Thursday, October 23, 2014

It's not talent, it's stubbornness.

In 2011, I committed to the Mountain Junkies RNUTS (Roanoke Non-Ultra Trail Series) and decided to run my first ultra. When my first ultra, Holiday Lake, went better than expected I registered for Terrapin and started contemplating the LUS (Lynchburg Ultra Series). With goals bigger than my head I started making plans to train bigger and better than ever, a week later I found out I was pregnant.

With big goals ahead yet no plans to have another baby at the moment, I was faced with making changes to the year's objectives. I dropped to the half at Terrapin but decided that with the anchor event of the RNUTS being at 19 weeks along I could stay the course and finish the Mountain Junkies series. I ran all the races I could in the series through the spring with little training and loads of doubt. In May my body just got bigger, the days I ran more sparse. The week before the series ended with the inaugural Conquer the Cove Marathon and 25k was Memorial Day. I decided that I HAD to run that 10k held on the Monday following Memorial Weekend to give me the mental confidence that I could in fact finish the 25k the following Sunday for which I was registered.

Alicia who was pregnant with her first child agreed to run the 10k with me. All went fairly well, it was hot and it hurt but we finished. I felt pretty good about myself. My time was slow but now I would know that I could finish the 25k that Sunday. But walking around the award ceremony after my left foot began to hurt. As the day wore on the pain just grew greater. The next day I could not bear weight on the foot. I began to worry that my foot was broken. By Wednesday I was convinced of it.

When that evening came and I couldn't walk across my back deck without tears I decided to go see a doctor. The doctor took one look at my belly and looked at me with that look of sympathy saved for one who you see as not that bright, pity perhaps? He told me that I had gained too much weight,too quickly, had probably just bruised the foot badly from running on it with all that extra weight. He said I would be fine, but DO NOT RUN anymore this pregnancy. I kind of decided at that moment, that as a general rule I have a general distaste for some people.

I told no one about the doctor visit other than Todd. I told no one about the intense pain in my foot other than Todd and my sister. I KNEW people would agree with the doctor. I knew that people would tell me exactly what it was I did not wish to hear, do not run on Sunday. Skip the race! I knew that rational people would all agree, just sit it out!

But I am just too damn stubborn to be told what to do. My sister pleaded with me not run if the foot was hurting. I changed plans once again. I decided that if the foot felt ANY better by Saturday I was going to run on Sunday, even if I absolutely trashed the foot in the process I would know that I finished what I started and that I would have a good 20+ weeks left that I could recover. If the foot was still hurting as much or any worse as the week wore on I would skip the race. I don't know if I would have stuck to that plan but thankfully I didn't have to. The foot felt a little better by Saturday.

I ran the race that Sunday, it was slow. To put it in perspective, I almost ran the marathon this year in the time it took me to run the 25k that year. But I did it. I finished it. Did the foot hurt? Yes, but I managed. Did I ever regret it, running? Toeing the starting line? Not even close. It was that day, about five miles in I had one of the most moving experiences I have ever had on trails. I was running along this really beautiful rolling patch of the course and I just felt, despite the pain in my foot, the aches in my ligaments, incredible. Just almost transcendental. Invincible. And I had this thought to myself, you were made for this, Alexis. This is where you belong. And I believed that voice, had utter confidence in what it said. And I have never looked back.

I'm in a little bit of a tough place right now. Both of my knees hurt, they hurt walking, going up the stairs, sitting for long periods. The days I run are sparse once more. I am full of doubt. I am full of worry. I have signed up once more for a series, the Beast.

Last night Grattan asked sympathetically if, due to the pain in my knees, I was going to run Masochist. I am doing the Beast I told him. Funny, I don't even look to starting as an option, it will just be so.


Thursday, October 16, 2014

Let's Be Honest

"I once heard the worse thing a man can do is draw a hungry crowd,
tell everyone his name with pride and confidence but leaving out his doubts. I'm not sure I bought those words, when I was young I knew most everything. These words have never meant as much to anyone as they now mean to me." -Those Avett boys

I went for my first post Grindstone run last night. Well, the first run out of doors. I attempted to run on Monday in the basement on the treadmill that came last week to replace the old and broken one. Two minutes in and I was no longer sure of anything, twenty minutes later, after alternating between walking and running breaks, I called it a day.

So I went for that first official run, with peers and some pressure, high on Aleve and sunshine. Mentally it was all I had hoped for and more, I was just so damn happy to be running again after an eleven day interruption (what some may call rest or recovery) following the situation (what some may call a 100 miler). Physically however, it was a bone crushing disappointment. The first half of the run I kept up with the group, but it was flat to downhill. However, as the distance wore on my knee wore out until I had to back way off. I ended up walking it in at the end. I don't regret going, it was a much needed run even if it was painful at the end.

Let's be honest. I know what I signed up for, I signed up for something they call The Beast. I didn't expect it to be easy. I just didn't expect it to be so damn depressing. I didn't expect to feel so unbeast like, so frail, so weak. I accepted the little bit of depression, I even allowed it a few days to run it's course, then I asked it to leave. We had a good day or two.

Afternoons are the worst actually, generally about the time I would be lacing up my shoes for the afternoon run, eating a slice of toast for a snack. Now I am barefoot, hungry. I can recognize what's going on but it's getting rather hard to shake off the doom and gloom. I just want to go for a run. Is it so much to ask for it to be relatively pain-free? Maybe so. I don't know.

Today the knee pain is back to where it was a week ago, but being obsessive as well as impolite I keep finding myself wanting to test it, a squat here, a quick jaunt up the stairs. It's nagging me and so I almost feel compelled to nag it back.

Sad truth is the self and I had even done a little pep talk before Grindstone, that there may not be any running between now and Masochist. I don't know who we had fooled. Turns out, it wasn't either of us.

I am trying really hard to be happy, to see the good. I know it could be worse. I know there are still a few weeks still to heal. That there is more than running, so much more. I know all of these things but sometimes, they only stand to make the darkness that more painful, that I know I should be less crazy and yet sometimes just can't help it.

Truth is I like Masochist. It's one of if not my favorite races we do. It suits me, lots of service road, lots of climbing. The realization that I am not going to have a good day is eating away at me more than it should. I really want to shake the dark cloud, go in with an open mind and a heart to finish but the back of my mind there is this screaming about my knees.

Why can't they just get with the program?


Sunday, October 12, 2014

Grindstone 2013/2014

My official finishing time was 28 hours and 29 minutes, but it took me almost two years to get to the start line. The journey was so long and convoluted that it is hard to know where to begin telling the story, and by the time the race was over time was behaving so abnormally that it was hard to keep track of, so I will pick my favorite place to begin telling the tale, right in the middle. Try to keep up.


I woke up from a short nap, just about 10 minutes, disentangled myself from the thin tarp I had used as a make-shift sleeping-bag, and put my shoes back on. The wind was fierce and cold, but the aid station workers had a wonderful fire surrounded by chairs filled with other lost souls much like myself. Everyone struggling to find a reason to leave such an inviting location and venture back into the cold and the darkness and uncertainty. I wandered drunkenly to the aid station table and grabbed a handful of hot food before returning to the only empty chair by the fire. Why would anyone ever leave this aid station, I wondered.

But before I finished the food in my hand my answer arrived. I heard her talking before she noticed me sitting there, and I realized two things. First, she was feeling as tired and defeated as I was after climbing up Little Bald Mountain. And Second, that I was actually feeling much better after my nap and a hot meal. So my race wasn't over after all, and now Alexis was here and I would run with her. This solitary moment of clarity lifted me high enough to shake off my dark cloud and finish Grindstone in a relatively good mood.

I listened to her explain how she felt, and I advised her to take a nap like I had. That it made me feel better, and that I would wait for her and run with her through the rest of the night. As she curled up in that tarp by the wood pile Decker arrived, plopped down in a newly opened chair, and began to entertain and amuse all of those around him. This could turn out all right, I thought, I'm going to get to run with Alexis and Decker again.


I found Decker running in a large group leaving the camp. It was still light, the rain hadn't gotten too bad yet and everyone was still very much bunched up together. Other runners were talking about how they had gotten lost and hadn't seen any streamers for a while, but I pointed out a course marker as they were telling me about it. This seemed to bolster Decker's confidence, and we began to make our way purposefully up through the crowd. As the light disappeared and the rain continued he told me all about the Silver Surfer, how he sacrificed himself to save his planet, and how he ended up on Earth. The miles melted away behind us, and before I knew it we were fast hiking up the torturous long road to Elliot's Knob.

It seemed like we had arrived at the climb to Elliot's Knob too soon, 10 miles by Decker's watch and we were already half way up. I thought I remembered someone saying it was closer to 20. That climb was just as hard as I thought it would be, and the group I was with was stronger than I felt. Brian and Austin started to pull ahead when I heard Alexis behind us. We all welcomed her, and joked that we expected her to overtake us much later in the race as she usually does. I was glad that she was there, I knew she was struggling with the darkness and the prospect of running alone through the night. The summit, when we finally reached it, was cloaked in a dense fog and a light rain, and there was no view to appreciate. But I had the company of friends, and that's even better.

By the time I punched my bib and started moving down the hill I had lost sight of Brian and Austin, both of which went on to have great races, but Decker, Alexis and I were still together, and we headed off to Dry Branch Gap together. Alexis said she was going to run with me all night long. I knew she could, she's amazingly stubborn when she gets determined to do something. The descent was technical and slippery in the rain, the leaf covered rocks slipping and sliding under foot in the dark. Alexis fell behind a few times but managed to stay close all the way to the aid station. We were 14 miles in and I felt tired. Not a great feeling, but I pushed it back into the darker corners of my mind. I was running well with good runners, and that would be enough to carry me through.


Alexis couldn't sleep under the tarp as easily as I had, so she gave up. Being under-dressed for the sudden onset of arctic conditions she was fortunate to be lent a jacket by another runner, and I gave her a pair of socks from my drop-bag to use as gloves. Decker said that he needed some more quality time with the fire, which I understood, so after making him promise to get up soon and keep running we set off without him.  We were 44 miles in, and the sun would be coming up soon.

Running together the miles to Reddish Knob passed easily.  There was a steady flow of two-way traffic by this point and we began to see some of the runners we know who were having better days than we were, and were already on their way back to the camp. The sun came up in a cloudy sky on this stretch of gravel road, but by the time we summited Reddish Knob the skies had cleared and the view was beautiful and expansive. We paused for a few moments to enjoy the majesty of the mountains and lament the fact that we didn't bring a camera. Seeing the sunrise from Reddish Knob is reason enough to run 100 miles.

We ran on to the the turn around to pick up Alexis' first pacer, Alissa. This is the only section of pavement in the entire race, from Reddish to the Turn Around and back, roughly 5 miles of boring country road. Somewhere since leaving the fire at Little Bald aid station I had told Alexis that I intended to run with her for the rest of the race, and when we met up with her crew they seemed surprised to see us together, but I was happy with this decision. If it is possible to make running 100 miles easier, this decision did just that. My attitude was better and my strength held for the rest of the day.


"Go on without me," Alexis said. We were leaving Dry Branch Gap aid station at mile 14 and she was telling me she felt nauseous. I was a little frustrated at this point. It had been raining on us now for about 3 hours and the aid station hadn't had much food to choose from. I had taken a PB&J and eaten it while I waited for Alexis and Decker, but now I was hiking up Crawford Mountain by myself. The rain continued and the steep climbs on this side of Crawford were muddy and awkward, but I knew that once I got over this mountain it was all downhill to Dowell's Draft aid station where Brenton and my crew would be waiting with warm food. So I hiked with my hands on my knees up that soul-crushing mountain.

The second most important thing that I learned in this section is that nothing, and I mean NOTHING, at Grindstone is ever all downhill. But I fell in with a group of runners who were cautiously picking their way down the treacherous slope and I let them and my desire for a hot meal guide me as I cruised for the whole section on auto-pilot. It was in this section that I started letting my nutrition schedule slip. I realized too late that I was holding off eating in anticipation of the food that was causing my mouth to water, and waiting for me at the bottom. But when I hit the bottom I really hit the bottom.


"Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the face."


On the ride up to the camp on Friday morning, as we were all joking around and trying to pretend that we didn't have any real goals for the race, I announced that my primary objective was to beat Clifton Williams as the happiest runner on the course. I have found that I run my best when I am enjoying myself and maintaining a positive attitude. I knew that if I could harness that energy that had carried me through Hellgate and a double Promise Land then I would be able to run well at Grindstone.

As the day wore on Friday my well-laid plan slowly began to unravel around me. It was a simple plan; get there early, set up camp, rest, eat, rest, eat. It happened unnoticed mostly. The nervous energy in the camp brought people together to hang out and wish each other well. The race briefing and lunch took longer than I expected. And then the rain began. By the time the race started at 6 pm, I had spent more time walking around the camp then I had laying down in my tent, and I felt hungry standing there at the start line.

The race started and I was already feeling like my game plan was weak. When the crowd of runners bottle-necked at the first single track and I was standing there waiting, I began to get frustrated. I knew that it was a long race and that it would benefit me later to move slow at the start but I was standing there not moving and it was driving me crazy. I looked back at the crowd of runners and Clifton was yelling and smiling. I had already lost, and I didn't even realize it.


When I ran into Dowell's Draft aid station I was relying on unrealistic expectations to be met. I was feeling low because I was tired and down on calories. I was 22 miles into the race and I was feeling worn out and I knew that wasn't right. I was rude to my crew and the aid station volunteers because I couldn't get what I wanted, which was hot food, and I left knowing that the climb ahead was going to be long and hard. And as I slogged my way up that hill, getting passed by runner after runner as I sank deeper and deeper into my first good bonk, I beat myself up for yelling at Brenton. I knew he had a lot of work to keep that aid station going. I knew that I was just one runner. And I knew that I had overreacted, but it was too late. I had to run 60 miles before I would get the chance to apologize.

From Dowell's Draft to Lookout Mountain went by in a hazy blur. It would rain hard for a while and then almost stop, and then rain hard again. I ate the best I could as I realized what was wrong with me, but I just couldn't get into a good rhythm. At the aid station Jeremy Ramsey told me that I was 25 minutes off of the 24 hour pace, and I knew that was mostly due to my trudge through the valley of self-loathing. I ate a little and they rushed me out of the aid station and I was North River Gap bound. I tried not to let myself get overly excited about what may or may not be at that aid station. But it was hard. Sam Price talks a big game.


From the turn-around back to Little Bald Mountain aid station we moved a little slower than I thought we would. I figured that Alexis would fall in with her pacer and just start knocking out the miles, but we were still moving pretty slow.  I let her lead, and fell in line behind Alissa. Determined to stay with her, but out of the way, not push her pace to where she was uncomfortable. She told me after the race that she was running slow on this stretch because she thought I was suffering. I guess we should communicate a little better, but it was still a good stretch. We saw everyone we knew before we made it back to the aid station, and they all looked good and had plenty of time to finish. It looked like it was going to turn out to be a good day for the Blue Ridge Trail Runners.

J.B.'s aid station was a great place for me both times through. Without a doubt the second best aid station on the course. It wasn't quite as magical in the day light, but luckily I didn't need it to be. We ate, and killed a little time doing who-knows-what, and then headed off for the seven mile long downhill back to North River Gap. I took the lead on some of the downhills, and we started to move a little better than we had since the turn around. Kevin Smith, the pacer I had lined up, met us about three miles up from the bottom and I had to break the news to him that I planned on running the rest of the way in with Alexis.

Kevin is a great guy who believes in me more than I believe in myself, and he didn't want to take me seriously at first. He spent the next three miles of downhill trying to feel me out and push the pace, which is what he was there to do. He was checking to see how much fight I had left in me. I assured him that I wanted to run the rest of this hellish race with my wife, and he relented reluctantly by the time we got to the bottom of the hill. (The one real regret I have from this race is dragging Kevin out there and not taking advantage of his services. I have thought about it several times, and I wonder what I could have done if I had turned myself over to him and let him push me up and over those hills.)

We rolled into North River Gap inbound just after noon.  66(ish) miles in just over 18 hours. Lunchtime.


When I got to North River Gap outbound, I was feeling pretty good. I had learned my lesson from Dowell's Draft and eaten well on the trail even though I expected to get a real "meal" here. The rain had slowed down to just a heavy mist. The night air was still warm and comfortable. My friends seemed to have forgiven my childish outburst the last time I saw them. All was right with the world.

It is hard to explain all the ways that the North River Gap aid station lifted me up. The food was superb, there was a large variety of hot savory food that really filled the gap that "fuel" just doesn't do. There were so many people around that it had a carnival atmosphere, and everyone seemed happy. I sat down and ate a lot. My crew and Alexis' crew were very helpful and uplifting. I almost changed my shoes and socks, but decided to wait until I was inbound because it was still raining a little. When I left this aid station I was riding high on a wave of euphoria brought on by great food, good friends and, unbeknownst to me, utter exhaustion.

Between North River Gap aid station and Little Bald Mountain aid station there is really only one thing to slow you down: Little Bald Mountain. A seven mile climb covering some of the most technical trail miles on the course. Thirty minutes into this climb my world collapsed. My energy evaporated. The temperature began to drop rapidly, just like my will to live. Two miles into this climb the mountain had already eaten 50 minutes of my time. It only got worse from there. I sat down to eat at one point and was awoken by another climber's headlamp shining on me. I don't know how much time had passed. I fell asleep walking no less than four times. I would jerk my head up suddenly as I tripped on the tangles of undergrowth along the trail. I began looking for a place to curl up out of the wind and sleep until the sun came up. 

I'm not sure how I made it up to the top that mountain, but I know that I dug deep for any and every reason to keep moving. For my kids, because we always finish what we start. For Mike Donahue who would never have another chance to fight this course. For my wife and friends who were out here with me battling the same demons I was. For my friends and crew who came out to spend their weekend traipsing through the mountains making sure that all of us lunatics were alright. Because I had trained (off and on) for two years for this. Because I could, I was somehow obligated to. So I did. I climbed and I climbed and I climbed. 

When I finally got to the top of that climb my heart sank even farther, which put it down in my soaking wet socks at this point, as I discovered that the aid station wasn't were I thought it would be. It was another two miles down the trail. At least it was down I thought. When I finally got to Little Bald Mountain aid station outbound, I went straight to my drop-bag then to the fire. The wind was howling across the open hilltop, cutting right to the bone. I took off my shoes and put on dry socks and my light weight jacket. Sat my shoes what seemed like a safe distance from the fire, wrapped myself up in a tarp that was surely there for the sole purpose of keeping me warm while I slept, and I went to sleep.

"It's not a footrace, it's an eating competition!"

Coming into North River Gap inbound just in time for lunch was quite possibly divine intervention.
I felt good. I was running in a pack now. The best food on the course was laid out before me. There were only 36 miles left to run, and ALL of the hard stuff was behind us. It was shaping up to be a fine day (days) in the mountains.

Once again the crews and volunteers at North River Gap took excellent care of us. Except I did have to weigh myself. Between the aid station and our crew who seemed bored and happy to have something to do, they piled more food on me then I could possibly eat. But I did my best. I ate and ate while Alexis' crew preformed impromptu surgery on some nasty blisters she had growing in her shoe. I opted to not change shoes again, and spent my time eating and watching them cut on Alexis' foot. It reminded me of that scene in Rocky, you know the one, where Rocky says "Cut me Mick." It was kind of a gruesome spectacle, not unlike a car accident, where people gathered around to gawk at the gore. 

They eventually got her put back together, and Kevin (my pacer) stayed behind to run around on the course and have fun, and Alexis' new pacer Robbie started running with us, and Alissa came along so we would both have a pacer, or maybe just to get some more miles in. I ran most of the next couple of sections with Robbie while Alexis and Alissa ran just behind us doing the girl-talk thing.

I feel like we ran really well to Lookout Mountain, and then on to Dowell's Draft. Alexis had given me a marker to write notes on my arm during the night to make sure I remembered what I needed at the aid stations. I wrote a note on my hand, to ensure that I wouldn't forget: Tell Brenton Sorry! I felt bad about how rude I had been during the night, even though I figured Brenton would just laugh it off, I still owed him an apology. 

Kevin Smith met us half way down the long decent to Dowell's Draft, if nothing else he was getting a good hill workout in. Between him and Robbie I know we were pushing the pace pretty good coming into Dowell's Draft, but Alexis was hanging right there with us so I didn't hold back. We were in and out of Dowell's Draft faster than we had been any of the other aid stations, and Alexis seemed pumped up by the faster pace and a fresh pacer. We traded Robbie and Alissa for Anna, and we were off.

Anna was totally a no-nonsense kind of pacer. Like a good relief pitcher going in during the eighth inning. She led when she needed to, followed when she should, and kept on Alexis about her food intake. I don't remember seeing her smile or hearing her laugh, she had a job to do and it was getting done. Kind of like running with a Terminator, she would only stop when her mission was complete. The three of us climbed up Crawford mountain like it was flat. We ran more incline in this section than I had in the entire rest of the race combined, and we had over 80 miles on our legs! We passed groups of runners hunched over and suffering up that climb, and before I realized we were running down the steep side to Dry Branch Gap. 

The aid station itself was a little disappointing, but Kevin and Alissa were there to help us out. We only had 14 more miles to go, and Elliot's Knob, the last climb of the race was right ahead of us. I don't remember what time it was, but we thought we could make it to the top before daylight failed us, so we were in and out of the aid station as quickly as possible. Maybe too quickly, but you know what they say about hindsight.

The climb up Elliot's was slower than Crawford had been, but we managed to get the vertical part done before we lost the sun. The higher we climbed the fiercer the wind was, and the temperature dropped to a bone chilling degree. I didn't remember the long flat ridge run at the top, but we shuffled over precariously nomadic stones in an ever deepening darkness cursing a certain Race Director and wondering if we would ever find the gravel road leading down from Elliot's Knob back into more hospitable weather conditions and eventually returning us to the camp and the finish line. 

We hit the descent with another group of runners, and we all started down together. They joked that they had discussed it, and decided that there was no easy way down and a full on sprint down the mountain  would be no more painful than trying to ease yourself carefully down. This was interesting because I felt wobbly and slow, yet managed the hill much faster than their intended kamikaze style attack. We slowed down a number of times during this free fall to make sure that we didn't run past the trail that we were supposed to turn onto. This paranoia of getting lost would haunt us for the next seven or eight miles, and only get worse as we entered the "maze".

For some reason we made the decision to "skip" the last aid station, I'm not so sure that was the best choice we could have made considering that Alexis bonked really hard with three miles to go. But in all honesty that aid station seemed to be designed to be skipped. It was there as a formality, more of a course marker than any real kind of aid. We slowed down and got our numbers counted, and then continued on into the darkness.

The last 5-ish miles of Grindstone seemed the most unrecognizable to me. I found it odd that this was the section of the race that I ran first, when I should have been more cognizant than at any other time during this adventure. Coming back onto the Boy Scout property was kind of like landing on another planet. The terrain seemed bizarre and foreign, totally unfamiliar. How could the place change so much in one day's time?

The markings were sparse and Alexis was bonking and I was starting to get tired again. Several times we would stop at unmarked intersections and let Anna run ahead until she found a streamer, unable to make ourselves move down a trail that may be the wrong way. Any unnecessary travel at this point just seemed like it would be too much to bear. Getting lost that close to the finish was not appealing. 

We picked our way carefully through the maze, and with less than a mile to go a runner caught us. He had run with us earlier, but fallen behind on one of the tough climbs. He looked good and decided to run on ahead of us. Some how we made it through without getting lost, and as we finally climbed up onto the dam by the lake we saw a headlamp bobbing in the darkness, in the opposite direction of the camp. I yelled and waved and he yelled back. It was our buddy Joe #98 who had just passed us a few minutes before. He ran back to us, and decided to stick with us to the finish line, now no more than a quarter mile away. We all finished together, and then went our separate ways.

As for me, I showered, ate, and crashed out in my tent until morning.

As for Grindstone, it is a tough course. No, it is more than that. It is brutal and beautiful. It is challenging and fulfilling. It is a measure of who we are, and not only what we can do, but what we can endure. It is 100 miles in the mountains. Nothing more, and nothing less.

Will I return? 

Yes. Yes, I think I will.


Monday, October 6, 2014

Grindstone 100 Race Report (Alexis)

Grindstone 100 miler

Swoope, Virginia

Friday, October 3-5, 2014

I'm always unsure of where to begin; do I begin with registering in late spring after many others had committed to the Beast series this year or do I go further back, to the back and forth struggle that last summer was, the wondering if I should run Grindstone, if I could?

Wherever you begin, the story ends the same, with the Grindstone 100 mile endurance run. 


Robbie Shull jumped on board first, without hesitation, to pace me, before I had even registered. Alissa Keith was next, donating a weekend away from her family, a lot to ask of anyone. I stole away Anna when I saw her offer on Facebook to crew for someone at Grindstone. I had been rather nervous about having a good crew like I'd procured for Western States, but with three people I was confident in I was a little more at ease. Then to my dismay, Kevin Corell's knee, which has been bothering him since early spring, went from bad to worse and he had to withdraw from the race. I asked Todd if I should ask Kevin to crew me,but he said that I was perhaps being a little selfish in asking Kevin, awaiting surgery on his knee, to come out to the race he wasn't running. But I am a little bit selfish, I was a little sad that Kevin wasn't running, though confident in Alissa, Robbie and Anna I felt like I needed Kevin. When I finally built up the nerve to ask Kevin to come to Grindstone as my crew captain he said he had already figured he would, I was quite thankful. With a top notch crew in place it was time to just move forward with plans and training.

In addition to amazing crew I was fortunate enough to spend the later part of the summer with other Blue Ridge Trail Runners training for Grindstone, namely Chelsie Viar, Mike Mitchell and Clifton Williams (as well as my husband Todd). We spent weekends in the mountains, sharing our fears and anxiously counting down the days to the start. Going into the race, my one hope was that we would all finish.

In the final days before the race I tried to work on calming my nerves and not letting my fears get the better of me. I read a few articles on boosting confidence, I took actions to control what I could such as having headlamps and then backup headlamps for the dark and tried to remain calm about the things I couldn't control. 

It was all going well, my faking the part of confident Alexis, until we were gathered around our tent at Camp Shenandoah and the rain began to fall. With my happy face gone, I tried to hold it together the best I could. That lasted about 10 miles into the race.

The Start to Dowell's Draft

My crew for the race, Alissa, Anna and Kevin were all helpful in getting me ready to start. Robbie was to come up Saturday morning for his section. Alissa said a prayer and helped me ready my favorite shorts, Kevin made sure I had something warmer in my pack and Anna helped tighten and loosen my pack so the tops of my peanut butter crackers wouldn't rub my arms. Finally, after a few pictures and a few last minute pre-race rituals we set off at 6pm.

I fell in with Sheryl and we talked about Kelly Reece and Masochist, Colorado and Disney World. We were stopped in a traffic jam when I saw Todd disappearing off ahead into the trees. I had sort of hoped to stay with him so I picked up the pace a little. There were so many people though and I was finding it hard to get around and try to catch him, I was being less patient that I should have been. Those first few miles, though easy enough, found me anything but relaxed and well at ease. The more I wanted to be near Todd the more emotional I got about 'needing' him.  I had this overwhelming sensation that I just wanted him to be by my side. In addition, I spent more time looking at runners feet then the course which proved to be a hellacious idea on the return trip when none of the terrain felt familiar even though there was only one day and direction sepearting us.

Earlier than I would have hoped it grew dark on us. I was feeling good enough, I was running, I knew, much better than at Western States. The rain was falling but rather than dwelling on the possibility of being wet I allowed the sound of it be my company. When we, several miles in, began climbing I didn't even recognize it for Elliott's Gap until very near the top. A woman asked if it was Elliot's and I told her I didn't think so, but the more up we went I realized it was. I was actually happy to have not recognized it but felt bad for giving the woman incorrect information. It felt hard, but I also felt like I was climbing well. I had been passing runners right and left when I finally recognized the stride of the dark figure right ahead as Todd. I decided not to let him know I was there but just follow. However, he turned and saw me. He was running with James Decker, a fellow Mountain Junkie, and I was just so relieved. I would just hold onto them into the darkness I swore to myself.

We punched our bibs at Elliott's and ran back down until we hit trail once more when my headlamp started slipping from my forehead. I kept trying to steady it but it wouldn't hold, to top it off this section of trail was wet and the rocks slippery. I finally had to stop to take it off and let Decker pass me. I got angry, it was the only time I thought I was going to cry the entire 101.85 miles (which I guess is a good thing?) I was mad, I had worked hard to catch up with Todd, I was convinced I needed him, and he was just pulling away as I struggled to fix my light. The more I struggled with my light the worse the scene got. I figured the scene suggested I needed to eat, I finally fixed the light and pulled a candy bar from my pack. It was hard to eat but I managed. I caught back up with Todd and Decker but now it felt like work and I wasn't enjoying any part of it. Then my stomach started to give me trouble.  There was a really friendly runner behind me trying to make conversation but my stomach continued to get the better of me, instead of making friends I started to slip into a slump. I let a few runners pass me and allowed Decker and Todd to pull further ahead. By the time we came into Dry Branch Gap I had fallen several paces back, the nausea was pulling me down quickly.

I had a little bit of a cold and a headache on Thursday and Friday that had been making me feel less than great but the onset of nausea compiled with the other symptoms worked against me. And fast. I was no longer even slightly relaxed or confident. I was pretty miserable. Todd asked if I was ok, I told him I was nauseous, he told me to eat. I told him to go and leave me. He left but not without asking if I was going to be ok, I didn't want to hurt his race, I didn't want to hold him back, I didn't want him waiting on me. He pulled away just past the aid station and I slowed to a crawl. I stopped eating, I let packs of people pass by me. I started to think about quitting.

And if you know me, once I think about quitting, it's ALL I can think about. For the next two to two and a half hours I fell further and further into a pit of my own despair, I quit and felt good about it. I encouraged myself that everyone would understand, I had a cold. I felt awful physically but I also realized with great confidence that I am not a 100 miler, it's not my distance. I was a little upset about the time I had spent training to have a bad day but decided then and there that I would stop fooling around in the mountains. I worked out a plan, I thought I was in my right mind. I felt bad for Alissa, Anna and Kevin but they could switch to other people's crews I thought, I would even help if I got a few hours sleep. I would like to see Todd finish, I thought. I was going to DNF, but it had to happen at some point, right? I was going to have to tell a few people who believed in me that I am not the person they think I am, but my children would love me regardless. In past events, I have quit, and it has made me emotional, here I felt GOOD about quitting, I felt SMART about quitting. 

I realized that I hadn't taken any Pepto at the race start, I always take Pepto but I had forgotten. I took out two Pepto, and a few tums, drank more water. When I started to feel a little tiny bit better I forced myself to eat but I was still quitting at Dowell's Draft, that couldn't be helped. I dreamed of sleeping in the back of the suburban. I had a good feeling Todd would have told our crew that I wasn't feeling good. They would understand, I just couldn't go 30+ more hours, I could not go another 80 miles. It could not be helped. My mind was made up.

Then I got to Dowell's Draft. So many people. I saw Blake first, he laughed when I said was nauseous, he led me to my crew and almost appeared thankful not to have to trouble with me. Anna had two pepto in my hand and told me to take them with Alissa forcing the drink to chase them before I even started my spiel, I'm not going on. I'm done. What did you just give me anyways?

Kevin just slightly laughed and said yes you are. I tried again but my pleas were falling on deaf ears, they just kept assuring me I was going to go on. What did I need they asked, I had no idea, I hadn't even considered leaving this aid station, I had no idea what shape I was actually in. I kept fighting and they kept pushing. This was going to be harder than I thought. Alissa and Anna grew quieter but stayed right there as Kevin just kept telling me I was going to North River Gap. This was going to be harder than I thought, I told myself, why don't they understand that I CANNOT do this? Out of the corner of my eye I caught Chey and Bethany starring at my little breakdown, pity or something worse in their eyes.

We were standing there and Kevin told me he didn't care if I walked I was going to North River Gap, we could reassess there. I knew I had lost right there but that didn't stop me from continuing to try, I knew from the previous two hour trek that if I made it to NRG I could finish, I didn't want to make it to Sam's aid station and quit there, I knew that. I knew there would be even more people to push me on, I was taking Frank's advice, if you're going to quit, quit early. If I was getting out, it had to be here, it had to be now. I then resorted to even more childish behavior, "I hate you right now, Kevin" I said and started to walk towards the trail.

Within a dozen feet I was more sick with myself for saying that to one of my closest friends than I had been previously on the course that I stopped and looked back at their dark silhouettes and called Kevin's name.

Kevin, I am a terrible person, I cannot believe I just said that. 

They walked back up to me. And I went right back to whining, You just don't understand, I can't do this for another 30 hours I pleaded. Kevin, steadfast, kept giving me all the right answers, I could go on, don't think about 25 hours or 30 hours, just keep moving forward, have you listened to music he asked. Alissa set to putting my earbuds IN MY EARS for me and Kevin just kept on reassuring me that I had done worse, that I could finish this and I was going to finish. All I could think about was how awful a person I was, I am a mother and I was acting like a child, I had just told someone that I like and appreciate very much I hated them. 

So of course, I straightened up, right?

Nope, I took the tantrum to the next level, I SAT down on the grass. I just won't leave I thought. It lasted about 14 seconds and Kevin and Alissa were pulling me up and telling me to just start walking. I wish I had gathered a less competent crew I told them. But somehow they got me to go on, not without a great effort on my part though I can assure you. North River Gap

With my music on and the possibility of quitting gone for anything short of a near death catastrophe I actually began to run again. Not as fast as I had those first miles, smarter, more relaxed. I thought about my crew and how awfully I had acted. I owed them big, I vowed to eat well and stay as positive as I could for as long as I could.  I didn't know how long it would last, but I hoped at least through NRG.  The miles melted away comfortably, I ate on schedule, enjoying a grilled cheese at Lookout Mountain aid station, and ran near Siobhan and her husband but mostly alone. I started to come at ease with the darkness. It really wasn't very frightening. 

Every song that came on my iPod I somehow dedicated to my crew, whom I was more thankful for with each passing mile, "while I was feeling such a wreck I thought you'd treat me unkind, but you helped me change my mind", I listened to that song six times, I couldn't get the fact I told Kevin that awful thing out of my head. The poor guy can't run, it's got to be tough to be out there at an event that he should have been running, and I am throwing a tantrum and pleading to quit and saying the most awful things to him. I figured the best that I could do at this point was apologize and run as well as I could for all of them, that I would get to North River Gap in one piece and prove that while crazy, I had made it.

Near NRG I started feeling some pain in my feet and felt some small debris. I took my mini sharpie that I had attached to my pack and wrote "rocks" on my hand. When I got to the aid station at North River Gap I set in immediately to apologizing for my behavior at Dowell's, my crew told me Todd had been in a bad place there too. They said that I was 11 minutes behind Todd, and set about to helping me. I got weighed and was up 3 pounds, the same exact amount I had been up at 30 miles at Western States, I didn't let it worry me though like I had out there. Alissa set about helping me with my feet, applying mole skin, popping and treating a blister on my left foot. Sam came over and checked on me, apparently thinking I looked a little tired, rough, I am just so thankful he didn't have to witness what the other's did at Dowell's. Anna gave me more meds and fluids. Kevin got me some soda and food, warm potato dumplings and quesadillas.  I was there at that aid station a good 15 or more minutes but I changed my socks, fixed my feet, ate a ton of food and swapped packs. I left out of there with fresh batteries in my headlamp. It was a lot of time but it was mostly necessary time.

From there you climb A LOT. It was raining once more and I was all alone. The first few miles weren't all that bad, I knew it was a tough climb and just worked on getting it done. I decided that the darkness wasn't THAT bad, I kept reminding myself to keep an eye out for streamers but I wasn't as scared as I thought I would be. I had originally planned to make friends with someone, but it turns out I wasn't feeling/being very friendly and I actually was preferring running by myself, going my own pace. I decided I could do darkness, if I had to.

As the miles wore on I grew first tired and then cold, then more exhausted and even colder. Near the top of Little Bald I started to have a few slight hallucinations, I saw a person walk from the woods right in front of me, from the trail on the left into the woods on the right and then moments later a yard gnome. I started to see shadows and my headlamp kept casting strange feelings that there was someone right behind me. Then I started to really struggle with staying awake. I decided that at the aid station I was going to fall asleep for just a few minutes, I didn't trust just laying down on the side of the trail, what with yard gnomes and whatnot about.

To my dismay though the aid station wasn't at the top of the climb but a mile or so down a service road. That mile on service road was one of the toughest as I struggled to stay awake. I could see my breath and was hopeful for a fire. I was growing desperate when I finally asked a runner headed back the other way how far the aid station was, he said 100 yards.  Finally I came upon the aid station, the light of the fire so warm and welcoming. I got some soup and a potato dumpling and headed over to the fire, ready for warmth and a few minutes of sleep. The bonfire was surrounded by several chairs, each one of them filled. Steps from the fire one of the people in a chair turned to look at me, it was Todd! This came as quite a shock and woke me up a bit. I had not ever imagined I would catch back up with him, I figured I might see him once, headed back around the turnaround. He had struggled up Little Bald and had taken a quick nap at the aid station, he said he would wait for me. I told him no I was going to rest and he should go on, but he was insistent that he would wait, that he could use the company. I tried to lie down on the tarp where he has said he had napped but between the cold and wind and the surprise that was Todd's presence I just wasn't as tired as I had been.

Then Decker showed up by the fire. We talked about how cold each of us was when a guy, Chris, gave me an extra jacket he had in his drop bag there. Todd gave me a pair of his Injinji socks for my hands from his drop bag and we set off once more towards the official halfway point. Both of our spirits seemingly raised, if only just a little.

The Halfway Point

The sun was coming up and the jacket and socks made such a difference. Todd and I talked about our struggles and how much we appreciated having the other at just that moment, in that low on the mountain, to continue on with. When we made it to Reddish Knob we were in for quite the view, the sun had come up and Fall had clearly arrived. We punched our bibs but then took another moment to take in the beauty around us at all angles. It was pretty amazing and I am pretty lucky to have been able to share that with Todd.

We ran on to the halfway point and were both in much better spirits but the fatigue was clearly begin to settle in for the second half. I was beginning to wonder how long Todd was really going to run with me. I knew he had goals of a sub 24 hour race and I knew I was no where near that. Any goals I had made where all but gone other than finishing. I was just moving forward trying to making amends in some form to my dedicated crew of friends. We made it to the area where pacers are and stopped for a moment to pick up Alissa and headed off to the official turn around. Alissa told us stories about runners getting lost and angry hunters and I packed away the iPod for good. At the turnaround we took a moment to drink some tomato soup and share a moment with others runners, one of whom had run 33 100 milers. 

Coming back to the intersection Alissa said that they had made a joke of the fact that I kept bringing up the terrible thing I had said to Kevin because apparently Kevin hadn't even heard me say it. They had been joking and guessing what awful things I might have said, they were all a little let down with what it turned out to be. Back at the pacer pickup we grabbed a jacket and headed back towards where we had come. We passed Clifton only a few minutes later headed to the turn around.

Back at Reddish Knob we stopped for a moment for Todd to eat something and we saw Sheryl Mawn and Chelsie Viar coming and going from the top of Reddish. They said they'd gotten off course and run an extra 3 miles, it was further motivation to get moving, but we weren't.  We were actually going about things very slow and relaxed at this point. We were mostly enjoying ourselves though, talking to runners and telling stories but I was beginning to worry just how long the distance was going to take. A mile or so later we saw Mike Mitchell headed out to the turn around, we were pretty happy that all of our runners were still on the course and looking pretty good.

Back at Little Bald we stayed away from the comfort of the fire but did partake in some delicious fresh and hot quesadillas and Mountain Dew. We talked with the aid stations workers but I felt the urge to get moving. Todd told Alissa and I to get moving, he would catch up. We crossed paths again with Chris. Todd caught up once more and we ambled towards the trail to NRG. At this point the aimlessness was getting to me, I didn't know what kind of pace we were at, but I knew it didn't feel like a hustle, it was simply a forward moving pace. I figured Todd was suffering, he was quiet behind us and once or twice he disappeared to go to the bathroom. But he caught back up easily enough.

Finally, we arrived back at the trail that carried you back to the TWOT loop/NRG aid station, I nearly begged for Alissa and Todd get in front, telling them I would just do my best to follow. It was downhill but the sun was out and we moved fairly well. We ran even the little bumps. It was about this point that my knees started to bother me, a pain in my kneecaps, but I figured it was just par for the distance.

We came upon Kevin Smith just about 2.5 miles out from NRG and ran with him, he was ready to take Todd and get moving but Todd was insistent that he was going to stick it out with me. I told Todd he could leave with Kevin, I was not going to hurt his race. But Todd further insisted he was going to finish with me. I think Todd's race was all but lost at this point and he figured we could help each other. However, they did pick the pace up a little. I felt bad, that Kevin thought I was dragging Todd down, I both wanted Todd to run on and have the race of his life and yet selfishly appreciated his commitment to stay with me. Before that point I figured we were just sharing a low section, I really didn't think we would run the last 60 miles together. 

We came into NRG and saw Sam's sign that said "We love you Todd, Alexis, Cheslie, Cliffy and Mike" and I was in a fairly good place other than more foot pain and the growing pain in my knees. My left foot had a blood blister and Alissa tried to get it popped but we just ended up covering it with mole skin, we ate a good bit, Sam brought us hot foods and saw to it that we were well taken care of and Blake gave us mashed potatoes he had made. Sam gave me a card from our BRTR box, it was one Bailey, our six year old daughter, had made at the Box Party, it said "You are here to run and you are doing great! -Bailey Thomas". I folded it and put it in my pack. Because Todd was with us and Kevin Smith was no longer going to run with him Alissa stayed on to run the next section with us and Robbie joined us. Our group was in pretty good spirits as we headed out of NRG.

North River Gap back to Dowell's

My feet between the two tender spots on the bottoms of my feet and the blister on my left toe were giving me a bit of discomfort and my knees were now pretty shot, but I tried to give Robbie all that I had left as he had driven up that morning to pace me. But there was a fair bit of climbing in this next section and we moved slowly over it. I was fairly confident that we were going to finish the run but I was falling apart physically and starting to wonder just how long it was going to take. Though thoroughly enjoying the company and thankful to no longer be alone, I was growing more discontent with how slow I was going. Alissa told me to eat at one point and I started to disagree, and as I was explaining why I didn't need to eat I realized she was right, I needed to eat. Even when I think I am all together with it, I am usually not. Alissa and Robbie were helpful through here as they carried on conversations and reminded us to eat. 

At Lookout Mountain aid station we feasted on pancakes and syrup, one of the easier things to eat over the entire day. We left there and met AJ Johnson and ran a ways with him, he had run more than a dozen 100s and told us about his favorites and his hopefuls. We met a few other runners through these next miles and one of them made mention that we were on pace for a 32 hour finish. That really woke me up, I wasn't happy with the notion in the least. I had come to terms that we weren't running sub 28 or probably even sub 30, but 2 am just felt overwhelming when it was only the middle of the afternoon. I knew we hadn't been moving well for hours but I also was really begin to feel depleted. My hips and quads were telling me that 32 hours might just be so. I was falling behind my group and decided that whether it be ill advised I needed to call in the help of Vitamin I. I took two and a handful of Tums for good measure.

The pain in my knees did not subside but I did start to feel the slightest bit better. Todd and I talked about how awful we had been to our friends, we took out our sharpies and made notes to apologize to Kevin and Brenton at Dowell's. We ran to where the White Oak Loop splits and I knew it was fairly 'runnable' from here to the next Aid Station, I told Todd, Robbie and Alissa to get in front of me and just run. I told them not to worry I would do what I could to keep the pace, just have Alissa look back every 5 minutes or so to see if I am still back here. We ran very well from here on in to Dowell's, just running and not focusing on what hurt. Todd had said we should aim to get to Dowell's by 5 pm, I was quite happy when we made it to Dowell's just after 4. Originally I had planned to change shoes here but I decided not to fix what wasn't bothering me, one pair of Stinsons saw me through Western States, this pair will see me through Grindstone I decided.

We left Robbie and Alissa here and I picked up Anna for the final miles. Kevin had warm Mac and Cheese for us that Opal had made, it was the BEST food I had all day, I drank Mountain Dew and swapped packs. There were a lot of people there and we slowed to talk to several of them. Kevin told me we had 5:45 left. I told him nope, I don't have a 28 hour finish, and he just said assuredly that we could do it. I had not believed it for a moment, the 32 hour comment having taken up residence, I knew we had killed too much time, laid on the ground at aid stations, hiked too many runnable sections, but he said it with such fervor, that it made me wonder just what we could do.

To the Totem Pole

I really didn't think we could run those final 22 miles in 5:45, but I wanted to know what I had left in me. Leaving Dowell's I took the lead and ran what I could, occasionally Todd would remind me that I could hike, Anna reminded me to eat. Anna told me to put my music back in. We started to cover the ground quickly, I felt awful but I also knew that I was feeling better than I had just a short while before, that darkness was coming, I wanted to make the most of the daylight we had left. We passed this guy, Joe, and he hung with us. We were running smooth and he was complimenting us and it just motivated me to run even better. I started to feel more confident that we could make it to the finish before midnight, this just continued to feed my desire. Once or twice Todd had to reel me in, but I wanted better than 30 hours. I tried not to think about all the mistakes I had made so far during the run, instead I remembered how bad the last 20 miles of Western were and really appreciated how much better I was running this time around. My knees felt awful but I was still pushing through that pain.

We were running up a hill and I felt what I thought was my mole skin move off of my blood blister and it HURT, I stopped and sat down to fix it on the side of the trail only to realize there was blood on the side of my shoe, then on my sock. The mole skin hadn't moved, the blister had just finally popped. I put the sock and shoe back on as fast as I could and just kept moving. That spot felt better after the blood blister popped but my left foot second toe just continued to grow more painful. 

Coming into Dry Branch Gap is downhill, we were running so well, it felt really good, I wondered how long it would last. As we approached the aid station I didn't see our crew, finally I saw Alissa waving her hands and then I saw Kevin coming up from where the cars were. I was feeling a little out of it mentally even though I was still running ok. There wasn't anything appealing at the aid station so they gave me some food from my box, but I struggled to eat it. We swapped packs a final time and said goodbye's. Kevin and Alissa were going to get pizza and meet us at the finish. I started moving up hill and I hear Kevin call my name, I turn to find him running up the hill out of the aid station with a Mountain Dew, about the same time Todd and I both yell "don't run Kevin" and he just smiled and said it's fine, he thought I needed something more, he could tell I wasn't looking very good either. He was right and that Mountain Dew is pretty much responsible for the last of my good running. Within an hour I would fall apart.

We left and were still climbing well, running towards night and the finish. We lost our friend Joe who didn't want to hang onto our climbing pace. We stopped and took in the sights on the climb, again as much as the climbing hurt, the view was magnificent. We pressed on but our hopes of making it to Elliott's before dark were mostly dashed, however we had been moving really well, enough that we all now believed a sub 28 was possible.

But the climb to Elliott's was longer than I had remembered outbound and the dark slowed us more than I would have thought. The night slipped in and the pain in my knees became ever more present. We made it to Elliott's and ran the downhill well but then the distance to the next aid station seemed to go on forever. I was fighting with a lot of pain so I took two more Ibuprofen but they didn't work as much as the first had, my knees weren't affected by the medicine, just telling me to stop. The service road was marked enough but was still a slight bit confusing, the closer we got to the aid station the harder the markers were to see. It was like the course had been marked with outbound in mind, but was harder to follow inbound. On the way to the final aid station I told Todd and Anna I didn't want to stop at the aid station, we would give them our numbers and just keep on moving through, they agreed. We were all ready to be done. In retrospect, we shouldn't have told Alissa and Kevin to go o to the finish, it was our choice, but one I now slightly regret, those last miles were tough. 

Little did we know just how cruel and miserable those last 5-6 miles would be. We left the last aid station around 8:30 pm, I knew we would have to move well to hit the sub 28 hours but we were pretty confident about it. However, the trail was difficult to follow and we just didn't trust our gut to take us the right way. Anna led the whole time and even she in her fresh mind had a hard time finding the streamers, there were times when the three of us would be stopped with our three headlamps looking for the next streamer and even though we were never lost it just started to wear me down. I kept eating when Anna told me to, but not the 3 or 4 crackers I had been eating, now it was one cracker or a few M&Ms. That was all my fault. But it just created a downward spiral.

And the more I felt we were going to get lost the more reluctant I became and I would stop until Anna would see a streamer. It just felt like a maze and I was just too far gone to face it from a positive place. And I kept watching the time slip away, for a while I thought we were chasing the 28 hours but when that was no longer going to happen I gave up, I walked it. Todd tried to get me to move, Anna would try to get me to move and I would run or shuffle three feet and then stop again. It just went down and down further until I felt at the brink of tears. Our friend Joe appeared, he thought we could still do 28:10. We followed him a ways until he disappeared but then we found him lost along the dam. It was frustrating and I was cursing the race and the extra 1.85 that whole final 1.85. I didn't recognize anything, I felt like we must have missed something and were wondering in circles. But then we finally saw Blake and the rest of our crew and remembered where we were from the start. Joe, Todd and I crossed together at 28:29, I was too upset to really care, just happy to be done.

The After

The next two hours is a scene of caring friends bringing me drinks and coats and warm blankets, bringing me clothes and helping me to the showers, I felt feeble and embarrassed and yet so thankful for their helping hands. I couldn't get warm, I was nauseous, I was a little out of my head, I am just so happy I had people who care there even though they had been up for a night already because of me. Anna wasn't feeling well and she and Alissa hit the road soon after, Anna had been such an amazing help those final miles and never even let on in the slightest that she wasn't feeling well.

I took to my tent for some sleep, but the cold awoke me an hour or so later. I grabbed a blanket and headed for the finish line. I had seen Clifton finish before midnight. It was now 3 am, I asked Clark if Chelsie and Mike had finished, they had not. I decided to hang out until they did. It was my hope that all five of us could finish, I wanted to stay up until they were all safe and sound back in the camp. Once they were all there I could no longer stay awake and was falling asleep at the table so I went back to the tent for another hour of sleep. 

The next morning we stayed for the breakfast and award ceremony (you get buckled as you cross the finish). Horton passed out Hellgate applications and the lodge was full of people. We got heaping plates of eggs and grits and sat around telling stories with our friends. I had gotten up to get a cup of coffee and was headed back to my seat when Horton stopped me and told me that I was just as strong as the top 5 women, that really really touched me. I am not as sure of myself, not as sure that 100 miles is a good distance for me. Especially as my knees currently feel they've been hammered but there is just something about the distance that I feel draws me to it, even if I am not very good at it. It takes an awful lot to prepare for, and though certainly better prepared this go round I still feel I came up a little short in my own expectations.   I believe there is just something deeper and more appealing to me about the distance, when it is all said and done, I like the raw feeling it induces, I like the challenge, I like the wonder, the risk. 

The Days that follow

I didn't have clearly set goals going into Grindstone, I knew I wanted to, that I needed to finish.  And I did. I believe I trained better than I did for Western States. But I know that my head still stands as my biggest opponent.Yet this time around I feel more eager to run another 100, that I am slowly figuring it out, and that I could do better, with a little more work. 

There were many highlights in the run for me though they might not have shone so brightly in the retelling. Running with Todd was by far the biggest, especially that moment on Reddish when we were both beat and nearly broken, that the colors and expansive view led us, if only for a moment, away from all the lows. We were together, in all of that uncertainty, and I was reminded of how many struggles we have pushed through together. It was a moment we drank it on the mountain top and I will continue to pull energy from for as long as I can recall it, which I hope to be forever. 

There were also the other people, especially my crew, but other runners, volunteers. Todd argued with me last week when we were discussing my run at Western States, that I alone ran those miles. I am sorry but I just do not agree, I do not see it that way. I needed those people, both last year in California and again over the weekend, and you will just not get me to see it differently. I am forever indebted to the selfless act of good friends who gave me their time, who may have grown quiet but not moved away in my time of need, you are such a large part of this story for me, I fear I will never be able to thank you or repay your kindness. 

The highlights also include the company of the rain, the sound of it blanketed me in those dark hours when I thought that I had failed.  I usually dread wetness, my soft feet being my Achilles Heel, but I chose instead to make friends with the rain. The same went for the darkness, it has been my biggest fear going in, but once I was out there, it didn't seem as big and scary. I was proud of myself, when I let go of wanting to hold onto someone in the night, when I came completely at ease with going it alone, knowing that it wouldn't last and it would soon enough be morning. 

Another highlight was in those later miles, going up Crawford I believe it was, to feel so absolutely awful and yet finding another gear regardless of that discomfort, and the realization only acted to boost me further onward. I really wish I hadn't let that last bonk happen, but I am thankful for the beautiful miles that preceded it. 

Speaking of beauty, the Grindstone 100's being held the first weekend of October makes it all the more amazing, for all the suffering you are rewarded with the most breathtaking views. The fact that you know you missed all the beauty in the dark on the way out somehow makes it even more powerful, that what once you had passed without knowing you now have the second chance to take in all the wonder. 

As much as the run tested me, it must also be noted, it equally rewarded me.