Monday, April 28, 2014

Double Promise Land 2014

More Fun Than Anyone Should Be Allowed To Suffer Through

Why?

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.

-Todd
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