When I started telling people my plans to run Promise Land a month or so back, I was getting quite a few cock-eyed stares. And I didn't blame them. Thinking about it now, if someone with my experience as a runner came up and told me that they planned to run a 50k ultra-marathon on one of the toughest trails in Central Virginia, I would have called them a nut too. But thankfully for me I'm a determined nut, and probably pretty stupid too.
I signed up for Dr. Horton's infamous running class with no expectations; I hated running. In fact I dreaded the thought of an hour on some boring neighborhood road trying to log miles. That was until the first day of class. Running class introduced me to a running without boundaries approach that instantly hooked my free spirited lifestyle. It was over; running officially took a hold of me. I soon found myself wanting to push the physical envelope and Promise Land dangled teasingly in front of me. It was after my first 10 mile run that a friend, and female ultra-runner Alicia Taylor, jokingly told me I should run Promise Land. I took her seriously. One encouraging chat later, with Dr. Horton, and I was convinced. I was going to run Promise Land.
Now, to give you a better understanding of the experience I brought to the table, my longest run before the PL was the 16 mile "darkside" loop two weeks prior to the race. Upon completing that run I ended up with an injured iliotibial band (outside of the knee). The next week I did the "lightside" training run and ended up inflaming BOTH iliotibial bands that required physical theropy during the week before PL. I told my therapist to try and make the pain as manageable as possible; but I knew I would be running through pain regardless. This was probably my body's reaction to the fact that up until Promise Land I had only run 200 total training miles. This was not only my first Ultra Marathon, this was my first year as a runner, and I was only 3 months in.
I couldn't hold back my excitement for the race the day before. If I was sitting down my leg wouldn't stop bouncing. I was only hours away from the most grueling physical challenge of my life and I was smiling; is that normal? I digress. Camping the night before was a great experience, food, fellowship, stories, and so many interesting people. But the time was drawing near, and sleep was the only thing coming between me and 50k. From the begining I knew the pain was going to be bad. I did my best to tape my knees but I was only shooting to make the pain manageable. The absolute worst part of the race, for me, was between aid station 2 and Sunset Fields. It was here that every step made me wince a little bit, and because of the stress on my ITB's it began effecting my groin. When I reached Sunset Fields an aid station worker said "that doesn't look good", I smiled and said "its not". But there was no way I was gonna let a "little" pain stop me. After stopping and starting again at the first few aid stations it became apparent that my knees were basically engines trying to start without oil, and every stop I made meant at last a quater mile of excruciating pain to follow. That led to a lot of two things: tylenol, and PRAYER. I don't know how much the tylenol helped, but i know that God did a lot to pull me through and give me the strength to block out the pain.
I tried to run as smart as possible, taking it very easy on the downhill from Sunset Fields to Whitetail creek and conserve as much strength as possible for the Apple Orchard Falls climb. This really paid off for me when i finally did get to that last uphill. By that time the pain had become so redundant that it became more of an annoying voice in the back of my head. I ended up passing 6 people on that climb; much to my own surprise. This was where doing those training runs really paid off, because I could now taste the finishline. The 168 steps that once took the wind out of my sail a few weeks prior were now getting me closer to a personal accomplishment that I wasn't sure my body would let me finish. I barely even stopped at the last 2 aid stations, making sure my bottle was already open before I got there. I knew if I stopped for even a moment at those stations the pain of starting again could make it hard to finish. So I just kept trudging. Upon arrival to that gravel road I could barely stop smiling; just a few miles to go! I never knew how long that gravel road could feel, but it was an eternity. In fact, comming up on the camp it was almost sureal. Crossing the finishline made the last 8 hours 11 minutes and 59 seconds seem like a split second. It was hard to believe what I had just done, I was in kind of a euphoric shock; but the refreshing cold water of the creek brought me back to reality and I realized walking was to be a relative term for the next few days.
This was the most rewarding physical achievment of my athletic career by far. It won't be the last either. Once my knees (and ankle...rolled in goin down cornelius creek) heal up for good, I plan to continue my training and hopefully feel comfortable enough to run more of these. I'm definitely hooked.