This was my year. Finally.
Driving out to Swoope, VA I was incredibly nervous for the start of the race. When I arrived, I set up my tent, just like I had done in past years. I relaxed and caught up with friends, just like I had in past years. As far as preparation goes, this year and last year were very similar. And I think that's what scared me most. The big difference is that this year, I watched what I ate all day and only ate things that I knew that I had eaten before running before.
As the c
lock approached 6 pm runners started gathering under the big "GRINDSTONE 100" banner. This banner would serve as our starting line as well as our finish line welcoming us back to the boy scout camp after adding 101.85 miles to our legs' odometers. At 5:50 everyone was making final preparations for their journeys. At 5:55, Clark Zealand, the race director welcomed us to the start and told us "Good luck." At 5:58, Dr. David Horton led us in a prayer. And at 6:00, we were running away from the banner.
The lead pack of about 6 guys took it pretty easy going around the lake and into the woods. Most of us knew each other, and we took the time to just relax and do a bit of catching up. Before we hit 3 miles, Neal Gorman had vanished from sight. Too far in the distance and too fast for anyone to think about catching up. The pack dispers
ed and everyone was running alone. I was very surprised to see that everyone was running their own race right from the beginning. Even though I made a sl
ight wrong turn very early in the race, I was only off course for about 5 minutes. Since it was still day light, I was easily able to turn around and find my way again.
Before 2 hours had passed, I turned my headlamp on and was climbing the unbearably steep Elliot Knob Road. The word "road" implies that it is paved and easily a
ccessible for cars. This "road" is one that I wouldn't feel comfortable driving a jeep on in four wheel drive. I would be afraid it would roll backwards all the way down the mountain. After punching my bib number at the top to prove I was there, I descended .3 miles to the trail head to run down the rocky trail to the 2nd aid station at mile 15...ish. I was running well and feeling good; until I rolled my ankle. It was frustrating, but it only hurt for a minute so I resumed running well. This section has lots of large loose rocks and large rocks held in place by other large rocks. All told, I rolle
d my ankle 4 more times in this section. Each hurting more than the last.
The good news is that it was slowing me down and making me more cautious. When I got to the aid station I believe I was in 8th or 9th. Passing through very quickly, Dr. Horton was there and said I looked to be running very wisely. With the added assurance from him, I was off down the trail to climb another mountain, run down another m
ountain and find the next aid station.
Until this year, I never realized how truly run-able the Grindstone course is. I was moving effortlessly down the trail only stopping for a brief minute every time I rolled my ankle. I did it more times in this section than the previous
and it was really starting to annoy me.
Reaching the 22 mile aid station, I located my drop bag and saw that Horton was again at this one. Upon seeing me, he announced to everyone there, "This is a TRANSCONTINENTAL RUNNER! He ran across the United States!" Since it was dark, and in the middle of the race, it was okay not to stop too long. I heard my friend Bobby
yell out, "Who did it faster?" For those of you who are unaware, Dr. Horton is a running legend and he took part in the 1995 Race Across the United States placing 3rd in 64 days...roughly half the time it took me. Let's just say that if his running resume was translated somehow into a political resume, he'd have been the president several times over. Just google him.
After stuffing my face with food, and stuffing my pockets with the Gu's from my drop bag, I was on my way to tackle yet another mountain. This section I remember from past years as my downfall. It feels like a flat section with a slight uphill grade that just keeps going up. I walked the entire thing last year and I remember how long that took. This year I decided to just relax and run. "Relax and run." That's what I told myself countless times in this race. "Just relax. Don't stress. Just run."
That long slight uphill section was soon over and I was running along the ridge toward the trail that would carry me down the mountain and to the next aid station at mile 30. I don't think I
've ever been so relaxed an
d worry free on a mountain trail alone at night. The moon was very bright and had I only been walking, the light from the moon would have been enough. I kept my headlamp on though because I was still moving swiftly dodging logs and rocks and rolling right along. Before too long, I reached the aid station at mile 30 and only stopped long enough to cram my face with food and a cup of soup. I was there for less than a minute.
I enjoyed getting through the aid stations quickly. This was the first race where I made a conscious effort not to spend much time there and it felt good to be constantly moving forward. Another 5 miles down the trail was the 35 mile aid station. North River Gap. This aid station held a certain amount of my anger because it was the aid station I dropped at 2 years ago. From here, it's only 15 miles or so to the turn around. I cruised into the camp, was weighed quickly. I was down 2 pounds which is pretty
standard for me, but is also good to know for my own nutritional knowledge. Packing my pockets with more Gu, I started down the trail so I could start the longest climb in the race. I wasn't wearing headphones this time in the race. I'm not sure why I decided against it but I'm glad I didn't because on the way up the climb I heard some interesting activity. Just to my right, there was a bush while I was hiking an especially steep part. And as I passed it, something huge rustled in the bush and took off down the mountain away from me. I still don't know what it was, but it was
enough to scare me.
Then, a little while later, I heard one coyote start howling in the distance and then more and more and more chimed in on both of
the surrounding ridges. That scared me enough to go a little faster and try to catch someone to hike/run with.
During this long, scared, hike I caught up with my friends Mario Raymond, Keith Knipling, and Jason Lantz. Unfortunately, Jason was having lots of stomach problems and ended up dropping
out later. I would run with or back and forth with Keith for the next 30 miles or so. We cruised through the aid stations until with made our way to the top of Reddish Knob.
Reddish Knob has a paved street that winds around it in a spiral until you reach the top. The very top of it has no trees but is a paved parking area an
d has very pretty views. Last year, I
reached the top of Reddish just as the sun was coming up. This year, it was still very dark but the outlines of the nearby mountains were prominent and interesting. The moon was dark yellow and setting and there were more stars than Keith or I could possibly count. We each touched the reflector that we had to touch at the top, pointed out the big and little dippers and then made our way back down the road.
Upon reaching the bottom of the paved road, there is crew access where my Dad had been waiting. I passed him the first time to go up the trail to check in with the aid station and hit the turn around point. When Keith and I returned to the crew area 3 miles after I saw my Dad the first time, I stopped but Keith kept going.
I was there for less than 2 minutes but in that time, my Dad changed the batteries in my headlamp, I packed my pockets with Gu, ate and brushed my teeth. (That much gu makes your mouth taste weird.) I thanked him and told him I'd see him soon.
From here, I would retrace my steps almost exactly back to the finish. During this retracing, I saw the entire field of runners in the race. They streamed back a very long way. I reached the Little Bald Mountain Aid station at mile 58 ish and some people I knew coming through on
their first time. We each exchanged pleasantries and I continued on.
It was still dark as I left the aid station and I was starting to get tired of the constant darkness. I just wanted it to be light again. People were still
on their way up the climb I was now flying down. They looked like they were in pain moving slowly and frustratingly up the mountain that I was now moving effortlessly down. We each gave each other encouragement as I passed them going the opposite way. I was about 3 miles away from the North River Gap Aid station when I was finally able to turn off my headlamp.
As I approached the aid station there was a younger guy also named Patrick in a green jacket cheering on Keith and I. He asked me if I was Patrick, and I told him I was. He was supposed to be my friend Matt's pacer an
d said that Matt had to drop out last night
at this aid station but he still wanted to run. I couldn't turn down the offer to have a pacer, so Patrick ran ahead to get
ready. It was bittersweet to have Patrick with me. I enjoyed him as a pacer, but it also meant that Matt had dropped out, and no one wants to see anyone else drop.
When I arrived at the aid station I quickly located my Dad and tossed him my headlamp. He gave me more Gu and I weighed myself once more. No change. After a ho
t cup of soup, several cookies and a potato substance, Patrick and I moved out of the aid station and didn't look back.
I was starting to get a little tired at this point and so I let him do most of the talking. It felt like we were running well and before too long we were at the next aid station cramming our faces and leaving before a minute was over.
The following aid station was one where my Dad was and Patrick had the option of stopping, but he wanted to keep going, and I welcomed the company.
Katie said she would come out for the last few aid stations of the day as well as the finish, but I wasn't anticipating moving as quickly as I was
, so I was starting to worry that she might drive all the way and miss it. Luckily, my Dad was on top of it, just like he always is, and got a hold of her.
Through the following section, I caught up with M
att Hart, who was hurting pretty bad from the looks of things. We had left Keith behind, and Mario had caught up and looked disgustingly strong for where we were in the race. We continued to battle back and forth for awhile but then he took off down Elliot Knob Road the second time and that was the last we saw of him. The trail following Elliot Knob Road is slightly technical and tripped Patrick pretty good. He just bounced up and kept going though. When I tripped and fell soon after though, I didn't bounce. I just wanted to continue lying there. Running into the last aid station I saw Katie standing and clapping for me
. It was very good to see her. 95 miles into the race, I was not feeling so great, definitely not smelling so great, and not feeling the most coherent I've ever been. But it sure was good to see her. I sat down for the first time in 95 miles and ate and drank. I only sat for about 2 or 3 minutes but it felt good. I had 6 more miles left in the race and I wanted to get it over with.
I left the aid station somewhat hobbling. My an
kle hurt so badly. After I was able to get myself running, I loosened up and felt good again. The course to the finish undulates over hills and paths until you enter the Boy Scout camp the same way you left. Though, it felt a lot longer than when I was on my way out. The trail winds it's way to a sign that says, "1 Mile." I booked it. My watch read, "21:20:03." and I really wanted to beat 21:30 for no special reason. I ran over the dam that crossed the lake and then took the left on the gravel road. A Honda Civic carrying An
dy Jones-Wilkins pulled up next to me and he yelled out the window, "Almost there!" He was supposed to be racing as well but he came up injured with plantar fasciitis.
I rounded the curve of trees and saw the finish line ahead of me.
Katie, my Dad, and the other 4 guys who had finished ahead of me were on the left of the finish shoot cheering. Clark Zealand was standing under the finish line welcoming me back from his tough race.
I finished in 21 hours 28 minute and 58 seconds. 5th place.