Maybe it was foresight, or maybe I just knew my limitations when I said a very big part of the challenge was sleep deprivation. I never thought that I could run while sleeping, but that’s what I was doing Saturday around noon. I was actually nodding off & catching myself doing it – the result was another DNF – this time at 60 miles.
Grindstone 100 profile:
I drove 7 ½ hours to Staunton, VA Thursday & opted to stay in a motel instead of camping as I thought I would get better sleep there -- that didn’t happen. The non-smoking room was reeking of air “freshener” – it actually stunk & irritated my nose. I tried to get some good sleep but ending up waking about every hour. I probably got a total of 5 hours of the “dream” type sleep. The last time I woke up was at 5 a.m. & I couldn’t get back to sleep – so I just stayed in bed keeping off my feet & resting the best I could.
I arrived at Camp Shenandoah by noon, set up camp and went to the mandatory pre-race meeting. It lasted about an hour, including the handing out of some nice door prizes. Clark Zealand, RD & David Horton both did an excellent job on communicating the essentials of the race.
The weather was great – I could not have asked for better this time of year. Temps would range from the lower 40’s to upper 50’s the entire race – nice! Low humidity also. The course conditions were also great -- the ground was slightly damp, but not wet or slippery.
With anticipation building all day (and all week), the race finally started at 6 pm sharp. About 75 runners started & I settled in towards the back of the pack.
Little North Mountain
The first climb was a 900 foot hill. At the crest, I could look way up & see Elliot Knob across the valley looming ahead – it looked awesome. Coming down Little North Mountain & into the shadow of Elliot Knob, it got dark quick. The drink at the aid station between the 2 hills was one I had never heard of – it did not go down well & I didn’t drink much of it. The next aid station would be almost 10 miles & I regretted it later for not refilling one of my bottles
This 2nd hill was a doozy. It was 4 miles of continuous climb – I remember a couple near level sections, but that was about all. I crossed a stream twice up the hill in the dark but I’m still not sure if the trail actually crossed it. If it was a part of the course, this stream would be the only location where you could possibly get your feet wet the entire race. The trail became a gravel road about a mile or so from the top. This was the steepest portion of the climb & it was tough! Looking back the way I came, I could see twinkling lights far down below in the valley – I thought, this steep gravel section sure will be as tough going down too. I was hoping to make up time going down the other side, but soon realized that wasn’t going to happen. It was a narrow, rocky, technical trail & it took every bit of concentration not to trip. Most other runners had 2 lights, I only carried a handheld. I WILL have 2 lights on my next night run on technical trail! The strain on my eyes to see the rocks & roots came back to haunt me. Twice I almost fell but caught myself at the last second – at the expense of my back muscles – which also came into play later. If I fell here, it wasn’t going to be a scrape or bruise – instead something would be broken. This was by far the rockiest trail section I had ever been on.
The trail coming off Elliot Knob finally smoothed out a bit after a few miles & then came to the next aid station at the base of Crawford Mountain. I caught up on my fluids & felt I was on schedule despite the slow going. Immediately coming out of the aid station, it was up & up & up! About 200+ feet of steep climb, followed by a fairly level section – this went on & on for about 5 “steps”. One thing about the trails on this course – switchbacks were very few & those very few were so long that you could hardly call them switchbacks. So when you came to a steep climb, you could see what’s coming all in one glance – just look up! Besides these steps, the other thing that stood out on this hill was this large tree about 5 feet in diameter right on the trail – what a sight! Coming down the other side, the trail was pretty smooth – felt really good thru here.
The climb up this hill was very long, but not steep. The trail became rolling & eventually spilled out onto a dirt road. There were some mud puddles on this section, but they were easily missed – no wet feet or mud on my shoes this race!
The road off Hankey Mountain turned into a technical downhill section at Lookout Mountain. The downhill went for a couple miles & ended with a long wooden suspension bridge near North River Gap. I was above my start weight on the weigh-in at the aid station here.
Grindstone Mountain & Little Bald Knob
I put these 2 hills together as I couldn’t distinguish where one started & the other ended. All I remember was the very long climb – it was just never-ending! I started running into the lead runners on their way back thru here – they were all at full speed down the hill – most impressive!
This was the highlight of the course for me. The 360 degree view on top of the knob was SUPER!
Briery Branch Gap
It was all downhill on paved road from Reddish Knob to the "next" aid station at Briery Branch Gap. At this point I was becoming very sleepy. The sun had been up for a couple hours now & my eyelids were becoming heavy. I was hoping to fuel up with some caffeine gels at the Gap aid station. This Gap was the location of the turnaround & I had a drop bag there. I had been running for several miles down this hill when a fellow in a truck stopped, jumped out & started running back towards me. He was telling me I had missed the turnaround! How could that be? Where was the aid station? He said the drop bags were sent up to Reddish Knob. What? This was a bit deflating as I walked slowly back up the hill. At a sharp curve in the road I saw white chalk/flour on the left side (coming from the downhill direction) indicating a U-turn around a grassy island – unfortunately I was running on the right side of the road & being half asleep I never saw it – besides, I was looking for people & an aid station – there was neither!
Reddish Knob again
It was all uphill on the road back to the Reddish Knob aid station. I had not realized my drop bag was there. I downed Mountain Dew & caffeine gels & loaded up with what I could carry & headed off to the next aid station at Little Bald Knob. On the way though, I started to see things that weren’t what they seemed to be. I thought for sure I saw a turkey in the road, but it ended up being a branch with leaves in the road – I saw many other things . . . Soon after I realized I was falling asleep while running! I would swerve & catch myself & then “wake up”! This was not good. I NEVER felt sleepy at McNaughton or Mohican so this was a first for me.
Little Bald Knob again
I slowed to a walk trying to keep my wits together & the prospect of DNF seemed as real as the next aid station. My legs were in good shape, it was I just couldn’t keep my concentration – something that I really needed on technical trails. Coming into the Little Bald Knob station at 59.94 miles somewhere around 18 hours, I only had to walk an average of 30 minutes per mile the remaining 40 miles to be an official finisher! Easier said than done in my condition so I told the 2 volunteers I was going to need a ride back to the start, but I was not in any hurry to get back. I could see they were already in the process of breaking down the station & I really didn’t feel like imposing on them by asking to take a nap there. Just then as I bent over (with my back, not my legs -- STUPID) to get into my drop bag, I had a back spasm & it about took me to the ground. I knew then any hopes of taking a nap & changing my mind to try to finish were history.
After getting a ride from the aid station, I crashed in my tent at the Start/Finish line. I proceeded to sleep for 17 hours!! I woke to the sound of cheering – the runners who I had seen pass thru the aid station at Little Bald Knob 40 miles away 17+ hours ago were just now finishing! Maybe a good dose of NO DOZE would have worked for a little while, but seeing that I slept 17 hours meant I was really behind in my sleep – too far behind I think . . .
Of course I’m disappointed that I did not finish -- but I did enjoy most every aspect of this event. Great volunteers. A great breakfast. There was only a touch of fall colors, but the scenery was fantastic anyway. The trails were challenging & fun to experience. Would I come back? If the start time is changed to 6 am instead of pm, yes I would very much like to. If not, I will have to re-think my pre-race strategies & if I couldn’t find a confident answer, would probably opt for another race. If I ran again, changes during the race would have to include using 2 lights & starting caffeine supplements much earlier.
Next up is Stone Steps 50k in Cincinnati. I'm in recovery mode now -- pretty tired still. My ankle took a beating but now feels stronger than before. My back, well . . . that remains an unknown factor.