This year, I started the Grindstone 100 with every intention of finishing the race, and a hope in the back of my mind of finishing well. My mental race, however, had a different plan.
Adam and I drove out to the start/finish line the morning of the race and attended the pre-race lunch and meeting in the early afternoon. The race was to start at 6 pm sharp. Looking around at the other racers I quickly realized this was a seasoned group many of whom had run their share of hundred milers. The race director asked those of us who had finished a 100 miler to stand. He slowly climbed the numbers of how many people had finished. Pretty soon he was up to 20 and four people were standing. He finally quit asking and just asked the four how many they had finished. Dave Snipes had finished 25. Another guy had finished 31...ish. Jay Finkle had finished 34. And Karl Meltzer (Course record holder for more hundreds than anyone can count) had finished 45.
After the meeting, I went out to the car to try to sleep because I was sort of tired and wanted to be fresh for the race. No dice. I rolled around, and rested but no sleep. The start of the race was just as expected. Karl led the lead pack, and within the first 2 miles had split off with Jason Lantz sticking with him to "see what was with this guy." I knew within the first 5 miles this was not going to be a walk in the park. My left foot which had started to ache around mile 50 of GEER last week had already decided to make a guest appearance. Unfortunately, this lead me to 1. run differently than I normally do to try to protect it a little bit, and 2. Think. Non-stop. About. It.
The latter proved to be the breaking point for me.
The course is tough. Up and down mountains that are miles up and miles down. And before long I was making the miles up and miles down in the dark. Soon after the first aid station at mile 5 it was dark. Heading up the first really big climb I met up with Todd Walker. We made the climb together in the dark and now we were getting up to the clouds. Literally. We entered the clouds and it was so thick, there were spots I couldn't see the ground despite the fact I had my headlamp on. At the top, we punched our bib numbers to prove we had been there and started to make our way down. The only problem was we lost the trail in the fog. We wandered around the top of the mountain until we saw someones headlamp. We found the trail and made our way down. Going down is usually where I sit back, relax, and let gravity work more than my legs and lungs. Unfortunately, my foot hurt more on the downhills than the uphills, and with the pain in my foot, came the pain in my ego. People passed me and they seemed like they were on completely fresh everything. Well, they were. It wasn't even mile 20 yet. I was supposed to be on fresh legs, and feet. This too, played out to be a menace on my mental race.
Upon reaching the first aid station with crew access, my dad shoved a Yoohoo in my hand and asked me what I needed. Water? Salt? Food? Band Aids? No. My mom was planning on coming the following day to see the finish of the race after she attended my brother and sister's cross country meet. I told my dad to call her next time he had service and tell her not to bother coming. The chances of me finishing this thing were slim. I left the aid station more out of stubbornness. I refused to drop out of a 100 mile race at mile 22. That is not me. "I can do this, I've done it before, I'll do it again, just wait for the pain to ease up some and find a rhythm. Just relax." I was talking myself into doing something I was mentally absent from.
The next aid station was 7 miles away. After running the initial mile, I was frustrated. Completely out of it. Mentally, I was done. I didn't come here not to finish this thing. I didn't drag Adam and my dad to the middle of nowhere to watch me drop. I decided I needed to relax, and just go for a walk. So I did. I walked until I wasn't angry any more. Which happened to be about 45 minutes. The pain was growing though. Still just climbing into oblivion and falling out of the sky, I wished I would run. I wanted to just do what I do and run. I wanted to hop up every hill and cruise down every rocky, rooty hill. I wasn't having fun anymore and I decided at the next aid station I would drop. It was a tough decision but I knew I had to. I was about 5 hours into a possibly 20-30 hour endeavor, and if it was this hard now, I didn't want to see what the next two dozen hours brought.
After I made up my mind, I could just try to make the best of the rest of my trip to my dropping point. I tried to make out the faint shadows of the mountains in the distance, and breath as much cool mountain air as I could. I would turn off my headlamp when the trail was lit well enough by the full moon and just relax wandering somewhat aimlessly at this point through the woods. After awhile, I started running. Why? I don't really know. I guess I just wanted to.
Reaching the aid station was bitter sweet. I told the aid station workers I was done. It had been 28 miles...they said nope, not allowed. "Not allowed?" "Nope. You have to get to the next one. That's where there is crew access. It's 5 miles. You can do it." They waved some peppermint stuff under my nose and told me to get going. So I grabbed a brownie, and hit the road.
At this point, I was positive, I was out of it mentally because I didn't even want to stroll through the woods. I wanted to stop moving and get off my feet. When I got to the aid station at mile 35 they had me weigh in. 154. I had lost 6 pounds in 7 hours. Not quite Jenny Craig. Not quite healthy. They asked me to sit down and eat and drink and I had no problem with this. I told my dad I was dropping. The aid station workers couldn't believe me and tried to talk me out of it. I was in 15th place, and "still looking strong." Don't know about all that, but I dropped anyway.
I was upset, and frustrated I couldn't do it. I'd never dropped out of a race, and not much of a quitter in general. In fact, I don't quit anything. I'm too stubborn and self motivated to let myself quit anything. I always have to prove it to myself that I could do it. Although it was hard to do, my dad said he was proud of me for knowing my limits, not pushing myself to the point where I really hurt myself, and it solidified a once shaky notion that I still had a central nervous system that I listened to. At the time, a comment like that sounds like a sympathy card, but a week later, it sounds a little like a complement.
The following morning, Adam and I woke up and went to the aid station where I had left some stuff and Dave was just coming in. We helped him along, and he looked good. He is a tough dude, and he finished well.
I'm still a little disappointed, but I realize that everyone DNF's every once in awhile, and for my first year of racing ultras, I'm still doing OK. I will be back next year to try to wrestle the monster that is Grindstone once more.
I'll be back.