Sunday, February 26, 2017

EPIC Grindstone100

I can pop the "P" and click the "C" when I remember Grinstone100 and say, "EPIC!" This was the adventure that I stepped up for knowing that it would be one of, if not the toughest race I'd ever done and I hadn't made it thru a 100 miler yet. But when Aimee suggested we do this race a year ago and team with our Ragnar mother runners from 2013, I knew I had grab onto this one or I would deeply regret it.

Hurricane Mathew was on the east coast at the time with a prediction of continuous rain and possible storms in the forecast. 

Ultra rules apply: We Go.

Grindstone100 is an out and back course in Swoope, Virginia. It has a 38 hour cut off to get through one of the toughest course in the U.S. It's a brutal 23,200ft gain and loss through boulders, rocks, forest trails, steep climbs, and was made particularly narly this year with nearly non-stop rain creating unavoidable extensive swampy areas of water running and slick, thick mud. As one of only 14 Hardrock qualifiers in the U.S., I expected no less. Although, I would have loved to have covered it without the rain and vision stealing fog. The scenic beauty was completely lost this year for me.

The race starts at 6 p.m. Friday night and ends Sunday morning. I expected a lot of darkness and this was the last thing on my mind when I was just trying to keep my eyes on the trail or trying to find the trail. Although marked well for clear night vision, we found ourselves yelling to other runners if they had seen a pink ribbon to assure we were all on the right trail.

My finish time was predicted to be 36 to just under 38 hours. I was not disillusioned to think that this course wouldn't be a kick in the teeth. I expected issues to arise. I expected to puke, hurt everywhere and question just why the hell I was doing this. Which is the worse mental fate that I didn't want to succumb to. I mentally kept prepping my mind, which will always be the deal breaker, with the "why" and reasons my body could keep going when I wanted to quit. I expected to want to quit and told two of my pacers that nothing but peeing blood should be an excuse. I wanted this one more than I have ever wanted to finish before arrow — to be as strong as I could be. I trained particularly hard climbing Jacob's Ladder 3,000 feet twice a week in addition to my high mileage, hill repeats, and had tapered well — even if it was a forced taper by way of

I flew into the Shenandoah Airport to be as close as I could to the start line and rent a car. I was told it was a similar sized airport compared to Cherry Capital in Traverse City, Michigan. It was more like Traverse City 50 years ago! It's so small I walked right by the luggage claim and didn't know it and I was one 4 passengers on the plane — the only one with luggage. I don't like big cities so this made me more comfortable. I was thrilled to be here. When I stepped off the plane there were sunny skies and I could see the the rolling forest mountain sides around. I felt like I was home. Strange, since the last time I was in Virginia was for Another Mother Ragnar when I met the same women who would be crewing and pacing this dream of mine. And just like that, it felt like time stood still again. 

Cabin entrance as I walked through the door.
I picked up my rental car and headed to our group cabin and took a scenic drive of rolling hills, surrounded by ranches, cows and horses. My GPS was able to get me to the sweet cabin, however, once I was there, I could only get reception down the road at a convenience store. After a bad nights sleep alone in the cabin with a fire alarm chirping through the night, no hot water and a nightmare where I imagined a "being" holding my hand and sitting by my bedside I was ready to get the hell into the woods where I felt safer.

The next day I made sure everything was set to go — made a lot of bacon, prepped my avocados and filled my drop bags with HUMA, salty nuts, a few candy bars, (just in case I wanted something sweet) and loaded snack bags of things to help with nausea (because history is a bitch!). I had a bigger bag of clothing in ziplock bags for the crew to bring, which I wore everything and keeping them in plastic was worth the effort. The team ingeniously  dried clothing inbetween aid stations which tells you just how great it is to have mother runners as your crew. They kept Aimee and I in motion and ALIVE. We Go.

We all met up — team Special Kind of Crazy — at the Boy Scout Camp Shenandoah for the director debriefing, check-in, weight-in (let the body shaming begin! It's really a safety thing), bag drop-off and bib pick-up at about 1 p.m. the day of the race. This race has a free light lunch and the director gave an informative safety speech as well as giving away the most worthy loot I have seen at a race. I ended up with some new wool socks. People were ready to start and overall friendly. Seeing my crew finally after months of planning had come together. I felt calm and just ready.

Aimee and I had BOCO relaxed trucker hats created for our team with the image of two moons and one sun which may forever be my favorite hat. This is truly a great company to work with and I LOVE the finished product. My daughter had to have one as well and and I saw her wearing it in her room before I left. I was so much on her mind that she told her class about my trip and she made me a card that they all signed. I get a little teary eyed remembering it.

I had done everything I felt I could in training and had the best possible team to back me up with each pacer on for different legs for specific reasons. I looked forward to seeing each of them at different parts of the race to give me mental strength and break up the race in segments. I had started these races before, and I knew how it felt to not finish (crushing) and to go through the physical pain that was coming (agony, misery and what I like to just call sufferage which isn't a word). There are always surprises and ultra is adaptation. This team would help me adapt as they would too.

We headed back to the cabin for our own debriefing of what to expect and where we would see them throughout the race and gave final instructions. Their energy was was thick. I made it clear how badly I needed a "hell yeah" by finishing this. I thought of Catra Corbett—nothing short of pissing blood. As we piled into the vehicles I rode with my two pacers for mile 50 and 65. They were full of excitement which actually made me more calm and laugh with Freedom beating the steering wheel hollaring, "%#*#! You're going to do this! You are really about to do this!" Not something I would expect from her, but summed up this mission we were all on. WE were in this together.
The team before the race, minus Nicole. Forever my sole sisters. YOU all are the success of this adventure.
Two crazy ultra dreamers. Congratulations to Aimee for a Hardrock qualifier!

Wearing my fiercely united friendship
flower from Gina in Wisconsin.

Off we go in a sea of men.
And so it begins
Aimee and I lined up towards the back of the pack and set off on our journey. Within the first half mile I already felt we were going too fast. And then, we came to a complete stop at the end of the first mile as one by one runners made their way through a narrow rocky creek. We waited there for at least 5 minutes, where I took my long sleeve shirt off from already overheating. A misty rain had started and fog was coming in. We could have really just walked there. After that first passage we entered the woods and with the overcast which made it feel in the day than it was. Aimee was going to hold back for the first half and push more the second. Partly to stay with me, and partly to have a reserve. But even with her holding back I knew she was a more technical, and a faster runner and that we would be separated early on.

In the woods within the first couple miles.
Being use to climbing steeper hills in New Mexico on a regular basis, she could effortlessly climb and talk through the first several steep climbs that felt ridiculously endless to me. Most runners around us, including myself, felt like our hearts were trying to escape our bodies. I could tell by the hard breathing and a bit of groaning already going on. The climbs in Grindstone, are less up and down and more continuous. I just kept telling myself that if I could get to the top and recover that I am not exerting nearly the energy that I thought. The mind games worked and it was absolutely true.

There were a lot of people with poles right from the start. I asked one male runner while climbing next to him if they really helped. He replied that you have to practice with them. No time like the present for me, as I was picking mine up at mile 20. I had purchased Black Diamond Z Poles and had practiced one time after watching a video.

Darkness set in completely and the fog was so thick that it was hard to see a few feet ahead in the haze. I lost Aimee once in the woods and called to her not even able to see headlamps. I completely lost her after mile 10. I couldn't see any headlamps and kept rolling my ankle on the side of the hills and unstable rocks along the trail. There was no one around me. It became hard to just make sure I was on the right trail. The pink ribbons that might have seemed well placed in a normal night were hard to find in the fog. From time to time runners would call out in the dark to anyone out there, and wanted to know if there had been a pink ribbon recently which lead to several pointless back tracking excursions throughout the night, and then turning around again.

It was before mile 20 and I was thinking this combination of low visibility, constant unstableness on the ground, rocky creek balancing, ankle twists on the side of hills, and large wet rock scaling was going to get me into an accident and end this journey in the ER. My eyes were always on the trail, not that I hadn't expected this kind of focus on this course. For a fleeting few moments I thought about quitting. I really did! Then I thought of my daughter in that Grindstone100 hat. How proud she looked in her room wearing it before I left. I thought of her pride and how she deserved to be proud of me and deserved that I believe now. I didn't leave her for a few days to just quit. Her thought gave me an unexpected strength. I have never ran for anyone before but she was on the front of my mind like a shield. Just move forward until the end. Until, they throw my butt off this course…We go!

Nothing says "badass mother" like a very
 pregnant Joan with determination at mile 20
in the rain, and in the middle of the night.
She's tough and has crewed these ultras before. 
The plan:
SPARK every 20 miles.
2 at mile 80.

Oh happy night

I came into the 20 mile aid station, and there was my wet crew full of positive vibes and Aimee was just leaving. I gave her a wave. Seeing her gave me some relief that I wasn't THAT far behind.They had the chair ready (which I  have never sat down in a race before but I think it was a tremendous asset for a quick break off my feet throughout the race), handed me my salty nuts, Huma, fruit bar, half an avocado, warm chicken broth and refilled my bladder. Karyn and Joan gave me some encouragement with solid words. Boom! They were a slick pit crew already. Their energy was contagious. Krista had my SPARK ready to chug. I had planned one every 20 miles until mile 80 where I would take two. It was the added caffeine that I needed and I felt my body could benefit from the Vitamins. As I sat in the chair a younger man was next to me telling his crew that he couldn't go on and couldn't stop feeling nauseate. He had tried ginger and tums and nothing had worked. Just then, he leaned over the chair and started hurling. Full out vomiting—manly sound effects and all! I was looking straight at Krista since we had had the conversation earlier that she couldn't handle puke —including the sound effect. She was focused sternly looking away. She made it! I felt grateful already not feeling that way myself.

They handed me my poles and I headed out. I got less than a quarter mile back down the dark trail and CRASH! It happened. I slammed down to the ground and my poles were collapsed. I was on a pile of rocks. My knee stung with pain and I realized the poles were not locked. Foolish of me not to check them. Last time I slammed my knee like that, it was a giant hematoma which became known as Sally. I tried to push that idea and the stinging out go my mind. We go!

Back up, I started working my poles. I heard these referred to as "cheater poles" at Superior. I quickly found out why. They corrected my balance immediately and gave more directed work to my upper body. They helped me work through the large slippery rock section in the next 15 miles much quicker than I otherwise would have, and I passed people without feeling like I was pushing it. A-MAZ-ING! (Spoiler alert: They also created 4 bloody blisters on my hands throughout the event. I don't think that's avoidable for me unless I wear gloves.) Even though it was raining I was still in short sleeves and comfortable working through this section. I had turned my tunes on and it was golden. Between Katy Perry's Rise, Sia's Greatest and a really catchy song from Jem and the Holograms (cue the "OMG that sounds so cheesy"), I felt like a force through that sea of rocks that just kept me climbing, balancing between them and careful placing my feet quickly and fluidly. I definitely was not running but gained some time here.

I passed one man who was frustrated that he was three hours behind where he was last year at this time because of the slippery wet rocks and conditions. I just hollered back that he wasn't making me feel better. Moving forward is all anyone can do and not think about time at all. Time will drown your mind. My HOKA Stinson 3 ATR shoes where doing a great job for the most part. But my feet were soaked and I could feel the blisters coming.

I went through the next aid station where a couple male runners commented that my INKnBURN armor legs were BADASS. I thought how I needed all the armor I could get here and that a warrior is what I needed to be — stronger in my mind than a wolf as a wolf might take cover and a warrior goes on. I normally would not have worn purple compression socks with these medieval capris, but I promised my daughter I would.
Karyn and Joan ready to keep us moving
like a NASCAR pit crew.

Susan holds the umbrella for a brief dryness and
I slipped on the Ultimate Direction Ultra Jacket
that ultimately soaked me.
"Waterproof" — my ass.
Further down the trail in more rocks, I met another runner who was attempting this race for the third time with no finish yet. He warned that the toughest part was actually after the 35 mile mark. It would be 4000 feet going up for 8 miles. He said to just get through that. I arrived at the next aid station to start that climb and the crew quickly had my dry socks ready, my pack on refill, SPARK ready to chug, and a warm broth in my hand. It would have been useless to pull out my one pair of dry shoes when I would just be soaked immediately again. I popped a blister that was expanding around my heel. Although I tried to apply duct tape and Trailtoes tape, nothing was sticking in this extreme wetness.The tape slide off. I changed my socks out for the brief dryness. Karyn, Susan, Joan, and Krista had it down to business and had me ready to roll again while Freedom rested up for the run at mile 50. I had my first real coldness coming on and Susan advised me to just get moving up that next climb with one long sleeve and my rain jacket and I would warm up quickly. Being a strong 100 mile veteran, she was right. I was quickly in a sweat in that long climb with switchbacks.

I worked through the steepest and longest climb following a relentless runner up, up, up. He finally paused to catch his breath and I passed with my tunes pushing me. I kept thinking that I can recover at the top of the endless climb and that THIS was the worse part as that past Grindstone runner had told me. Just get through it. As I passed I heard him gasp "ha-mazzz-ing." Ha-mazing is what were all are on this day I thought.

During the next stretch I became completely soaked through in the dark and very cold. My Ultimate Direction Jacket was a disaster. The material was clinging to my body and I began to worry about hypothermia and how cold I was becoming after the climb. I needed to get to my 99 cent kiddie poncho stashed in my 50 mile drop bag. The sun was coming up and the fog was less inhibiting. Some lead runners were on their way back already coming down the widened steep trail of slick, brownie-batter like mud. This was really going to be interesting being more of a back of the pack runner when I came back through after 400+ passes would have been already made.

As I grew colder and colder, I thought of my next plan to beg for a garbage bag at the next aid station. Plastic! I need plastic now to hold in heat! The trail became what would have been more runable if it wasn't for the several inches of water and mud absolutely everywhere. There wasn't any going around this. Just through it in less water filled and slippery mud spots than others. I came upon the next aid station and saw people around the a bonfire. NOOOO!!! There was no way I was about to go near that fire and let it suck this race from me with it's warm alluring bullshit promise that staying there was okay. I quickly found the person in charge and was informed that they had no trash bags. I just looked in his eyes and slowly said, "I-am-sooo-cold." He asked if I had a crew waiting at mile 50. I said, "yes," and he went to a vehicle and gave me his wife's jacket and told me to just bring it back on my return. I thank him and said, "I will be back with my pacer, and since we are only saying good things, I won't tell her about the hell that awaits her." He saved my race in that moment of mercy.

Mile 50

Heading into the 50 mile aid station my tunes died and I began singing to myself. There is one turn-off before the 50 mile marker that the runner has to punch their bib before going to the aid station. As I turned off that road a few runners heading back out warned that the punch was missing and that we could skip that extra half mile up and down. I didn't see one person do that. Honesty lives amount runners. We were not there to win, but to do something 100% awesome. I pushed on and kept thinking… just get to my pacer. Get to Freedom.

Me at 50 miles coming into the aid station in the heavy rain.
Check out those puddles getting hit! The color of the day is grey.
When I arrived at the 50 mile aid station there was a little tarp covering a few seated runners and a man making silver dollar pancakes. The race wasn't weighing anyone since they had more urgent matters with runners coming in completely soaked and dropping from the race due to hypothermic concerns. My crew quickly grabbed my pack and started pulling out my dry clothes. I was so glad that I sealed them in plastic after the tarp gave way and poured rain right into my bag.  One of the aid station workers was telling me to just change around the corner from the pancake man and promised none of the men 1-3 feet away would look. Ummmm no, I just couldn't completely undress and redress like that. I hadn't lost my mind yet. Freedom and I went a little further off into the woods where I found a perfect tree canopy without pouring rain. People were in vehicles all around probably debating if they should continue. It would be all over for me if I did anything like sit is a warm car. I imagine that is was all over for their runner as well. I changed clothes, the team worked on warming me up, refueling my pack, taking my units that needed recharging, and handing me food to scarf down. Susan kept slapping those little pancakes in my hand and I kept eating without thinking. I worked on my badly blistered feet and changed my socks again. They hurt — alot. "It won't hurt anymore than it does now," she said. And with that thought, it made it easier to except and just keep repeating down the line.

As people entered the aid station looking extremely cold, I heard runners dropping from the race. A man sat next to me telling his fellow runners that he was out without any dry clothes to carry on. I was so very lucky to have this team with me. They made my race continue with their support, navigation, and relentless positive spirit. Although I spent too much time at this aid station and needed it — at least an hour — I had no intention of dropping.

Aimee, slick mud trekking.
Freedom was my first pacer on and I was ready for some companionship! sShe slipped on the jacket I needed to return and I put on the kiddie poncho. A 99 cent life saver! We were off. I felt blessed to have her there sharing those 15 miles. Her genuine enthusiasm and encouragement is contagious and she fed my soul and kept my mind off the blisters that felt like my toenails were coming off at times. It won't hurt any worse but it will keep surging. We chatted going up the first long climb, and we were so into our conversation I didn't notice we went that extra half mile up the hill to that punch station which we weren't suppose to do on the way back. Shit happens and I don't waste time asking why. It was funny at the time because whats another half mile in a 100 mile course? She felt BAD, but honestly, I couldn't be upset. We turned around and hustled back on track. We came into the aid station where I borrowed the jacket, and a party was going on. I could feel the heat from that fire pushing towards us. There was now beer on the table and the workers hustled to cut us some oranges. It was rumored that this party started with shots in the a.m. I thanked the man for helping me and we pressed on scared that the sweepers may be coming soon. In fact they were! We had just gotten down the slickest, thickest muddies section when we heard a woman ask if were on a hike (REALLY?!) and tell us that she was a sweeper. With that, we took off running without turning around. We ran away from them like children playing Ghost in the Graveyard, passing any other runner we came upon telling them the sweepers were coming. We made it in the next aid station with a 40 minute window.

The crew preparing at the cabin during the middle
of the night to keep both Aimee and I going.

Krista was very excited
to try out her new poles on
15 miles of rocky trail.
A serious gentleman told us I had 40 minutes to get out of there. His demeanor was enough to make me want to leave in a hurry — no fun. In a frenzy, socks and shoes flying, food was eaten, SPARK was chugged, and headlamps went on! Krista and I headed off into the rockiest climbing section. I was the last runner on that course to continue. The next section of sweepers rode our tails with their headlamps. It didn't matter how fast we went or how much time we had left, they hugged close to us as if to say, "just get going already." I was at a point from so much climbing and working on the trail that I couldn't have long conversations. On a trail like this, my eyes were constantly busy. There were times I couldn't see the trail thru the rocks and I just needed to focus on where I was going and where my feet needed to be. Krista tried talking to the sweepers, but they had no words to exchange. It was very odd. I felt like they were wrecking my experience by being tailgate, spotlight sweepers, but tried to push that out of my head to enjoy why I was here.

We entered the next aid station where the sweepers were replaced — thank God! This time they were very friendly, chatty and would fall back time to time — not to ride us with their headlamps. Although the comments of, "you have such a long way to go,"  and "a marathon is so far" could have been kept to themselves. They were intruding into my segment strategy. That is not how I run ultra.

We made it to Lookout Mountain aid station where the volunteers were trying desperately to get us to try their Ritz Crackers with honey so they could ring a bell, and some sort of Nutella, marshmallow, quesadilla a volunteer said he saved for me as the last runner. The vision of that slumber party concoction shoved in my face in the dark of night is sweet and laughable. But I just couldn't eat or tolerate anything sweet. Krista pressed me to eat some nuts and a HUMA gel, which I managed to get down. We were off again and were told we had time. Famous last words … you have time, you have time, you have time …

The next section seemed really long. Krista took the lead, and when a heavy animal scurried down a tree right next to the trail, she jumped in the air while screaming and hid behind me. It was hilarious!! I may laugh at this one forever. After 75 miles on this trail, I was the main defense against the wild kingdom. I thought it was just a raccoon as we stood there and I wasn't about to turn back now, nor could I. We went on after the sweepers hollered through the trail ahead of us yelling for bears. Their talk of bear sightings wasn't real comforting for Krista. To her credit, she is brave in other ways like touring D.C. alone, which sounds frightening to me.
I believe these are the unclaimed bags at mile 80 of
everyone behind me. This race is tough.
I was spoiled to have the team I did.

At the end of 80+ miles with pacers Krista and Freedom
just before they put what seemed like the warmest
blanket ever on me in the car. 
When we thought we were about to mile 80 and near the next aid station, Krista asked the sweepers to radio in to Nicole who would be my next pacer. I roomed with Nicole at Ragnar and and I knew I would need her to coach me in after mile 80 which would be some tough miles. It seemed like a perfect plan to me. We heard the sweepers tell them that we were two miles out! There was no way we could make it in to the aid station in the time we had left with two miles to go. And all at once it felt like we were dead-pooled in this course's last laugh. My headlamp went very dim, and Krista tried to replace the battery. It didn't work, and then her's went to very dim. I had a tiny extra flashlight, but with the fog (yes, a second night of fog) the flashlight was barely useful. I could feel my hope just fall and my knee that I had banged earlier at mile 20 wasn't bending well anymore after standing there a bit. Coldness was slipping in again. I felt a little dizzy when I looked to the side of the trail. No doubt, part of fatigue. We shuffled along and arrived with disappointment in our hearts to mile 80 where the rest of the crew was waiting. I was disappointed that I didn't get to finish with my last 2 pacers. Yet, the spirit, toughness and relentless journey of this race with these women was enough to give me a Hell yeah! 80+ miles MF! This is EPIC! feeling. I will pop the P and C every time .

Nicole helped me shuffle to the car and I was thankful she didn't project on me any feeling of deep remorse for coming and assisted me with my broken down body at the cabin. Darn time limit!

30% rule. I had 30% more to give and that would have finished this thing.

Laura with just a "few things" from home for the trip.
Obviously, one of the reasons I wanted her to bring me in
on those last 5 miles. She creates big bursts of laughter and knows
how to drop the mic. She also moonlit as a pacer for 15 miles earlier for Aimee.
I covered 18,500 feet gain and loss in 30 hours, in which it rained for 27. Two nights and one day, going the furthest that I have ever gone. I didn't get nauseated for the first time! I had no less than 11 blisters. Toenail? Who needs them? I lost 6. I immediately wanted to do it all over again. Instead of killing some of my ultra soul, this experience fed the fire.

The Damage L to R: My heel blister that started early and wrapped around my foot; 
5 blisters on the bottom of one foot.The tops are too disgusting to show;
Suzy, Sally's little sister.

The end of this journey with some truly tough mothers.Thank you for being my rock in a mud-slide.
I didn't get to hug the pole at the finish.
But Aimee did in case you want to know what
 that looks like. WELL DONE BAMR, WELL DONE!