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<p id="user_yui_3_3_0_7_1303169836555121">To start with a little background, I am no stranger to trail running as I grew up with a state park of 3-4 miles of trails in my backyard.  I very rarely have raced on the trails though.  Last year I was in great shape and had a 5k cancelled because of lightning so I took off to Pennsylvania to do a 15k trail race.   I got into the town very late, sleeping in my car, and waking up to a parking ticket on the windshield.  I then got lost twice during the race, tore my plantar fascia and swore off trail races forever.</p>
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<p id="user_yui_3_3_0_7_1303169836555133">I had seen the Gristmill Grinder when I was going through the race calendar about a month ago and it looked like a great race, but I had to talk myself into it after last years adventure.  I had already run a 15k, 10 mile, 5k and 10k races and I didn't feel like racing another 5k right now.  I finally made the decision earlier this week to go.  With the crappy weather we have had all year, it was no surprise the forecast kept getting worse as the week went on.  I took off friday afternoon for the 5+ hour drive through southern Ohio and the hills of West Virginia.   I got to the Babcock State Park around 8 pm and drove through the park to see where the start was.  After that, I headed into the local town to eat at one of the races sponsors, Pies and Pints.  I had to pass on the pints but did have a very good sandwich.  I headed over to the local Wal-Mart to find a place to park the Hyundai Hotel.  As I mentioned before, the weather was a concern and it became more so when I woke up a couple times and the wind was rocking the car.  I was also raining pretty steadily all night so I knew the trails wouldn't be dry. </p>
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<p id="user_yui_3_3_0_7_1303169836555135">I got to the park just as they were setting up registration so I waited a few minutes (still deciding whether to bag the race because of the weather) .  I finally decided I better register since I drove over 5 hours so I got my shirt and race number and got back in the car to get carbed up for the race which started in a couple hours.  The wind wasn't as bad as earlier but it was raining pretty hard off and on.  I ate a couple cinnamon rolls and passed the time reading and listening to music.  I only wanted to warm up about a mile so I didn't need to do that until about 9:35 since the race director was going to go over the race info at 9:45.  I ran about a half mile in my sweats and really felt like crap.  I took my sweat pants off and did another half mile and felt a little better since it was 20 seconds faster.  I decided it was warm enough to run in shorts and a long sleeve compression shirt. </p>
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<p id="user_yui_3_3_0_7_1303169836555137">After a couple strides I lined up in the second row as we waited for the countdown to start.  The race started and within a few seconds a young girl took a fall on the pavement beside me.  The first .4 miles was on the road before we turned onto single track trail.  After a couple minutes, I was getting passed like I was standing still by about 40 runners including the girl who had fallen.  I was just about ready to ask everybody if the knew it was a half marathon!!  The first 3 miles of the race were mostly downhill and I wanted to ease into the race so I kept the pace about what I would do for a normal training run.  I passed a handfull of runners on this section but also got passed by a couple other guys who had also started conservatively.  After crossing a couple small streams and going over a couple short bridges, we came out of the woods to pass the Gristmill for the first time about 3 miles into the race.  We then ran on the road a bit as we went downhill even more.  It was now raining pretty hard during this section but wasn't as bad when we turned back into the woods for some more single track.  This portion took us mainly uphill for the next 3 miles and I was able to get by a few more runners.  We came out of the woods for another short road section that started level and then went almost straight downhill for about a half mile.  I had just passed 3 runners on the flat part but they passed me back on the downhill section.  When we turned back into the woods, it was more of a fire road but was so wet and muddy everybody had to run on the one drier side.  I was now right behind 4 other runners which is not where you want to be racing on trails.  Not being able to see what is up ahead can be treacherous as well as wasting a lot of energy.  The problem with running right on the edge of a trail is the overhanging trees.  After I got hit in the face the third time by one of these, I knew it was time to extricate myself from that situation, so I took off on a sprint as fast as I could and passed all four runners at once.  I looked at my watch and this was about 57 minutes into the race.  I could now see where I was going and was surprised to see a guy ahead of me that had passed me about 5 miles before.  He had run the race the year before and had run a very good time.  I later learned he has been injured so his fitness wasn't as good as last year.  I was starting to catch him when we got to a very technical portion of the trail.  (by technical, I mean life threatening<span><img alt="smile.gif" src="" style="width:16px;height:16px;"></span>)  The original portion of the trail had been shut off and rerouted down about 10 ft, across, and then back up 10 ft.  The only problem was that it was all rock which was also very slippery from the rain.  I got through this section and then about a minute later, had to do another almost identical portion.  I must have been a little better than the guy I was chasing as I nearly caught him but he took off and gapped me a little.  We were now running downhill and by trying to catch him, we were catching a couple other runners.  By this time we were about 9 miles into the race and this is where the fun started.  We did a 180° turn and it was all uphill from there on!!</p>
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<p id="user_yui_3_3_0_7_1303169836555138">The grade started out about 2% so it was pretty gradual.  I worked the pace and soon caught 2 runners.  I soon passed the guy I had almost caught earlier.  The trail turned to asphalt as we were now running up the road by cabins and heading back to the gristmill.  The incline got a little steeper and when we finally passed the gristmill, we started up the main park road that was extremely steep.  This hill sucked the wind out of you and by this time, I had no idea where the rest of the race went.  I forgot we were going to run a loop around a lake.  After we got up the steep part of the hill, we turned into the woods and was looking straight up at even more climb on rocky single track.  These sections are the great equalizer as there were 4 runners making their way up (walking) when I started.   I was still running and got by a couple of them but by now the only thing burning more than my quads were my lungs as I was sucking in as much air as I could.  I walked a couple strides before blowing by the other two runners hoping the top of the hill would come before I passed out.  Once I got to the top though, I was rewarded with about a mile of fairly flat trail as we wound our way around a lake.  About half way around, I took my first wrong turn of the race but it only cost me a few seconds as I immediately knew I was off trail.  Just as I turned around, another runner was coming and we both say the ribbon at the same time telling us which way to go.  I ran behind him and could tell he was pushing the pace.  I figured he knew we were getting close to the finish.  We left the woods for the final time and had to run up the park road for about 3/4 mile uphill gaining about 200 ft elevation.  The guy I was running behind slowly pulled away from me as I was really getting tired.  I finally made it to the finish line in 1:40:58 getting 7th overall and first in my age group. (40-49)  getting a nice mug for my effort.</p>
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<p id="user_yui_3_3_0_7_1303169836555147">This race was just the opposite of the last one I did.  It was well marked, had great competition, and was a blast to run.  The only thing I was wary of was the amount of rock on the course.  I only fell a couple of times slipping on leaves or mud and didn't have an injury until bruising my toe on a root about 10 minutes from the finish.  I may even look for a few more of these to run in the future.</p>
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