Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Grindstone 2010 Race Report and then some

I heard this quote a few days before Grindstone…
“We cannot learn without pain”- Aristotle
I’m usually one to keep my thoughts to myself as I’m a pretty private person. However, I had a few people ask me to write a race report and after my incredible experience at Grindstone, I actually really wanted to.  Sorry in advanced if I get carried away at times; it’s just that I feel there is so much more to running than just running (if that makes any sense to you at all).
There are a couple of reasons I chose to run Grindstone.
1)      My original plan was to run Oil Creek, and then Rachel (sister) told me she wanted to do it and I’d much rather support her than run against her.
2)      I am (was?) SLIGHTLY afraid of the dark and I felt like running in the dark really slowed down my pace at Mohican since I wasn’t comfortable with it. (GS has a 6pm start) I figured running Grindstone would make my weakness of night running somewhat of a strength
3)      It sounded really tough
When I ran Mohican, I trained myself and barely had a clue what I was doing. It seemed to work out okay, but knowing Grindstone was harder I asked for help from Ray Zahab, one of the top ultra runners in Canada, co-founder of Impossible2Possible along with Bob Cox, and an amazing person. I was lucky enough to meet him a year ago when I was selected as a youth ambassador for i2P’s Baffin Island Expedition. My training was completely different than for Mohican. I actually put less miles in but felt way better running. Between Ray’s guidance and doing weekend runs with Shaun, I knew I was improving. Shaun didn’t let me slow down and forcing myself to keep up with him run after run was great training.
This leads me to Grindstone weekend:
Thursday afternoon I started my road trip to Swoope, Virginia off with two sick people in my little car (aka Rory- yes I named my car). Rachel had a bad cold, and Shaun possibly had mono or the flu. I had 2 thoughts on this.  1) How blessed I am to have people in my life that care for me enough to come with me to crew and pace when they are sick and have their own races (both running OC) in 2 weeks. 2) Dear God, please don’t let me get sick before my race!!! 8 hours later with lots of bathroom stops and dinner at a bar & grill that happened to be having karaoke night (Shaun of course had to sing and did a great job) we were at Grindstone.
Race day: ~Run with your heart because when your legs get tired your heart will stay strong~ (my own little quote)
With the race about to start in a few minutes I hugged Shaun and Rachel, walked a few steps and turned back to Rachel, hoping she realized that it meant the world to me that she was my only family member who bothered to wish me good luck. With that I took my place at the start, nervous but almost at ease at the same time because I knew I was soon to be at home on the trails. Then with a few words from Clark Zealand, the amazing race director, and a singing of the national anthem, the race started.
The first part of the course was by far the easiest since it was by far the flattest part. Though I say this was the easy part, it was still much rockier (by far!) than anything I have ran in Ohio. I loved it though. The weather was great for running and I settled in a comfortable pace a little behind the top men and a little ahead of the rest of the runners. From my first two ultras I learned it is important for me to keep my own pace no matter what.  Unfortunately this meant I was running by myself after I reached the top of the first huge hill where all runners were required to punch a hole in their bib.  I say unfortunately not because I dislike running by myself, but because I have a gift for going the wrong way. Sometimes going the wrong way can lead to some great adventures, other times deep frustration.  After reaching the top of the hill, runners were supposed to back track a little way down the hill to enter a trail. I of course had my mind in another world while also having a great time running down hill, and passed the entrance. MY WORST FEAR as an ultra runner. Ugh.  As I continued in the wrong direction I happily waved to other runners still climbing up the hill until finally someone finally told me I was going the wrong way. About 25 minutes later, I was finally back on track. I’ll be honest, this was an intense mental test for me to stay positive. It’s frustrating knowing that early on in the race, I had already added 25 minutes onto my finishing time.  Perhaps it was for the best though as I got to run with fellow Ohioans  David Peterman and Regis Jr who helped keep me going in the right direction.
After becoming a little more sure of my ability to actually follow the orange coarse markers, it was time to pick up my pace.  Thankfully, my new running friend Jordan sped up with me and we ran together till around mile 40. I think one of my favorite parts about ultras is the people I get to meet and I truly appreciated Jordan’s company.
During this time I began to realize I was running in the dark and I was really enjoying it. I read a race report from last year and it said “the dark is aware of us, just as much as we are of it”. I’m not sure why, but I found comfort in this. I fell into a rhythm of side stepping and jumping over rocks. Then I twisted my ankle….and then I did it again. Luckily, the abuse I did to it running on rocks up and down hills seemed to numb the pain quite nicely.
Towards the end of the first half of the course there is a stretch of about 7 miles between aid stations. It just so happens that 90% of this was up hill. Not a hill with an easy incline, but rocky with a very respectable incline. I was quite thankful it was dark at this point because I wasn’t sure if I really wanted to see how much more I had to go in front of me. However, I know hills are one of my strengths and I managed to keep a good hiking pace up this hill and actually thoroughly enjoyed it. The best part however, was the view at the top. The cool air brought a cloudless sky with the brightest view of stars I had ever seen. Out of respect for nature and being allowed to be part of it on that day, I had to stop and look to appreciate the moment at hand.
After reaching the half way point I was allowed a pacer. Rachel, who hates the cold (being 4 am on top of a mountain the air was quite cold), was already sick, and got a nasty cut the last time she ran at night with me courageously agreed to pace me the next 17 miles. At this point I would like to mention that  5 hours before the race started Rachel told me she saw two bears while hiking—Thanks Rach! That’s exactly what I wanted to hear before my race! Haha.
Towards the end of the 17 miles I ran with Rachel, I started feeling really sick. Previously, I started having a hard time eating and drinking. I was forcing as much down as I could but apparently it wasn’t enough and I got dehydrated. I know this is gross but to help you understand better I’ll add that my pee looked like iced tea for about the last 35-40 miles. (Not cool! Sorry for my  grossness lol)
With 35 miles to go Rachel and Shaun switched crewing and pacing duties so Shaun could run with me the rest of the way. Together we tried to get me rehydrated, but nothing was working. DEHYDRATION and not enough calories! I was so frustrated. I felt like it was a rookie mistake and I was not happy with myself. I thought I was getting enough in the first half of the race but when reflecting back I realized this may not have been the case, especially when I got sick of eating around mile 45. Still, I am used to having steady energy throughout long distances. Sure I got dehydrated before but a few S-caps, sports drinks  and/or food and I’d be back to normal within 15 minutes. Worse, with dehydration comes muscles tightening and my quads that I needed for not only up hills but for the rocky down hills were becoming increasingly painful.
 With not being able to balance my electrolytes my body swelled, my fingers looking like sausages, and I was beginning to get really dizzy. Shaun ended up catching me from falling a few times and reminded me to breath. However , after pushing myself feeling sick and exhausted for 20 miles my body was reaching it breaking point and I passed out going up a hill. Laying on the ground I remember Shaun telling me to open up my eyes and look at him but it was too much effort. After laying there for a few minutes I gained the strength to open my eyes and managed to sit up. Out of frustration of pushing myself so long already and knowing I had so far to go, I couldn’t help but shed a few tears.
Now, I normally wouldn’t do this, but I’d like to share with you a little bit of what was going through my head at this time. As I was coming to on the ground,  I couldn’t help but remember a few years back laying on my bathroom or bedroom floor crying because I hated my life and my inability to change it. I suffered from social anxiety and internal conflicts between positive and negative (as a result from things that had happened earlier in my life). For instance, I wanted to believe hard work paid off,  I could control where my life was headed, and that my family loved me, but no matter how much I tried to stay positive, negative thoughts always won. I felt like my mind was being torn in two causing me terrible social anxiety and depression. I blamed myself for all my problems and therefore did a lot of abuse to myself in a variety of ways. (Sorry for stopping here but some things I’m not ready to talk about)  During these times of crying on the floor, I’d physically get up, but mentally and emotionally, I never really got up.
It was at this point of the race I remembered all of this  and everything I’ve been through to turn my life around from starting a volunteer group (Students Making a Difference), going on an i2P expedition, quitting basketball to pursue ultra running, and talking to audiences about volunteering and social issues despite having social anxiety. I knew laying on the trail that I had to get up, not only physically, but mentally as well.
I never really felt physically better even after getting up, but I knew I’d finish no matter what. I was still incredibly frustrated knowing that I could run much better than I was if I could just feel a little better and if I had been smarter earlier in the race. I know I am sometimes too hard on myself. I’m 22, my first ultra was only in June and this time last year I was still playing college basketball. I realize that being so new to the sport, I’m going to make mistakes, but it still sucks... a lot! =P
My quads cramped up so bad from dehydration I felt like my quads would explode every time I tried to run. My hamstrings felt okay though so I power walked as fast as I could when I could not force myself to run. Poor Shaun who had been sick for a week started looking bad himself, but amazingly still managed to keep pushing me, though I couldn’t help but feel a little bad I was the reason he was out there when he should have been resting.
With 5 miles to go I had a couple guys pass me. I admit it was slightly disheartening so late in the race, but I was so happy for them, especially Jordan who I had run with earlier in the race. 3 miles to go I forced myself to run the rest of the way. 2 miles to go I decided the cuts I had on me weren’t enough to be a contender for the best blood award and so I tripped on an extra rocky section. It pretty much looked like I put a whole in my skin, right above my knee cap. Thick blood instantly poured down my leg and made my already bloody shoes much bloodier. I left a good amount of blood on the last part of that trail.

When I heard about the best blood award I thought it was the coolest award ever (for lack of better words). However, it is not one of the awards you really want to aim at getting. Before the race I had told both Rachel and Shaun about the award. Shaun told me don’t even think about it. Rachel thought it was awesome. Both told me to try not to fall despite my clumsiness, and both had a good feeling I would get it. After winning the award I was pretty stoked, however, I unfortunately do not think I am as bad ass or hardcore as I wish I was….I am just hopelessly clumsy.
So after a last fall, I ran through the finish line with blood pouring down my leg in 23 hours and 5 minutes, still winning women’s first place despite my 25 minute detour and feeling like crap for 40 miles. I knew I could have done better if I could have avoided getting sick, but my only goal for Grindstone was to make sure that I crossed the finish line not being able to run another 10 feet. Goal accomplished and I had won my third ultra, and got my second course record in VA.
I set a goal like the one I did because I actually don’t love the competitive side of ultra running. (Shocker, I know) For some people it’s great, and yeah I think it’s okay, but I just like to be competitive with myself if anything. For me it’s about having that choice to be negative or positive, and finding the strength to stay positive while appreciating the beauty of the situation and one’s own mind. I know I have won the only 3 ultras I have ever entered, but if someone beat me and their best is better than mine, I think that’s awesome.
(BTW exactly 6 months before finishing Mohican 100 I was put on crutches from severe nerve damage from running, and exactly 1 year before finishing Grindstone was the only other time I have ever passed out in my life- I was sick running as well, but that time I never got up to finish the short 5k- weird, huh?)
One of my favorite moments of the weekend was Sunday morning when Jordan told me part of the reason he had such a good finishing time was because of running with me. I’ll take that over winning any day.  Through the volunteer group Rachel and I founded I have learned that sometimes hard work paying off is just inspiring others, not necessarily getting the outcome intended. I never want to forget that lesson.
Congrats to fellow Ohioans David Huss (PRed in VA!), David Peterman, and Regis Shivers as well as all the other Grindstone runners!
One of the best parts of this sport by far is the people I have gotten to meet. I have met incredible people and am continuously humbled by learning about other people’s achievements and efforts in both running and life. I am in complete amazement by the support I have gotten and all the people that believe in me.  Some people in my family don’t necessarily agree with me doing these crazy runs nor care to understand why I do it, so to have so many people support me honestly means the world to me.
I’m not sure what race I will do next. I’d love to race more but unfortunately paying for college comes first. Hopefully Rachel and I will do a fun charity run across Ohio to raise money for the United Way in December. Everyone is invited to join! I graduate in December, and I’d really like to focus more on my volunteer group a little more before I have to leave it behind. Volunteering has led me to ultra running, both are my passions, and so I need to balance it out a little more. With that said, however, I know I’m going to be running more than ever. J

“The only limitations we face are the ones we place upon ourselves”- Ray Zahab                                             

(Special thanks to my crew and pacers Rachel and Shaun and the best running coach ever Ray Zahab)


  1. Awesome report Sandi! Great job and way to push through everything!!!!

  2. Congratulations Sandi, remarkable performance. Thanks for sharing your experience and continue "getting up off the floor" You're braver then you let on, making you an inspiration.

  3. I am actually the one who turned you around when you were going the wrong way at the beginning. I told the people i was running with that it didnt even faze you. You just happily turned around and left us in your dust with a smile the whole time. After reading your report i realize how great of a person you are, I wish you good luck in volunteering and in your future races. Hope to see you in Virginia again sometime. You know Hellgate is coming up in December...hint hint


    Marc Griffin

  4. Thanks everyone! I really appreciate the comments. You have no idea how much!

    and Marc... THANK YOU for turning me around! You're wonderful! (I'm so glad I got the chance to finally tell you)

  5. Impressive race and a great race report, thank you for sharing it. There's nothing in the world like running ultras. I'm anxious to see which race you tackle next.

  6. Hi Sandi,
    Great job! As an old guy who is not that fast, I am always impressed with younger runners who seem to be putting it all together. You will have ups and downs but I encourage you to stay your current course. In this world there there are people who feel there stock is rising,those who feel their day has come and gone, and those who keep the joy of the hunt in their heart. Keep your heart and mind pure and happy. I have a big smile for you and look forward to great things on and off the trail in the future. Good luck and Godspeed.
    Steve Wilkinson


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.