Some days go smoothly. Some days are trials of mental strength. Promise Land was the latter. Early this year I had set this as a focus for the year, and trained through both Holiday Lake and Terrapin Mountain earlier in the year to be able to peak leading up to Promise Land. I felt pretty much back to normal only a couple days after Terrapin Mountain last month, so I put in 3 solid training weeks with long runs, tempo runs, hill work, and climbing workouts before a structured two-week taper into Promise Land. I was really tired by the time I finished that third week of training, but I figured two weeks would be plenty of time to regroup before the race. Apparently not. I went through some ups and downs in energy levels in those couple weeks, and was sick for about 5 days in the middle.
Starting up the climb from the start Saturday morning, I knew I didn't feel right. I felt pretty low, even though I had actually eaten a 300 calorie breakfast an hour before the start. I settled in to some alternating hiking up that climb to take in some Gu and hope things turned around. I started with a Lemon-Lime gel to avoid caffeine so early, and the taste made me gag. So there's another gel flavor I can't take anymore. I was actually surprised at how mellow the grade was all the way to the first aid station and then again on the climb to the parkway the first time. If I'd had energy I would have made that much faster. I took a roctane gel on the stretch of path alongside the parkway and that perked me up a little. I had still been running very conservatively all the way to Sunset Fields 1 waiting for my energy to come. I thought the upcoming downhill would help since I really love technical downhill. I got stuck behind a group of 8 guys here that were trotting down and several of them were not very courteous to my passing. After a couple minutes I made it through the pack and started rolling downhill. I had fun with this section and it perked me up a bit, but I felt the descent a lot more than I should have. The section from Cornelius Creek to the mile 21ish aid station was uneventful. I had taken a couple ibuprofen and was downing Clif Bloks as best I could to get some energy. When I got to the mile 21 aid station just before the long climb back up to Cornelius Creek and then Sunset Fields, I was frustrated that i still did not have energy so I just said "F*** it" and decided that I might as well try to make up time. I ducked my head down and began to grind. I ran every step from that aid station to the 176 steps (except for a single 6-step set of stone stairs). I guess those uphill treadmill workouts did some good. I passed several people through here and it was a little motivating as I was trying to salvage my day as best I could.
I started to run up the stair section, but on the first step my calf seized and the cramps began. I started an arm-swinging power hikes, lifting from my hips and keeping my feet flat to not flex my calves. This worked fairly well actually, and afterwords the grade became level enough to run without cramping. When I hit Sunset Fields for the last time, the sky was dark and storms were beginning to roll in. The temperature felt lower than the 45-degree start at 5:30am. I ate a handful of salt (they were out of potatoes) and left quickly for the downhill to the finish, fearing the storms as I was shirtless and did not have a shell or anything. I have to admit, when the rain, then sleet, then hail hit on the grassy trail just down from Sunset Fields, running scared of hypothermia put some extra pep in my step. I ran this section pretty fast even though I was definitely suffering down the mountain. I was on the very of cramps still and the hail coming down on my tensed-up skin was stinging a good bit. I got to the gravel road section and another guy showed up right behind me. We both left for the finish, sprinting down the service road as fast as we could. My form was poor from here on as I had adjusted to put most of the hammering onto my quads. We really flew through this and I was just glad to be done when I hobbled across the finish line after my right leg cramps up just before crossing into the field. All told, I only ate 2.5 gels, 6 clif bloks, and an orange slice all race.
So after the fact, I am content with how the day played out. It was not the race I trained for and not the race I wanted, but I do think it was what I needed. Holiday Lake, Terrapin Mountain, and my Spring training had gone off without a hitch, and I hadn't suffered in a while. This is the most I've suffered to have still finished a race, and it gave me confidence in beginning my training for Grindstone in October. I'll definitely be back to Promise Land, most likely next year, and knowing the course now, I'm excited for that.
In other news, I, along a few friends, have set up a Virginia Tech Trail/Ultrarunning club team. Pretty pumped for this to be official and to hopefully get more people out onto the trails next year. Further, I heard back yesterday and we are confirmed for Gu sponsorship for the following year!