Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Promise Land 50k ++ 2014

The majority of the Richmond gang, Hurley rolled in a few seconds later
So that was it!  The last of the spring season for the Horton races and as much of a blast it was, its melancholy as I’ll have to wait till October for the same experience.  Before I write anything else, I have to say that no race can compete with a Horton/Zealand race.  The courses, race briefings, and fellow runners are unlike any you’ll find elsewhere.  Add on top the experience of camping out the night before and these are not just runs, they’re experiences.  Finally, my Master in Nursing is from Liberty, but was done primarily in Richmond so I actually get to connect with that community.
My third finish at Promise Land was probably the best experience of them all.  The first year was made “interesting” by ice rain and last year was rather rough on my constant running companion Emily due to some dehydration during the climb.  This year, however, the weather was looking quite fantastic on the forecast and I had a challenging 50k a couple weeks prior to get me ready.  Conditions were perfect for an excellent weekend.
I started the weekend Thursday morning after working the night before until seven am, plenty of time to make it to SeaTac for my flight at noon.  Unfortunately, I figured I could get a couple hours of sleep before heading on out, and of course I overslept.  Hopped in the car, drove swiftly, and was told I had missed my arrival window.  With a bit of talk, I was told I could board if I could make it, but couldn’t check my bag (which had my tent in it, gotta love carrying that around the airport).  So, I had my first race of the weekend, but made it to my flight and eventually ended up in Richmond around ten that evening.
The start of Camp Richmond...

I heart you REI tent

This whole place was covered in cars and

tents in just a few hours.
Friday we headed out around one for a more or less lovely drive, only spotted by a bit of rain here and there.  Since the drive had been so mundane, our GPS decided to mix things up a bit and sent us down Wheat's Valley Road from the back side, resulting in a few miles of single lane gravel road.  Regardless, we won the battle, and found ourselves at the Promise Land camp under beautiful clear blue skies.
Mrs. Egg Salad Sandwich herself, Martha Wright

Thanks for lending me your Thermarest Kyle!
After finding the rest of Camp Richmond (Martha, Mark, Kyle, Chris, and Billy, with Annie arriving shortly), we parked and set up the tent.  The weather remained perfect and the rain that was predicted never actually arrived.  As we finished Sean and Helen Cooper showed up and were able to camp out next to us.  Two of my favorite friends I’ve met through the Horton events as well as very wonderful people the both of them, Sean was hitting this up for his third time and Helen for her first time after recovering from an injury.
Eagerly anticipating Horton's race briefing

Horton addressing the "class"
With Camp Richmond set up, we began to fix our eyes on the pizza truck.  It was only five but we all simultaneously knew it was time for dinner and time for pizza.  Well, except Martha – egg salad sandwich, to each her own.  We checked in for the race, got our shirts, and ate a bit of food.  Tim, Brian, Loretta, Nigel (wait was Nigel there? Can’t remember, let’s just say he was), and Hurley showed up, along with plenty of Richmonders I’m sure I’ve forgotten by now.  The massive table of desserts was topped by Hurley’s balls: some sort of peanut butter something covered in chocolate.  Everyone who walked by had to comment excitedly about them; he should be plenty proud.
Finally came the show everyone came for: Horton’s pre-race briefing.  There’s something about the man that commands respect but puts people at relax right away.  It is no surprise to meet so many of his students and Liberty students in general there, simply because he’s an inspiration to any runner. People wear the “unique” nicknames he gives them as badges of honor (such as Bethany being “Fat Girl”), and the rest of us are ever so slightly jealous.  Most of his briefings go about the same way, he’s sitting on a table on top of a chair, goes down the list of rules that most of us already know from racing with him before, and all throughout he makes snide encouraging comments.  This year he was big on the phrase, “now earn it,” which is the same thing he told me when I asked to have last year’s LUS jacket as my award this year since DNFing at Masochist.
The college students were playing Frisbee and we were getting sleepy.
Eventually he finished his points and began the give away.  We all know the way Horton does this: about half the names he picks out may actually be random, otherwise he puts them back till he finds someone he knows or can point out and chooses them.  I know at least some of them were random because the man never remembers me but somehow I won an Ultraspire shirt.  Very convenient as it was my size and one of my favorite brands.  The unique thing he did this time was have a separate give away for first time ultra runners, which I thought was cool as it gave them a better chance to win and brought them closer into the community.  I even saw one of them running with an Ultraspire bottle he had won from Horton; he was whining non-stop but he was getting it done.
We visited the fire for all of five seconds. 
Though it was warm.
So, thus ended the Friday night festivities.  The college kids all hung around the bonfire, but most of the old farts like me ended up heading back to the tents as we needed to be up at four in the morning.  Still the rain held off, but the wind was coming in gusts so strong the tent was tempted to roll away.  Morning came, none of us had slept due to the constant wind, but we were all ready to get things underway!
Four AM, and most of us were waking up in a mad dash to make it to the restrooms before the official wake up call at 4:30.  I skipped the restroom as it only has two stalls and went straightway for the port-a-johns out back.  After a refreshing morning void, we went to check in, but unfortunately Emily had forgotten her number, a fact Horton did not forgive.  He bashed her a bit while we went back to make coffee/tea and her to get her number.  As the time drew closer to the 5:30 race start, my coffee began to do its job and I made my way back for round two at the port-a-johns.  The line was only about twenty people deep and we had all of thirteen minutes to make it through; no worries at all.  I got in and rocked out my business (well done bowels, well done), making it to meet back up at the start with about a minute to spare.
Emily's new Jetboil!

Waiting for the Jetboil to...boil...
Ahhhhh bagels.  Luckily, I'll be back across the country by the time this picture is posted, well out of the way of her fists.

Race Start!
Now came the actual fun, everything else had been precursor and well worth not reading.  We start out on a short bit of paved road, barely at an incline and are trotting along to warm up.  As we are starting, this is one of my favorite parts.  We generally start near the middle/back and get to see a good number of our friends as we all scoot around to find our pace.  In particular we found Hurley and hung around with him for a bit before moving on ahead.  Of course Mark, Martha, Tim, and Kyle were way up ahead, but we also didn’t see people like Major Chris, Billy, or Nigel until a while later.  As the paved road ends, the incline picks up slightly and we are running on gravel.  Going on further, the gravel gives way to rocky single-track at an inline that demands us weaklings to walk.  I’m sure there are plenty of people up ahead running all of this, but I know my ability, I know Emily’s, and we’re not about to blow all our energy at the beginning.
This looks familiar from Terrapin...

Let's goooo!

My one picture from the day

Run run run! So fast she's blurry!

This may have been Horton attempting to run us down.

I see you Hurley...

As we crested the first climb, we found the kindly Race Doc (sorry, can’t remember his name) and began some fun downhill running on soft grass.  Running on, the weather was about perfect and we were feeling great, we finally came upon Sean Cooper.  He was telling us how he was feeling ready for this race but he was feeling bad that he had forgotten about the initial few miles of climbing when describing the race to his wife (oops).  We talked back and forth for a bit before going on ahead.  Nigel was up there somewhere and we found him, chatted for a bit, and pulled ahead when he stepped off the trail to water the flowers.  Somehow he passed us eventually, but we never saw it, I still think he has some sort of British superpower.  He does this at about every race we run with him.

Mr. Sean Cooper himself.

Likely the last time we saw Nigel till the finish.
So, we run on for a while, a bit of up a bit of down, but mainly rolling.  Rolling on grassy trails with the sun coming up and the beautiful valley off to the side, things don’t get much better than this.  And really, we’ve rocked through the second aid station, grabbed some fresh fluids, and kept on going.  Eventually this rolling up and down (which feels great after the initial climb) ends, and we start to come in on the Blue Ridge Parkway.  Right now we’re nearing the half marathon point and I think that both of us are feeling pretty great.  In fact, this is how the majority of the run went: in control, feeling good, challenging ourselves but staying just below our max abilities so as to not blow out later on.

Eventually we came to Sunset Fields (or whatever its called, I can never remember the names) and were greeted by some of the friendliest volunteers ever.  No matter what race you run, you’ve got to appreciate the volunteers.  These poor bastards who often stand out in the cold for hours on end, attending to smelly and tired runners who are all looking for the most random things.  One guy was trying to sell us some Colorado spring water he had shipped in special for us, filtered on the spot and fresh.  I feel he may have been pulling our leg, but it tasted good.  On we went, going down!

As we headed down from Sunset Fields, we ignored the fact that eventually we would be going back up this after the Apple Orchard Falls climb.  For the time being, this is a fun and light downhill section that offered a stark change from the climbing of the past twelve miles or so.  We worked our way down to the Cornelius Creek Trail Junction aid station, which I think is around the lowest point of the course.  On the way there, Emily took a hard fall down onto her knees, but jumped right back up and started rolling along again.  As if to answer her fall, we were given a stream crossing that was thigh deep on me, so probably deeper on her.  Deep it may have been, the cool water felt so very good on our feet and joints.  Maybe we even stopped off for a swim, you’ll never know.

Anyway, at the bottom of the section we came upon Cornelius Creek, where we saw lots of people we knew were way faster than us.  For a split second, I even thought we were rocking out better than we were.  Of course, this was before I realized that they were on their second trip to this aid station and only our first.  Whatever, I go with my initial feelings.  Out from here is what Martha lovingly called, “A 5k in the middle of the course.”  About 2.5-3 miles on an easy down sloping road is usually pretty easy, but, trail runners hate road running.  It could be half a mile into the run, on a perfectly flat road, and you’d see people walking just because we hate road running.  We made a deal to finish this section off, gain some time, and not slow down, which worked out pretty well.  This is the same strategy I used for the power line section on Holiday Lake, and it works out pretty well.
BUT WAIT! This is where Horton says the race really starts!  And that may be true for those runners who are competing, the ones he’s really paying attention to.  But for the rest of us, THIS IS WHERE THE RACE REALLY STARTS.  Why?  Cause after the 5k road run and a short climb up a hill…popsicles.  POPSICLES! Last year they were rationing them out, this time they offered two at a time!  We graciously accepted a popsicle each, even though I hate popsicles.  Really I just wanted something cold because the day was starting to get warm.  So we cooled off for a second, and Emily got her groove back.  For the next four miles or so back to Cornelius Creek, she was on fire, running non stop and rolling through the miles to get it done.  I didn’t dare say anything lest I break her out of the zone.  Not even a few deep mud spots could stop her, she rolled right on through!  The woman is a machine, don’t mess with her!

No idea what happened to this picture...but it's kind of cool.

A very nice older gentleman actually got down on his knee to take our picture at the fall.

So we’re back to Cornelius Creek for round two.  Mile 25 or so, we know there’s only 5-10 miles to go (Remember, Horton race after all), and we’re excited.  Last year after this section Emily was running low due not drinking water and I had run out of my water halfway through.  This year I rationed a bit better and Emily was staying on top of her hydration.  We made our way up the mountain; even with its gorgeous views and lovely waterfalls, Emily was not a fan.  Maybe a hike without the 25 miles before it, but not in addition.  She really doesn’t care for climbing, but guess what?  Again she’s a machine.  Rocked right on through even when I was urging her to sit down for a second.  Her dedication just goes to show the dedication races like this bring our in all of us.  The Apple Orchard Falls trail is a beautiful hike and the views are amazing.  It adds a challenge to the course that the previous 25 miles don’t contain.  In fact, the general consensus is that the first 25 miles fly by, then the four miles or so of climbing simply drain you.  Regardless, we made it to the top, back to Sunset Fields.
Sunset fields round two.

On our way to the finish.

She was this happy the entire race, promise.

Fourteen miles to go!
At Sunset Fields we knew there were only four miles to go, and they were mostly downhill.  I had no appetite for any more food and only wanted to water to hydrate on the way down.  We started in on it with wobbly legs, constantly playing leapfrog with a gentleman who I never got his name but his yellow shirt said “Event Staff.”  Good running with you sir.  Anyways, we pulled through the last uphill and started in on the downhill back through rocky single-track.  Meeting up with Quattro for a bit, we chatted some how Horton hates group finishes; I considered getting a gang together but at some point we lost Quattro.  Don’t worry, he blasted past us shortly.  Emily’s legs were shot, she was going one speed, and I was more than happy to oblige.  Eventually we come up on the gravel road and the one mile to go. About fifteen miles or so later, we hit the paved road, saw the camp, and ran to the finish.  I’m assuming its his revenge to Emily for forgetting her number, he forgot her name and called her Kimberly.  Close enough.  We got our shorts and found Nigel posed upon the ground, apparently finishing about fifteen minutes ahead of us.

Well done Nigel

So proud of this lady.

As we regained our strength, I showered and met back up with our Richmonders.  The feeling all around was that this was a pretty amazing race and that the weather was the best in years.  Indeed, Terrapin may be my favorite course due to its beauty and the time of year, but Promise Land is pretty awesome and I would be more than happy to earn a ten time finisher shirt.
We tidied up camp, loaded up the car, and headed back to Richmond.  The lot of us were tired, sunburnt, and sore, but satisfied with our efforts.  Over the past three months, I’ve made three cross country plane rides in order to run in the LUS and the Beast.  I know that some of my friends would say its stupid to waste that money on a run, but what good is working and earning money if there isn’t something extraordinary to devote that to.  For me, the Beast series is a goal I’m going to finish at least once, and three thousand miles won’t stop me.  I honestly wish there were another Horton race before the fall, just because these events are the epitome of why I love trail running.  As far as Promise Land goes, I’m ready for next year and will start training now.  In the mean time, how about Grand Ridge 50K Trail Run next Saturday!?!?

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