Promise Land 50k - 2016



Take me to the Promise Land. . . .in previous race reports I’ve set the stage by writing about the activities leading up to the actual race, i.e., what I ate, what I did, the drive, observations, etc.. This time I’m going to focus on the race and then if I have enough brain energy I’ll come back and fill in pre-race details. To deviate from that plan for a quick note: I’m tired; anyone who has talked w/ me in the last 10 days has heard me say that at least as many times. Since starting down this ultra-centric path in February with the ICY-8 (February 6) the longest time I’ve had to rest was the five weeks between Holiday Lake 50k (February 13) and Terrapin Mountain 50k (March 19). Terrapin trashed my hips and quads and then I did a number on my calf two weeks later doing hill work in preparation for Promise Land 50k (April 30). . . I thought I was royally screwed for Bull Run Run 50M (April 9). My calf miraculously ‘healed’ and I ran BRR like a champ. . . but I messed up my knee (really something else is out of alignment and it’s presenting itself in my knee). Heading into Promise Land my body was tired; I’d just run a hard 50k and a 50M [made hard by the mud] within the last 6 weeks. Like Chris told me on Friday, “you have a rest coming up so you may as well get your ass kicked!”  So sets the stage for Promise Land.

PL starts at 5:30 am – it was about 55 degrees w/ a light misty rain – it was difficult to motivate and get out of the tent at 4:00 am. Those temps, coupled w/ camping, makes it sound like it should be cold but it wasn’t - it was humid and almost tropic (at least that’s how it felt for me). Once you leave Promise Land Youth Camp you start climbing almost immediately with the first 4 miles a continuous, punishing climb. The first 2.6 miles is along a gravel road which gets progressively steeper – and then you turn onto a double-track horse trail (read: riprap and rocky). But there’s no time to pick over rocks and ensure solid footing – there’s a strict cutoff at Sunset Fields Aid Station (AS 3- mile 13.7) that you don’t want to miss. 
I’d lost Mike in the first 2 miles (he paced friends last year who missed the cutoff and he wasn't going to miss it again this year) so I was pushing up, up, up on my own – I had a bum knee and was overheating but I continued to push picking up bits and pieces of conversation from groups of runners who knew each other and were using conversation to distract them from the strenuous climb - there was no way I was going to let myself miss that cutoff – I’ve worked too hard for too long.  . As an outsider looking in, you don’t really comprehend why someone would be concerned about making a 3.5 hour cutoff for 13.7 miles – not until you realize that you’re covering almost 4,000 ft of elevation gain/loss. It’s punishing and it hurts. If you read any race reports on this race the authors will describe breathtaking views –(pfffft!) with the rain and fog we had none of that. [sidenote: this is the story of my life this year - went to Colorado Springs and never saw the mountains, ran Terrapin and never saw the views - Ran Promise Land and never saw the views.. .] What was lacking in the panoramic views was more than made up for in the mystical atmosphere created by the stark contrast of colors created by dampness, fog and electric green leaves –and wildflowers. . .there were wildflowers everywhere and it was gorgeous(!) At the first two aid stations (I’m not counting AS 1 – Mile 2.6 – they only had water and GU there), at the first two aid stations (AS 2 and AS 3) I took in PB&J, 2 cups of GU, 1 cup pickle juice (miracle drink - I was sweating and needed the salt) and pickles. I rolled into AS 3 at 8:32 – well ahead of the cutoff – now I could relax. I knew I had this one in the bag; my knee only slightly twinged (I’m guess when everything is tight and tired a little localized discomfort stops being noteworthy) but I still didn’t trust it on the single-track, technical, descent along Cornelieus Creek. Normally I love single-track, it’s where I come alive, but I was playing this one safe by not trashing my quads too early. 

A number of people passed me as they flew down the mountain- I wasn’t worried.  I was trusting my instincts and experience but more importantly, I was listening to my body which also meant that I was taking in the scenery - Cornelieus Creek is the most beautiful portion of the course and this is where I decided to pull out my camera. The aid station (AS 4) following this decent is technically the half-way point. It was at this aid station that I discovered the peanut butter rice crispy balls. OMG! Forget the PB&J – these densely packed, yummy balls of goodness were my new drug (as I was happy to discover them at each of the following aid stations - if you have the recipe, please send it to me!!). Coming out of AS 4 is a fairly easy, uneventful 2 mile descent down a fire road at which point you pick up a single track for another mile. I ran with a few ladies who were dealing with their own issues - bum knee, calf, hip, or were just plain tired. I put one foot in front of the other and hoped I was keeping a steady pace. After the two miles the single track gives way to a grassy fire road-type portion of the course. It was here that I picked up another runner that I would run w/leap frog with for much of the remainder of the course – he told me later that he’d hit a wall coming down the fire road, when I passed him he used me as motivation to keep trucking (as so many of us often do). I was pleasantly surprised by our conversation (he is an LU student, after all, and I inevitably have a tendency to hit some nerves with this particular group of people) which made the next few miles fly by.

Our next aid station was AS 5 I’d been hearing about AS 5 for a long time – they had ice cream! –it did not disappoint.  After getting some ice cream and filling my pack (for the first time all day) we were once again on our way. I don’t really remember the next 5-6 miles.  I was running and talking w/ my new companion – it was mostly grassy fire road and I remember running more than walking. Having someone to run and talk w/ definitely makes the time go by much quicker and the hills feel a bit less steep. Our next stop was aid station 6. Rolling into AS 6 you get a rare opportunity to see the runners ahead of you, albeit only about .25 miles (read: 2-3 minutes) ahead of you. I really thought that I’d see Mike so when I didn’t I was encouraged that he was having a good race.
At AS 6 they are very good about making sure that you have enough hydration and fuel for the climb ahead – the dreaded climb that I’d been hearing about all morning – the 3,000ft/3.5mile climb back up Cornelius Creek to Sunset Fields (the 13.7mile cutoff location). All morning I’d been hearing about this climb, with the stairs and the falls – I didn't know if I should be wary or excited. At first I was a little skeptical – the riprap trail gave way to single track and I was passing people left and right. If there’s one thing I’m discovering about myself in these long races it’s that I come alive somewhere between Mile 20 – 30. My brain doesn’t necessarily shut off but I do go on autopilot, I've settled into my pace and I allow my body to just do its thing. It was beautiful and it reminded me of hiking in Shenandoah – Cedar Run, White Oak Canyon or Old Rag. At first you start out with kind of mellow single track and then it gives way to the climb.  I’d lost my new friend behind a group on the single track coming out of AS 6 – he’d picked up a new group that would keep him moving and I was okay with that.

Overall, the climb wasn’t too bad once I’d made the connection to those other trails that I know and love – I stopped a few times along the way to take some photos and just before my phone died I was able to snap a photo of Apple Orchard Falls, a 150 ft tiered waterfall - the Forest Service has constructed wooden bridges with viewing platforms here, and have reinforced the nearby trail with several hundred wooden steps – the dreaded wooden steps. At this point I was wishing I’d not taken so many photos earlier in the hollow – we finally had some sun and a view! At this point you’re probably wondering why I’m talking about the scenery instead of how I was feeling.  Well, the best response is that I honestly wasn’t really feeling any different here from how I was feeling at AS 2. If there’s something I’ve learned from running ultras it’s that once you settle in, you settle in – you put your head down and you just go. [I'm sure there's a metaphor for life here - ] Coming out of the depths of Cornelius Creek you visit Sunset Fields aid station again (AS 7?). 
It was at AS 7 that my buddy Dave caught up with me. I'd seen him in passing as I was coming out of AS 6 and it was really good to hear his booming voice behind me and to see his smiling face.  I was standing at the table, Pringle in hand w/ a healthy dose of salt piled on top w/ a GU in my other hand.  They were out of a lot of items and well, I was swelling and needed salt.  It was the grossest delivery of salt – and I did it twice, nearly gagging the second time. [note to self: start carrying S-Caps]. On our way out of the aid station I grabbed a nutty buddy (dumb, dumb, dumb) and for the next several minutes Dave and I caught up as we flew across the Blue Ridge Parkway to our single track descent back to PLYC. About five minutes into the beautiful descent and conversation my stomach started it’s unwelcome, familiar grumbling . . .sigh. Shouldn’t have had that nutty buddy.  I made my apologies to Dave and pulled off the trail for a very quick pit stop.  At this point you come back to the initial horse trail that kicked your ass first thing in the morning except instead of picking your way up rip rap for 2 miles, you’re picking your way down rip rap for 2 miles. . .Now, raised Baptist, I stopped being a religious person years ago - just before exiting this trail I found myself breathing, “Dear God, please make it stop.” About 30 seconds later I caught glimpse of a truck making its way down the fire road. 
You’d think at this point I’d be home free. . the climbs are over, no more technical single track or rip rap to tear up my toes, ankles, knees, hips and traps (yes, traps).  Ha! Guess again – Remember that ‘in your face climb’? Maybe you don’t because it was dark and you had one thing on your mind – making the cutoff.  After coming off the horse trail I was relieved to be done w/ the rip rap but looking down that steep grade presented another set of challenges. I’m not sure of the exact grade but it’s definitely somewhere between ‘good lord’ and ‘f*ck’ – aren’t you glad you saved your quads for this?  I sure am. Again, those next 2.6 miles (which I incorrectly assumed to be 2 miles – doh!- Bull Run Run all over again.  Double Doh! ) were a blur of focusing on staying upright and counting.  Yes, I count – when all else fails and I just need to put my head down and ‘get r done’ I count.  I counted – 1, 2, 3….100; 1, 2, 3 .. . 100. Some time before I reached the red line indicating there’s only 1 mile to the finish the grade becomes manageable – you physically feel the tension release throughout your whole body – my hips opened up, my stride lengthened and, baby, I was flying. . . sigh. [Sidenote: 2016 will be my 10th MCM – I take pride and sprinting up the hill at Mile 26, laughing at the sick humor of the Marines. .. . . these races put that finish to shame. No disrespect intended, just plain fact] These ultras in the mountains. . .they're something else. Just when you think you can't take anymore, you’re presented with a new challenge- after assessing the situation, you put your body in motion and before you know it you’re executing a plan you didn’t even know you had. Forward progress.
Right about 0.40 miles until the finish - yes, I could actually see what appeared to be the finish and there were some people on the side of the road cheering – I got passed by another runner. As she was passing me she tells me over her shoulder, ‘man, you kept me going those last few miles.’  Well, damn(!) – I’m glad I helped but did you need to pass me right now?! Needless to say I had my strongest finish as I kicked it in gear and chased her ass to the finish line.  I never caught her but was pretty damn close.  Another one down [8:04] – time for a good long rest – well, after I run the Historic Half in two weeks. 
Inventory: 2 (definitely)/(possibly) 3 purple toe nails [I’m surprised I’ve held onto them this long], tender quads (but not nearly as bad as Terrapin), tender traps and delts (lots of upper body movement w/ this one), tight hips (again, not nearly as bad as after Terrapin) – hungry but not too bad.  Ori doesn’t seem to understand that he can’t sit on me, in my lap, or rest his head on my lap or legs – Overall, unscathed but grateful for a rainy, dreary day to spend guilt-free on the couch.





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