Back in the Groove: Promise Land 50K++

What a difference a month can make!

As I mentioned previously, I was a NEUROTIC mess going into Terrapin.  I carried all of that stress and anxiety on my shoulders up those climbs and when my foot started to hurt (as I knew it would), I kind of fell apart.  Even though I was happy with my time, I knew I *should* have enjoyed the day more.

Promise Land was different, and I’m not sure why.  I haven’t been training harder (if anything, there has been too much racing and not enough running this Spring).  We certainly still have a TON of stress at home as we get ready to put our house on the market next weekend.  But as I rolled out of town on Friday, I just decided I was going to enjoy the day and the run and not worry about anything.  I wasn’t going to try and crush the mountains.  I wasn’t going to try for an arbitrary time goal.  Just like Boston, I had the whole day to run, and I was going to love every minute of it.

This was my April!
This was my April!

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It doesn’t hurt that Spring has finally come to the Virginia mountains.  It was a beautiful drive down to the camp, and when I rolled in around 6pm, the Richmond crew had set up a big tent and were hanging out . THIS is why I run ultras!  Familiar faces, pizza, Horton’s always-entertaining race briefing, and a big bonfire made for a fun evening.  We turned in early, and I climbed into my van to catch a few hours of sleep before the EARRRRLY morning wake-up call.

At 4:15 I was up, taking care of the usual pre-race stuff.  Oatmeal.  Coffee. Mole-skin.  My big question was which shoes to wear. I had worn my new Hokas for the last few long training runs.  While I like how they handle the downhills and expedite recovery, I’ve never yet LOVED running in them.  I had my Brooks just in case, but in the end I decided to give the Hokas a chance.

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The race began promptly at 5:30, and we jogged out of camp.  I knew the first 4 miles were uphill, and I settled into an easy pace.  My plan was to conserve energy through the first half so I’d have some mojo left to climb Apple Orchard Falls (miles 26-29…the hardest part of the race).  I’m not sure how much I ran or walked up this stretch, but we made it to the top, and started the first downhill.  It was on a grassy horse trail, and truly a delightful run.  My Hokas felt like they had little motors in them, and all I had to do was relax and let gravity do the work.

Before the start, I had studied the elevation profile and knew there were four climbs.  As we started up the second, I still felt great, and decided this was going to be a good day.  I could see a girl about 30 seconds in front of me, and while I could never catch her, I kept her in sight for almost the entire race.   This helped me to feel, even when I was tired,  like I wasn’t coming apart at the seams.  I stayed on top of my nutrition and hydration, so avoided the bonk that got me at Terrapin.

My energy did ebb at times.  The stretch between Colon Hollow and Cornelius Creek (mile 20-25) was a bit rough, as there was more climbing than I expected.  But I had some nice conversations along the way and I knew we were just grinding through the miles before the Last Big Climb.  And then we were there.  Martha had told me it usually took her an hour to climb Apple Orchard Falls.  Drew warned me that I’d hear the Sunset Fields aid station long before I’d get there.  Ed let me know the exact number of steps I’d be climbing.  I was ready to do this!!

Ugh.  Just because one is prepared does NOT make it any easier.   But I moved forward, step by step, in the final death march of the day.  I passed a couple of guys, but was humbled when another girl came up from behind and passed me like I was standing still.  I watched her billy-goat climb enviously!!

I trudged along, loving the beauty of the falls and the majesty of the mountain.  Then, I heard the cow bells and cheers from Sunset Fields.  Finally, I was at the top.  I rolled through – with one finally small section of uphill, I  started the 4 mile descent to the finish line.

A few miles on trail, and then the last 2.5 on gravel road….a quad-busting thrill ride that carried me across the finish line in 6:10.  I was pleased with my time and placing (7th female), but over-the-moon to have finished a TOUGH, BEAUTIFUL course and kept the smile on my face throughout.

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I sat at the finish awhile and chatted with Stacin and his friend Mark.  And then the final-4 downhill miles took their revenge.  My gel-filled stomach rebelled, and I excused my self so I could be sick in solitude.  With a now-empty stomach I hobbled back to the car, cleaned up a bit, and hauled out my air mattress so I could lie in the sun while the world spun around me.  Kyle & Nebs were there and we chatted for awhile as the rest of the Richmond group finished…first Brian, then Martha (with the grand-masters win!!)…then Mark (bloodied and muddied…but with the Best Blood prize as a consolation).  Some protein and Pedialyte helped my tummy, so we all went to the finish line to cheer for the next batch of finishers…Nigel….Emily & Phillip…then Loretta (with a HUGE PR).  I had to leave for home, but got word that Hurley, Brooke, and Alli all finished as well!!

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Attitude is everything, and this sport is such a mental one.  I’m really, really happy with the day.  Truth be told, I’m happy with my performance in the first three LUS races.  I’ve been consistent – with my 6th place at Holiday Lake, 8th at Terrapin, and 7th at Promise Land.  For the most part, I have a good balance between running and my “real” life.  And there is SUCH a crazy great group of people that I am fortunate to call friends!

I am REALLY looking forward to some down time in May, as we finish up the house and move.  Summer has its own adventures in store…Alaska in June, Catherine’s and Catoctin in July (I hope)…and I’m sure August will be find me in the Tye River or Rip Rap swimming hole after long training runs.

Happy Trails, y’all…

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Boston.

Where do I begin?

One week ago, I was in Boston.  Preparing to run the marathon.  And, though I hate to admit it now, I was thoroughly ambivalent about running it.

There were so many people.  And they were all wearing the same blue and gold jacket.  And the expo was crowded.  And my foot hurt.  And I was cold.  And there were so many people.  And it was another weekend, one of too many recently, that I wasn’t home with my babies.

Why is Boston such a BIG DEAL?  Why do people want to run it so badly?  Why do they take themselves so seriously?

I crawled into bed and tried to sleep.

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I woke up the next morning, and the world wasn’t much better.  My dog was missing in Richmond.  I had lost my driver’s license.  My foot hurt.

I ate my breakfast, got dressed and donned my “throw-away” gear that would keep me warm while we waited to start.  One last inventory of essentials (hydration pack, arm warmers, ear-buds) and I headed to the bus.

And then, just like that, the magic hit.

My phone buzzed:  Daisy had been found – she was safe!!  It buzzed again:  Pam and Crista were at the start & wanted to run together!  There were a half-dozen familiar Richmond faces on the bus!  In the athlete’s village, I bumped into another friend and got to wish her luck!  In the starting corral, yet another Richmond friend to hug & run with for a mile or two.

Coming out of my funk, I realized that I was the luckiest gal in the world.  I had then whole day to run with friends and enjoy life, and I’d be dammed if an achy foot was going to ruin that.

As soon as my attitude changed, Boston unveiled herself to me.  I got it.  26.2 miles of joy.  From the front lawns in Hopkinton and Framingham to the college kids at Wellesly and BC.  On lawn chairs and trampolines and fire ladders and balconies, we runners were treated to the longest stretch of cheerleaders I’ve ever seen.  Thousands of hands to high-five.  Music and dancing.  Celebration.

The runners were not the cause of the celebration, we were merely the excuse for revelry.  The town was celebrating itself, its tradition, and its culture. I felt honored to be a part of that.

By the time I crossed the finish line with my friends, I had fallen in love with this crazy town.

20 minutes later, the bombs went off.

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We were still in the finish area, retrieving our drop bags from the bus.  Boom! We turned around.  Cannons?  It is Patriots Day.  Boom!  Cell phones are raised.  There is smoke in the street.  Things no longer make sense.  We look at each other, a silent question:  Is everything OK?

A lady next to me can’t get through to her son.  He is at the finish line.  “Do I need to panic?”, she asks me.  “I don’t think so”, I answer, “No one is panicking.  We don’t need to worry until they tell us something has happened.”  She knows, and I know, that something has happened.

A police office stares blankly ahead.  Staying calm until his radio crackles.  Keep moving out of the finish area folks.  We start moving more quickly.  My hotel is a block away and I head straight there.  A quick text to my parents and brother and Jimmy.  I am OK.  If you see something on the news, know that I am OK.

In the hotel, people are still oblivious.  I head up to my room and drop my stuff.  No Jimmy.  I come back down and its buzzing.  Bombs.  Terrorists.  Other devices.  Lock down.

The next few hours are a blur.  2 hours after the blast, Jimmy finally gets to the hotel.  He describes the panic, the injured people he saw on the street.  Messages and texts trickle in.  All Richmond runners are safe.  Debbie and Tim are locked out of their hotel but find room at ours.  My marathon-tired body needs food, but when my plate arrives, I can only stomach a bite.

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We fly home the next morning, on a clear day.  We fly over Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket, and I see my small babies running along the sand with their school friends.  Gleeful shrieks as they jump off the dock and into the chilly water.  I hold tight to the memory of last summer – of moms and kids and no bombs in the street of Boston.

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And now.  One week later.  One bomber dead, the other captured.  The nightmare over.

My heart aches for Boston.  And my mind is resolved to return next year.  I owe that city an apology, and as a runner, I owe that city my sweat and tears.  For 117 years, the Boston Marathon has been the lifeblood of our sport.  For better or for worse, it represents the pinnacle of amateur accomplishment.  I will never run in the Olympics, or stand upon a winner’s podium.  But with a reasonable amount of time and training, I can qualify to run Boston.

So this girl who so loves the mountains and trails and woods – she won’t hang up her road shoes just yet.