Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Hellgate 100k++ Race Report 2015 (Alexis)

Hellgate 100k++

Fincastle, VA

December 12, 2015 12:01am

Before the Start

This race report was ready to be written Saturday evening but I didn't know how to begin, after some deliberation I realized that there is a life lesson in this for me, it seems to be the starting I don't know how to do, after I commence a task it almost always seems easier than I thought. As Tom Petty would perhaps say, "The waiting is the hardest part."

This was so true for Hellgate. I registered for this year's Hellgate, my fourth, the week between Grindstone's original date and it's actual date, it was something to distract me while the fate of Grindstone was still to be decided, it wasn't until the application was accepted, my check cashed and my left achilles swollen that I started to have regrets. It wasn't that I didn't want to run Hellgate but as the weeks counted away (quickly) and my Achilles (a self diagnosed case of tendinitis and retrocalcaneal bursitis) didn't resolve, I started to worry.

I walked away from Grindstone with a little more confidence than I have had, I performed at that race way better than I expected on less training, I finally felt I was getting mentally tougher. However, slowly during the 8 weeks that separated Grindstone and Hellgate, I felt that confidence literally seep away. At first I tried to retain some semblance of training but after a week or two of painful running it was evident that I had to let the body guide the training, not what I wanted or thought I should be doing. So for the next six weeks I ran, once, twice, maybe 3 times a week, not more than 16 miles on any run (which I did twice), in shoes with part of the heel counter cut out to avoid pressure on the bursa. By the time that Hellgate week arrived I was less than optimistic. Usually I can rely on my current training to fight off some of the doubt, to help me arrive at some kind of goal but how can you have expectations when your training is that low, when you still can't wear shoes pain-free? When you maybe shouldn't be running at all?

On Wednesday I had Todd cut the final pair of Hokas I had, I told him where to make the cut but it turned out it was a little too much, my foot slipped around for too much of the run that Wednesday evening, I wasn't sure I could manage that for 60+ miles. But I just pushed it to the back of my mind. Then came Friday. First I woke with a headache, swollen throat and stuffy nose. The vitamins I had started pumping in me had not worked to fight off the cold I knew was coming. I went right out to CVS to buy Sucrets, Cold Medicine and more Emergen-C. The worst part was that the swollen throat just made it difficult to swallow and I didn't eat what I would normally try to eat the day of Hellgate. I was worried it would get worse, I was worried I wouldn't drink well in the heat (this could be the hottest Hellgate to date), I just got wound tighter and tighter as the day went on and the cold seemed to get worse.

I was upstairs, 5 pm, finally readying my belongings for the race when I tried to pick a pair of shoes, the Hokas slipped off my heel just walking across the carpet, the other shoes that were cut were too minimal, I had never run more than 16 miles in either pair, and I just didn't trust running Hellgate in them. I tried on a few non cut pair and the achilles instantly started to be at a higher pain level just putting them on. It worked so quickly to tear me down. Todd was getting ready too and I asked him if we could just stay home and watch movies and snuggle on the couch (he had a back injury leading up to Hellgate and was filled with similar self-doubt) he said yes, he sounded as serious as I felt posing the question. I decided the best choice was the Hokas Todd had cut Wednesday, I would just tie them as tight as I could to keep them on my ankle as best I could.

Shortly after Kevin Corell arrived and the question was off the table as we now had to put our best faces forward and get out the door. I managed this fairly well even if I packed absolutely nothing for post race. Maybe there was a part of me still thinking I wouldn't start? Fortunately, I had a few great friends, Kevin, Freda, Erin telling me I could do it, that I would do it, that I would be fine. It's hard to have people believe in you when you feel so unsure, it feels like a pressure, they don't mean it but it feels as though you'll let them down if you can't perform. I love the feeling and I hate it too.

We had a good ride up, we stopped and got pizza and then stopped at Walmart because (I thought) I forgot hairbows. Really my head wasn't in the game. I slowed us down with my lack of preparation just enough to miss the dinner but we made it to Camp Bethel in time for the Race Briefing that had been bumped from 8 to 7:30pm. By the time we got into the lodge where the meeting was held it was already pretty jam packed with runners and crews, we nudged in on the floor beside a couch that seated Brenton Swyers.

After the meeting I hung around the lodge for probably longer than advised, but I was in no hurry to go ready my things. I finally got dressed in shorts and short sleeves and readied my gloves, hat and houdini to wear at the start. At 10:50 we headed off caravan style to the Hellgate Trailhead which is also the start of the race. Driving us to the start was Brian Corell, Kevin's brother who had selflessly agreed to crew his brother and I through the Hellgate race. I met Brian this past summer when he crewed us for the Catawba Run Around but I didn't really know him, it was a pretty privileged feeling to have him agree to crew me as well as Kevin and his help definitely contributed to a decent day. In addition to Brian and Kevin, it was Todd, Mike Pflieger and Sheryl Mawn. Sheryl and I have run Hellgate these past four years together and she has always caught a ride with us. I felt pretty special this year, because she could have been with Kelly Reece but she chose my crazy self to carry on tradition. It felt like a long drive over and Todd made the comment a few times that he still wasn't sure he was starting the race. I knew if we got him started he could finish Hellgate and with it the Beast, but you can't push Todd into anything, so I just hoped he would toe the line, being his second attempt at the Beast Series (the first was 2013 when Grindstone was shut down due to the government).

When we got to the start Sheryl checked us all in and I decided to wear all the gear; the gloves, the stocking cap, the beanie on my neck and my houdini over arm sleeves and a t-shirt. This would prove quickly to be way too much stuff in the heat but the start was a little chilly despite the forecasts I had heard. I need a parental figure usually to tell me what to wear at the start of runs. We got to the start line right as they were singing and moving forward and getting ready to start. I hadn't really spent much time on a race plan or strategy, I just begged that my cold and achilles would allow me to finish. Seventeen hours, Western States qualifier was the only real goal. Sure, I would take all that I could get from the day, but my hopes were all but dashed at a top 5, a PR, a stellar day.

To Aid Station 2, Petits Gap

Once we were off (at 12:01 am) and running it felt so different, like this great pressure was off, that it was just running. Kevin and I fell in together and though we had made no plans to run the whole race together I knew we would more than likely cover many miles in close proximity. He said something along the lines of "We are going to have a good night, you trust me?"  If anyone knows just how bad a headcase I can be, it's Kevin, he knew I needed to believe we could have fun and enjoy the run. In this, I did trust him, and the running felt so much easier than thinking about and planning to run. We started sort of mid pack but quickly made well enough progress in the group that we ended up going around many runners. The weather quickly proved warmer than the start line suggested and I took off the houdini and wrapped it around my waist. Then the arm sleeves got rolled down, I was sweating already.

Brenton Swyers was hanging with us and I kept catching glimpses of Todd up ahead and tried to keep him in sight without really running with him. I was thankful that he had started and that he looked good. The first few miles are very runnable grassy double trails, some small inclines but all very runnable, this year it seemed particularly wet but I didn't try to avoid the water, mostly because I thought the rest of the course would be drier and I couldn't avoid the creek anyways at 3 miles in, not because I was trying to be a badass like Dennis suggested. When we turned away from the creek crossing Brenton said he was worried about the 'stupid' thing he did Tuesday, giving blood, that his heart was already racing, I tried to offer some encouragement, that my heart was racing, that WE were racing but it wasn't long and he was gone. We didn't see him the rest of the day.

Dennis, Todd, Kevin and I stayed pretty close together after aid station one, we headed up the gravel road to Petits Gap. We ran and walked, smarter than last year if not a little slower. Sophie, Annie and Rebecca passed us on the road, Kevin and I discussed how in past years I would try to run what they were running but this year I had to be steady, let things fall where they may. It always seems like such a long ways to Petits and yet the time passes quickly enough, though it was nice to reach Brian at the Tahoe. Todd had gone on by this point, but we stopped and I dropped my water bottle and picked up my hydration pack, switched the small Black Diamond I had worn since the start for an Icon, dropped my muffie and stocking cap for a ball cap, and stuffed the houdini in my pack though I wouldn't use it again. It was just that warm out. I drank about half a 20 oz Mountain Dew and then we headed on, it was about 1:30 am at this aid station.

Petits to Floyd's Field

The downhill from Petits is a little rocky but I wanted to run well and steady, so I tried to be quick footed but after only a few minutes the mountain dew or downhill got to me, my stomach tightened up and hurt like Hell. I swear it felt like someone was repeatedly punching my gut, I had to walk a few steps and when I started running again it was slower, and though I was trying hard to not let it bother me it hurt. I tried my hardest to not complain to Dennis or Kevin but it was a very strange, painful sensation. I was thankful for the climbing on the Terrapin side of this section, it gave my stomach a chance to recover and thankfully it did. I also took 2 Tums.

We made it to Hunting Creek Road from the trail at 2:13 am, I told Kevin that it was here, 2 years ago that I decided I was quitting (but didn't), we chatted about the weather that year.  I took a GU out and ate it, it was my first of the day but it went down so well that I ended up making the plan to switch to GU after not really having a plan at all going into the race. I aimed to consume one every 45 minutes unless we were close to an aid station. I stayed on this plan very well throughout the race and ate 8 Gu during Hellgate, nothing else from my pack other than water and meds.

We hiked fairly well (we "walk well") and came upon Todd about one mile from Camping Gap, he had told me early to stop asking him how he was feeling but I couldn't help it, he's my husband, it is just what I do. He said I needed to keep moving, not to let Kevin pull away (Kevin and Dennis had pulled a small lead on me, I don't walk quite as well as they do) and tell Brian not to leave Floyd's before he got there to drop. I didn't say anything, I just kept moving, I caught Kevin and Dennis and told them that my heart was breaking for Todd, but there was nothing I could do.

We made it to Camping Gap and I had some Mountain Dew and headed out with Kevin and Dennis. The three of us ran quietly together through here but I started once more to fall back, I was feeling OK, it was just the middle of a long night. Once we hit the 'grassy road' and I hadn't talked to them for a few minutes I made to start getting my iPod out and ready when I noticed Kevin doing the same thing, I turned mine on. And then it was like Kevin and I had a little fire going, we picked it up and ran on ahead of Dennis, we caught several runners here and made good pace to the turn towards Overstreet. But my foot was slipping a lot in my Hoka so I stopped to fix it and then when I got up my fire was out. I walked a lot the next mile. I saw Annie up ahead but I felt no real urgency to catch her. Kevin was pulling a small lead so I just fished through my iPod for more uplifting stuff. I passed Annie and caught Kevin who had stopped to use the restroom and I led down to the falls and the gravel road, it is one of my least favorite parts of Hellgate, that final rocky descent to the gravel road and I felt like I turned each of my ankles four times.  I was so thankful yet tired by the time we hit the gravel road.

We had made good time until this point but I didn't have the fight in me to run up this road. We walked every step until it flattens out near the top. Dennis caught back up around here and said that he too had caught a second wind and he moved on ahead of us. We got to Brian and the truck at 5:02 am which is sort of the best time I have made it to Floyd's but also not quite where the aid station is so it was about the same as usual. I grabbed some Mountain Dew and told Brian to wait for Todd, as  Kevin ran on to the Aid Station. I realized that Kevin moved through aid stations much better than I do. At the actual aid station Cheyenne Craig was there and she gave us quesadillas. She said Joe Alderson was just a head of us, I could see it on Kevin's face that he looked like I felt, that even though we were doing OK, both our fires had dimmed.

Floyd's to Little Cove

Leaving Floyd's aid station Kevin told me to run on but I wanted the break as much as he did. We didn't move too quickly and I finally remembered this section for it's rough, rocky single track sections. This section can be very quick if you are quick footed and nimble, if you are scared and clumsy like me though, you take it slower. I had just stopped to pee for the first time all day (I was trying to drink as much as possible but it just wasn't enough I suppose) when I noticed headlamps approaching quickly. We were running along a wider yet rocky section when several runners descended on us at once, Kevin Townsend (who flies down a rocky descent) followed by Todd! My Todd!

He didn't slow to tell us any details but he obviously hadn't quit at Floyd's. We picked up our pace immediately and I asked what had happened and he said he dropped at Camping Gap but then got up when Brenton made fun of him. I tried to be more nimble but he was just too quick. We ran well from here to the aid station but I thought we wouldn't see Todd again, I hoped so. I worried that Todd may not have stopped and told Brian he was continuing on but he had, though I didn't know this until later, anything I CAN worry about though, I WILL. Overall though I felt good and happy here, I was so lifted that Todd was still in for the Beast that I let that news lift me and carry me to Jennings. I passed Rebecca somewhere through here and then Sophie just as we got to Jennings' but she left much quicker than we did at the aid station.

We got to Jennings Creek, the "Breakfast Aid Station" and Todd and Joe were sitting eating breakfast like it was Hardee's. Gina, Blake and Sam were there to help all of us and it was like a little party. Brian gave us Mountain Dews and Sam made me pancakes (delicious!) and then I told Todd and Joe to come with us. Todd said I am eating eggs I am not leaving and Joe said I will come with you but I won't be able to keep up, killing some time I said I wanted eggs too but then I couldn't eat them. I could tell that Kevin was leaving so I gave up on encouraging Joe and Todd to leave with us.

Well, I started to leave and then turned back and gave Brian my headlamp, it was still early, like 6:30 am, but I didn't want it and I knew we were on road until the sun came up. I was passing by Adam Evan's vehicle when he turned on Taylor Swift "Shake it Off" it couldn't have been more perfectly timed. It was a wonderful boost, that aid station, those people.

But then we met the road out of Jennings and it got very, very hard. It wasn't rocky or technical, it was 6:30 am, the worst time at Hellgate for me. Last year I had run some of the road to avoid that burdening exhaustion but this year I just didn't have it. Kevin said I could leave (he was giving me a complex that he didn't want me around), I said I couldn't. We hiked a while in silence, a few runners passed us and it took longer than either of us recalled to make it to the little gate at the top. I got so tired, I just wanted so badly to lie down and take a nap. We finally made it to the little gate and I said "Kevin! Talk to me. I think we will both be better off if we talk."

So we started talking about what we needed to do for Humble Creek (Blue Ridge Trail Runners race, yep that is a partial plug) and though we maybe were not flying we were moving steady and I wasn't focused on my achilles which had now begun to bother me a bit so I can attest that the talking did help. The distraction was nice. We had a female pass us here, Sheryl Wheeler, and then, at a turn near the road a Mr. Todd Thomas caught back up. He made fun of us, said we weren't running very well if he could keep catching us, but really it's just a testament to how good a runner he is when he is actually running. Once again, I was thrilled to see him and in a decent mood despite a lot of pain. He told me he was mad at us for making him start the race but I told him he could be mad at me all he wanted so long as he finished and brought home a bear.

We climbed a mile or so together but then when the road began to weave going up to Little Cove Todd fell back once more, I was hopeful that we would see him again, but that would not come to pass. We were making ok time, but not great time, around where I had run before, which was good considering my training and foot but Kevin kept encouraging me to run on, like I could just do that, run away. We ran and walked steadily to the aid station at Little Cove making it there about 8:20. Kevin ran pretty much right on through but I stopped for Mountain Dew and a few Lays.

Little Cove to Boblet's

After this aid station we ran quite a few miles very well, we walked but overall kept a good pace and kept the walking to a minimal. It was like Kevin had tried to get me to go on but then he carried us a ways with a good strong pace. After a little while he stepped aside and I took the lead, we were both moving pretty good. That is until we reached the hiker, this steep section that reminds me a little of running up a powerline hill, the wheels started to come off again there. I ate a Gu and tried to muster the energy but I was just getting low. Then it seemed to take forever to reach the actual Devil's Trail. A little while later, finally in the Devil's Trail the run came further apart, that section seemed worse than I have seen it in my four years, just so so many leaves covering up these many loose and shifting rocks. I would take a few steps and try to run and then turn an ankle. It was so frustrating. I finally committed to just walking the section for the most part after my achilles started worrying me, there were still quite a few miles to run and my achilles was getting worse and worse. I had switched from quick laces to regular laces to help hold the shoes in place and thankfully so, because I think that  saved the run but the shoes shifting on my ankle was still an issue through here as the shoe would get loose and my ankle rub more and more on the loose shoe. The other ankle also started to bother me so I knew it was the terrain as much as anything, not just the injury or altered shoe.

The last mile or so to Bear Wallow was as tough and draining as I remembered, I felt a good bonk coming on but just wanted so badly to make it to Bear Wallow for more water and some voltaren for my achilles that I kept moving as best as I could. We got to Bear Wallow at 10:10, right dab in the middle of when I have gotten there before, but still on the quicker side. We went to the Tahoe and I grabbed a Mountain Dew but then I headed over to the actual aid station table for water and warm food. There were so many people here, Grattan, Jamie, Gina, Kathie, the Sorensons, I was chatting and Kathie was taking care of me, heading over to the Tahoe for Gu and whatnot so I didn't have to do the extra walking and I was eating a little warm food and M&Ms when they told me I needed to leave. I had probably been there a good five minutes of so. I am waiting on Kevin I said. Immediately, Grattan and Kathie jumped on me, that I needed to go on, run my own race, not wait. I just brushed it off, I'm not leaving until he does I said. Kathie went over to Brian and the Tahoe to get Kevin and then she yelled back, he's already gone. I looked over to Brian and he said Opal and Kevin had walked off a few minutes ago. Kathie gave me more M&Ms and told me to go. I walked out of the aid station, I was surprised Kevin hadn't said he was leaving when he left, I didn't care about the leaving as much as I felt he didn't say anything when he did and yet I knew that he had been moving through aid station better than me all day, it was just a precursor to my little bonk full steam ahead. Also, I left without applying the voltaren. I thought about going back but then thought it was just more time wasted.

I hiked along but my stomach felt heavy from all the food I had just eaten. I had such a long ways to go. I didn't feel like racing, I didn't even feel like running. It was so hot. I passed Opal headed back to the Aid Station which confirmed Kevin was ahead.  Then I caught up to him not much later on the trail. We ran a ways but then I had to stop to go to the bathroom and Sheryl Wheeler who we had last seen at Little Cove passed me again.

When I stood up from using the restroom I was hit with a wave of nausea, I wanted to sit down. I wanted to throw up. Maybe cry. I was hot. Done. So, so much farther to run. Kevin was gone. I tried to take a Pepto, I couldn't. I tried three times to swallow it but then the nausea got worse so I spit it out. Another female passed. Then another. I started looking back, even though there was nothing I could do.

I caught back up with Kevin, though I don't know how and he said "What are you doing?" Like the little baby I am I complained to Kevin that I was sick, he offered me medicine which I gladly but ashamedly took. We both complained for a minute and then went back to not talking. The medicine and the slower pace and drinking water seemed to slowly bring me back together but not before we were passed by a few more runners. I started running more but didn't enjoy this section like I normally do, I was finding this section to be worse than I had remembered. Kevin fell a little back and then he told me to go. It was tough, I really wanted to stay, I really felt as though I should go. In the end, I went. I told him to catch me.

Not a half mile later I was out on the road. I saw Opal, I told her Kevin was just behind me. Then I came upon Sophie pouring water on a guy. We walked a ways together, she told me she had been in 5th most of the day but that 3 women had passed her in the last few minutes, the same 3 who had passed me, I had been in 6th and 7th since Jennings and not known where I was. She told me who was where, but that she had gotten hot, started slurring her words, she was going to take a break at Boblets, be smart and get that 10th time finish. I told her that was smart, she told me if I saw Rusty tell him she was ok.

After I passed Sophie though, even though I had that information, I still felt sick and hot, with little motivation. I got to Boblets and the crew of volunteers, many who I knew, asked how I was, I said 'HOT'. Brian and many of my fellow BRTR were there trying to help, they surrounded me and I felt cared for, I couldn't take most of what they offered but it helped to know they cared. Sam asked if I wanted food, I said no, he asked about ice, I said yes. Don was on it, dumping a cup of ice down my top. Then it was time to keep moving on.

Boblets to the Finish

With that ice working immediately to cool me down and a little Mountain Dew I was on my way just as Rusted Root "Send Me on My Way" came on (Krista Offields' recommendation!). The love and support and ice I felt there carried me down that next descent. Not that I killed that downhill gravel road, because I didn't, but for how I felt at the moment I moved fairly well. Both my feet hurt (too much wetness) my achilles burned, my other foot ached, my left knee which comes and goes was getting chatty.

I reviewed the situation. It was hot, but I can do heat. I needed to drink and make the best time I could, that was all. Don't worry about positioning, just keep moving forward. And that is what I did. Slowly at first and then I would catch people and see someone else ahead and it just became a little game and it was also a distraction and I didn't feel better but I was moving forward. I only passed one female which made me wonder if they hold up in the heat a little better. I thought I saw Dennis, I ran to catch him, he was having a slight issue (quite scary really) and was slowing to be safe, I told him it was good to be smart, it was for the Beast! And as soon as I left him I started to think about last year in the Forever Section, when I had my little epiphany, about how the experience of the Beast with those friends meant so much more to me than the racing part did. I thought about Kevin being at Day Creek last year and telling me I had to run hard. I was NOT going to race these last few miles, I was running just fine, I was getting to the end of a race that had seemed so uncertain the day before, I wasn't going to race, I was in 7th place. Not my best finish but considering the season I had it was good enough.

I wasn't racing those last six miles that was all I knew.

Finally, after so much weaving around the mountain I knew we would soon be going straight up, I came into Day Creek and all of these people, from so many directions were yelling that a woman was just leaving (it was then that I noticed Sheryl leaving the aid station) and that there were 3 more women just 1 (ONE) minute ahead of Sheryl. UGH! "I guess I will just take that with me then" I said to Brian taking the Mountain Dew out of his hand. Walking past the aid station table I heard cheers that I could take 5th, I could go for it. I don't know who said it, I was just so ready to NOT race those last six miles for once. "Why does it always come down to this?" I bellowed. But smiled.

I left and opened the Mountain Dew I took a few sips when I reached the trash bag, I had only drank about a quarter of it, about 60 calories, but I dropped it in the trash. I hadn't filled my water at the aid station, I felt behind me, not much left. I caught Sheryl and she told me there were a few girls just ahead, she said I could catch them if I ran but save some for the other side. Just after I passed Sheryl though Sonja who I had just passed in the Forever Section passed me and I fell back into 7th, I said "Good Job" and she said I would likely catch her on the downhill. But as she passed me I decided I wasn't racing those girls up the hill, I would continue to walk and hopefully walk well but I wasn't trying to catch them. I had very little water left. It was hot. I could blow up and have more girls pass me, I was really OK with 7th.

I hiked hard though. And I saw the girls, I saw Amy Ruseiki, it was hard to not fight, but I told myself I was being smart. They would race each other and win or they would race each other and blow up. I wasn't to get involved. Just do what I could. Near the parkway I couldn't see the group of four girls anymore, just that one of them was falling off. When I reached her she was crying, it was Angela! She had been in 3rd all day and she had fallen and was hurting, I asked her is I could do anything but she didn't really respond, I told her I was sorry, I knew she was close and she would make it, but it was so hard to leave her there.

I got to the Parkway and crossed, I hadn't run a step since Day Creek, but I knew I had now to make a decision, I could run a little hard and see if those girls were still in sight or I could cruise in. I decided to run a little hard and just see what happened, I was now 6th and I figured if I could even just close the gap and be closer in time to those girls that would be a pretty successful day. I ran a mile and saw no one but I was still feeling OK so I kept moving. And then I saw her, the girl in purple, who I didn't know at all. And I knew that was my chance at 5th and if I didn't fight I would be giving it away and I couldn't really stand that thought. So I fought a little harder, and passed by 5th who said "good job" and I wondered if she felt as tired as I did. I only had about 2 miles to go at that point but that felt like such a far way and the quicker pace was worrying me, it was hard. I did look back a time or two just to see how hard I had to keep pushing and even though I didn't see anyone behind me I didn't let up either.

As always that last stretch through the camp feels like it goes on forever! But FINALLY Hellgate #4 was over! I had somehow squeaked out 5th female in a time of 14:51:10, 3 minutes behind 3rd and 2.5 minutes ahead of 6th, it was a tight group there, and a stressful but might I say "fun" finish? Of course as soon as I was done I couldn't seem to walk anywhere, my feet were trashed from being wet, my achilles bothered from the beating, but it was nice enough (not running) to sit outside in the grass and watch others finish like that first year, four years ago, when I first ran Hellgate. The afternoon saw many more of my friends and trail family finish, many of whom, Todd and Kevin included, had finished the Beast with crossing the finish line.

The aftermath has been both worse and better than I expected. I expected to not be able to walk, just really sore and beat up from not training as much or as well as I wanted. But instead I have a raw neck from my pack, a severely battered, maybe broken toe and a unsurprisingly upset Achilles. But there's plenty of muscle soreness as well, I caught a glimpse of myself passing by a mirror yesterday and my swollen eyes and burned neck coupled with the other aches and pains made me truly feel as I had been in a fight, I'm just not sure whether I won or lost the fight. The good news is there isn't anything 'up next' just yet, I can really enjoy resting the rest of 2015 and with no big races (yet) on the calendar I can focus on truly 'recovering', and that sounds nice.


Saturday, October 24, 2015

Grindstone 2015

I signed up for Grindstone (and the Beast Series) this year with a sort of calm confidence. Last year a lot went wrong, this year I knew some things. This year I would run smart, eat well, not sit down, and not sleep during the race. This year I would start slow, I would run my own pace, I would climb hard, and I would relax and recover on the downhills. This year my goal was to run 24 hours. This was my year.


Last year after Grindstone I took it easy. For a long time I took it easy. I wasn't signed up for any of the other fall races, and I ran very little through the late fall/early winter. I crewed Alexis at MMTR and Hellgate, and barely ran enough to stay in shape. I knew that I wanted to run Grindstone again, and regretted not running the Beast that year. So I decided to run the Beast in 2015.

So I set myself to training for the Spring 50K's. My training went better than my racing all Spring as I couldn't quite get things to come together on race day the way they are supposed to. Flu at Holiday Lake, I drank half a bottle of DayQuil at the halfway point. Huge blow up at Terrapin, a gel every 20 minutes turns into projectile vomiting after 16 miles. And at Promise Land I just had an off day, feeling tired and heavy-legged from the start.

But I kept training hard. I was climbing better than I ever have in my life. And then a week and a half before Highland Sky I fell down on a weekday evening run. It had been a hard day at work and I was tired and heavy-legged from the start. As luck would have it, I landed just right on a pointy little stump sticking up at just the right angle to rip a three inch gash in my leg and leave a hole the size and shape of my thumb in my left quad just inches above my knee.

So I skipped and Highland Sky. And I didn't run for weeks. And all of that hard work and training just melted away. I got fat and slow and never was able to run again. Or that is how it felt at least.

The come back was hard on me. It was mid-summer and everyone I ran with was training consistently and putting in tons of miles. When I was able to run again, I couldn't run down a hill. Period. I would grind my way up hills at a miserable painful trudge, only to be rewarded with walking gingerly down the other side because of my feeble wrecked quad. I figured my Grindstone PR was about as likely as winning the race all together.

But it got better, slowly, and I put the work in. I was running three to four days a week, and getting about 50-60 miles in. When I could get in the mountains I tried to make it count. I would push myself to exhaustion on climbs, but the down-hilling was coming back slowly.

Iron Mountain came around, and I used it as a last good long run/measuring stick race. I ran well for the most part, but felt weak on a lot of the long climbs. I did however finish feeling like I could keep running, which was encouraging.


As soon as it was time to start tapering the talk of another government shut-down began. I didn't let it bother me, I cut my running back to a bare minimum (7 miles the week before the race should have been). I focused on other things; work, kids, work, ignoring Alexis' talk of running. Then at the last minute we were shut down because of weather instead of the normal stupidity.

Again, I didn't let it get to me. For some reason I was confident that the race would happen the next week, and since I really didn't have a crew or pacers lined up I didn't have the logistical problems that others had to deal with. I was tired of tapering so I went for a couple of hard(ish) runs with Brenton Swyers during the extra taper week. Like me, he was tired of not running and fired up. Honestly the pace of these couple of runs worried me a little. I like to be very well rested on race day, and being old it takes me longer to recover from running fast.


Race day came and we all drove to Swoope. We set up camp, picked up packets and mingled with runners that we only see at races. We ate and we hydrated and we went to the race breifing, and then it was time to stick to the plan. Last year I had gotten so tired during the first night of Grindstone that I took a nap at an aid station. So as soon as the race briefing was over I retreated to my tent and laid down for almost three hours. I was able to get some good rest, even though it was only half-sleep. It was hot and Josh was SO loud in the next tent that it was impossible to get real quality sleep. (Some people.)

We lined up and smiled for pictures, and then it was time to run through the mountains for a hundred or so miles. The 6 PM start adds an interesting element to Grindstone, because even if you do manage to start the race well rested it gets dark right away and you have to run for 13 hours until the sun comes up. Almost immediately the Grindstone course bottlenecks runners at a narrow technical little creek crossing, so I jumped out kind of fast to get in front of the traffic jam, and then settled into my own pace as we ran through the camp towards the first aid station. I ran with Josh and Decker for a little bit, but Decker pulled away quick and I felt like I was working too hard to keep up with Josh so I let him go too.

The rain set in right away, just like last year but a little cooler, and it was dark before I made it to the first aid station. On the climb up to Elliot's Knob I realized that I was behind Shaun Pope and I was hanging with him pretty easily. Then he did one of the most impressive things I've ever seen: he ran every single step up to the top of Elliot's Knob. Every Step. I know because I hiked behind him the whole way.

We summitted and he dropped me quickly on the downhill. I saw Alexis and Kevin on their way up as I started the decent, right behind me as usual, starting slow only to build up speed the whole way. I ran the technical downhill on the back side of Elliot's like I was running a 10K. I'm not sure what happened up there, but I felt good and I was really enjoying the thrill of just barely maintaining control on the slippery wet rocks that shifted underfoot. I ran that entire four mile decent without seeing another runner.

Dry Branch Aid Station, mile 15 (ish). I ran into the aid station and there were a few runners leaving. Blake helped me fill my bottle and add my Tailwind mix, and he handed me a cup of broth as I was leaving but it was too hot to drink so I left without eating much. As I began the steep climb up Crawford I started to catch some of the runners who I had seen leaving. I passed Shaun, walking this time, and kept pace for a half a mile or so with Amy who ended up winning the women's race.

Up on top of Crawford I passed Josh who was eating, and Decker who seemed to be struggling a little, and then right before the downhill side I came up on Austin who said he had been puking. And then I hit the drop off of Crawford just like I did Elliot's. Full speed ahead, on the edge of out-of-control. The whole way down was like a ghost town, and I didn't see anyone else until I made it to Dowell's Draft aid station mile 22 (ish).

There were crew members lined up for a quarter of a mile leading up to the aid station, so I turned off my headlamp to keep from blinding everyone. Tyler and Erin who were crewing Alexis were  here with a bag of my gear. Tyler found me and helped me with my Tailwind switch and I grabbed some food for the climb and headed out. I had tried to keep it simple for Tyler and just threw all of my stuff in a bag and asked that he have it around when I come through. Having been in his shoes before, I knew he would have his hands full crewing Alexis.

I was still feeling really good, and ran so much of the climb up Hankey Mountain that I kind of surprised myself. Last year I had hit my first real low spot right here and sulked and dragged my feet up the four miles from Dowell's to the TWOT loop. I put my music in here and just dug in and ran some of the best climbing of my race.

After you get to the top of Hankey you get dumped out onto a service road that is slightly downhill for about three miles to the Lookout Mountain aid station. It was in this section that I realized that I wasn't eating much between aid stations, but I was sucking down 200 calories of Tailwind between each aid station. I still felt good, but I knew I had to be careful because if anything took me down at Grindstone this year it was going to be nutrition.

So when I rolled into Lookout Mountain I planned on eating as much as I could, and luckily AJW and Sophie had great food. "What are you doing here?!" I look up as I'm stuffing my face and Jeremy Ramsey is looking at me like my hair is on fire or something. "What?" I mumble through a mouthful of something hot and delicious. "You're in the top ten!" I tell him to shut up and and stagger out of there with a handful of food. Top Ten? That's probably not good. I felt good, but I knew I didn't have any business being up there. Trouble was coming, it was only a matter of time.

It is mostly downhill from Lookout to North River Gap. Mostly but not entirely, nothing is ever all downhill, especially at Grindstone. But I made good time through there, another rocky technical decent. I decided as I passed a guy who was picking his way gingerly through a particularly gnarly section that my only advantage out there was the murderous drops that everyone else seemed to be afraid to really get into. So I bombed what I could bomb and I climbed the best I could.

North River Gap, mile 36 or so. Sam Price's party central. I rolled into NRG feeling great still, and everyone asked me what I needed. There must have been 10 people there that I knew, it was great and a little overwhelming. I asked if they had seen Alexis' crew because they had my bag. Nope. Nobody had seen them. Panic. Don't Panic. My Tailwind had been carrying me so far and I knew that I wouldn't possibly see them again until the turn around if I missed them here. Eating at the aid stations was great, but my guts weren't letting me eat on the move, and drinking my calories had literally been saving my life.

"Do you have any calorie drink?" No. Nuun. Soda. Shit! And then Sam pulls off a crazy-watch-me-pull-a-rabbit-out-of-my-hat-magic-trick and comes up with a baggie of Tailwind from some guy who just happens to be dropping right at that moment. "You don't want to quit yet," I tell the guy, but I'm thinking "Thank you for dropping out buddy, you just saved my day." Chelsie mixes up my drink while Sam fills up a bag with more food that I can eat and they send me back into the wilderness.

Little Bald Knob. The seven mile climb. The soul-crusher. The bane of my race last year. Dig deep Todd, it's just a hill.

So I climb and I climb and I climb. Mixed in are a few short downs and a flat spot or two, but mostly it is up up and up to the top of Little Bald. Last year I fell asleep hiking up this hill. I sat down on a log to eat and fell asleep. I died climbing this mountain. But that was last year, and I wasn't ready to give up yet. I took a caffeine pill that Alexis had given me before the race and I turned my music back on. The Pixies, Dig for Fire. So I did. It's just a hill.

I ran what I could and hiked what I had to, and I got to the top and I was at the aid station over an hour quicker than the year before. Another aid station run by my Blue Ridge Trail Running family, this one captained by Shane Glass. I felt bad for these guys, up on top of an exposed ridge line, buried in a deep fog, and set up in a bog. But they were encouraging and helpful and had hot soup and community mugs.

It was good, like getting home from a rough day at work. I sat down and told Shane I was only there for three minutes. And then Steve or Dave brought me my drop bag and I grabbed some food and sipped some soup. "That's three minutes Todd," damn you Shane I don't want to get up. I was mad at Shane and thankful he kicked my butt out of that chair all in one emotion. I set off into a wall of fog.

Splash. The section from Little Bald aid station to Reddish Knob is all service road. Splash. With quite a few pot holes that all happened to be full of brown water. And the fog was so thick that I couldn't see more than six feet in front of me. The puddles came at me so fast and seemingly out of nowhere that it was all but impossible to dodge them. so I stopped trying and just ran through them.

This is a pretty short section, but it was so dark and lonely that I started to get tired. Just about that time a light appeared behind me. It was bright and getting brighter, and then there was a runner passing me. It was Josh Gilbert again. I tried to keep up with him, but he was moving pretty good. But at least having his light up ahead made it a little easier to see where I was headed. So I followed him the best I could to Reddish Knob where Jordan Chang and crew were hanging out in the fog making awesome pancakes.

We ran up the knob to the the punch and back down, and Josh dropped me heading to the turn around. The two miles of paved roads crushed my spirit. Not even the colorful graffiti that covered the pavement could keep my spirits up. I made it to the turn around aid station, and on the way back through Briery Branch I hooked up with Tyler and Jordan and snagged the rest of my Tailwind. I could tell they felt bad about missing me at NRG, but I told them not to worry about me, their job was to take care of Alexis.

There seemed to be so many runners coming and going at the turn around that I knew I would be dropping several positions quickly. My spirits where a little low here, but at least I had the rest of my fuel with me now. I struggled back to Jordan at Reddish Knob and grabbed another pancake which I tried to eat on the run but only got about half of it down before throwing the rest into the woods.

I passed Alexis, Kevin, Mike, and Brenton running together here. They looked like they were having fun and feeling good. I figured that I probably had an hour on them, but I was feeling rough and they looked good so I started thinking about when they would catch me and how long I would be able to run with them when they did. They told me that I was 12th or 13th, so I knew I had lost some ground at the turn around. I passed Elissa, Dennis, Anna, and Bethany before I got back to Shane at Little Bald. They all looked like they were feeling better than I was.

I lingered too long at the aid station, and then shuffled back up the slight incline to the top of the drop back down to NRG, my hip was hurting and my motivation was all but gone. The sun was finally starting to come up good, and about half a mile down the hill I turned off my headlamp and started to come back to life. It was as if the sun and the downhill were working together to bring me back from the dead. Of course, looking back on it, my resupply of Tailwind at the turnaround may have been a contributing factor. I had been steadily drinking calories for six or seven miles. By the time I got to the bottom of the hill I felt great (mentally) and I was hurting terribly (physically). My hip hurt whenever I hiked with any real effort, and my feet which had been wet for all but the first two miles were on fire inside my still wet shoes. And I caught up with Josh again, 30 yards from the aid station, and we tottered in together like heroes returning from the war.

I made a huge mistake at North River Gap(inbound), and it would hurt me bad later in the race. In addition to all of my great friends from BRTR, Tyler, Jordan and Erin where there to help me out. Josh wobbled over to his crew and sank into a chair to be pampered and I did the same. Everyone asked how I was and what I needed. "My hip hurts, my feet are shredded, and I need hot food." Tyler had DRY SHOES and SOCKS ready for me, but I refused (IDIOT!). "The damage is done, I don't want to waste the time."(MORON!) I ate like a champ, Joe Wilson and Jamie Swyers took care of my hydration needs while everyone else played Stuff The Food In The Runner.

I ate enough to climb Mt. Everest unsupported, and noticed Josh hitting the road with his pacer Chad. It was a good thing, because this pulled me out of my comfortable chair. "I'm coming sweetie!" I yelled to him and hobbled away from the comforts of home and back out into the wilderness to battle the mountains. We ran together for a little while, arguing about who was stronger and who should take the lead. Josh and Chad led up the first part of the climb and I started to bonk, which made no sense to me since I had just single-handedly eaten Thanksgiving Dinner at NRG.

So I sat down. On a rock. I took a deep breath and tried to assess the situation. Everything still hurt, so I clearly wasn't dead yet. I checked my watch and gave myself exactly three minutes to rest. I ate a package of Honey Stinger chews. I stood up and took another deep breath, and I started to climb. Hiking hurt, a lot. So I decided to fall back on one of the most basic tenets of ultra running: If it hurts to walk, and it hurts to run, then run. So I ran.

After about a half mile or so I caught up with Josh and Chad. Josh was eating red beans and rice. I'm not even kidding. Josh is awesome. Right out there in the middle of no-mans-land climbing and hurting he whips out a real meal and digs in. I, on the other side of the spectrum, had just eaten 200 calories of synthetic sugars. I pass them, still running on stupid. "See you in a little bit." And I climbed on up to Lookout Mountain.

Mile 70-something. AJW says: "You're looking good!" B.S. "You only have a 50K to go, anybody can run a 50K!" How is that for some screwed up Ultra Runner Logic. But you know what? It helped. I ate what I could and I left Lookout and headed up the long slow road to the top of Hankey Mountain. Running. Walking. Walking. Walking.

Come on man! Do you want to run 24 hours or not?!  Finally, my pacer had shown up. I ran (sort of) up the flatter part of the road. The only way to stop the hurt is to get to the end. Frank Gonzales' voice in my head was my pacer. He's more competitive than I am, and when we spotted other runners up ahead he pushed me on a little harder than I could have on my own. I made a pact with him, we would push as hard as we needed to go sub 24, but I wasn't concerned about top 10. I had to run my own pace, so I backed off and let those guys ahead of me disappear.

We caught up with them when the road turned back to trail. I was still killing the downhills, but my feet were getting worse. Phantom Frank said some harsh things to keep me moving on the flat stuff, but when we made the turn down to Dowell's Draft I was able to turn it up a little. I disappeared into my music, and Frank left me alone as long as I was moving good. That downhill seemed to go on forever, and I was thankful for it to be over by the time we got to the aid station.

Dowell's Draft aid station, mile 78-or so. I am still a little foggy on what exactly happened here. I was all worked up from running down for so long maybe, or perhaps the pain in my shoes that used to be feet was clouding my thoughts. But I left Dowell's without eating anything solid. 22 miles to go. Homestretch. But I think Tyler said mashed potatoes. I'm an idiot.

There is a steep little climb out of the aid station which doesn't really count as anything because you just go right down the other side before you have to really tackle Crawford Mountain. But this was Crawford from the runable side. This was the second to last climb of the entire course. This was time to celebrate and run. So I ran through the flat trail in the hollow in the shadow of Crawford, and I hit the climb with every intention of crushing it. And then the wheels fell off.

All four of them. Just right there in the trail. I stopped running and hiked. Then I stopped hiking and walked. Then I stopped walking and stood. Then I actually stopped standing and sat. A guy and his pacer came up out of nowhere and asked how I was. "Send a helicopter for me." They looked concerned. I smiled and lied and told them I was fine. I just needed to eat. I just needed to eat! How could I be so stupid. I took out some crackers and took a bite. Nope. I threw that in the woods for the squirrels.

What the heck? Get up you sissy! Thanks Frank. I popped some ibuprofen and ate the only gel of my entire race right there. I took a deep breath and put all the pain away. The pain I could get used to, the weakness I could fix. Calories! I stood. And then I moved. In a few minutes I had caught up the guy and his pacer. They were barely moving. I hiked behind them for a couple of minutes. The pacer was talkative, the runner was gone. Checked out. Frank made me pass them and I never saw them again.

Up, up, up and over Crawford. I think I passed someone else up there but it may or may not have really happened. There was a dump truck on the side of the trail, what it the world was a dump truck doing up a Crawford Mountain? Never mind it is just a pile of rocks. Down, down, down the other side. My downhill was really starting to suffer from my trashed feet.

Dry Branch aid station 87 miles done, 15 to go. There are real heroes in the mountains! Rebekah Trittipoe saved me. She gave me a chair and some tomato soup and hot fresh cheese quesadillas, while she mixed up my Tailwind and filled my hydration pack. She told me that it was four and a half miles up Elliot's Knob. I know, I know. But this is the last climb! 

I begrudgingly vacated my chair, and began the steep trudge up to the top of Elliot's. I hiked for a while with a guy who had gotten to the aid station after me, and was ready to go quickly. He seemed to be feeling good. He talked a lot. He was from Texas and had run the HURT 100 a few times. "You think this course is technical? This is nothing!" He was eating a gel, his 38th of the day. Wow, this guy was a machine. But then he was quiet and I looked back and he was gone.

The climb levels out a little about half way up. It goes from This Sucks Steep to You Could Run This On Fresh Legs. So I ran. I ran until it hurt, and then I kept running until it really hurt. And then I would pick a tree or a rock or random hallucination in the distance, and I would run to that point. I ran a lot. I think I even surprised Phantom Frank, who can be pretty mean when you are tired and broken down. He left me alone, and I pushed myself up the hill. And then the climb was over.

Running down Elliot's at mile 90 with mutilated feet was less than fun. I would run for a quarter of a mile or so, and then have to walk a few steps. The pain seemed to be unnaturally amplified out on the gravel road. When I finally got to the left turn at the bottom, I peeked at my watch. Holy S#*T! I was way ahead of my goal. I could walk it in from here and hit 24 hours!

Or you could suck-it-up and be a big boy, and RUN SUB 23! That's crazy Frank, do you think? I don't know, do you have it in you? Well, everything already hurts right. Lets go. The trail down to the aid station is mostly downhill, and we flew. I ran like I was running for fun on a Wednesday night with the crew. I was sweating and breathing hard. I did math to distract myself. The last five miles would take at least 75 minutes. I would check my watch at the aid station.

Falls Hollow, final aid station. Too many miles in. Five to go. The watch said I could do it. I was pumped up and tired. I was hurting and happy. I ran the last five in under an hour. I passed Jeremy Ramsey out running the course. "You're doing great. The next guy is right in front of you." Shut up Jeremy, I didn't want to race. I just wanted to run it in strong. Then I saw it.

I saw the guy's hat in a switchback up ahead. I caught him. He was walking through a creek and I flew past him. Technical was my friend. The gnarlier the trails the better. Then he was running with me. Then the trails turned to roads. Then he and his pacer were pushing my pace. Two miles to go and my side hurts. You don't run this hard at Grindstone you idiot! Then they picked it up and pulled away. One mile to go. Peek at the watch. Downshift. Eleven minutes later it's all over.

22 hours and 48 minutes. 6th place overall. Masters over all winner. (It's good to be old)

There is nothing quite like having a good race every now and then.


Friday, October 23, 2015

That time I thought about quitting Grindstone.

Last year I ran the Beast series, the Grindstone 100 was race #4, I spent the majority of the summer 'training' with Grindstone in mind, I ran more miles than ever before but when it came down to race day I felt I didn't perform. After the race I was a mess for the better part of a month, between my battered knees and bruised mental state. I relived the mistakes I had made over and over in my mind, fearing so many things, running other people's races, mentally quitting and not eating were among the top of the list.

This year didn't start off so well. Despite the Beast series ending well enough, my mental state was no better off, I drifted between highs and lows in the 50k season, being manic in both mood and training until the poor choices caught up with me and I had to finally take a break from running due to a shin injury. Registered but unable to run I had to sit out Promise Land. Worried that once I was able to return to running again I would be starting all over and with the Beast series out of the question I figured there would be no need to even think of Grindstone.

And yet, I couldn't shake the idea. It was incredible something that stressed me so would not leave my mind, I think there's some quote about not giving up on something you can't go a day without thinking about. So I signed up, again, for what would be my second attempt at the toughest race I've ever run.

But first I secured crew and pacers. Tyler and Jordan (my brother and sister {in-law}) agreed to crew me before I committed to running. Joe Alderson to pace. Last year I had a top notch crew but I thought that my brother and his wife could possibly be just as good, I needed to trust the people there, that they wouldn't let me quit.

So having just returned to running I set my sights on Grindstone. However, I was starting back from an injury and had to slowly ease my miles back up, I made a schedule and it just didn't work out to get mileage up as high as last year, not without risking more injury, so I reworked the numbers. Despite running overall less mileage I was able to still get the same amount of long runs and back to backs in as last year though I came out of the training cycle with about 100 miles less than last year at an average of 2 minutes per mile slower. I can't say that I trusted this plan, I felt undertrained and ill prepared.

About the same time as the taper approached I started reading a book, How Children Succeed by Paul Tough, one of the things that caught my attention was the work of Martin Seligman about optimism, that it was a trait that could be learned.  It will come to no surprise to anyone who knows me that I am not a very optimistic person, I can be downright negative at times. I often joke that Todd is the idealist and I am the realist, that we balance each other nicely, and so on. I've never really given serious thought to the fact that my pessimistic outlook could be costing me. Or maybe if I did, I just assumed that was who I was, no reason or way to fix it. Then I started reading Seligman's book and I instantly saw myself in his case studies and I really didn't care for what I saw. Most importantly the fact that my pessimism could be spreading to my children.

And so I worked on my outlook, deciding to set goals for Grindstone and place in motion an optimistic explanatory style when dealing with adversity before and during the race. But these changes don't happen overnight. I pondered the possibility of breaking 26 hours, and then news of that silly storm Joaquin broke. I told myself that I had trained quite a bit before in rain, that I just had to plan for the different possibilities. I focused on getting everything in order and meeting with my crew and pacers (there were now 3), when Facebook became too focused on the upcoming storm I decided to take myself off social media for the next few days.

Then Freda called. She knew I was taking a break from Facebook.

"They've cancelled the race. Grindstone. It's cancelled. I'm looking at Facebook, Clark just posted 3 minutes ago." Then she read the whole post. "Go on Facebook and read it."

Why is Freda doing this to me? I honestly contemplated this. I got off the phone and just sat there. Numb. I checked Facebook. The race was cancelled. Then wait, maybe just postponed. It's hard to train for a 100 mile race, it's quite possibly harder to be tapering for that 100 and have it cancelled just two days before the race is set to begin. And yet despite the cancelling the possibility that you may have to run it, just a week later, hanging there. It didn't matter, my crew and pacers who had all lined up plans meticulously to help me couldn't make the following weekend. For me at least, I felt it was over. I started contemplating running Masochist 50 miler. I even planned a run with Joe to start the training that Sunday.

Then I got a message that the postponement to the next weekend was being worked through! We were going to get to run, more than likely, the following weekend. I went to Facebook, everyone was cheering and so excited, I was honestly a little mad. My crew and pacers were gone. I had mentally changed gears. I told Todd is the race got rescheduled for the following weekend I wasn't running. I couldn't.

And yet, I knew that wasn't true.

Driving across town for a run, that I clearly needed, I had some of the best thoughts, the ones I get when I go for a drive alone. Why? Why are you so mad this race is going on, Alexis? Because you aren't hungry for it. Those people on Facebook are happy because they are hungry for their race. You aren't and that's a problem. Work harder. If you focus this extra week could benefit you more than anyone else. Do the work. 

Immediately, I texted my sister and asked (pleaded?) if she would crew and pace me. I texted my brother who had graciously signed on for crewing months before, we need to talk about the weekend. They both called me immediately. Tyler said they had been talking, they had come up with several contingency plans, as for one, he could come down (they live in Pittsburgh) on Thursday if I could meet them halfway (they only have one car) and his wife, Jordan, would drive down that Friday night after working all day. What if we rent you a car I asked, worried about all of us driving so much in the hours before the 100 and, for Todd and I, being away from our children even longer. That could work, he said. My sister jumped on board without hesitation even going so far as to try and line up new pacers for me.

When it was made official I was still a little worried about the pacer situation but I tried to get over my selfish self and see the good, that my friends doing the Beast would get to run Grindstone. I clearly wasn't working hard enough at the positive explanatory style yet.

Changing from pessimism to optimism, isn't something that can be done overnight like I've already mentioned and I had only just bought the book. But to give you an idea of just how dark this mind of mine is I quit Grindstone about 27 times. They all just happened to be in the training.

On countless occasions we were out on long runs, like that one night training run we did on the Peaks, and it would get hard, and I would quit. I would ruminate about how I just couldn't do it. I would go through the scenarios in my mind. My knees would ache and I would just know I couldn't finish. I wouldn't be climbing very well one day, and I just knew I couldn't finish. As my running partners ran on unaware of the darkness in me, I would go through the whole scenario in my head, feeling it must be better to quit before than during. But every time I knew that more than not finishing I couldn't tell Todd or Kevin or Tyler that I wasn't going to try. Telling them that I wouldn't run hurt so much worse than the fear of failing did. To fail because I wouldn't risk trying just seemed like the most offensive act possible.

Sunday morning, the week of Grindstone, Tyler texted me pictures of their pantry remodel they'd gotten to work on with the extra weekend off and the news that they'd rented a car, they were in for Grindstone! I hadn't secured any pacers and Erin's attendance hung in the air as we tried to get her a ride to Swoope in the later afternoon the day of the race, but I had a crew!

Instead of the Masochist training run we had contemplated we ran at Candlers that evening. It wasn't a very good run. My new Garmin was frustrating me and the group got a little turned around. We found ourselves bushwacking up a very steep hill. My left achilles started hurting. You're going to get injured again. You can't do Grindstone. Who are you kidding? You don't have any pacers. You can't make it through all that pain. You just can't do it. 

But Tyler, Jordan and Erin are arranging so much to make it to crew for you. You can't tell them that has all been in vain, because you're just afraid of trying. 

Besides, they'd already rented a car.

They were coming. And I was going to run. That was the last time I thought about quitting the 2015 Grindstone 100.


Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Grindstone 100 Race Report [Alexis]

"Don't be stupid. Don't be a wimp."

That was written on my arm, it was shorthand for some advice I had read on the internet some weeks before the Grindstone race when I was scouring the internet for the secrets to the distance. This turned out to be the closest answer to the question. 

I was mostly going on what went wrong last year. Basically, in shorthand, I was stupid. From the very beginning of last year's race I was stupid, then a wimp. I went out chasing Todd and when I couldn't keep up, I quit. I finished some 28 hours later but have spent the better part of the past 12 months regretting three things: being a wimp (i.e. being AFRAID of EVERYTHING) being stupid (running someone else's race) and not eating (which really falls under being stupid if we want to get picky about it).

So Kevin and I trained together, we ran a lot of our long runs and a fair share of our weekly miles together, but we also shared some of those miles with Brenton and Mike P. I can assure you we made no plans to run together, the week of the race we had the conversation, probably for the fourth time. We agreed it would be great and no surprise if we found each other for a few miles but that we were making no plans to run 'together'.

When the race began and we were running together it meant little, we are friends, we had lined up together. I remember wondering if Kevin even knew I was running right behind him. We made good stride over the dam and got ahead of the bulk of the group in the traffic jam that can eat up a good couple of minutes if you're far enough back in the pack. Todd and I had been stuck here last year, it was strike one on a course to a no-hit game where we were on the losing side. This year I was beside a female who was very unhappy about being stuck at the dam. It is frustrating but it was also good to know what to expect and just letting it roll right off me. 

It was part of my training, and is still a work in progress, but I'm working on a more positive explanatory style, basically I'm working on learning optimism. I spent the last week before Grindstone especially working on my 'beliefs'. It turns out telling yourself that things are small and simple really can work. And fixing things as quickly as possible helps too. And experience isn't to be overlooked. But I digress.

We were running along, probably a little too quickly, and there's Mike Pflieger and  Kevin joked that it was the three amigos. It was fun if not a little warm and I actually remember running past the small group of crews and families temporarily staged by the showers as we ran through. Then there was thunder and very cold rain. A member of my crew told me it wasn't going to rain, I 'didn't need anything' such as my Houdini jacket. But I love them, so I won't name any names ;). It's all small stuff, right? It was cold though. And heavy.

But it reminded me of last year, and how much I had feared the rain going in yet came to love it. I enjoyed this rain, if nothing else for the familiarity it brought along with it. But I still felt like we were moving along at a good clip. When we came into the first aid station a gentleman said "You're first woman!" and I said "Well, that's just stupid!" Out loud. I didn't mean to be so rude, but I instantly thought "what the heck are you doing, Alexis!!" But I couldn't slow down. Thoughts started flowing through me, mostly "UGH, I HATE to be passed, there is no way you're winning this with the likes of Amy Ruseiki and Megan Stegemiller here, you have to slow down'. But I just kept running, and wondering how I was that far forward. I like the next section of trail and we just kept moving, maybe even a little harder. When we finally got to Elliott's I was starting to feel the effort. We got to the gravel road and started hiking hard. My calves got almost instantly angry, pretty much begging me to take it easy on them. Mike P. just hiked away, I was doing my best with Kevin pulling away when I noticed Megan ahead of me hiking with her poles. I told Kevin it had been fun but I was going to back off, he kind of joked "finally" and I and my calves were almost instantly relieved. Then I thought about that man at the aid station, he just hadn't seen the other girls, it was getting dark. I felt bad, maybe he had thought I called HIM stupid? And of course, being the crazy that I am, I worried for, well I guess I'm still worried that I said it to him instead of about me, but the distraction was a nice one while I climbed.

I wondered where I was, who else other than Megan was ahead of me. It didn't matter the calves were begging for me to slow. It was a 100 miler, the goal was not to be stupid. Yet Megan didn't pull away. I decided to just see if I could stay in sight of her. I look up to Megan, I met her for a brief moment on the back of Grattan's truck at Terrapin in 2012 and it seems like moments later she went from mid-packer status like me to winning 100s, she and her tackle box have ever since enamored me. I had no illusions that I could keep up with her at Grindstone, but I thought being in her presence for a while may boost my spirit.

Kevin and I hiked semi hard to the punch where we saw Brenton. Something about having Mike, Brenton and Kevin near me just pumped me up incredibly. Maybe because we did so many long runs the last few months together but it just felt so good to have their company. I didn't know how long it would last but I was thankful for their company for the moment.

Heading back down Elliott's and over to Falls Hollow we caught up with Megan and chatted with her, it was probably the most I've talked to her and I was just floating on a cloud between my BRTR friends and her company. I ate a Larabar, the one and only for the race, and kept her pace until my stomach turned against me. Despite the positive talk I had a low here and wondered how I can be so in control before the run and struggle so much during to remain positive and in control of my race. Fortunately, I shrugged off the negativity but it played a warning that those thoughts are always near enough at hand.

And if the stomach trouble wasn't enough I started to itch. Sometimes if I've been warm and then cold suddenly or the other way around I will break out in annoying hives. Lucky me, these came on at mile 11ish. I have had quite the time with these hives in the recent past but I jumped on them right away, took two Benedryl that I'd tucked into my bra in case of a bee sting. I joked with Kevin that I was just starting the night running and was taking Benedryl, but I didn't see much choice in the matter. Fortunately, the Benedryl took care of the itching and hives and I didn't see any marked increase in drowsiness. I then started on a regimen of Tums which seemed to help the stomach, at least for a little while.

We were in and out of Falls Hollow quickly, we had come into the aid station in a big group but I needed to go to the bathroom. I started really focusing on getting to Dowell's in a good mood. Last year, well, last year was ugly. This year I wanted to welcome my crew warmly and move on. These next miles were a blur to some extent. The stomach troubled me but I ate peanut butter crackers anyways on schedule. I drank water to lighten my load (my crew had filled the 2 liter bladder, something I should have warned them against) and engaged in the company I had figuring it was any moment and they would be gone.

We came into Dowell's together and there were so many people it was hard with all the lights to find my crew (made up at this stop of my amazing sister and brother, Erin and Tyler, and finished off with the addition of my awesome sister Jordan who drove down after work from Pittsburgh to be there by NRG!). They gave me a Mountain Dew and seemed a little frazzled. I thanked them and got another Larabar and some crackers for the road. I was thankful for no tantrums (self thrown of course) and getting the first 22 down. We started a climb after Dowell's up Hankey and my stomach was worse now than before. The Mountain Dew hadn't helped, it wasn't long and my group of guys had pulled away. I reminded myself to be thankful for their company while I had had it and focus on getting my stomach and head back in the game. The climb is long and it was a long time before I convinced my legs and stomach that we wanted our BRTR crew. It was almost near the top before I caught them though. The fog being so thick maybe they were never that far ahead, it's hard to tell.

The next section was good, we talked and made good progress. For the moment my stomach was good and I had company once more. At Lookout we got to see many familiar faces and got our first update on Todd, he was killing it, in 8th place. Jeremy said they were making bets on when I would take him. They said he was an hour ahead, I assumed he was having another experience like at Hellgate, I assumed we wouldn't see him, I was right. I got some quesadillas and tomato soup from Annie and noticed my group had moved on. Having come this far with them I handed Annie the soup and left the AS. Only the warm food I now had in my stomach made climbing aggressively to catch the boys tough. I told myself that I would be OK if they were gone, not too many miles to North River Gap, but then I noticed Kevin and Brent walking slow enough to call it waiting and looking back for me. I picked it up despite the stomach. That over the shoulder looking back felt nice but I also didn't want to slow them.

From here we made good progress once more, or so it felt. It rained a little more but I felt like we were all ready to make it to North River Gap. I felt good through here, I may have needed to eat according to the schedule but I also knew I would be getting food at NRG. I'm glad I didn't eat. We got to NRG and were welcomed by many cars and lots of lights, Mary Beth and Rebecca were there to see if we needed anything but my crew got me in and sat me down. I needed Tums, Erin saw to that. Jordan, Tyler's wife, was there and the crew as a whole seemed much better and efficient, like there were just waiting for their missing piece to come together, they forced, and I mean FORCED tons of food on me, PB&J, quesadillas, soup, coffee, mountain dew, "I can't eat all of this food" I pleaded, "You're eating it" they told me, "you told us to not listen to you if you said you were eating, to make sure you ate when we saw you". Boy, I'm glad I am so good at telling my crew just how much a pain in the ass I'm going to be?

I saw Kevin, he was looking at me ready to go. I had run all night (it was about 2 am) with them, I couldn't lose them now. But my crew said no, you have to eat a little more. They gave me some food to take along and after a few more bites they let me go. I got to leave with my group. The food my crew gave me, yep, I tossed it in the woods. I was stuffed. They had forced so much food on me. I had to stop to go to the bathroom. The boys pulled ahead. Kevin looked back and I told him not to wait on me, that I didn't feel good, I ate too much. And just like that, after wanting so badly to have company, they pulled away into the fog and darkness. And for one mighty fine second, I was a little pissed at how much my crew made me eat. And for 53 minutes (yes I timed it, what else was I going to do hiking up a steep dark mountain alone at 3 am?) my stomach and I were at odds. But it wasn't so bad, and I did have a good conversation with Jeff (who is real) and I didn't get sleepy or see garden gnomes so all in all it was pretty ok. My stomach felt better and then I moved some better and then I caught back up with my BRTR friends, we still had another 3 or so miles to the top of the climb. I told them that my crew had made me eat all that food but it was probably perfect, going up that hill is so long it's really a perfect time to eat a good amount of food.

We hiked and ran (new this year) but Brenton started to feel tired. I offered him Vivarin, which I'm pretty sure he didn't trust at first but with the passing of time and the increasing fatigue I convinced him to take my little miracle pills. A few minutes later Mike said he'd take one too. We got to the top of Little Bald in 2:10, a little after 4 am I think it was.  I was particularly stoked about this since I'm pretty sure it took me well over 3 hours for this section last year. The aid station, like before, seemed so much further away than possible.

It was good to see familiar BRTR faces at Little Bald and Shane got me some broth in a square cup that I'm pretty sure was communal and then some coke while Brenton stood there and said "Alexis, there's a girl" (Megan) I had been running in 2nd since Dowell's and then he said "Alexis, there's another girl" (Lori) and then I saw them all running away, all of them, the girls and my guys (yes I'm well aware I'm using the possessive "my"). That's how it played in my mind anyways. It was the middle of the night, I didn't care that women I see as particularly strong were catching back up to and passing me. Maybe I should? I wasn't feeling tired necessarily but I didn't feel great either, my stomach had been plaguing me for miles and I just didn't feel like playing chase.

I started to leave the aid station but it was so cold and windy that I went back for my drop bag and the jacket I had stowed away. Good call, thankful I went back for it. I heard Lori say "I feel fantastic". Maybe she felt so, but I wondered if she said it for my benefit. Either way I mulled it over. I did not feel fantastic. I was cold and a little bored and tired of the gosh darn flippin fog! And where were my friends now, had I finally lost them? I felt like I was failing more and more often to keep up with them.

It was feeling like work, and on a really good day I like work, at this moment I just focused on making forward moving progress. I ran along and the stomach got worked up again as I struggled to catch back up with the group. I felt like they were chasing Megan and Lori and I wanted no part of that. Finally at 45 miles I pulled my iPod out. I felt like I would be close in on the guys and then I would fall back. I would get even with them and then they would disappear in the deep fog. I decided to set my mind on the turn around. Being goal oriented this was perfect.

Jordan Chang's aid station crew at Reddish were a nice reprieve but I felt like as soon as we got there we were off and headed up to the point and the punch. I headed that way but I couldn't see anything, and for a moment I actually missed the previous year's sunrise with Todd. Instead of sunrise we got a wild goose chase finding the punch in the thick mix of night and fog. I had just punched my bib and once more I was alone. I took it to mean our time as a group was officially over, we were all near the turn around, we were all near sunrise, the company wasn't important anymore. I went back to my music, set my sights on making my turn around time goal.

Going into Grindstone I hadn't really believed I could run sub 26 but I figured to give it a chance I had to make the turn around in 12:30-13 hours, which meant 6:30 or 7 am. With that goal in mind I ran the last section of road a little hard, maybe too hard, I don't know. I like a time goal, it keeps me moving. I wanted 12:30, I made it in 12:28. Running a little harder and knowing that we were almost halfway did lighten my mood, we were starting to see more and more runners headed back in from the turn around and I knew we were also moving closer to sunrise. Even though I thought they were gone I ended up catching and matching Kevin, Mike and Brenton's pace in for the turn around, though none of us really spoke the rest of our time together. 

I was supposed to pick up a pacer, Robbie Shull here at the halfway point. He had graciously signed on days before to pace and he along with Randy were supposed to be here at 6:30, I hung around until 6:46 but turns out they were lost and didn't make it, by then Kevin and Mike were long gone and I had to get going. I couldn't wait any longer. I had sat in a chair long enough eating oatmeal and changing socks. I tried to get Brenton (and Andrew, his pacer) to come with me, but Brenton said I was too fast, haha.

I started out and I was all alone, but I had my iPod and was actually feeling pretty good. I didn't know how the race would play out but I felt good about making my goal to the turn around.  I turned my headlamp off because it didn't seem to be of much use with the very heavy fog. I enjoyed seeing several familiar faces headed to the turn around (I was certain Elisa was going to catch me!) and started up conversations with the few people I came across, including Kevin Townsend, who gave me a wonderful compliment on my hiking. I ran and walked but once more my stomach went sour, this time I had to retreat to the woods twice. I thought several times I saw runners ahead in the distance but it just turned out to be the sunrise playing tricks with the fog and the trees. I didn't stop at Reddish on the way back through, I listened to my music a lot until I heard voices behind me. It was Brenton and Andrew, turns out I am not that fast ;). They were good company back to the Little Bald AS. I wasn't planning on stopping at the AS either way but when I asked where the boys were Shane told me Kevin and Mike were 3 minutes up. Brenton and Andrew stopped and I kept on.

In this next section I came across Mike Mitchell, and other than Bethany Williams and Anna Evans (who I assumed were in the loop at Reddish), I had seen all of our Blue Ridge Trail Runners on the course, I was a happy girl to see Mike. He had me a little nervous on Wednesday evening before the race so to see him still in the game was a good and powerful moment. He didn't seem particularly happy but I had faith in him, he's a stubborn man, I was encouraged seeing him there.

When I made the turn to descend back to NRG I thought of Elisa Rollins. During the training run the girl had owned that section which is mostly but not all downhill, I was alone, and my knees were still in tact, whether it is ill advised or not I decided to take the breaks off and just give it all that I had. It was maybe the only time in the entire 100 miles where I thought how someone else might run and let that encourage me, I ran the small ups and I ran the downs. And about halfway down I came across Mike P and Kevin. We ran most of the rest of the way down semi hard until we caught Megan and Lori. Megan offered to let me pass but I just didn't trust myself, I didn't feel like pulling ahead temporarily of people who would likely pass me back, I don't care for leapfrogging. We stayed behind but it did lift me momentarily that I had indeed caught all of these people who I had figured I wouldn't see again during the race.

We came into NRG in this huge group, about seven of us, and I had only just sat down when Lori and her pacer took off up the road. I had to change my socks and eat several hundred calories (tater tots, quesadillas, coffee, mountain dew) and say hello to all the many familiar faces at the aid station. I picked up Erin, my sister, to pace me to Dowell's. Because I had missed Robbie at the turn around (he had gotten there about 8 am after getting lost and paced Bethany Williams instead) and was running ahead of my assumed schedule I fretted, "I need you to call Don! Tell him I'm going to be at Dowell's before 2!"  I had begged and pleaded and begged Don Kidd some more to pace me in from Dowell's after Grindstone's one week postponement had changed my initial pacers entirely, now I was worried that he wouldn't get to do the whole section, though I figured if worst came to worst he could run from Falls Hollow in.

Erin and I took off from NRG inbound at just around 10 am. We were running well enough until we met a climb. Then I kind of fell off and Kevin and his pacer passed me. We leapfrogged a little this next mile or so before Kevin and his guy left for good. I didn't know it at the time but that was the last of my running with Kevin for the run. We had had a good run. Now we each had our pacers to help us.

My race started to go downhill here, and it did for a while. The good news here is that, while maybe not on the surface my mental training to remain as positive as possible did pay off, at least some, through these low times. First my stomach was once more sour, by now I had taken a few pitstops and some had been semi urgent so I kept stopping, just to see, if you know what I mean. Erin urged me to put my music back in, and that worked as a beautiful distraction, Imagine Dragons "Polaroid" got me going and I perked up and ran until I caught Megan, she and I and our pacers then hiked along for some time catching up and chatting.

At Lookout I saw Kevin leaving but he was gone before we got to the Aid Station. Megan was in and out quickly too. Sophie was making eggs and I ate some of those and washed them down with some cola. She told me that Amy and Lori were a few minutes ahead and Megan was just up ahead. It wasn't three minutes out of that AS I had to stop and take care of things again. But now, between the stops, my entire lower region was on fire. I applied some vaseline and hoped for the best. I told Erin that I wanted to catch back up with Kevin and we set off on our way but instead we caught Megan and when I told her we were trying to catch my running partner she ran with us. And I can't really explain it, but my fire burned out quickly. I wasn't feeling great and I suppose I felt Megan would make good enough pace and I didn't have a fire in me, and if there's anything I regret about Grindstone it is that. But keeping that fire burning for 100 miles is some kind of goal to work on, so I will take it.

We were climbing and I fell back once more behind Megan and her pacer and Erin reminded me that I run better with someone and encouraged me to put my music in and I did and we caught back up with Megan just as she stepped off the trail, she said she needed to eat but she didn't look great either. She kind of looked how I was starting to feel.  At the top of that climb we reached the split on the TWOT that takes you to Dowell's. I pumped my arms in the air, I was so ready to be descending. At this point my hips down to the ends of my toes were miserable and screaming, my bottom was on fire, my stomach still a wreck and I started dreaming of the aid station. I told Erin I needed pepto, aquaphor, new socks and shoes and finally, at 80 miles, some Ibuprofen. And if that wasn't enough, if Don wasn't there, for her to run me in from Dowell's to the next AS, I didn't trust being alone anymore.

She agreed and said that other than her knee bothering her and getting some ibuprofen she was game for going on with me, this was super incredible of her as she is mostly a shorter distance road runner, she was going above and beyond for her crazy sister. I had to stop two or three times on the descent just to settle my stomach and I didn't glide through this section like I had envisioned only a few miles before. I kept reminding myself that there had been all of these little problems but that we had met them and overcome them. I told Erin that if the crew didn't have my shoes we would just wait for the next AS, I was at the point that I just wanted to keep moving. It was 1 pm when we excited the woods at Dowell's. I told Erin to run on and get the stuff ready, I would walk it in, it was only a few hundred feet but I could use the time for them to ready the stuff.

It was 1:05, I knew Don wouldn't be there. By the time I reached the actual aid station and sat down Erin said "Jordan is going to run with you this next section, Don will meet you there." Jordan was gone running to the car for my other pair of shoes before I could tell her we would just wait for the next AS. I sat down and drank Mountain dew and took my first ibuprofen of the day, I was so ready for it. I ate a bowl of mashed potatoes and then another while I had my socks and shoes changed, Erin, Tyler and Jordan all did an excellent job helping with my gross feet. Jordan was there with the new shoes (that happened to be the older pair) and I had a few more bites of mashed potatoes and we got up to leave Dowell's at 1:13pm just as Mike P was coming in, he said he felt a little better the last section but that was also the last time I saw him during the race. We were going down the hill leaving the aid station and there was Don, dressed and ready to run, 45 minutes earlier than I had asked him to be there. I think I yelled "DON" really loud. In that moment, I was a very pleased individual, it was like seeing the scramble behind the scenes my crew had been anxiously working on coming together right before my weary eyes.

Don and I left and I expected those mashed potatoes to set in right away but they weren't. By this time (actually leaving NRG) I had switched to Tailwind for hydration and between the two I was surprised to be feeling kind of bonky. But at least I had taken vitamin I, the legs would soon feel better I assumed. We ran a little ways better than I was feeling and I thought about telling Don that I couldn't keep the pace but I liked the pull so I let it happen. But then not long after, just as we had started the climb up Crawford I felt a very painful stab in my left Achilles. It had bothered me off and on all year, it had bothered me the Sunday before, but not like this, this was reminiscent of the pain at Western States. And then I felt it again. And again. It hurt, it took me down each time it sent that shooting pain, I was running in 3rd place, ahead of last year's time by over 3 hours, and in that moment I saw the end, the Achilles was going to take me down. And for a split second I thought I was going to cry between the pain and disappointment. Here was Don, racing to get here and I was going to let him down. Here was my crew working so hard and I just can't physically take the distance.

It isn't about wanting to quit sometimes, it's about not being able to do what I want to be able to do. In this moment I saw the previous 19 hours worth of work at risk. And then I thought about Western States and how I know I could have done better, I let the Achilles run the show. I had to fix it somehow, I remembered Frank G. After my Achilles injury the summer of 2013 he cut the back of my Hokas off, that relieved at least some of the pain and pressure off of the achilles. That's what we would have to do, just make it to Falls Hollow, Alexis, we will fix it! I told Don the plan, that when we got close he would run ahead and tell the crew that we needed scissors and then we were cutting the backs of my hokas out, but not the Hokas I just ran 80 miles in, the ones I'm wearing because they have more miles on them. And it was like having a plan made it easier to keep moving. I still had the stabbing pains, but I grimaced and kept moving forward. Don did his best to distract me and make sure that I ate on schedule which at this point was GU.

When we reached the top of Crawford I thought it would be smooth sailing to the scissors (my crew). But the pain was only somewhat better on the downs. To make matters worse my stomach went from bad to worse and I had to stop urgently, I sent Don on even though the AS was still more than a mile away. I was glad he went on when I had to stop two more times in a matter of minutes.

Getting to Falls Hollow was a good feeling. I sat down because there was always a chair ready and waiting and I was able to take more Pepto and Don cut the backs of both of my Hokas out, I ate some Mac and Cheese and drank more Mountain Dew, Don gave me the bottom half of a Panera bagel (which was pretty awesome even if I threw half of it in the woods, it's just what I do).

The alteration to the shoe helped drastically take the pressure off of the angry achilles but we weren't out of the woods and Elliots proved to be the toughest of the climbs. I felt so tired even though it was 3:30 in the afternoon. I felt like I couldn't walk straight which made me nervous as I worried I would just fall off the side of the mountain. I stopped dead once and Don told me to just keep moving, he reminded me to eat and I ate a GU and he took the wrapper, which was very smart of him because I have stuffed half eaten GU wrappers in my vest before. He told me as we were climbing that we were keeping a good pace and I really thought he was just being nice, he asked if I wanted to know what we were on pace for, I figured it may be good to know but when he said 25 hours I didn't really trust it. I can't explain it but when he said it I still had the thought in my mind that I would be thrilled to hit 26 hours.

When Elliots straightened out Don kept me moving even though I wanted to walk more than I did, but he wasn't mean and if I ran a stretch and walked some he didn't say much. I remembered how terrible the wind and the nightfall had been last year and was thankful for the first real bit of sunlight we had for the whole race. Like last year though this section seemed to go on for a cruel length of time. Finally we hit the gravel road. And just as we did there was Marc Griffin, he said he'd been chasing us for a while. And then he said six magic words, "We're on pace for 25 hours."

Now I don't know why when Don said it I didn't believe it, I guess I just thought he was being kind to me as my pacer, filling me with hope. But when Marc said it I had this thought instantaneously, "Then let's make it 24:59." I didn't tell Marc or Don but I was now on a mission, not only to run what I thought was impossible an hour ago (sub 26) but now sub 25. I wanted that daylight finish!

We ran hard and fast down the gravel road even though everything hurt, Don told me to lean forward and not back and when I made that small change I felt like we ran even faster. On the next section of trail we moved swiftly, I listened to music and when Frank Turner's 'Recovery' came on I played it twice if nothing else for the line "I've been battered but I've got thicker skin and the best people I know looking out for me".  I really did feel like I had the very best people looking out for me.

Don told me to eat again, I didn't want to but he made me eat 3 crackers. They weren't easy but he reminded me what I ate now would help me later. He reminded me that all we had left was a Wednesday night run. I looked at my watch and it was just after 5, I was still a little weary of the sub 25. The last part of this section on road did seem endless and Don ended up running ahead, though now I can't remember why. When I got to the AS they sat me down and gave me two more ibuprofen and two Vivarin though I took them before I registered what it was I had just swallowed. I wondered why they gave me Vivarin but I do think it gave me a little jolt the last 5 or so miles.

The last 5 were fun. We didn't kill it, Don and Marc both reminded me a time or two to slow it down that I would easily make the finish I wanted but in retrospect I do wonder if I could have been a few minutes quicker, however the other side it that I broke every goal I had out there. I finished in daylight, in 24:37, a 3:51 PR, 3rd female and 20th overall with a stop for a picture at a mile to go ;). I didn't expect any of that to happen on my best day and even if some of the placement was because Grindstone was a week later it still marks a great improvement for the distance for me.


Saturday, February 21, 2015

Holiday Lake 2015

I Am Was So Sick Of At This Race

Holiday Lake is a tough race for me on a good day. It is relatively flat and fast, two things I'm not especially good at running. It is a loop race around a beautiful lake in the middle of nowhere. I have grown to enjoy the loop over the past few years. It is full of rugged single-track and gentle double track, with just a little bit of gravel and paved roads. What I don't enjoy so much is all of the fast running. Thirty-plus miles without a good excuse to hike can wear you down fast. I like a short break every now and then to engage a new muscle group and break up the monotony, I don't know how marathon runners do it (I'm a sissy.)

But that's on a good day. A good day is not what I was dealt this year. A few days before the race, a virus that had been ricocheting around our house for two weeks finally found its mark and lodged itself firmly in my upper respiratory system. So it was gonna be like that. As rough as it was going to be to run a 50K sick, I at least had a reason to run slow. All I needed was a finish, a check in the first box of the Beast Series. I felt confident that I could finish Holiday Lake with one lung tied behind my back, so that's what I set out to do.

 On race morning I got up feeling like a boa constrictor had wrapped itself around my neck and shoulders, so I took a hot bath at 4 am and a shot of Dayquil. I dressed for running in the cold, I shivered in my warm house, and I added a few more layers. We went and picked up a suburban full of delinquents and headed to Appomattox. I took a couple of ibuprofen with my second cup of coffee. Frank, Tommy, and Kevin made the ride go by quick, which was good because I was starting to think about sitting this one out. 

We got to the camp and everyone jumped out to go get signed in and what not. I sat in the car feeling sorry for myself. Luckily for me Frank lingered with me, drinking the rest of Alexis' coffee. Frank wouldn't let me consider not running, so I took another shot of Dayquil and headed down to check in and join the living. I stashed the bottle of Dayquil in my dropbag and we set off into the dark.

The race always starts fast, and I had ended up too close to the front of the pack when we lined up at the start. I was breathing heavy on the climb up away from the the camp, but was running with Dennis and Steve and Brian, so I kept pace with them for the sake of pleasant company. I latched on to Brian, and although I didn't expect to keep our pace for long, we were running comfortably and talking. Brian is from Pennsylvania and I only get to hang out with him at the races, so it was awesome to run the first 13 or so miles with him and catch up on life. Ultra-running is as much about community as racing, and I was super happy to be catching up with some of our out-of-town family.

But then pharmaceuticals began to fail me. One minute I was running and chatting along with Brian about past and future mountain adventures, feeling like an invincible hero from Greek myth who could run forever and endure any challenge, and the next moment my lungs collapsed, and head imploded and my shoes turned to lead. Modern science had let me down. I encouraged Brian to run on without me, but he hesitated, determined to stick with me and clearly not understanding that I wasn't joking when I told him my race was over. 

It wasn't until we noticed the hungry she-wolf stalking us through the woods that Brian finally abandoned me to my fate. He disappeared in front of me like the roadrunner in cartoons from my youth, and I plodded along in his dust trail waiting for Alexis to catch up. She caught me and commented on how "fast" I had been running for a sick guy. I let her pass me, knowing that she was about to start her race at the turn around, and knowing also that I was basically done. 

(4 layers of shirts and I never got overheated)

About this time the front runners started to pass us on their return trip around the lake. It was great to see so many friends running so well, it helped to lift my spirit and take my mind off of my achy body. I strolled into the turn around and was super excited to see so many great friends there volunteering and crewing and just cheering us on. My impromptu crew was awesome all day. Clifton, Chelsie, and Adam were out there for other runners but took great care of me at every aid station. I didn't have to fill my own water bottle a single time, and more than once they pushed me out of an aid station against my will. 

I went to my dropbag and drank about half of that bottle of Dayquil, and was pushed out of the aid station by Chelsie who didn't seem to bring her heart to the race this year. She yelled at me to run faster and I smiled and mockingly shuffled out of site where I immediately took to walking again.
Four excruciating miles later she would be yelling at me again to "get on out of here" and "eat on the move!" But by this point I was in survival mode. Just keep moving toward the finish line. The only thing that kept me on my feet for those four miles back around the lake was the smiling faces of so many friends. Those were the miles that I felt the worst physically, suffering between doses of chemical pain inhibitors, riding a euphoric wave of camaraderie and ignoring the complaints from the jogging corpse that was my body.

But I eventually came back to life. One of the beauties of Ultra Running is living through these little miracles. Defying all logic and reason, running until you feel as though you will certainly die, and then running a little farther and realizing that you feel good again. If it made sense it wouldn't be as wonderful, and I'm sure that there may be science behind it, but I like to think of it as the trails and the mountains and the trees reviving my soul and breathing new life into my legs. Like the Phoenix rising from the ashes.

So there I am with eight miles to go, feeling like this won't be so bad, running up hill to Jamie's aid station. Enjoying myself, and actually passing some runners. Jamie has hot food! This was the icing on the cake, and I'm glad Chelsie wasn't there to rush me out of the aid station. I drank some broth and ate a cheese quesadilla. Refreshed I set out on the homestretch. Bethany Williams passed me here running better than me, and disappearing out of site before we even made it to the creek crossing.

By the time I reach the last aid station I'm running in a delirious condition that feels like an out-of-body experience. Clifton, Adam, and Chelsie are there and cheer me on as I grab a few calories and take off hooping and hollering like a drunken fool. I catch site of Bethany in the last few miles, but can't close the gap on her. When I hit the pavement and try to speed up, she disappears again and my legs move like they are made of jello. I give up here. Content with a fun day of suffering with friends and fellow lunatics. I shuffle down the road and finish to jabs from Horton about why don't I run faster, and why do I let my wife beat me?
(Yes, I felt as bad as I look here.)

The truth is Horton, life is better around here when she wins. But I don't LET her beat me, she's just tougher than I am some days.

Another Holiday Lake done. My second attempt at the Beast Series is now officially underway. It's going to be a good spring.