Race Report- Promise Land 50k, Bedford, Virginia. April 27th 2002

 By John A. Remington

"The Fast, The Fat, and The Fatigued!"


My friend Jim Morrison of Thornhill had entered David Horton’s "Lynchburg Series" which is three races spread over the year and invited me down to Promised Land (second race) with him. Jim won the Ontario Ultra Series last year in his first full year of ultrarunning and wanted to try something different but as challenging this year. As my partner Leslie had scheduled herself into work that weekend and as I hadn’t, well there was no excuse I could think of in time!

Soon "Jimbo Tours" had attracted two real ultrarunners to come down with us. Ryne Melcher, 23 is coming back from injury but he owns a 3 hour 14 minute PB in a 50 kilometre race. He’s also ran for Canada in the 100 kilometre World Cup numerous times starting at age 19. What do they put in the water in the Kitchener/Waterloo area? Dom Repta,28 from Ancaster (not Hamilton!) Also decided to come to get a training race in before the Western States 100 Miler in July. He’s won the Iroquois ultra and has a bad habit of placing second in other Ontario ultra races. Dom’s been doing his student thing in Vancouver so he was ready for the hills.

David Horton’s Promised Land 50k in Bedford, Virginia has had an Ontario winner the last few years called Clark Zealand,28 who originally comes from Lindsay. This year the best ultrarunners in America had decided to enter the race and challenge both Clark and his course record of 5 hours and 8 minutes.

So how tough is it? Over 8,000 feet of climb and 8,000 feet of descent spread over 50 kilometres. Afterwards Dom informed me it was like running 25% of Everest! The first race in the Lynchburg Series is also 50k. It had a 7.5 hour cutoff. The last race is a 50 miler with a 12 hour cutoff. Promised Land has a 10 hour cutoff! Looking at the 2001 results and the JFK 50 Miler results from 2001 it seemed to me people run Promised Land about an hour faster that JFK which is by no means an easy 50 mile race. The top is at 4004 feet high and the lowest point is at 1130 feet.

We collected Dom in Ancaster and we headed for the border after Jim picked up Ryne and myself in a snow storm. As we journeyed south through a very scenic America the grass got greener and the trees had new leaves by the time we arrived at the camp grounds. Summer was in season. Temperatures had been high 20s but race day saw cold around 5C.

We dropped our stuff off in the 18 person bunker house which was basic and clean and headed to the registration at the Sedalia Centre. The all you can eat buffet was good value at US$8 each and I won a hat. Jim gave Clark new clothes for his new baby son and a Roots™ Canada hockey jersey. Clark said hello to all and the Americans were all very friendly. I presented David Horton with a bottle of Promised Land wine which pleased him very much as he had never heard of it. He announced he would present it to the winner.

At registration there was a scale for weighing the Clydesdales which are runners 190lbs and over. Jim is tall and just made it much to his embarrassment and our amusement. Believe me he is very slim and the scale seemed to be reading at least 10 lbs too much. Ryne and myself were too light so we wandered off to enjoy the company. Several Guinness™ later I tipped the magic 190lb mark thanks to carrying flashlights and other stuff in my pockets. So now I had a division to win!!! Too much Guinness had propelled me into a division I could win.

Before sleep Ryne and myself looked up at Onion Mountain and expressed horror at having to run up it, down it, up it again, and then down it again the next morning. Even the 5:30am start held less horror for us than that mountain did. Soon we were in bed to dream of flying over trails with effortless easy.

4:00 am. I hear a noise. Rats? Ryne? I look over the top of the bunk to see Jim eating his usual prerace breakfast of bagel, banana, Powerbar™, and yogurt. I jump down and turn on my gas stove inside the cabin to make coffee. This rouses Ryne and Dom who think I should go outside into the ice cold morning to do this. "How do you think the Arctic explorers cook" I ask them. Dom tells me my sleeping bag is nearly in the flame which was true. Guess I’d be a lousy Arctic explorer! This even gets Ryne to roll over which was a mistake as the flame almost burns him. I did get my coffee.

By 5am the start line just outside the cabin was brimming with life as over 200 runners, support workers, and groupies were milling around. Dom and myself took off up the mountain to test the waters. I felt warm running but otherwise good. Dom seemed very smooth. Soon we were all lined up and ready to go off into the night. Light should have crested the mountains by the time we hit the first trail section after the opening 2.6 miles of uphill gravel road. Steve and Virginia Govier from Kitchener/Waterloo had entered but were not registered as we got lined up.

Off we stormed into the night to climb the 1,400 feet in 2.6 miles to open this race. At a relaxed pace I felt my cold of the previous week bothering my breathing. As the incline sharpened I knew I was in big trouble and cut back the speed to a crawl. Then I started getting dizzy. I look at my watch and 5 minutes have gone by. Suddenly it dawns on me that my iron deficiency anemia of two week’s treatment is the issue. Still I made the 2.6 mile climb in 34 minutes and headed off into the next uphill trail section as dawn really started to happen. Slower and slower I am going as dizzy is now almost fainting. I gasp for air which doesn’t come. After the trail section which I have no memory of we are on a grass covered old road running around and up the mountain. The Blue Ridge Mountains and the sun rising are spectacular but I am in big trouble.

I had decided to go in a singlet with disposable gloves. It was cold, very cold up there. The gloves stayed on the whole race. I had decided not to carry a water bottle as at most the aid stations were only 5 miles apart. I figured I’d like to spend a couple of minutes in each getting my breath back from the hard running and dehydrating. Jim and Dom offered me bottles but I didn’t listen.

Soon Jim passes me and gives me a much needed drink. Now I am hammering all the downhills segments, jogging the flats, and walking the ups even the easy ones. This is annoying as despite my new obesity I am in good shape and raced a 3 hour 26 minute 50k in January. This shape only appears on the downhills where I zoom past the other runners like they are standing still. However they storm past me on all the inclines. Even running on the few flat sections is very tough for me as I gasp and wheeze.

After three hours I have gone 12 miles and hold myself up against an aid table. "Next section is a seven mile downhill" one of the awesome volunteers tells me. Off I zoom and flash past the two lead women as the technical and steep descent begins. I fall once as my right hamstring spasms after a couple of miles but I get up and stride onwards. At the aid station David Horton (the man is everywhere!) greets me and pours me a drink of Conquest™ electrolyte stuff. Guess I looked like I needed it. "I am afraid the course get’s boring now" he says. "It’s a two mile road section". "Great!" I say. David thinks I am being sarcastic. He says "and its downhill" apologetically. With a Canadian war cry (wolf howl) I zoom down the road which was my last section that I raced and felt good on!

All too soon the hills began again as back up the other side of the mountain I go. Now it is very much survival time. I make it back into a new aid station at over 19 mile’s from the beginning feeling like death. The next downhill takes me to the aid station I had talked to David at. The trail is very runnable but I am shuffling.

At the aid station I clutch several Cokes™ and wonder about stopping. Its mile 23 and I have been out here four hours! Suddenly I feel a pat on my arm and a "Hi Johnny" and there is Virginia. I ask her how Steve’s doing to find out he’s done his ankle in and is out. Hope its not too bad! Virginia and the others are looking at me (the leaves, branches, blood, sweat, and grey colour) with genuine fear. They try to leave from my entry point but its down the road for them. I wish them luck and tell them they’ll be back in just over five miles.

And now when it couldn’t get worse? Why it does! Apple Orchard Falls Trail to Sunset Fields is a 2.8 mile section and is the most difficult section of the entire course. Over 2,000 feet are gained during the 2.8 mile section. Whatever it is steep with some 45 degree sections by waterfalls and the rest is steep. Soon its walk 50-100 feet. Sit down. Cry. See another runner. Let them past. Walk 50-100 feet. Sit down. Cry. Eventually I stumble across a road and see a sign telling me its only 0.8 miles to go. 0.5 miles later I see another sign that says 0.3 miles to go. 30 minutes have gone by since the first sign.

Jim Morrison powerwalks by me here looking grim but determined. That’s how to win the Fat Boys race! He gives me some fluids as did other kind runners. I tell him I will drop at the next aid station if there is another climb as I am dead. Even Jim does not tell me not to as I look real bad. I get so annoyed I look and see no one is behind me and I pee all over the steps. Then I see a runner right behind me. "Sorry" I say, "I hate this climb". "What climb" he laughingly says!

Another runner comes upon me and says "you from Toronto". I say yes and he tells me he’s from Lindsay as he flies past. Josh Zealand, 21 is one of the three Zealand brothers and you’ll be hearing a lot more from all of them over the next few years.

Top of the mountain and I go on taking it easy and enjoying the view of the mountains. Downhill it might be but I cannot move hard. Time flies on the downhills as does the distance and soon I am at the last (first) aid station. I chat with the workers there for ages and they tell me I look 27 or 28. Stuns me as I am 37 and don’t feel my best. Down I go. Running slow and walking as runners dash by in pursuit of their goals. Mine is to finish in under 6:30 and then to have a good long sit.

Rounding the road I stroll through the line smiling and waving. David tells me to run as it’s a race. I say NO! When he asks me if I like his course I am forced to say yes but there is not enough roads. He asks me how my race went. When I tell him I had raced 50k 3 Hours and 2 minutes faster last time he understands.

Dom is sitting looking pleased. "Where were you. I kept waiting for you to come past me!". I mumble that I have no blood and he yells at me again. Dom is a vegan like the best ultrarunners and I went vegetarian two years ago but I am lazy. The iron deficiency anaemia almost killed me. Dom even gave me a book to help but it doesn’t taste very good.

Jim shows me his winners shirt and now looks happy to be a fat boy as he’s got my scalp today. Dom now remains the only Ontario ultrarunner I have never defeated in a race. Iroquois this August will see that changed! We hang out and watch Scott Jurek work very hard as a Montrail™ representative. He’s a great guy and I wish him well in the western States race and he spares me tons of time. We head off to Hagerstown about a 3 hour drive away to spend quality time in the Barracuda Surf nightclub. Hagerstown has that and the JFK race. The hotel pool is heavenly but I bail early and I am the first into bed.

1 Clark Zealand, 28 Lindsay 4:30:43

2 Scott Jurek, 28, WA 4:36:35

8 Dom Repta, 28, Ancaster 5:06:24

31 Josh Zealand, 21, Lindsay 5:47:33

43 Jim Morrison, 43, Thornhill 6:10:04

60 John Remington, 37, Richmond Hill 6:25:58

85 Ryne Melcher, 23, MI 6:50:52

168 Virginia Govier, 34, Kitchener/Waterloo 18th in her category 8:14:23


(1)26. Jim Morrison, 43, Thornhill 6:10:04

(2)40. Joseph Novak, 39m 6:13:55

(3)24. John Remington, 37, Richmond Hill 6:25:58

Clark Zealand established his absolute hold upon the title of Canadian Ultrarunner of the Year with his stunning 4:30 victory. Dom Repta’s eighth overall in this field and besting Clark’s previous course record was a great race. Ryne ran 12 miles and walked 29 miles to finish in 6:50.
Promised Land is a killer. Makes Ontario Ultra Series hills look like speed bumps. The
worst mountain climb is the Apple Orchard Falls Trail to Sunset Fields 2.8 mile section. Took me two hours, Ryne 1.5 hours and Dom (8th out of 210) 50 minutes.

Best quote is not repeatable but ask Jim what he can't do with "honey". Best
printable quote?: "I have never had my ears pop before in a race"- Jim Morrison Category
Winner and fourth Canadian Promised Land 2002

So what did I learn? Don’t dress lightly in the mountains, carry water, don’t race with iron deficiency anaemia, and you can finish anything if you want to. My retirement from trail ultras was announced. This morning Leslie comes home from work and she asks me all about it. Seems we are doing the Lynchburg Series in 2003!