Once she entered it in her calendar, it became an iron-clad commitment to herself. On Nov. 7 Tory Grieves ’12 would run her longest ultramarathon yet on a trail of renowned difficulty: a 62-mile stretch between two mountains not far from Asheville, N.C.
Part of the Mountain-to-Sea Trail, the route, known as “Pitchell,” runs between Mount Pisgah and Mount Mitchell with an elevation gain of some 14,000 feet, most of which occurs in the second half of the run. Grieves was doing the race as a solo race against the clock, although her runner friends would be with her in various capacities for the duration.
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The pandemic had quashed the races in which Grieves had hoped to compete in 2020, and she was looking for a way to motivate herself as a runner and to push ahead with her goal eventually to run a 100-mile race. Pitchell was an interim challenge she could attempt despite COVID-19. Her goal was to set “the fastest known time” for a woman to complete the run, a victory that would be tracked on the Fastest Known Time website.
She did it, overcoming the extreme nausea she developed during the run. Grieves ran the Pitchell route in 14 hours, 52 minutes, and 19 seconds, beating by 12 minutes the previous women’s record. She considers that her greatest athletic achievement since her Hamilton days on the cross country and track teams.
Grieves, who has a master’s of business administration and master’s of environmental management through a joint program at Yale, is vice president of analytics at The Climate Service, a start-up based in Durham, N.C. She took up long distance road running post Hamilton, while living in New York City, then discovered trail running as a Princeton in Asia Fellow in Kathmandu, Nepal, working in environmental conservation.
“While I was in Nepal, I ran my first ultramarathon, a 50K race in the foothills, around the Kathmandu Valley, of the Himalayas, and it was just as tough as it sounds,” she said. “They call those foothills, but here they would definitely be mountains. We're talking like 12,000 feet. And it was just so much fun that I got absolutely hooked on trail running from then on.”
Post Pitchelll, she’s been taking a bit of a breather.
“I'm back up and running, but just doing easy runs and haven't thought too much about my next big goal because there's so much energy and thought that went into doing the Pitchell run, that I've been enjoying having a little more space to play my violin and do other things,” she said.
She’s scheduled to do a 50-mile race in May that she was supposed to run a year earlier; she’s hoping it won’t be canceled again. “And then I am ultimately working towards running a 100-mile trail race, hopefully in 2021,” she said.