Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Race Ruminations -- Promise Land 50K

This is a race report written by my friend Dave Simmons, whom I paced this past weekend at the Promise Land 50K.  Enjoy!

Promise Land Run-2011
By Dave Simmons

After a half hours sleep, through a night that reminded you it was there, I started up the road with three hundred or so of the like minded into the last of the night that began the Promise Land run. I recognize again how odd it all seems. Venturing past houses here and there that sit in places most would call nowhere. It must seem to those who hear us that there goes the remnant of a tribe that used to move across the earth as people no longer much move. Or so I think. I wonder if they stir.
My friend Adam Casseday wants to run with me. I think I know why but we don't much discuss it beforehand. Nor should we really. But as I run up the road with most of the headlamps in front of me, I'm very glad he's there. Right away other friends of Adam are happy to see him, since they usually don't. The conversation is light. They seem to get a sort of spring in their step while talking with him.
The trip up to the top of Onion Mountain is a long one. The lower foothills of West Virginia where I run are steep, but give up their tops much sooner. I wonder about the pace, my heartrate, when Adam begins the first passing on to me of what i'm after, saying "Just go with what feels good here, no need to press at this point." So that's what I do.

Over the top we go and then down the mountain we go. I notice my feet are somewhat floppy. I think its here that Adam says, "You should feel like the front of your heels are hitting the ground." I was thinking about my feet just about that time. I thought it odd he was too.
We head over the top of the second climb to the highest point on the course. Adam had been pushing my fluids and gu's from the start. He'd say hit it and i would, so I hit it like I normally do. On the descent off of the second and highest peak of the day Adam runs on ahead disappearing in the cloudbank that had engulfed us all. Though I really liked the looks of it all, I began to chill so much so that I put my jacket back on. Then I started to just feel bad and strange, like I was in the Barrow Downs or some other new world. People would pass me by, many people, and disappear into the fog. I didn't feel as though I were moving. We come down out of the fog into the aid station at around mile 13 or so and I'm weak and don't know what going on. Adam is ready to go on down. I say I've never felt this bad this early in a run in a long time. Adam says "lets go." I say give me a minute I need a drink or something. I remember digging into my pack looking for the water bottle that was in the webbing on the outside of the pack, right before me. I saw it. I kept digging through the pack and pulled out a gu flask and just looked at it trying to figure out how to drink it, or make it turn into water. Then I remember either thinking or saying, "that's not water is it."
At this point Adam asks if I'm all right. I'm not sure what I said but I am sure of what he said next, "There's two options here, and neither of them are to stand still. You either keep moving or you drop from the race, and no one drops from the race at this point." He kind of mad me mad, in a tired sort of way. I respond to that though he surely can't know that. So down the single track we go.
Right now, and right away, I feel good. The slope of the single track is perfect. The water crossings make the right kind of thin fast splash. I recognize a bunch of people I saw earlier. We come up on another water crossing, Adam says, "Run through it, don't slow down, we're trail runners." Well, that principle I already hold to at crossings. I already look for the just the right sound of it to know if I hit it right. That's the good stuff. Adam tells me, "You're experiencing a high right now, you'll experience alternating highs and lows now." I have no idea what he's talking about.
When I've felt as bad as up above on the mountain, and my body starts to hurt, it usually just stays hurting. But the hurting is gone. I didn't know that was a possibility. "Keep eating, when's the last time you had a salt pill.? I eat and salt.
We hit the road section and I don't understand how good I feel. Adam stays back at the aid station to eat, probably nap for a while, who knows. I'm moving the fastest of my day and think to myself and wonder if I'm going too fast for myself. I look back and see Adam coming up or either keeping his distance and just watching me. He comes up and sure enough, says, "you need to keep control of the pace when your on the high, don't let it get away from you." That's just what I was wondering about. Why is he finishing my thoughts for me?
If it were just me, I would have been left wondering. It would have been a thought, one of many thoughts, that produces no action. Adam provided a conclusion here that I would not have. And that's really why I wanted to right this race report, in part. I wanted to write it for those of you who have the thoughts, but can't yet put a conclusion to them, a conclusion that leads you to act one way or the other.
The rest of the race its up and over the mountain and down again to the finish and it was uneventful, no drama, plenty of learning still, but I can't possibly list it all here. It played out with an 8:22 finish for me. Before the big climb Adam asks how much gu I have left in my two flasks. I have two 500 calorie flasks, and 3 gu shot blocks at 200 calories apiece for 1600 hundred calories, two hundred calories an hour for my very rough estimation of 8 hours. So I say to Adam, I doing fine I'm just about finished up my second flask. I pull them out to check. I was thinking I'd been hitting both of them as I pulled them out of the pack randomly when Adam would constantly be on me to fuel. I did fuel everytime he asked. So of course I'm good, right?
I pull out one flask that has about an eighth of it left. I pull the other out, the full one. Yeah, the full one. He'd been on me to fuel which I did, but he can't measure it out for me. I just know I was chugging it. Now I just know that I really don't know what I'm doing, or how to chug. I know what I'm doing, from reading about it. I'm cut that way like many of you, we gobble up the info. We digest, we absorb, we theorize, we stuff our heads. But how do you ring out the right conclusions that lead to the right decisions. Its like sticking your hand into a bowl of alphebet soup and hoping to pull out a sentence. What's necessary is experience. But an experience of a special kind. Not just your own personal experience. That's probably what's wrong in our tribeless lands, that's all we have, personal experience, to a tee. We need experience that shows us what we're thinking when we're thinking it and what to do about it while we're thinking it. Yeah, a tall order. But its out there. Time and again I'd be thinking on a subject, such as, how far should I run up this hill, then comes Adam, before I can coalsese the thought, "run just up to that log there." It was uncanny.
As a newer runner to newer runners, you can read all you want, you talk all you want with runners who know something about it all. But there is nothing, NOTHING, like running with a runner. Then its foxhole, then its gathering up the wisdom like tribes used to learn one another I suppose, in the midst of the movement, on the hunt, on the gathering, in the action, on the move.
I wasn't going to write about this, but I think I have something to pass on to newer runners like myself. I know I'm breaking my own rule so to speak, just more to read about, more letters for the soup. But if you do nothing else, find a runner who gets it, who can finish your thoughts for you WHILE you're on the run, while your experiencing it. It burns it in to you. I know this experience will help me finish my own thoughts when the time is right for me to start doing that in the midst of my own runs. i'm sure of it. I only touched on some of the things I learned from this run. I'll even bet I won't be able to reach them until I'm on the run again, but I'll bet it'll be there..and why..because I learned it on the run.
And now may I challenge you who are used to running with Adam. Do you realize what you can give to us. Do you? Do you know what its like in the back. Have you seen the steps lift up a little higher as you run with those at the back, like I saw as Adam zigged and zagged back and forth all day all over the place running with various people, covering a lot of ground, bringing in the tribe. I wouldn't recommend blowing past everyone like he did when he deciding to run up the climb to the big falls, that must have been a trip for the walkers, but hey, he earned it, and I'm sure needed it.
But really, what we need is you guys with us on the hunt, on the move, at least every once in a while. I'll attest to it. I am right now. I've even asked Adam to put this on his blog to reach you folks. I'm sure talking racing is fun, but I know that's not all it is for you all. You're trail runners. Find a runner who is full of half thoughts and unfinished business, and help them move through the mountains. Its what you're about, and its what they're about. Who knows, I'll bet we follow your example with those and pass it on to those who know a little less than us. I know I will be. I'm sure it'll enrich you're experience, not in the same way as racing does of course, but maybe fill it out a little if you need it, or even if you don't.
It was the best long run I've ever had.

Dave makes a good point in regard to more experienced runners slowing down to impart information to those that are newer to the sport.  It is a very fulfilling venture to share our experiences and help others reach a goal along the way.  I think many times we experienced runners take for granted that we actually had to learn to eat, drink, and monitor electrolyte levels.  I had a great time with Dave and I was rewarded with yet another priceless memory in the mountains.  Evidently my friend Bryon Powell had the same feelings as his impetus in writing his newly released book Relentless Forward Progress.  We should all certainly be willing and ready to share our knowledge, passion, and trails with others.


  1. Dave, you have just had the experience of learning from the best of the best. You could not have had a better person to give you what you needed than Adam. I loved reading your report. I think of myself as being an experienced ultra runner, but I will also have to admit that I struggle with some of the same things you struggled with. Each run is different and we have to constantly adjust to those changes. In reading your report, it seems like the biggest thing you learned is that how you feel is like a roller coaster. You will have bad times, but things do get better if we are just patient. Congratulations on a top notch run.

  2. Now Rick, I'm far from the "best of the best". Thanks though. Hopefully I can remember my own advice as I leave for the adventure of my life where I'm sure I will have many ups and downs. Patience and perseverence are two important virtues in our sport -- they're easy to forget sometimes when suffering is knocking at the door.