Dead Last at Promise Land
By Tod Massa
Obligatory Background (aka Excuse Making)
I really had no reason to be at this race other than I had already paid the
entry fee and I wanted the T-shirt. Why? Because work, family and life had
conspired to keep me from training the way I should. The ongoing lack of
progress by the Virginia General Assembly in crafting a budget, the impact
of this on my agency, and many related and unrelated issues were just so
much noise in my life. When I completed the Great Eastern 50K in September,
I had trained pretty well, but had hurt myself and ultimately needed to take
some time off from hard running, which I did. Unfortunately, I never really
got back to the long runs.
Truth to tell, I had only done one run over 12 miles since September.
However, having recognized that my difficulties at the GE50K, and my earlier
DNF at the Highlands Sky 40 in West Virginia, had been doing the climbs, I
had embarked on a new training program. In January I began working with a
personal trainer (sometimes known by myself, and others, as the "Queen of
Pain" or "Rotha the Punisher." Our focus these last few months has been on
strengthening the knees and quads, core strength and some upper body work.
Further, I had supplemented this training with things such as occasional
stair-work where I would climb and descend 30-40 flights of stairs and then
run 3-5 miles. Usually I was able to maintain a weekly running base of 20-40
Unfortunately, about six weeks ago, travel commitments and then illness took
over my life. I was unable to run, work out, or do much of anything for the
last three weeks. Breathing was a chore. Sometimes I would have coughing
fits of such intensity and duration that I would have to pull over when
driving. It has not been fun to be me of late.
Stats: 6'4", 240 lbs, running less than two years.
The race: I had promised friends and family that I would run no more than I
felt up to and would stop before I hurt or exhausted myself. When I got to
the Promise Land youth camp that was still my plan.
The atmosphere was charged and friendly. I saw a number of people I count as
friends that I had met at previous races. The pre-race briefing was
humorous, an even somewhat informative, and it was then, listening to David
Horton, that I began to realize that I could not simply bail on this race
without giving it my best. That, and so many people asking me if I was
entered in the 'Fat Boy' division - I just couldn't bail.
Fifteen minutes before the race start the next morning I had decided to go
all the way.
Anybody who has run the Promise Land 50k (or, from what I gather, any of
Horton's other races) knows that it is a severely uphill start. During the
briefing the night before, I had decided that my only hope was to start out
slow, walk the hills up, and run/shuffle them down. That's exactly what I
did. For the first seven hours of ups and downs, this worked really well.
For a while, I thought I had a nine-hour finish in the bag.
That was until I hit the Apple Orchard Falls trail and that bloody steep
uphill climb. Two hours to go three miles. Geez. I was hot. I dropped and
dry-heaved at one point. A few moments later I had an attack of dizziness
and blurred vision. My quads trembled. My calves cramped. Whatever happened,
it wasn't pleasant, but I survived and made it to the next to last aid
station. They were packing up...disheartening. However, my water bottle was
refilled and I got a Ziplock bag full of donut holes. And off I
starting to move downhill again.
One of the volunteers was following behind me, removing ribbons and picking
up trash. Obviously I was the last person on the course. This nameless young
man gave me two gel packs when he caught up to me when I had stopped to dip
my hat in the stream and refill my bottle (yes, I was drinking untreated
water ;-) ). I started moving again. At that point, my ForeRunner said I had
gone 31 miles in exactly 10 hours. Shortly I got to the last aid station and
started the final run down the really, really steep dirt road. Those last
2.6 miles to the finish line I ran without pause. Not fast, but I ran.
Everything was pretty well packed up when I got there, and I felt really bad
about holding people up. David was still there and gave me a big handshake
and I apologized for being late. Those wonderful volunteers had even saved a
hamburger and couple of hotdogs - what great people!
Final time 10:45:51 - No finisher's prize, NO PROBLEM - I finished!!!!
Anyway, my thanks to David and all the wonderful volunteers at Promise Land.
It was a great experience and a great day. The Promise Land really is a
beautiful race and I can't wait to run it again next year!
1) I think I did things pretty much right. I stayed hydrated, ate well,
took Succeed caps regularly.
2) Nothing is as important to ultrarunning as running. The long run is
Yesterday's weaknesses were strictly related to endurance, or rather the
3) Except for the last climb, my climbing was much improved over last
The strength training has really helped.
4) Pacing...I am a big, slow runner so proper pacing is critical for
Yesterday was the best I have ever done.
All things considered, I am very pleased with myself. Two years running:
two marathons, four attempted ultras, two finishes on tough courses, eighty
pounds lost, I feel pretty darn good about myself.
PS - Total distance on the ForeRunner was 33.8 miles. I trust it. The
distance to the 2nd aid station was exactly a mile longer than the course
profile, the signs or anything else on the course - methinks I now
understand the phrase "Horton miles". ;-)