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Saturday, April 14, 2012 -- Danese, WV / Babcock State Park
The Gristmill Grinder (iPO Event Id#: 14002)

[Details] [Coverage] [Photos] [Overall Results] [Results by Class]

Coverage: [2005] [2006] [2007] [2008] [2009] [2010] [2011]

Story and photos by Don & Heather Parks.

Race Start
A record crowd gets the racing started
The Gristmill Grinder Trail Half Marathon at Babcock State Park was created in 2005 by race director Donnie Hudspeth. That first race was held in chilly, wet weather with just a little more than 50 participants making it to the starting line. But Hudspeth was not deterred, Babcock is a wonderful destination and his course through the park highlighted much of its beauty. The word was certainly going to get out.

Fast forward seven years and Hudspeth is trying to figure out how to handle the masses of runners who are converging on Babcock to take part in The Grinder. He's had to put a limit of 260 participants on the event. Mostly, he says, because parking at the venue has become a problem. It's really a "problem" he's happy to have.

And it's more than just a destination for trail runners looking to challenge themselves on the steep mountains and valleys of this rugged piece of Appalachia. It has become a gathering of racer families, volunteers, and spectators. Hudspeth joked before the race that he needed to set up a nursery during the race for all the children in attendance. That probably won't happen but he is seriously excited about the plans for a children's playground to be built at the site of the race start/finish.

Enjoying beautiful Babcock State Park
I was only coming to the race to take pictures but I, too, had the whole family in tow. My wife and I have both participated in the race in the past and we look forward to doing it again. But on this day my five-months pregnant wife, four-year-old son, one-year-old daughter, and I would just be enjoying the beauty of Babcock and the excitement of the competition. We were not disappointed with either.

The weather was mild and the cloudy skies kept the temperatures form rising out of the 50's during most of the race. Taking advantage of the nice conditions was last year's winner, Robert Smith, who quickly moved to the front and stayed there for the whole race. He finished in 1:27:22, the second fastest time in the history of the event (course record is 1:22:30 set by Joel Wolpert in 2007).

Also spending most of the race alone was second place finisher Zachary Beckett. His time of 1:30:16 was his personal best and this was the second time (also in 2010) that Beckett has finish as first runner-up.

Third place overall was where the real battle took place. Past winner Michael Bee looked strong in the first half but in the second half he started loosing ground to a group of four chasers. They would all pass Bee but it wouldn't be until the final two miles that they settled into their final finishing order.

Finish Line
Another happy finisher
Brian Menzies (1:36:12) led the group to the finish with Daniel McDowell (1:36:48) just over thirty seconds back. In just about another thirty seconds Bruce Miller crossed the line for fifth overall. And how about sixth place finisher TJ Hooks (1:38:37)? Pretty impressive for a young man of just 14!

The women also seemed to enjoy the agreeable race conditions as Stephanie Zorio (1:46:02) held off Audrey Larrimer (1:46:47) for the win. Their times were the second and third fastest female times in race history (women's course record is 1:40:46 set by Heather Parks in 2010). Kate Caldwell was no slacker, either, as she crossed the line for third in 1:48:57.

There were plenty of cheers for all the finishers but they got a bit louder when Nicholas Rader (2:47:00) crossed the line. He was the youngest finisher at just 11-years-old. At the other end of the spectrum was Vic Ware (3:23:32) who is still going the distance at 76-years-old.

Hopefully my family can make it back again next year and maybe some of us will actually be racers rather than spectators. My wife even suggested we do a little planning ahead and rent a cabin at the park for the weekend. Regardless, you'll need to do some planning if you want to take part as the race limit for next year has been set at 300 runners. It's a good bet that those 300 spots will be filled well before race day.