2017 Promise Land 50K ++

I had a fantastic Promise Land 25K trail race in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia. The problem is that Promise Land was 50K++.


Debbie and I made the trip south for the third race of the 2017 Beast Series. We were last in Virginia in December for Hellgate, the finale of the 2016 Beast Series. Hellgate had record cold and Promise Land had near record heat. Hellgate is 62 “Horton Miles,” but really 66. Promise Land is 31 “Horton Miles,” but really 34. Both races are directed by the legendary David Horton.


Both Debbie and I suffered through yesterday’s race. We drove down on Friday morning after a shortened work week that felt like two work weeks crammed in to one. We used to bang out these types of trips frequently, but I don’t have the same energy as before, and the driving takes its toll. Four business related phone calls helped pass the time, and I was still able to get some “work” done while on the road.


We left at 4:30 A.M. and had our tent pitched at the Promise Land Youth Camp by 5:30 P.M. We had three brief stops for lunch (once again at the fabulous Pot O Pho in Winchester), fuel and to stretch our legs, but then pushed on until we reached Natural Bridge State Park in the mid-afternoon. There, we loosened up during a four mile run on the Monacan Trail.


After drying off and hopping back in the car, it took another 45 minutes to get to the camp in Bedford. Promise Land had 304 finishers, so it is a good-sized ultra. The course is beautiful. The 14,800 feet of elevation change (including more than 7,000 feet of climbing) is stout. The combination of rugged single track (rocks and roots), grassy single track, double track, gravel roads, and dirt roads was super challenging.

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The highlight of the race is Apple Orchard Falls, which comes at the 28 mile mark, and on the steepest hill (mountain) on the course. The falls are stunningly beautiful. All of the running along Cornelius Creek was fantastic. The long hike back up to the Blue Ridge Parkway wasn’t going well for me, so when I reached the best viewpoint for the falls, I had to stop and dig out my iPhone to snap a few photos. Some kind hikers offered to take a photo of me with the falls. I was happy to stop and catch my breath.


Promise Land really was a tale of two races. Truthfully, I was hurting by the halfway mark, but measured it halves, I ran pretty well for 25K. I was on track for a 5:52, but totally blew up as the day heated up. I finished in 6:30:23. The last eight miles were particularly ugly as I walked a lot. I won’t make any excuses because my main goal was to finish. While crewing at Hellgate, I was inspired to run another ultra. It had been several years, so I told Debbie that if she wanted to come back and run of Dave’s spring 50K’s, that I would join her.


She had an equally tough day. It culminated with double calf cramps in the final four miles. She fought the pain for a while, but when the cramp climaxed, it was so severe that it brought her to the ground. Her menstrual cycle started right after our Friday afternoon run, which is unfortunate timing, but that is how it goes. I’ll leave the rest of the story to her, but she finished in 7:00:36, and was the fourth woman over 40 years old.


The race winners were Michael Owen and Rian Landers-Ramos. Second male was Brian Rusiecki, a fellow New Englander, and the Hellgate champion. He and his wife, Amy, are longtime friends from the trail running community.


Another friend at the race was Bill Markunas, who helped us represent the Shenipsit Striders. Bill hails from Connecticut, but lives in Virginia now. He broke eight hours while carrying a 30 pound rucksack. Bill attended Debbie’s most recent trail running camp and is a lot of fun to hang with.

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Another ultrarunning community friend is Geoffrey Baker. Geoffrey is also one of my favorite photographers. Undoubtedley, he is one of the best ultrarunning photographers in the country, but to limit him to that category is unfair. His images have graced the cover of Ultrarunning Magazine on numerous occasions. I love seeing his work because he puts so much creativity and technical expertise into the process. I enjoyed catching up wtih him on Friday night and I enjoyed taking his portrait.

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Gene Potter of Charlottesville, Virginia, deserves a big congratulations. He has finished all 17 Promise Land races. He was recognized at the pre-race meeting. After the meeting, 100 pizzas were delivered. When darkness fell, there was a massive bonfire. Beast Series races attract a younger crowd than many other ultras. The popularity of ultrarunning at Liberty University (where Dave Horton is a professor) and Virginia Tech, means that these races bring in many youthful faces. I think that is awesome. Debbie has now run four of the Beast Series races, dating back 10 years to 2007: Mountain Masochist, Grindstone, Hellgate (twice), and Promise Land.

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Dave Horton’s team of volunteers were fantastic, as usual. The aid stations were staffed incredibly well, and stocked with food and drinks. I opted to carry my UltrAspire hydration vest. I filled the bladder three times, I carried a flask with electrolyte drink that I refilled five times, plus I drank copious amounts of water from my reusable UltrAspire cup. I took two gels and ate one energy bar. Oh, and I had several slices of watermelon before that nasty climb up to the waterfall.

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Both Debbie and I were knackered after the race. We didn’t spend much time hanging out. We showered up, broke camp, and hit the road.


It took us 4.5 hours to get to Washington D.C., where we stayed at a hotel. We had an awesome meal at Fare Well. This morning, drove over to the Lincoln Monument. We parked, and walked around a bit to stretch our legs. The tourists were already out in force. After our jaunt, we were back in the car and it took 6.5 hours to get home.


I told Debbie, “I’m sticking with cycling.” I’m pretty sure I said that the same thing the last time I did a long race. Let’s see how long I can hold out before I’m tempted to register for another ultra.


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