Promise "Have Fun" Land 50K++ Race Report

Monday, April 29, 2013

I'm not exactly sure what you say to a runner when they head off to a race.  Good luck?  Apparently, saying "good luck" is bad luck just like in showbiz.  As an athlete and runner, no one wants to hear break a leg, especially after what happened to Kevin Ware in the NCAA tournament a few weeks ago so I suppose that is out too.  So what exactly do you say then?  I had roughly eight hours to think about just this scenario on Saturday during the Promise Land 50K...

I signed up for the Promise Land 50K on April 3rd, just twenty-four days before it was scheduled to start which seemed to be just enough time to get myself motivated to train but not enough time that I got burnt out 8 weeks into a 16 week training plan.  I debated for nearly a week whether I should sign-up or not, mainly because of self-doubt in my abilities to complete such a challenging race.  Ultimately, an email from one of the guys on the VT Ultra listserv convinced me to register, well...his email in addition to the looming price increase.

March and April Milage (Dark
blue indicates a 50 mile week).
Once I registered, with a such a short timeframe to train, I mapped out how I would prepare for the race.  My weekly mileage leading up to and after the Rock 'n' Roll Marathon in mid-March was around 25 miles (at best) but once I registered for Promise Land my weekly mileage increased significantly, as seen to the right where the dark blue bar indicates my peak mileage of 50 miles during the second week of April.  I made a conscious effort to train on the trails and really fell in love with running in Jefferson National Forest.  I now find myself dreading heading out for a road run.  My weekly mileages for April were 44, 50, 24, and 42 for weeks 1-4 respectively, with 34 of the 42 during the last week being the race itself.  Looking back, I would not cut down as significantly during the third week but it also does not include the Race To The Top stair climb "effort."  I made every effort to get out on group runs with the VT Ultra gang.  Unfortunately, the standing Tuesday evening group run conflicts with one my classes but I made it to several of the Thursday night outings in Pandapas.

One aspect of the race that was totally different from other runs I have participated in was the fact that the night prior to the race everyone camps at the race start, which consequently eliminates the morning of stress of driving in/missing the race start etc. or so should be the case.  This does mean that in addition to packing everything you would normally need for a race you also have to pack to camp which includes thinking ahead for breakfast the next morning.

Initially, I prepared my race day bag (what I planned on wearing, on the right) and a drop bag (left) but there were not drop bags for this race (and turns out I wouldn't have needed it anyways). 

On Friday morning, I laid everything out that I would need for camping that night and for the race on Saturday.  This is something I started when I was racing with the VT cycling team during my undergraduate and found it helps prevent forgetting something really important, not foolproof by any means but keeps things organized.

I left around 3 on Friday after packing a cooler with food for Saturday morning and brewing some coffee that I put in my Stanley thermos I received for Christmas (Thanks Mom!).  I made a couple stops on the way out of town including a bagel run at Panera as well as picking up a few Clif shot Bloks (which I forgot to put in my pack race morning...oops!) at RunAbout sports before finally getting on the road.  The drive was supposed to be rather short, around an hour and forty-five minutes but an accident on 81 added a good half hour to the trip.

The parking lot that was I-81 on Friday afternoon.

The countryside in this part of the state is absolutely gorgeous.

I arrived at the race location, Promise Land Youth Camp, in Bedford, VA a few minutes before six to an open field full of folks hanging out and some of whom were setting up camp.  I quickly found the registration table and received my bib and race T-Shirt, the real motivation for completing any race, and went about setting up camp while it was still light out.

I think I'm going to have to invest in a two person tent.  This one has worked but getting dressed in it is near impossible.

I had included $5 in my registration fee for pizza the night before and I have to admit was somewhat worried about having enough to eat but hoped for the best.  Lets just say...they knew what they were doing!  This was the sight as I pulled into the camp:

...and was there pizza.  SO much pizza.  A decision I would regret the next day.

Could not ask for a more beautiful location for a race.

The main pavilion where the race briefing took place.

Everyone was super friendly and inviting.  I think somewhere in the neighborhood of 100+ pizzas were eaten.

The Aid Station had nutrition and other "trail runner" stuff for sale.

The below photo I had to include.  A little after the first round of pizzas were devoured this MONSTER rolled into camp.  Now, I can't lie.  I was kinda jealous.  I mean, these folks were living in luxury at the race site.  But in a way...I'm glad I slept in a tent the way EVERYONE else camped; I think it's part of the experience...although had they invited me in because they had an extra bed I would have definitely said yes!

Trail racing "Luxury Style."

The community is SO different from the marathon crowd, it makes me wish all groups of runners shared the same sense of camaraderie and family, and also makes me consider why I really run marathons in the first place?  Ultras are where it's at!

A little before eight everyone gathered around for the pre-race briefing which involved the race director, David Horton, providing an informational while comedic rundown of the events the next morning.  Everything I read leading up to the race, including lots of race reports on blogs, emphasized how eccentric and fun Horton was.  He didn't disappoint.  Just listening to how he interacted with everyone during the race briefing and the following day at the finish, it's easy to see how he has created a community of ultrarunners that return year-after-year.

The race director - David Horton. 

By the time the briefing finished it was dark and the temperature had dropped a good 10 degrees.  There was a campfire for those who choose to stay up, no campfire songs here just a fun chance to mingle and hang out before heading to bed.  I turned in for bed sometime between 9 and 10 and did my best to fall asleep, although it was a bit like trying to fall asleep as a kid on Christmas eve.

My alarm went off at 4:05.  Why on earth do I do this again?  I was super proud of how easy it was to get dressed because I packed everything in my "race bag" including bandaids which I forgot at the Rock 'n' Roll marathon.  Well...finding everything to get dressed was easy, the actual act of getting dressed in a little tent was slightly more challenging.

As I mentioned above, I brewed coffee before leaving and put it a thermos that claims "to keep things hot/cold for 24hours" but it was really lukewarm by 4AM the next morning.  My breakfast consisted of a couple cups of coffee, greek yogurt, and had a bagel with peanut butter and banana.  Unforuntately, the entire idea of packing coffee was too...erm..."get things moving" and usually coffee is VERY effective.  Of course the one morning it needed to work...it didn't...until about 15 minutes before the race start when the lines were long and there was no way I would have made the start.  I decided to suck it up and figure it out as I went.

My goal going into the race, having only completed the 50K distance once before and knowing the race was actually 34 miles, was to HAVE FUN!!! When I ran the North Face 50K last June, I went into the race with a "hoping to complete it" attitude and had the most fun I've ever had running.  I just wanted to enjoy being able to run and that I am healthy enough and able to participated in such a cool event.  I have found that in races when things aren't going my way or when I'm not living up to my own expectations I begin this cycle of "coulda, shoulda, woulda" and lose sight of the entire reason I'm participating to begin with.  I decided to write myself a reminder so that every time I looked at my watch I'd remember the real reason I was running.  To HAVE FUN!!!


Remember.  Just.  HAVE.  FUN!!!

Around 5:20 I headed over to the start line and found a place near that back as my plan was to follow what everyone else was doing (i.e. if they were walking I was going to walk too).  The energy at the start line was pretty awesome and there is something totally badass about starting a race with headlamps on and running off into the darkness.



After a few words and a brief prayer, we started promptly at 5:30 and headed out of the camp and made a left on the gravel road which was the first climb of the day.  I tried to take photos on the first climb but the lack of light made them all come out blurry:

So I need to work on my nighttime running photo-skillz.

Remember.  Have Fun!!!

I can't exactly recall why I took the above photo, it may have been after reaching aid station two, but I wanted to remember that it was roughly 53 minutes to do 3.36 miles, a distance I would cover in roughly 20 minutes at the end of the race.

While I was hanging out on Friday, I introduced myself (again) to a guy, David "Sniper" Snipes, that I knew I had met before but couldn't place where we had met.  It bugged me all day Saturday.  We talked for awhile about how this was my first "real" 50K and he gave me some advice for the following day.  I saw him on Saturday morning near the start line and he invited me to "run" the start with him.  We wound up spending the first half of the day together until we reached the Colon Hollow aid station.  This is why ultras are awesome.  The sense of community and camaraderie is unequaled.  Sniper has completed 250 ultra marathons and Saturday was his 11th Promise Land.  Impressive.  He gave me lots of advice and let me know what to expect during different parts of the course.  It made the day much more enjoyable.  As a side note, I was right.  We had met.  At the Richmond Turkey Trot last November when I was dressed as a Turkey.  PS - Sniper, if you're reading this. You talk A LOT.  And I enjoyed it.

Just out for a morning jog.

Once we "reached the top" of the first climb, we turned onto a nice open grassy fire road just as the sun was coming up and it made for a picturesque morning jjog (the first j is silent).  It was on this grassy road that I had a good chuckle as I realized I left ALL of my shot Bloks I had stopped on the way out of town to pick up in the cooler in my car.  Whoops.  The first ten miles really went "pretty fast," as in seemed to go by quickly...not fast pace wise.

A shot of the group on the grassy fire road up to aid station two.

Sniper on the right.

Around mile 11, I decided I needed to "make a pit stop" which brought me back to my days of being a scout and camping and leave no trace.  I felt much better after.  I ran alone for awhile until I caught up with some folks and we chatted as we approached the Blue Ridge Parkway.  It made the time go by faster.  Eventually, I made it to the Blue ridge Parkway and crossed over onto a gravel road that paralleled the parkway for a little before hitting the third aid station, Sunset Field (mile 14ish), where I met back up with Sniper.  Sunset Field is actually an overlook along the Blue Ridge Parkway (milepost 79) and has an elevation of 3472' and one helluva' view!

I wasn't exactly sure what this was?  It was on the right shortly after we first crossed the Blue Ridge Parkway but I decided to take a photo just in case someone knew?

The gravel road that paralleled the parkway.  The guy on the right had a #RunForBoston bib on the back of his pack.  Awesome.

Coming into aid station 3, Sunset Field.

I wasn't too sure about the distances between aid stations and how much water I would need so I filled up at most.  I really would have been okay here to have grabbed a few snacks and headed on down the trail but I'll have that knowledge for next year.  Right after this aid station was a fun semi-technical descent that is exactly like what we have in Jefferson National.  I wanted to blast it but Sniper kept me within myself.  Thankfully.  There were still many, many miles to run.  Once we reached the bottom, we ran along a creek for a little bit before hitting the Cornelius Creek aid station at mile 18.  At most aid stations I grabbed a few potatoes, pretzels, saltines, banana, and the occasion quarter bologna or ham and cheese sandwich and ate as I ran.

I tried my best to stay with Kevin after we lost Sniper and kept him sight until we began the hike up Apple Orchard Falls.  He went on to finish ~9 minutes ahead of me.

The only pavement section of the race?  A short pavement section between Cornelius Creek aid station and turning onto a trail (not sure of the name).

One shot of me along N. Creek Road.

Once we turned off the pavement we hit some single track sections and a few small climbs before coming into Colon Hollow aid station.  The name says it all.  This aid station was talked about at the race briefing Friday evening, mainly because of the name and how the sign had been stolen but also because there would be ice cream sandwiches and ice-pops waiting for us.  They hit the spot.  Mine was green.  They must've looked at my outfit and decided it was appropriate.  We left Sniper at Colon Hollow and headed down the trail in what became a massive conga line until we reached Cornelius Creek for a second time.

...ugh.

A creek crossing right before we returned to the Cornelius Creek aid station for the second time.

This section for me was the worst of the day.  It just seemed to drag on and I was getting slightly bored but made small talk with a runner about my dads age and we talked about our silly hobby and the dangers involved.  My opinion is that if I were to die running, at least I would be doing something I loved when it happened.  It was dark.  I was glad to get to back to Cornelius Creek.

Nothing looked appetizing.  My stomach was furious.  I had been dreaming of burgers all day and had only given it strawberry-lemonade Nuun and Superbowl finger food.  I had to give it a stern talking to.  And three or four Tums.  Maybe more.  There was a short out and back to get to the aid station that we had to rerun after visiting the aid station.  I walked the entire thing while doing my best to keep down a quarter of a bologna sandwich and a few potatoes.  Everyone passing me gave me lots of encouragement.  It was the only time all day I was embarrassed to be walking.  I saw Jan sitting down at the aid station.  I asked him if he had already finished, I thought it was a reasonable question.  He said he was just sitting down because he "knew what was coming."  Dagger.

Trisha and Austin (Austin ironically was from Dallas).

After my shameful walk leaving Cornelius Creek aid station, I mustered up a trot and latched onto the back of a group of five or six runners.  It was slow moving.  Two runners from the Norfolk area, Trisha and Joe I think(?), were playing a game where they went through a category from A-Z and had to name something from the category that began with the letter.  I was crushing it.  The categories included famous people, breweries/distilleries, and body parts.  Anything to keep my mind off the task at hand which was cimbing Apple Orchard Falls.  There were stairs.  167 of them.  Or 173.  Either way,  they were not the 1,192 I climbed the previous weekend during the Duke Energy stair climb but I also hadn't just run 26+ miles before that.

Apple Orchard Falls.

Austin and Trisha admiring the falls.

The stairs.

The falls made the whole day worth it.  Gorgeous.  Then there were more stairs.  The last section of the climb before we hit Sunset Field aid station for the second time was the worst because you could see the people on the switchbacks WAY above you moving along like little ants.  I was so glad to be done with the climb.  The sun also decided to rear its' ugly head.  It got HOT.  I took three cups of coke and a couple cookies and walked across the parkway for the last time nearly losing the contents of my stomach for the second time of the day.  I didn't.  Small victories.  The coke was amazing.  I should have had some at Cornelius Creek but maybe the effect would not have been as significant for the final push in.  I knew it was "roughly" downhill after Sunset Field but once I hit fire road and the folks said it was three miles downhill I took off.  I was super proud of how I finished.  I did the last 2.8 miles in 19:16, with the last two miles at 6:25 and 6:15 respectively.  When I hit the gravel road at the top of the descent, I caught Jan who had been ahead of me, I put over 7 minutes on him in the last three miles and passed 10 other runners.  I felt good.


After crossing the finish line, I grabbed my AWESOME finisher prize.  Sweet Patagonia shorts with the race name on them.  Way better than any finisher medal.  I'll wear them with pride.

Sweet finisher shorts...in my size...a prize in-and-of-itself for finishing early enough that I was able to choose the size and color I wanted.

After the North Face Endurance Challenge last June, I tried to to prevent post race soreness by putting my legs in the ice bath but I couldn't handle it for more than a minute or two...probably less.  However, at the finish of the race was a creek that I would argue was probably pretty close in temperature, probably slightly warmer but still pretty chilly, that I took full advantage of!


I finished in 7:49:49.  I have to be happy with this.  I finished my second 50K and "ran" a new personal longest distance of 34.4 miles with over 7000' of elevation gain.  But I'm not happy.  I wanted to run it. I played it safe and finished but with how I finished I obviously had more in the tank.  I did gain valuable experience and had fun.  Most importantly, I had FUN!!!  My gorgeous fiancé was there at the finish and the entire VT Ultra gang was there to congratulate me.  An awesome experience.  I will be back.  Can't wait.

So after close to eight hours pondering what to say to a runner before they head off to race, I decided on Have Fun, because in the end your time is a number that will quickly be forgotten, but your attitude and how others remember you on that day, that will last.  Have Fun!!!

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