Promise Land 50K, Big Island, VA 4,3
Elevation Gain: 7950'; High Point: 4004'
April 23, 2011 - Occasional cloudbursts of 50-degree rain pelted the
roof of the tent throughout the night, with intermittent drizzle to
remind me through a restless night that the air would be heavy with
humidity and the trails would be muddy and potentially slippery for
the anticipated event.  Awakening at 0200 to sneak outside to relieve
myself, I was at least encouraged that temps would be perfect for
racing.  Not being able to resume sleep I got up at 0400 or so and made
final preparations for the day's task.  Light drizzle kept my compadre
Mike Monyak nestled in his coccoon, probably debating whether he 
wanted to toe the line.  Mike hates a rainy run.  I kicked his butt and 
told him he'd have nothing to do all day once the sun came out but 
regret not toeing the line.  So he got up and committed to jump into the
fray no matter what the weather.

Looking closely at the forecast before arriving I was confident the 
weather would clear and we'd have a good day for dancing with the
rocks.  As it turned out, we had a great day for running.  Nonetheless,
I felt crappy pre-start - tired and achy, probably from my Lyme's
disease rearing its ugly head.  But I was in shape and ready to go

Fooling with some last minute adjustments I barely made it back to the
line for the start.  Three hundred strong, we headed up, up, and then
up some more for the first 2.3 miles or so, gaining about 1500 feet in
elevation on the gravel road that heads up to the first aid station where
we filed into the woods on single track to, you guessed it, continue up 
another 750 feet or so on very pleasant switchbacked trails through
mountain laurel and emerging spring flowers.  Given the cloud cover,
the morning remained dark longer than usual, so most everyone 
required a head lamp or flashlight for the first three miles of the race.

The intermittent sprinkles abated once the race was underway and were
not a factor.  I was able to run, albeit at a shuffle, for the first five miles
of uphill, except for a few hundred yards of aggressive walking.  This
positioned me probably in the top 25 participants, where I wanted to be,
after passing 30 to 40 people running up hill.  The trail turns downward
then until the aid station near mile 9, coursing back and forth on grassy
runways that invite one to motor downhill with a faster tempo.

I was able to hold position, mostly, to this point and further in the climb 
up another 1200 feet or so before descending to the aid station at
Sunset Fields on the Blue Ridge Parkway.  I hit 13 miles here in about
2.5 hours, carrying about a 5-mile-per-hour pace despite an awesome
3000-feet plus of climb.  All was good.  I was on schedule to finish 
somewhere around six hours for the race - my objective.

The next five miles of the course quickly give back the three thousand
feet I just earned in the climb up.  Here I immediately got into trouble
and conceded time and place from here on out to the finish line.  Despite
a deliberate attempt to safely plant my feet in my descent I could feel
my left Achilles, as well as the foot and calf muscle attached to it, to be
under concerning duress.  It didn't feel right and seemed to cramp so 
that I couldn't place my foot the way I needed to to descend safely.

To add misery to the problem, my right knee became touchy as well as I
carefully threaded my way back to the valley floor at a light jog.  People
were blowing by me in their race forward.  Being disabled from injury
leaves you no choice but to protect yourself from further injury, so I
backed off, shook off my competitive urges, and realized I may no longer
be capable of racing as in days of yore.  (No, it's not because of age.)

I gave more attention to the wonderful spring flowers along the trail.
I recognized primrose, trillium, bluebells, and some others and made a 
mental note to check on the names of the ones I couldn't recall.  The 
Promise Land 50K is the most beautiful event of this distance I have
experienced.  It is worth the time to give attention to all the beautiful
streams we traipsed along.  I was glad I was able to divert my focus
away from racing to the scenery that was passing me by.

The sun came out to warm up and dry out the air as we ran along the 
road in the valley before another gradual 750-foot climb in the woods
to bring us to the aid station at Cornelius Creek that would serve notice
for the daunting, straight-up 1500-foot climb past Apple Orchard Falls.
This is a feared challenge at a point in the course that leaves one no
choice but to walk for a couple of miles, using wooden steps that have
been added to the trail for safety.  Everyone's legs burn here and 
many people become dizzy and short of breath.  It is just an awesome
hurdle to get beyond; it is the most notable feature of the event,
not just for its degree of difficulty, but because of its startling beauty.
Stopping to enjoy the sheer drop off of the water of the falls and the
scenic overlook along the way is as much for aesthetic appreciation as it
is to relieve exhaustion.

Everyone who finishes must overcome and continue beyond the aid
station at Sunset Fields back down hill the final five miles - all down hill -
to the finish back at the Promise Land Christian campground.  By this
time everyone is tired, so a full-on acceleration with the aid of gravity
is still unadvised.  Knowing I was way off my mark, I took my time in
the descent, pampering my injuries as more people passed by.  My
attitude was good.  I would wait and take stock of the situation later.

Even jogging back the road to the finish was at a gentle tempo.  I took
up with an Army Ranger for the last couple miles, finishing together for
the rowdy acknowlegement of Race Director David Horton.  Our official
time was 7:13:11 for 123rd place of 300 finishers.  I will need to learn
to adjust my self-image to that of a participant versus the image of
competitor I am accustomed to. After a bite to eat, some cleaning up, 
and breaking camp, I waited for Mike to finish an hour later.

Despite a compromised effort, I really enjoyed myself seeing people I
know from some of my recent racing history and meeting new folks that
perhaps I will share future races. Ultra runners are the best. This is a big part of my social life which I don't want to give up for injuries. Mike was satisfied with his effort and came away none the worse for the day's effort. We headed out mid-afternoon and would get home for a good night's sleep before Easter Sunday doings the next day. For each of us it was a reality check before the next BIG event for each in three weeks - his in New Jersey and mine in Virginia. Stay tuned!

Apple Orchard Falls