Monday, April 28, 2014

Double Promise Land 2014

More Fun Than Anyone Should Be Allowed To Suffer Through


I had a hard time deciding what to do about Promise Land 50K++ this year. Should I run it? Should I crew Alexis and our friends? Should I run it twice like the legendary Kevin Smith? I struggled with this decision all spring. Alexis encouraged me to sign up and run it, I think she thought that I wanted to. Either that or she just wanted to watch me suffer. Misery does love company.

I finally decided after a nasty bonk on one of the last training runs Horton does on the PL course that running fast was not for me. When we showed up that day Horton gave me a roll of streamers and told me to stay up front and mark the course. So, like the genius that I am, I took off running too fast and managed to stay in front of everyone (except Sam) for the first 20 miles of the 25 mile run. Then I died.

Since running fast wasn't something I felt confident doing, and Alexis didn't think that I would make adequate crew material, I decided to do the only smart thing and run a double Promise Land. It was the best/worst decision I could have made.

That Night

I figured since I was going to attempt something slightly more difficult than a regular 50K, then I should be well prepared and well rested. So I took off of work on Friday so that we could get to the camp before lunch, set up a tent, and get a few hours of sleep in before the race briefing started at 5ish. But things didn't work out that way. There were thunder storms off and on all day, and Alexis decided that she wasn't sleeping in a tent alone anyway so what was the point in setting it up in the first place. So....

We ended up getting to the Promise Land camp around 5 pm, and I ended up getting no nap at all, but sleep is over-rated anyways. We got to see and hang out with lots of our friends, both local and out of town runners. Everyone I talked to either thought that I was kidding about running the double, or that I was just stupid. Horton seemed to think that I wouldn't do it, or that I wouldn't be able to finish.

After the meal and the race briefing and the give-aways and the bon fire, and most everyone drifting away to their tents and cars for a good nights sleep, there was an awkward 2 hours of waiting around to start my run. I had decided that I wanted to finish my first loop no more than 10-20 minutes before the actual race started. This was the hardest part of my adventure to calculate. How much time was enough, but not too much, to run the entire Promise Land course by myself in the dark? I decided to leave the camp at 10 p.m.

I am a very, very lucky man, and I have a tremendous group of friends who waited around and supported me and tried not to make things too awkward. Except for the singing, that was just uncalled-for. There were about 20 people who waited around with me until 10 O'clock the night before their big race just to see me off on my misguided  journey into the dark mountains. Thank you all so very much, you really do mean a lot to me.

And so I set off to climb the mountain alone. At 10 p.m. sharp Horton said go and I trotted out of the camp at a good steady jog. I ran all the way to the big wooden squirrel, and then I began to hike aggressively. One of the last things Horton told me before I started was "walk fast." That man never ceases to amaze me with how spot-on he can be when you think he's just making fun of you.  I never once doubted that I could do it, but there were a few times that night that I doubted I would get back in time. But "walking fast" truly is my secret to success. 

My journey through the night was truly majestic and serene. The trail passed by beneath me very smoothly for the most part. I ran well, and walked even better. With a few exceptions it was very uneventful. I had a couple of interesting animal encounters, one or two horror movie scenarios, and a couple of inspiring soundtrack moments.

Animals. At about 4 miles into the course I believe I was "stalked" by two bobcats. I told myself that they were most likely just very large racoons, but after talking to Mike Mitchell after the race I think that they were bobcats. They stayed about ten yards off the trail to my left and followed me a little. It was kind of creepy, but I was still in a good solid mental place so it really didn't bother me much. My second animal encounter was at the top of the world, on the gravel road below the radar complex at the top of Apple Orchard Mountain a rabbit darted straight at me and I had to side step to avoid tripping on the little guy. No big deal. Until I see two sets of yellow eyes reflecting back at me, also moving straight towards me. Were these predators chasing that rabbit? Why were they coming at me and not running away from my light? I stopped dead in my tracks, and they kept coming slowly towards me. Unsettling? Yes a little bit. Then, just as I could make out the shapes of their heads, these two menacing monstrous deer turned to the side and strolled off into the woods. Shortly after that I did a one-man reenactment of the opening scene from An American Werewolf In London. Good times.

Soundtrack moments. Starting down the really technical and steep trail to Cornelius Creek my iPod shuffle pulled out the most fitting song it could: Wave of Mutilation by the Pixies. I kept envisioning Jake Reed finding my mangled corpse the next morning as I plummeted down that rocky trail. Afraid to go too slow because I may not have allowed myself enough time, and afraid to go too fast because I didn't want to slow Jake down as he tried to set a new course record. The next time my shuffle decided to help out was at the bottom of Apple Orchard Mountain. As I started the grueling climb back up to Sunset Fields the Clash's Straight to Hell Boys came on. And that is exactly where I felt like I was headed.

Almost to the top of that climb something happened to my left calf muscle. A cramp, or a muscle strain or a minor pulled muscle. It slowed my power-hike down to a hobble. I stopped and stretched and ate a GU. But it hurt to climb the rest of the night. Luckily the climbing was almost over. After cresting the mountain I rain slow and steady back down the five miles to the camp. The aid stations workers passed me as I neared the bottom of the mountain. Then I spotted runners out running their warm-ups. I passed Andrew Charon and he turned around and ran into the camp with me.

I finished up the night shift in 7 hours and 15 minutes. It was 5:15 a.m. I had 15 minuted to re-supply before heading back out with over 300 other runners. The night had gone perfectly. I was a happy runner.

The Day Shift

I checked in with Horton and grabbed my gear and tried to grab a bite or five to eat, and checked in with Alexis. But that 15 minutes passed faster than any other quarter of an hour that I can ever remember. The next thing I know I'm lined up at the front of the start line, with the fast guys, and Horton is yelling "GO!" 

So I went. As I ran out of the camp this time I noticed that things were feeling significantly different than they had the night before. Although my desire to run was noticeably lessened, I ran harder and farther than I had the previous night before finally breaking into a hike. My calf was killing me. It hurt to run and it hurt to hike. Pushing off with my left leg was nightmarishly painful. I was tired. I was hungry but couldn't eat. I was grumpy. And everyone was passing me.

At the first aid station I told the guy I needed water. I had never stopped at this aid station in previous years, but I had just emptied a bottle and a half in less than 3 miles. This kid points at the water jug, implying that I would get my own water, and then folds his arms across his chest. I thrust both of my bottles into his hands and commenced to opening a gel. He actually filled my bottle about half way, stopped, and asked how much water I wanted. I was in a pretty low place at this point and I have to admit that I wasn't very nice to this kid, and of that I am sorry. But it was a long way to aid station two and I was already regretting signing up for this race.

The climb to the Grassy Road, and the Grassy Road itself are kind of a painful blur where I wrestled with my demons and lost. I know that I was barely shuffling down the runnable slopes, hiking the flats, and crawling up the slightest inclines on my hands and knees. Everyone who passed me seemed exceptionally happy, and I instantly hated them, for that kind of behavior is simply inappropriate around the newly dead. I don't know how long it took me to cover the 6 miles to aid station 2, but it felt like 10 hours. I was ready to drop from the race at this point. I have never even considered that before in any other race, but for about 15 minutes I was DONE. My buddy Sam Price passed me smiling and tried to offer me food, as I grinded to a slow death. I had food. I had water. I had no will to live, I had no brains.

When I finally arrived at the aid station J.J. was there like a guardian angel. He fed me, and listened to me complain, and let me lean against the gate and eat and eat and eat. I was there for about 10 minutes, but it felt like hours worth of rest. I left with Tommy Cook, and we started climbing up the WhOR loop. Tommy got me started running, something I don't know if I would have done without him, and I continued to run most of the way up and out of that loop. Thank you Tommy and J.J. At that, the lowest point of my run, you two saved my life.

The run to the next aid station seemed quite a bit easier, and passing through Sunset Fields and seeing friendly familiar faces just lifted my spirits that much more. I fell into a good rhythm of the technical downhill to Cornelius Creek, and got the chance to run with a lot of different runners. I picked up Karl Miller and he stuck with me for a mile or more and that was just awesome. He was in a good mood and it lifted me up that much more. I caught back up with Sam on this down hill, and then started to find friends that I hadn't seen before. I may have made Blake mad as I splashed past him at a creek crossing, but I was finally finding my feet.

I got to the Cornelius Creek aid station, where my night-time saviors had left me a drop bag, and I commenced to socializing and eating like crazy. Cheyenne, Opal, and Madi set me up with a full meal and I sat down and took my time eating. Those girls were wonderful. The best aid station out there without a doubt. When I finished my brunch I got up and hit the road again.

On the way to Colon Hollow I passed most of the same people again, as they moved in and out the aid station faster than I did. I continued to feel better and better, and I caught up with Jordan Whitlock right before the aid station. He was nursing a sore hamstring that he got by running like a wild man at Boston six days before. We ran together for a little stretch, but he disappeared because he was having trouble running down hills.

I made it back to Cornelius Creek aid station feeling better than I had a right to, having covered the "forever section" of Promise Land faster than I ever had before. I caught up with Gina Gilbert starting up the falls and she said she was suffering from cramps. I offered her food and electrolytes but she said she was good so I moved on. 

I climbed the 3.4 miles from Cornelius Creek to Sunset Fields in 52 minutes, a personal best, and passed a lot of great runners on the way up. When I caught up with Dru Sexton, who is 62 years old and was on pace for about a 7 hour finish, I was motivated to push even harder. Dru you truly are an inspiration.

At sunset fields I refilled both bottles and took off with the goal of going under 7 hours. I ran harder than I thought I could, looking over my shoulder for Grattan Garbee to catch up with me on the downhill. I finished in 6:55.

Total running time of 14 hours and 10 minutes, with 15 minutes in between the runnings. 
Official Double Promise Land Time: 14 hours 25 minutes.

As much as I hate to admit it to David Horton, it was the hardest thing I have ever run. And yes, I would do it again.


2014 Promise Land Race Report (Alexis)

Promise Land 50K++

Bedford, Virginia

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Pre-Race Blah, Blah, Blah

A few days post Terrapin 50k I told the Wednesday group that I was bumping Promise Land to "A" race status, using Jamie Swyer's A race, B race, C race parameters. I don't recall if I told the group or not, but I was also going to train to the tune of attempting a sub 6 finish. I made a training plan, a four week plan of arbitrary numbers and a couple key workouts, and set about to training (what I believed to be) hard. I did the best that I could in the three week crunch you really get between Terrapin and Promise Land to train. The idea was to work hard so there would be no regrets in taper mode, but uncertainty and doubt still came looming. Sub 6 is "WHOA" time, could it be my time?

Add to the enjoyment of a good taper mental breakdown the fact that Todd, my spouse, was aiming to run the course back to back, starting at 10 pm the night before the race and I was good and frazzled by late Friday evening. I knew Todd would accomplish his goal, he's task driven and I really never had any doubt, but the thought of him alone in the dark (a feat I could never even entertain yet alone attempt) did disturb the idea of a good night's sleep in the van at the Promise Land camp.

The Race

Horton sounded the alarm at about 4:30 am. I dressed quickly and checked in. I went back to the van and made breakfast, one and a half sandwiches, peanut butter and strawberry preserves. Clifton came by to see if I was going to run a warm-up,an idea I always entertain but never accomplish, I asked him to give me 5 minutes. About 5 minutes later someone came by and opened up the van door and I realized it was Todd, back from his night run of the course in 7:15. He said it was harder than he figured it would be, but he also seemed jovial and ready to go for round two. He told me I needed something warmer and lended me his arm sleeves. Then he left and I didn't see him again before the start. I didn't make it out of the van in time for a warm-up, I walked over to the start and was trying to unravel my headphones when the race began. I am just never quite ready for the Promise Land 50k.

I started out way back in the pack away from friends so I went ahead and turned on music. It was dark and I had consciously decided not to wear a headlamp. I just settled in to getting that first climb out of the way, it is my least favorite part of the whole race, that first climb. I caught up with my running partner, Kevin Corell, and settled in to a pace that would be effective but would allow my legs to reserve enough to run the single track section that follows that is also uphill. Usually I am toast and have to walk a fair portion of that section. I tried to keep Jamie and Rachel Corrigan in my sights but once or twice I just couldn't match their stride, I remembered the torment that was the first climb last year and let it pass in stride, trying to be thankful that at least I wasn't injured. Dennis Coan caught us and ran with us. I could tell he had more for that climb in him but was perhaps nervous to pass Kevin and I.

At aid one my bottle was empty, I had to stop and fill it at a cooler and Jamie and Rachel ran on through. I had already broken a sweat on that first climb and emptied my bottle completely.  We made it to aid station one in about 36-7 minutes. However, I had saved enough for that next climbing section and ran it strong enough. I passed Jamie but this just became the tone for the day in which her and I leapfrogged each other at least a dozen times.

I was thankful to get to the grassy road, by opposite of that first climb, this is my favorite section of the course. It's rolling and runnable and Saturday offered the most astounding sunrise which made it all the more enjoyable. Kevin and I were implementing our plan of running it all but I was feeling the effort certainly sooner than I had planned or hoped. I had run this section strong in training, I had tapered, why did it feel like death? I was giving it a good effort and yet I didn't like that it was feeling like a real effort. We continued to leap frog Jamie and Dennis hung with us. We passed Gina looking strong but she said she thought she'd spent too much too early. We ended up walking one hill we didn't plan on and then the one near the end of this section that we had planned to hike.  In the out and back to aid station two Kevin gave us the time update, we were five minutes off of our 'splits' for a sub 6. I was feeling rough enough already and had a mountainous marathon still left to complete. The goal of sub 6 was looking rather unlikely. That realization wasn't a whole lot of fun to swallow.

On the first section of the White Oak Ridge, or whatever it is called, I ran along but I started to think about not hitting that sub 6, I really didn't think it was going to happen. We were running harder than I like to in the first half and we were still behind on our goals. I began to have a small pity party, I may be fast but I am not fast enough, I may be good but I am just not good enough. I started walking, I let Kevin and Dennis pull away, I wanted it to feel easier, I wanted to enjoy a moment and was beginning to really hate the day. I could hear Jamie and Bethany chatting behind me and I allowed myself to slow until they were beside me. I fell into their chatter and the effort was so much more maintainable. I looked down because there was a part of me that couldn't bear to watch Kevin pull away but I had to do it.

We crossed the parkway and for the moment the race had turned back up, we caught back up with Dennis on the downhill, we ran the downhill well but not too hard. I made it to Sunset Fields in about 2:31, only one minute faster than 2012, the year I first ran Promise Land and saw Kevin leaving just as I hit the sidewalk. With a brief stop to have my bottle filled I was off, I passed Anne Stanley and saw Siobhan Leonardis in front and just tried to keep her in my sights. I couldn't do it. I had to let her and Kevin further pull ahead. I just don't descend as well as I should. On the only uphill of this section I caught Kevin but only because he'd had a restroom break. We ran a little ways together and he seemed strong and in good spirits. I was OK but he managed to immediately pull ahead again. I chatted with Bill who made the amazing chocolate chip cookies and knew my friend Alissa Keith but I couldn't keep his pace either.

Coming into Cornelius Creek I was once again not enjoying much. Kevin was taking off before I even got to the tables and then Jamie and Bethany Patterson were off and running down the road with Horton hollering that the front ladies were only 10 minutes out. He didn't say anything about where we were place wise but I erroneously assumed top 10. As they ran off together I stood there at Cheyenne's well run aid station to get a nice cup of coke and have my bottle filled. Horton looked at me standing there but didn't say a word, I just shrugged my shoulders.

I left the aid station and knew I had to have a bathroom break after that descent but it's hard to get off and into any cover. I stopped once and realized as Brian Deibler passed by that wasn't enough cover. I stopped again another quarter mile down the road and was frustrated that it was taking more time than it should just to pee! I was finally off and running again on that slightly downhill road, the only real flat on the course, in past years I have really suffered on this section. This year in training I did tempo runs, I think I fared fairly well, it was about the only part of my training that I really felt paid off during the race, but I am also probably being a sulking baby.

Turning from the paved road onto the trail Siobhan called out from the woods as I passed. I was feeling kind of lousy and also kind of good. Mentally I was lousy, physically I was OK. I started hiking and ate another GU and thought about the day. I was in a funk because I wasn't going to hit sub 6. I decided that even if I wasn't hitting my goal I needed to enjoy the day, enjoy the opportunity to run and the break from the real world. Also, I remembered Horton's bulleted email, the race begins, he'd said, at Colon Hollow.

I caught up with Kevin, Jamie and Brian and told them I had had an epiphany, but being a manic runner my good mood may only be temporary. We got to Colon Hollow and I copied Brian and got a potato square rolled in salt and headed on. Jamie said good-bye but then passed by us a minute later looking very strong and I thought, she's turned the race on too! I turned music back on and ran as well as I could despite my tiring legs.

When we got to the gravel road we were still running strong but Jamie turned around and said "Three girls, right there, their yours, You've got this" or something to that extent. And literally just like that, with Jamie's confidence in me instead of any of my own, I ran up the road and passed by Bethany, Kathleen and another female. When I got to the little bump that takes you back to service road I saw another female so I just ran along until I caught her.  Then I ran into Joe. He wasn't having a fun time anymore, I told him I wasn't going to hit my goal either but I had decided I was still going to enjoy my day. He gave me a nice compliment and said he was inspired that I still had motivation when I knew I wouldn't make my goal. I told him to run with me and I started running again but a few minutes later when I turned the only person behind me was Kevin! I was happy to see him but we were both listening to music and we didn't talk much.

I passed another female, making 7 since I got on the dark side and I realized just how far back I must have been when I came into Cornelius Creek the first time. On the out and back to Cornelius Creek the second time we saw Mikala and Elizabeth Minnick. They both looked strong and had a good lead, I didn't think I would see either of them again. Kevin and I got to Cornelius Creek the second time in 4:30, 15 minutes off of our goal to hit sub 6, I figured we were looking at a 6:15 finish. With a full bottle and some Ritz Crackers I headed off up the falls. Peter Jetton passed by us, he must have been at the aid station perhaps when we were there and I tried to keep him in my sights but he was running much too well for me to keep up. I ran the flatter sections and was feeling OK when I noticed my vision was blurry.

At first I just thought maybe my eyes were watery and my contact effected. But I started to close my eyes for a second and open them back up and the blurriness only got more wavey like. In the past year I have had two Ocular Migraines that have begun much like this, where my vision gets affected and then a massive headache comes on where I have to go lie down in the dark for a while. It was scary because we were on fairly rocky ground. When this began on Saturday I went from race mode to complete worry mode. I started to wonder how bad the vision was going to get, if it was going to be dangerous to continue, if I was going to have a headache while running and how bad it was going to be. Kevin must have noticed I had slowed down because he asked if I was eating, I took out another GU but told him my vision was worrying me. He offered me Ibuprofen and I eagerly accepted. He immediately gave me his supply and I took two. I kept moving forward and hoped for the best. I figured the sun may have done it but I was a little overwhelmed that it had now happened during a run because the other two times have been at home.

Shortly after I took the dose of Ibuprofen I saw a pack ahead of us and tried not to let them get too far ahead. This shifting focus from my blurry vision back to the race was good as a few minutes later I noticed that the vision was getting better and then not long after it was cleared up and I had no resulting headache. I am so, so thankful to Kevin for saving my race if not my day that I ran away from him. Sorry, Kevin! I saw Beth Minnick just past the falls, and she told me her heel was bothering her. I don't hike incredibly well but for my usual ability I believe I hiked the last .9 of this section as well as I ever have. I was feeling strong, the number of miles left to cover decreasing readily. I saw Sam Lynch and he said I was close to the next few girls and that I was 5th he thought. Near the top I passed Peter with my sights on another female.

Coming into Sunset Fields I made the conscious decision not to look at my watch at all. I didn't think I would break 6 hours and I didn't want the time to drag me down. My water bottle was filled and I grabbed an orange slice before quickly leaving. Charlie Hesse asked if I had enough hydration, only having the one 20 oz. bottle I shrugged my shoulders and said I hoped so and would find out. I left the aid station taking 4th feeling like the woman I passed was right on my heels. I ran the next section hard, I stopped once to go to the bathroom and it felt like it took forever. But then I was off and running hard on the downhill single track section. I ran it thinking about what Frank and Todd had told me two weeks before, run like 6th female is chasing you. And boy, did I feel like they were. But I was feeling somewhat good considering. However, I was thirsty so I drank all 20 oz. before I ever hit Overstreet Falls. I was really, really hoping Horton would have at least left some water up there in gallons but no such luck. I could have stopped at the falls but I thought I would be OK.

I hit the road and thought "All you have to do is run this hard and you're done!" I was excited, I was almost done! The volunteers said 2.6 to the finish. Sure, in a 5k that sounds like a lot left but at Promise Land, you know you're in the home stretch. I turned it on! I wanted to finish strong! I burned up the first half mile or so, I wasn't wearing a watch but it was probably a beautiful sixish minute mile pace. Then I started to cramp up in both of my calves. I wanted to be like Frank and run through those cramps, be tough. So I kept pushing but landing on my heels to try and stretch the muscle. I opened a GU and took a bite but was worried because I had not a drop left in my bottle. Then the cramps turned to spasms and started to travel to my quads and I really did think "You're body is going to collapse beneath you!" So I stopped dead, stretched the calves until they stopped spasming and then started walking. My bottle was empty and I wanted that strong finish SO badly that I started to run again, but it was probably a much slower pace. A few minutes later more cramps, I had to stop again. I saw puddles on the ground and thought about drinking from them, but I honestly thought I couldn't kneel down that far and ever get back up. When I finally made it to the one mile sign I think I was probably running several minutes a mile slower than at the top. I wanted to pout and be a whiney baby about it but I was using all of my effort to keep moving forward. I was already mourning the what could have been and I hadn't even made it to the camp. By the time I finally made it to the squirrel I felt like I was crawling and I had one more bout of cramps. I thought I had drank well for the day emptying my bottle between every aid station, but all I had was water and one cup of coke at Cornelius Creek, I had fueled using mostly GU, but it just hadn't been enough. I was trying to race beyond my ability I suppose.

I crossed the finish in 6:05:59, that's a 24 min PR and I was 4th female (after apparently being 12th the first time through Cornelius Creek) but that finish took a lot out of me. That last descent was far more brutal than usual, and it's usually pretty brutal.

Post Race

I am still sore today (Monday) and my left calf is pretty tight. Moving downstairs is particularly entertaining. I wish I was a little more upbeat about my race, I am trying to focus on the positives, besides a PR I ran the section from Cornelius Creek back to Cornelius Creek 20 minutes faster than I have ever run it. I am happy with my PR, biggest PR I've had in a year or so actually, and Promise Land always seems to kick my tail. I at least really got to bask in the beauty that is the course this year. I actually forced myself to focus on it a couple of times! And as always I absolutely love the pre and post race festivities that take place at the camp, just hanging out with old friends and new. Dinner together afterwards. The swapping tales with Todd all evening long and then again through Sunday. I think Promise Land may actually be growing on me, I will probably find myself there again next year, still chasing that clock and the sub 6 finish!