Monday, April 27, 2015

Promise Land 50k

“Crap, my shoe’s untied”

I’m debating on whether to stop and tie it or not. I don’t really think I’ll fall but I’m wondering if it’ll hold me back when I need to be pushing on these last two miles of the race. Plus, I don’t really want to get best blood by falling flat on my face down a gravel road- that’s just embarrassing. The guy I’m running with stops when I bend down.

“Keep going! I’ll catch up, I promise”

He takes off again and I’m left alone, trying to remember how to tie my shoe but thinking more about where the woman behind me is. I tie it once but pull one of the laces too tight and it comes undone. My hands are shaking now but I get it right this time. I jump to my feet, grab my handheld, and continue running down the mountain. The whole thing takes about ten seconds, maybe fifteen but it turns out I needed them…

It’s 5:29 AM and Jordy, D-mack, and I are standing with about 300 other runners waiting for the race to begin in one minute. We’re looking for Darren and Jonathan, two other VT runners who will most likely get top 5, but we don’t see them anywhere in the crowd. It’s dark but a bunch of people are wearing headlamps, all pointed at race director, David Horton, who is counting down the seconds left until the start. Darren and Jonathan are still nowhere to be found. I’m worried for them, wondering what they could be doing that’s more important than starting the race. All of the sudden they run in from my left, seconds before the time switches to 5:30, and then we’re off, headed two and a half miles up a gravel road.

For the first mile I’m watching Jonathan and Darren, (kind of creepy, I know) but it calms me down. At the start of the race, it’s best for me to do anything I can besides think about what I’m beginning because it always takes me a couple of miles to switch into racing mode. When they’re out of sight I start to focus on my own race, I tell myself the first four miles (all uphill) are to ease me into the race, don’t go too slow but don’t go out too hard. I run the first two and then begin to hike when the road gets steep, telling myself this is a good strategy. The race bears right onto a trail, taking me up another mile and a half to the light side. At mile 4.5 I hit a patch of technical downhill and immediately twist my ankle. It doesn’t feel like a bad twist but it’s the ankle I’ve been having on and off trouble with for the past month so I wait a second to see how bad it really is. Pain shoots up my leg but after a minute it’s gone.

Relax, what’re you gonna do? Drop? There’s nothing you can do about it so just forget it.

I’m not as worried about the actual twist as I am about what it’ll do to my head. I don’t want this to slow me down on the technical descent. Right when I need him to, Neel, a VT runner, catches up to me and we run together for two miles or so. We’re talking about how quickly the race is going and how we want to finish in under 6 hours, making me forget about my ankle completely. We catch up to Lori Cooper, who placed 4th at Terrapin 50k last month and will most likely place top 5 today. I look at my watch, we’re only at mile 6, a little too soon for me to be catching her so I’m worried I’m running too fast. She hears me talking to Neel and looks back. I can’t help but think that she doesn’t like me. She’s an experienced runner who probably has her racing strategy nailed down, meanwhile, I’m this punk 19 year old who doesn’t really have a solid plan in place. Neel passes her but I don’t, convinced it’s too ambitious at this point in the race. I think she tries to drop me because we run a 7:30 mile but I can’t tell, maybe it’s the downhill making us go fast? I’m getting worried that I’m running too close to her when she asks me if I want to pass. I think she’s pissed.

“No, not yet” That wasn’t supposed to sound so cocky so I try to recover
“Maybe not ever” Wow, she probably really doesn’t want to hear that so I try again
“I like this pace” Smooth.

I decide to drop back a little and give her some space, just because I know it messes me up when people run too close to me. We hit the Blue Ridge Parkway at mile 10 and there’s 3 miles of gravel until the aid station Keely and the rest of VT’s crew are at. Lori drops me…hard. She’s completely out of sight. I’m running with a guy who graduated from Virginia Tech in ’99 and keeping my eye on another woman I’m getting close to. We pass her just before we hit the aid station and I run up to Keely, panicking about needing more water and my caffeinated GU’s. Keely tells me I’m in 6th and Jonathan’s in 3rd, I always like to keep tabs on how his race is going to take my mind off my own. When I’ve got everything I need I take off unnecessarily quickly and practically throw myself down 4 miles of technical trail. I’m convincing myself that technical descents are my strength so I don’t panic about how quickly I’m going. I manage to pass three women in two miles, putting myself into what I think is 3rd.  It’s only mile 15, less than halfway through the race, and I’m already in my goal place. I try to work the descent so I’m running like hell, trying to put as much distance between myself and the women behind me. I reach the aid station at Cornelius Creek and David Horton’s there, yelling at the men I’m running with to not let me, A GIRL, pass them. I ask a women there to fill up my bottle, she tells me she thinks I’m in 3rd and that I’m doing a really good job. She’s so genuine and happy for me that it calms me down and I tell myself if I need a hug when I get back to this aid station, she’ll be the person I’ll ask.

Two more miles of gravel road, I’m taking a right back onto the trail and starting the loop, what I consider the hardest part of the race. I know this is where I have to work the hardest and something Darren previously told me is ringing in my head: “When it gets hard, just run harder.” There’s a small uphill and I start to hike. I try running again but stop. I just can’t get myself to do it. I look behind me and don’t see anyone. I’m hiking along the trail, thinking I’m hitting a low point in the race, when I see Clark Zealand, the director of Terrapin 50k. He tells me good job and I smile, I’m way more excited to see him than he is to see me, I don’t think he remembers me. I ride this excitement, running as much as I can before it wears off. Neel, who I’ve been piggybacking this entire race, catches me again and we reach the next aid station. I take only Advil before we both head out. We run most of the rest of the loop, staying together and passing a couple people who tell us good job as we pass. That’s what I love about ultrarunners, everyone’s so nice and encouraging during the entire race. It’s been about 30 minutes since we left the aid station and Neel’s told me two jokes in the meantime, but I’m not feeling them (even though I’d recount them to the entire ultraVT team later because they were actually pretty funny) I’m too concentrated on trying to keep myself in motion.

“This loops grueling, dude”

We finally reach downhill, a BUNCH of downhill and I hear what I think is a highway near us. A couple minutes later I figure out it’s the waterfalls and I’m so happy, it means we’re almost out of the loop. We reach a quarter mile out and back and I pass a woman whose already been to the aid station and smile at her, she looks strong. At the aid station I’m told I’m in 4th
“Damn it. I thought I was 3rd.” Then,
“Actually, 4th is pretty good, I can live with that.”

I’m so bipolar during races, accepting my placing or the idea of getting passed at times but then chasing for better at other points. I start heading back out and pass by Lori whose headed into the aid station. When I first see her, that noise of someone slamming down all the high pitched keys of a piano plays in my head and my face expression definitely shows panicking. I smile and tell her good job but in my head I’m screaming at myself to run because I know she’s pretty good at climbs which is the next section of the race. The climb (yes, it is known as“the climb”) is hard, but not as hard as I remember. I hike almost the entire thing because I tell myself its good for my heart rate or something. My strategy must have worked because I’m closing distance between me and the guys ahead of me, who are trying a run/hike combination. I pass them and see on a sign I’m 0.3 miles from the top. I look behind me and don’t see Lori but see 3rd place right ahead. I can hear the cheers from the top as runners are reaching the aid station and I start to get excited…and nervous. The aid station is mile 29, only 5 miles left of the race. I tell myself this is good, I can run the descent faster than this 3rd place woman, I just need to get in and out as quickly as I can. I see Lauren and Keely who start cheering at me. I start yelling at them, like the nice runner I am

“I NEED ADVIL, GU, WATER…and a hug” Lauren comes over and hugs me while Keely’s getting me advil. I can’t figure out how to open my bag full of GU’s and basically throw it at Lauren to open it for me, I’m being a total bitch but I’m panicking so badly and don’t know how else to act
“Don’t tell me how Jonathan did” I tell Keely. I have it set in my mind that his race pre-determines mine. He placed 4th at Holiday Lake while I placed 5th and he placed 2nd at Terrapin while I placed 3rd, I didn’t want to know what place I should be getting to keep the trend going. I grab my stuff I run off without thanking them (THANK YOU GUYS YOU WERE THE BEST) and pass into 3rd within 200 meters. I see Jon (a different person than Jonathan) and both Henrys down the trail
“Go catch my brother, he’s 5 people ahead of you” Jon tells me. I seriously doubted that was true but it gave me another reason to run fast down these last miles other than just running away from the woman behind me. I’m working on the technical descent and choking down a 40mg caffeinated Espresso Love GU. I pass two guys on the trail down and get back onto the gravel road. The 4th place woman is tailing me, I can’t see her but I know she isn’t far behind because I just passed her a mile and a half ago… and this is where I find myself with an untied shoe. I make the decision to tie it and do in two attempts before I’m running again. I’m not really doing any work, just letting the steep descent take me. I look at my watch and see I just ran a 6:44 mile. I’m feeling good about myself until I turn around and see the 4th place woman behind me. When I say behind me, I mean REALLY close behind me, maybe a minute back. I know I still have a mile and a half of the race left, maybe, and I’m trying to hold on. I’m searching the ground for the orange “1 Mile” mark that I desperately need, if this race goes on any longer than that, I’m going to lose. I look back, she’s closer now. She’s definitely closing the gap between us. Shit, shit, shit. I look down and see the mile marker and pick up the speed a little. I can do this…

“Well, actually 4th place wouldn’t be so bad” I think for a couple seconds. I look back again and she’s closer. What do I want to do? Do I want to accept 4th or push for 3rd? I can’t make up my mind until I see Rachel Corrigan.

“HOW MUCH OF THE RACE LEFT?” I shout at her, freaking out

“Maybe half a mile left?” There’s no way I ran 33.5 miles just to give up in the last half mile. I keep pushing, hoping to see camp soon where the finish line is. I finally round the corner and turn into the final stretch. I can hear Keely’s voice yelling at me but the first person I see is Jonathan, who I’m so happy can see me get 3rd because I didn’t give up rather than 4th because I did. As soon as I cross the line I give David Horton the biggest hug. “You’re getting fast, girl” he tells me. I’m told my time was 6.00.10, 10 seconds off my 6 hour goal. The woman behind me finished in 6.00.51, 41 seconds behind me. 

I wish I had finished under 6 hours but I’m happy with my race otherwise, I’ve never freaked out for so long about anything but WHEW what a good race. Promise Land is still my favorite course by far, it’s so rewarding. Next race in the LUS is MMTR 50 Miler in November CAN’T WAIT!



RACE PICS AS ALWAYS

ultraVT: my favorite people

4 Hokies in the top 5!
From left to right: Jonathan (3rd) Me (3rd) Jordy (4th) Darren (1st)

Finally we placed the same. 3rd place twins and the guy who makes me believe in myself the most. Thanks Jonathan! You're super speedy