The Gristmill Grinder is a great race, it is a great course, and the people are even better! Chris Leslie (my friend and running partner) couldn’t make it this year but my brother, Mike, did! The Grinder was Mike’s first trail race ever! It was nice to have someone to share the ride up and back with. The course is about 3 hours from my house, just long enough to be a boring ride :).
Last year this was my first ever trail race so I didn’t really race. I used it as a learning experience more than anything. (Here is the recap from last year Gristmill Grinder 2012 Recap ) Typically I will start off at the pace I want to finish at, so if I want a 9:00 minute per mile average, I will start off at about a 9:00min/mile. Its the idea that a slow and steady pace wins the race. Oddly enough, its never the slow and steady guy that wins the race!
So this year I decided to try this race a little differently. Since the course starts off mostly down hill, I figured I would sprint down the first section of road and single track. From there I would just see how long I could hang on to the pace. It sounds a bit risky but I run 13+ miles nearly every day so I didn’t think much of it to be honest.
I started off the race just as planned, cruising at a sub 6:00 mile down the first section of the road to secure a spot in the “front” of the pack before hitting the single track trail. I made it to about the front 50 or so runners by the time we hit single track trail. Once we hit dirt the pace dropped to about a 8:30 pace. There were some runners that I normally would just try to keep up with, not today. Today I thought I would cruise on by at the first opportunity and just try to keep anyone I pass from passing me later in the race.
As we hit the first small hill the runners turned into walkers. Thankfully I have been doing a bunch of hill training with my brother. I turned up the heat and pushed hard up the first hill and managed to pass 4 or 5 runners. before the crest. As I crested the hill and hit the flat trail at the top I was a little winded but ready to push more. I maintained the pace to the next hill and did the same thing. As the runners started walking the hills I pushed to the top and passed a few more runners.
Then it was downhill, around a curvy road, to the beautiful Gristmill and first aid station. While the other runners paused for a sip of water, I kept cruising across the bridge and up the hilly road. I brought my own water bottle today, no need for stopping! 🙂 A quick glance at my watch showed a steady 7:30 pace up the hill and a sub 7:00 pace down the road to the next section of single track.
My stomach was hurting pretty badly, it had been since I left the house at 5:00am. Now it was really killing me, especially as I pulled the hills hard. We were hitting the next hill and it was me and another runner side by side as we approached the trail head. I paused and waved her ahead of me, it was a strategic move really…..the strategy being, I didn’t want anyone behind me in the off chance I crap my shorts pushing up the hill! 🙂
I kept pace behind her for the next mile or two of trail. It was fairly technical, rocky, uneven, etc. The 9:00 pace was fine with me, it was actually helping my stomach relax a bit. We rounded a section of trail, exchanging casual runner chat. We approached a section of trail that was not marked very well and it looked like the trail went straight up the hill and not left. I noticed there were runners to my left and the woman in front of me went straight so i started looking for trail markers. Catching a glimpse of the orange diamond trail marker, I took a sharp left turn and yelled for her to follow along.
I was now leading a pack of 5 or 6 runners around the trail. This honestly was a first for me. I was 6 or 7 miles in and leading some fast runners and I was in the front 35 or so runners. I didn’t know that I was doing well at all at this point though. Probably a good thing 🙂 I continued to push hard since I knew the hills were coming soon. There is a reason this race is called the Grinder, its the 4+ mile uphill grind at the END of the race!
As I crossed the bouncy bridge that crossed the river at the bottom, I knew I was there…the bottom. Nowhere to go but up from here. I started up the hill with a steady pace and short gait. I just wanted to at least jog the hills from here on out, no walking for me. I passed a lot of runners in this section. I guess they had used up all their steam in the first 3/4 of the race and now the hills were getting them.
I crested the top of the first tough section of hills and was back at the Gristmill. I slowed down long enough to grab a cup of cold water and managed to get passed by a couple people I had passed earlier in the race. A bit demoralized, I started pushing up the second section of grinding hills. I didn’t get passed by anyone else but I was not able to catch anyone else at this point either.
When I made it to the final hill and approached the finish line I realized that I had actually made it in under 2 hours! A huge accomplishment and improvement for me, last year I finished in 2 hours and 42 minutes! A short sprint to the finish line, pause, walk backwards across the line and I was done. 1:58:22 not to bad.
About 30 minutes later and my brother had finished. He managed to beat my time from last year by about 4 minutes! After the race we ate a little pasta and got to meet a local legend Dan Lehmann. He is the only person I know of that has done the Western States 100 from West Virginia! At 62, he finished right behind me! What a machine and a great guy!
Mike and I both had a great time and are already planning next years race! I hope to finish in the top 10 or 15 next year! You can check out the details of the race here http://www.gristmillgrinder.com and the race results here http://tristaterace.com/
I was feeling strong and happy to be on the trails!
I’m ready to pick up the pace and start passing some people now!
Mike was looking strong at the end of the race. This is about 2 miles from the finish