Promise Land 2002

The open field where the start/finish line of the Promised Land 50K was
located, and where the runners camped, was perfectly situated. Mountains
surrounded it. It seemed that the only way out was up.

Up indeed.

"It's 4:30 A.M. There is one hour till race start. Get up!" So roared Race
Director Dr. David Horton's voice breaking the still of the 37-degree night
air. From the far end of the field a muffled "thank you" rang out in
response. Lights inside domed tents scattered across the camping area
flicked on under the glow of full moon.

The debate of the morning was what to wear, long sleeve or short. It was
cold now and we would be going up, way up. The moon provided plenty of light
for the over 200 starters and thus most runners did not carry flashlights
heading out and directly up the first climb of the long day to come.

Indicative of the up involved, I passed the first aid station (three miles
into a five-mile climb to the summit of Onion Mountain) in 40 minutes. We
turned off the jeep road and onto single track and passed the first of many
waterfalls.

Summitting Onion Mountain at about and hour and ten minutes was like rebirth.
Behind us the full moon was setting over the dusty blue ridgeline. Directly
ahead located in a most scenic notch of the mountains was the full on orange
ball of the rising sun. From night into day. Strained labored breathing gave
way to slow easy rhythm. Smoke from a distant pulp plant hugged the river
valley on the horizon and snaked away in the distance. Spring had been left
behind at the lower elevations. Winter was here amid the bare trees. From
green to brown. There was no wind on the climb up and now on this side of
the ridge a stiff breeze blew. Amid the footfalls were the words
"incredible", "look at that", "beautiful", "awesome" as the runners turned
away from the sun and ran along a grassy fire road that paralleled the ridge
line above.

Ten miles of rolling up brought the highest point on the course, Apple
Orchard Mountain at 4,000 feet. When asked where the next aid station was, a
kind volunteer smiled and simply pointed down to the bottom of the valley
the spread to the horizon before us. "Four miles down" is all he said.

Now if you've run a David Horton race before, you know he gives very good
awards. Here was one's opportunity to garner one. Four miles of downhill.
Over rocks. On single track. Over logs. Across streams. Fast. I'm thinking
I'll have a great chance to get that "Best Blood" award here if I'm not real
careful.

When we bottomed out at the halfway point, I was surprised to see Scott
Jurek, the three time Western States 100-Mile Endurance Run winner passing
in reverse direction. He was in second place nearly seven miles ahead of me.


When we finished that rolling seven-mile loop section, all we had to look
forward too was the climb out of the river bottom up to the ridgeline yet
again. The three-mile climb started meekly and was very runable in packed
dirt. Too soon however, rock steps cut out of the hillside slowed the pace.
The Park Service must have helicopter'ed in some wood as we then climbed
literally straight up hundreds of stairs clinging to the side of a massive
rock strewn waterfall. At one point it was so steep you could reach out in
front of you at touch a stair you'd soon be climbing over.

Topping out and crossing the Blue Ridge Parkway yet again, we only had five
miles of downhill to go. The first two miles were gentle and the last three
were very steep on a packed dirt fire road. Blown quads be dammed, thanks to
the Hammer Gel, I released the brakes, let out a yee haw and took the
plunge. Leaning forward I was barely in control bombing down the slope.

The smell of grilling burgers and the promise of a cold beer stashed in my
tent drew the finish line towards me with increasing speed.

Done with a big smile on my face. 6:39 good for 72 place out of 200+. On to
the Vermont 100 miler in July.

What a great course. What a great day. A big thanks to David and all his
volunteers.

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Geoffrey S. Baker