Saturday, May 4, 2013

7 Minutes to The Promise Land


These words flowed through my mind as I stood at the edge of the table, accompanied by fellow friends and excellent runners Jordan Whitlock, Frank “The Tank” Gonzalez, and Sam Dangc. We all, at this moment, were on the same page, Colon Hollow, preparing to pass the infamous gate into the Dark Side. Frank did not speak, did not glare, just moved on. Jordan, with his “trackie” mentality, ignored the pain killers he had asked for and quickly set after Frank. Sam smiling, slapped me on the shoulder, shouted... “Com’ON SHauN POPE, you’ve been kickn ass all DAY!” and set off to the gate of gloom. I whispered words “ill be there in a min. Sam“, legs tight and exhausted from pushing hard on the KETchup... I was spent. The Three Amigos ran the grassy ridge line, slowly disappeared and I walked passed the gate of gloom, All I could think was... 

“7minutes to the Promise Land”

Promise Land is not a race, but rather a festival. Its a “50k” packed with 7,9++ ft of gain, and the true hardest section of the “race” is when you find yourself having to disassemble your tent. Horton has a way, with his “hard-knock” encouragement, to bring the best of smiles from the crowd... including, devotion, love, and best of all... strength. With an unfamiliar drive from the south, I found myself ten minutes from the Promise Land campground, BUT rather than a nice drive down the parkway... THE phone told me to take my little green civic (Which has traveled the entire U.S. OutnBack) down a treacherous jeep road the width of my car. A quarter mile down a man with a TRUCK told me I was gonna have to go SLOW and WEAVE if I wanted to drive my car again. This “road” happened to be our first climb of the race, and as I drove down I looked O So foreword to see my mark...

 “7minutes to the Promise Land”

  but she was not there.

My car made it, and I smiled the whole way down knowing Horton was going to love this story.I have been to the Promise Land Festival three years in a row now, first of which was to watch Sandra knock out the women’s field. The second year, I, Dave (never stop) Peterman, and Vince Rucci came down to run. We are more like The Three Stooges, and thats how we basically ran the race that day. This time I was on my own, like a rolling stone; but rather fear of loneliness, my eyes were filled with excitement to see many friends! 

Over the years I’ve become quite acquainted to the Ultrarunning community within Virginia, and unlike some jive turkey B.S.  such as “IPA’s and Materialistic objects”, these people truly have “a special place in/dear to” my heart. It’s their hardworking, simplistic, tough attitude that attracts me to all of Horton’s n Zman’s races. “Hard-knock encouragement”, “Sissyboy”,”Airhead”, “Fatgirl”. Harmless race jokes...  There is too much love in the air for anyone too feel anything BUT a smile!

We our all a family listening to Horton’s pre race rambling, then after (quite awhile of his rambling)  we gather to the large Bonfire. Its here we visit before we rest, and its here where we visit at 5:00am before we run up into the Blue Ridge mountains. The people I look foreword most too share hugs with is the Gonzalez family... Frank, Christy, and their whole MExicano Caravan that follows, and it is Frank that I knew I was going too have a fantastic battle with in the morn’. We wished each other well and we WERE OFF. 

Recovering from a lethal “Whitlock”elbow to the ribs given seconds into the race, I darted up the first climb, as comfortable as could be. The grassy ridge was a glide and I soon was two minutes ahead of everyone else as  arrived to Aid Station 2... but No Aid Station? With some confusion, I ran beyond the gate to see if the aid had set up further, leaving the simple out and back “nook” that started the climb to Sunset Fields. Running for a small amount of time, curving bends in order to investigate, I soon turned around full speed knowing no flags meant that this was not the case. With an executive decision made by Frank, the pack behind assured me that there had been an issue with aid getting up in time. I grabbed flags in the nook, and tied them on trees leading the climb, as I tied a flag I saw “sissyboy”..... “Don’t get passed by sissyboy Shaun!!” and so I RAN! I wasn’t upset, this course is different, I might have fallen 3 minutes back from the lead, but I was confident my speed and strength could leave it all up too Apple Orchard’s Climb, I just needed to take care of myself. Next, I was at Sunset Field where Horton told me I was still in the game with 4 minutes off the lead, and by the next Aid station, Cornelius, I was in the lead once again.


My mind was stressed, my heart thumped, and MY CALVES were so tired. Horton stood  at the brink of pavement in which marked the only meters left of strenuous “never ending” down hill, just before darting back into the woods onto pine single track. He told me that this isn’t even the start, I said I hurt... “No more careless bombing till the end Pope”

Horton is an icon, a legend, and best of all an inspiration. Getting lost in a Horton race means nothing but the simple fact that “YOUR STUPID”.... I’ve heard these words before :)
Horton doesn’t except too many excuses, and its because of him that very little complain of his races. The community thrives from his strength, and its his strength that gets all us to the finish line. I know this for a fact, for my biggest fear is too drop out, and in the eyes of David Horton it Stings three times the amount.

I had left my execution behind at AS two, and my calm, cool, behavior was out the door. I hadn’t eaten like I needed, my (+/-)’s caps all over the course ten miles back, and my heart racing faster than it should have been... all due to impatience.

I ran, not fast, but with everything I could. I fell into fifth very quickly as Brian Schmidt passed, but very shortly he walked, and I still ran. Soon my legs started to flow, I felt the sugar kicking in, and the only thought I had was the distance I was from the Three Amigos. The small out back out to Cornelius for our second time told me this fact with no question at all. Next was Apple Orchard Falls climb, the three mile, notorious carnage driving ascent to Sunset Fields.  

“Take care of yourself, and watch for Apple Orchards” Horton said too me Friday afternoon. I smiled and replied “When Apple Orchards arrives Doc, Ill be all warmed up” 

With two minutes behind the lead of Frank and Sam, I slowly but surely made my chase. After falling into a clump of rocks, I waddled for 70 seconds and watched Jordan Whitlock peddled up the hill. First I passed him, giving each other words of encouragement. Next was Frank, I slapped him on the back and called him an old man. Last was poor Sam, I can only wonder how wide his Asian eyes grew with the Promise Land just miles in front of him, but it was I who padded him on the shoulder, wished him well, and went on my way. 

My Sodium/Potassium pumps located in the cells, particularly of my calves, were FURIOUS. I was in the lead, only five miles to go, but all the (+/-)’s were gone from my system. If I cramped up to the ground, I’d lose. If I made it too Sunset Field before, I’d win. When I reached Sunset, AS workers saw a side of Shaun Pope you don’t see very often, in terrible pain and very grumpy. With a swift swig of Heed and plenty of Doritos, I was off, and from here the race was mine. Down the Mountain I went, all I searched for was my mark...

“7 Minutes to the Promise Land”

But she was not there, better yet, 7 minutes later was dear Horton’s smiling face. 

Friday, April 19, 2013

Chasing Adam Hill

I’ve met a lot of people in my life, some for the better, some I’d rather not have the second encounter with; but If I’ve learned anything more valuable from my social life , it takes a deep conversation and couple valuable times with one another for a real certainty to judge. I’ve have a lot of “hero’s” in my life, of course my most prompt is my parents for their unconditional love; but down the years some of my closest influences have shaped my life beyond what I can simply spill onto this page. Many are runners, many are not, and beyond all circumstances they have shaped my life  in a certain manner. Whether the influence was of mentality, strength, wisdom, simplicity, courage, or route to a true gentleman, I’ve picked and nabbed at each “side of the story/ the grass on the other side” and truly believe I’ve given a lot of the aspects a whirl. 

On Tuesday I spent a day with Adam Hill, marking a trail section within the Pisgah National forest above 6k ft. First of all, this trail WAS AMAZING, but this page has nothing to do with that. Rather I want to talk about a man who seems to have found him a young Irish  pup drooling onto his torn shoes, eyes glazed with excitement to learn the land from his new master. 

Along with my lack of time in the sport of Ultra running, I’ve also been blind, due to media and lack of research, to some of the true hero’s within Ultra running. Now of course I’m biased, but Its my hero’s so I make the rules here. Anyways, Adam Hill is an incredible creature. He is a light man, frame holding nothing but whats necessary, with the eyes of a twelve year old child. He speaks the lingo of “Boy Meets World” days, and takes life to all simplicity. Adam has three children with his beautiful wife, Assa, Annie, and my favorite, Ava. His simplicity can be seen with his no socks, ripped running flats, torn split shorts held by race pins, baseball socks for arm warmers, run everday to work style. Adam Hill doesn’t drink water except from the stream, yet he pees three times to the hour with coffee from the morning and beer from the night before. Adam Hill doesn’t sweat, as he never takes a shower for weeks at time, yet never smells at all? And, as I said before, his wife is beautiful... so he’s doing something right? Adam Hill doesn’t have txting, a blog, a facebook, nor has he signed up for a competition race in ###’ S of years. When I first met Adam, I was truly expecting “in terms of Horton” the Canuck; But here was a skinny bearded man tattered and torn with scratches and gashes from the bush whacking he had practiced in his own backyard. He asked me to do a quick warm up while we waited for the others.... Adam talked, I was unable to catch enough breathe to even make sense of his words.

Adam has eyes of a twelve year old, and not much more older outlook on life. The earth is his play ground, his study, his meaning in life. Instead of hosting races for his own pocket, he constructs a Wiki site in which he organizes “free lance” Ultra’s, with aid, times, and best of all... laughter. Adam Hill knows everybody and anything within the culture of ultra running, hiking, outdoors. He has the persona/reputation that any and every company in the system has tried to get representation from; but Adam sees life differently. Adam Hill is a master of the WNC trails, and never ignores a flowering bud to the left or right of him. Adam Hill loves the local flora, the Mountains, the rivers, the wildlife, and makes it his study. And what Adam doesn’t know, your sure to be introduced to someone he has befriended. My palms were in sweat mode as I stood at the door step of Jennifer Pharr Davis, record holder for the supported thru hike of the AT 46 days, simply to pick up a pack used to carry Ava. This pack is in full rotation within the outdoor, newborn, parents, as, Jennifer’s young child Charlie smiled at the long beard off Adam’s face. I’ve seen Jennifer many times before, but I never got to shake the thin but muscular hand of this Appalachian giant.

Later he told me of a long time “Birder” of the area, living directly in Black Mountain, and a veteran to Western States 100. I cant even imagine the hours I’ll spend with this friend of Adam’s, stomping up the Mountain with our binoculars at ready for the sight of flight, and the repeating calls that takes the hands on learning with constant repetition at an ears shot to master.

Adam Hill is an artist, at life, and its my chalkboard that Im asking him to draw on.
We are going to have a lot of fun together in the future, and whether he likes it or not, I want to show the rest of the world his life.

“What knocks a man down, can only make him stronger.”


Thursday, April 18, 2013

Lunch with Apache

I started my week tired and demoralized from lack of energy over the weekend. I truly enjoy running when it becomes a “vibe and groove”, but the legs seemed tired from lugging my fat ass up and down the mountain constantly. Things changed quickly as I met up with a new friend, named Josh, early Monday in order to do a 6 mile run through the Warren Wilson trails in Asheville. Its a beautiful little rolling trail section near the Swannanoa river, with small and large loops making it easy to get lost for a good two hours... then all of sudden you see your car! Josh and I tackled this Monday with tired legs, then Tuesday he managed to drag me to UNC of Asheville’s track. Now the last time I touched a track was probably three years ago, maybe with Vince or T-Bird, and I remember running a 5:04 mile at one point. This time, there was no 5:04 mile.
I’ll start this little workout story with a background on my friend Josh. Josh is twenty six years old and has retired to the reserves after being a top military sergeant deployed in Afghanistan. He lugged sixty pounds of gear up mountain passages at 15k feet every day for a year or two, and risked his life at sniper’s aim daily. I’ve always been interested in the military, as every boy, dreaming of fighting in battle for their country. I have always loved to talking to people who have gone through deployment and have come back after serving. I love the stories they have to offer as it intrigues me so much on how common it is to be shot at out in the field. I have more than respect for these people, I look up to them. Josh is a freak of an athlete, competing in the triathlons on the pro level, and he has the knack for competition. I so arrogantly thought I could stick with him and even out run him in the later laps. Josh himself even asked if i was going to clip some 5:30’s while he would trail, I smiled. With a strong stride we started or 5x1mi workout, with a “casual” 5:50 on first. I was on the ground by the second, and walking the third lap on three. Taking a nap as Josh did his forth, and then joined him for the finishing cool down around the campus. It was a nice punch in the gut,  as I found my running was going in one direction rather than all around better. 

It was good running with Josh for three days in a row, but it was time Apache and I hit the Mountains. Apache is my dog, my best friend, and most favorite running partner. He only talks when we stop, he never complains, and his “four paw drive” with a measly 30lb muscular frame cruises up the Mountain with no effort what so ever. He logs anywhere from 6-30 miles at a time, and is always ready to go out the next day. Our favorite route to run is up the West Ridge to Graybeard peak. Its a 6 mi run up to the peak from my house, with over 4,000 ft of gain and some loss! The grit it takes to run this route is unbelievable, and has taken me plenty of trials before understanding the  gears required to climb this grueling section. There is little areas to open stride, and you find yourself using your hands and arms to pull your body up rocks. Apache kills it, and when we get to the top, its lunch. He and I sit in a spot not to many people are able to visit on a daily basis such as us. With a hard hour and a half of running straight up, we relax for over five minutes as I eat my noon time pop tarts and Apache drinks from the one bottle I choose to carry. Its a special time with an incredible view, then we turn around and bomb!!! This trail is so gnarly that I even choose to carry a whistle with me at all times, as I can be a very careless downhill runner and am expecting to break my leg once in the years to come. Rocks jag in and out, as I come back everyday with a new battle wound due to either them or thorns. I love it.

With strength growing everyday, the Mountains and I are starting to get along. 

“I never walk the streets thinking its all about me, but deep in my heart it really could be.” Phife Dawg

Monday, April 8, 2013

The Big Move

Im starting my blog with a very monumental time in my life, I have moved out of Northeast Ohio since my small amount of time in Virginia when I was less than one years old. I recently moved to Black Mountain, North Carolina, a mountainous small town wedged up against the Seven Sisters and a spit shot away from the ever growing city of Asheville. I moved at a time when I was at my lowest, I had a rough 2012 and was happy to be done with college. I lost somebody dear to me, whether for better or for worse, and my mind, heart, soul took a hit that I can only dampen by throwing my face into a pillow and letting it all go. So I packed my bags and headed for the south, and I take it day by day.
Black Mountain is a wonderful area, home to the tallest point east of the Mississippi, Mount Mitchell, and it takes the cake for mountain running in the Appalachia. I knew it was a place for me, with its laid back, small town, blue collar, hippie feel. I quickly signed a lease with a realty and was in the mountains as soon as possibly. Joy filled my heart when I instantly found a small trail in my back woods that lead me directly up the West Ridge, Middle Mountains, all the way to the notorious Graybeard Peak. Apache and I knocked this run out a couple of times, and since then I've come to appreciate the difficulty it takes to train in the mountains. In Ohio, I could run 4-5 hours through the Valley and would only encounter fatigue, but here in BM I encounter a whole knew activation of muscle groups. Im excited to see where my mountain running will get me in couple weeks  , as Im signed up for Promise Land 50k to gage where my body has come . I only fear that I am not yet ready for promise land, as the move has been quite time consuming and the terrain has taking a large notch out of my "peak training" weekly mileage.
The people of WNC  make it worth its while, with a smile on nearly everyones face, and the hardworking blue collar modesty that follows. Its what really attracted me to the area, along with some great runners who had arms wide open for my arrival. People such as Mark Lundblad, Adam Hill, and Peter Ripmaster, treated me like a long time friend as I nabbed at the idea of moving. It made my transition a lot easier and my social life not so absent for the first weeks. I started working for Peter, taking care of the Running Specialty store her in town called Black Mountain Running Co. which has eaten some of my time. In the summer I will be working at the Swannanoa 4H Boys and Girls outdoor camp, in which I will be a camp counselor teaching all types of outdoor knowledge I've learned in the past. I cant wait to start work to meet more people of the area, as it will keep me even more busy.
So I leave with a goodbye, and a note that Everyone needs to be true to themselves
  Until my next post, LIVE EASY and RUN HARD