Promise Land 50K++ (April 27, 2019)

Training for this race went pretty well (for me). I only got one twenty mile training run in, but I had several in the 16-18 mile range. Almost all in the mountains. Weekly mileage hovered in the high thirties for the most part. Not ideal, but pretty good for me.

My anxiety flared up as the race got closer though, and the last two weeks were rough.

But I made it to race day. Uninjured. (I think??)

We stayed in an Airbnb in Bedford the night before the race. Most people camp out the night before, but Brian doesn’t do camping if he can help it. The night turned out to be really cold and windy, so I have to admit I was very happy to have a roof over my head and a warm, comfortable bed to sleep in. It was also nice to eat breakfast and drink coffee inside in the morning.

It did mean waking up earlier, though. It was a little less than a half hour drive to the start and we needed to be there before 5am to pick up our numbers. I’ve been getting up between 3 and 4 anyway lately (insane, I know) so it wasn’t really an issue for me.

Early race morning at the start/finish area

The temperature was in the high forties, but the wind was still blowing like crazy, so it felt COLD as we waited for the race to start. I stood in line for the bathroom twice. Pre-race nerves, plus it was warm in there.

I felt significantly better once we lined up at the starting line. All those bodies blocked the wind and I was ready to go run.

Start to Aid Station #1 (miles 0-3)

I was wearing a tank top and shorts with a hat and gloves (the forecast was for 70 degrees and sunny). The first three and a half miles were climbing, so I was fairly comfortable other than my hands which were freezing. I thought with lows in the upper forties I would be okay with gloves. But nope. I definitely should have worn my mittens.

The first three miles were uphill on a gravel road. I was surprised at how bunched up we were. I hadn’t really expected that. I didn’t really mind though, because I knew it was best to take these first few miles very easy. Everyone was mostly power hiking. Just before the aid station I caught up with a lady (Carolyn; a fellow Charlottesvillian) and we started talking. She was trying to figure out how many times she’d run this race. Nine?Maybe it was 10. The commotion of the aid station interrupted our conversation. I didn’t need anything and wanted to hold onto my headlamp just in case I still needed it as we were about to head into the woods. I checked in and continued on.

Aid station #1 to Aid station #2 (miles 3-10)

This started with a section of technical single track that continued climbing for another mile or so. My nutrition plan (I’m not very scientific about it) was to try to eat something every 45 minutes. I ate half of a Lara bar as I made my way up the rocky trail. After a short descent we were in a small green field and I was suddenly feeling incredibly happy.  Then I turned a corner and the sun, so bright and low on the horizon was shining through the tender fresh green leaves and petals and grass. It all looked like it was glowing. As if someone had dabbed every green thing with white-yellow paint and then lit it from behind. It was one of the prettiest things I’ve ever seen. We were on a soft, undulating section of single track in that beautiful forest for only a couple of minutes before we were spit out onto a fire road.

It was very runnable (mostly) downhill for a couple of miles with a view of the surrounding mountains off to our right. I was leap-frogging with several people here. There was a lot of young poison ivy mixed in with the grass. I tried to stay on the dirt path to avoid it, but at times that just wasn’t possible. I tried not to think about the urishiol that was probably all over my shoes. I made a mental note not to touch my shoes. I have a habit of forgetting my mental notes.

The easy downhill (I say I hate downhill, but I mean steep downhill. Gentle down is nice) was over all too soon and we were again climbing.

Both of my shoes felt loose and it was starting to irritate the bottoms of my feet. I stopped to tighten them, but my fingers were so cold that I could barely move them. It took me so long just to get the left one re-tied (and it didn’t even feel any tighter) that I just gave up on the right one. I would just have to deal with loose shoes and hope I didn’t end up with blisters.

At some point during this climb it was time to eat again, so I finished off my Lara bar.

Aid station #2 was an out-and-back. On my way in, I saw Emily leaving. She was just a little ahead of me. I checked in, gave my headlamp to a volunteer, and grabbed an Oreo.

Aid Station #2 to Sunset Fields Aid Station (miles 10-13)

On my way out of the Aid station, I waved to Mark and Wendy who were both heading in. This section quickly turned into a steep climb up to the Blue Ridge Parkway. I was feeling good and hiking fast. Just before the top, I caught up with Emily. We crossed the Parkway and ran on the gravel road down to Sunset Fields together. This section went by really quickly with someone to talk to. It was so cold up there though. The temperature must have been several degrees lower and the wind was again relentless.

At Sunset Fields aid station, I had to ask a volunteer to open my water bladder for me as my hands were freezing and absolutely useless. He didn’t seem too familiar with the type of bladder that I have, but he tried to help me get it closed and back into my pack. I shrugged it back on and headed down the trail, only to realize that I couldn’t clip the pack back onto me. My fingers just could not grasp those tiny clasps. I was getting desperate when I heard someone say “Joey!”. Brian was coming toward me on the trail. He wasn’t able to do the race, but had just finished a 7 mile run down to the falls. I was so happy to see him. “I need your help!” (He later told me that I sounded frantic and he thought something was really wrong). But it was just that I was so frustrated that I couldn’t do such a simple thing as fasten two stupid little clasps.

As soon as I started running, I noticed the sensation of cold water on my back. Was my bladder leaking? As water started dripping onto my shorts I tried to convince myself that the outside of the bladder had just gotten wet when the volunteer filled it. There was nothing I could do about it, though. I wouldn’t have been able to get my pack off and on again never mind pull the bladder out and try to find the problem.

This was the infamous “technical downhill” portion. Probably because I had been warned in advance, it didn’t seem that bad. Yes, it was technical and yes, I hated it. But it wasn’t any worse than most of the trails at the Trilogy races. Not long into the downhill, the outside of my knee started hurting. Sometimes things hurt for a while in a race, but then go away. I hoped this was one of those things.

There were slippery wet rocks and several river crossings. My knee continued to hurt. At least a dozen people passed me (including Kelsey).

It did warm up considerably though as we dropped back into the valley. And although my dripping wet back and shorts were annoying, the leak seemed to be a relatively slow one. I still had plenty of water when I reached Cornelius Creek Aid station. I grabbed two Fig Newtons and was on my way.

Cornelius Creek Aid Station to Colon Hollow Aid Station (miles 18-21)

This section was mostly downhill and on a road. I saw a girl in front of me go off into the woods and thought that I probably should, too. Miles went by and I still hadn’t found a decent spot that didn’t look over-run with poison ivy. Searching helped the time go by, though. I decided I didn’t need to go that bad.

My knee hurt a little less. I’m not sure if that’s because it actually hurt less, or if I was just feeling a little better mentally now that I was off the difficult technical trail. Either way, it was a positive. I was happy to finally see the turn back into the woods. A little climbing on smooth, soft trail perked me up quite a bit.

At Colon Hollow aid station, I needed to refill my bladder and I also wanted to figure out what was leaking. A volunteer again helped me even though my hands were working fine by this point. Somehow I still managed to spill a coke all over my pack, the jacket I’d pulled out of my pack and the table. I checked the hose. It looked normal. Maybe. I don’t know. I wiggled it around a little, hoping I was tightening it, then stuffed it and my coke-sodden coat back into my pack. I stuffed a banana quarter in my mouth and headed out.

Colon Hollow Aid Station back to Cornelius Creek Aid Station (miles 21-26)

It didn’t take long before my back and shorts were soaked again. I guess I didn’t fix the problem.

I stopped to stretch my quadriceps, thinking that might help my knee. I bent my knee and grabbed the top of my shoe. Crap! Now I have poison ivy oil all over my hand. Mental note: Don’t touch any body part with left hand.

I caught up with Emily again. We ran together for a while, but as this was a mostly uphill section, I eventually ended up ahead. I took out my headphones. I’ve never listened to music during a race before and it really helped. Energy-wise I was feeling great. The pain in my knee was just so frustrating.

The poison ivy in this section!! It was knee-high and all along both sides of the trail. There was no avoiding it. I tried not to think about it.

The uphill gave way to rolling terrain which gave way to a downhill section with several deep, shoe-sucking mud pits. My knee was really hurting now. I was wondering if I would be able to finish. If it got any worse, I didn’t think I could do those last four downhill miles to the finish. Several of the people I had passed when we were climbing passed me back as I painfully limped along.

Back at Cornelius Creek aid station, the first thing I did was ask for ibuprofen. I hate taking medicine. And I know that taking ibuprofen during ultras is pretty stupid. But I really wanted to finish this race! I needed to be able to run those last four miles.

I refilled my pack. Checked the hose again. Still looked fine. Grabbed a brownie and was on my way.

Cornelius Creek Aid Station back to Sunset Fields (miles 26-29)

I saw Emily again on the way out. She told me she was not looking forward to the climb. I know I was probably alone on this, but I was. My energy was still good and it would give my knee a much-needed break. I was dreading those last 4 downhill miles, though.

My back and shorts were already soaked. I could feel water dripping on my legs.

I had it in my head that I would be hiking exclusively for quite a while. But the guy in front of me kept running for short little bursts. My energy was good, but it wasn’t that good. Honestly, I didn’t want to be running. But I made myself keep up until the trail got really steep. Running uphill is hard, but walking uphill, that I can do! I slipped by him and passed at least a half dozen more people. Right after passing one man, I continued in a straight line, straight up until I heard him call “Miss!, Miss! the trail is over here.” Crap! I’d gone about 25 steps straight up the wrong way. I’m glad he was there to catch me.  So stupid! The trail was really just a jumble of rocks in places, though. It wasn’t always easy to follow.

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Eventually I made it to the falls which were impressive.

I loved the wooden bridges at the base of the falls. I didn’t even mind the stairs because the view was spectacular. Apple Orchard Falls on the left and an open expanse of spring-green mountains and blue sky off to the right.

Up, up, up. There was a lot of climbing beyond the top of the falls. It was hot. Salt was stinging my eyes. Finally, I met a volunteer who told me it was just a hundred steps up to the aid station. I didn’t count, but I think she was underestimating. It seemed like about three times that. Regardless, I made it up to Sunset Fields. I would have been a lot happier if I wasn’t so worried about my knee.

I had enough water and some Clif Bloks for the last section, so I didn’t even stop.

Sunset Fields Aid Station to the finish (miles 29-34)

Running hurt, but the knee felt better than it had going into Cornelius Creek aid station. I crossed the parkway and headed back onto a short section of gentle single track followed by a short steep up. I caught up to a man just as we reached the top. He stepped over to let me by, but I told him if he was planning to run he’d want to be in front of me. He said he was going to walk for a bit. I put my headphones in again and started running. These last four miles were going to be tough. A minute or two later, I stepped over to let the man by. I was surprised nobody else passed me. It was all downhill and just kept getting steeper and rockier. The pain in my knee had just about reached my tolerance level when I saw the road below. I was so happy to see that road!

The road was so ridiculously steep that it wasn’t much better than the rocky trail for a while, but I knew it would get less steep and easier. Well, physically easier. Mentally, it was still hard. Miles always feel so long at the end of a race. I’d been gaining on the lady in front of me for two miles. I caught her at the big squirrel mailbox (which I was thinking meant the finish was right around the corner.) She glanced over and said “you got me”.  I told her that the finish was right around the corner. We turned the corner and there was a sign, but it wasn’t the camp. “Shit!” I said, “I’m sorry. I thought we were there”. But then, just beyond the sign, I saw the cars. “No. I was right! It’s RIGHT THERE!”. She took off. I tried to keep up.

I could hear cheers and then Horton’s voice calling out my name.

I finished Promise Land 50k++!

34 miles and 7400 feet of gain.

 

*All the photos I used are Brian’s. I didn’t take any of my own.

*I’ve got an appointment with Dr. Wilder tomorrow to see what’s going on with my knee. It is swollen and still hurts.

 

Seen on the run (April 13, 2019)

Training run with David Horton’s college students on the Promise Land 50k course.

Nothing like running with a bunch of college kids to make you feel old and slow.

Mostly there was climbing. And climbing. And some more climbing.

There were some nice views.

Horton is funny.

I had some Oreos and blue Gatorade.

None of my “injuries” hurt very much.

It was warm and spring is creeping up the mountains.

There was some minor chafing.

Overall I’d say it was a very nice run in the mountains.

With a shit ton of climbing.

18.47 miles and 4700+ feet of gain.

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Seen on the run (April 7, 2019)

Humpback Rocks loop and Dobie Mountain loop

I headed up to Humpback Rocks first.

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I thought I was too late for the sunrise, but was pleasantly surprised.

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It was gorgeous.

There were already quite a few people up there enjoying the view. That made me happy. We should all do this more often.

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People were camping at every campsite I passed. It was cool to see so many people at the shelter, too.

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While I definitely enjoy solitude and generally try to avoid crowds, the trails were eerily empty this winter. It’s nice to see them coming back to life.

My foot felt a lot better when I woke up this morning and it only bothered me for the first couple miles of the run. After that I hardly noticed it at all.

It hurts a little now, though. Not sure what that means.

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Seen on the run (April 6, 2019)

Four easy miles on the Monticello trail.

Just me.

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The anxiety crazies are back. And/or I’m injured. It’s just so much fun that I can never tell the difference. The pain always feels very real.

My toe started hurting at mile 5 of my run on Wednesday. I cut my run short, but I thought I was just being overly cautious. It didn’t hurt so bad that I couldn’t run on it.

I was planning to run Friday morning, but I decided not to because the toe was still hurting (I did a lot of walking around on Wednesday and Thursday). I also spent a lot of time Googling everything I could think of involving running and toe injuries. Stress fractures of the metatarsals are common in runners, but stress fractures of the phalanges (which is where my pain is) are not.

It could be metatarsalgia. There is some pain under the toe. And my second toe is longer than my big toe. And I always have a callus in that spot.

Or it could all be in my head.

Or just mostly in my head.

The fun is that there is no way to know.

I nearly made myself sick worrying about whether I should try to do a long group run this morning. There were two that I really wanted to do. One was a training run on the Promise Land 50k course. But I also knew I didn’t want to drive all the way down to Lynchburg when I wasn’t sure if I’d even be able to do the run. I wasn’t even sure if I wanted the hassle of driving to Sugar Hollow and meeting up with a group only to possibly have to turn around after a mile or two.

By the time I went to bed last night I was pretty sure I was just going to do a short easy run in town to test it out. Then, if all was fine I could still do my own long(ish) run on Sunday. I’m not convinced that I should be running 20+ miles on consecutive weekends anyway.

The run was fine. My toe was just a little achy.

I walked to the City Market afterward though and it hurt. Not bad enough to make me limp. Just bad enough to keep me guessing.

Fun with anxiety and running.

Seen on the run (March 30, 2019)

Sugar hollow to Blackrock plus the Trayfoot/Payne run loop with the CAT 50k training group

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Photo credit: David Carl Smith

David kept telling the people on the ends to squish in. That’s why I look like I’m hiding behind the guy next to me. I always look like such a dork in these group photos.

It started out chilly. By the time we got up to Blackrock it was raining and cold. That was NOT in the forecast! We all stopped to put our coats on.

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Half an hour later the sun came out and it got hot.

The Trayfoot/Payne run loop was really nice with no leaves on the trees. I had only done it in the summer. There’s a lot of ridge running with beautiful views that you can’t see in the summertime.

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It was uncomfortably warm, but I was loving it after all the cold wet weather we’ve had this winter!

The water crossings on the way back actually felt good. I stopped and rinsed my salt-crusted face at each one.

On the way back, the trail was lined with purple flowers that must have opened with the sun.

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Spring!! It’s finally here!

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