Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Reflections on Grindstone 100

This post is written for runners who *may* want to try Grindstone 100, another tough mountain 100, or for folks who like to read long, tedious race reports. (Those interested in the quick and dirty report of my Grindstone 100 race, check out my previous post, "Sunset, Sunrise, Sunset: Grindstone 100.") If you are interested in the minute details of my experience on this incredible trail, and what I learned from the challenge, stay tuned.


Grindstone start, 6:00pm, Friday, October 3. Click for larger.(photo by J.R. Ankney)

Training Re-cap I described my top-10 race goals for Gstone in the previous post, knowing that anything could happen to derail my plans, but optimistic as a result of a long summer of training (see previous posts for my entire training plan). I focused on climbing, descending, long tempo runs with my buddy Bill Potts and long intervals on the track, with mile weeks topping out at 80 mpw. The only elements I would add, now that the race is over? Longer, steeper descent training (repeats of at least 45 minutes long on steep road or trail), and a few more training runs on rocky, technical trail to condition my feet. That said, I ended up with only one small blister on one toe which I attribute to wearing Injinji toe socks with Body Glide lube underneath, and re-lubing with vaseline at mile 35 and 66.


Bill Potts with me at mile 80, Dowells Draft. Click for larger.

Mental Prep I am a huge believer in positive self talk and visual imagery, and for Gstone I spent a lot of time thinking about how I would feel at different points along the trail and how I was going to handle the negative thoughts that tend to creep in during 100s. When I got sleepy during the first night, I took a caffeine pill and plugged into my Ipod, and this made a huge difference. I got sleepy again during the mid-afternoon while climbing Hankey Mountain on Saturday, so I went off trail, set my watch alarm for 5 minutes, and took a quick power nap. That was awesome! I had a HUGE energy boost from that nap so later in the evening when I got loopy, I did it again. Meeting my pacer Mike Mason at mile 75 and again at mile 89 was a huge mental boost as well, as I had been running alone for most of the race. I could feel my pace pick up when we were together, and he did a phenomenal job keeping me upbeat and positive (though I was a huge WHINER during the last three miles). Finishing a 100 mile race is so much about attitude, and I was prepared to deal with the inevitable low moments as well as the highs with equal energy.

Nutrition Recap I started Gstone with 20oz of Sustained Energy, 40 oz of water in my Nathan pack, and a flask of raspberry Hammergel. This combination has worked me in other long ultras, and it was no different at Gstone. After I finished off the SE, I drank a Nuun tablet and water from my bottle for electrolytes for the rest of the event, and a few solid foods when necessary: scrambled egg and tortilla, PB and J, and chicken noodle soup went down the best. In the last 15 miles, it was hard to eat anything, especially the Powergel that Mike Mason insisted on me eating as we descended Elliott's (something about the sodium to help with my quad soreness). I was cold, tired, and not hungry, but I forced myself to eat it. I also sipped water to settle my stomach. As soon as I was finished with the race, Rusty brought me an ice cold cappucino Ultragen, which Krissy told me to try in a race...so perhaps I'll give it a go at Hellgate in December. Ultragen truly works and helps me recover very quickly from tough workouts and races. Overall, I was pleased with my energy level and nutrition, though I think I needed more protein late in the race to keep me from bonking, and I should have planned for that and for more Hammergel.


Coming into mile 80, Dowells Draft, with pacer Mike Mason and hubby Rusty on the right. Click for larger.

The Trail I broke down the course in thirds and included my live website stats just for fun:

Miles 1-36 I ran in about 9 hours, which is exactly the pace I wanted, despite starting way in the back of the pack. The first five miles were spent in the woods near Camp Shenandoah, on nice singletrack and technical trail as we climbed over Little North Mountain to Rte 42, where AS 1 was waiting:

#1 Station - Falls Hollow 5.71 miles
00 days, 01:09:06 Time to Station
00:12:06 / mile Overall Pace
00:12:06 / mile Pace from Last Recorded Station
59 / 74 Station Rank


After crossing Rte 42, it was dark and we climbed dirt road and a section of lovely singletrack before popping out onto Elliott's Knob FR, a nasty, rocky, exposed fire road that has a VERY steep grade. It took about 30 minutes to climb this road to the top of the Knob, where I got my number punched to prove I was there before dropping down a few yards to the trailhead. I ran this section with Vicki Kendall and Rebekah, and we had fun going down the next section to Dry Branch, which is a mix of rocky technical singletrack and smooth singletrack...lovely running!

#2 Station - Dry Branch Gap 15.24 miles
00 days, 03:40:06 Time to Station
00:14:26 / mile Overall Pace
00:15:50 / mile Pace from Last Recorded Station
58 / 74 Station Rank


After Dry Branch, it's UP UP UP Crawford Mountain. There are five---count 'em---five long, hands-on-your-knees climbs along this ridge line before you are mercifully dropped onto the stunning Chimney Hollow Trail---all down, down, down. This trail crosses Rte 250 and links up to the fantastic Dowells Draft Trail, our next AS:

#3 Station - Dowells Draft 22.89 miles
00 days, 05:30:06 Time to Station
00:14:25 / mile Overall Pace
00:14:22 / mile Pace from Last Recorded Station
49 / 73 Station Rank


I started to pass a few folks here after my conservative start. Mike Mason told me later that he was a bit "concerned" about my slow pace, but I told him it was all part of the plan!

After the AS, we had another wonderful section of singletrack that climbed up to Hankey Mountain to the Wild Oak Trail (known around these parts as TWOT). TWOT then becomes a nice runnable fire road, all downhill, before the third AS at Lookout Mountain, where I met up with VHTRCers Mike Dobies and Marty Lindemann:

#4 Station - Lookout Mountain 31.24 miles
00 days, 07:33:06 Time to Station
00:14:30 / mile Overall Pace
00:14:43 / mile Pace from Last Recorded Station
46 / 72 Station Rank


After the AS, it was technical, tedious, rocky singletrack all the way to North River Gap AS, a.k.a. the Wild Oak Trail parking area (mile 37 and mile 66):

#5 Station - North River Gap 36.69 miles
00 days, 08:57:06 Time to Station
00:14:38 / mile Overall Pace
00:15:24 / mile Pace from Last Recorded Station
38 / 71 Station Rank


I sat down here for the first time and changed my socks after lubing up with vaseline---aaahhhh, this made a huge difference and was worth the time spent (at Western States I made the error of not taking the time to lube my feet and swore I would never make that mistake again!). However, the big mistake here came when I forgot to switch out my Hammergel flask for a new one. I would pay for this later, as I was descending Little Bald with nothing to eat and an hour until the AS.

The next section, miles 36-66, took me 8 hours to complete. It meant a very tough climb up to Little Bald on sweet singletrack for 7 miles. The AS was literally on top of the mountain in the middle of nowhere. It was a welcome respite after the long climb:

#6 Station - Little Bald Knob 43.44 miles
00 days, 11:48:06 Time to Station
00:16:18 / mile Overall Pace
00:25:20 / mile Pace from Last Recorded Station
35 / 69 Station Rank


After the AS was a lot of easy ridge running to Reddish Knob on old grassy fire road, dirt, and then very hilly pavement before turning around at Briery Branch for the return trip to North River Gap. The best part of the race for me took place here, as I climbed up Reddish...the sun was rising above the valley, with views of West Virginia (we were right on the border) and Virginia below. Tom Sperduto took amazing photos of us up here. We also had the chance to see folks coming back from the turnaround and get a sense of how far apart we were. It was fun to greet my fellow compatriots and get/give a few "you look great!" hugs in the process.

#7 Station - Reddish Knob 49.37 miles
00 days, 12:55:06 Time to Station
00:15:41 / mile Overall Pace
00:11:17 / mile Pace from Last Recorded Station
29 / 66 Station Rank


Coming back to the Little Bald AS, I knew I needed some solid food, but was wary. I had problems in the past with solid food messing with my stomach, but I also needed some protein. JB Basham convinced me to eat his scrambled egg tortilla--- it made a huge difference in my energy level as I descended Little Bald, because I was out of my usual gel and the energy boost came at a perfect time.

#10 Station - Little Bald Knob 59.94 miles
00 days, 14:50:06 Time to Station
00:14:50 / mile Overall Pace
00:10:19 / mile Pace from Last Recorded Station
28 / 67 Station Rank


I have descended Little Bald many times while running on the TWOT course, so this was familiar fun. I was pleased with my pace and when I came into North River Gap (mile 66) a second time, it was awesome to see Rusty as well as Tom Corris and Barb Isom greet me. I changed my socks again, lubed up, and switched out of my skirt to shorts because I was feeling a bit of chafing. All good decisions and a good use of time, as I felt great climbing back up Lookout Mountain.

#11 Station - North River Gap 66.69 miles
00 days, 17:02:06 Time to Station
00:15:19 / mile Overall Pace
00:19:33 / mile Pace from Last Recorded Station
25 / 64 Station Rank


The last third of the race, miles 66-100, took me 11.5 hours to complete. The first section, up Lookout, is where I started to feel the sleep deprivation. It was about noon, the sun was shining, and it was getting hot(although in reality it was probably 70 degrees, max). It's all uphill to the AS on rocky trail, and I was alone with no one ahead to motivate me and no one behind to push me. My Ipod battery had died, so now I had to dig deep. My attitude, as they say in school, was "poor". However, as soon as I came into the Lookout Mountain AS and slurped some chicken noodle soup, my attitude adjusted nicely:

#12 Station - Lookout Mountain 72.14 miles
00 days, 18:59:06 Time to Station
00:15:47 / mile Overall Pace
00:21:28 / mile Pace from Last Recorded Station
24 / 65 Station Rank


Rusty met me up here on his mountain bike, and had to kick me out for sitting too long. The trail ahead was good footing, great climbing, shady, and just right for a little snooze...yes, I did indeed take a 5-minute power nap off the trail in this section. It gave me a huge boost of energy that carried me all the way to Dowells Draft, where I ran into Mike Mason and Rusty, coming up the trail:

#13 Station - Dowells Draft 79.49 miles
00 days, 21:06:06 Time to Station
00:15:55 / mile Overall Pace
00:17:16 / mile Pace from Last Recorded Station
25 / 63 Station Rank


This was my favorite section of trail. It was like a "marble in a slot" as Scotty Mills would say...smooth running singletrack and all downhill. Of course, it was also the end of the fun, because miles 80-100 are unquestionably the hardest past of the race. It all started with Chimney Hollow trail meandering along a lovely creek bed before the climbing. Then, for the next 1.5 hours, it was climb, climb, climb. Just when you think the trail has switchbacked for good, there was another turn. At one point I sat on a rock and waited for Regis Shivers and his pacer to join me in cursing the trail. This was very cathartic and also hilarious, and gave me a needed boost. I soon left them and topped out onto Crawford Mountain trail, and descended the 5 PUDS (Pointless Ups and Downs) along the ridge. Bill Potts met me on the last descent, and his comment was, "this freaking trail is 20% grade!" Yessir, that's Chimney Hollow!

#14 Station - Dry Branch Gap 86.14 miles
00 days, 23:45:06 Time to Station
00:16:32 / mile Overall Pace
00:23:54 / mile Pace from Last Recorded Station
25 / 61 Station Rank


Coming into Dry Branch at 5:45 p.m. was nirvana. I sat for 15 minutes and ate Pringles and drank V-8 (I guess I needed salt).The AS volunteers had also cooked some BBQ that perhaps I *should* have eaten for the protein, but my taste buds weren't interested. I predicted that many folks would drop here and everyone laughed, as I am surely not the first to make that prediction. When Dan Lehmann (who was ahead of me before going off trail for 50 minutes) came into the AS, I decided to leave and use Dan and Adam (his pacer) as motivation to get up the mountain. It worked---I climbed with renewed energy and left them behind. The sun was setting and the views of the Deerfield Valley were gorgeous. Soon it was dusk, and I was very happy to be navigating this rocky section with some daylight remaining! Just as it was getting dark, I saw Mike heading towards me. For logistical reasons, we had agreed that he would run from the start and pace me in, and he could not have appeared at a better time. He told me that Kerry was 6 minutes ahead and he wanted me to pick up the pace...but my quads were screaming as we descended Elliotts, and the road was very steep and slippery. Dan and Adam appeared behind us and blew by with words of encouragement, but all I could do was walk. It began to get cold and my stomach, for the first time in 92 miles, was beginning to rebel, probably as a result of a lack of electrolytes and protein.

#15 Station - Falls Hollow 95.02 miles
01 days, 02:43:06 Time to Station
00:16:52 / mile Overall Pace
00:20:02 / mile Pace from Last Recorded Station
25 / 63 Station Rank


After we left the last AS, Mike told me we had enough time to break 28 hours, but we had to push it. I tried to push, and nothing responded. Actually, I was afraid that if I pushed the pace beyond 20-minute mile pace, I would throw up. So, we climbed, walked, shuffled, jogged, walked, and finally we were behind the camp---but I knew we had a ways to go before the finish. It's like running Holiday Lake 50K and being on the other side of the lake, knowing you are close yet NOT! Once the finish line area came into view, I found myself with new energy and was able to run, run, run up the hill to the totem pole. In the darkness, I spotted my dog Jack whom Rusty had brought to the finish...he leapt up and ran in with me. What a great moment!

#16 Station - Finish 100.73 miles
01 days, 04:32:42 Time to Station
00:17:00 / mile Overall Pace
00:19:11 / mile Pace from Last Recorded Station
37 / 74 Station Rank


For some reason, the splits have me as finishing 37/74 when it was 25/62. I ended up being second Master but winning the Master schwag since Kerry (first Master) finished in the top-5. Very fun!

In Conclusion... Grindstone 100 was my first where I can say "everything went right." I didn't bonk (except at the very end), have feet issues, or was decimated by the heat as in my other 100s. I found a pace the suited me and stuck to it---I finally experienced what we ultrarunners call "running within ourselves." I learned the value of patience and running my own race, and was reminded over and over again that truly anything can happen in a 100 miler. Grindstone tested my ability to climb, to run fast, to navigate rocks, to run through the night into the next day and night, and persevere through sleep deprivation. Unlike my first 100 where I begged my crew to let me drop (thankfully, they didn't), there were only a few times during the race when I doubted my ability to go on. There were many, many more times when I was laughing, smiling, and having a total blast.

I am not sure I am meant to be a 100 miler specialist like my friends Kerry and Keith, but I sure can see the beauty in the challenge of this distance. Keith said it best: "Going for a run always clears my head, but running 100 miles distills my soul." Amen Brother!

As for Grindstone itself...I am truly fortunate to have been among the first class of Grinders. The trail itself is phenomenal. The event---from the superb aid stations, the excellent course markings and delicious post-run breakfast to the live webcast with splits, professional photographer, and convenient staging area of Camp Shenandoah---will no doubt become a classic 100. Reading the other race reports only confirms that I am not the only one who feels this way! On Sunday after the race, I started thinking about pacing Mike next year...but today I am thinking about how can make up time from that slow slog from the last aid station next year. Sorry, Mike, you may have to find another pacer!

postscript:A newcomer to ultrarunning recently asked which 100 miler I would recommend as her first 100. I told her the most important criteria for training and completing a 100 miler (to me anyway) is to be passionate about the trail and the event. This was the case for all three of my 100s. In each training cycle, I was completely obsessed with the trail and focused on that event for many months. I remember coming home from a Grindstone training run totally giddy with excitement because the trail was so awesome, and I was really looking forward to spending 29 hours on it! Training was never a chore---actually, it was really FUN and racing the course was, as Gary Knipling says, "the dessert." Totally true. I do believe Grindstone is within reach of most experienced ultrarunners because of the generous cut-off time of 38 hours. I fully expect to be there again next year and that many others will be there, too...and I will always savor the memories of being part of the first year of this special event.

Pre-race pics are here.

Full race results are here.

Race reports are here.

1 comment:

running etc said...

Wow, Soph. Super report.

Clark should make this required reading before a runner gets a number. Would probably help his finisher rate immensely.