Sure, I like the t-shirts.
Sure, I like the medals and free gear.
I even sort of like the raw potatoes with salt,
And you better be damn well sure I like the chicken noodle soup.
You know what I didn’t like?
I didn’t like thinking about heading back to the city.
I didn’t like leaving those people.
Those are good people.
Those people running in front of me,
Next to me, and behind me.
Those people not running at all.
Those people waiting in their cars.
Those people in Mario Costumes and masks,
Those smiling people in the middle of the woods,
Those people fill me up.
You know what doesn’t fill me up,
My 8 AM Microbiology class,
And inhaling transit bus fumes on the daily walk to class.
My body doesn’t need those things.
Here’s what it does need,
It does need that winding single track trail,
It needs the Shenandoah air,
It needs the loose rock and crisp wind,
It needs to feel wild and free,
It needs to be out there, from sunset to sunset,
And you better be damn well sure it needs some chicken noodle soup.
Grindstone marked two firsts for me. One, it was the only 100 mile race I’ve completed with any elevation. The only other being the 2009 Keys 100. Second, it is the only time in my life I’ve ever eaten 24 cans of chicken noodle soup in 24 hours.
I arrived on race day at the Boy Scout Camp a big ball of nerves. Out of all the school work I needed to be studying it seems that the only two things I could memorize for the week previous to the race were the bright orange elevation chart that I had placed over top of the dashboard in my car and the number 24479 (the area code for Swoope,VA to type into weather.com).
Every inch of nerve drained out of me by the time we had ran around the lake and were all falling up the first steep muddy slope. It felt so good to be out there running away from all the other daily pressures. I took out fast, per usual, but it felt too good to hold back. The first summit was one of my favorite parts of the race as Brian Schmidt and I came back down Elliott Knob we just barely caught the end of the sunset and I knew it was something I had worked hard to see, but maybe a little too hard? Feeling comfortable I kept up the pace and suddenly was realizing that as long as I was keeping this pace there wasn’t even time to think about what was to come, every step was . . WHAM . . . epic face plant/180/6 foot trail slide, you’d think I had just pulled of a great skateboarding stunt. . .as I was saying, every step was important. Loose wet rock, hidden roots and darkness made for quite the fancy high stepping down the backside of Elliot Knob. After my spill and from lack of planning ahead more (using a nutrition drink that had not worked so well in the past) my stomach was anything but settled. We all know what comes next, yes, a few red light headlamp trips off to the side of the trail and furthermore nothing in my stomach until the next aid station. Thinking ahead a little I decided not to waste any reserve energy I might have by running fast this early on in the race and took it nice and easy into Dowell’s Draft at mile 22. I spent quite a bit of time here but was feeling a bit light headed and needed to eat, eat and eat!
I felt a little better leaving Dowell’s Draft after downing some chicken noodle soup and potatoes but waited until after Lookout Mountain and a BBQ sandwhich (what an AID station!) to really get going again, not to leave out a little kick in the butt from Clark, “time to get going Henry!”
Cruising into North River Gap I was still trying to completely refill my stomach and managed to do this with yet again some more soup here and quickly headed out for the second big climb. I had not seen anyone at this point for 15 miles and decided to power hike the climb and my thoughts went as follows . . .
“I left the aid station 15 minutes ago, and this is the first cheer yet, really?, no way that person(s) are going to go sprinting up this thing and gain fifteen minutes on me in this section, power hike it to Little Bald Knob and then start running, conserve a bit and hold this place, really? noone is sprinting up this thing..”
Boy was I wrong. My second favorite part of the race, Sandi (first place female) and another runner come TRUCKIN by me. Yep, I got served. Not only did they catch up the fifteen minutes but gained about another 20 on me. It was not only shocking but got me fired up to see their enthusiasm.
Upon reaching Little Bald Knob cold and dehydrated I pulled into the aid station immediately to be served 20 questions about my current state. Although slightly overwhelmed I took their advice and drank and ate some food and was astonished when a held out hand said, “I’m JB, what’s your name?” Immediately, I was glad I took his advice. This JB, running Aid at Little Bald Knob had finished the Barkley this year when I had gone just to watch. How cool to see such a renowned runner out there working an aid station. That was humbling and brings me back to what I wrote earlier about good people in this sport, because I know he was not the only one! I must say Team Inov-8 showed up in style at Grindstone in many respects. (PS. To the little Bald Knob Aid, pancakes and breakfast burritos? Are we trying to put Hardees out of business? That was incredible.)
JB got me on the road and there was nothing more satisfying then knowing we were doing some ridge running for the next 15 miles. Reddish Knob was cool to see in the dark and very easy to tell which way was West Virginia due to the lack of photons. At the halfway point I sat down for a quick potato and what do you know another Barkley runner, Carl Laniak. So great to finally put some names to faces after reading loads of race reports and stories about you guys.
After meeting up with my parents on the way back down from halfway, eating some Subway, and getting all refilled (the fact that I have failed to mention my crew thus far into the race report is a serious failure on my account) the sun started to rise just as I was getting back to Reddish Knob. Somehow it seems Clark always does a good job of giving you an excellent view somewhere during the race that you just sort of feel like sitting down and taking it in for a bit (this happened at Turtle Rock in Terrapin as well!). I resisted the sight seeing and kept on trucking on back to the top of the scariest downhill in the race, back down to North River. I walked a good deal of this section in effort not to take a huge dive down the mountain in my delirious state and watch my goal of a finish at the Beast float away and about 75% of the way down my buddy Andrew (pacing for the next 14 miles) had come up to meet me. WHAT a huge help. He had on his Vibrams and for the next 14 miles I was pretty perplexed at how he was managing to run these trails in them. Andrew, I have to thank you here for the conversation we had about “mind over body” as we were running. It will stick with me for a long time, thanks for the push.
Coming into Dowell’s Draft, Dad consistently reminded me to eat and drink (a saving grace later on) and we met up with Galen who would pace the last 22 miles. Although 22 miles sounded like 222 at the time, I knew time it was only a drop in the bucket at this point. While being careful to prevent me any injuries, Galen set out a nice strong hiking pace up the last few climbs where we caught up to and even passed a few runners. The good conversation with Galen was non stop through the last twenty miles and I can’t imagine what it would have been like solo.
After cresting the last ridge just outside the Boy Scout Camp I could feel the adrenaline coming and we started a swift power walk back into camp, and of course, running the last mile thinking back to how “mental” these races really are.
I could not be happier with my Grindstone weekend, my awesome parents along with Galen and Andrew for their support, the whole eco-x race production and lastly with all the wonderful people I got to meet out there, you all are what makes this special.