2011 Grindstone 100, Part 2 (Full Report)

Our family has the Grindstone Glow. We had a fantastic trip to Virginia for the Grindstone 100, which was really 101.85 miles. Does it really matter? Of course, it was rocky trails, so it doesn’t really matter. What does matter is there was 23,200 feet of elevation gain and loss. I have an earlier post with less detail. The event was truly epic and it was wonderful to see Debbie achieve a big goal. Her win in 24:58:59 was the culmination of a lot of hard work. She has been building towards a big race like this since the birth of our daughter two years ago. The road back to top form after our second kid has been steadily upward. Grindstone was her first 100 in three years and came after a planned progression. She learned from experience after coming back to longer ultras too quickly after the birth of our son in 2006.

In 2010, Debbie’s ultras were mostly 50K’s. In 2011, she stepped up the distance of her races. Her big races have been the Traprock 50K, The North Face Endurance Challenge Bear Mt. (50 Miles), Laurel Highlands Ultra (77 miles), the TARC Summer Classic 12 Hour Ultra; and she and I did a monster workout with our one day White Mountain Hut Traverse (42 miles bike/58+ run/hike miles). She stopped breast-feeding about a month ago, and we learned the first time around that it takes energy away from the training and the racing.

She has been very focused wither her training since January. She was self-coached until Coach Al Lyman began guiding her this year. I’ve noticed an overall improvement in her strength. I’m also convinced that she has a lot more room for improvement. Her final speedy six miles of Grindstone (sub-10 minute pace) are a good indication that she has great endurance right now. She knows that climbing is her weakness and she has to work on that. I’m proof that it is hard to change your body type, but you keep working at it. She knows it is important to stay injury free. She already runs a lot less than most distance runners at her level and mixes in the strength training, yoga, Pilates, hiking, and cycling. I think that  makes a huge difference.

In 2009 and 2010, Debbie offered me a lot of support as I delved into triathlon. I needed to try something new, so I started swimming. I went “all in” with the sport and a year ago this past weekend did the Ironman World Championship in Hawaii. She was a huge help in my own build-up, including my qualifying race at Ironman Brasil. I assured her that I would repay the favors and it is interesting that her big “A race” was exactly a year to the day after mine. I was tracking the 2011 race in Kona while I was crewing her on Saturday. It’s not like I took the year off. I’ll still race 35 times by year-end, but it was all for fun. I have given a lot of energy to her schedule and are bigger travel events were hers.

Our two kids have been along for the ride (and run) and that has been really special. They are totally accustomed to spending time in aid stations. They have seen beautiful wilderness, awesome trails, and met incredible people on this journey. Debbie and I celebrate our 10th wedding anniversary later this week. We met at her first ultra, the Vermont 50 Mile Ride & Run in 1999. We are going to just keep doing this stuff and including our family as well. I keep thinking that we may end up pausing for a while if our kids pursue ball sports, the trumpet, piano, dancing, chess, or something like that. If they do, good for them. We will adapt.

I’m sure she will write her own race report. From my vantage point, it was a wonderful weekend. The runners could not have gotten better weather. Three days of incredible sunshine, deep blue skies, dry air, and cool temperatures doesn’t make up for the crummy summer in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic states, but it sure does help. The skies were so clear that it seemed like you could see every star in the sky. They were brilliant. When the race started at 6:00 P.M. on Friday, the moon was three days shy of being full.

The course was 51 miles out and 51 miles back in the Shenandoah Mountains. A good portion of the race was on the Wild Oak National Recreation Trail in the George Washington National Forest. The trail conditions were reported to be very good. You could avoid the small amount of mud. Now, of course, this is a 5/4 race on the Ultrarunning Magazine calendar, so the terrain was mountainous and the surface was rough trails. Only a few races in the world (and none in the eastern United States) have a 5/5 rating. The elevation profile is a beast. The race went over the summits of Elliot Knob (4,447 feet) and Reddish Knob (4,397 feet). She said that the course markings were easy to follow, but some were on the ground. We heard about a handful of wrong turns. I’m sure that many of those were sleep deprivation induced. Grindstone is a tough race.

The race had a normal amount of attrition. There were a handful of injuries. Night running has its risks. Some folks really bonked badly. The final finisher came in with 10 minutes to spare before the 38 hour cutoff. That is a long time to be on the trail. Debbie had a few falls, but nothing serious. She strained her left wrist from carrying her water bottle for so long. That is an odd injury, but it makes sense. She had a bit of chafe where her hydration pack rubbed her back. Her feet were fine. Her gut was fine. She had the typical low spots, but nothing too bad. Her fueling and hydration were good, though she says that she didn’t take in enough salt in the first 1/4 of the race.

She made friends on the course. Notably, Regis Shivers and Thaddeus Meyer ran with her for the entire night. She said that was a huge help. She used her drop bags for the first half of the race until Paul Davis, the kids and I met up with her on Saturday morning at the North River Gap aid station. Paul was going to pace her for the final 34 miles, but he woke up under the weather. He threw his energy into helping me with crew duties and he recovered late in the day, but in time to run the final 14 miles with her. We were at North River Gap for a while because we got there a bit early. I was nervous about missing her, so I built-in a huge cushion. We got there before sunrise and didn’t see her until 10:00 A.M. It was cold. I wrapped the kids in blankets and we hung out with the other crews by a campfire. Many of them had spent a restless night at the aid station while we were in our tent back at Boy Scouts of America Camp Shenandoah.

By the way, the camp was a great venue for the start/finish. It brought back great memories of the years I spent going to Boy Scouts summer camp at Yawgoog and Lake of Isles. Debbie never spent more than three minutes in an aid station, which is amazing. She only sat down once, at North River Gap, and just to change her socks and shoes. Paul was adamant about keeping her pit stops short and keeping her on her feet. He was a smart tactician. The longer you stay in the aid station, the harder it is to get going again. Debbie was in 2nd place at North River Gap, but pulled back 8 minutes without having to speed up, just by having a quicker stop. Katherine Dowson spent 13 minutes in the aid station and was showing the signs of fatigue that would ultimately end her race before the finish.

Debbie caught Katherine on the way to the Lookout Mountain aid station, which didn’t allow crews. We met up with her again at Dowells Draft. She came in strong and was buoyed by her position in the lead. This was the warmest part of the day. We had a blast hanging out with the other crews. The station was about 1/2 a mile up from the road. There were a ton of mountain bikers (more than 100) on an organized group ride. When we left Dowells Draft, we stopped at a convenience store for some snacks. The drive up to Dry Branch Gap was winding, steep, and dusty. We got to know the runners who were closest to Debbie. We also got to know their crews. It was fun seeing them from station to station. Several folks were very helpful. They watched our kids so I could take pictures and help Debbie. I named Paul an “honorary Dad” for the day.

She came flying down the hill into Dry Branch Gap. She was a bit testy with me for asking too many questions. Paul was ready to go and started pacing her at this point, the 88 mile mark. I loaded up the kids and drove down the backside of the mountain to Rt. 42. We got to the last aid station quickly and had a lot of time to hang out. Griffin and Naomi were the volunteers. They were great with our kids and even made them grilled cheese sandwiches. Both of our little ones were showing signs of weariness and our son kept asking me when we were going to the finish line. I didn’t lie to him and he got a second wind. I had him run up and down the trail a few times. Our daughter played in the hammock. We just hung out.

Debbie and Paul hit the aid station around 5:58 P.M. She had been off of course record pace for hours, but was still shooting for sub-25 hours. She had a quick turn in the aid station because she knew that she had six-miles to go and she had to run it in less than 60 minutes. She took her first caffeine of the day, in the form of some Jitter Beans, or something like that. Neither of us get caffeine from any source, so I can only imagine that it felt like rocket fuel. She took Tylenol to numb the quad pain. What a mix!

After Paul and Debbie took off, I loaded the van for the last time. We drove back to the camp. I thought I had 90 minutes or so, but to play it safe, figured we would get to the line in an hour or so. We parked the van, had a snack, used the pottie, and got to the finish line. It was only 500 feet from our campsite and it was getting dark. Debbie had taken her headlamp for the final segment, but I don’t think she used it. I heard the trail was very technical in this section. We watched a few runners finish, but didn’t relax for long.

She came roaring around the final corner and sprinted across the field to stop the clock a minute before 25 hours. I’m still in awe with how strong she looked. Our whole family was jubilant. It was a long day/night for all of us, but it was a lot of fun. It was great that she finished before real darkness set in. A second night out would be hard to handle. The runners, like our friend, Buddy Teaster, who did two nights deserve a lot of credit. They are hard-core. We got Debbie cleaned up, showered, and changed. I cooked her some dinner and fed the kids. She slept a bit and then joined me in the dining hall to chat with other runners and watch finishers come in. We were in bed by 11:00 P.M. I listened to runners finish all night long. I got up at sunrise and went down to the lake. There were huge time gaps between the last finishers. I took some photos of the great sunrise.

We watched the final finishers come in and then had a great breakfast with the runners and crews. The awards were enjoyable. Race Director, Clark Zealand, and his volunteers were generous with the merchandise awards. All of the finishers got a Patagonia Capilene shirt and a belt buckle. She and the men’s winner, Neal Gorman, got really cool Grindstone trophies and Patagonia Down Sweaters. The top five men and women all got Patagonia duffle bags. Age group awards were given and there was a raffle too. I was impressed with the overall race organization. Our club, the Shenipsit Striders put on the NipMuck Trail Marathon last weekend, but 100-milers are a different category.

I reported the top men’s finishers in my first post. The second placed woman was Kerry Owens in 28:43:35. Third was Zsuzsanna Carlson in 29:31:07.

I’ll be repeating myself all week: all of the runners are inspirational. It sounds cliché, but it isn’t. Difficult 100-milers bring out the best in people. The crew vibe was excellent. The volunteers were great. I’m sure there were some disappointed runners. Those who did not finish have nothing to feel sorry about. You take a crack at a course like this and give it your best shot. Even the best preparation can be for naught. I’m glad that Debbie’s race went well. She was shooting for somewhere between 22 hours and 23 hours, but she now has another 100-miler under her belt and can work on getting faster. I’ll just shake my head in admiration.

Race Photos

Deb’s Grindstone 100 Report

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