Iliana Dimitrova's 2012 The Promise Land 50K, "3rd times a charm" Race Report

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If you have been following my adventures, in 2012 – I am on a quest to complete the Beast series in VA. The third and last of the easy ones (aka 50K) is Promise Land. The 50K races are in Feb, Mar, Apr with the first one at elevation gain / loss of 2,000 / 2,000 and the third one 8,000 / 8,000. After a full training in the summer, there is a 100M, 50M, 100K in Oct, Nov, Dec.

Promise Land was the race that I trained for the most, given the changes in my work schedule and the realization that one can’t just wing 50K at a few runs during the month. Elizabeth from Mountain Peak Fitness, continued to make me stronger with weekly strength sessions and monthly coaching. If I recall correctly, I did 85% of my training, which for me is a lot as I never manage to stick to a plan.

The week prior to the race, my car was in an accident (my friend borrowed it) and I had to scramble to get the car to the dealer for repairs, insurance paperwork, and securing a rental for the weekend. Renting a car in NYC is a rip off, so I proceeded with a rental from Jersey City, NJ. That meant I had to pack very smart and compact, as I couldn’t lug my whole house, as I usually do when I drive with my car. By now, I’ve got my race gear imprinted in my head, as I usually go away each weekend to races, or to pace friends, so I managed to fit it all in a duffle bag, including a sleeping bag and a pillow. Yet, I managed to forget two crucial items – my garmin watch and socks.

Once I picked up the car, the first stop was Target for a GPS device because there’s no way to navigate the mountains in VA without cell phone access (thus no iPhone GPS). Driving to VA was the usual fun sans the pit stops (b/c I had prepared with home cooked food) and I think I made it to Camp Promise Land just in time for the pre-race meeting and packet pick up. There was plenty of pizza, but remembering the countless poop stops at the VASS 50M after eating a whole pizza before the race, I limited myself to some fruit & veggies.

Dr Horton is one of the most entertaining RD, and I love listening to him during pre-race meetings. He makes you laugh, he gives you words of wisdom, and sometimes, he scares you with horror stories about bad weather or tough courses; and then has the raffle. His races are so well sponsored that there hasn’t been a race (from the ones, I’ve attended) that he didn’t have a ton of giveaways. Thus I promptly, put my name card in the box. For some reason I thought, that he will draw my name. And he did, I won a very nice Patagonia light backpack. Two years ago at Hellgate, I won a Patagonia winter jacket. You have to love Dr Horton’s races. That’s why I am doing the Beast, because two years ago at Hellgate, he said that no woman was man enough to do the Beast in 2010.

I decided to head back to the hotel, aka the trunk of the rented SUV early. By 9 pm I was making adjustments to figure out how to get the trunk into a comfy bad. The weather forecast was for a nice, not sunny Saturday with max of 65 F during the race, but I had failed to notice that the temperatures would have fallen to 35F on Fri. night. And I forgot to pack socks, so I kept waking up each hour with my feet frozen (and I don’t get cold easily). Finally around midnight, I decided to take extreme action by taping the hand warmers to my feet that have been in my race bag since last winter. The problem was that one of the warmers, didn’t work at all, and I continued to wake up each hour.

As promised, exactly at 4:30am Dr Horton used the megaphone to wake up the camp. I decided to head out to the bathroom and avoid the lines later on, grabbed an apple, ate it, and then slept another 30 min. The race starts at 5:30 am. It figures, I could sleep till 5am and then dress up since all I need was – compression socks, shorts, bra and a t-shirt. As I got ready, I noticed that as usual, I had actually managed to forget something. The garmin watch was still at my kitchen counter being charged. Argh, not very pleased to start the race without a watch. In a way, I like to be in control and to know how far I am in between AS. To my pleasant surprise as I rushed to check in at 5:25, my buggy from Terrapin 50K was right there and I made the impulse decision that once again I will do the whole race with her and have great company, plus she had two watches (a main one & a backup).

The races starts straight up and I think it’s actually one of the routes on the Hellgate course. We were towards the end of the pack, but quickly started passing folks up and just catching up on what happened since the last time we ran 1/3 of Terrapin together. However, very soon we lost almost everyone as my friend had to stop and adjust her socks. Oh well, we are not in a rush; it’s a long race and things change. After what seemed forever, to climb the 3 miles up to the top in an hour, it was a relief to get to an AS. I filed my water bottle, grabbed some PBJ, my favorite race fuel, and continued on.

I think it was either downhill or rolling flats to the next AS. There were some more ups and downs, but nothing that memorable, till the halfway mark. We were leapfrogging with a group of runners the whole way. My stomach is getting use to this all and the number of pit stops that I’ve to take decreased significantly between races last year vs the ones this year.  We mostly run alone and on the downhill to the halfway mark, we saw the front runners coming up. The first guy was running effortlessly the steep hill as if he was on motorized shoes.

It’s amazing to watch him run and no wonder he set up a new course record. To our surprise a few minutes later we saw a runner on the ground. It was the guy with bib #1 who was chasing the guy up front. Apparently, he had forgotten to eat and literally collapsed on the ground. I offered him my s-caps and a guy who was running the 50K with his dad, sent the dad ahead and went backwards to escort the fallen runner to the aid station on top.

We continued our way as we still had a long road ahead. At the bottom of the hill, we refueled – the usual for me – water and PBJ; and set for a 7m section that I think was part of the Terrapin course. This was a bit longer section and I was worried for water, but as we headed out it actually looked that the sky will open. And it did, within a few minutes the rain came down. I run well in a colder weather, and always welcome it; however for the first time I was freezing due to the hail and the hard rain. There was no way to slow down because I would not be able to keep my body temperature up. I was using half of my energy to move at a decedent clip and the other half to keep my body warm as I shivered with each step. That’s what happens when one runs with a t-shirt only. My friend had her Nathan backpack and pulled a light rain jacket out. For 13 miles we were just so cold, but we passed an army guy who stuck with us and kept us entertained.

I think the course was again rolling hills and other then the rain I enjoyed it as I was running most of it. We're back at the AS but now we had the some rolling hills and then the steep hill up. Amazingly by now, folks that we had lost because of the stop for the socks and the collapsed runner we're just a few minutes ahead (it's a back and out section) and I was on a mission to catch them. Mentally it's so much easier for me to concentrate knowing what's coming up, so I switched all thinking (we had dropped the army guy and passed folks who were taking to long at AS; I'm in an out in 1 min - bottle refill and a handhold of PBJ for the way out) and started the perpetual fwd motion.

This is the most beautiful section of the race - may be a bit after mile 21 or 22. The waterfalls are beyond belief; never thought that the east coast can be as pretty as the west. It reminded me of the San Juan mountains and the Hardrock course around Telluride. Only one girl passed us, but we were able to pass other people and catch two on the AS on top. There were 5 or 6 miles to the end, and mostly downhill. This was the time to start with the GU. For some reason I need a lot of GU at the last section of a race.

Soon we dropped the girls, and passed a couple that we had leap frogged earlier in the race. I was just hammering the down hills and I wasn't even sure if my friend would stay with me, yet every time I turned to check she was no more then 50 yards behind, way to go! I liked this, as I knew I will be toast the last quarter mile and would need to chase her. In a déjàvu moment this reminded me of the PA Ragnar Relay where my friends and I counted road kill - folks that one passes in a race. So the Promise Land count was close to 20. For the first time I flew the downhills, some of the road down was so steep, I had to zig-zag because of the momentum. Why were people walking the downs? As predicted, I was not looking to run the flat to the end, but my friend pulled us up, we passed 3 or 4 more folks and crossed the finish line! Elizabeth, thanks for making me stronger!

Iliana