All 2010 Race Reports
by Dave MacLuskie
Warning: this is very long!
50K+. The plus is for more fun. Because it's an ultra, fun is calcuated in miles. I'm pretty sure they're all uphill too. By general accounts over the years with GPS tracking the actual distance seems to be about 34 miles. I was very much looking forward to the race for the mere scenery and challenge. I drove out a few weeks prior to run the back half of the course just to get a feel for the terrain. (Report here) I'm a flat-lander and don't get much real hill practice.
This was my first go at Promise Land, and my second ultra. I finished (by my watch) a few seconds over 7:50. That's hours:minutes. I had a great time and the race was completely drama-free for me. I had no injuries, blisters, nutrition issues, or overt fatigue problems.
First off, I love reading race reports. In fact, I can probably say I'd have never have gotten the bug to run an ultra if I hadn't read some race reports. 50K, 50 miles, 100K, 100 miles? Those people are nuts, but those reports are sure fun to read! Maybe some day. The stories kept coming, and the idea became less and less crazy sounding. I hope a small part of my report sparks an interest in someone else.
My first ultra was pancake flat, covered in mud and wet the entire time. I ran with a huge grin on my face and had a blast. Promise Land is more on the hilly side (I've read between 7200 and 8000 feet total elevation gain/loss for the course.). It's a gorgeous course, though to be honest my visit a few weeks prior to run at less-than-race-pace was more enjoyable from a sight seeing perspective.
The race director, Dr. Horton, highly recommended camping at the race site and I took him up on the offer. Many folks did. I got there early -- around 3:30pm. As I was wandering around a man came out of the storage rooms apparently having just changed clothes. He approached and introduced himself as David Horton, asked who I was and where I was from. He seemed genuinely happy that I was there. I already felt welcome!
I had my old Eureka Timberline tent. It's got to be about 15 years old. My 4 year old daughter and I cleaned it out and re-waterproofed the rain fly prior to the trip. On a side note, she's quite excited about camping in a tent so that's on my short list for this summer. I think the backyard first, then maybe Newport News Park. (She didn't come to the race.)
The old Timberline
By 6pm it was a car/tent city. Ninety pizzas arrived. Folks brought dessert. The pumpkin squares I made were gone by morning so I guess they went over pretty well. I even got the tupperware back thanks to the magic of masking tape and a Sharpie. We sat around the picnic tables chatting, listening to and telling stories, eating a lot of pizza, and attending a hilarious pre-race meeting and door prize hand out.
The campground before most folks got there. We'll climb that mountain in the background.
It was definitely not like any pre-race meeting I've ever been to. The atmosphere felt like like a party of old friends or a family renuion (and not the one where Uncle Mortimus got drove the car into the lake and Aunt Florence only spoke in dirty limericks). Dr. Horton picked names out of a box for a door prize and would put the name back if he didn't like what he drew. All in good fun. The bonfire started around 8pm. I visited briefly but was growing sleepy so I headed to the tent around 8:30. Wake up call was at 4:30am with a 5:30am race start.
Dr. Horton at he pre-race briefing
I had set up tent next to the creek so the babbling of the water was on my mind as I drifted to sleep. I awoke a few times during the night to the sound of rain on the tent, but nothing of consequence. Morning came too quickly but it was quite pleasant -- maybe 50 degrees -- a little chilly when standing around in, but perfect weather for running.
I had a nutritious breakfast of pop-tarts (I didn't bring a stove to heat water for oatmeal -- maybe next year), applied copius amounts of body glide to my feet, and other often-chafed areas, got dressed and filled up the hydration vest with about 1.5 liters of water. It was already stocked with backup body glide, vaseline, toilet paper, S-caps, advil, snacks and my little camera. The course has tons of support and well stocked aide stations, but there are some stretches that would be over an hour for me and I didn't want to get dehydrated as I often do.
The starting line crowd was quite relaxed. There were no warm up striders, jumping, or nervous pacing like a road race. We're about to run 34 miles and the first 5 are uphill. And boy, are they uphill.
I didn't take any photos during the race, but there is a video at the bottom of the page, plus the photos from my Pre-run Report.
I ran the first mile, despite the uphill, mainly because it wasn't overly steep and everyone else was running! Some folks had flashlights, some didn't. Folks near me slowed down to a walk and we climbed the gravel road which got progressively steeper and rockier as we neared AS1. I was panting pretty good by the time we reached AS1. I'm still in quite a crowd of folks. I dropped off my little $2 LED flashlight since the sky was growing light and visibility was sufficient. 2.6 miles in 44 minutes. I don't even want to calculate the splits. I had planned to take it easy early on but this seemed downright sluggish.
We entered single track with a sufficient number of still-slippery rocks to make things intereting. The climb continued so the walking continued. Even if I had the energy to pass there was quite the line of people. After a few miles the trail opened up and we got into some flat/downhill running on a wide grassy forest service road. Things really spread out here. I really opened it up mainly to prevent myself from falling. The soft earth made for nice easy landings and it felt good to run. I had hoped to see the sunrise along here but I was too late, and it was very overcast. I don't recall seeing the sun until afternoon, not that I'm complaining! The overcast sky probably kept us cooler. Half way to AS2 we climb again, negating all the downhill I just pounded down. Old college lectures on potential vs kinetic energy came to mind.
This was my first real aide station stop (since AS1 was so early in the course.) It was like walking into a restaurant. I approached and two people asked what I needed, their hands full of cups, and jugs ready to refill water bottles. The spread of food consisted of oreos, M&Ms, gummy bears, oranges, other cookies and a lot of stuff I don't recall. Amazing volunteers. I felt like I should tip them or something. 7.1 miles in 1:28 (overall 9.7 miles in 2:12).
AS3 is at Sunset Fields on the Blue Ridge Parkway. I parked there when I ran part of the course a few weeks prior. I know that part of the course and was looking forward to getting there. All that involved was climbing some more to a little above 4000 feet, then lose all of that altitude down to AS3. My lower back is getting sore from all this climbing. I imagine this means I'm doing it wrong (leaning forward too much?) I'm also tired of walking! Oddly, when I do get a chance to run downhill, I get tired of that too and wish I was walking. Despite the dichotomy I'm happy to be out there and have no desire to stop. 4.0 miles in 50 min (overall 13.7 miles in 3:02)
The run down Cornelius Creek trail is gorgeous. It's also single track and rocky. It's the kind of trail I do very poorly on and I got passed a lot. I tweaked my right ankle and decided to take it easy to avoid doing it twice. I recognized many things from my pre-run, but didn't stop to gawk at the lovely water falls and pools that flow alongside the trail.
There were a few crossing I noted dring my pre-run that I swear I didn't see on race day. As I ran with folks on race day and had white streamers to follow, I'm sure I was on course. I'm now baffled if I did something weird on my pre-run, or if I just completely zoned out on race day. I'm going to have to go back again just to figure out what I saw where!
I took some time at the aide station to apply some vaseline to my heel (I was kicking up dirt while walking and it was getting into my shoe) and slather another coat of body glide in the balls of my feet. The downhill was taking a toll on them. I did end up with a dime sized blister on the back of each heel that never bothered me. The rest of my feet made it through just fine; no blisters and it looks like no toenail damage -- though I did kick a rock pretty good at one point. We'll see how that big toe does in a few days. 4.1 miles in 53 min. (overall 17.8 miles in 3:55)
Note: AS4 is about the half way point and I'm pleased to see my splits are dead even from there. 3:55 to AS4, and another 3:55 to the finish, almost to the second. It's almost like I planned it. Even (or negative) splits are something I aim for in road races, but I'm not sure the same rule applies on terrain like this. I'll take it though!
This started with 2 miles or so of slight downhill on a gravel forest service road. I excel at this kind of road running (you know, the non-trail stuff that real ultra runners probably mock) and I passed a few folks. We then transitioned to narrow single track deer trail (aptly named White Tail Deer Trail) that eventually resulted in an uphill to the aide station. They had a cooler full of ice cream sandwiches and popsicles. Way to one up the other aide stations! 3.0 miles in 33 minutes (overall 20.8 miles in 4:28)
This section was new to me. I didn't run it on my pre-run. I was less than thrilled to run through what looked like a fresh crop of poison ivy that was completely unavoidable. I did my best to wash after the race and I applied the Tecnu I brought, but I've already got some blisters forming. If it was poison ivy I hope I was able to contain it at least! I hate poison ivy and it hates me.
There was quite a bit of uphill in this section. Throughout the day it seemed like I was constantly going uphill. Based on the clock I was walking over half the time. The downhill miles clip away so much faster. I found myself alone a lot during this section, and to a lesser degree for the rest of the race. By the time I hit AS6 the overall winner and a few other folks would have finished already. Stunning! I did eventually come across some folks near the last mile. This section seemed quite long to me. We arrive back at Cornelus Creek (same as AS4)
The aide station was once again fantastic. Dr. Clark Zealand's (race director of Mountain Masochist and Grindstone 100, among others) young daughter (5 years old?) was here with a 1 gallon jug of water ready, and actively soliciting, to pour it into any available cup or bottle. The 1.5 liters I had in my hydration vest is gone now -- that was in addition to the coke or mt dew I was taking at every stop. Someone kindly filled up the bladder. I opted for half-full to reduce weight and leave water for other folks coming in. 5.1 miles in 1:11 (overall 25.9 miles in 5:39).
This is the famous climb up Apple Orchard Trail, past the waterfall and back up to Sunset Fields on the Blue Ridge parkway. It gains about 2000 feet over the 3 miles. By all accounts it's pretty brutal. I walked. All of it. So did everyone else I saw out there. The kicker is that you pass the waterfall about half way up, but since it's such a big destination it feels like you should be at the top. In reality you're just getting to the steep part. I overtook a few folks on this part. My legs are really very tired of walking uphill and my pace is less than a strolling pace for some areas. 3.1 miles in 1:14 (yeah, do the math! 25 min/mile!) (overall 29 miles in 6:53)
I was under the impression it was all downhill from Sunset Fields. WRONG! It took me a good 10 minutes of shuffling to re-learn how to run after all that climbing then the trail takes a sudden and distinct up turn. More walking. After that little climb it is all downhill, but on that steep and just-rocky-enough-to-twist-an-ankle kind of trail that I'm terrible at. My quads are really feeling it on this downhill and I have to control the pace so I stay upright. I'm passed by a half dozen folks and make my way down to AS8 (same as AS1). 2.4 miles in 32 minutes (overall 31.4 miles in 7:25)
I'm fairly excited to be back on the gravel road now. It's all downhill (really) and I have a good chance of breaking 8 hours which was one of my many goals (beyond the "finish intact" goal. As per usual, I was a bit short of the "set a course record" goal. Unfortunatley the top part is so steep I'm really just trying to not fall down. It's the kind of steep that parents tell their kids not to run down or they'll break their neck.
I spent the first half mile doing more braking than running. Finally I hit a more reasonable (for me) slope and was able to open things up again. My legs are tired but amazingly nothing actually hurts. There's no overt tightness or pain. Of course, it is on trail/dirt most of the time and I've walked at least half of the miles so maybe that has something to do with it.
Based on the orange chalked "1 mile to go" line that I passed, my last mile was about 7 minutes; easily my fastest of the day. I could say that of most races actually. To amuse myself I get out my camera and film my own finish crossing the finish line. Dr. Horton provides a sincere congratulations and a hearty handshake. I get to soak it all in. I didn't catch the official clock but my watch said 7:50 (last 2.6 miles in 25 min).
The crowd was great at cheering every runner in. There were fresh made burgers (cow and veggie) and hot dogs. I paced around and stretched while downing a burger. After feeling more human I took a quick shower to wash off the trail.
All in all a very satisfying day! Between the (possible) poison ivy, muscle soreness, and satisfaction, I think I'll be remembering it for a long time to come. It's a fantastic place to run. I will most definitely be returning.
Aide Station idea:
It's impossible to complain about the aide stations at Promise Land. Huge thanks to everyone that helped out. My number was read and marked down before I even knew I was entering an aide station! Folks were amazingly friendly, nice, and on the ball. They were fully prepared and ready to get you in and out with what you needed. They smiled the whole time doing it. However, as I always have comments and ideas... Aide Station Menus.
One issue with the aide station is that it's easy to stand around selecting which sugary/salty delicacy you want. This burns a lot of time. I suggest putting up a menu about half a mile out with the menu of what the aide station offers. That'll give folks a good 5-10 minutes (depending on terrain) to make my selection.
I didn't take any photos during the race. Photos mean I have to stop. I did take a some video though. The stuff I shot while running is pretty, well, nauseating. I did create a short movie of what I shot while walking. It's less bouncy!
I'm looking forward to what the Promise Land 50K has to offer next year!
dave.macluskie AT gmail.com