Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Grindstone 101.85 Mile… Did it

Matt and I getting things ready

I am so very happy to have completed a 100 mile race.  The 100 mile seems to be the quintessential “Ultra” distance and is often the distance of the most competitive and famous ultra races.  Goals for this year included running a mountainous trail 100 mile, qualify for the Hard Rock 100 Mile lottery and Ultra Trail Mount Blanch.  My first attempt at accomplishing these goals took place at the Run Rabbit Run (RRR) 100 in Steamboat Colorado.  As many of you probably know, I dropped out of that race after 50 miles and a wrong turn.  The Grindstone 100 mile was my immediate course of action after my most disappointing race ever at RRR. (See my RRR race report here)

Matt doing Vitargo prep

Grindstone is a tough 100 mile with 23,000 feet of climbing on a lot of very narrow challenging single track that at times is very, very rock and tough to run.  I have been told the course is much slower than Leadville and a bit tougher than Bighorn 100 (Mike Foote has the CR of 18:36)
I am very happy to place 3rd against Karl Meltzer and Neal Gorman and run 18:35 on this 101.85 mile course, my first 100 mile finish. 

The Race-
I am pretty lucky that there was a race in early October that qualified me for Hard Rock, had an awesome course, was in a location where I had someone to help support me and had some decent competition and history. 
My best buddy, Matt Lowe, lives in Arlington Virginia and was able to take a day off work to help aid, crew and pace me through the race.  Also instrumental in my successful weekend was Tab, a wonderful lady who contacted me through my blog to help crew.  Tab’s crewing enabled Matt to also be able to pace me at mile 66. 
Tab and Matt... the ultimate crew and pacer team

Grindstone is unique in that it starts at 6pm.  After only a couple hours of sleep on Wednesday night before a 5am start to traveling to Virginia, I managed one my best pre-race sleeps of nearly 7 hours.  In general, I don’t sleep well before races.  Karl Meltzer, the winner of RRR and $11,000, my Hoka teammate and the most winning 100 miler human ever (34 wins I believe) lined up next to me and we chatted about camping, shoes and other things.  Also toeing the line was Neal Gorman, who has the Grand Slam record time, a top 10 finish at Western States and a 3rd at Leadville last year.  I was happy to have legendary talent and experience with me at the start line. 

I had no defined race strategy for this race.  My mission was just to finish this race with placing and overall time a secondary detail or something I could hope for at the end of the run.  Neal and Karl set out upfront with Neal taking the lead from the beginning.  I ran behind Karl anywhere from 10 meters to 300 meters behind.  I noticed a “1 Mile To Go” sign that I began to imagine how excited I would be to see.  I also had short little fantasy of hiding, going to sleep then running back. Bad.  I stayed relaxed and comfortable and, as almost always, I was quickly by myself.  I had all the mileage between aid stations tattooed with sharpie on my arms with the aid stations Matt and Tab were crewing underlined.  Aside form knowing it was out and back, on trails, had 23,000 feet of climbing spread over what I thought was two bigger climbs repeated on the way back, I had no course knowledge or experience.  Had I been up front battling Neal and Karl, that could have been a bad thing, but that wasn’t the case.
The dark came quick as we ran up to the prominent ridgeline in Shenandoah.  There was a good amount of power hiking up the steep gravel before I saw Neal coming back down from punching a hole in his bib and returning back down.   After finding the punch with Karl we were on our way down and onto some technical single track with tons of loose rock. 

I was at about mile 12-15 when I experienced the most challenging, mentally grueling and depressing section of running of my life.  It was pitch black, I was by myself, I felt frustrating flat, slow and miserable and I had 85 miles to go and it was around the time I would normally be thinking about going to bed.  I entertained myself looking at the numerous little spiders that shimmered like a green-blue diamond in my headlamp.  I saw deer, I saw a number of cool frogs standing confused in the trail.  Most exciting was seeing a fairly long beige and brown snake in the middle of the trail… it sure did scare me.  Despite all this wonderful entertainment, I was hating life.  I yearned for the each aid station’s warmth, life and positive energy.  Before each aid station I dreamed of sitting down and relaxing.  I loved smelling the smoke of the large campfires before I quite got there.  At aid stations, I did sit down.  It sounds like a bad idea but at nearly every aid station I grabbed a chair and sat in front of the tables.  I never got sucked into taking a nap or lingering but indulged in the bit of a break.  I kept the Vitargo intake at a high level hitting about 350-375 calories per hour mixed into my single hand water bottle.  I never had much of any “real” food.  Vitargo keeps me full and fueled indeed. 

After the aid stations, I would leave encouraged along with a sense of accomplishment of getting to a never check point.  The confidence didn’t last long and overall I was miserable.  I had no particular ache, strain or problem, the body was “ok”, just flat, tired and mentally in hell.  I know, sounds horrible, but I have to tell it as it is.  At one point around mile 20 something, while fiddling with my bottle I totally tripped and fell on my face.  I had no shirt on, as it was pretty warm and humid all night and as I landed my water bottle shot sticky Vitargo all over my chest, arm and neck.  I had no real injury to report after the fall except some small scratches.  As I ran the next 5 miles I grabbed leaves off the bushes and tried to wipe the stick off with NO success and the leaves stuck to my hands.  Pretty awesome.  I lost tons of time on Neal and Karl and then at the bottom of the bottom I heard footsteps and saw the light of someone behind me.  I couldn’t fathom how I was going to feel after 50, after 70 after 80.  As I strode into the mile 35 aid station, refusing to be passed before I saw my crew for the last time until mile 66, I told Matt and Tab that I felt like “poo-poo”.  I sat down and watched 3rd place run out of the aid station. 
Neal, Karl and company

Life After Death-
Some how my stay in the pit of doom was over just past mile 35.  I began to see the cup half full.  I knew there were radical ups and downs in the 100 like that of a chick flick, but the relief was even more surprising than I could imagine.  It felt like re-birth being on “the positive”.  In the dark of a 100 mile lives radical emotional lows that I never want to visit again.  There wasn’t even a “thing” or even that pulled me out of the misery, it just… happened.         
I was now pretty far behind Karl and Neal, like half an hour and the third place guy was gapping me by 10+ minutes… I didn’t care all that much.  I was smiling and so happy to be feeling positive.  I was going to finish a 100 mile.  I was getting close to the turn around.  Unlike RRR, the Grindstone is an out and back, something I thought would be a negative, but instead it was a wonderful thing.  I was so enthusiastic to reach the turn around.  As I went through the turnaround aid station, I told the volunteers “I’m on my way home”.  It made me choke up with emotion, it makes me choke up now.  I never again went to the bad place.  It hurt, I was tired, my body was beat, but I refused to go back.  I wouldn’t let my mind punish me like that again. 

Coming Home-
On the way home while pushing up a hill I took in too much water and before I could even think about it, I puked like a cartoon character.  3 huge fountain blasts later I was done.  15 minutes after puking I was pounding my water and Vitargo with no problems.  Pretty funky.  Another little hitch was that my headlamp suddenly dimmed.  I had no crew access for another 20+ miles and I had to slow down to see where I was running.  This could have been a game ender, as seeing your footing on this unbelievably rocky single track with tons of vegetation, steep ascents and descents is, well, required.  I found my savior at a small aid station when a gentleman graciously saved my race giving me his headlamp. 
I cruised on, never running great pace, but kept running.  The competition was way ahead, but I wasn’t at all concerned.  I wasn’t thinking about racing, just managing my own pace and survival.  I continued with my simple, but wonderful pleasure of sitting at aid stations and relaxing before heading out.  At 66.5 I had the real treat of running with amazing company, Matt Lowe.  Matt paced like a champ.  Matt does pretty much everything in life like a pro and pacing was no exception.  I didn’t have to tell him what to do or not to do.  He fell into place just behind me, didn’t make me talk, but kept me entertained and fed me all that I needed.  Matt sprinted ahead at aid stations and had things ready.  Having a great pacer certainly is a plus.

The sunrise was spectacular, the clouds on the horizon created a magnificent orange, gold and pink glow that turned the fall colors forest into a surreal brilliant light show.  The golden canopies and fiery red ridgeline running was awesome, even with the haze of already running 70 miles.  The pace varied, but overall it was steady with no blow ups or miracles…. Until mile 80.  All of a sudden I was more awake than ever and the legs felt great.  I was running the up-hills and bombing the down hills.  At the aid station I learned I had cut 20 minutes off of third place and that he was only minutes out ahead of me.  I had dropped Matt with my up-hill running revival.  Matt is a new father and has been working serious overtime, which equates to no real running this last month or two, so 20+ miles was a lot.    
As I took my preverbal sit down at the second to last aid station with 14 miles to go, I was both pleased and bummed I had closed in on 3rd.  It was time to get to work… finally.  I ran hard, running the entire relatively steep single track, peeking my head around each corner to see 3rd place.  With 11 miles to go I saw my prey and his pacer.  As I approached I actually heard my name, whish was a bit funny.  I ran past the pacer and the prey started to run with me.  After about a quarter mile he stepped aside and we gave positive salutations to each other.  As always, one must pass convincingly, so I gave a good 5 minute surge to ensure I got out of sight with gusto.  After the surge, I was still feeling good and kept the pace.  Not long before I had estimated a goal to finish under 20 hours, but things were rolling now and I began to set my sights on making it in under 18:49, Karl’s old course record and of course maintain a top 3 podium finish.  I pushed and pushed and ran into the last aid station with Matt and Tab greeting me with big smiles and cheers.  It was exciting and I finally skipped the sit down custom and rallied out of the last aid station with 5,5 miles to go.  Cruising into the last couple miles I had a sudden stomach freak out.  In my cross-country and road racing days, I would from time to time get dry heaves at the end of a exceptionally hard race and I was getting that sensation now.  I was forced to stop and produced some of the loudest dry heave noises I have ever made in my life.  Nothing came out, my eyes were wet with tears, but that was it.  I ran to that much anticipated “one mile to go” sign and finished the race in 18:35.  What a ride. 
What I wanted to do all race...

After the race I was miserable and achy for about an hour or two, but then after that I was walking relatively well and enjoyed a campfire, some beer and great company.  I am forever indebted to Matt and Tab for their great work. 

I have been overwhelmed with support from a number of my friends over this last month with my RRR race and now Grindstone.  I would like to especially thank:
-Kendrick for his support both at RRR and with Grindstone
-Brian and Renee for their hospitality and encouragement
-Walter my buddy from Iraq who now is stationed in Japan
-Joe Miller, my skating bubb from back in high school
-Cory from middle school
-Mark from my days at Regis High
-Patrick and Ginny, my mother and father in law
-Gavin and Sara, my brother and sister in law
-Dave Mackey
-Marcus Allen Hille... probably my biggest fan and the best massage therapist in the world
-My lovely wife Maggie and wonderful son Felix… of course!

Your support has been huge!!!        

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August and September ended up being a relatively frustrating time for training and racing.  After being in the best mountain trail running shape I have ever been in back in July, I wasn’t able to get back to that fitness level.  Starting with a nasty cold the week of the Speedgoat 50K (July 28th), I struggled to recover, I tried to force a 50 mile in Squamish Canada 2 weeks later and then only had a little over a coupe weeks to specialize my training for RRR before tapering.  After RRR I had 3 weeks before Grindstone, which was only long enough to do some relatively light training.  I wasn’t all that fit or confidant.  At the weigh-in for Grindstone I weighed 151lbs, granted I had been drinking and eating a lot in preparation for the race, I was nearly 8-10lbs heavier than I was earlier in the summer.  Big lessoned learned here is to manage and plan my race calendar better.  It is far more rewarding to race less, with quality specialized training, than to run frequently flat and end up loosing general fitness due to tapering and recovery needs of closely spaced racing.     


  1. Congratulations Jason. Glad to hear to tackled the demon.

    Next up, get that letter out to Alamos.

  2. Great job Jason! Keeping my fingers crossed that you get into HR100.

  3. Thanks George and Jeff. The demon certainly was evil George. Yes, HR. When is the lottery entry due for HR, I can't seem to find that MAJOR detail on the website. You guys are a bad influence.

  4. Looks like December 1st to get in applications for HR....

  5. That is so awesome Jason! I'm totally happy for you and proud of you for pushing through that intense mental crap and just making it happen. So cool to hear how strong you finished too. Congratulations.

  6. This is just the beginning... Congrats!

  7. Hey Aaron! Thanks man, it felt good to finish and finish strong. Looks like Altra shoes are coming along... saw some flashy ones the other day on the creek path.

    Jim.... that was motivational. I wasn't so sure last week.

  8. Great story Jason. I'm proud of you. Today I went to Mellow Johnny's to hear cyclist Jens Voigt talk. He is a supreme baddass and hard man (kinda like the Chuck Norris of cycling). But more importantly, he has a great friendly vibe and a friendly spirit even when he is in the mental darkness. He reminds me of you. Keep,up the good work and perhaps lookmhimmupmon YouTube for some inspiration.

  9. Thanks Mark, that is quite a compliment dude. I'll look him up for sure.

  10. 100 miles by itself is quite challenging and mountain is even harder. Most of the pay per head services community can even with the 100 miles.

  11. Very inspiring and motivative post! I enjoy reading sports-related stories, because they are all about challenges, struggling, losing, winning and real friendship. I have found very informative resource for athletes - militarygradenutritionals.com/blog. They write about so many things which might help athletes get stronger and achieve higher results.