Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Promises at Promise Land 2014

I promise you some things in life are just worth it and special. Hurling up and down mountains with strangers and friends alike is worth the physical (and perhaps mental) beating. Spending countless hours running with teammates, staying up a little later than you should at a bonfire the night before a 5:30am start time, those moments are special. Only two races give me butterflies: Promise Land and Hellgate. Two very special races. They're equal parts community and brutality. The vibes are nothing but positive, and even at the front of the race where we can get quite competitive, we still smile. Promise Land this year, my third running, was nothing but special.

5:29am. Photo: Dylan Hesse

The King, David Horton, seeded me first for this years race. After a breakout Hellgate, and some very solid racing this early spring, it seemed like I'd finally solidified in this silly game of ultrarunning. Still, I was wary of the "curse of the 1 bib" and was certainly in a tizzy the week of the race. I developed a little hamstring issue whilst running a solo road marathon back home visiting my parents the prior weekend, so receiving the #1 bib only exacerbated the nerves and pain. Thankfully, and I mean thankfullyDoctor Jordan Chang, physical therapist extraordinaire, selflessly gave his time up the day after he PR'd at Boston Marathon and worked on my hammy for a good 45 mins. I attribute my race at PL this year to two people in addition to high-mileage strength: Jordy and Darren. Jordy really helped the hammy issue, and Darren, well we'll get to him in a minute.

Rolling into Promise Land Youth Camp, I saw more cars than normal. It seemed more people camped out this past year compared to the last two years. The pre-race monolouge, bonfire, and car camping are just a few of the many things that make PL special. Horton told me I earned the 1 seed, but I didn't think I should be seeded first. Not in the likes of Jake Reed, Jeremy Ramsey, and Sam Danc. And don't forget about Guy Love, Darren Thomas, Jordy Chang, Jordan Whitlock, Ryan Paavola, Matt Bugin, Mario Raymond, Joe Dudak, and some Baltimoreite Jordan was telling me about, Chris Beck who introduced himself to me by saying, "I know you from the internet." (I might as well list all of my running friends, because it's amazing what we can do). Chris managed to play an important role the following morning too.

Happy Hokies

My last team race with UltraVT. Talk abounded the night before that Jake Reed was going to gun it from the get go, build a big lead, and hang on. And he did. Literally bolted from the start line, everyone started laughing. Still, we were on a mission. Lightless in the pre-dawn darkness, we climbed the gravel road past aid station one. Steady, steady, time flew by and daylight came. Drifting in the ins and outs of the grassy road, talking to Sam about Hellgate and how "last time we were here I couldn't see anything the snow was coming down so hard." Sam went up ahead a bit, and Darren and I caught up with Jordan Chang. We rolled on the fire road off of the Blue Ridge Parkway into Sunset Fields where our crew was awaiting. It felt...I'm going to say it...epic! We were on a mission, but not too serious to not laugh and chat.

Favorite pic. Darren looking Jack in the Beanstock tall . Photo: Kristen Chang
So pumped from the flawless transition of bottle and gels from the crew, we started racing down the dark side. Bombing it, Sam, Jordy, Darren and I started hooping and hollering at the top of our lungs, thoroughly enjoying the life we're living. Soon enough Darren, Chris Beck and I were on the paved section, cracking up for some reason or another. Probably because Chris was having a hell of a time having never run "more than three minutes uphill before." Here's where Chris played such a great role in the day. He was wearing 110's, a minimalist shoe, and was getting made fun of for it at every chance we got. He took the joking well, and provided novelty into our day getting to know someone new. He couldn't stand Darren and I talking about JellO shots before 8am, and kept remarking how all he feels is pain and we're smiling. His seriousness complimented our attempts at lightheartedness perfectly. And then the inspiration came. Darren and I knew we were going to drop Chris because he was breathing SO. HARD. He was wheezing, and had been for like the past hour. He knows how to PUSH himself like crazy. Still, he kept sticking with us on every uphill and every downhill. He might get back five seconds, but then he'd catch up. He was running a phenomenal race and causing Darren and I to run tempo pace. We arrived as a pack, running in 2-4 into the aid station before the big, infamous, stair-stepped climb up Apple Orchard falls.

About to book the dark side. Photo: Kristen Chang

Bolting into the aid station, I asked how far up Jake was. Horton said nine minutes. NINE?! While I was chugging coke, animated Horton shouted, "it's long, but you have to WORK for it. PUSH IT! WORK TOGETHER! YOU HAVE TO PUSH IT!" and I was off. We had been in race mode for the past hour, pushing ourselves and each other, no longer talking. Special happenings. Prior to the climb Darren and I were saying, "visualize it. Crush the climb." Steady steps. Pre-quad cramp. Two S-Caps. No walking. Push, push. Stairs. Darren five steps behind. 

"Talk to me Goose!"
Darren, "what?"
"Talk to me Goose!"
Darren, "what?"
"Talk to me Goose!"

My dreams were disappearing. I led the climb, and I was faltering. I needed Darren to help me out, to tell me anything, hoping he'd say "no hiking." Switchback. Darren 10 steps back. "Come on Darren!" Friend Mike Jones running the opposite way down the falls and a quick high-five. "How far up is he?" "Point three miles." We're gaining. Darren's no longer there, damnit. The final pitch. I see the cars. I open onto the paved path. Crew shouts, I look at my watch. "Holy $&*!" I said too loudly. I ran the falls in 37:08 from the aid station. 

It was this intense. I was living 1:40.

Clark Zealand, race director of the Beast Series, with an intense and excited look stares at me, gives me a fist pound, and says "Oh baby, you've got a race on your hands! 2:30--go get him!!" Made up six and a half minutes on the climb. He must be faltering. 

I push. I let go on the downhill. It all hurts. I hit the gravel road, the last decent. No sight of Jake. I say "ouch" to nobody. I see him. He's far away. But I'm gaining. Another mile? He's at least :30 ahead of me. I'd have to run a 4:30 mile. Having never ran faster than a 5:02 mile, it wasn't in the quads for me to run any faster, but I certainly tried. I saw the clock, almost 4:40. I didn't catch Jake. I was cool with that. I snuck in under 4:40 and that was incomprehensible. I thought I was going to run 4:55. It was Jordy, Sam, Darren, Chris, and a little bit of Jake at the end. 

I'm so happy. You think I'd be unfuffiled that I didn't take get the W, and maybe I'd even be frustrated with three second place finishes in my last three Beast races. But nah, definitely not. I ran really fast, as hard as I could. That's all I could do. The first thing I did was give props to Jake because he earned that win. Off the front by himself for literally all day? Pretttty nuts if you ask me.  I distinctly made it a point, especially after Brett's thankful Umstead 100, to be thankful and happy this race. Last year I didn't run very happy, and there's no point in that. This year, I wanted everybody to run well and smiled all day long. If there's one thing I've learned this year it's that races are community time, and running should be a thankful, joyous act. 

Darren finished third and we did our shoulder-bump like we have the past three races we've ran. 

Darren and I, chestbumping at the finish of PL. Photo: Google dude.

Chris hung on to finish fourth with a would-be most years winning time still. Glove managed top-ten after puking a ton. Jordy finished 15th, just days after running a sub 2:50 marathon. We laid in the sun, we creek-bathed, we talked to old friends, talked to new friends. My last race on the east coast for a while, my last race as a Tech student, my last race with all of my friends. I promise you, trying not to cry, it was, yes, special.

Much love. Photo: K Chang

Last team race for the seniors!

1 comment:

  1. A couple of things:

    The day a total stranger tells me "I know you from the internet," I'll be pretty pumped.

    No hiking? Damn dude, killing me. haha, jk.

    Great writing, definitely one of my favorite posts so far. I felt like I was running right alongside you (when I am in fact sitting at my desk drinking a beer. Amazing how powerful words can be, right? ha).

    Congrats dude! Sounds like you ran a killer race and had an amazing finish!

    Go Hokies. Naturally.