Sunday, April 27, 2003
Promise Land 50K
Taking the race off the beaten path
Ultrarunners converge on Bedford and Botetourt counties to compete in a race that tests their limits in a scenic setting.
By MARK TAYLOR
THE ROANOKE TIMES
BIG ISLAND - Billy Lese hit the wall on the climb up the Apple Orchard Falls Trail.
By the time he reached the Sunset Field overlook, not quite 27 miles into Saturday's Promise Land 50K race, Lese was in sorry shape. He sat on the ground shivering, his head bowed.
"You saving yourself for tomorrow?" asked fellow racer Scott Brockmeier.
Lese shook his head.
"I'm hurting, Scott," Lese answered.
"Is your stomach OK?"
Lese again shook his head.
"Well just take your time up here," Brockmeier said before jogging away.
Lese didn't listen. A couple minutes later he stood, took a swig of energy drink and asked a bystander, "Which way do I go?"
Such is the mindset of ultrarunners, athletes who push their bodies to the brink of disaster, then keep pushing.
"Insanity is a prerequisite in ultrarunning," said Anita Walker of Carolina Beach, N.C.
In the predawn darkness Saturday morning, 171 runners lined up in a muddy field in Bedford County and set off on what's been called one of the most difficult 50-kilometer running races in the country.
Directed by ultrarunning legend David Horton of Lynchburg, the Promise Land 50K takes runners on a tour of trails crisscrossing the Blue Ridge Range in Bedford and Botetourt counties. The course is beautiful but brutal, forcing runners to climb more than 8,000 feet.
Saturday brought an additional challenge in the foggy, wet weather, which chilled the runners and turned rocky areas into slippery obstacle courses. Many runners finished with blood dripping from knees and elbows gashed during slips and falls.
However, nearly all of them finished. Only three of the 171 starters didn't cross the finish line.
Will Harlon of Asheville, N.C., was the fastest, completing the course in 4:52:17. The top woman was Anne Riddle of Sawannanoa, N.C., whose time of 5:23:50 was the fourth fastest overall.
Some of the runners said the Promise Land course is beautiful and inspiring.
"You kind of direct your attention to the beauty of nature instead of how bad your legs hurt," said 52-year-old Donnie Wilkerson of Altavista.
Derrick Page of Roanoke said he found the rushing Apple Orchard Falls, which runners passed about 24 miles into the race, particularly impressive.
"It's almost worth it just for that," said Page, 28, who wished the weather hadn't been so cloudy and foggy.
"I missed seeing the sun rise this morning," he said. "That's been one of the highlights of this race."
Other racers said they also rely on other runners to get them through long, tough races.
Roanokers Graham Zollman, 54, and Dru Sexton, 50, ran the entire race with their friend Wilkerson. The three finished in just over 7 1/2 hours.
"At a road race you show up and you might know one or two people," Zollman said. "To me, this is a community. It's so much more laid back than road racing.
"The first time I did this race I would have never finished if another runner didn't give me a packet of Gu [energy paste]."
Many of the runners rallied to support each other during the race's final climb, a four-plus-mile pull from the junction of Cornelius and North creeks near Arcadia up to the Sunset Fields overlook on the Blue Ridge Parkway.
"Oh, this is going to feel so good," joked Dave Grider of Greensboro, N.C., as he started the climb.
The climb was especially excruciating for Amy Thompson of Lancaster, Pa. At mile 10 a blister formed on her right heal. By the half-way point, the blister was bleeding profusely.
"It hurt the worst on the uphills," said Thompson, 26, who finished in 8:29:39. "So I just thought about something else, like how much my quads hurt."
Mental toughness is a key to surviving a race that can take six to nine hours. It's not the only thing.
During the race competitors tried their best to eat and drink to replace burned calories and lost fluids. Some ate special race food such as Gu and Clif Shot pastes, and drank sports drinks such as Conquest. Others stuck with standards such as bananas, oranges and water. Wilkerson ate pieces of baked potatoes at each food station.
Lese, barely able to stand with five miles to run, forced a few slices of oranges down his throat at the final food station. The next thing he knew, he was running. He finished less than an hour later.
"It was the oranges," he said, laughing. "Definitely the oranges."
Promise Land 50K results
Top 10 men
1. Will Harlan, 27, Asheville N.C., 4:52:17. tie 2. Derrick Carr, 41, Fredericksburg, 5:17:03; Tom Nielson, 43, Annandale, 5:17:03. 4. Jonathan Basham, 25, Lynchburg, 5:29:56. 5. Byron Backer, 38, Greenville S.C., 5:30:19. 6. Eric Linder, 23, Catonville Md., 5:33:34. 7. Tom Atkins, 32, Abingdon, 5:38:26. 8. Scott Mills, 51, Alexandria, 5:40:11. 9. Donald Smith, 45, Blairs, 5:45:50. 10. Gregg Geerdes, 33, Annandale, 5:47:30.
Other area finishers
place is overall)
13. Andy Earl, 18, Lynchburg, 5:55:31. 14. Greg Flannigan, 21, Lynchburg, 5:55:36. 23. Gary Morris, 35, Lynchburg, 6:13:57. 25. Kevin Budd, 27, Lynchburg, 6:15:13. 27. Jeremy Alsop, 19, Lynchburg, 6:15:55. 29. Josh Gilbert, 27, Roanoke, 6:16:42. 32. Joseph Novak, 40, Lynchburg, 6:20:23. 39. Blanks Blankinship, 47, Lynchburg, 6:33:15. 52. Derick Page, 28, Roanoke, 6:43:48. 74. Phil Offield, 30, Lynchburg, 7:09:35. 76. Charlie Hesse, 50, Lynchburg, 7:10:37. 79. Mike Meadows, 31, Salem, 7:14:18. 99. Jay Finkle, 39, Roanoke, 7:34:36. 104. Graham Zollman, 54, Roanoke, 7:37:31. tie 105. Dru Sexton, 50, Roanoke, 7:37:37; Donnie Wilkerson, 52, Altavista, 7:37:37. 114. Gina Gilbert, 30, Roanoke, 7:43:27. 127. Joseph Hertzberg, 32, Lynchburg, 7:58:09. 128. Jim Womack, 54, Fincastle, 7:58:41. 134. Richard Brooks, 53, Lynchburg, 8:08:07. 136. Frank Villa, 48, Goode, 8:08:07. 138. Wayne Dean, 33, Roanoke, 8:09:01. 140. Steve Bowles, 56, Troutville, 8:13:19. 143. Kyle Stone, 34, Troutville, 8:22:43. 154. Stephen Bozeman, 56, Lynchburg, 8:37:18. 167. David Crawford, 37, Lynchburg, 9:21:07.
Top 10 women
Anne Riddle, 36, Sawannanoa, N.C., 5:23:50. 2. Annette Bednosky, 36, Boone, N.C., 6:12:25. 3. Rosie Bryant, 32, Appamattox, 6:33:15. 4. Grattan Garbee, 40, Lynchburg, 6:40:16. 5. Rebekah Trittipoe, 46, Lynchburg, 6:40:23. 6. Nancy Drach, 43, Leasburg, N.C., 6:43:39. 7. Kerry Owens, 39, Washington D.C., 7:02:20. 8. Deborah Duryea, 21, Lynchburg, 7:05:56. 9. Jessica Malone, 17, Mercersburg, Pa., 7:06:31. 10. Amber Marshall, 25, Woodstock, 7:21:01.
Other area finishers
place is overall)
132. Michelle Lancaster, 23, Roanoke, 8:05:56. 166. Christa Petersen, 25, Lynchburg, 9:21:07.