Anything that can go wrong will go wrong. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves – this story actually starts several months ago…
On June 13th, I got an email from Eastern States 100 – the race was cancelled. As I looked around for an alternative, I found out there weren’t any. Almost every race remaining on the calendar was full. Every race except Grindstone. For those who aren’t familiar with Grindstone, it’s a notoriously difficult east-coast race through the Blue Ridge Mountains. It has become more popular over the years, in part because it is one of only two Hardrock qualifiers on the east coast.
I had lots of reasons not to do it. It started on my birthday. At night. Not my type of race. 500 miles away. So… I signed up.
My training actually went pretty well. Nothing crazy. I’m still averaging about 50 miles/week this year. But I’ve had some decent workouts and races. Most importantly, I’ve generally remained injury-free.
I decided to fly to Virginia. While a 7-hour drive to the race sounded manageable, I could not fathom a 7-hour drive home.
And this is where the story really starts.
I was sitting in Dulles airport on October 4th in the middle of a long layover. I was sipping a soy latte without a care in the world (it’s okay, I’m practically a millennial #basic). Then I remembered, I forgot to pack my hydration vest. Um, oops. It was on my list. It was at the top of my list. It just didn’t make the trip… I called some places in D.C., and I called some places in Staunton, and I decided I’d be able to wing it. After my next flight, I headed to Sole Focus Running in Staunton and I found a waist pack that would suffice.
The following day, Friday, was race day. However, Grindstone doesn’t start until 6:00pm. Lots of time to kill. I grabbed some breakfast. Then lunch. Then headed to the race site. I ran into my cousin who was also running (he finished his first hundred!). I also saw a few fellow New Yorkers, as well as my friend Samantha.
The race had some awesome swag including a hat and hoodie.
At 6:00pm, we were off! We had about an hour of daylight followed by a long night in the mountains. It was warm for early October. The high temp was close to 80. At night, it was in the 60s. It was humid, and it was really foggy!
Just four miles into the race, my stomach started hurting. A lot. I’ve run 23 ultras and I’ve never had any significant stomach issues. Happy birthday?
And then I threw up. For the first time in more than a decade. This wasn’t a huge problem in and of itself, except I wasn’t able to eat anything besides veggie broth. Next up: Calorie issues. Hydration issues. Really foul breath issues. I got sick a few more times over the next 40 miles of the race, and then my stomach finally felt a bit better. I don’t know if it was food poisoning or what. My new race mantra throughout this period: make it to daylight.
This would be a boring story if that was my only problem during the night. While stumbling through the wilderness in the middle of the night, my headlamp started to falter. And then it died. 6 hours in (footnote: this was a replacement headlamp from one that died during Twisted Branch in August – never again, Black Diamond). The good news is that I had a backup headlamp and it was adequate.
I hit the turnaround (51 miles) in 12 hours and 16 minutes and finally ate real food. I felt a bit better, and I ran my best stretch of the day starting there. If I were to guess, I’d say I was in about 30th place at the halfway point, and I moved up into the top 20, albeit briefly, around mile 70ish. I saw some familiar faces including Samantha, who was crushing it (she would go on to finish 3rd in her 100-mile debut!).
At some point, I don’t really remember when – maybe somewhere between mile 70 and mile 80 – things fell apart again. It was mostly my feet, but I was also really demoralized. The long night really beat me up. I wasn’t having the race I had hoped for, and I was on the cusp of a pity party. With that being said, I never really considered dropping. Sam’s husband gave me some batteries for my backup headlamp, and I mentally prepared for some more darkness. I was moving slowly – really slowly – but I was moving.
I was definitely hallucinating for the last couple of hours. Caterpillar the size of a cat? Saw it. Guy up an electrical pole in the middle of the wilderness? Saw it. And then self doubt. I know I’m following course markers, but am I going in the correct direction? Did I get spun around? 40+ hours of no-sleep and 100+ miles definitely messes with the brain! Finally, two miles out from the finish, you can hear it. People. The finish area. And then you’re done. 102ish miles and 24,000ish feet of climbing.
My time was 28:11:46 and I came in 59th out of 263 runners that started.
Running 100 miles is really hard. And frustrating. I’ve finished three hundreds now, and it isn’t getting any easier. If I am being honest here, I don’t think I even get the same satisfaction that I do when I run 50k, 50 miles or 100k well. But I would like to nail one. And I think I am capable of doing it. So we’ll see – maybe that will happen someday.
Full results of Grindstone are available here.
Excellent course. Excellent course markings (it would be very difficult to go off-course). Great aid stations. Great volunteers. Great town (Staunton, VA). Amazing swag. Big thanks to Clark for putting on an awesome race. Big thanks to Megan and Nancy for watching the tiny human while I was stumbling around Virginia.
See you on the trails!