Monday, October 13, 2008

Hannah Roberts' Grindstone Report

On one hand, everything is good in moderation. On the other, anything worth doing is worth overdoing. I spent six or seven months seriously dedicated to making sure that 100 miles in the mountains was still in my zone of moderation while pushing farther and harder than anything else I had attempted. Though I attacked my training for the Grindstone 100 with a level of dedication that forced me into a mildly antisocial, sober, reclusive spell, I showed up to the starting line blissfully ignorant of what a finish on the Grindstone course would mean.

I knew the bare minimums: I had 38 hours to run 100.73 miles, which at that pace worked out to 22:38 minute miles, and there were roughly 23,200 feet of climb and the same distance down. Honestly that was all I knew. I listened half heartedly to the prerace brief because I knew that at that point, the information was too little too late. I did catch a lot of “this part will eat your lunch,” which left me both curious and slightly shaken in my confidence. My prerace plan was to endear myself to a salty, experienced ultra runner and hang with him for at least the first night. I was lucky enough to meet Dave Snipes, and he agreed to pace me and his friends to our first 100 mile finish, somewhere in the 34 hour pace group, and I felt fulfilled as far as my prerace plan was concerned.

We took off and during that first night, I knew I was going too fast. I knew I was attacking the down hills too aggressively, but I knew that I was trading caution for companionship, and within hours I had settled into a comfortable group of four. Dave in the lead, I followed closely enough to clip his heels every so often. For the first 20 or 30 miles, I felt great, my legs continued to feel fresh even after many long climbs. I refused to acknowledge each daunting climb, and it was easy because the night limited my vision to an 8 square foot circle that my head lamp illuminated. The only thing I really focused on was Dave’s footwork, which made the hills much less intimidating than seeing mountains rise up before you knowing you had to go up there. I remembered Mr. Clark Zealand’s prerace brief, “go out there and enjoy the beauty of god’s creation,” which I’m sure he delivered with a slight smirk. I guess I finally got the joke: I saw many many miles of the beautiful mountain trails pass by foot by foot. All things are good in moderation.

We made it to the turn around before sunrise, but once day broke that was more or less the end of my feelings of going too fast. I had one final surge, one final high of the day: I sprinted down a hill to catch up with my group and sang Oklahoma’s “Oh what a beautiful mornin’,” at the top of my lungs. If I passed you as you were climbing that hill and you thought I was being cocky or obnoxious, surely justice was dealt as I neither sang nor sprinted for the rest of the day, and going fast was only a memory of times gone past.

I hung in there with Dave for the better part of 20 hours, but I lost the ability to descend, and could not keep pace. I fell a lot. I swore a lot. I cried, despite the promises I made myself to scrape it together until I reached a respectable distance. I made it to mile 80. My brother paced me from Dowells Draft, and it was very frustrating for me to know I had less than a 50k left but it would take me probably 12 hours. I collapsed on the trail for a little bit, watched as runners passed me. I got it together and with the help of my brother, reached the second to last aid station. There my sister joined us, and the three of us set off for the remaining 15 miles. Those miles were long, they were painful, they were frustrating, but I am grateful they were not lonely or desperate. I took comfort in the fact that forward progress, granted painfully slow, amounts to something eventually.

The beauty of the course was not lost on my sister, who reminded me that the sunset, the views of the mountains, the trees, the leaves, the streams, the stars were all things we were lucky to behold. I didn’t tell her that I had been lucky to have been beholding all these wonders for 24 or more hours, because there was no need to be spiteful, but it is further evidence for the saying that anything worth doing is worth overdoing. She was right; the second sunset was a sight I felt fortunate to see.

The course got familiar; I knew we were getting closer to the finish. I knew that despite the pain, there was nothing, save a cougar or bear that would stop me from finishing the Grindstone 100. A little before 2 in the morning on Sunday, 5 October, I crossed the finish line with my younger brother and older sister as my dad watched.

Even when things got bad, I knew I was doing what I love to do. Though I will race again, I feel fortunate that this time next year I will be safely deployed in the war on terror, far and away from Swoope, Virginia. I say this, but surely if I find myself next October near the starting line, the challenge, companionship, beauty and intensity of the race will pull me such that I will likely find myself at the finish.

I am proud to have finished in the inaugural year, I am exceptionally proud of the first half of my race before the bottom fell out. I am proud to say my first 100 miler was a hard one. More importantly, I have many people to thank and I feel a great sense of indebtedness to my crew. Thank you to the volunteers and aid station workers. Thank you Dave Snipes for lending me your expertise. Thank you to my sister and brother for sticking with me on that last stretch. Thanks to my aunt and her boyfriend, my father, my family that were pulling for me from afar. Thank you to my friends who were supportive and understanding during the entire weekend and my reclusive training spell. Thank you all, because without your help, there would be little to be proud of.


Ed said...


Great job on a gutsy finish! Those of us that ran with you know you overcame alot of pain, but stuck it should be very proud.

Anonymous said...

I was one of those from afar who was trying to follow you. Thank you for your impressions. Hopefully for the next run, I will be able to crew and perhaps walk to the end with you. You inspire in your quiet, humble way.