Friday, October 16, 2015

Grindstone 100 - It's only a 100 miles.....

I don't emote or celebrate well.  I typically handle things as tasks.  You set out to do something, you do it, you move on.  This is my modus operandi.  Since the beginning of my ultra career, even though I hadn't been a runner of any distance, I figured if others could do it, I could do it too.  It's not the ability to do the task that stresses me, its the ability to do it to my satisfaction.  

This would be my 40th ultra (1st was the 2/16/02 Holiday Lake 50k).

So that brings me to my first 100 miler.  Although the Hellgate 100k was my furthest race/run, I didn't worry so much about finishing as I did finishing in the 23-24 hour range that I thought was possible, being able to run to the end, not be visited by the cramp monster, to keep my feet from falling apart with blisters, and to stay on top of my calories so I didn't get set back by a bonk.  

I've run with both Joe Dudak and Johnny Robinson and I knew their times at Grindstone were in the 23:09-23:16 time frame, so I figured that was a realistic goal.  That and wanting to finish in the daylight were two things I was focused on.  I had my pace chart set up and was going to use it as a reference if I felt good.  

Here I am a week later and I can't say that I've processed the race yet.  The majority of the pain has escaped my memory and I am left with the positives and some of the emotion of the event.  Writing this will be my way of looking back.  Following the race I was left with some left knee swelling and pain and right anterior tibialis inflammation.  

Leading up the Grindstone I was feeling good.  I did the Iron Mtn 50 miler on September 5 in 8:38 and that was my last test before Grindstone.  I ended up going out the next day to get more time on my feet and capitalize on this last big training weekend.  From here it was a week of recovery and then 3 weeks of taper.  

I started to get a little antsy about the 4 weeks of not running long, so on September 18th I decided to do one of my favorite 20 milers to shake out the nerves and get in a long heart rate run.  This went really well and running at heart rate I was able to run the loop in one of my fastest times.  

This last long run really paid off for me when the race got postponed for a week.  Although I felt like a slug for so little running in this extended taper, I was actually to the point of looking forward to running and the race start.  

Gear/Game Plan;
Nathan pack with 64oz bladder
     2 waffles
     1 clif bar
     Heed for the 1st or second water stop
     A buff, gloves, and very small packable jacket
     E-caps and protrysin pills
     Wet wipes
     4 Extra lithium batteries for either flashlight or headlamp (both took 4 AAs)
Princeton Tec AMP 4.0 flashlight - plenty of burn time on high
Princeton Tec Apex Headlight - should have been up to 9+ hours of light on low spot light.
Salomon Speedcross 3 shoes
Injinji Socks with Aquaphor on feet.
Salomon shorts (not compression)

2 hours before the race I ate my typical oatmeal concoction and had bullet proof coffee.

I had made some spanish rice and lentil portables (needed more salt) that I had in each of my drop bags.  These were great as my desire for sweet items at the aid stations got to be less and less.  I ate almost all of my portables during the race.  I had 2 packs of two in each drop bag to take as I came through those spots.  

I had hoped to keep my HR low for the entire race, 142 or below, but things started out a bit quicker than I thought and my alarm started buzzing early.  Somewhere in the first miles I turned that off and just went with the flow until things settled in.  Once my HR settled in, keeping it below 142 was easy.  
It started raining and the wind started blowing at around mile 3.  Things really cooled down and started to get foggy.  This made for worse visibility with a headlamp, so I used my flashlight about 90% of the time.  On the steep sections, I put the flashlight in my pack, and hiked, stooped over, using my hands to push off my knees for extra horsepower and to decrease the load on my legs.  Then once to the top, I'd grab my flashlight and turn off my headlamp and cruise on.  

For me it was critical to pick up my feet, to avoid catching a toe and falling, because I knew that anything like that would be a time killer in the late hours of the race.  So the flashlight was a big help and I concentrated on lifting my feet and picking them up on the pull through (higher knees and feet, then repeat).  

Although there were some steep climbs, I thought to myself that I was surprised at how runable the downhills were.  I didn't expect these early sections to be so runable.  

I got in to the Dowells Draft Aid station in 4:23ish, a bit behind my expectation but nothing I was worried about.  I kept telling myself, "it doesn't matter how fast you get to the turnaround if you don't have anything left, the last 50 are the real race, just keep chugging and take care of yourself, every minute/mile is an investment for tomorrows race."  And it really is all about investments, it's not what you have at the moment, it is what you keep for tomorrow or the next hour that makes the difference.  
Now for a big climb, descent and then some rolling terrain to the next Drop Bag and big aid station at mile 35.  I rolled in here a bit earlier than my projections at 7:10ish and felt pretty good.  It was good to see Gina, she took care of me, I changed shoes and socks, relubed, restocked and was off for the big 7 mile climb out of there.  It was a bit more than expected, but I just chugged along and was happy to be at the top and on to rolling double track to the next aid stations and turnaround.  These last 9 miles to the turnaround were relatively easy miles, nothing technical, just one foot in front of another terrain that slowly ticked by.  One negative of this section was that it was very very foggy.  Headlamp eating fog.  So I kept on with the flashlight.  

Closing in on the Reddish Knob aid station I met up with Todd Thomas and he said something about being in 5th of 6th place which was a big surprise.  After this aid station there are 2-2.5 miles of asphalt, some of which was at just the right incline where I didn't have a desire to run.  This is where I'd use landmarks or race flagging to run to one marker and then walk to the next, back and forth until things leveled out.  

I hit the turnaround in 11 hours which was just a bit off from what I expected but felt good.  Now it was time to retrace my steps and look forward to some daylight.  At mile 59.25 I hit the 7 mile downhill section back to North River Gap.  I was kind of dreading this section due to it's steep downhills and loose wet rocks.  I took this conservatively and I think this is where my left knee started to become a problem.  In hindsight, I wish I would have let gravity work its magic better and ran this section a bit faster so that my knees wouldn't have taken such a hit.  In addition, I didn't plan my hydration correctly and ran out of water, which didn't allow me to eat, in the 3-4 mile before the aid station.  I got to the AS with a mild bonk (Lesson 1 don't use the breaks too much.  Lesson 2 don't allow a bonk, stay ahead of food and drink).  

I got to NRG about 30 minutes behind schedule but felt pretty good.  This is where I picked up Chad as my pacer for the next 14 miles.  I relubed and restocked, drank some bulletproof coffee and had some very salty potatoes and then we set off for the last 50k of the race.  

I don't know what the deal was, but these daylight hours felt so much longer than the night time hours.  Shortly into this section I started to feel my left knee stiffen up and bother my running.  It wasn't something I have dealt with before and felt like I just needed to squat down and reset it.  It was a no go and this became the issue that kept most steep downhills to a shuffle.  It was strange, but there was a "just right" downhill that was just the right decline and just the right amount of rocks that I could run without any problem.  But anything else and it was a burden to keep a running pace. 

Chad got me in to Dowells Draft again at around 11:51.  I picked up Matt and we were off for the remaining 22 miles.  It started off pretty easy and then at the next aid station we were told we had a 4.5 mile climb to the top of Lookout Mtn.  This was rough, just slow gutting it out climbing, but it wasn't running so I wasn't too upset.  These miles were tough to not periodically stop and take a break.  In hindsight, I wish I would have both minimized justifying my occasional rest stops also taking in more time at the aid stations than I should have.  Prior to the race I was preparing myself for constant forward progress instead of chewing up minutes at the ASs.  I let this slide and justified my stops, but I should have told my crew to push me along (Lesson 3 the clock doesn't stop when you do, keep moving forward, the finish line won't come to you).

I remembered the turnoff from Elliott's knob being around 9 miles to go.  Once we hit this spot I knew we had it and started to play the numbers game.  Between mile 66 and here I didn't pay too much attention to the time, just stayed in gear and went with the flow.  But now it was math time.  We knew we had a sub 24, but how close we could get to 23 or 23:30 was yet to be realized.  

The downhill off of Elliott's is about as steep as coming down to the finish of Promise Land on Overstreet Falls Road.  This hurt a lot.  I couldn't really run it but I probably spent as much energy breaking as I would have letting loose.  My knee just couldn't let me go any faster.  But these next miles really ticked off slowly, they were mild, up and down, forcing you to decide on running slow or justifying a walk, mentally this is where you are going to make up time or loose it.  You can justify anything, but it was all runable.  

Next landmark I was looking for was the 1.5 mile to go spot where people were cheering us the day before.  I didn't think we would ever hit this spot, but we finally did, then the 1 mile to go sign.  From here the trail went back into the woods on a wide pretty section, we could see the lake and I knew it was almost over.  We navigated the sketchy up and down at the dam and then it was the last .2 on grass and the gravel road.  This last section is where it just hit home.

In most races there is a point at the end where it hits me, where the effort of the event crescendos into a peak and the emotions of the journey hit me, my mind does a quick rewind and summary and I recognize all that was involved on my end, the event organizers, and all the people that are cheering for me and collectively invested in my journey.  Sometimes this is only seconds and sometimes minutes but I enjoy that moment because it reminds me that we are all connected and not alone and that it really isn't a race, it's a journey and that each effort like this changes who you are and will be.  For me, these efforts make me better and more conscious of what I'm doing and the path that I am on.  

Grindstone 2015 was a big accomplishment - 10th in 23:17.03.  Thank you for being a part of it.  Now it's time to recover and get ready for the next two events in the Beast Series.

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