Thursday, October 9, 2008

Michael Huff Grindstone Report

***Posted with permission***

9 October 2008,

"Only those who will risk going too far can possibly find out how far one can go." T.S. Eliot

This was my first 100 mile race and I must say, it was quite an experience, an experience that would not have been possible without the great crew support I had from my wife (Debbie) and kids (Ashley, Genna, Abby, and Joshua), parents (Wayne and Betty), and my sister (Amy). They were amazing and extremely tolerant of a cranky runner, you have my thanks and love. I would also like to send out a heartfelt thanks to all of the awesome volunteers, your support was tremendous and the aid stations were top notch.

I have been running Ultras for just over a year and have dedicated my efforts this year towards raising funds and awareness for the Injured Marine Semper Fi Fund. Training for this event started back in February when I decided to enter the Beast Series. This would have been my 2nd 100 mile attempt this year but unfortunately the Western States 100 was cancelled.

Well we started off the day early Friday morning with a drive from Fairfax to the Shenandoah Boy Scout Camp. I tried to get some rest on the ride over but a little anxiety prohibited that. Dr. Horton provided a great motivational course overview and came just short of saying that 50% of us would never be heard from again, so that really boosted my confidence. The only part of the course that I had run was from Falls Hollow to the top of Elliot Knob and Crawford Mountain and back, so the rest of the course was a mystery to me.

As we "toed the line" in front of the Shenandoah Boy Scout Camp waiting for the start, I must say that I was very anxious to get started and was curious to see how the late start would effect me. The first 5.7 miles to the Falls Hollow aid station were uneventful. The pack started to thin out right away as everyone settled in for the long haul. It was good to be running and I was grateful for the little remaining daylight that we had.

The climb up Elliot and Crawford was just a hard as I remembered from my training run and it was a welcome relief to roll into Dowell's Draft and see my crew for the first time. The climbs on this course were brutal and any downhill sections on the outbound leg were considered a mixed blessing, knowing that they would soon become uphill climbs on the return trip. The section between Dowell's and North River Gap went fairly well and I felt like I was making pretty good time. The weather could not have been any better and I had to turn the light off a couple of times to admire the stars above, what a clear night.

They said the climb up Grindstone to Little Bald would be tough and they were right. However the ridge running to Reddish was awesome, thanks to Jack Kurisky for dragging me with him to make quick work of the 4 miles. I made it to the turn-around in 12h:10m, I was starting to get tired and not just physically tired but sleepy tired which I found was harder to control that I thought it would be. At the turn around the entire crew (all 4 kids and 2 dogs, now

awake) was present and would stay with me the rest of the race. It was great to see them, they had a cup of coffee, which was badly needed and provided awesome encouragement, which was also badly needed to get me back up Reddish Knob. A little over half way through the race at just over 12 hours, I was feeling pretty good but could feel the fatigue and knew that the return was not going to be easy. I was getting close to entering distances that I had not previously experienced.

The run across the ridge to Little Bald and Grindstone Mountain was incredible, beautiful sunrise and cool temps kept me motivated and moving.  The 6.5 miles down Grindstone went on for a long time but I finally arrived at North River Gap (65.8 mi) at just after 1000.  I was now very tired and the legs were hurting.  Debbie, my wife gave the quads and calves a good massage, I ate a little bacon, drank some Mountain Dew, Gatorade, and an Ensure and was on my way.

I had just run further than I had ever run and it was beginning to show, about a half mile up the trail to Lookout Mountain my stomach revolted and I lost my breakfast.  This was probably the best thing that could have happened at this point.  I recovered very quickly, drank a little water and continued to trudge up the trail to the Lookout Mountain AS (71.9 mi).

I did run up on a black bear about half way down Lookout Mountain, he quickly retreated into the woods (I must have been very intimidating, zipping along at the speed of a turtle).  I was hurting pretty good when I rolled into Dowell's Draft AS, but sympathy was getting harder to come by.  Debbie started to crack the whip at this point and told me that I wasn't getting any closer to the finish line by sitting in the chair, so down the trail I went and up what I thought was the toughest climb of the race, up Crawford Mountain.  This massive climb went on forever, consistently steep and offering no relieve until reaching the top.  And at this point "relieve at the top" was relative.  My daughter Abby met me about a quarter mile from Dry Branch Gap AS and ran in with me, this was a great motivator as we started to get close.  It was now about 1600 and I knew that the next 8.8 mi stretch up and down Elliot's Knob would take about 2.5 hours and I wanted to get it done prior to the sun setting.

The climb was slow but not near as painful as the previous climb, after about 4.5 miles I started down the mountain.  As I was heading down a very steep jeep trail another bear walked out onto the road, took a look at me and ran for his life.  It was at this point that I wished that east coast black bears were more aggressive and that he would turn and attack and put me out of my misery, no such luck-keep running.  I rolled into the last AS at sunset (95.3 mi) got some quick encouragement and headed toward the finish.

The last leg was uneventful, other than the fact that I was through my second sunset and back into the darkness.  I had a real sense of wanting to be done, but was unable to run even gentle uphill sections. After about 1.5 hours I could see the lights of the finish line.  I was met by Abby and my son Josh for the final push up to the finish line and crossed at 2026 on Saturday night (26h:26m:05s).  I turned and hugged a huge Totem Pole in front of the Boy Scout Lodge (a finishing requirement), and shook the hand of the race director, Clark Zealand, as he presented me with my 100 mile Grinder Belt Buckle.

As I reflect on the race a couple of days removed I hope that I don't minimize the impact that this event has had on me.  When I started down the trail on Friday, I asked God to provide direction and submitted to His will for the outcome of the event.  Throughout the day I relied on my Faith to pull me through some low points and was rewarded with gifts and direction that I am still trying to grasp.  Very rarely do things turn out to be exactly what they appear to be but for me, on this day, the Grace of God was just that - Grace, freely given and humbly accepted.

Thanks for a great event, I look forward to the last two Beast Series events.

"I can do all things through Christ Who strengthens me" Philippians 4:13

God Bless and Semper Fi,

LtCol Michael "Huffer" Huff, USMC

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