Friday Night Vertical 2021

Friday Night Vertical 2021

Wednesday, June 8, 2022

2022 Promise Land 50K++


James River bridge on the AT

I realized time was flying by so I needed to update my blog if I want to keep up with the races and be a running blog again. Haha. 

Back in November, Ryan mentioned doing the Promise Land 50K++ in Virginia. He had already done a few races down there put on by Dave Horton and really wanted to go back. I was game! It would be nice to take a trip down there again. Virginia was one of my favorite sections of the AT so I thought it would be awesome to do a spring race on those mountains. I hadn't hiked that area since my last thru-hike in 2003.

As soon as registration opened in early January, we signed right up... and I had just stopped running to nurse my posterior tibial tendonitis, but I figured I'd only be out a month and wouldn't lose much. I would be wrong. I did a test run the first week of February, but it was a no-go. Luckily, I had just gotten the new boots to go with my skate skis so I was really starting to pick up this new fitness that would end up being the only thing to get me to the start line of Promise Land. I didn't run again until the very end of February! At this point, I had no idea how I could pull off running a 50K 2 months later since my runs were all very short and awkward. I also had to slowly build up. I didn't run anything over 6 miles until March 26, and that was only 9.3 miles! At this point I was getting really nervous about the race and wondering how in the hell I could pull off a 50K+ (and by +, it's literally way more. Over 34 miles on the GPS so probably at least 35 or 36). I did my first "long" run on March 31st. A 14.1 mile road run around Tamworth. I had to run it at a very easy pace in order to finish it. Between April 2nd and race day, I did 4 "long" runs. And that's in quotes because it was 15.2, 12, 14.9 and 17.5. Hardly what I would consider a long run when getting ready for a 50K. I honestly thought I wouldn't finish, but we were still going down anyway. Ryan had been able to run over the winter, but it was very little so he wasn't that far ahead of me with with his running fitness.

We left on Thursday for the LONG 13+ hour drive to Virginia. John stayed back to hold down the fort and take care of the dogs. For the record, he is ALWAYS invited to come with us, but he has no interest. And he actually likes being home by himself, and it's easier for us with the dogs. We never could have brought them with us because, of course, Virginia would be in a heat wave on race weekend! Haha. It didn't surprise me at all, but it made me doubt finishing the race even more. The drive ended up not being that bad. It's nice to travel with someone you get along with. We talked and listened to music. Looked up segments on Strava of the places we were travelling through to see what kind of trails were there. Crazy how we used to just drive by these places never knowing there was a huge trail network right off the highway. That's a cool thing about Strava. I have a love-hate relationship with it, but that's one of the things I do love about it. It's also the only place I keep track of my running (which is probably a stupid idea haha). We got to our Howard Johnson hotel in Lexington, VA late and pretty much crashed. 

The next morning we drove up the Blue Ridge Parkway to parking area that would be the site of the 3rd aid station on the course to do a short run up Apple Orchard Mountain on the AT. The temperature had already reached the 80s by this point, and the climb up was STEEP, so we suffered. I felt completely awful. My legs hurt. My breathing was erratic. I felt like I'd just started day 1 of the Couch-to-5K. I started to panic and had a mini breakdown. I told Ryan that I couldn't do the race. That I shouldn't even toe the line. There was no way I was going to finish. Ryan talked me down in just a few seconds telling me that it was normal for my legs to feel badly after that long drive. I realized he was right, so we were back running again. My "breakdown" was probably less than a minute. Haha. Got to the top of Apple Orchard, took some pics then ran back down. I was still really nervous about the race, but I was at least going to start.

(Side note: I learned 3 weeks later that my ex-husband is thru-hiking the AT again. He was right in the same area while we were down there. How crazy would that have been if we'd run into him on Apple Orchard?)

We drove down to town for lunch at this cute deli with outdoor seating. The hot sun felt good today, but I knew it would feel like Death Valley during the race the next day. From there we headed out to the race site where we'd camp with most of the other racers that day. We lucked out only being the second vehicle to arrive so we literally got the best spot in the whole place. Our own nook in the woods. We were excited at first, but then it just got hotter and hotter, and there was nothing to do. We got so bored just sitting around for hours on end, but it was probably good for resting the legs. We knew no one there so we were pretty antisocial. I'm not a very social person to begin with, unless it's a crowd I know well, so I had no desire to strike up any conversations. (Well, we did know Justin Contois, but we never saw him until the next day).

Dinner ended up being Domino's Pizza so we didn't eat much. I was glad we'd had a big lunch. Being on the other end of the field in the woods, we couldn't see or hear the other side and missed half of the pre-race briefing.When we walked over there, I noticed that NO ONE had visible tattoos except us. I thought that was weird and worried it would make us stand out. I was also worried about my bib number which was given to me based on my Ultrasignup ranking. UGH. Sometimes that's so inaccurate, especially mine. If you look at it, most of my races aren't ultras, but my ranking makes me look fast. There was a very brief period of time when I was fast, but those days are LONG gone. Nothing puts a target on you more than a 101 bib number, based on rank, that started at 100 for the women. Cringe. Haha. Luckily, I am really good at only focusing on MY race when I do 50Ks. I might get nervous about being passed near the end, but I always run my own race for the majority of it. Too easy to go out too fast and die later.

With a really early race start in the dark, we were up before 5am. I didn't sleep well in the tent since my mat really isn't that comfortable. I tossed and turned. I woke up really nervous and rushed. We had coffee, bagels w/peanut butter, used the bathroom then hit the start line. I was thankful to be hiding in the dark. Ryan was way less nervous than me. He was feeling pretty fit and ready, although we were both worried about the heat. Luckily, no one at the race was ready for temps in the '80s so it was an even playing field weather-wise. I hugged Ryan and wished him good luck then stepped into the crowd at the start. 

The race immediately starts with a climb...a climb that lasts over 4 miles. The first 3-ish are up a dirt road which was good so we could spread out. I just got into a rhythm and stuck with it. I noticed a lot people walking immediately which made me nervous. If it's runnable, I run it, unless I need to take a break to eat something. I'm just not into the walking when unnecessary so I started passing people already. I wondered if these people knew something I didn't, but it ended up being fine. I didn't walk a step until 11 miles in. I saw a few fast women move on ahead early on and ran behind a group of 3 women for probably the first mile and a half before moving ahead. I had no idea where I stood in women's field at that point, but I would turn out to stay in that exact spot the entire rest of the way.

The course finally hits the singletrack around mile 3-ish. These faster guys had stopped there at the aid station and ended up right behind me. One of them chatted me up a bit. He was young and seemed nice... until he asked if I was Rachel's mom. (By Rachel, he meant elite runner, Rachel Spaulding, now Lemcke who was slated to possibly win the race that day). I was a little taken aback by the question at first. Did I really look that old from behind and in the dark? I told him no, but that I guess I could have been old enough if I were a young mom. The New Englander in me thought he was being a douche, but then the Southerner in me decided to give him the benefit of the doubt and that he really thought I looked like her mom. Either way, it ended up being a pretty comical story to share after the race. Of course, I had to FB stalk Rachel's mom later to see if I did look like her, and I have to say I look nothing like her, but I'm super flattered. Thanks, Will! Haha.

Those guys passed, and I climbed on. The temperature was still cool at this point, but the sun began to rise. It was a gorgeous sunrise as we ran a very loooooong downhill. There is nothing like this course here in NH. We don't have 4-5+ miles of long runnable downhills. The closest you could come around here would be the Ossipee Mountains, but even that doesn't compare. I had no idea how to run these so I didn't kill myself trying to run them. While I think that was really smart on my part for this particular day, knowing it was going to get hot out, now that I know the course, I would be much more aggressive on those downhills if I ever did this race again. Today, conservation was key. Killing yourself early on meant paying a price once the temps got into the 80s.

I was surprised how fresh I felt coming into the 10-mile aid station. I was also surprised to see Ryan leaving the aid station. I knew that wasn't a good sign. He should have been way farther ahead. I assumed he was just being conservative for the first half. We still had over 24 miles to go! I'm not a big user of aid stations other than water and then soda in the later miles. I can't stomach much solid food. If you read my blog posts from my 2019 50Ks, you'll see how badly I suffered not being able to fuel properly. I couldn't find anything that worked for. Luckily, the only good thing that came out of my 2021 Boston Marathon was the discovery of Maurten Gels. They have been my racing savior!! Today, I brought 5 of them, along with old school S-Caps, one for each hour-ish. My fueling is super simple, but it works. I quickly filled my handheld with water and grabbed one grape (Or it was a strawberry? IDK) before heading back out. 

I was surprised to be catching and passing Jordan Chang right out of the aid station. I'd heard him tell someone at the beginning of the race he had planned negative he was passing me. Now here I was passing him. He was supposed to be fast. I thought maybe he was having a bad day already. That would turn out NOT to be the case. Haha.

I hung in near this same group of guys I'd been leapfrogging with for awhile as we topped out just near the summit of Apple Orchard. From here it was a long downhill on a dirt road to the next aid station. Most of those guys pulled far ahead. Coming into this aid station was crazy. Huge crowds! It was cool. I had forgotten to drop my headlamp at the 10 mile station so I dropped it at this one (unfortunately it never made it back to the finish line before we left so I inadvertently donated it to Dave Horton's students. haha). I filled my bottle, ate one piece of fruit then grabbed a pop-tart piece to go and headed right back out. As soon as I got into the woods, I tried to eat one bite of the Pop-Tart. That was a no-go so it was immediately tossed. 

I quickly pulled the headlamp off my head when I saw the photographer. Haha.

Ryan was already hurting only 12 miles in.

I found myself solo for short stretch as we ran down another LOOOOONG downhill. I did finally catch up to this guy who I'd been near before. We were literally running the exact same pace without even trying so we ran together for almost all of these 5-6 miles. I'm not chatty while racing so we only talked briefly. This downhill was brutal. From the aid station I think it dropped over 3500ft! Shifting gears back to the rolling single track at the bottom of it hurt. I actually walked the short first hill to eat a gel and take an S-Cap. On this side of the ridge, you could really feel the heat building. I had no idea where I was for the longest time. I had looked at the map, but I had absolutely no reference for where I was. I quickly passed through an aid station and hit a forest service road. My running buddy had dropped off as soon as we left the downhill, but I caught up to another guy I would leapfrog with the for the next 5 or so miles. As soon as I got on the FS, I saw an orange hat up ahead. NOOOO! It was Ryan! I was catching him. That meant he was having a bad day! I was so bummed for him. I hoped that maybe he'd just stopped to use the bathroom and I wouldn't catch him. And, in fact, he did pull ahead a little. I didn't catch him for another 5 miles! This stretch of the course was tough. A lot of rollers on the FS Rd. I started to catch and pass people who had started the heat sufferfest early on. I was surprised that I was still feeling good at almost 25 miles!

Just before the next aid station, I finally caught up to Ryan at a creek. He wasn't upset but said he'd been cramping horribly since very early on and was just trying to finish. We both blew in and out of the aid station close together. He was hurting pretty badly so I caught right up to him as we began the grueling climb up to Apple Orchard Falls, about 2000ft of gain. I passed him at first... and then the heat finally got me. It was my turn. It was crazy how quickly I went from feeling good to suffering. I was suddenly dying. The climb was brutal already, but add in the midday sun (no leaf cover) and 80+ degrees, and I was done. The entire climb was a sufferfest for me. Ryan actually stayed right behind me the whole time, and about 5 guys who hadn't even been visible started to catch me. As bad as I felt, I was able to enjoy the beauty of Apple Orchard Falls...for a second. As soon as I stepped up on the first of MANY stairs, my right calf cramped for the first time ever in my life. Literally at the exact time, I heard Ryan gasp behind me as his legs cramped up, too. Luckily, I had one S-Cap left so I immediately took it. I never had another cramp. I couldn't say the same for Ryan, I could hear him yelling as each cramp happened. I honestly don't know how he even finished the race. That took a lot of mental fortitude to do that.

I was so happy to finally see the aid station again. This meant only one more brief climb before 4.5 miles of the most painful downhill I've ever done. I quickly grabbed water, a cup of ginger ale and a bite-sized pickle then bolted out of there. As I was leaving this guy named, Frank, blew through the aid station with the crowd cheering. It was impressive! He passed me, and I never saw him again after the short climb. As soon as we started the downhill, I looked back to see about 4-5 guys hot on my tail. I don't race men, but it still made me not want to get passed. I don't know how my tired legs could do it, but I hauled ass down the single-track. No one passed me! The only person I could see was Jordan Chang as he slowly gained on me. It didn't take long for him to pass me once we got on the road. And yeah, about Jordan Chang. He wasn't having a bad day. He was finishing a Promise Land DOUBLE. Haha. Amazing!

I was shocked that no one else passed me before the finish, but I did muster up some downhill speed for the last 3.5 miles because I wanted to break 6 hours. But omg, did it HURT. I was so overheated at this point and the road never ended. The squirrel mailbox never seemed to be in view. I had enough energy to curse the Confederate Flag in my head, but on replay in my head was, "Please let this end!!" My last 3 mile splits were 6:57, 6:44, 7:10. I only slowed up in the last half mile because I knew I was going to break 6 hours. 

I finally came into the field in the hot sun. All I could think about was cooling off in the creek. I came around to the finish line and there was Dave Horton with his arms outstretched for a hug as I crossed the line. I was so hot that the thought of hugging someone made me actually step away quickly. I felt badly, but I was dying. I said a quick thanks and muttered something about needing to get in the water. I kept on walking all the way to creek. It was SO cold that it took about 6 tries to get my head underwater, but it felt so good! I got right out and headed back up to say a proper thank you to Dave and grab my shorts and polo. 

So, oh yeah, you're probably wondering how I finished. Haha. I was 4th female in 5:56:52! 26th overall! I was super psyched! The day before, I didn't expect to even finish, let alone finish 4th among some young, speedy runners. Full Results

I waited for Ryan to finish. His legs were trashed, but he hadn't really been able to put in the effort to match his fitness so he actually looked fresh coming in. We went back out to the creek where we hung out with Justin Contois for awhile. It was nice catching up with him after so many years. 

We hobbled back to our campsite to get changed then hung out a little while before heading back to Lexington to the Howard Johnson. We had a great dinner at the Devil's Backbone Brewery outside on the deck. It was so beautiful there with views of fields and flowers. The view of my cute boyfriend wasn't so bad either. 😉

It didn't take long for us to crash that night. The drive back the next day wasn't horrible. Stepping out of the car to walk every time was stopped was brutal, though. Haha. The long drive definitely made the legs stiffen right up. 

Despite Ryan's race not going as he'd wanted, we still had a nice little getaway. It was a good training run for him. For me, it was a building block to finally getting back into shape for longer distances. It had been 2.5 years since I had run much over 15 miles. I just wasn't into it. Covid changed me a lot when it came to running. It got me to slow down and realize that the amount of racing I was doing was ridiculous. I enjoyed the break from longer distances, but I'm finally in a place where I want to do it again. I was in so much foot pain last year that I couldn't muster it. The break from running, coupled with nordic skiing healed all of that up so the thought of running now is a positive thing...well, except  when it comes to speed work. 😄

We've done two races since this one, so I still have a lot of catching up to do. Trying to keep these posts as just running focused, but I'm sure I'll sneak some regular life stuff into the next ones. Here's preview:

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