Making the Right Call: Promise Land 2015

Big Horn training is in full swing.

Coming off Terrapin, I really needed a day or two, make that a week, of recovery.  I had run hard – at a high heart rate – all day.  In the days following, my legs were dead, and I ate enough food to feed a small village (if the villagers ate nothing but ice cream and chocolate chip cookies….).  The following Sunday, I headed up to the mountains to run with Michelle, Jo, and Liz.   The cold temperatures and frozen ground did nothing to help me find motivation….only the ladies running with me provided the lift to get through that run.  I think it was knowing that from this point, I had to be ALL IN with regards to Big Horn training.  I wasn’t going to have the luxury of a week off after Promise Land.  There were 12 weeks of miles and hundreds of thousands of feet to climb ahead.  Did I really want to do this??

When the weather warmed and my mood improved, I knew that the answer was Yes!   I love the long training weeks and the tough runs.  Crossfit workouts have built strength and a handful of Double Jarmans have (dare I say it?), seemed almost easy.  Two weeks before Promise Land I ran back-to-back days of The Priest & Three Ridges.  Saturday’s run was slow, steady, and HOT.

Marc and I coming down off The Priest.
Marc and I coming down off The Priest.

The next day, with temps 10 degrees cooler, our pace was a bit faster and my body felt so much better.  I was encouraged by the progress.

Crozet UltraRunning Team enjoying the day: Me, Michelle, Sophie, Marc on 3 Ridges
Enjoying the View on 3 Ridges…

When Sophie and Rachel tossed out the idea of running the TWOT loop on April 26th, I jumped on board.  It would be a tough run any day, but the day after Promise Land….that’s practically an adventure.  I wanted to see if I could do it!  Anyhow, racing Promise Land was out of the question.  I couldn’t afford any more weeks off.  I made a plan to run strong and steady, keep my heart rate in 100-mile zone (less than 140), and practice fueling and hydration.

Promise Land 50K++ - Elevation Profile
Promise Land 50K++ – Elevation Profile
The Wild Oak Trail – Elevation Profile


I usually take it easy the week before a race, but this time I only cut back on mileage a bit.  I wanted to go in just a little tired, to mitigate the adrenaline that causes me to go out too fast.  A long-overdue massage Thursday reminded me that I have been neglecting soft-tissue work this training cycle, but the fabulous Christian worked out the knots and tight spots and I left feeling ready to run.  I had no nerves to unsettle me, no times stuck in my head.  I purposely did not review my splits and paces from the last two years…I wanted to run by feel alone.

The weather forecast looked great for Saturday – cool and cloudy – with rain not expected until the afternoon.  Sunday was a different story.  Rainy and COLD…UGH – not again!  Sophie decided not to run TWOT and Rachel was sidelined with a calf niggle, so I switched gears and decided to run Priest/3 Ridges again.  Quality climbing on the AT, easy access to the cabin. I was comfortable running it solo, and would be able to take my dog Nalla for company.  I actually looked forward to the challenge 🙂


Friday morning I headed out – dropping Janie off with my parents before driving South on Rt. 29 towards Bedford.  I pulled into camp around 4, and had a pleasant evening hanging out with my trail family….even scoring a Patagonia Houdini at the pre-race giveaway.

Bob and Me, pre-race
Bob and Me, pre-race
Marlin joined us for the pre-race hang out as well!
RVA runners – all smiles 🙂

We turned in early, and I had a decent night’s sleep in my car.

Until about 3 AM…I awoke in a panic.  The nerves had found me!!  Would I be able to run easy?  Could I fight the urge to race?  Would I be OK with the slower time that would result from making the right call?  How on earth would I summon the motivation to run Sunday?  I closed my eyes and tried to will away those demons.


Eventually, it was time to get ready.  We walked up to the line as the crowd was singing the National Anthem, and just like that, the race began.  My legs felt good, and I settled into a rhythm.  I let girls go past, happy to not really care.  The farther out of the top-10 I was, the better….I wanted no pressure today.  We made our way easily up the mountain, and I enjoyed a nice conversation with Lori Cooper.  As we reached the top, I relaxed into my favorite part of the course…the easy grassy horse trail.  The trail drops away to the left, providing an outstanding view of the surrounding peaks.  As the trail rolled along, I got to catch up with friends and enjoy the day.  My heart rate was steady and low, and I felt great.  Coming into Sunset Fields for the first time, I saw Bob Clouston and Tammy Gray and handed off my head lamp before starting the long descent.

Coming into Sunset Fields, mile 14-ish...
Coming into Sunset Fields, mile 14-ish…

I was a bit demoralized on this section.  On one hand, I was enjoying the nice downhill.  On the other, I kept getting passed!!  The downside of running easy in a race is that most other running are really racing 🙂  I repeated my mantra:  Make the right call.  Run this easy.  Do NOT roll your ankle (two nasty rolls a few weeks earlier had done a number on my right foot.  It was taped up and held all day, but a few missteps reminded me that it was not yet 100%)!!!  Down, down, down we went to the Cornelius Creek aid station.

After the aid station, there are about two flat miles on a gravel road.  My legs were starting to feel tired from the climbs and descents, and I guessed that I was shuffling along at a 10 min/mi pace.  But I was surprised when my watch buzzed and showed an 8:20 split.  That, and turning back onto single track, lifted my spirits.  Once I passed through the Colon Hollow aid station, I felt a burst of energy…just about 5 miles of trail before the last big climb!

Those 5 miles are tough…a slow, steady uphill.  There are a few downhill stretches that should be easy to run, but they are tempered by the knowledge of what awaits:  Apple Orchard Falls, and a LONG, STEEP 3 mile climb back up to the Parkway.  I kept to the strategy….low heart rate, easy running.  I passed many of the runners who had caught me on the downhill.  Coming into the final aid station, there were three women not more than 2-3 minutes ahead of me.  But this wasn’t the day to go hunting…in fact, all of a sudden, my energy took a nose-dive.  I started up the falls at an OK clip, but once the real climbing started I felt like a drunk sailor.  Wobbly, unsteady, and unsure of step.  It took about 5 minutes, but I finally realized I needed to EAT!  My aerobic pace didn’t trigger my hunger, and I’d been under-fueling.  I took two big nips from my gel flask.  Slowly, the energy returned and I picked up the pace again.  Coming to the top of the climb, I knew Bob would be waiting.  I took one last long sip from the flask, stripped of my vest, and handed it to Bob…I was ready to fly down that last downhill to the finish.

It was fun running that section with energy to spare…I was careful on the technical parts, and stayed controlled on the downhill….there were more miles waiting tomorrow, and I was right where I wanted to be.  I crossed the finish line in 6:28…not a PR, but an improvement over last year.  I was very happy with the day.

Marlin, Me, Michelle, and Bethany, post-race
Marlin, Me, Michelle, and Bethany, post-race


The thing with Making the Right Call is that sometimes it doesn’t work to benefit the training plan.  Sunday morning I woke up – a bit tired and groggy – but with legs feeling good and strong.  My dog looked up with big eyes and a wagging tail as I pulled on my running clothes – she was ready to go!

However, when I came downstairs and chatted with Jimmy, it was clear that the run would have to wait.  He’s in the middle of a big project at the cabin, and had received word that two friends would be coming up to help out.  The scramble to finish the prep work and get supplies meant that I’d be helping him in the morning and on kid duty in the afternoon.  And it was clear that that was the Right Call.  I’m a little bummed to miss the training run…a bit disappointed to not see through this experiment.  But in return we will have a new deck in time to camp out Memorial Day, and I have an unexpected Hall Pass to run in the mountains next weekend (yippee!!).


A little over eight weeks until Big Horn.   Time to go ALL IN.  I’ll be building my weekly mileage up for the next 6 weeks before tapering down for the race.  May brings TWOT, lots of Jarman’s repeats, and a three-day Memorial Weekend boot camp.  Add in some altitude and heat training, as well as all the requisite end-of-school-year activities, plus a cross-country family trip in June and it should be an interesting time!! 🙂


POST SCRIPT:  I just got back from this morning’s Crossfit workout….and it was a doozy!  12x400m sprint intervals, with strength work in between repeats (pushups, kettle bell swings, box jumps, etc.)  My legs felt amazing and in no way did I feel that I’d just run Promise Land.  A huge shout-out and sincere thanks to Tim Grabham and the folks at West End Crossfit for helping me build strength this season…its definitely starting to pay off!!! 

all in

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