By Dr David Horton
In December’s Hellgate, we had our coldest year ever. At the 2017 Promise Land 50K, we had our second hottest year ever. We normally have low humidity this time of the year. However, this year we had extremely high humidity making it the worst weather ever at Promise Land. Fortunately, we knew this ahead of time and prepared the runners for these conditions as much as possible. Runners are just not acclimated this early in the year.
Many folks (including me) think that Promise Land is the best 50k in the East. The majority of the runners camp for free Friday night at the start/finish. We provide 100 pizzas for the runners and they bring all the desserts. After the pre-race briefing, we have a big bonfire and make s’mores. There is great fellowship that goes on before and after the race.
There is 7,400 feet of elevation gain and an equal amount of loss on the course with a lot of stream crossings that came in very handy this year. According to Gary Knipling, the Promise Land course has the best flowers of any race around. Also the course goes from spring to winter to spring to winter and back to spring because of the changes in elevation on the course (1,200 feet to 4,000 feet to 1,200 feet to 3,700 feet back to 1,100 feet).
Other than the Holiday Lake 50K, this race probably has more young runners than any other ultra around. There were a lot of Virginia Tech runners and close to 40 Liberty University runners, many of them students in my running class who are required to complete an ultra for this class.
The field of men entered was very strong. Michael Owen (Pomeroy, OH) is a very talented runner. A few weeks before the race he had contacted me and asked if I had Eric Grossman’s course record splits. That gave me an idea of his intentions for the race. Also entered was Brian Rusiecki (South Deerfield, MA). Rusiecki won Hellgate in December 2016 and usually finishes in the top 10 for Ultra Runner of the Year. Matt Thompson (Crozet, VA) won the Terrapin Mountain 50K that uses some of the same course as Promise Land does. He was also trying to rectify getting lost at Promise Land in 2016 and running miles off course. There were many other runners entered with a list of excellent performances, but one in particular stood out, Anthony Famiglietti (Davidson, NC), who was running his first ultra. Famiglietti is a two-time Olympian, a six-time US champ, and owns a 1:03 half marathon!
The women’s field was headed up by Laura Sullivan (Blacksburg, VA) who ran her first ultra in February at Holiday Lake 50K setting a new course record. Hannah Bright, another Hokie from Blacksburg, was there to give chase on her birthday. Amy Rusiecki (wife of Brian and an outstanding runner) figured to be in the mix as well. Rian Landers-Ramos (Columbia, MD) was running her first ultra but looked very fast at shorter distances.
Sure enough, by Aid Station (AS) 2 at 8.6 miles, Owen and Famigletti had taken the lead in the men’s field. They were joined by Sam Chaney (Fredrick, MD) running his first ultra as well. At AS 3 (11.9 miles) Chaney had a one-minute lead on Owen and three-minute lead on Famigletti. From there, the course goes downhill on some very technical terrain for over four miles. Chaney and Owen arrived together with Famigletti dropping seven minutes back. Chaney and Owen were still together at Colon Hollow (19.3 miles).
I tell all runners that this is where the race starts. By AS6, Owen had taken charge and had an eight-minute lead over Chaney, with Rusiecki in third place but 13 minutes behind Owen. Owen was about 10 minutes behind record pace at this point but made a valiant effort to chase the record in the heat and humidity.
Owen raced hard to the finish taking the win in an outstanding time of 4:31:16, just over five minutes behind Grossman’s course record in 2012 and 33 seconds behind Clark Zealand’s time in 2002. Without a doubt in my mind, I think he would have broken the record on a typical weather day at Promise Land. Time will tell if he comes back and gets the record.
Rusiecki took second place in 4:48:12 assuring a spot in the Western States 100-Miler in June because of the points he accrued in the UltraRunning Race Series. Chaney continued to run strong taking third place in 4:53:21, an impressive ultra debut. Thompson redeemed himself from his 2016 race taking fourth place in 4:58:14.
I expected Laura Sullivan to be first into AS 1 for the women, but it was not to be. Landers-Ramos checked in first for the women with Krista Offield (Lynchburg, VA) in second place. Offield had won the Terrapin Mountain 50K the month before and was at it again.
Landers-Ramos continued to increase her lead and took the victory winning with a time of 5:48:25. At Sunset Fields and the last AS (26.7 miles) three women checked in together. Sheila Vibert (Arlington, VA) joined Offield and Evans to complete the threesome.
Vibert won the race to the finish to take second place overall, Offield took third, and Evans finished in fourth place.
David Stango (Aston, PA) and Annie Stanley (Richmond, VA) were the master’s winners in 5:11:52 and 6:22:06 respectively. Ian Schouten (Lititz, PA) and Sophie Speidel (Charlottesville, VA) were the grand master’s winners in 5:20:53 and 6:56:09 respectively. Tim Craft (Henrico, VA) and Rebekah Trittipoe (Bedford, VA) were the super master’s winners in 7:55:55 and 8:01:36 respectively.
This year, because we had four runners over 70 years of age, we added a new category called “Ultra Master.” The winner was Gene Potter (Charlottesville, VA) in 9:04:36. Potter has also finished all 17 Promise Land 50K races. In fact, he ran in the Patagonia shirt he received for completing the first Promise Land back in 2001.
The aid stations were incredible this year. With the unseasonably high temperatures and high humidity, 305 runners out of 315 starters finished the race. The crews had ice buckets, lots and lots of ice, ice pops, fudgesicles, and a variety of other items to cool runners that we don’t normally need this time of the year.
The 2018 Promise Land 50K will be held on April 28. Come and join us for the best 50k in the East.