Grindstone 100 Mile Run
Grinding it out for 100 miles
Getting to the start was harder than it should have been. I’ve been planning this race for months. I thought it was figured out until 4 days before the race. Turns out it was not figured out. The race was roughly 4 hours from home and I needed to be there by 3pm and my husband’s class would not let out until 12pm and that’s 30 minutes from home. So, the math problem failed.
We began plotting and I found a rental car from Baltimore to Shenandoah airport which was almost a full hour away from the race. It was less than ideal but as I scrolled through the race entrants I saw Luke’s name. Luke and I had met at Georgia Jewel a couple years back and he helped me plan and tackle Double S.C.A.R. I reached out to him and asked if he’d be willing to pick me up somewhere. I suggested a WalMart in Staunton about 20 minutes from the race but he graciously offered to meet me at the airport. Turns out Luke does not mind a long drive. I was unbelievably grateful.
Luke picked me up and we chatted about running, records, the AT and more. Once we were at the race we checked in and got our bibs. We sat through the Pre Race information. It seemed the race was really well marked so I figured as long as I took my time and looked for the markers, I’d be fine. I then got to meet Dr. David Horton. He recognized my name from Warren Doyle and we sat down to chat. I was beyond honored that the ultra running legend was interested in me and when he said that he planned on supporting me out on the course I was excited and nervous.
I had joked about going for the win, which of course is always the idea and if it all went well, I was. But I was going into this race emotionally wiped. My mom has cancer, it’s new, we’re still figuring out what treatment she might be able to have, what the next few months or year of her life might look like. I had also been pretty tired since the AT and my diet, well I was pretty sure I’d barely eaten for a couple weeks. I was riding on my ability to suffer harder than others to get me to the finish line and that is Not a good recipe for a win, that only gets you to the finish line, eventually.
I have felt crappy before many races and then done really well, so I was also secretly hoping it would all fall into place.
The start of the race came and my husband and kids had an eta of 6:03pm. They would miss the start. It was frustrating but fine. I wanted my kids to feel involved from start to finish, but I also just wanted to focus . I was still really hoping that despite the odds I was somehow going to have a good race.
The first 5 miles flew by but I was already in my head. My heart was pounding, my stomach felt sour and I was breathing harder than I should have been. I held on and hiked onward. I feel like this at the start of most of my runs or hikes, I have mostly blamed it on my vascular issues as it’s worse after car rides and sedentary things. I find a big dose of caffeine helps but with the race timeline I opted to start without caffeine.
I climbed the first major climb slower than I’d liked to but I was still moving strong. At the first grouping of signs and arrows (Which the RD had told us there’d be groups of three at the “out n’ back” spots) I looked briefly and then turned right onto the trail, I ran about a minute or so out and realized that I should have stayed straight, that that was Elliott’s Knob so I ran back and hiked up to the knob running into quite a few people who’d now passed me. Susan was chatting away and in great spirits, I wanted some of that energy, so I decided to slow down a bit and stay with her. The pace felt more sustainable anyways, so it seemed like a smart decision. Emotionally, I needed support, which was unusual for me but I let it happen and it was fun.
We ran and shared stories and in no time Kristin caught up and then Meredith too. Next thing we knew we had four blazing women running together. We all ran together in some shape or form for about 10-15 miles. At the early Aid Stations I was already struggling, I refilled water and Tailwind and took in some Coke sooner than I’d hoped. I tried to swallow a bite or two of something and then I was off, ahead of other women. Susan was pretty close and hiking stronger than I was so she’d catch up to me on the climb and got me back to a jog. Meredith caught up again and the three of us kept on pushing one another.
At the next Aid Station, Meredith had to stop to pump as she’s still breastfeeding her youngest, so Susan and I planned to continue on. I was still barely eating but drinking down the Tailwind out of desperation. I was cramping and begging for salt. I took 2 salt tabs gifted by another runner, ate a pickle and licked a bit of table salt off the back of my hand. I took in a fair bit of liquid to balance all that before running out of the Aid Station.
Susan shared with me that she needed to drop back a bit and I was slowly starting to feel a bit better. I took off with a guy that passed us and ran steadily downhill and on the flats, which felt like a long way. At mile 35 the nausea was rough. I was deep in the race now and a speedy female had cruised past me a mile earlier. At the Aid Station, they asked if I was chasing the female winner, Shannon, and I said, no way! It was only 35 miles in and I was barely eating. There was no catching her unless I could get my stomach figured out. I tried hard to push past my nausea. I drank and ate well before leaving for another big climb. A few minutes later I was puking it all up. The climb was hard, long and lonely. Mentally I continued to battle for positivity and I did eventually get there for a few miles but not alone. Another runner came up behind me and we paced together on the flats but his stride was longer and he disappeared on the climbs. I was working to keep up but I was able to.
At the next Aid Station, I still couldn’t really eat. I drank 3 cups of noodle soup and drank 3-4 cups of Coke and refilled my fluids again. I left the Aid Station with the same runner and we hiked and jogged to the top of Red Knob together. I was feeling really well finally, and took off running down from the knob. I was going to hit 50 miles in under 12 hours despite it all, I was excited to get my head in the game and have a stronger second half.
At the intersection I stopped and shone my headlamp to the right expecting to turn right but I saw no markers. There was a sign but to my eyes it appeared to be an actual sign, like a road sign and not a race sign. I looked hard again and then took off left back down the trail the way I’d come up. I thought, “hmm the aid station must be back at the three red arrow signs the RD had mentioned” I ran hard, sub 9 min miles down the long gravel road climb. As the miles ticked by and runners were climbing in the other direction I started to get nervous. “Where was the Aid Station?” I got back to the red arrows and they said nothing about going right where I thought they would, it was dark and empty. I began to panic but no one was around so I followed the markers and kept running downhill.
The next runner I saw I asked him, not expecting him to know, but I said, “Where is the Aid station?” and in confusion (as I should have already been there to be standing where I was) he replied “It’s to the right after Red Knob…” I just about died inside. I knew it felt wrong. I turned around and tried to work just as hard uphill as I had downhill. I was 2.5 miles down the mountain. I was livid, sad and utterly hopeless. I had just blown my chances at winning the race by a long shot and I might have ruined my shot for a podium position too. That was frustrating of course but I knew at the end of the day I didn’t really come to win. I came to finish another 100 mile run. I came to see if running a 500 mile month of Appalachian Trail miles made me stronger or not. I came to see if I could do it, even though I was burnt out and wasn’t sure I even wanted it. Grindstone had a 38 hour cut off. I had added an hour and a half to a sub 24 hour pace, so what excuse did I have to quit, none. I had no excuse.
I saw Meredith and her pacer climbing out of the Aid Station, now almost 3 miles ahead of me. I vented and hugged her briefly. Meredith looked very strong, happy to have her pacer and ready for the rest of the race. I felt the opposite.
I hustled at the turn around aid station, still venting. I changed my shoes as I’d planned to do. I drank some Coke and ate a bite of potatoes. I grabbed the gels out of my drop bag as that seemed to be my best bet for my stomach. It was daylight now so I removed my waist light. I’d have my extra with me, as there was now a good chance I’d be running into the second night. I figured the pace I pushed for the last 5 miles and the pace I surely would continue to push until it got too warm, would absolutely risk a serious bonk later in the day. I didn’t have to push. I could have settled into my new 4th place and taken my time. I could have hoped my stomach would be okay, but I could still feel the dyspepsia, I still struggled to chew and swallow the one bite of potato.
After 3 minutes at the Aid Station I left running uphill chasing the 20 runners or so who were now miles ahead of me. I hiked, jogged and pushed at a hard steady pace. When I passed the turn I’d missed in the dark there were plenty of markers, it only made me feel worse. I pressed on, now rerunning the long downhill. In fact, the majority of the next 7 miles was downhill, so as long as I could run I could try to push harder than those in front of me, I could make up a little time. I also was trying not to make my husband and kids wait all day for me. I originally predicted 9:30 am and then worried that would be too late for them to arrive, but now I was worried I might not get to the mile 65 Aid Station until 11am!!
I was killing it! I was running really hard and felt, well, like I was pushing too hard but I also knew my ability and where I might die slowly, I would finish. I passed the 3rd female and a few guys along this section. Then, I paced with a guy the remaining 3 miles to the aid station. I arrived around 10:15am. I had run hard enough to make up about 30 minutes of lost time. Not too shabby, except the heat was on and my nausea was back with a vengeance.
At mile 65 I hugged my boys who were so excited to finally see me. I sat and my husband and David Horton were there to care for me. I drank Coke and more Coke. I struggled through a triangle of quesadilla. Horton found the doc who gave me a zofran. I prayed it’d help, but I knew the nausea wasn’t from illness it was from adrenal fatigue. I was nauseated because my heart rate was too high. I struggled mentally with my faded abilities. I knew I needed to rest, like truly rest, but I needed this finish first. So off I went, back onto the trail, about to hit the big climbs.
I wouldn't see my family again until mile 80, about 4 hours later. I doubted I could move that quickly, but I would get there eventually. I climbed up and dry heaved and sat to try and recover. I lost time over and over and in my mind I could picture Meredith climbing strong with her pacer. I was blowing it, but I wasn’t quitting. I wish I’d had a pacer now, or even music but I didn’t so I just kept going. I ran the downhills as much as I could but even then my nausea would wax and wane. I drank Tailwind, gels and water and kept going.
My family actually missed me at the next Aid station, I’d managed decent time and the boys made the hike in hard on my husband. After Horton had pieced me back together again, I left the aid station and took off down trail, but I heard my son. I stopped dead in the trail and we called to each other. I ran back towards the aid station, back up this little hill and saw my family. I loved on my boys for a couple of minutes and my little one started crying hard when I said I had to go. I stayed an extra minute or two attempting to calm him, but it was not going to happen so I took off. I’d see them soon enough.
This 8 miles was the worst performance of my race, besides running the extra miles. I sucked wind up and pushed but barely jogged down. It was slower than I should have been able to go, but it was my best at the moment. When I arrived to the mile 87 aid station I was lonely, suffering and emotional. I seeped tears as I waited for the broth the aid station volunteer was boiling for me. I knew I shouldn’t wait but I couldn't eat anything else. I sat and sat. I was probably there for a full 10 minutes or more. My boys were uplifting and so was getting to see Luke, who’d dropped at 35 from an Achilles injury and happened to also be at this AS.
I tried to be positive but it wasn’t easy. My boys were exhausted. I’d done the math, at the pace of my last segment I wouldn’t be done until 9pm and I was worried about them being overtired or getting sick for school. It was already a big ask to have them there, I needed to move faster. I promised myself a hard finish. I’d do my best on the climb and as long as I could, I would run the rest from the top, afterall it was almost all downhill the last 9 miles. I hustled, I pushed and dry heaved a few more times. I made it to the gravel descent and took off. I was making decent time. I could finish by 8:30 pm if I kept pushing. By the last aid station, I knew if I hustled I could be closer to 8pm. I didn’t say it out loud but I would try hard to beat the sunset. I worked as hard as I could, sweating profusely in the evening humidity that had set in.
I was doing well and I thought I might break 26 hours and finish by 8pm but by 7:35pm the forest floor was dim and the trail was winding. I found myself slowing down over the rocks and turning my headlamp on and then off, then back on trying to keep moving quickly. I was brought to hike or slow jog multiple times to manage the rocky overgrown terrain. I watched 8:00pm come and I was in total darkness on the final turns in the woods. I was now almost exactly a mile from the finish line, I pushed harder. The goal was now to finish before 8:10PM. I pushed all the way to the finish line where I stopped holding my youngest in a sweaty hug at 26hr and 9 minutes, or 8:09 PM. I was finished. I switched boys and hugged my older son and then accepted my awards for 3rd place female.
I took off my pack and sat in a chair. I accepted accolades from David Horton. Photos were taken and then, that was it. The finish line was overwhelmingly quiet at that hour and I wanted to get my kids to bed. I knew I would be sinking into stomach pain and sore muscles in a matter of minutes. We left the race and headed for the hotel.
Thank you, to my family, to Luke, to David Horton, to Meredith, to Susan and to the other runners who kept me company out there, to the aid station volunteers who helped me through and to the RD for putting on a great event. The Aid Stations were solid! Every single part of this race was well run. I wish I’d trusted my instinct and turned right, wish I’d listened better somewhere, I’m sure it was said, but the course was marked extremely well! The course was very runnable and the climbs were fabulous! I wish I’d enjoyed the race, this one was ugly for me, but I am so glad I finished it!
Now, I’m resting and dealing with my family, my Mom specifically and we’ll see what comes next….