After running the Bluff 50k I knew I wanted to keep doing ultras, just didn't know which one. Loopy recommended Promise Land 50k and I was intrigued. Especially after pacing her at Grindstone, another Dr. David Horton race and part of the Beast Series, so I figured PL would be hard/fun/challenging, all of what I want in an ultra. So, I started training months in advance and signed up as soon as the registration opened. The weekend of the race finally arrived and I finally felt ready.
Snobody, Forrest, Loopy and I started our journey down to Virginia early Friday morning, making a few stops along the way, we arrived in The Promise Land around 7ish. Just in time for pizza and a race briefing from Dr. Horton. Once the briefing was over, I headed to my tent for a fairly short night sleep. I woke up ready to run at the 4:30 am wake up alarm. I checked the weather report the night before and it looked like great, clear, 60 degree weather for the entire day, so I got my things together and headed to the start!
Phil, Carrie, Jay and myself ready to start!
The race began at 5:30, in the dark. After the National Anthem and a prayer, we were off! I could see a long string of lights ahead and behind me as we made our way up the gravel road to the trail. The race was large with about 400 starters, so it was nice to be able to spread out along the 2.5 miles of gravel trail before Aid Station 1 and into the woods. The beginning had a great stream next to the road, and even if we couldn't exactly see it, it sounded amazing, I knew this was a good sign for the rest of the race.
As the sun rose, so did we, and once it was day light, we had hit the trail and could ditch the headlamps (which I never actually turned on because everyone else had theirs!). The trail was great, soft, dirt single track in lush, green woods, still going uphill, but great. After a mile or so we hit great open, grassy trails with BEAUTIFUL views!!! Watched the sun rise over the Virginia mountains was spectacular! I knew that there would be LOTS of climbs throughout the race, so I tried to conserve some energy and run at a steady, sort of easy pace once the trails were runnable. Finally made it past Aid Station 2 and then kept going up, up and up. The bottom of the valleys were lush and green and it was strange going to the tops of the mountains where nothing was blooming yet and was still rather bare. But it allowed for better views of everything else! After several miles of ups, we made it to the top of Apple Orchard Mountain. This was the best place for a view, I stopped and took a few pictures, got some food and we were off again, but this time downhill! Again, great single track in the woods, this time a little more technical than the beginning of the race. We soon met a heavy flowing stream and just listening to the flowing water put me in a great mood.
This part of the course was my favorite, great trail and everything was so green and lush. Soon we had 2 creek crossings that I was surprisingly excited for. We crossed the first and suddenly my insoles started bunching! So uncomfortable! (My dog ate my shoe insoles the week before so I had to go buy some cheap replacement insoles a few days before hand, stupid cheap insoles!!!) I figured I would wait until the second creek crossing and then fix them so I ran with bunched up shoes.
After the creek crossing, we soon arrived at Cornelius Creek Aid Station, which I believe is about halfway. I fixed my shoes, refilled my pack with water and we were off again. But soon, my insoles bunched up again!!! So I decided I would just take them out, it was fine, but I could feel every single rock, pebble, stick I stepped on. Not good, especially with 16+ miles left. The mile or so after the aid station was gravel and asphalt roads so very runnable and fairly quick compared to the technical trails we were just on. Then we ducked back into the woods onto more single track. Started going back up, up, and more up until we hit Aid Station 5 (?) and I decided to put my now-dry insoles back in their correct place and hope that they stayed! And they did! It felt like I was running on pillows for a while, it was great!! And then we kept going up, up and up.
As I was getting close to the 6th aid station, I started feeling rain, and them BOOM!!! Thunder and lightning!! Where did this come from?! All of a sudden, it was dark, cold, windy and rainy! Brr!! I got to Cornelius Creek aid station (for the second time, but I didn't realize it at the time because it looked so different!), refilled my water, grabbed a grocery bag to wrap my phone in, ate some snacks and was headed out. I heard someone say there was only 7 miles left, 3 miles of hard uphill climb, then 4.5 miles of downhill until the finish. I didn't really pay mind to the 3 miles climb, I was just excited about the downhill-- but boy I wish I would have payed attention to the downhill part. We took off from the aid station with a purpose- to finish and get out of the rain and cold. As we slowed down on the up hills, it just got colder and colder. Luckily I had a hat and gloves in my pack I out on, but I didn't feel like they did much difference once they were soaked. My legs were cold, my hands were numb and I was tired, but I slowly made my way up and up. This was definitely the hardest part for me, all uphill, lots of boulders to go up and around, rain pelting you, and thunder and lightning in the too close distance.
I came up to the GREAT waterfalls and had to stop to take in their beauty, luckily someone else had the same idea as I did, so we took our phones out of our baggies and took some quick pics of each other in the heavy rain. Totally worth it! It was the perfect spot to take a minute break. I wish I would have had more time, almost glad it was raining, or I might have stayed there all day! Then we keep going up! Unfortunately, this is where Carrie and I lost each other, it was great running with her off and on for the entire race, I know she pushed me and gave some great advice throughout the day!
FINALLY I made it to the top of Apple Orchards Mountain again. Then it was ALL DOWNHILL! YAY! I realized there that I would be able to make it under 8 hours if I hurried, so I kicked my butt into gear and booked it downhill for 4.5 miles. I clocked my last mile of the race, and ran a 9 minute mile :). And then I was done!!! Finished at 7:51, under 8 hours, and I was happy! And cold, so I grabbed my finisher award shorts, grabbed clean clothes and headed to the bathroom, then I found out there was no hot water for showers! Ugh! Oh well, rinsed off my legs with cold water, put clean, dry clothes on and felt a tiny bit warmer. Drank my 2 muscle milks, ate a warm burger and hot dog, put the tent away, and then we were off! Finally I was warm :)
Things I learned on my 1st PL:
- Virginia doesn't have many flat trails, they either go up or down
- Weather can be very unpredictable, and my father was always right, always be prepared for everything
- Virginia has beautiful trails and views
- Don't buy cheap insoles
- Never stop doing hill repeats
- Look around, half the fun of being in the woods running, is BEING IN THE WOODS, nature is so beautiful, sometimes we need to stop and take a look around and see how wonderful it is.
Overall, it was a GREAT, hard race and I highly recommend it!