Reason #88. Because you WANT to be good at 100’s and you put so much intention and thought into the art of running them well.
My emotions were all over the place leading up to Grindstone 100. I watched the race last year, as I crewed/paced Brian, and decided that this was a race I really wanted to run in 2015. Then, mother nature stepped in and the race was first cancelled, then ultimately postponed a week. That gave me an extra week to overthink the race, an extra week of taper (to sit around, not running, and eat too much). By the time Brian and I drove down to Virginia, I wasn't quite sure why I wanted to run this in the first place - my anxiety was high, I felt sluggish and 10 pounds overweight, and just not into it anymore. To make matters worse, Clark had assigned Brian bib #1 (as the top ranked male runner in the race) and me number #101 (as the top ranked female runner) - talk about putting targets on our backs!
Fortunately, my training buddies and WMDP teammates had written up a list of '100 reasons you're going to rock the 100' for me to read during my race. I carried it with me and used it for inspiration.
Reason # 24. Believe in yourself, because your entire team does! Own it!
The race had a humorous start, as all the runners anxiously lined up, ready to go, and Clark stood before us and said 'uh, you're all about 5 minutes early. It's like you're been waiting a week for this or something!'. He said a prayer, then we still had minutes to kill. Someone suggested we sing the national anthem, so slowly the runners all chimed in with the song - likely the most pathetic version of the national anthem ever (we are all runners, after all!). Finally...the race started.
Reason #84. Because there is a community of inspired runners that you got out onto the trails to discover freedom and friendship waiting to celebrate you back at home.
Early miles were a blur - I was trying to stay relaxed, but also trying to get as far as I could before I needed a headlamp. About 3 miles into the race, the sky got extremely dark and it started to rain on us - I put my headlamp on quickly after that. I felt good, maybe a bit aggressive with my pace, but anxious to put miles behind me.
(Cruising in the early miles)
Reason # 27. While the hung-over crowd is sleeping on New Year's Day while you are busy doing sugarloaf repeats then you can run a 100 miler!!
Elliot's Knob is the first climb, and I felt like I was moving well to the top. On the backside of the climb, running by headlamp on wet, leaf-covered wobbly rocks, I turned my ankle over. Now, I twist my ankles all the time and usually they bend like Gumby. However, this ankle roll was different and hurt immediately. I stopped for a minute to assess the pain, do a few circles with my foot, and figure out what to do. But, I realized no one was going to get me off the side of this mountain, so I hobbled forward tentatively over the wet rocks. My ankle wasn't good, the pain radiated down under my foot as I limped down the trail. Luckily, with another mile or so the pain receded. Damn - I can't do that again!
Reason #36. Because it's a piece of cake, right? You've done plenty of 100-milers before.
In and out of the next aid station - I realized that my pace was a suicide pace. I was inadvertently well ahead of the course record pace, I guess I really did go out too hard! I tried to relax on the climb up Crawford Mountain and settle into a more sustainable pace. Two steps into the ensuing downhill and I rolled my already tender ankle a second time. I collapsed to the ground in a pathetic pile in an attempt to ease the pain (and instead scraping up my knees). Again, I stopped for a minute to assess, then hobbled on forward. Luckily, the pain and limping faded again after a mile. Damn - I really can't do that again!
Reason #47. Because your participation in this race is seriously inspiring more people-your neighbors, your co-workers, your friends, their kids-than you can possibly realize.
Into Dowell's Draft, the first crew station, and I was feeling good. Josh Finger, who would be crewing Brian and I for the early miles (before pacing Matt Wilson) was ready to go and helped get me on the trail again fast. The climb up Lookout Mountain was nice - it was actually mellow enough that I kept wondering if I should run or hike it. At some point, I realized that it stopped raining, but I can't remember when.
Reason #95. Your strength, your dedication, the fire you have to continue getting better, because you never settle and you don’t let us settle either, because you believe in us… we all admire you and are already celebrating what we know will be an epic adventure.
It was getting late, and memories were coming in flashes. Lookout Mountain was a party, with AJW and his Charlottesville Area Runners at the helm. Downhill was nice, cruised it feeling good but wondering how my hamstrings and glutes were so sore already. Saw giant rat on the bridge crossing the North River - let it win the race across the bridge because I didn't want to get near it. Saw Josh at North River Gap aid station, learned that Matt dropped out and Josh would be pacing me (yay!). Remembered how runners looked like they had been through a war at this aid station last year, so did my best to hold it together - remembering that I told folks last year that things would better once the sun came up.
Reason #3. Your left leg is strong.
Reason #4. Your right leg is also strong, maybe even stronger than your left?
The climb up Little Bald Knob went on forever. I realized early on this climb that my climbing legs were shot - I must have gone too hard on the early climbs, or else they just aren't trained for the amount of vertical here. Either way, the climb was slow and I kept having flashbacks from my Leadville climb. I threw calories down my throat, started listening to my mp3 player, and tried to forget how many other climbs I had coming up. Honestly, I was just waiting to be passed by the next female.
Reason #85. Because when obstacles, like race photographers, get in Amy Rusiecki’s way she just goes over/through them. In a tu tu.
(Start of Hot Chocolate Race, with dumb-ass photographer kneeling down in the middle of the street - if you look carefully, you might see my legs in the air as I flipped over her! The outfit I was wearing when I did that.)
My struggles on this climb extended beyond my dead legs. I kept having the sensation that I was going to pass out, or that I was slightly dizzy or something. I don't know how to describe it, but it was freaky, and caused me to stop a few times to close my eyes and hope the sensation went away.
Reason #98. Because you’ve made “Why not me?” your mantra. Count yourself in.
Anyway, I somehow made it up Little Bald Knob, then Reddish Knob, and finally to the turn-around. Phew, half way down. Thank you, may I have another?
My watch read 12:06, so I knew that breaking 24-hours was out the window...and based on how I was moving, I wasn't confident that I could finish in under 25 hours either (which would mean finishing by headlamp). My heart sank.
Reason #23. Think of the entire wolf pack at every corner cheering you on...
The turn-around was the first chance to assess the race - see who was behind me and where they were. The 2nd place female was only 12 minutes back, and it was Megan, who finished 2nd here last year also. I felt extremely unstable with that slim a lead, considering how I felt. 3rd and 4th female were both within minutes behind her...I knew I was done right then and there.
Reason #63. You didn’t train to stop
Climbing back up to Reddish Knob on the return trip, my equilibrium started to wonk out again. I didn't know what was going on. At one point, I realized I had just woken up with my foot fall - I had fallen asleep while hiking! That freaked the heck out of me, and I did whatever I could to stay awake until the next aid station - I was slapping my cheeks, clapping my hands, singing out loud, whatever I could think of to stay awake.
Reason #38. Because every blister, bruise and scab is worth the bragging rights of saying you finished another 100-f'ing-miler.
At the Reddish Knob aid station, I sat down and told them what had just happened. They immediately sprang to action and got a cup of coffee in my hand. As I was mostly done, they refilled it and insisted I finish it off. The sky had started to lighten, the coffee kicked in, and I was ready to move again. Miraculously, I was still in the lead.
Reason #16. Beautiful scenery.
I enjoyed the next section, as I crossed paths with runners on their out-bound trip and got to wish them good luck (or give high fives to my friends along the way). The sun was rising, there was a light fog in the area and foliage in the trees - I was extremely tired, but this was just incredibly beautiful!
(Foliage on Little Bald Knob)
Reason #74. If you get lonely after 60+ miles, you can just hallucinate some friends on the trail.
After a LONG downhill, I was so excited to hear North River Gap - I would finally have company on this run! I got what I needed and headed out on the trail with Josh - and quickly recounted what he should know - "I feel completely trashed, I can't climb for sh*t right now, I fell asleep walking that last section, but I am somehow in the lead. I've never won a 100 miler before."
Josh simply said "ok, well you're going to win one today"
We hiked as hard as I could up to Longs Mountain, then cruised the downhill into Dowell's Draft. Josh focused on getting me to eat and keeping me in the lead - I felt like we were moving at a pace that I couldn't sustain for the entire 35 miles left. Swing your arms when you hike
Josh would tell me, and I would try to swing the hips and power walk like the pros.
Reason #62. Because you’re stronger than you think you are.
Dowell's Draft was the last large aid station, and Josh pulled my headlamp out of my drop bag. I was a bit heart broken, it was 18:45 on the race clock and he really thought that it would take me over 6 hours to do the last 22 miles?!? I flat-out refused to take the headlamp, as my stubborn side came out with a we're finishing before dark
Reason #64. Articles have been published about your greatness.
About a mile out of the aid station, a guy (and his pacer) came flying by me on the climb - when we asked him if he had any info on the next female back, he relayed that she had been entering the aid station when he was leaving. That meant she was only about 3 minutes back. I freaked out, and tried my darnedest to make my tired legs turn over and up the hill. I had never been in the lead this late in a 100 miler! Any time the trail leveled out, Josh would simply say run
and I would start chugging down the trail - I felt like the Little Engine That Could. He even had me running on some of the gradual uphills, spurring me on with the threat of finishing 2nd place. I ran with reckless abandon, knowing that this pace wasn't sustainable, but I just focused on getting up this one climb.
Reason #40. It's about time that a Clarkson grad actually did something, anything, exceptional
Reaching the top, I gratefully fell down the other side - enjoying the recovery that was bringing me closer to the finish line. In-and-out of the aid station, I was ready to tackle the last climb. I had it in my head that if I could crest the last climb (around mile 91) in the lead, I thought I could win. It was all downhill after that to the finish, and I felt great on the downhills! So, I focused on getting up this last climb. Every muscle in my body was 100% fatigued, but I still pushed. I couldn't talk, my conversation consisted of a series of grunts to Josh.
Reason #97. 100 miles? Honey badger don’t care.
Cresting Elliot's Knob, the last climb, I wanted to cry. It was the first time all day that I started to believe I could actually win this thing. I also glanced at my watch and realized that I might be able to break 24 hours after all! I told Josh I think I have it
, and he replied it's not over till you finish, we need to work hard the whole way
Reason #48. Because you've GOT this! You're going to kill it!
I hammered the downhill into the last aid station as best I could, spurred on by Josh reading our per-mile pace off his watch (9:50, 9:30). It was a downhill, but damn, I was excited to be cruising at sub-10s!
Reason #10. Your ability to stop listening to your head and instead run with your heart.
At the last aid station, 5 miles to go, Josh told me no more walking for the rest of the race
. I buckled down and pushed with everything I had. I did have to stop once when my shoe came untied, but Josh retied it for me, convinced that me bending over was a monumentally horrible idea at this point. Otherwise, I ran the last section, trying to leave it all out on the trail. We figured that the race would likely come down to a close (few minute) finish, unless I some how bust this race open - and we weren't confident that I had.
Reason #100. You're Amy Fucking Rusiecki
With 1 mile to go, I could hardly contain my emotions, but Josh said Amy, you're going to finish in under 23:40, I don't want to see a 4 in your finish number!
I glanced at my watch, and it read 23:30:58 - he thought I could run at 9 minute mile at this point?!? Then, he ran slightly ahead and bated me to follow him. I stretched out my sore, tight legs to try to catch up. We scrambled down the slippery downhill, over the river and dam outlet, and were on the grass covered dam. We could see the finish, I had 4 minutes to finish in under 23:40. I started to cry but tried to hold back the tears and run as fast as my legs would take me.
Reason #54. There’s more than enough room for two 100 mile champions in the Rusiecki house.
Josh tried to peel off before the finish line, but I insisted that he cross with me. He had been the exact pacer that I needed that day - as promised, he delivered me to the finish in 1st place and under 24 hours! He pushed me to my limit, and pulled an incredible performance out of me, he helped me run with my heart when my head was screaming to let up and relax. We crossed the line together in 23:38:50. (Yes folks, that's a sub-8 minute mile for the last mile - and with a river crossing scramble!)
(Team Rusiecki, Grindstone Champions!)
I quickly collapsed into the cot at the finish, waiting for Brian to make it over to see me. (Yes folks, he missed me finishing my race...again... He says I finished too fast.) I was completely overcome with emotions - I had finally won a 100 mile race, and won it on a course that I really love! Better yet, I got to share the victory with my husband. Almost immediately, Clark wanted to do the champions photo, so he handed each of us our trophy - I swear to you, I almost fell over. How cruel to hand someone a 10.5 pound trophy within minutes of finishing a 100 miler! I made Josh carry it over to the car for me.
Given the last minute permit struggles with this race - I really do want to thank Clark and his Eco-X team for putting on yet another amazing event. The Eco-X races are some of my favorites, but I was especially blown away with how seamless it was for us runners out on course, we got the same amazing level of support and same enthusiasm. As an RD, I can only imagine what a challenging week this was for him.