The Savannah Grit 175k was a very ambitious race project, no doubt. That we were able to pull it off was quite amazing! Then again, I had a great team working with me. Becky Walters as the Co-Race Director along with the Volunteer Dream Team, how could we go wrong? The Grit, as I refer to it for short, is a four stage three day stage running race. Each stage is in a different location around the greater Savannah area and almost entirely on trails. The distances for each stage varied greatly starting at a 100 kilometer run for the first stage and ending with a 1 mile run for stage 4.
The Grit is loosely based on the Tour de France model where runners compete in different terrains on different days and varying distances. The winners of the race are the runners (male and female) with the lowest cumulative time of all four stages combined. Runners are encouraged to sign up in teams of four but can register as solo runners. The male and female stage winners are awarded yellow running caps while runner ups are awarded blue running caps. There is a special pink running cap that is awarded to a male or female runner that wins every stage. The runner (male and female) and, team that has the lowest overall combined teammate’s times of all four stages wins the Grit.
The team that wins the Grit is awarded black running caps for each teammate. An interesting aspect to the Grit is that although runners in a team are competing as a team to win together under the team category they are also competing against each other. So, a runner from a team can be the one that not only contributes to his team for a win but may win the Grit overall as a solo runner. And, that happened in this year’s Grit with John Dailey finishing first overall male and his team winning the Grit in the team category.
This being a three day, four stage event the runners that complete every stage at the end of the Grit will each have run 109.74 miles and earn a pretty killer buckle. And, “earn” is the key word as the Grit is anything but easy. Even if you don’t win any stages nor hats, you still earn a badass buckle if you finish every stage! Earning this buckle is no joke! This year’s Grit had a 50% failure rate. This is a tough race! You have to work hard to finish the Grit.
In this inaugural Grit race there was one runner that finished every stage dead last but he earned a buckle by completing all four stages of the Grit in 38 hours, 46 minutes and 9 seconds. This runner, Mr. Glen Leckman, showed tremendous grit and resolve and, he was 64 years old at the time of the Grit.
The 2015 Grit took place in four different locations around the greater Savannah area.
- Stage 1: 100 kilometers took place on a 1.9 mile loop at the Whitemarsh Island Preserve.
- Stage 2: 50 kilometers took place on a 6.2ish+ loop at Tom Triplett Community Park in Pooler, Ga.
- Stage 3: 25 kilometers took place at the Roberd’s Dairy Farm in east Savannah/Thunderbolt.
- Stage 4: 1 mile run took place at the enchanting Wormsloe Historic Site.
Several times before the Grit took place I made the statement that I didn’t think anyone would ever get a pink hat, the most coveted hat of the Grit. Well, Mrs. Sara Maltby made me eat my words by winning every stage and being not just 1st female overall but by finishing the Grit in 21 hours, 27 minutes and 12 seconds, taking first place overall! The closest finish time to hers was 24 hours, 10 minutes and 5 seconds by the relentlessly forward moving, Mr. John Dailey.
I had the opportunity to run in the Grit (at least part of it) due to the tremendous help I received from Mrs. Becky Walters who assumed responsibility of the Grit on race day. I toed the line with the 30 other crazy Grit runners at Whitemarsh Island for stage 1 and at Tom Triplett Park for Stage 2. Becky Walters, an experienced ultra runner and Race Director proved herself indispensable. She ran a tight ship with intelligence, wit, calm demeanor and grace. The Grit would not have worked without Mrs. Walters.
Getting the permits and insurance liability for each location was tedious work. Nailing down locations for the Grit stages was tiring but we continued to push until we got everything we wanted for this race. I guess it’s safe to say this now that the race is over with but I did not have Whitemarsh Island Preserve and Tom Triplett Community Park nailed down until Wednesday, May 21st, just two days before the start of the Grit. There was a lot of bureaucracy, phone tag and unanswered emails to contend with until almost the last moment. Also, we almost changed the final stage location because there was no one to open the gates to Wormsloe at 7:00 am Monday morning as was scheduled. Changing the final stage location was going to be a tough call. To me, Wormsloe is critical to the Grit. I cannot see the Grit finishing anywhere else other than at Wormsloe. So, as the clock continued to tick well past 7:00 am some of our runners were beginning to get antsy and so was I! Becky approached me and quietly stated that we should perhaps seek a different location for the one mile sprint because it was now 7:30 with no sign of anyone to open the gates to Wormsloe. I looked at her disappointingly knowing that she was right. We could not continue to keep the runners waiting for the gates to open at Wormsloe. Reluctantly, I jumped in her truck and we drove a half mile up the road and marked a tree as the turn around for the 1 mile run, outside of Wormsloe. As Providence would have it, on our return to Wormsloe the gates were being opened! The Grit would finish where I wanted it to!
So, we gathered our runners and moved them one mile up the main entrance drive-thru at Wormsloe. At almost 8:00 am, we kicked off the final stage! And, what I expected to be a nice leisurely ceremonial one mile run down the surreal tree draped road through Wormsloe turned into an outright race to the finish with Mr. Caleb Steedley breaking away from the pack and bringing it home in 6 minutes flat!
The Grit was full of surprises. For an inaugural 3 day stage race (or I should say, 2.1 days) we had more runners than I expected. I thought, if lucky, we’ll have 20 runners. We had 35 registered runners start the Grit. Thirty of those were registered for the full Grit. That was a huge commitment from our runners and I did not want to disappoint them.
The Grit turned out to be more difficult than I had anticipated. Breaking up 109.74 miles over 2.1 days seemed a gentle way of getting runners to log a lot of miles but I learned quickly that there is no gentle way of logging 100+ miles in a weekend. It’s tough work…as it should be. We would not be ultra runners if the distances we went after were easy and, with no struggle. Ultra running is about a struggle…and, overcoming the struggle, both mentally and physically. In the ultra world, earning a buckle is a big deal. It should not come easy. And, the Grit was anything but easy.
The Grit had it’s moments of great distress, disillusionment, disappointment and a heavy dose of harsh reality…but it also had it’s moments of great fun and camaraderie. There is a point in every challenge we take on where we have to get very real with ourselves and be brutally honest. At some point, any of us that take on great challenges have to ask ourselves along a lonely dusty path, should I continue? It’s not an easy question to ask. The answer can be heart-wrenching. The consequences of that answer will weigh heavily upon us possibly for a very long time. Half of the Grit runners faced that dilemma. I, faced that dilemma. After proudly finishing the first stage of the Grit, I called it quits during the second stage after logging 13 miles. Doing the math, I realized that I was not going to finish the 50k stage in time for the third stage. I might add that the stage 3 course was not yet marked. So, with great disappointment, I threw in the towel and rushed to the Roberd’s Dairy farm to mark the stage 3 course. It’s not the end of the world but it was disappointing nevertheless. For others it was worse…for one reason they traveled a great distance to come to Savannah for this race. No one likes to travel from afar and then not succeed in fulfilling their goal. It’s a tough pill to swallow. But as a friend of mine commented to me upon my failure to finish the Coastal Georgia Greenway 155 last April…”we choose to do difficult shit. We are bound to fail from time to time.” That’s true in my case. I am the king of failure…it sucks but, it’s true.
The volunteers at the Savannah Grit were the cream of the crop, the icing on the cake! They were the shiz! There are many aspects to what makes a race good but the overall success of a race In my view, rests squarely on the shoulders of volunteers. The volunteers are the front line of every race. A selfless, cheerful volunteer can make such an incredible impact on a runner. They can be the one that makes the difference in that runner’s world. I know this because I have experienced this. At the Grit, the volunteers went beyond all my expectations and delivered in a way that I am just astounded! I can honestly say that they took care of me as I ran lap after lap on the first day of the Grit. Every time I finished a loop a smiling and uplifting volunteer would take my water bottle and refill it with either water or gatorade, would ask how I’m doing, if I needed anything and cheered me on. After I was out of the Grit as a runner I witnessed first hand how these volunteers went the extra mile and then, went another mile with our runners. I was truly moved and inspired!
These are the names of the volunteers that made the difference at the Grit! They are awesome in every possible way! I am so grateful to each of them. I am so touched by their selflessness and commitment to each runner at the Grit. Each of these fine folks are the cream of the crop and I will always be indebted to each of them. I sincerely thank each of you for being awesome and wonderful! You guys rock! David Dowling, Michelle Vail, Paul Frasioli, Brian Luckett, Kelly Luckett, Jennifer Canady, Richelle Southwick, Jennifer Smith, Beverly English, Tasha Asselin, Verity Owens, Jo Owens, Pamela Howe. They went beyond all my expectations. I sincerely thank each of you! You all made the difference.
My gratitude also extends to the Grit’s two very excellent sponsors, Josh Sprague of Orange Mud and Vincent Antunez of Trail Toes! They were both very supportive of this race. Both of these sponsors have been with me for several races and I want to whole-heartedly thank them for their amazing support for Run 4 a Reason events. I know that our runners certainly appreciated the Orange Mud and Trail Toes products provided at the Grit! In the process, I hope we have given your respective companies the exposure and promotion you deserve for such great products both produce!
The Grit is coming back in 2016…point in fact, registration is already open for it! Next year’s race will follow the same format – 4 stages, 3 days (or 2.1 days, however you want to look at it). The running locations apart from the Wormsloe mile will be different than the 2015 race. The lowest cumulative time of every stage wins the Grit (solo and team). The mileage for next year’s race will be 107.5 miles. Moving forward, the Grit’s official name is the “Savannah Grit Stage Race”. I’ve dropped the 175k because the Grit will vary in distance from 100 to 112 miles, from year to year.
So far, the locations for next year’s Grit are…
- stage 1: 50 miles. Location: Skidaway State Park on a 6.2 mile loop.
- stage 2: 25.5 miles at the McQueen’s Island trail, 12.79 mile out and back.
- stage 3: 31 miles. Location: tbd
- stage 4: 1 mile at Wormsloe Historic Site
Next year’s buckle is being modified to reflect the year of the race and a machete clenched in the tentacles of the Kraken in honor of a 2015 Grit veteran.
We will also be introducing a point system for the Grit next year. This may seem a little complicated and confusing but it’s not, I assure you. The point system being introduced will be for those that finish stages at certain time frames. The person with the most points wins a jacket with the Grit logo on it. So, aside from winning every stage and getting a pink hat for that feat you will have the opportunity to push yourself even harder and if you get the most points you’ll have a nice trail jacket to accompany that pink hat, or yellow hat or, blue hat, yada, yada, yada.
Check out the Savannah Grit race site for a detailed explanation on the features for the 2016 race.
I sincerely thank all of the people that were a part of the Grit in all capacities! You guys helped usher in a new tough race to Savannah! I hope some or all of you will be a part of the 2016 Grit!
I wish you all the very best.