At last, I finally felt like I was running when my 14-year-old son, Logan, joined me a mile or so after the turnaround. It was 5:30 a.m., still pitch dark, and it had been a long and soggy night. Among other things, I was looking forward to what I hoped would be a refreshing sunrise awaiting me at the top of Little Bald Mountain.
I was 52 miles into the Grindstone 100 Mile and, to be honest, it had been pretty much lunch pail all night long. The rain and humidity were relentless, the course was smacking me around, and I couldn’t seem to find any spring to my step. More than any 100 miler I’d done in the last five years, it was feeling an awful lot like work.
However, having Logan join me after the turnaround gave me a little jolt. Ever since he paced me for seven miles at Western States in 2013, I have really enjoyed running with him. He has the boundless energy of youth and the surprising wisdom of a veteran. This was made quite clear to me when we rolled into Jonathan Basham’s aid station at mile 57. As the sun rose, the campfire was raging, and the egg burritos were going down smooth.
Just when I thought about settling into a little break, Logan said, “Dad, we’ve been here for two minutes. It’s time to roll. I think we can get back to North Gap in 1:40!”
What? Huh? I thought. Who the heck is this little punk kid? Doesn’t he know this is not my first rodeo?
But, alas, The Kid was right. Without another thought, I polished off my last bite of eggs and began to run.
Over the next hour, I finally found my mojo. As Logan and I drifted over the rocks and through the rollers between the top of Little Bald and the 65-mile aid station, the joy of running returned. Certainly, I was sore and a bit carved out, but the smile was back on my face and my spirit was renewed. By the time we got to North Gap and Logan passed me on to my good friend, Scott Wolfe (aka MonkeyBoy), for the last 35 miles, I was eager to get moving. It was time to race a little.
After a quick shoe change and avocado-laden calorie load, Scott and I were off on the last third of the race. It was here that we realized what a challenge the Grindstone course is. All three climbs on the inbound leg are robust and every bit deserving of the awe they inspire. However, it was the descents that truly made us earn the buckle. On the inbound trip, the downhills are either too steep or too technical to make up much time. Then, when you get to mile 96 and feel like you should be smelling the barn, the masochistic course designers throw in a series of technical creek-bottom sections just to punch you in the teeth one more time.
In the end I was pretty pleased with my race. Going in my only goal was to go sub-24 and secure a two-year Hardrock qualifier. That said, I did realize that I am getting to the stage of my running career where two 100-mile races in a calendar year might be a bit too much. And if I am going to run another race that starts at night (UTMB perhaps?), I need to take a little bit more of a scientific approach to sleep in the days preceding the event to keep energy levels topped off come race day.
On the plus side, I was thrilled that my solid-food strategy worked perfectly. All night and all day, I just ate to my heart’s content and went to gels only for the last four hours. This seems to me to be my new go-to strategy particularly for more slower-paced mountain efforts as it encourages more of a slow burn than is needed in faster-paced runs like Western States.
So, now it’s rest time. These days, I am enjoying running ‘on feel’ and looking forward to some great running-related fun over the next few months. Designing a running calendar which does not include Western States is at once liberating and heart achy. But, I look forward to traveling out west for the Western States lottery in December and seeking new adventures in the summer of 2015. Until then…
This week’s Beer of the Week comes from Lonerider Brewing Company in Raleigh, North Carolina. These guys had a recent tasting at my local watering hole and their Sweet Josie Brown Ale really hit the sweet spot. A 6.1% Brown, Sweet Josie combines the classic taste of Newcastle Brown with a New World hoppiness that is just enough to keep you honest.
Call for Comments (from Meghan)
- Did you run this year’s Grindstone 100? If so, how did it go for you? Were you, like AJW, appropriately tormented?
- How many races is too many, or just enough for you, given your age and other life commitments?
- Many people are entering or well into their off seasons now, too. Are you? How is it going? What sorts of rest and unstructured running are you doing?