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Farm to Feet

A First Timer’s 100 Mile Ultra – The 2016 Grindstone 100

A First Timer’s 100 Mile Ultra – The 2016 Grindstone 100

Deadspin once coined ultrarunning as the “funniest sport in the world,” due to the odd effects it has on the body and mind.

Ultrarunning certainly attracts a certain type of person – Some may say Insane masochists? In reality the field of runners consists of a wide range of personalities, backgrounds, and occupations – doctors, teachers, house wives, mechanics, liberals, conservatives, introverts, extroverts, etc.  However, they all do have one thing in common: The desire to overcome challenges.

Almost every ultra runner will agree that the concept of running 100 miles, or even 50, at one time in their life seemed ridiculous.  But that’s the thing about challenges.  The bigger and crazier the challenge the more fulfilling the accomplishment.

We couldn’t agree more.  Creating a 100% American supply chain was no easy task and we are constantly challenging ourselves to improve our designs and create the most innovative socks.  I guess that is in part why we have such an affinity for ultras.  Along with sponsoring the Badwater events, Vermont 100, and the Grindstone 100, this year we’re also sponsoring the inaugural Blue Ridge Double Marathon.

Last year, our ambassador Raelynn Zappulla completed her first 100-mile ultra at the Grindstone 100. The Philadelphia based athlete however didn’t enter without a little trepidation.

“As we stood listening to the countdown, I couldn't believe what I was about to do,” said Zappulla. “I knew tackling a hundred in my first year of ultra running would be quite the challenge and the Grindstone itself is one of the toughest hundreds on the East coast.”

Raelynn was prepared.  She ran a 50 miler earlier in the year and surrounded herself with a great support team.  Her best friend Teasha acted as her crew chief, taking care of and anticipating all her needs, and Rebeccca Barber and Farm to Feet global ambassador Simon Donato paced her.

“Running ultras is damn hard and can even border on painful, but it’s one of the most rewarding experiences I’ve ever had,” said Donato, who has raced in over 100 long distance endurance events

The Grindstone is known for its grueling climbs, especially at at miles 6 and 37, but for Raelynn the elements were just as challenging as the course.

“It had started to rain Friday morning,” said Zappulla. “People watching the weather told us it would let up on Saturday afternoon. It didn't.”

The Grindstone started at 6:30pm on Friday and racers had 38 hours to complete the course.  Raelynn battled the weather, her fear of the dark, and the rise and falls of the Shenandoah Valley hour after hour.

“No matter how tough things got, how much pain I was in (a lot) and how tired I was. I never wanted to quit,” said Zappulla.  “I often told [my team], no matter what happens, to not let me quit. It just wasn't an option for me.”

When Donato paces friends he always makes certain that everyone’s goals are aligned and asks them, barring injury, if they want to finish at all costs?
Simon Donato Pacing Raelynn
  “At the 95 mile mark she was floating dangerously close to the time cut-off, so I told her that we needed to run the next 1.5 miles,” said Donato. “’I can’t run,’ she replied and I told her ‘Yes you can, you just don’t want to.’ 

“Your legs are totally blown out after 95 miles into a race, at which point your brain directs your body to take you to a ‘comfortable’ place where life doesn’t hurt as much.  But make no mistake, you still have the ability to dig deeper.”

“I wanted to be done,” said Zappulla. “I hiked as fast as I could until I started recognizing places I had seen on Friday. Friday... that's ridiculous. I started heading down the gravel road and I knew with two more turns I'd see the finish line. I'd finally get to sit down, take my shoes off, and sleep.”

Raelynn slowly transitioned from hiking to running and climbed up the last hill and across the finish line where she was greeted by her team and hugged the totem pole she’d been thinking about for the past 100 miles.

She had found that last bit of extra energy and crossed the line in 37 hours, 46 minutes and 10 seconds.  She was a Grindstone finisher. 

“This race was insanely difficult, but finishing it proved to me that I can accomplish anything I work hard for,” said Zappulla.  “It was an incredible weekend, one of the best experiences of my life and I can't wait to go through it all again.”

This year’s Grindstone 100 takes place over the weekend of October 6.  If you think you are up for the challenge, registration for the field of 300 runners opened on April 1.  And be sure to let us know how it goes.

Raelynn Crossing Finish Line
Raelynn Zappulla - Grindstone 100 Finisher
Hugging the Totem Pole