Promiseland 2022 Race Report
Updated: Apr 27
A small group of us from Blacksburg arrived Friday evening for pre-race camping at Promiseland Youth Camp in Bedford, the race headquarters for the weekend. This was my second year running Promiseland 50K+ and I had put in a lot of consistent hard training over the last 4 months to feel confident on my ability to finish as close to 7 hours as possible. There were many long runs in terrible weather this past winter, yet I could always find a friend in our running community to motivate for training runs, no matter the conditions.
I also recently signed up for a nutrition program for female athletes back in March and had made some recent shifts in my diet to better support my level of activity. The dietician I work with helped me make some changes such as increasing the amount of daily carbs and proteins in my diet, in addition to boosting my pre and post-race fueling. I made sure to intentionally fuel with ~300 calories an hour during my long training runs leading up to the race.
We all had giddy, nervous energy, cracking jokes, all questioning our fueling and race day strategies. It was going to be in the 80s and no one was heat-acclimated yet. I turned into bed early, with my alarm set for 4:00 a.m.
I rousted right at the sound of my alarm, thankful for getting about 4 hours of sleep. We hurriedly ate our pre-race breakfasts: mine was overnight oats, with fresh strawberries and a banana. I poked around the check-in area for coffee or hot water – no such thing. When I asked Horton, he said, “I dunno! Go turn on the tap and see!” I couldn’t bear the thought of running a 34-mile race without coffee, so I settled for instant cold coffee.
We lined up at the start and softly sang the national anthem under the moonlight. The moment brought tears to my eyes. I thought about how fortunate I was to be able to embark on this adventure through the mountains, with this incredible community of friends. Horton yelled “GO!” and off we went up the mountain to Overstreet Falls.
In the first 13 miles of the race, there is over 4,000 of elevation gain, so I did my best to move efficiently, switching between running and power hiking. Once we hit the single track, we soaked up the sunrise, one of my favorite parts of the race.
I finally made it to the top of the Blue Ridge Parkway and knew the first major aid station at Sunset Fields was close. The familiar sound of bells and cheering brought a smile to my face as I flew down the gravel grade. Harper and Morgan were there with more electrolytes and Spring Energy gels; I grabbed my headphone and sunglasses and off I went. I felt so smooth and confident running down the technical sections of Apple Orchard Falls. I caught up to Hepler at the bottom of Cornelius Creek and we ran the next ~5 miles together with another guy from Belgium. The next segment, Colon Hollow, is long, arduous, and very hilly section, yet unbelievably beautiful. It alternates between grassy fire roads and single track and I kept thinking about Rachel’s advice to run as much as possible in this section. I looked down at my watch – wow 20 miles in and I felt pretty good!
I started to run down the mountain back towards the Cornelius Creek crossing and I threw myself into the deepest spot to cool off. Next up – the monster climb back up Apple Orchard Falls. I slurped up my 350-calorie spring energy oatmeal and started up the mountain. All of the spring
wildflowers that lined the trail were a nice distraction: wild geranium, trillium, bellwort, and bloodroot to name a few. I made it to Apple Orchard Falls and started counting the wooden steps, but lost count after 140. No prize for me, but this view will suffice.
1.5 miles left of terrible uphill until I reached Sunset Fields again. I decided awhile back to stop looking at my watch and just move as efficiently as possible. I passed a guy with a ghost-white face splayed out on a rock. I encouraged him to go lay in the creek, but he said he “just needed to rest.” Fair enough. I finally made it to the last aid station and had ice water poured down the back of my neck and words of encouragement from my friends, Jeremy and the volunteers. Only 5 miles left and it was ‘mostly’ all downhill! If I ran really fast, then I could potentially break 7 hours! I started down the mountain, then promptly twisted my left ankle. Of course, this would happen with 5 miles left. It wasn’t a bad sprain, so I continued to run through the pain, but now I had a weak spaghetti ankle that kept giving way, so I had to slow my pace through the technical rocky sections. I thought about Megan … and hoped she was flying through this section since she’s the absolute best at downhill running.
And there’s the squirrel!
I crossed the finish line and got a big Horton
hug. I was so happy to be there, to hug all of my friends and see my aunt C, who came out to see the finish.
When people ask why I like to run long distances, it’s for many reasons. I often think about the people in my life who aren’t able to move like this, like my uncle J and my mom.
Competitive mountain races make me a happier person and give me greater endurance in the face of pain, a feeling of autonomy, and a better acceptance of aging. Trail running allows you to age gracefully, and I’ve seen evidence of women continuing to crush their goals in their 40s, 50s, 60s and 70s. I also find it inspiring to race with my friends. We put so much work in training together for these big events, and it’s exciting to see what happens out in the mountains. 5 of the top 10 women finishers were from Blacksburg this year. Perhaps that will be a future goal of mine – what would it take to get into the top 10? I’ll be 40 soon, but I like to believe I have the potential to get even faster as I get older.
Running is challenging, real, joyful, painful. It’s given me some of my best friends, and some of my biggest highs. There is something about waking up early, putting on my shoes and heading out into the mountains – away from cell phones, job and life stress, with just the sound of my feet and breathing, the here and now. I wouldn’t be Emily without it.
Thank you to Horton and all the volunteers for creating such wonderful memories for me and my friends!