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.