Friday, December 5, 2014

Race # 39 - Grindstone 100

Grindstone 100 Mile Endurance Run
Race #4 of the 2014 Beast Series
6:00 PM
Swoope, VA
Time: 29:53:42
Place: 99 out of 188 finishers (245 starters)

How long do you think you could feel miserable doing something without quitting?  For me, the current record is somewhere around 30 hours.  Here's the story.

When I finished MMT100 last year, I was done racing for 2013.  I had accomplished my goal I  set for myself and I was done.  But not long after, planning for 2014 began.  Since I wasn't lucky and didn't get selected in any big lotteries, I decided to do the 2014 Beast Series.  Grindstone was the longest race of the series but I knew it was comparable to MMT, just with less rocks and more elevation.  However, I didn't know just how hard it would be.

I didn't do my homework for Grindstone like I did for MMT.  I basically ate, slept, and breathed MMT for 6 months.  Not so much for Grindstone.  I probably started studying up on the aid stations and course layout a couple of weeks before.  I did see part of the course in August doing the training run/trail work weekend so at least I had that going.  I knew there would be long climbs and descents and some technical sections, but it was a lot more runnable than MMT. 

This race was also going to be very different compared to MMT in the fact that I had no crew and no pacer.  I was relying on myself and my drop bags to get through this race.  Of course my buddy Jon was going with me but he was also running so he could not pace me.  It would be the ultimate test of endurance for me.

Friday, October 3, 2014.  It's 6:30am and I'm awake.  I knew at this point there was a real good chance I wouldn't sleep again until sometime Sunday.  The day was here.  The countdown was over.  It was time for the Grindstone 100.

Jon and I left out early Friday morning and drove to the Boy Scouts camp in Swoope, VA.  We arrived around 12:30, got our tents set up and went to check in and hear the pre-race briefing by race director Clark Zealand.  He informed us that this year's Grindstone was predicted to be the warmest start day of the race followed by the coldest race night of the race's history (or something like that).  Everyone knew that Saturday night would be very cold on Elliott's Knob, the last major climb of the race.  My goal was to finish before it got too awfully cold up there to avoid the predicted wind chill temps in the 'teens. Ultimately, I would be super stoked if I could beat my time from MMT which was 32:35:48.  That would put me finishing around 2:30am Sunday morning.  But of course, just crossing the finish line, no matter what time it was, was my main goal.

After the race briefing, I settled in my tent and got things ready for the race.  I tried to take a nap but I'm terrible at taking naps during the day and there was too much commotion going on outside.  Part of the commotion was some young kid standing next to the outdoor bathrooms asking everyone that came up in a really loud, obnoxious voice, "WHAT'S YOUR NAME?".  I really wanted to go over and ask him what time he'd be going to bed tonight and point out the fact that the rest of us probably wouldn't sleep until Sunday and to SHUT. UP.  But I didn't.  

Pre-race picture

Jon and I before the start of the Grindstone 100

Section 1:  Miles 1 - 5.2  

The sounds of rain hitting my tent began and I knew it would be around 3am when it would finally stop.  No way around it. We were going to get wet.  Soon, we all lined up at the start line and waited for the command.  A word of prayer and moment of silence for Maj. Mike Donahue who sacrificed his life for our country, and we were then sent on our way on an adventure a year in the making.  We hit the exit of the Boy Scout camp and headed around the lake.  I tried to stay toward the front as I had heard a huge bottleneck would develop at the lake due to an odd segue way to the trail.  It did, but I was able to get through rather quickly and was on the trail.  

I had my rain jacket on already but I was getting hot.  I knew not to take it off because the rain would be heavy at times so I just had to deal with it.  I started going over things in my head.  Where was this....did I bring that....did I put that thing in my pack.  All these thoughts kept going through my head.  I finally questioned whether I put my Garmin charger in my pack.  I didn't remember seeing it.  I really wanted to charge the Garmin when it was close to dying in hopes I could get the entire race in one file.  I stopped and took off my pack but didn't find it.  I put it back on and kept running thinking I left it in the tent.  I really wanted it.  Clark had mentioned we came to a spot on the trail that was about a 1/4 mile from the start/finish.  Was I going to be that person who said 'hey I forgot something I have to go back to my tent' or would I just deal with it?  Finally, I remembered I put it in one of my drop bags.  One of those, 'oh yeah that's what those things are for' moments.  Silly me.  So I kept running.

Family and friends of all the runners greeted us one last time as we passed by the section nearest the camp.  As we ran through the trail, it began to rain.  Then it rained harder, and harder, until it was pouring.  But it soon let up and that would be the hardest rain we would have the rest of the night.  Single file running on single track, and eventually we came to a halt.  About 15 people had turned around and were walking back toward us stating they hadn't seen a course marker in a while.  So we turned around and back tracked.  Went probably a 1/4 mile and someone obviously knew more than those people and told us to turn around so we did.  Kept running and eventually we found a marker to confirm we were going the right way, eventually arriving at the first aid station.  Crossing the road, we were slowed in order to get our bib numbers recorded by the aid station workers.  Sniper had told me not to fill both bottles at the beginning and to just get water at the first aid station.  I did just that.  But there wasn't much aid there, so I didn't fill my bottle entirely to the top and figured I would fill it completely at the next aid station which was about 9.5 miles away.  

Aid Station 1 arrival:  7:05pm  (1h5m elapsed)

Section 2:  Miles 5.2 - 14.6

The nasty weather meant darkness came even sooner and eventually I found myself in a line going through some tight single track.  Eventually I came out to the dreaded road section heading up to Elliott's Knob.  Fog was so thick I couldn't tell if the road was 4 feet wide or 20 feet wide.  I just kept hiking up the hill along with everyone else.   A couple of crazy people tried to run but I knew it was going to be a long weekend and there was no point in doing that just yet.  I soon come to the trail head but it's another 1/4 mile to the summit where we have to punch our bib numbers.  I finally arrive and wait my turn to mark my bib and then head back down.  So dark.  So foggy.  I really didn't want to miss the turn to the trail.  I look to the left and see headlamps but someone informs me that's not where I need to go.  Maybe someone made a wrong turn and was headed back to the road.  I kept moving and entered the trail head with several others.  

I was semi-familiar with this section.  This was the part that myself and a few others cut back in August with weed whackers.  We really did a number on this trail.  I looked magnificent!  You could drive a golf cart down this trail!  (Maybe we went a little overboard on how much to clear it back).  This section was mostly all downhill leading into the second aid station, Dry Branch Gap.  There were some sketchy parts where the mountain just dropped off to the left so I knew to be careful and watch my step.  With the slick rocks, running was done cautiously.  Around 12 miles in to the race, I came up on a guy who was bent over hurling off the side of the mountain.  Side stepping him, I knew that was not a state anyone wanted to be in, especially that early in the race.  

I arrived at the Dry Branch Gap aid station which was buzzing with life.  Runners were filling the bladders from their packs, eating, and the aid station workers were doing their best to accommodate us.  Soon it was announced though, that they were out of water.  This was devastating news.  How could this happen so early in the race?  And I knew I was probably in the top 1/3 of the field so what was everyone behind me going to do?  I had deliberately not filled my bottle all the way and here I was afraid I was going to be without water for the next section which was about 7.5 miles.  Luckily there was a case of bottled water and one of the aid station workers gave me one.  Talk about a life saver!  I quickly got out of there and headed onward.  

Aid Station 2 arrival:  9:28pm  (3h28m elapsed)

Section 3:  Miles 14.6 - 22.1

I don't really remember anything about the next climb.  I knew I had done it in the opposite direction during the training weekend but it was during the day and was the end of our run that day.  It was a couple miles of climbing followed by a long descent.  I caught up with a few people and we all carefully made our way down the mountain.  I didn't know any of them but figured I'd stay with them since it was dark.  No point in being alone outside at night.  In the dark.  And mountains.  The girl in our group was running with a friend or two and they were doing some conversing!  In a normal race I would have had to get the heck out of there in order to be alone in my own world but for some reason I was fine with it.  The pace was good and not being by myself even better.  

We reached the top of this mountain and began our descent which seemed like it was very long.  One guy who was in our group took a hard spill and appeared to have hurt his elbow.  He dropped of our pace and I didn't see him again until later in the race.  Being cautious was a priority as the trail and rocks were very slick from the rain that fell earlier that night.  

The long descent was nearing an end and either I caught up with some other runners or vice versa.  Either way, we were on a rather flat section heading in to the Dowell's Draft aid station.  Another runner and I started talking and I soon found out this was his first hundred.  He asked if I had any words of wisdom (like I'm some sort of expert).  I proceeded to give him the compressed version of things I've learned in my short time doing this crazy stuff:
  • Just keep moving
  • It's going to hurt but this is what we signed up for so push the pain aside and keep moving
  • Make it through the night and it'll be a brand new ball game when the sun rises
  • Keep eating and drinking
  • Don't think about the entire race at once.  Just think about making it to the next aid station 
These, amongst other things, are all good pieces of information, and often times I have to tell myself to listen to my own advice.  It's one thing to tell someone else to do something in a race but sometimes you have to heed your own advice.  Lights came in to view ahead as I came in to the next aid station.  I had my first drop bag here so I grabbed an ensure, downed it quickly, ate some food and soon went on my way.

Aid Station 3 arrival:  11:25pm  (5h25m elapsed)

Section 4:  Miles 22.1 -  30.5

It's tough leaving the comfort of an aid station.  Especially when it's dark and soon to be the middle of the night.  I don't think they had a camp fire though so that was easy to avoid.  I headed out of the aid station alone, into the darkness.  Another climb for several miles.  Less than a half mile out of the aid station I see two headlamps coming toward me.  Had I missed a turn?  I was confused.  As the runners came up on me, I asked what was going on and if we were on the wrong trail.  They informed me they were heading back to the aid station and dropping.  I couldn't imagine doing that.  Of course I felt like I wanted to but what was the incentive?  I would have to sit at the aid station and wait who knows how long to get a ride back to the finish line.  The mental demons were already in my head but I knew quitting wasn't an option.

I continued my way up the trail and eventually ended up with a couple other runners who had also encountered the two guys that had dropped.  They had told them they had finished Grindstone twice and tonight wasn't their night.  It didn't feel like my night either, but I had to keep going.  This was my only 100 miler this year.  I had to finish it to be eligible to be a Beast Series finisher.  I had to get my qualifier for the big race lotteries in December.   A lot of eggs in my one basket.  Just keep moving.

As I neared the top of this mountain, I could see lights of a town off in the distance.  The clouds were clearing which meant the rain would soon be gone for good.  I remembered this section from the training run.  It was mainly gravel roads so easy running.  I caught up with a few people but ran past them.  I was really battling my body at this point.  I just remember my legs felt so fatigued.  I would run as much as I could and then stop and walk.  I knew this road section was long but mostly downhill so I tried my best to keep moving at a good pace.  

We came in to the Lookout Mountain aid station and there was a guy with a viking helmet on.  I think.  Maybe I was hallucinating?  No, I'm pretty sure he had on a viking helmet.  This was dedication.  These people were out in the middle of nowhere it seemed like with a tent set up and were cooking food.  I don't remember what they had but I ate some left in a decent amount of time.  

Aid Station 4 arrival:  1:26am  (7h26m elapsed)

Section 5:  Miles 30.5 - 36.8

Leaving Lookout Mountain aid station, the next section was pretty uneventful.  I remember running with the same group of people I was with earlier, I think.  Heck it was 2-something in the morning and I was tired.  That's about all I remember.  Oh and that trippy bridge we had to cross.  I think that was on this section.  Eventually, I crossed that bridge and came out on a paved road.  There were numerous crew vehicles as this was one of the main aid stations of the race, both for crew access, drop bags, and food. A few people congratulated me on my journey thus far.  I heard the engine running on several cars and knew it was probably warm inside.  Wonder if they'd let me get in and lay down? 

As I came into the aid station, a volunteer got my drop bag for me and I made some adjustments.  I drank an Ensure, got some additional clothes and my second headlamp in case I needed it.  My Garmin charger was in this drop bag so of course I grabbed it.  I knew I wouldn't need it for a while but before the race, I didn't know what time I'd be getting to this aid station so might as well have it and not need it than need it and not have it.  

It was here at this aid station that we had to get weighed.  Pre-race I checked in at a whopping 140 lbs.  Pretty sure the scale was heavy as I haven't weighed 140 in a few years.  I was 138.  Pretty good only dropping 2 lbs. so far.  

Food was being cooked so I grabbed some.  Quesadillas, perogies (sp?), tater tots, all kinds of stuff.  Nice to have some warm food.  I filled my bottles and headed on my way.

Aid Station 5 arrival:  3:04am  (9h4m elapsed)

Section 6:  Miles 36.8 - 44.6

I left the comforts of the North River Gap aid station and headed into the dark.  This next section was essentially the longest climb of the race.  So I hiked.  And hiked.  And hiked.  There were a group of 2-3 guys who caught up with me and the one directly behind me was speaking of this section which made evident he was a veteran of the course.  I asked him a few questions as we walked.  Soon enough though, my headlamp blinked four times fast signifying my battery was running out.  I pulled off the trail and let the others go on without me while I changed out batteries.  Once done there I was alone climbing up a mountain in the middle of the night.  

I was tired and my legs were reminding me of it every step of the way.  But I was moving which is all that mattered.  I saw a headlamp coming toward me and knew I would run in to someone eventually.  It was the leader.  He was on his way down and I was on my way up.  I was at mile 40 which meant he was somewhere around mile 60.  I was completely amazed.

I kept on trucking up this mountain that seemed to never end.  I eventually reached the top, but still had a little ways to go to get to the next aid station.  I kept passing runners wondering how far it was.  Finally one told me it was just ahead.  Daylight was approaching and soon I would be a new runner.  It's amazing what a difference the sunrise makes.

I rolled in to the aid station and grabbed some food.  My drop bag here had my change of shoes but I would get those on my way back out in a few hours.  I had another Ensure, thanked the volunteers and headed out.

Aid Station 6 arrival:  6:12am  (12h12m elapsed)

Section 7:  Miles 44.6 - 49.1

The next section was a continuation of the gravel road that lead in to aid station 6.  Some runnable of course but walking some as well.  It was on this section that I met a guy named Regis.  He and I started talking as we walked.  He hadn't had a good first half of the race.  He had car trouble on the way to the race and was afraid he may not make it but luckily did.  He then proceeded to tell me he was dropping at the half way point.  When I asked why, he said his heart just wasn't in it.  He had finished every Grindstone thus far (5), and figured what was the point of this one if he just wasn't feeling it.  That along with knowing he had to deal with his car when he got back to the finish line area, he didn't feel like continuing.

As we talked more and got to know each other, I told him my story of course, including that this was my second 100 mile race and I had felt like crap since mile 15.  To each his own, we moved along, trading stories along the way.  We're on a paved road at this point.  The sun is rising in the east and we can see the beautiful fall foliage surrounding us.  The views were spectacular given the fact we had just climbed a mountain.

As we neared aid station 7, breakfast was cooking, but we had to go up to the Reddish Knob turnaround and punch our bib number for the second time proving we were there.  The cool crisp air felt great and the sunrise was giving me new energy.  I stopped to take a few pictures of my surroundings and take it all in.

The Reddish Knob area appeared to be a local tourist attraction or common place for outdoor adventurers to frequent on a Saturday morning.  A lot of 'normal' people hiking to this summit to check out the views.  Who knows what they thought of all us runners but they probably didn't know we had been trying to get here since 6pm the previous night.  Regis was a very outgoing person, making sure to greet every single female civilian that we passed on this road.

There was also some sort of motorcycle/dirt bike riding going on.  Luckily I only encountered three of these but others said they saw packs of 20-30 riding in this area.

Beautiful morning view

Looking in to West Virginia

As we finished at the summit, we stopped in at the Reddish Knob aid station for a few minutes.  One guy was cooking but not fast enough as there wasn't any hot food to eat at that moment.  All of the volunteers at this area knew Regis and struck up a conversation immediately.  After a couple of minutes we left and headed for the turnaround but would soon be coming back by this aid station once again.

Aid Station 7 arrival:  7:25am  (13h25m elapsed)

Section 8:  Miles 49.1 - 51.6

The next section was a short downhill road section that took us to the turnaround point for the race.  There was crew access at the bottom of this road so quite a few spectators cheering us on.  We reached this aid station and were greeted by the smell of bacon.  It was glorious.  Unfortunately, I didn't get any.  I had to take a nature break so I dropped my pack and headed for the woods.

Upon my return, I realized there were baby wipes on the table and I had toilet paper in my pack.  Neither were used in my visit to the woods.  Guess I wasn't thinking clearly.  I utilized the local foliage instead.

The smell of bacon was glorious, but unfortunately someone had just eaten the last piece.  So I did not partake in anything they had to offer and Regis and I left to start our return trip to the finish line.  In my mind, I always think of an ultra race as a bell curve.  Once you get half way, it's all downhill from there.  Figuratively speaking of course.  So we made the turn around and were on the home stretch.  Every step was one closer to being finished.

Aid Station 8 arrival:  8:12am  (14h12m elapsed)

Section 9:  Miles 51.6 - 54

After leaving the turn around, we went down a gravel road and then back up the fairly steep paved road, encountering some of the same hikers we saw earlier, and again Regis greeting them with his classy charm.

We soon arrived back at the breakfast station where burgers were being cooked.  We both got a quarter of one and then headed on our way, this time getting to omit the climb up to Reddish Knob.

Aid Station 9 arrival:  8:55am  (14h55m elapsed)

Section 10:  Miles 54 - 57.8

Shortly after leaving the breakfast station, I ran in to Jon.  He looked decent and said he felt pretty good given the circumstances.  I was glad to see he wasn't too far behind me.

We were making our way back to the Little Bald aid station and running downhill.  It hurt but that was nothing new  Regis had decided to abort the option to quit at the half way mark and said he would keep going with me.  I didn't mind.  It was nice to have some company and he was very knowledgeable.  Bouncing questions off of him regarding running ultras, sharing stories of previous races, but for me mostly listening to him, all helped pass the time.  Before I knew it, we were back at the windiest aid station on the course (in my opinion).  These volunteers were amazing.

As I came in to the aid station, I got my drop bag, had another Ensure, and proceeded to change shoes and socks.  I didn't really have to, but that was my plan before the race so I stuck with it. It was the first time I had sat down in almost 16 hours.

Meanwhile Regis is over at the food pounding freshly cooked goodies.  I quickly joined him and we were on our way on what would be one of the worst sections of the race for me.

Aid Station 10 arrival:  9:50am  (15h50m elapsed)

Section 11:  Miles 57.8 - 65.7

Leaving the Little Bald aid station, we had about 7.8 miles to go down the mountain to North River Gap.  I was not looking forward to it because it was a long section and mostly downhill.  That was going to hurt.

The sun was out, and it was a beautiful day.  Windy conditions though reminded me that a cold front would be coming through at night and I knew I did not want to be on top of Elliott's Knob when the wind chill dropped into the 'teens.

As we headed down the mountain, my Garmin chirped at me telling me it was low on battery.  I stopped and got out my portable charger, made sure I looked at my mileage after the debacle at MMT 100 in 2013, and plugged it up.  Thankfully, it started charging.  At MMT, when I performed the same action, my watch shut off.  I didn't know what mile I was at or what had just happened and that threw me out of it mentally.  This time though, I would soon be losing my mind but for a different reason.

Coming down the mountain hurt.  It wasn't majorly steep, but one of those mountains where in a training run you would normally just bomb down the thing.  I couldn't do that at this time because A) I wasn't bombing anything and B) I didn't want to kill what was left in my legs given how much of the race was left.  But putting on the brakes coming down probably didn't help much either.

Given Regis' past experience, I asked for some downhill pointers.  He gave me a few and I implemented them which made the journey somewhat bearable.  But my mental state was fading.  When I get in a bad mood during an ultra, it doesn't take much to make it worse.  Another female runner and her pacer came by and were chatting up a storm.  We let them in front of us and Regis jumped in on the conversation with them.  I was moving so slow though that they eventually went on ahead.  Then another couple of runners and a pacer came down behind me and they were telling jokes.  Again I let them in front and again Regis gets in the conversation with them.  The whole time this is going on I'm so annoyed and wishing I was alone.  I was at what seemed to be my lowest point of the race and this section was taking so long to complete.  All I wanted was to get to the aid station.  I was not a happy runner.

Finally, after 2 hours and 35 minutes of descending this mountain, we arrived at the North River Gap aid station.  The sun was shining and it was a beautiful day.  I didn't feel like it was shortly after noon on Saturday though.  Being awake for long periods of time really throws off my sense of what time it is, even if the sun is out.

I got my drop bag and sat down in a chair.  I reached for my phone and sent a text to Summer.  It read something like this:  "Absolutely miserable.  So tired of this.  This is my last race ever.  I'm done."  After I got home, she told me she busted out laughing when she read that message.  In most ultras, I usually get to the point where I say to myself "why am I doing this...this is stupid....I could be at home with my family."  But I always know that comes in a low point and I'll soon snap out of it.  This time I didn't think that.  I really was ready to be done with all of it.  I wanted to go home, withdraw my name from the upcoming MMTR 50 miler and not even consider Hellgate.  I was over it.  But I knew I had to finish what I started so it was time to get a move on.

I had some good food at this aid station.  Had to jump on the scale and get weighed one final time.  I had dropped one pound since mile 35 so I was down to 137.  I grabbed my stuff and headed on my way to catch up with Regis who had already started on the next trail section.  On my way out I ran into my friend Jeremy who informed me he had to drop due to a previous injury that had flared up.  I offered condolences and set out on the next section.

Aid Station 11 arrival:  12:25pm  (18h25m elapsed)

Section 12:  Miles 65.7 - 72

Leaving North River Gap, I tried to think positive.  This is where I started the Grindstone training run back in August.  So I had seen the next 22 miles of the course in this exact direction.  I knew what was coming, and I knew it wasn't all that bad, so I tried to think positive.

I believe it was this section that Regis and I encountered a couple of mountain bikers.  Still in a semi-sour mood, when I saw them and the fact that they really didn't have any courtesy towards us at all, I thought some mean thoughts toward them in my head.

After a short section of flat easy running, we started up another climb.  This climb eventually lead us up to some old service roads where the Lookout Mountain aid station was located.  This was the aid station I came to the previous night where a guy was wearing a viking helmet.  I think.  Anyway, today they had pulled pork which totally hit the spot.  I ate some food and we headed out.  I was to the point though that food was becoming unappealing.  I was tired of eating.  I started feeling sluggish and I knew it was because I wasn't eating enough.  After I would eat at an aid station and then leave I started to feel good.  But then my body would burn off what I ate and I'd start to feel bad again.  It was the beginning of a never-ending cycle.

There were several other runners at this aid station with us and most of us headed out at the same time on our journey up the service roads.

Aid Station 12 arrival:  2:30pm  (20h30m elapsed)

Section 13:  Miles 72 - 80.4

The service roads were easy moving.  We walked a lot as it was mostly uphill but ran some of the flat-ish sections.  We caught up with the two girls we encountered coming down the long mountain section in to North River Gap.  Regis struck up a conversation with them while I took a nature break.  I took my time catching back up with them.

For as far as I had gone, I honestly didn't think I felt that bad at this point of the race.  I think my body had just become accustomed to feeling terrible for so long that it was just second nature.  If I could run, I felt ok.  When I stopped to walk, it was hard to start back running again.   I guess it was the law of an object in motion wants to stay in motion and vice versa.  So my mentality became keep running as long as you can without stopping.  Of course the terrain dictated when I had to stop and walk.  Regis and I both were in this mode it seemed.  We would run a section and let out sighs of relief when we would start walking.

Once we reached the top of this section, it was time to head down again.  It was getting toward evening and soon we would be hitting the 24 hour mark.  The downhill section was gradual, runnable single track which would have been awesome on any other day.  Not this day.  It seemed like it went on forever.  Running wasn't that big of a problem, but at times I was ready for a change in terrain.  It didn't happen though.  We just kept going, and going, and going.  Finally though, we came into the Dowell's Draft aid station 80 miles in to the race.

When I got to the aid station, Jeremy and his wife were there to greet me once again.  They offered chair which I gladly accepted.  I had another Ensure and a little solid food but nothing was appetizing at all.  I was so over food.  Jeremy was so nice, getting whatever I needed.  Sniper was there talking with Regis as well.  It was like we both had our own temporary crew.

A little after 4pm and we knew that it would be getting dark on us in the next section.  I had extra clothes with me if needed and soon enough, we headed on our way.

Aid Station 13 arrival:  4:15pm  (22h15m elapsed)

Section 14:  Miles 80.4 - 87.8

Leaving Dowell's Draft I felt ok.  I knew we had a long climb but had seen it before at the training run.  This was the last section of our training run and it ended at Dry Branch Gap which is where we finished our trail work coming down from Elliott's knob.

The climb was long.  I think I mentioned that already.  But I thought it would never be over.  I remembered at the training run that it was a tough climb, but a good one.  I enjoyed it.  It was like a really long escalator.  You just kept going up and up and the views were great.  A few switchbacks I think, but overall didn't seem that bad.  This time around it was.  The higher we got, the more the wind howled.  The sun was slowly inching closer and closer behind the other mountains in the distance.  It was going to start getting cold soon.  Cold never really bothers me running though so I don't know why I kept worrying about the second night getting down below freezing.  I actually prefer cold running over hot running.  Not sure what was different about this race though.

There were times Regis and I would be climbing and I was on the verge of the death march.  I knew I was going slow but I just couldn't muster up the energy to pick up the pace.  Regis would stop and wait and I would apologize only to be told not to, as he just wanted to stop and take a break as well.  The climbs were equally taking a toll on him.

After climbing for somewhere around 4 miles, we finally reached the top and started our descent.  Such a sucky thing.  Can't hardly hike up the mountain and when you reach the top and start going down, it hurts almost too much to run.  You have to get over it though.

Some parts of this descent were really steep which put running out of the question unless I wanted to risk rolling down the mountain.  I could sense we were getting close though.  The sun was gone and dusk was fading fast.  I turned on my headlamp although it was that twilight time of night were you have no advantage from the sun and a headlamp doesn't really do much for lighting up the trail.  I encountered another person who said we were close to the aid station.  I hate it when that happens.  "Close" to one person means something completely different for another, especially when you've been out there for over 24 hours.  Even if it's only a mile, at this point in the game, a mile seems like such a long way.

Nevertheless, I soon heard the commotion of the Dry Branch Gap aid station.  It was pretty much dark at this point.  The aid station was crowded compared to the previous ones we came in to.  I loitered for a bit.  Again, nothing looked good.  I think I ate a couple of fun size candy bars but nothing too heavy.  I looked around for Regis but didn't see him.  I began to wonder.  Did he leave already?  Was he in the woods taking a nature break?  We had stayed together this whole time, I would be surprised if he had left without me.  But I couldn't stand around much longer.  Not moving was making me cold.  I had to get out of there.

Aid Station 14 arrival:  7:20pm  (25h20m elapsed)

Section 15:  Miles 87.8 - 96.7

This was it.  The last climb.  I had finally made it.  Only ~14 miles to go.  When you think of it like that, you are so close.  But then again you are really a long freaking way from the finish.  But it was just a matter of time.  Just keep moving.

I was on the trail by myself but headlamps were up ahead.  I was hiking with a purpose and at a good pace.  I wanted to catch that group.  I didn't want to be on this last climb alone.  Not so much that I was scared by mainly because I was sleep deprived, and if I fell off the side of the mountain I'd at least want someone nearby to know that it had happened.

 Soon I had caught the group and we were making our way up the trail.  Regis was in the group and I was glad of that.  I didn't want him to be back at the aid station wondering if I had left without him.  The leader of the pack changed hands a few times and I found myself second or third in line.  A group of two or three guys wanted around so I let them go.  I would catch up with them later though.  Eventually I was up front setting the pace.  The wind was gusting at times and I was taking each step with precision as to not make any mistakes.

The trail looked completely different on this night compared to the previous given that the rocks were not wet and slick from rain.  I was on a mission though.  I wanted to get to the end of this trail and hit the gravel road and get to the finish as soon as possible.  I was ready to be done.

Moving right along, I stopped and looked behind me as I had not heard a voice in a while.  Nothing but darkness.  No headlamps.  No other runners.  I was alone at that exact moment.  The wind and dropping temperatures soon reminded me that I couldn't stand there and wait for anyone.  I was sweating on the inside and stopping for any extended period of time caused me to get cold very quickly.  I had to keep going.  I was on my own the rest of the way.

The end of the trail finally arrived.  Those of us who did the trail work on that section in August had wondered just exactly how long that section was.  The question had been answered.  4.2 miles.  I had reached the gravel road we had climbed over 24 hours ago.  This road was steep though.  The wind ensured there were no clouds and the stars were out in full force.  No fog like the night before made me realize that the road was much wider than I previously remembered.  The dense fog from the beginning of the race made me think that the road was about 5 feet wide when it was actually around 15-20 feet.  Steep though.  Man it hurt trying to get down this thing.  I was essentially running at an angle zig-zagging back and forth.  I was also keeping my eyes peeled as I most certainly didn't want to miss the trail that cut to the left that took us to the last aid station.  That would have been a terrible mistake and I would be stuck having to climb back up the road.  A handful of runners had a little more spring in their step and passed me on this section.  One was a guy and his wife or girlfriend pacing him and as I greeted them but but received no response, I realized he was not in a good mood.  I was.  I was almost done!

Luckily I found it with no issue.  Another runner named Nelson had caught up with me and we went through this narrow single track section together.  Mountain laurel surrounded us on both sides which protected us from the wind.  I soon caught up with the angry couple that had passed me minutes before and went around them.  The terrain was runnable again and I moving at a decent pace.  I looked at my watch and realized it was almost 10pm.  I had just over two hours to go about 7 miles and if successful, a sub-30 hour finish was awaiting.  3.5 miles an hour.  That's it.  17 minute miles.  If I can run 17 minute miles for 7 miles, I'll have a sub-30 hour finish.  Sounds easy huh?

I started running and my pace got faster and faster.  I soon passed the three guys who had taken the lead on the last climb only to blaze the trail never to be seen again.  Or so I thought.  I gave them words of encouragement and kept trucking.  My stomach started disagreeing with me though.  I had to slow down and take deep breaths and remind myself that I had time as long as I just kept moving.  But a sense of urgency still lingered in my head.  I arrived at the final aid station with a sense of relief.

There were several volunteers there to greet me.  They had king size Snickers.  On any other day I would have taken three of those.  But I couldn't do it at that moment.  I had a banana and some candy, got my bottle filled half way and said thank you.  The guys I passed earlier were just arriving as I left.  One of the volunteers walked me across the road and directed me which way to go.  The end was near.

Aid Station 15 arrival:  10:15pm  (28h15m elapsed)

Section 16:  Miles 96.7 - 101.85

I had 1 hour and 45 minutes to make it to the finish for sub-30.  It sounded like a lot of time but I did not want to mess around.  It was time to get going.  The first part of the last section wasn't very runnable.  I was walking briskly, keeping my eyes peeled for trail markers.  Occasionally I would see the reflective markers hanging from trees which were awesome.  But most of the markers were the standard pink streamers we had seen the entire race.  They were much harder to see at this point in the night.

I finally got to some terrain on which I could run so I was trying to go as fast as I could.  Granted "fast" was a relative term given the state of my body.  I remember coming to several 'intersections' and there would be five ways to go it seemed.  I had to hunt for the pink streamers which kept slowing me down.  I kept moving though.

I soon came to a stream crossing with big rocks to cross and I this is where things got real weird for a couple of minutes.  My headlamp illuminated some reflective gear up ahead which was not surprising but the movements began to freak me out.  The pattern of reflective material was like a big circle with two lines coming off the top left and right.  Sort of like the top of a stick figure person with a round head.  But it was moving back and forth, almost like it was swaying it's arms.  I stood there wondering what in the world was going on.  Here I was in the woods in the middle of the night, have been up for around 40 hours, and I thought I was losing it.  The object, whatever it was, did not come closer nor did it seem to be moving forward.  I knew I was close to the boy scout camp so I began wondering if some kids were out here playing tricks on hallucinating ultrarunners.  I called out for it and said "hello?"  No answer.  I started moving forward cautiously.  I soon got close enough to realize what it was.

Another runner was trying to cross an old creek bed that had a lot of big rocks in it and each step was made carefully which caused him to rock back and forth to the left and right.  Relieved that I wasn't being pranked, I caught up with him and we began to talk about how our race was going.  I didn't want to chit-chat too much so once we crossed the creek bed, I started running, knowing that I was so close to the finish and the clock was drawing closer to midnight.  He ran with me but a little behind me.

We both kept our eyes peeled for the markers which seemed to be harder and harder to find.  We found them though, and kept moving.  Covering ground, step after step, this section was taking forever.  I thought for sure we should be coming up on the lake which we ran around to start the race. Oh how I couldn't wait to see that lake.  Another runner was stopped in the trail up ahead and as I came upon him, I asked what was wrong, and if we had missed a turn.  He said he felt like he was backtracking.  Come to think of it, the back and forth movement the trail markers took us on the last little way made me feel like that too.  Were we just running in circles?  Where was the lake?!?

I thought surely we hadn't backtracked.  I ran ahead but didn't make it far before I began second guessing myself.  I stopped, pulled off my pack and got my phone.  I was hoping Google maps would tell me how close we were to the lake.  By now the reflector guy had caught up with us and we were all trying to get to the finish.  Once the map loaded, I noticed were were on the right track but hadn't gone far enough.  I pointed us in the right direction and we all took off.  Things began looking familiar.  And then the lake came in to view.  Oh, I was so happy to see the lake.  A quick glance at my watch and my sub-30 hour dream was about to come true.

As we ran alongside the lake, the campground lights in sight, I feeling of relief came over me.  I couldn't believe I was about to finish in the time I was finishing.  I had come into this race just wanting to cross the finish line in the 38 hour time limit.  Beating my time from Massanutten was my secondary goal but not only was I about to achieve that, I was going to crush it by over 150 minutes.

I reached the gravel road leading in to the camp and the other two guys took off ahead of me.  I didn't care.  I wasn't about to break out into a sprint so I could finish two places higher.  I let them run ahead and enjoyed my moment of glory running through the finish line chute and greeting Clark, the race director.

FINISH:  11:53pm  (29:53:42 elapsed)

I did it.  I was done.  It was over.  I could relax.  I got my finisher's shirt and buckle, and Clark ordered me to greet the totem pole.  Hug it, kiss it, whatever.  I walked over to it and gave it a big hug and got another person to take my picture.

Hugging the totem pole!
Not five minutes after finishing, my phone rings.  I was stunned that I had service and could get a call.  It was Jon.  He said he was leaving the last aid station.  I was so happy for him.  We both avoided the cold temperatures on top of Elliott's Knob in the middle of the night.

I was getting cold though so I went inside the dining hall.  Sitting down for about the third time in 30 hours felt good.  Soon enough, Jon came in and we traded stories from our journey over some food.  After a couple hours, we headed to the tents to retire for a few hours.

In the morning, a breakfast was served and several of us shared some of our experiences.  Regis finally appeared and turns out I got out ahead and finished about 30 minutes before him.  He said he struggled on the last section.  But we all made it and I was so happy.

Dr. Horton was there handing out Hellgate applications.  Although I had swore off running during the race, I figured I had to finish what I started.

So that's the story.  I managed to move upright in the forward direction feeling miserable for 29 hours, 53 minutes, and 42 seconds.  A new personal best on so many levels.  I can't say I'll never run Grindstone again.  Matter of fact, I probably will.  Maybe not next year, but I'm sure I probably will at some point.  I'm already intrigued to know what it'd be like to run not feeling miserable so early in the race.  Plus I really liked the idea of running through a full night first thing in the race.

The longest race of the Beast Series is now done.  Only two more to go.

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