At the finish,Todd Henderson, the race director said he hoped I'd come back again and I reflexively told him I would. I knew I wanted to do better, but wasn't sure I'd really return. Pinhoti is for sure a well-run race with a good course but I've got a long list of races I want to do, and ones that require significant travel are hard to justify a second go-round of. Sometimes unexpected opportunities arise, though.
Running Grindstone 100 this October, I felt like I had some long-delayed gratification finally coming to fruition. First, the race was cancelled in 2013 because the House Majority Leader threw a partisan hissy fit and shut down the federal government. When Grindstone 2014 finally rolled around I'd been having a tough year, not really satisfied with how my races or major FKT attempts had gone over the last few months. As I ran through the rainy and foggy Virginia night, moving up from fifteenth place to third, I felt like redemption was imminent. A smart and conservative strategy would pay off if I could just hold on for the last few miles. Then I experienced what'd I'd describe as a priority upset and in an instant I didn't give a shit about the race.
My friend Kristina ran up to me looking panicked, blurting out a string of words, but daughter, seizure, and ambulance were the only ones that I really needed to hear. We made our way to the mile 97 aid station where I dropped out and jumped into a waiting car for a ride to the hospital. Growing up in New Hampshire, I'm accustomed to religion largely being a private matter and I've always felt a little awkward to hear public displays of it in the South, but I started to cry when one the volunteers said they were praying for my family. Red-eyed, I limped into the ER on stiff legs looking like hell, not having slept in over thirty hours, smelling of ammonia and encrusted in dust and salt. The nice lady at the front desk assumed I was there to check in. Without going into too much detail, everything turned out alright and I spent the rest of the day with my wife and two year old daughter laying low in a hotel room, together as a family.
When the dust settled, I realized my Grindstone DNF left me without a Western States 100 qualifier with only a month before the lottery, which I've unsuccessfully been entering since 2009. A new ticket allocation procedure that normally would work in my favor quickly threatened to turn my odds upside-down, dropping from thirty-two tickets in the pool to one. It's silly that with my race history there should ever be a question about whether I'm "qualified" or not, but 'dems 'da rules and they're the same for everybody. So that's how I signed up for Pinhoti with four weeks to recover from Grindstone. The last minute arrangements would mean traveling to Alabama alone, but paying for the flight with flyer miles made the out of pocket expenses bearable. My wife understands how much keeping my Western States dream alive means to me and aside from that, I now had an opportunity to set things right in Alabama and establish something to show for the 2014 season.
This year I deliberately didn't line up close to the starting line, so as not to go out too fast. That was my mistake in 2011; running on Karl Meltzer's heels for a couple miles. There's certainly a balance to be had here, as this time I immediately got stuck in a conga line where the trail funneled down to singletrack. I'm all for going out slowly, but waiting in line to hop a log or cross a stream isn't much fun. I decided it was worth the energy to make some passes to break free of the mid-pack so I could run unhindered. Once on my own I settled into an easy cruise on very runnable singletrack trail. It reminded me of what a 100 in Bear Brook would be like; lot's of mildly rugged mountain bike trail with a few technical sections and some rolling climbs and descents.
|Photo courtesy of @raceupdates|
|Photo from Pinhoti FB page|