Grindstone is fast approaching, and thankfully, the RD Clark Zealand was nice enough to coordinate a long weekend of trail work and course running.
A Trailhead friend of mine is also running Grindstone, so we carpooled up together leaving Chapel Hill at 4am and arriving just about 8am and in time to split into trail working groups. We we paired up with two other guys, Ben and Anthony and set off with our weed eaters, loppers, and a bow saw, to the trailhead. Armed with loppers, clippers, and and the bow saw Anthony and I set out to trim low branches, thick briers, and any fallen trees. We had about 6 miles to cover and were making great progress until we came upon 3 large fallen trees that needed to go. Fortunately my partner, Anthony, used to be a body builder, and unlike me had some heft to him. It took us 2 hours and a lot of sweat but we got all 3 trees cleared! Phew that was probably the most upper body work I have done in years! We joked that his P90x training was what got us through.
Even though the race is run every year on the same course, many sections of the course are only used for the race once a year, and can get quite overgrown. The trail work was fun, and allowed me to meet a few other runners, and pick their brains about running 100 miles (this is my first 100 mile race so I had questions all day!)
When we finished the trial work, we ran the 6 mile section back to the car and then headed back to the boyscout camp to set up our tents. Dinner was early, and couldn’t come soon enough! The group of us went out to dinner in town, and then back to camp to chat. The early wake up (3am) finally caught up to me and I’m pretty sure I was asleep in my tent by 8pm.
Saturday morning was another early start, and we were up at 4:30 for a 5am departure time. There were not enough cars for everyone, so nearly 20 people crammed into the back of a few trucks for the hour and 45 min drive to the 50 mile turn around point. The course is an out and back that begins at Camp Shenandoah, runs out through Little North Mountain State Wildlife Management area, up Eliotts Knob, along Crawford Mountain, along Dowell’s Draft, then over Hankey Mountain, of course up and down Grindstone Mountain, and turns around at Briery Branch Gap. This is all along the southern part of the Shenandoah Mountain range. A map of the out and back can be found here.
After a bumpy, but scenic ride up to the turn around, the RD, Clark Zealand, explained a bit about the course and sent us on our way. (by the way, thank you Clark for letting me and my small hips ride inside the truck and not outside in the back!)
We started off down a paved road, up to Reddish Knob, and we were greeted with a beautiful misty sunrise, before we turned and headed back down the steep paved road. It continued for several miles before turning into double track, and then very steep single track. Balto and I and our newest acquaintance, Ben headed into the woods and down the hill. The downhill climb seemed to go on forever, I sometimes very steep, sometimes not quite as steep, but at one point I realized we had been going downhill for miles (and being a “flatlander”) my quads were letting me know that the downhill was more than they were quite ready for! Later that day Balto said we were moving about 6:15min/mile pace on the steep parts, and an 8:30 on the more gradual downhills. We finally hit the moving aid station at Dowell’s Draft (Clark’s truck) and refilled our water packs.
We walked and ate a bit, having caught up to a larger group of guys who all seemed to know the course well. We all chatted, as we dipped back into single track and started our first long climb of the day. I was warned it was long and steep, but we were on some beautiful single track and my quads were happy to have a break. The rest of the morning was a blur of single track up, rolling double track, and finally a really pretty section of single track that led us down to where we stopped for the day. As I was running the last few miles, Horton came biking up the trail, “looking good,” he yelled…”oh and did you see the bear?!” That may have helped me pick of the pace a tad to the finish. 29.02 read my garmin at the finish where several of the young guys were already sitting at.