Monday, April 28, 2014

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!

Alexis
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