This weekend I went out into the Blue Ridge Mountains in Virginia for the Promise Land 50K. It's one of the races that turbo-badass madman ultramarathoner Dr. David Horton directs. He's run more ultras that anyone can count, held the speed record for the Appalachian Trail and Pacific Coast Trail, and is the only person to finish the Barkley Marathon twice. In case you're curious about why that is such an incredible feat, check out http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Barkley_Marathons or http://www.mattmahoney.net/barkley/. I promise you won't be disappointed.
Horton is known for directing tough races with lots of climbing that are longer than advertised. In this case, the Promise Land 50K climbs and descends 8,000 feet and comes in at 34 miles (instead of the regulation 31.1). High point of the course is over 4,000 on the highest peak in central Virginia. The spring scenery is incredible (though it is still winter up top) and the course passes plenty of streams and a 150 foot waterfall.
All in all I had a pretty good day out there. Jen, Eve, and I camped out the night before along with pretty much every else running the race. Everyone pitches camp in the field down in the valley, and we all get woken up by David coming of the loudspeaker and shouting "It's 4:35am. Get up!"
Unfortunately the day got to be over 90 degrees. That would be trouble in general and was particularly troublesome since I haven't run in anything over 70 degrees this year. Nonetheless, I managed to finish in 6:08 and 22nd place (out of ~275 runners). I was hoping to run a half hour faster, but the wheels came off after 24 of 25 miles.
We started out with a 5 mile 2,000 foot climb up in the dark. I got to the top in time for a spectacular sunrise. I hit the peak in 3rd place about 1:30 back from the leader. I'm always much stronger on the uphills though, so I knew I'd get passed soon.
I did get passed pretty quickly and was running in 4th to 6th place until mile 20 or so. I talked with a young 19 year old dude named Michael Hayden for quite a while. He is quite a badass. He ran Boston the weekend before and ended up running 5:35 and placing 7th. He's run 15 ultras including 3 100s. His first 100 was when he was 16, and he holds national records for his age group at 50 miles and 100K. That's some crazy stuff.
I hit the high point of the course at mile 13 or 14 and grabbed a bottle of Ginger Ale from Jen. The next 5 miles or so was a long 3,000 foot descent to the course low point.
Then things started going downhill. My bottle sprung a leak, and I got really dehydrated after the mile 19 aid station. My stomach also rebelled in its usual fashion. With the heat I had to drink 3 times as I usually do, so that certainly didn't help.
I hit this low point going into a brutal 3 mile, 2000 foot climb. I was a hurting turkey, but I managed to power through. I downed a bunch of salt pills, which I think helped me absorb all the liquid sitting in my stomach. The long hike uphill also helped me recover, and I did have the nice views of the waterfall to distract me.
By the time I hit the top when I saw Jen again, I wasn't exactly happy, but I was turning around. I was able to run the last 5 miles downhill, though it was much slower than it should have been.
I came through the finish line pretty happy to get through this tough race on a tough day. I'll be doing a lot of serious training in the next few months. I still have some things to work on (like running downhills faster), but overall I think things are going well.
(That is one skinny, pale dude)