I ran well and led me to the third and final hole punch. I headed back to Reddish Knob for the third time, took a picture of the aid station and headed out still running well, but not having caught any runners during this time. This part of the course, although paved road, was very enjoyable to me because of the quick intervals between hitting aid stations.

Peak near Reddish Knob

The run back to Little Bald Knob signaled that I was starting to move back through the course to aid stations I had already visited. I got to Little Bald Knob and J.B. once again performed miracles on my feet by taking care of a bad blister on right heel and on the inside of one of my toes. Being an ultrarunner himself, his foot care expertise was invaluable to me and I wish I could thank him more. He patched up my right foot and I was out running again. The trip back to North River Gap proved to be the first part of the race where I would start to climb back up the standings. The road, in this direction, is much, much easier and enjoyable than the other direction earlier in the race. I was able to run the downhills, which aren’t very rocky, with some pretty good pace. I believe that the live tracking calculated these splits incorrectly as the mileage was changed due to aid station placement causing the distance between North River Gap and Little Bald Knob to be an additional 2 miles. While I did run out of water 30 minutes out from the aid station, I strolled into the station (mile 68.69) at the same weight as the last time I was weighed and in great shape having caught 4 runners.

North River Gap (mile 68.69) to Dry Branch Gap (mile 86.14)
However, out of the station, I didn’t see the turn back onto the trail which I probably should have, but was rightly confused. On the trail tree was a glow stick (it was still daylight) and the road marking, which was white, had been smudged into a streak and I ignored it taking a 5 minute detour up the road before coming back and seeing the glow stick finally. Outside of this one marking, the race was marked amazingly well with reflective strips, pink streamers, glow sticks and painted floor arrows. The slight detour didn’t slow me down though and I continued to run well through the Lookout Mtn. and Dowells Draft (mile 79.49) aid stations. On the road to Dowells, I was dreaming of a post-race hamburger and I was pleasantly greeted with a hamburger at this aid station – the tastiest hamburger I have ever eaten.

I left renewed yet again, but a few miles out found myself trekking uphill and starting to fade into a second darkness as Saturday, 7pm started to roll around. I took a picture of the second sunset fighting the mental hurdles of the approaching night. I drew on my experience pacing at the Vermont 100 this year and how I watched my runner wilt as the night sky approached even though he was physically fine. After a very long, steep climb, there is a rapid descent that seemed to go on forever until I reached the Dry Branch Gap aid station knowing I only had one more major climb in front of me. By this time, I had caught 13 runners since Little Bald Knob and was running in 42nd place. I was feeling great, but as most ultrarunners know, your race can change in an instant.

The Second Sunset at the Grindstone 100

Disaster Strikes 14 Miles from the Finish
The climb starts immediately out of the Dry Branch Gap aid station and is very steep. Only 100 yards out of the aid station, I felt a pop in my right ankle (front middle) and my ankle immediately started to swell. I figured I had turned it slightly and it didn’t hurt too bad – maybe a 2 on the 1-10 pain scale. I continued uphill, but as I started to encounter very rough, rocky sections the pain started to increase. Near the top of this climb, the terrain is extremely difficult as the rocks are plentiful and all different sizes. Unfortunately, the pain levels started to increase no matter how many Ibuprofen I shoved in my mouth. Eventually, I hobbled my way to the top of the hill, through the short, somewhat flat trail section and then was greeted with that lose gravel road I had climbed the night before. On a good day, I would have had trouble negotiating this decline as the footing can only be described as ridiculous and comical as many pre-race jokes about the “Best Blood” award coming from this section were mentioned. Unfortunately, my ankle barely allowed me to descend at all, no less quickly as I had to step almost perpendicularly to the road to limit the pressure on my ever swelling ankle. I finally negotiated the gravel road and made it to the easier trail section, but by this time I was in a full out death march. I was done.

I walked into the final aid station at Falls Hollow (mile 95.02) fully intending to drop. To me, I had nothing left to prove. I was 5+ miles out with over 7.5 hours to go so a finish was clearly possible, but the idea of death marching and possibly damaging my ankle further was destroying my desire to push forward. When I got to the aid station, I think the volunteers there thought I was crazy for wanting to drop and basically never even entertained my dropping ideas. Instead, a relocated NYC woman helped ice my ankle some and they sent me on my way after being down about 20 minutes. Unfortunately, the ice didn’t help and the full out “limpfest” was on. Looking at the race results, my pace for this final section was a miserable 47 minutes/mile as I just couldn’t put any weight on the ankle. Nearing the finish, before the lake, I even had to sit down and slide down on my butt to negotiate even small, steep declines. Finally, the lake appeared and the lake mist started covering my body in a cold, wet precipitation that caused me to start shivering. I must have looked like a mess to Clark and the volunteers as I crossed the finish line just under 34 hours shivering and wanting nothing else than to have a doctor check out my ankle. Clark woke up a doctor for me who diagnosed the ankle as “ultrarunner’s ankle” which is a type of anterior tibial tendonitis caused by repetitive ankle bending and possibly tying your top shoelace too tight – something that the volunteer J.B. from Little Bald Knob had warned me about. It took me 7.5 hours to go those last 14 miles otherwise I probably would have finished 3-4 hours earlier.

Grindstone 100 Finish #1
     
Grindstone 100 Finish #2

Overall, I was very happy with my race. My quads and calves were not sore at all meaning that my training was proper although unorthodox for most ultrarunners (all my running training is performed on treadmills). However, I definitely need to learn three lessons about the “art” of ultrarunning – night running, shoe tying and foot care if I plan on not letting my training go to waste. Grindstone is a great race and I will be back next year since I want that LUS Beast Series trophy which I’m going to miss out on due to a flat tire on the way to Holiday Lake (ugh). Clark Zealand put on a great race, the aid stations were well stocked and, more importantly, knowledgeable and the trail was marked very well and very fair although extremely difficult. If you don’t like night running, rocks or hills, you may want to pass on this race, but if you’re looking for one of the toughest 100 mile races on the East Coast, Grindstone is the race for you. Thank you to all the volunteers – I tried to remember to thank you on the way out of every aid station, but if I missed some of you thank you again – without you, there would be no race.