Monday, October 5, 2009

Grindstone 2009

It's taken me some time to wrap my head around the Grindstone 100. For one, I am still struck by how unbelievably perfect the weather was, and once again how freakingly difficult running 100 miles---and particularly this 100 miler--is, for me. More significantly, I am overwhelmed by how generous my ultra friends are with their support of one another. It was humbling and reassuring to see so many familiar faces at the pre-race meeting getting ready to mark the course, at aid stations as crew, on the trail as pacers, and coming into camp at the final hours as sweeps. I was particularly touched to find that, earlier in the summer, when I asked Marlin and Michele to crew and pace for me, neither skipped a beat. Their response was "sure thing, can't wait, it's gonna be awesome!" Wow. I am someone who resists asking for help in many facets of my life, so their generous spirit blows me away, and days later I am still humbled by it all, as I am reading emails and FB posts and cards sent in the mail by everyone congratulating me on the finish...unreal.

When I arrived at Camp Shenandoah on Friday afternoon, I felt calm excitement. It was fun to see new faces mixed with the "regulars" and I was psyched about the womens field---Donna and Elizabeth were returning and Kim, Francesca, and Ruthann would certainly push the pace a bit. Clark and David gave the pre-race talk and then it was time to get some rest and get ready...but it was hard to get some nap time as Gary and Karl M were chatting up a storm outside my tent! That's what these races are all about in the end...the connections we make with one another.

I was given lucky #13 and met up with Marlin to discuss the crew strategy. Marlin is so experienced and he ran this race last year, so I knew I was in expert hands. I had organized all my nutrition in drop bags for each aid station with instructions for each, and we debated clothing choices. I went with a skirt, tank top under a long sleeve VHTRC patagonia, and arm warmers. I packed extra jackets and tops in each drop bag and was happy to have the Mountain Hardware zip top when it got cold in the early morning---and it got cold!

We took a bunch of photos at the start and then at 6:00pm Clark said "Go!" and we were off down the hill to the lake.

Bobby Gillanders, me, and Bill Potts

Bobby Gill, me and Quatro Hubbard

The Start

My goal was to take it out nice and relaxed (as per AJW's instructions) but also a bit faster than last year in order to stay in contact with the women up towards the front. This would be a new strategy for me as I typically hang back and pick my way through the field, but last year I was too far back to make a dent so I decided to see what would happen with a faster start, especially since I came into the race fitter and faster than ever. By Dowells Draft, mile 22, I was almost an hour ahead of last year's splits and feeling calm and relaxed. The moon was finally out from beneath the clouds and would follow us all night, and at times throughout the night I thought a runner was approaching with their lights, but it was only the moon lighting up the trail...and at one point, when I was dealing with a bad patch climbing up Little Bald, I was inspired by these words from a favorite song:

When I was young I spoke like a child, and I saw with a child's eyes
And an open door was to a girl like the stars are to the sky
It's funny how the world lives up to all your expectations
With adventures for the stout of heart, and the lure of the open spaces

There's two lanes running down this road, whichever side you're on
Accounts for where you want to go, or what you're running from
Back when darkness overtook me on a blind man's curve

I relied upon the moon, I relied upon the moon
I relied upon the moon and Saint Christopher

Fittingly, my St. Christopher's medal around my neck (my reward for finishing MMT100 in 2005) clinked with my "Run and Play" charm with each stride and became a calming reminder all night of these words--and perhaps was a bear deterrent, to boot!

As I approached the mile 37 aid station I was really pleased with how I was feeling---again an hour faster than last year and no stomach issues. I got in and out in a flash after being weighed and switching flasks (EFS) and bottles(Perpetuem Caffe Latte), and it was great to have the VHTRC crews pitch in the help.

Kim was a few minutes ahead but I was not concerned about racing---just getting up Little Bald in one piece. This is a 2-3 hour climb and very lonely and tough. I found myself needing to stop and rest to get my heart rate down and that was the first sign that the wheels were spinning a bit. At the top, I passed by Martha Moats Baker's grave and said a little prayer for her. It was cold and lonely up there, and I was looking for the lights and sounds of JB and Hilary Basham's aid station. I finally got there three hours after leaving the last AS and was ready for some warm food, so I sucked down some chicken noodle soup and went on towards Reddish Knob and the turn around. Night time was almost over, yeah!

A few miles later, after more soup at the base of Reddish Knob, I climbed to the top to see the most spectacular sight: the big moon on the West Virginia side and the rising sun on the Virginia side. Wow. This was definitely worth the 50 miles to get here!! I met Marlin at the next AS and grabbed the camera---I couldn't run the rest of this race without documenting all the glory around me.
I was having an energy lull at this point---dawn had come, I was getting sleepy and the shin I nicked on a rock at mile 23 was starting to act up. My attitude was bad and I just kept telling myself, "relentless forward motion..." I got to the Gnashing Knob AS and sat by the fire, had some more soup, and got ready for the return home.Marlin ran with me on this section, and it was fun to see so many friends coming in---Bill and Bobby G looked awesome, as did Sniper, Rick Gray, Mario, and Adam who were all coming back from fighting their demons. I love that! Finally I saw Gary and Dave and while they looked tired, I had no doubt they would soldier on.When I got back to JB's aid station at mile 58, they were out of eggs but Hilary handed me an awesome blueberry pancake---man, that was the best! The Basham aid station is my favorite because JB knows what every runner needs from his incredible experience crewing for Andrew Thompson's AT speed record attempt as well as Barkley. Thanks JB and Hilary!! After this aid station I took some great pics, including one of the southern Massanutten Mountain, shrouded in morning fog:

Coming down Little Bald *should* have felt good after all that climbing and road but it was a struggle. My quads were screaming and it was too early in the game for that to happen, and my anterior tibialis, bruised when I fell at mile 23, was tightening up with all the downhill pounding. I also noticed that my wedding rings were really tight around my finger--a sure sign of too much chicken noodle soup and other electrolytes. I did a mental inventory and decided that at the next as I would switch out the Nuun for plain water, I would lube and change my socks, and I would get an ice massage on the quads. In addition, I knew Michele would be there ready to pace me and that her company would be key to my race.
Sure enough, as soon as Michele and I got rolling out of the aid station I started to make some time up and feel better. The climb up to Lookout Mountain is long and in the hottest part of the day, and we did sit a few times to get the heart rate down. Susannah gave me a great quad massage at the Lookout AS (mile 72) and Wendy was a star in getting us fed and hydrated just as Jay Finkle caught us. Jay would run with us for the rest of the race before he took off down Elliott's Knob at the end--fantastic run by Jay!

We were making great time and Michele showed me why she is such the star pacer---every time I started to run she would comment "great job, Sophie" and like a lab rat, I responded to the positive reinforcement without questioning. My long ladders on the track and tough tempo runs (thanks, Andy!) were beginning to pay off and soon we were hammering down Dowells Draft before entering the AS (mile 18) a few minutes ahead of Ruthann, who came in 5 minutes after we did...RACE ON!

Marlin worked his magic and got me in and out and soon Jay, Michele and I were across Rte 250 and the last 18 miles were beckoning. We had a gorgeous sunset over the Deerfield Valley on our right and a long climb ahead up Chimney Hollow, but we were passing people right and left on the climb up and soon we were descending into Dry Branch Gap with a 30 minute improvement over last year's split---whooo-hoo! Marlin was stoked for us and we got our food and went---I think we were in there for 2 minutes max which is waaaayyy better than last year when I spent 20 minutes there whining. Nothing like a little competition to add a spark to the last 20 miles of a race!

The moon was out and it got dark on us at the top of Elliott's, which is a nasty technical section. I was glad Jay was with us as I was happy to just be quiet and listen while Michele and Jay chatted. This section seemed never ending with all the rocks and when we got to the fire road, Jay took off down the mountain and Michele taught me how to run down scree: baby steps, quick feet, baby steps. She learned this while pacing Joe at Hardrock and it really helped me. Last year I could barely walk, let alone run down Elliotts so I was super happy with the progress we were making.

At the bottom of Elliotts I had the nicest surprise: a few of my lacrosse players and their siblings were there to cheer me in! I heard them ask, "Is that Mrs. Speidel?" in the dark and then we were cheering and laughing as we hit the AS. I think they were a little freaked out by seeing their coach so loopy but they told me they would be at the finish---despite the fact it would take us 2 more hours to get there! Awesome.

The last 5 miles of Grindstone are a combination of nasty fire road, single track, technical, rooty trail across streams, and forest paths. As the first 5 miles of the race it has a nice, gradual ascent over Kings Gap but coming back it is just long and slow going. Jack Kurisky had joined our group and we were power walking/shuffling the best we could---I really wanted to run but all systems had kind of shut down...but at least I didn't feel nauseous, which was a first for me in a 100. I think I did a good job of taking in calories, water, and electrolytes, probably the best in my four 100s. I was really happy about that and had plenty of energy to run the last 400 yards to the finish line.

Time: 29:37, exactly an hour slower than last year with 2.5+ miles added to make the race an official 101 miler. I had held on as fourth woman despite a strong challenge from Ruthann, who came in about 30 minutes later. Rusty, Carter, and Virginia were there at the finish along with my students and we basically took over the place for about 10 minutes. Rusty always says that "the Speidels are the loudest family anywhere" and once again we proved him right. I was stoked---so happy to be finished, so happy with my race, so happy to have everyone around me to celebrate. It was just overwhelming. Clark gave me a hug and then I hugged the totem pole before climbing into the tent and crashing for a few hours.

Around 4:00 am I woke up, took a hot shower and then sat at the finish line with Karl (who had won the race 10+ hours before me) and Clark waiting for Gary Knipling to come in. It was my first time meeting Karl and I was so impressed that he was there, in the middle of the night, hooting and hollering as each new finisher's lights came into view. A classy guy and very fun to hang out with.

One of the things I love about Grindstone is the ease of the finish finish, you climb into your tent, you crash, you awake to a new morning and then eat a delicious breakfast of eggs, sausage, bacon, biscuits, hash browns and fruit served by the boy scouts. The race lingers on as the final finisher comes in under the 38 hour cut off, awards are handed out, thank yous are given, and then it's time to head home---and it's only 10:30 am! The schwag this year was schweet! In addition to entrants sweatshirts and visors, all finishers received Patagonia long sleeves (thank you Clark for the white!) and a heavier weight Patagonia long sleeve for the top 5 women. Here are the top 2-5 women: Elizabeth Carrion, Kim Gimenez, me, and Ruthann Helfrick:

A race like this requires immense time, sacrifice, and patience on the part of so many people. Thank yous... where do I start? To Clark for dreaming up this wild and difficult race on my favorite trails, to my dear friends in C'Ville and elsewhere for the good luck notes and good juju, to the gang at the VHTRC for being who you are and not ever changing, to Andy Jones-Wilkins for the fantastic coaching, preparation and inspiration, to my students and their families who stayed up late to watch their crazy coach finish 101+ miles, to my loud, supportive, and loving family for celebrating at the end and enduring my passion for this sport...and of course to Marlin for the endless help and Michele for being my friend and phenomenal are the best! I love you all.

David Horton was asked "What was the revelation?" upon completing his record-setting Pacific Crest Trail speed record in 2005, which was made possible by the support of so many. His response was, "We need people in our lives. We need help and we need relationships." Amen.

Me with Michele Harmon, a true star pacer and friend

The VHTRC gang: Gary Knipling,Amy Sproston,Quatro Hubbard, Mike Broderick and Mitchell Goodman

Bill Gentry, Bill Potts and me

Now I've paid my dues because I have owed them, but I've paid a price sometimes
For being such a stubborn woman in such stubborn times
I have run from the arms of lovers, I've run from the eyes of friends
I have run from the hands of kindness, I've run just because I can

But now I'm grown and I speak like a woman and I see with a woman's eyes
And an open door is to me now like the saddest of goodbyes
It's too late for turning back, I pray for the heart and the nerve

And I rely upon the moon, I rely upon the moon
I rely upon the moon and Saint be my guide

--Mary Chapin Carpenter