The Back Story:
I ran Holiday Lake last year. It was my second ever Ultra Marathon, and my second Ultra that ended in an injury. (Pretty solid record, I know.) The September before I ran the Trail Running Rampage 40 miler, and limped away with a knee injury. It was a tough but beautiful course and I ran harder than I was ready for, but that's another story all together. Last year at Holiday Lake, I came off of a break in training and only had about 7 weeks to prepare. That is not enough time. I ran a good first loop, and then everything fell apart on me. I was under-trained, I didn't eat well, and when I hit the wall at 22 miles I pretty much gave up. I finished in 5:47 (I don't know how I managed to do that well), and limped away with a sore Achilles that haunted me for a couple of months, forcing me out of the Terrapin Mountain 50K and the LUS.
The Race Report:
This year I arrived at Holiday Lake better trained, but lacking in confidence. The course had beat me up pretty good the year before, and I really didn't know if I was any more ready. On race day I arrived with a plan to run conservatively, and eat a lot. That was it. I was in a survival mode of some sort.
The race started and I found myself in the back of the pack, which was fine. I'm not fast enough to worry about starting out front, and what could it hurt to hike that first bit with the slower runners? By the time we got to the beach area I had found my pace and was running with people who were neither too fast or too slow for me. And that is how I ran the first loop, checking off Aid Station after Aid Station, eating as much as I could stand. According to my watch I made it to the turn around in 2:31. Faster than last year, but I was feeling good still.
With the start of the second loop, I began to get nervous. This was where it all fell apart last year. After a couple of unplanned bathroom breaks early in the second loop I was even more nervous. But I was still running good. I made it to Aid Station 5, grabbed some food and water, and stopped for a minute to talk to a friend. Then I remembered that it was a race and I took off up that hill with a handful of food.
This is where I ran into the wall last year. I was just running to the next Aid Station at this point. The power-line trail is where it got real bad for me. But that was last year. I ran it strong this year, and that is when I knew I could run this course. By the time I made it to Aid Station 6 my legs were hurting, but I was feeling good mentally. Then I saw one of the fastest runners of the day, standing there at the Aid Station wrapped in a blanket, out of the race with cramps. I talked to him for a minute and took off again, but now the doubt was back, if a runner like Jordan could DNF with 8 miles to go, what was going to happen to me.
This next section was pretty slow for me, maybe the worst of the day. After the last creek crossing my pace fell apart. I was hiking up a hill that I should have been running when a couple of runners past me easily. Something clicked with me then, I knew I only had 6 miles to go, and no matter how bad I was hurting I was going to finish this thing. I fell in behind them, letting them dictate the pace, and I zoned out. I ran like this until I started feeling stronger again, and then we passed a spectator on the trail who said that we were 1/2 a mile from the last Aid Station. I almost passed my pacers then, but decided to hang with them to the Aid Station.
The last Aid Station was like a circus! There were lots of spectators there waiting for their friends and family to run through, and it seemed like every runner was just hanging out eating. I tried to get to the food, but the crowd was literally blocking the entire table. After about 30 frustrating seconds of trying to get nutrition I ran on, empty handed. I figured it was only four more miles what could go wrong? I didn't even fill my water bottle.
Downhill how I do love thee. The next mile coming out of Aid Station 7 is all down hill, glorious downhill. So I ran that one for free. Then the course levels out and starts rolling through the woods along the lake. With 30 + miles on my legs at that points the little hills started to feel like mountains, but I ran on and I could tell my pace was faltering again. I hiked a couple of spots that I didn't want to, but I made it past the beach to the homestretch trail. When I saw the 'One Mile To Go' marked on the ground I almost cried, and began my one mile decent back to the finish line.
Even with the help of gravity my finish was far from spectacular, but I finished strong. My time was 5:24, that is 23 minutes faster than last year. And other than a couple of low spots I felt really good all day. I'm still learning how to run Ultras (the training may actually be the easy part), and I figured out a couple of things I can do better next time.
I think that this race has given me some much needed confidence in my ability to run the distance. I like to run, but I don't like to hurt, but I know now that I can run through a lot of pain and discomfort, I just have to do it. I'm a lot weaker racer than I am a runner, but I'm working on that.
Nutrition is something I'm still trying to dial in. This year I over-ate and under-drank. After skipping that last Aid Station I was starting to suffer from dehydration symptoms with two miles to go.
I have to stop treating Aid Stations like break rooms. I need to be in and out in under a minute. I probably wasted 10-15 minutes at Aid Stations this year just hanging around.