Sunday, May 1, 2011

Promise Land 50K++

“On that day I swore to them that I would bring them out of Egypt into a land I had searched out for them, a land flowing with milk and honey, the most beautiful of all lands.” Ezekiel 20:6

Well the Promise Land Youth Camp in Bedford, VA is not filled with milk and honey but it sure was filled with good people and great food last Saturday when I had the chance to run the Promise Land 50K++. This is another of Dr David Horton’s Lynchburg Ultra Series Races and a spring classic in Virginia. As with all of Horton’s races the distance is not as advertised and there are always some “Horton miles” thrown in for free. The race starts and finishes at the Promise Land Youth Camp and with an early 0530 start, I headed out Friday night for the 3 hour drive to Bedford. I got a late start from Fairfax and ended up getting in to camp around 2100. Having missed most of the evening’s festivities, I got checked in for the race and headed to the car to turn in for the night.
It rained on and off all night and the temps dropped into the low 50’s but by the time we stepped off at 0530 the rain had all but stopped and it would not return for the rest of the race. The first 4 miles or so of the course is a 2300’ climb up and past Overstreet Falls and up Onion Mountain. It starts out mild on a paved road which degrades to a slightly steeper gravel road. When state maintenance ends the road gets significantly steeper and then you hit the trail for the last mile and a half. Once on top of Onion Mountain we hit the smooth, grassy trails of the Glenwood horse Trail and part of the Hellgate course and just like on the Hellgate course this is where some of the Horton miles are hidden. This takes you into aid station 2 (~10 miles) and the kickoff of the next big climb up to the high point of the race on Apple Orchard Mountain, just over 4000’.

Crossing the Blue Ridge Parkway, in a very thick fog bank, we were done with climbing for a while and from the top of the course we started the constant descent to the "Dark Side" and the lowest point on the course. The first couple of miles were a gentle descent on a dirt road that paralleled the parkway into AS 3 (Sunset Fields, ~13.5 miles). At that point we jumped on the very steep Apple Orchard Falls Trail to the Cornelius Creek Trail to AS 4. This 5 and a half mile, 2500’ descent went fairly quick but it took a toll on my quads and hips. Passing AS 4 the drop continued for another 2 miles down a gravel road until we finally hit the bottom of the course.

Leaving the road we started the climb out of the “Dark Side” on the White Tail Deer Trail. After about a mile of mostly uphill trail we came into AS 5 (~21 miles). This aid station is famous for having ice cream sandwiches and this year was no different. Unfortunately, my stomach was not going to cooperate with ice cream so I passed and continued on. The next 5 miles are a hard section of this race. It is a gradual uphill along grassy jeep trails and gravel roads. The good news for me, on this day, was that the sun was just starting to peak through the clouds and the temps were still relatively cool. Mentally, this section seems to go on forever and as it follows the in and out contours of the landscape it is hard to see what is up ahead, so if you’re not mentally prepared for this it can be very frustrating. Finally the trail takes a hard turn to the right and you know that you are on the final stretch in to the aid station.

Returning to the Cornelius Creek AS (both AS4 and 6), the good news is that we had less than 8 miles to go to the finish, the bad news is that we had the smack down 2000’ climb UP Apple Orchard Falls. I was now 26ish miles into the race and my legs were still feeling pretty good. The first mile or so of the climb up the falls trail is a semi runnable (for me) but once I got to the falls proper it was a hike all the way back up to Sunset Fields. I was hoping to make it up the section in less than an hour but it ended up taking 1h:5m and it was just as brutal as the last time I ran this race three years ago. The benefit of all the rain we had was that the creeks were full and the falls were beautiful. This offered a momentary distraction to the steep slope of the climb. Topping out at Sunset Fields (AS 7) was a great feeling and I knew that I only had one more small climb and then a 4 mile downhill to the finish.

Although the four mile downhill sounds nice, after 6 plus hours of running my legs ability to absorb the downhill pounding was severely diminished. Needless to say I would have liked to have made better time moving downhill but was satisfied with the pace I was able to keep. Coming down Onion Mountain and into the final aid station I could smell the barn. I motored past the aid station and started down the dirt road toward the “Promise Land”. I passed the one mile to go marker and before I knew it I was turning into the Promise Land Youth Camp and be greeted at the finish by Dr. Horton (6h:41m).

It was fitting that this race was run on Easter weekend. The descents and ascents of the Blue Ridge Mountains were symbolic of the sacrifice that Christ made for us on Good Friday and His glorious resurrection on Easter Sunday. During the race, the hard climb up to Apple Orchard Mountain could symbolize Christ’s hard climb up Golgotha to the place of His crucifixion. The descent down Cornelius trail, to the depths of the “Dark Side”, represents Christ’s descent into Hell. The struggle along the long and winding, grassy road reflects His hard fought battle to atone for OUR sins. The tough ascent up Apple Orchard Falls symbolizes His resurrection and rise from the DARK into the LIGHT, for us it was the light of Sunset Fields. And it was with the glorious feeling of resurrection that we ran, with joy and confidence, the final downhill section into “The Promise Land”. Many thanks to Dr. Horton and all of his great volunteers, this was a great run.

For His Glory,

Michael Huff
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