Promise Land 50k++
Big Island, VA
Saturday, April 27th, 2013
If you were in contact with me Friday evening at the Promise Land camp I would have liked to think I appeared calm and collected, I was trying hard to pull off calm, I realize collected is a stretch when you're missing so many marbles. Kathie told me Saturday after the race that she was a nervous wreck hoping to find serenity in my smiles and jokes of which she swore I was absent during the race briefing the night before. Truth is there was an ominous feeling surrounding the race for me.
I've been treating a calf calamity since late February and just when I think I've made it through the injury it comes back with a vengeance, snickering and finger pointing. Monday, because I'm in such a need of reassurance, I went out for a flat not-quite-tempo pace run. Hoping to run four miles in under 32 minutes I thought I performed a sufficient warm-up and embarked on my workout. To my dismay my calf started in before the first mile marker. I thought I could just run through, give it added attention by way of rolling and stretching later. At two miles the pain had forced me to stop, after a few minutes massage I headed back to my car, frustrated and crushed.
I immediately headed over to The Aid Station to seek the advice and support of either Jake or Jeremy. I realized a few seconds too late that I shouldn't be there, shouldn't be troubling them with my petty problems. They tried to be helpful and they were certainly friendly but I was embarrassed that I had come to them and just wanted to disappear. Standing there, a pest to their afternoon, I was fighting back tears, please don't cry, get out, quick, go. I managed to hold it together but for the rest of the week I did little running, even skipped a few planned workouts, and lost the interest to even be stressed about this race. Usually I make a huge deal of race week, but my frustration with the calf had drained me to new levels.
There's easily 40,000 words and enough to be said about Friday evening and early Saturday morning to fill its own post, but I'll sum it up by saying that there is something very special and unique that takes place at the Promise Land camp each year come late April.
The hour before the race was busy with PB&J consumption and bag balm application and the race itself began before I was truly ready. I was still standing under the pavilion fixing my hat as runners began pulling out of the camp. I started my simple stopwatch feature on my watch at least a few seconds after the race had begun, but I wasn't sure exactly how late.
I had spent some time during the week convincing myself that it was, as my friend Chelsie had told me before Masochist last fall, just a long run in the mountains with friends, but I couldn't completely wrap my head around that, I want to feel better and run strong again. Leaving the camp I was very focused on running easy and warming the calf up nice and slowly, hoping that would be enough to keep it happy. Last year I'd run all the way to the 'End Road Maintenance' sign before having to walk, this year, I didn't make it half a mile. And for some reason the walk break just seemed to make the calf even more angry. I tried to alternate between walking and jogging but the tightening started to get intense about two miles into the race.
So little miss basket-case did exactly what some may expect of her at this point, she fell apart. I've experienced the desire to quit races before. I've wanted to donate my running shoes and pick up juggling or collecting postmarks but never this early in the race, never before the first aid station. It caught me so off-guard, this mental debacle, and all the negative swarmed me so quickly I couldn't throw up any kind of defense. Here I am, in the dark, climbing slow and painfully to the first aid station and I decide that I actually hate running. I even took it as far to assume that someone at the aid station would drive me back to the camp, because even if it was all downhill back to the car I was that through with running.
In full disclosure the resulting struggle was so nasty that I thought I might have a personality disorder, these thoughts were moving through me far faster than I was making it up that first climb, "Horton is right, you're too weak mentally to do this," (He never actually said that, but it hurt me all the same) "Why do you think you can do this? You're not going to Western States, you won't finish. Who do you think you are? Let's just quit." But then there was the side trying to get us to stay in this thing, cheering us on, "It's a long race, you can come back, hold on, hold on, it doesn't always get worse. Your calf will loosen up, you will run again. It isn't over, you still have more than a 50k to run. Deep down you are a strong runner. Just keep moving forward. Remember: 'Tree to tree'." Some days I really don't know why I run ultras, to be alone with myself and my thoughts for all that time can be a real struggle.
I made it to the first aid station three minutes slower than last year, and went past without even stopping, I didn't trust myself to get too close to the table or the volunteers. I was with Tommy and Wade but I don't even think I spoke to them I was in such a bad place I was afraid any words I spoke would be venomous. I hiked a lot of this next section, it's hard to say if my calf was even still really tight or if the race was currently lost to my being a complete headcase. When I came across Chelsie directing people in the woods she told me I was in twenty something place for females, honestly she'd lost count, and Todd was eight minutes ahead already. You can make it up in the grassy section my optimistic side cheered. Unfortunately for Team Optimism, I was passed by another half dozen or so runners in the grassy section, the section that I usually look forward to the most.
Then, as if things couldn't get worse, I became nauseated. This was also a first for me, I had to slow and dreaded taking my second GU. When the time came to fuel I was seriously worried that consuming the GU would send my nausea over the edge, but I forced it down and waited for any repercussions. Unfortunately, the nausea remained but I didn't lose my GU. I felt like Alexander in that book about the terrible day, I considered moving to Australia. I kept looking at my watch hoping that it wasn't time to refuel yet as I couldn't shake the feeling that I was going to throw-up.
I decided that I should ask for cola at the next aid station and just began focusing on making it to there. I saw Blake and Kevin up ahead but I just couldn't convince myself to pick up the pace with the nausea. The aid station was sort of a mess when I finally arrived, there were a lot of runners at the aid station when I got there but I had to wait a long time for someone to fill up my bottle and they didn't have any soda out so I had to find the cola and a cup and the aid station was empty other than volunteers when I finally left. Turns out there had been some trouble with this aid station finding their location, but I was even more frustrated with the whole day when I left the aid station. I was running on empty. I had hoped in the previous miles that if I could catch up with and keep up with Kevin and Blake that I could take my mind off of all the mental collapsing and nausea but I was having a hard time just simply running at all yet alone trying to catch up with them.
And then, shortly after entering the White Oak Ridge trail I happened upon Lauren Brown. Lauren is a great runner that I met through the Mountain Junkies races, she is strong and competitive and in some ways she reminds me of me. I was surprised to see her. Turns out she was also suffering from stomach upset. We were both hiking, remembering this section more pleasantly from Terrapin, exchanging our day's dose of woes. But the few minutes of conversation with Lauren did two huge things for my day. One, it awarded me that reprieve from myself that I needed to take my mind off of the rough start and nausea but more importantly it was the tangible proof that even strong runners have bad days.
For the first time all day I began to feel just the slightest ounce of strength, I left Lauren hoping sincerely that she would feel better and hoping to finally move forward with my day. I still hiked more than I felt like I should but I came across Kevin and then Blake and again these quick conversations were a gift. Shortly after passing Blake I realized we were about to cross the parkway. Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zero's came on the Ipod, 'That's What's Up' and the song including the lyrics "While I was feeling such a wreck, I thought of losing my mind' also helped me along. I saw Kelly Reece and Tim Spaulding up ahead and set my sights on them. Again, these brief conversations were the highlights of this half of the race.
I ran to Sunset Fields better than I had all day but being careful not to run too hard. I met a man training for Wasatch and then came upon Blanks out taking pictures who said we were near Sunset Fields. Tim Perry was there to offer me some aid and I was very thankful, though I may not have showered him with the appreciation I should have, it had been a long morning up until this point. I arrived to Sunset Fields about fifteen to twenty minutes slower than last year. Jared Hesse was there and I confided in him that I'd expected calf trouble but not the nausea, he encouraged me to keep drinking and eating on schedule despite the stomach trouble. I drank more cola and headed off for more descending.
I was only a few hundred yards in when I turned to see Phil Layman behind me, I didn't remember passing him and even considered him a possible hallucination on my part when he didn't come barreling past me in the following miles. It was here that I finally started to actually do some running. I passed a few groups of people and remembered chasing Todd last year through this very section, as his jersey disappeared from sight. I caught sight of Kathie up ahead once or twice but wasn't gaining on her despite my increased pace. I ran a little harder in the hopes of catching up with her. Then my left ankle turned to jelly on a rock when I was paying more attention to up ahead and not down in front through a rocky spot. I fell down for a moment, legs going in two different directions, water bottle in another. Don't get cocky, you'll catch her or you won't. The first few steps back on my feet I was anxious that I may have twisted the ankle but it appeared fine, just a momentary lapse of bone and tendon in that leg I suppose.
I navigated the creek crossings trying to focus on keeping a good pace over staying dry and I caught and passed a few more runners. Then through a technical section I caught Kathie, she told me she'd been waiting for me to chase her down ever since she'd seen me as she ran into the White Oak section. We continued to run hard and talk and then I noticed Andrew Charron up ahead. Oh yes, I whispered aloud to Kathie with no further explanation and picked up the pace just a tad bit more. Closing in on Andrew but without him even turning back to see me he said "Oh nooooo" to which I responded "YES!" And just like that a chase, a mini race, began. It was awesome, I loved all forty eight seconds of it. We came into the aid station giving high fives and joking that we were done, Andrew had just won the race. We had made the aid station in 3:22, ten minutes slower than last year. Doubling the time I realized that I wouldn't run a PR unless I ran very strong on the dark side. I grabbed more cola as my water bottle was being filled and was headed out when I saw Horton sitting in a seat with a clipboard. "So am I still 25th female?" I asked. "No, you're 15th or 16th" he answered. In a surprisingly good mood having just encountered Andrew I joked "Good only five more to track down" and away I ran. In no way did I think I would actually get into the Top 10. I was just so thankful to be somewhat enjoying myself, it is after all a long day to not find yourself enjoying even a moment.
I dislike this section, truth be told I've only run it a few times, but it just confirms my weaknesses as I struggle to maintain a decent pace on flat, easily navigable terrain. Kathie pulled ahead quickly and I envied her strength and speed. I settled into a pace that would suffice and realized that now I was having stomach troubles of a different kind, the find yourself a tree quickly kind. Andrew and Clifton Williams caught back up and we ran together but just briefly. Up ahead Kathie slowed and then we were together in a big group and I was really starting to eye every tree stump and patch of brush. Kathie said she needed a pit-stop when I finally confided in her that I needed to stop and we stopped quickly. Fortunately, the stop didn't kill too much time and we were off and running within a few minutes. I was very happy when we saw the markings for the turn into the woods a few minutes later.
Last year it was in this following section that Todd and I fell apart. I knew if I was to have any hope whatsoever of pulling the day back together I would have to run stronger through here. Kathie and I caught another female here but Andrew and Clifton pulled away. We ran with just a few walk breaks but somewhere just before the Colon Hollow aid station Kathie started to drop off. The guy ahead and I joked that it was so cruel to place this aid station at the top of such a hill this far into the race but we walked anyways, heads hung low.
I turned down the offer of ice cream and just drank a small cup of soda as my water bottle was filled. I was surprised how quickly I'd made it to this aid station and knew that the next aid station would be further than it would ever seem possible. In this next section I came across Clark Zealand running the opposite way of the race as well as a few other runners, including Andrew. I saw Randy on the road climb and he asked about Lauren and told me that Courtney was only a few hundred yards ahead of me. I was feeling better but knowing that Courtney was up ahead helped me keep up the strong pace. I saw Mike Donahue along this section and he was in a very uplifting mood even though I don't think he was running quite as well as he had hoped. At some point we were back on a grassy section and I saw Courtney.
Courtney had taken a tumble on the descent to Cornelius Creek and was bleeding. She joked that she was a klutz with a blood phobia, she seemed in pretty good spirits despite her tumble but her shirt looked as though she'd lost a fight. We hiked a ways together and I would have loved to traverse the woods longer with her but I was seriously beginning to think I could still pull a PR out of my hat if I kept up my new found race.
I started to do all sorts of mathematical equations and distances from aid stations to see if I could still pull out a PR and somewhat save the day and caught up with another group of runners just as we made it to the single-track, muddy trail that completes the loop back to Cornelius creek. And once again there was Blanks taking pictures as we crossed the poor bridge and headed to the aid station.
Headed into Cornelius creek on the out and back I was surprised to see Zach Quigg and Kristen Chang, two people who should always be much further ahead of me at this point in a race. A further reminder that even strong runners have bad days. At the aid station I was confused for a volunteer and filled up a water bottle of a runner coming down from Sunset Fields before I could begin the hike up the falls. I came into the aid station at 4:50, two minutes faster than last year. I had made up some time on the loop and was hopeful that I could climb better than last year up the falls.
I started up the falls and ran more than I ran last year in this section. I passed Kristen here, she had been suffering all day with stomach trouble and I felt really bad for her. I ran some more and caught up with the group ahead of me that included Rick Gray, Marlin Yoder and Laura Duffy. I felt okay physically but I just couldn't seem to go any faster, it was a little discouraging. I was running more than I recall running last year but wasn't really making any better time. At the falls we saw Blanks again, he ran a little ways up the trail with us taking our picture, and we joked that we had our own personal photographer. Despite feeling better I realized as we crossed back over the road we'd taken down to Cornelius creek the first time that I wasn't going to make it much faster than last year. I wondered if a PR would be at all possible but pushed ahead regardless.
My water bottle was empty and I was beginning to feel that particular tightness in my calves that signifies cramps coming on so I took two Endurolytes even though I didn't have water and hoped for the best. I absolutely love my Mountain Hardware vest, I carried everything, probably an exceeding surplus for the day, but it was lightweight and more than sufficient to carry everything for a 50k without a crew, however I probably should have carried another water bottle. Exiting the woods I found I was having a bit of a hard time walking straight. At the aid station I filled my water bottle and drank some Mountain Dew.
|Photo Courtesy Blanks Blankenship|
Looking down at my watch I realized it was 5:48, I'd climbed the falls just barely faster than last year. A tad discouraged I ran on in hopes of still fighting for a sub 6:30 finish even though my hopes were mostly dashed at this point. I ran until just past the little clearing where it becomes a hill. I should have run this hill but I also felt like I should take one last break as once I started to run again it would all be downhill and hard downhill at that.
This next part is very simple. I was vested enough at this point that I really, really, really wanted something positive out of this day. That something was a PR, and a sub 6:30 PR if at all possible. And so I ran hard, and prayed that my calves would hold up. I have a tendency towards cramps when I try to push hard at the end of a race. When I got to the last aid station I had nineteen minutes to run in a sub 6:30, again I didn't feel overly hopeful but I had to give it my all. At the end road maintenance sign I had fifteen minutes. I saw a guy up ahead and set the short-term goal of chasing him down. Fortunately, my legs were holding up but then I saw the bridge and glanced at my watch. I wasn't going to make 6:30. I thought about backing off the pace, but I told myself that even if I wasn't going to break 6:30 I should still give it everything to try and break that time even if I fell short. I saw the squirrel at the driveway,then Dylan Perry, then the entrance to the camp.
When I could finally see the clock I unexpectedly could still break 6:30, so I ran a little bit harder. They have me down as 6:29:48, I'll take it. I ran across the finish line as Horton delivered even more surprising news, I had squeaked into the overall Top 10 female finishers. I had assumed that I was further back but tenth spot in addition to just barely scraping together a sub 6:30 was, I won't lie, very nice.
|Great Group of People. Photo Courtesy Joyce Perry|
The finish line was full of congratulations and that was nice but I was not overall very happy about my day, just happy for it to be over really. I was most proud of pulling through and a strong finish but there at the finish I was silently vowing never to run Promise Land again. But then as I began to compile my thoughts over the rest of the weekend for this report I kept being reminded of many things that I truly enjoyed: pitching the tent with Sam and Dennis, Wade's surprise Cherry Coke Zero, my favorite food group-pizza, the bonfire, the Gonzalez camper tour, Kelly's pre-race squeeze, talking before the race with Jamie, Lauren, Courtney, Dacia, and countless others, the dip in the creek afterwards, the sprint race with Andrew, Tim's help, Joyce's cheering, seeing out of towners like our fellow Mountain Junkies and Mike Donahue, meeting baby Roberts, Blanks all over the course taking pictures, Phil's granola, Tommy's trick to get me to wait for his burger, Sam stealing my Life Saver's and giving them to the kids, running back for Wade with Andrew and seeing Marshall out there with him, even Jeremy's little quip that I'm "Little Miss Efficiency", there was so much more to this weekend then the run. And I decided that if I have to run through the collective suffering of a 34 mile race to get the rest of the experience than I guess that's what I'll do...besides I'd like to think there's an even faster time at the Promise Land somewhere in me.
|Top Ten Patagonia bag, race shirt and finisher's shorts.|