Monday, April 25, 2011

Celebrating Spring at Promise Land 50K+

Apple Orchard Falls

David Horton's Promise Land 50K+ is a rite of spring for many of us in the mid-Atlantic region. Held on the third Saturday in April, it is usually rainy, sometimes cool, often humid, but always beautiful. The waterfalls of Cornelius Creek along the brown ribbon of single track offer peaceful sounds as we trot by, culminating with the breathtaking Apple Orchard Falls at mile 27. No wonder many ultrarunners consider this the most beautiful 50K of the year.

Cornelius Creek Trail

Promise Land was 50K number three on the Lynchburg Ultra Series calendar. It came four weeks after Terrapin Mountain 50K and ten weeks after Holiday Lake 50K. Of the three races in the LUS, it is the most difficult. It has over 8,000 feet of climb in 33-ish Horton miles, and the weather is always unpredictable---usually hard rain Friday night followed by clearing skies and warmer temps on Saturday (that is the pattern I have encountered in all five years I have run the race). This year was no different, and I was a *wee* bit concerned about the "heat" that was predicted---temps in the 60s+ is heat for me. In preparation, I did a bit of heat training in the weeks preceding the race, but basically I adjusted my time goals, ramped up my hydration and electrolyte intake, and embraced what the day and the trail gave me.

I was very excited about this year's PL---I had not been there since 2008, and was looking forward to camping out with Bill, Dan, Gentry, Jack, Marlin, and the rest of the IMTR crew. Bill brought his awesome camper, a tent, chairs and a grill and we were good to go by 4:30 pm on Friday. We sat back and watched folks roll in, shared stories about recent races (Bill had just run Boston on Monday), and sandbagged about our fitness and race goals. We also befriended a local beagle, whom we named Jack. He was a shivering, wet little guy when we rescued him from the hazards of the big bad world; after a night of eating burgers, dogs, and sleeping under the warmth of my towel, he wandered off to find his next meal.

Race morning arrived and, true to form, it was raining. I was secretly happy because I run best in cold rain...but it stopped just before 5:30 am and we were off in dry weather. Darn! I started in the back and found myself totally overdressed by mile 1, so I wasted time on the climb taking off layers. Before I knew it, we were popping out onto the Glenwood Horse Trail, which is also part of Hellgate 100K. Woop! I always get good karma on the Hellgate course and it felt great running in the cool foggy weather. I chatted with Gary, Kerry, and Rebekah as we climbed up to the Blue Ridge Parkway, and felt good coming down into Sunset Fields to all the cheers and hoots!

Running into Sunset Fields with Rebekah Trittipoe

My race plan was simple: stay slow and easy in the early hours just in case the sun popped out later and baked me. And that's exactly what happened. As I descended the lovely Cornelius Creek Trail, I felt great but needed to hold back for the dreaded Colon Hollow section---the undoing of many PL runners. I passed Jenny here and felt badly for her---she was battling a cold and having trouble breathing--but knew she would tough it out with her great attitude (and she did!). I felt strong on the road section to the White Tail trail, and then it was time to drop the hammer. Here I passed about 20 people on the Colon Hollow climbs as the sun started to show. I kept drinking and popped an S cap each hour, and had no cramping issues at all. Woop!

At one point I came upon three young LU girls and a dude---they were power hiking this hilly section, so I joined them. The guy turned around and I saw it was Andrew Thompson, aka "AT"...and the current speed record holder for the AT! Cool. KEWL! Of course I am a total ultra geek so I chatted up Andrew on his AT experience, but the most-est cool part was talking Barkley, which he finished in 2009. Andrew wrote the most mesmerizing and well-written Barkley report I have ever read the year he failed to finish five loops, in 2005. I remember reading it and really went insane at If you haven't read it, take the time to do it.

Being a total ultra geek with Andrew Thompson at the finish

After talking dogs, jobs, and the problems with teens today, Andrew and I started to move past the LU chicas and powered into the AS at a good clip. As we climbed up Apple Orchard Falls, I ran as much as I could, but it was time to split off once I started power hiking. Andrew took off up the mountain and I climbed the falls with a big train of people behind me, making me really work it. I love this climb and tried to do it in 50 minutes, but I was feeling the heat and was sweating buckets by the top. I saw my buddy Bob Clouston from the Charlottesville Area Trail Runners and he was ringing the cowbell---thanks, Bob!

Finally at the top of the climb and ready to roll down to the finish!

The last five miles of Promise Land I usually feel crappy---sore quads, low energy, bonky---but this year I felt awesome. I was hoping that my conservative start would give me enough energy to catch up with the folks in my "race zip code"--typically Rick Gray, Marc Griffin, Marlin Yoder, Beth Minnick---but it was too late to catch them on the last downhill. I got to the final AS at 6:24 and hammered the last three miles in under 22 minutes for a 6:46 slowest PL ever, but feeling the strongest ever at the finish, and first female masters...I'll take it!

The look on my face says it all: feeling great and happy to be done!

The post-run was a celebration of our ultra community. Horton was there to greet and congratulate each finisher, Clark handed over the nice schwag (Patagonia shorts) and I got a nice Patagucci Ipad bag as well for the masters win. The picnic lunch, cooked by Nancy Horton and her friends, was delicious as usual and we had a great time watching the finishers and sharing stories from the trail. I met some new friends in Andrew, Jamie, Cheryl, and Danny, and got a chance to hang out with the usual suspects as well. It was a great day in the mountains.

Promise Land finish with Headforemost Mountain in the background

Results are here.

Keith Knipling's photos on Flickr are here.

Something special happened at the pre-race briefing...Jamie Darling, Horton's secretary, was surprised by her boyfriend with a marriage proposal, orchestrated by Horton, of course. Her report is here...very sweet! Jamie was trailing me in the LUS standing by only two minutes before Promise got the best of her on race day as she crushed me by 16 minutes! Woop!

Photos by Keith Knipling, Brock Nichols, and Bill Potts