In a scene ripped straight from an X-Files episode, I was climbing up Little Bald Knob’s flank into the erie night time fog at mile 38. I half expected to run into Scully and Mulder following up on a lead of suspicious alien activity in the area. When the first three hours of heavy rain gave way to foggy, isolated showers — I found myself in the lead around the marathon mark — 12 miles ago. After running a 100 miler just 3 weeks prior, my legs felt suprisingly strong. I was hopeful it would hold out.
I couldn’t help thinking about the four hundreds I set out to run this season to cap my 20th career 100 miler with a final race in Virginia. Jokingly coined the Bronco Billy Suffer Better Tour — 4 hundreds in one season to get to that token 20th. Wow, time flies.
Reflecting on my previous 19 hundred mile finishes — Grindstone was turning out to not disappoint. Rain. Fog. Humidity (by my high desert standards). Humid enough that I hadn’t been able to wear my glasses in a few hours. Since they’re prescription, it had been an act of solid focus to read the rocky, narrow Applalachian singletrack in the dark.
Rewind 12 years. From the first time I stepped across the finish line at Placer High School in Auburn, CA at my first 100 mile finish, I was hooked. The 2002 Western States 100 Mile Endurance Run left an impression. To be honest, as I covered the miles and ran into the night way back then, something in my inner psyche clicked. No question I’d run another one. Now, don’t get me wrong — before I completed that first hundred, I thought…one and done. A bucket list item checked. Like seeing Mount Rushmore.
Sometimes life is funny though. Somewhere between Squaw Valley Resort’s starting line and that insane heat through the canyons — the other side of the Sierra — I found a puzzle piece that was missing. It fit. I love everything about this distance. The frustation, the planning, maps, nutrition, hydration, night running, the balance of light-yet-just-enough gear. Planning. Adjusting, always adjusting. The wild-ness, the weather, preparation that can make or break you. Finding that trail running rhythm. The flow.
Oh, and the wildlife — let’s not forget the wildlife. Throwing a rock at a moose, clawed in the back of the head by a territorial owl, or a mountain lion face-off near the strike of midnight — where no one will hear you scream.
The pure adventure each brings and the distance. That number. 100 miles. It’s a nice round number isn’t it? I think that’s why it’s got juice. More importantly in our plush, techie lifestyles with every convenience at our fingertips — it’s epic. Not in the pop culture over usage epic we hear people throw around like it means nothing. Bro, last night was SO epic. But the real-life-fight-or-flight-I-could-get-eaten epic that few experience.
Toeing the line to my 20th hundred gave me a lot of cool adventures to relfect on. Grindstone 100 in the George Washington National Forest of Virginia had been on my bucket list since Clark Zealand started this killer event years ago. 6pm start, 23K feet of climbing, technical 12 hours of darkness on rocky singletrack. The beast of the east. What a spectacular course and a great setting. A Boy Scout Camp — complete with a small lake, outdoor showers, a large main lodge to house the event and group meals. And, a large wooded lawn for a tent city to appear. Once the little tent village forms, you know, no matter where you’re from, we’re all here to run the big one, it’s a tribe.
Coming off Run Rabbit Run 100 three weeks prior to Grindstone, I had little expectations. My recovery had gone smoothly enough and my legs felt good on a 10 mile tester seven days out. After so much racing, I was just pumped to be healthy and making to my 4th of the season.
From the start at the Boy Scout Camp, we headed off into the growing darkness up and over Kings Gap across Highway 42. While ascending the fog covered Elliot Knob in the pouring rain, Brian Rusiecki, Neal Gorman, Michael Owen and I formed a little pack with Josh Finger out front a few minutes. We cruised along and in and out of Dry Branch Gap aid seemingly relaxed and together. As we were descending Chimney Hollow Trail, I felt like I was braking alot on the downhill. So, I asked to jump around on a wider section of the narrow, rocky trail.
After I got around, I relaxed and just rolled a comfortable pace and quickly found myself alone. It was early, so I was just in cruise control. I arrived Dowell’s Draft aid to see my crew, Jenny Nichols — and my buddy Scott (aka Monkey Boy) who was crewing and pacing the infamous AJW. After a quick bottle swaps with Jenny, Monkey Boy got me some much needed duct tape. I was so drenched earlier that I had lost my nipple bandaids. Yep, I’m here to tell you nipple chafing absolutely sucks if you haven’t experienced such an incident. Avoid at all costs. If you ignore this seemingly simple problem, it could get ugly. The fix — some quick skin drying and a couple of big pieces of old-fashioned duct tape. After that, I was off into the dark with Josh only a few minutes in the lead.
A little ways up the rolling climb to Lookout Mountain aid station, I caught Josh. We exchanges some small talk and I jumped around him on the trail and took the lead. Quickly I was alone again and soon in and out of Lookout Mountain aid and on my way to North River Gap.
After the quick weigh-in at North River Gap’s medical check and more Gu flasks swaps with Jenny, I was climbing up to Little Bald Knob and over to Reddish Knob on the double track. I quickly searched the thick summit fog of Reddish Knob to locate the glow sticks marking the self-serve hole punch tool. I punched a hole in my bib number to prove I summited and was off heading back down the short road to the aid station once again. I was expecting to see someone on the short out and back. However, I made it to the top and back down and continued on the ridge with no sign of lights.
On the paved rolling section over to the turnaround, I decided when I hit the turnaround I’d run at a good clip back until I met 2nd place. I was in and out of the turnaround at mile 52 at 3:09am (9:09 running time). I again saw Monkey Boy about a 1/2 mile out of the aid station waiting to pace AJW. He gave me a little pep talk and finished with, “Go close this.” Giddyup, Scott. That’s the plan. It’s over halfway, now the race starts. Let’s close this.
I was feeling good as I watched my time split increase with every step. I kept glancing at the time — 8 minutes, 10, 12, finally — 14 minutes from the turn I met Rusiecki and Adams running together, 2nd and 3rd — 28 minutes back. Sweet.
I made my way back across the rolling double track to Reddish Knob, then Little Bald Knob. As I dropped off Chestnut Trail on my way back to North River Gap, I kept meeting other runners. The beauty of an out and back course is you get to see all the other runners. Such a great time of comraderie and encouragement. On the lower section, I ran into Virginian veteran ultrarunner Gary Knipling, a 70 year old 100 mile veteran. We had a good quick hellow and a hug and he asked me how far back 2nd was and then told me to “Get going!” Yes sir.
I got to North River Gap, got my Gu resupply and bottle swap from Jenny, weighed in at medical check (only 1 pound light) and was off up the road. I met a few more runners and crossed the footbridge and headed up to the first switchback where you can see back across the creek bottom you just crossed. Lights, I saw lights!
I would later discover, it was a back of the pack runner I’d passed. But at that moment, at mile 67, I was sure it was Rusiecki. I put my head down and ran pretty hard all the way through Lookout Mountain, into the sunrise and into Dowell’s Draft at 80 miles. I arrived the aid station with Jenny, her 6-year old son Todd, and the infamous Dr. David Horton there to greet me. In the early morning light, I grabbed some Gu resupplies, adjusted gear and ditched my lights. As I was getting ready to go, Dr. Horton gave me a half cup of hot chocolate. Oh man, that WAS GOOD. Sometimes 100s make you appreciate the little things.
At mile 87, I arrived to grab some more supplies from Jenny and find I had a 38-minute lead. I really started to relax and enjoy the close of the challenge I’d taken on this season. Four 100 milers. I had a great season and feel very blessed to have been able to finish all four with no major issues. Zion 100 in April. The big dog — Hardrock 100 in July in the giant San Juan mountains of SW Colorado. Complete with a two week road trip with my wife and 3 kids. The third, a return to Run Rabbit Run 100 in Steamboat, CO and another 2,000+ mile road trip with the family. And finally, 3 weeks rest and Grinstone 100. My 20th. What a ride.
As I rounded the lake’s mowed grass, I was soon coming through the camp and into the finishing shoot in 18 hours, 34 minutes. After shaking hands with Race Director and Patagonia teammate Clark Zealand, I hugged the totem pole — a Grindstone tradition. What an honor to celebrate my 12th hundred mile win and my 20th career hundred at this race. What a way to visit Virginia’s Applalachian Mountains for the first time. Giddyup.
Thanks to my wife and kiddos for their love, prayers and support. To Jenny and her son Todd for their crew help — troopers. And the big man upstairs for keeping me safe on my feet through 20 hundreds.
Patagonia Cap 1 Sleeveless Jersey
Patagonia Strider Pro Shorts
Patagonia Duck Bill Cap
Patagonia Merino Gloves
Patagonia Houdini Jacket (carried, never used)
Rudy Project Zyon Glasses
Ultraspire handheld bottles
Black Diamond Storm (as waist lamp)
Black Diamond Icon (as headlamp)
Pre-race: Barlean’s CoQ10, Omega 3-6-9, Organic Greens, and Olive Oil Complex
During the Race: Tons of gel — Gu Vanilla Bean, Salted Carmel, Roctane Cherry Lime, Roctane Island Nectars; organic sushi rice and avacado rolls w/ sea salt and fresh lemon juice; a little broth
Post-race: Gu Recovery drink and tons of food and Barlean’s fat supplements (same as pre-race)