I arrived in Damascus VA in the early evening for check in at the center of the town at a large open-air pavilion. While checking in I ran into Dr. David Horton, ultra running pioneer and at one time holder of the record for the fastest running of the Appalachian Trail, all 2,181 miles of it, Pacific Crest Trail and one of the fastest crossings of America. I am running the Lynchburg Ultra series that he directs, and while he no longer runs, he is a wealth of advice. He cautioned me against running too heard with the upcoming Grindstone 100 only 5 weeks away. After a dinner of mediocre pizza I set up my camp site at the home of a local runner who had offered his yard up to the racers. I found myself camping beside Dr. Horton so I took the opportunity to learn as much from him as I could. I was already awake before my alarm at 530 a.m. and after a quick breakfast of coffee, left over pizza and a granola bar, I took an Imodium (a tip from Dr. Horton) and headed out to the starting line.
The race director gave a short pre-race brief most of which consisted of reminding us of the difficulty of the course and the fact that the time cut-offs would be strictly enforced. There were about 72 runners starting the fifty mile, but there were also quite a large number of runners competing in a 32 mile and a 16 mile race simultaneously. This meant that the start was quite a madhouse and with all of us starting together, it was very easy to get pushed into a too-quick pace by someone who was only running 16 miles. Fortunately the color coded race bibs made it pretty easy to identify. I took off a decent pace, trying to heed Dr. Horton’s advice, but feeling good I began to push it a little and soon met up with a another runner and after we got to talking I discovered that he had run Grindstone last year and was running it this year as well. One thing lead to another and we continued to talk and before I realized it we were nearing the aid station at 29 miles. That is not to say that the route had been particularly easy. There were quite a bit of hills and I was practicing with my trekking poles in preparation for G.S., but the miles had slipped away as we talked and I discovered that we had been keeping a pretty quick pace and were, at that time, on track for a 10 hour finish.
Shortly after 30 miles things began to take a turn for the worse. This not coincidentally coincided with the point when we began running almost straight uphill in the steepest climb of the course. While felt as though I was eating and drinking sufficiently, but became nauseous and couldn’t shake it for most of the nest 15 miles. I slowed down a bit to try to overcome the nausea, and by the time I reached the final aid station at mile 43, I was feeling a bit better, but now had exactly 2 hours to make it the last 7.3 miles to the finish. Normally that would not be a problem, but after 43 miles of running on loose rock, most of it either up or down my quads were definitely feeling it and my left ankle was aching a bit. The final 7.3 miles consisted of 6 miles of single track switchback trails all seemingly straight downhill. I was incredibly glad for the poles during this section as I really had to watch my footing. I kept a steady pace, watching my GPS and soon realized that I could take it relatively easy (as Horton has advised), and make it in under the cutoff. I was incredibly happy with a mile to go when I finally hit the bottom of the hill and was dumped out onto the roads of Damascus. The route brought me back to the VA Creeper trail and into the finish in 11:53. Out of the 72 that started, 50 finished within the time limit.
The finish was a party atmosphere with all of the runners remaining around the pavilion for the cookout. I always have trouble eating immediately after running, so I had some ice-cream and water and finally made my way (very slowly) back to my truck for a sponge bath before the 2 hour drive to my hotel in Greensboro NC. Overall it was a really great race. The area is incredibly beautiful. I am sure it is even more incredible in the fall, and I think it set me up well for Grindstone in 5 weeks (now 4).