Monday, February 17, 2014

The Home Field Advantage: Holiday Lake 50k 2014 Race Report

Holiday Lake 50k

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Appomattox, Virginia

The week leading up to this year's race I did what I've grown accustomed to, I stopped running (on Tuesday) and started studying. On Tuesday and Wednesday it was articles and studies on carbohydrate consumption, including formulas suggested by Scott Jurek and thanks to the snowstorm that arrived Wednesday evening the later part of the week was spent reading race reports from 2010's race, the 'snow year'. In most of the race reports people complained about just how trying the course was but in particular the 'power line section', but one particular report written by Martha Wright started "If I'd known how hard it was going to be, it would have been even harder." I tried to use her experiential observation to my advantage, to tell myself that no matter how I thought it would be, it would be different. Expect only that, I told myself. 

On Friday, Todd, Jeremy, Sara and I headed out to the 4H camp. Upon arriving, Jeremey and Todd went out to 'run' a loop, checking that all the course markings were still in proper order and make some first tracks for the runners on Saturday morning. Sara and I went on a hike, starting out in the opposite direction, towards the dam. It was slow but somewhat educational, we hiked past the dam to the first creek crossing (one that is scarcely a creek when there isn't snow melting from up higher) and turned around. Having looked over the 2010 results I had thrown out any idea of a time goal, completion being the goal having signed up already for the LUS (Lynchburg Ultra Series). This hike gave me some insight to just how difficult traversing the loop would be, especially the first time around. 

It took Todd and Jeremy 3:45 to do one loop, though it had been dark and they were doing some marking, this made me second guess a little just how difficult Saturday would be, but I knew it would be tough for many, not just me. I spent my energy stressing about keeping ice and snow off of my skin (Swiftwick calf socks did the trick!) and where I was staying that night. I ate as much cereal as I could before bed, the rest of the box of Golden Grahams and some Honeycombs. I was in bed by midnight, alarm set for 3:30 am.

Saturday morning I woke up and tried to eat more dry cereal but couldn't do it, instead I ate four slices cinnamon sugar toast. Todd got up at 4 and helped me get all of my stuff out to the car, I left the house by 4:20. I met Kevin and Opal at 4:45 and rode to the camp with them. The last hour before the race was spent among friends with interspersed trips to the bathroom. When it was time to go outside I was very calm, I felt pretty good.

I settled in beside Kathie, Alissa and Krista at the start. And it felt like moments later we were off and running. I thought I would run easy from the start but then realized pretty quick that this was the only road we would be on for a while, I picked it up to get a little better positioning when we hit trail. When we reached the stairs Chelsie and Kevin were right in front of me but I didn't make it up the hill as well as they did and was a few places back when we got on single track trail. I kept an easy pace the first couple miles, taking walking breaks on hills when the runners in front of me did. It was definitely an easier pace but by the time we made it to the state park I was already feeling how differently the snow was working me, for such a slower pace I was already feeling it in my hips and calves. 

I reached aid station one in about 45 minutes, about 10 minutes slower than I'd originally planned prior to the accumulation of snow, but feeling like I was working harder than the original pace would have felt. I handed off my headlamp to Todd and with it went my beanie into the mud, I left it. He swapped water bottles with me and I headed back out. Then I caught up with Kevin who I had been following since the stairs to get into the woods. We discussed the first four miles and how much more exhausting they had proven to be. It was nice to run along with him and to hear that he was feeling the same about the snow's toll.

The first creek crossing wasn't very deep and we were through without trouble, we hit the service road that takes you to the second creek crossing and immediately remarked upon how refreshing running in Horton's tire tracks was over running through the snow. Running in the tracks was already like running in puddles and the feet, already wet and cold, continued to take a beating.

At this point I was still feeling pretty good, the legs were working hard but I felt I was still holding back enough to be all right. However, my stomach was bothering me in a way I've become semi used to, it's like a growling like I'm hungry, it isn't nausea it's just a strange uncomfortable rumbling that is distracting and proves to make it even harder for me to eat. I had already eaten a cereal bar and I took out a box of raisins and ate as much of the box as I could.

Coming into the second creek crossing Kevin was in front of me and he slipped on an ice patch and I yelled and asked if he was ok, the commotion got the attention of the runner directly in front of us, Joe Alderson. He turned and said "Alexis" as he was crossing the creek. All three of us then began sharing the trials arising from traversing the snow. Stability was in jest, we were using muscles our running bodies weren't accustomed to engaging.

We three ran from the second creek crossing to the middle aid station, but my stomach was just so unsettled that I began to worry. It's true, it's what I do, but I had gone into the run with hopes of a positive outlook and a willingness to fuel at all costs, the stomach trouble was rocking both ideals. As we ran into Brenton's aid station Joe and Kevin kept on running, I stopped and looked over the table, grabbing a quarter PB&J and a few pringles. Running from that aid station down the road there were still tracks in the snow made by Horton's truck to follow but getting the food down made me slower than the previous section. I refused to throw the food aside and managed, after a short time, to take it all in, watching as Kevin occasionally looked back. I was staying steady at my distance behind him, but I was worried he would wait for me, that I would negatively effect his race like I had done at Hellgate. I took out my bag of medicine and ate the two Tums I had, thinking they may help.

Headed to the power line section I passed by Alicia and some other girls in their car, their cheers a momentary boost, and ran on to what, I presumed from reading 2010 race reports, would be the most trying part of the day. The warnings proved to be valuable, as the narrow path made by those ahead was too narrow to keep any type of form, one leg constantly banging the opposite calf as I picked my legs up, trudging through a mile long section that is usually a fairly fast one on better days. Joe stepped aside and let myself and a few other runners by and I could see Kevin just up ahead. By the halfway point of the power line section I had fallen back in behind him, stomach still upset I was happy to have the reprieve of more conversation. Kevin remarked that in ways this was worse than Hellgate, I just wanted my stomach to give me some relief. Jeremy and Sara passed by on the road and cheered our names and then we could see the horse coral ahead, the road crossing over and away from the power line section.

I told Kevin to remind me, if he was still with me at the aid station, to ask for Tums. I shouldn't have asked that of Kevin, it's not Kevin's job to make sure that I ask for what I need at aid stations. Fortunately, he had some Tums on him and I ate a couple more. Just before the third aid station Frank G. was there cheering, calling Kevin 7th female. At the aid station there was the uplifting familiar faces of a half dozen friends. Todd gave me a handful of foods and swapped bottles with me, he told me all the girls ahead were running close together and only just a couple minutes ahead.

I ate the two snack size Milky Ways Todd had given me and noticed my stomach had settled for which I was very thankful. I started to pick it up a little, the trail section to the turn around being my favorite of the loop. We were starting to pass the front runners and as always that was a pleasant distraction, offering cheers and calling the names of familiar faces. I started to sense Kevin was slipping back and Joe was no longer in sight. Reaching the dam I heard Andrew's familiar voice behind me, "Are you having a bad day Alexis or am I just having a good day?" he inquired, I was feeling pretty good, I told him he must be having a good day. He asked if I'd seen Clifton, I hadn't.

Coming into the camp we saw Clifton and I remarked to Andrew behind me, "I found Clifton, Andrew!" and then I was surprised how close the first and second girl still were to me, it was Beth Minnick and Beth Frye, this was uplifting. At the aid station at the turn around Todd gave me another Milky Way, a pack of Fig Newtons and another cereal bar to put in my vest which was beginning to get weighed down, he also handed me two peanut butter crackers to eat right then.

Leaving the camp, I was feeling rejuvenated, ready for the second loop. Passing other people was a little trying on the narrow path and I slipped and fell in the snow as I was trying to pass a runner, their bottle lightly hitting me in the face as they went to save me from my fall. Getting back up my knee hurt but I was in a good mood, I shook it off, I kept on running through my favorite section. I ate as much of two Fig Newtons as I could.  And then someone told me about Amy Albu, I believe it was Mike Mitchell, first. And then Grattan, Don, Sam and a few others. She'd somehow fallen or tripped and broken her leg, they'd had to carry her for a mile. Each of them, as I passed, recounted the tale to me and took a little of my spirit with them. I'm sure they meant no such thing, but Amy, who I only know by association, is a good runner and the story just sank me a little. I tried to sink into distraction with a joke when Sophie passed me a few minutes later, but my joke, meant as flattery, didn't amuse. When another female passed me looking strong and fresh and I fell into 9th place all the positive energy I had mustered for the second loop seem to instantly depart.

Kevin had still been fairly close behind, in one of the horseshoe sections I had called for him to catch up when I had still been in better spirits, but now my spirit was draining, the last big hill taxed my weary mind and legs even more. Coming into the 5th aid station I was a little beaten, though I was still behind Sophie. Jeremy cheered me on, saying that I was still fairly close to the front pack. I just brushed his motivation aside. Horton, Todd and Blake all tried to be encouraging as well. It was nice to see Dennis and Charlie at this aid station, if there were more people there I was just in a sort of daze and don't remember. I tried to get my jacket off to give it to Todd but it got stuck, we tried for a  minute but we couldn't get it off. Fearing that I was moments from slipping from top 10 I told him to forget it and left the aid station.

The zipper on the jacket was stuck and I fiddled with it the whole way up the hill when I should have been eating. I realized I was getting hot from getting worked up about the jacket. I decided to just leave it be and return to focus on running. I had definitely spent far too much energy on getting the jacket off. I ate another snack size Milky Way and two Peanut Butter crackers. Reaching the power line section again the only highlight was a salutation from David Helt. I'd reached the grueling power line section once more. I was in a pretty good low at this point, I had a good grip on why I was there, but I was struggling all the same. I saw a female up ahead and fearing slipping from top 10 I ran a little harder to catch her. Upon reaching her I slipped and fell into an icy puddle, sufficiently soaking the entirety of my lower extremities. I just wanted to be done. Standing up I began a conversation with the female, Jennie Belt, who was also struggling to find motivation. I asked her if she'd ever run the race, she said she had, I asked her how she usually performed under better circumstances, she said she'd won it in 2011 which was the year I ran Holiday Lake for the first time as my first ultra.

We talked through the entire power line section and I felt good when I saw the people crossing the road, that I was feeling a little better by way of distraction. I saw Jamie just ahead. I was managing to eat and my stomach felt pretty good. My legs, while taxed, were still ok considering. I decided the race wasn't lost. I finally managed to unzip my damn jacket.

Just before turning in the wooded section, Jamie stopped and said "come here, I've been waiting for you to pass me all day," we, too, swapped our stories from the trail, how we felt about the news about Amy. We ran to the middle aid station together, Jamie, Jennie and I. Just up ahead on the road I could see Kaylyn, Sophie and one other female. We were all really close.  This section up the road, seeing all those girls, rejuvenated my spirit. Get moving and you won't slip from top 10, but you need to build a better buffer, I told myself. Being in 9th with such strong women all around had been battling my confidence,  finally I realized I was still there among them. This was a pleasant wake up call. It was time to get moving.

Coming into Brenton's aid station he laughed that Jamie and I were together, I grabbed an Oreo and some potato chips. Those potato chips were magnificent. I made to leave as several of the other females were still at the aid station. "Come on, Jamie, let's go" I called to Jamie, she said she was coming, I had to get going. The road section was beautiful, it felt so good. I started to think about what needed to be done. I ate, I drank. I got passed by Kaylyn, I figured I was in 6th place, just stay steady I reminded myself. On the road between creek crossings I passed Kaylyn and got passed by Andy Jones Wilkins. Stay with Andy, I told myself. Walking up the hill after the last creek crossing I was feeling tired and pain all over but mostly in my feet and back, but I was also catching and passing people, I thought about hundred milers, and how I believe it all comes down to who can suffer best. I vowed to suffer well and kept on moving. I felt both awful and good.

Crossing over a road, Jeremy and Sara Ramsey were sitting in their car, Jeremy said I was in 4th, I literally thought his count is off, I'm 5th. He said you can catch 2nd and 3rd, you can be 2nd. I didn't respond, just kept on moving. He rolled down Sara's window, and called again, 'you can be second'. I thought I was 5th, I thought 5th is great! I tried to ignore the idea that I could be 2nd. I wondered who was still in front of me, Beth Minnick, Beth Frye and Sophie Speidel, who else? I tried to eat a Shot Block, it took about ten minutes to get the one down and decided I would wait for the aid station. Charlie Peele drove by and I believe I heard Dennis and the other guys cheering. I was feeling good, but nervous.

Coming into the last aid station I was a little out of it, there were so many cheers and so many people. Sam Dangc was there telling me to get my vest and jacket off and then helping me alongside Blake and Todd, my iPod got tied up, they tried to take it from me. I said I need that, though I hadn't even turned it on yet. Todd said "No, you don't!" To which my stubborn self replied, "YES! I do, it's my backup plan!" They freed it for me and I stuffed it in my bra. I said I needed some food, Frank G. grabbed potato chips and Nutter Butters and stuffed them in my hands. I had four miles to go. Todd said you are fourth, you can be second, GO!

When Jeremy had said I was 4th I figured his count was off, when Todd and the other guys at the aid station said it, I figured I must have passed someone without realizing it, maybe someone at the aid station. I don't like Nutter Butters but I made myself eat everything that Frank stuffed in my hand, I made myself drink. I needed to go to the bathroom, I told myself that could wait. The people cheering me on at the aid station must have reached other ears, a guy or two stepped aside and said 'Go catch them' as I passed. I was definitely in my element. I was having a terrible but good time. I gave it a good effort, but as we reached the state park and I had not seen a sign of the other girls I became once again content. Then, just as I entered the last horseshoe before you run through the state park, I saw Beth Frye. Slow and steady, save enough. Through the state park I saw both Beth's. Someone cheered me on, thanks Rebecca!

I followed Beth Minnick and Beth Frye as we weaved through the snowy, slushy single track. On the last hill  of the race I talked to Beth Minnick, we were both admittedly ready to be done. On the double track that is still a fair climb, I gave myself a pep talk. You've been doing some tempo work, when you hit the single track it is on, you have to run with everything you have left. Beth Minnick and Beth Frye were both right behind. When I saw the turn to the road and the stairs I had that wave of excitement overcome me, .60 to go. Hitting the road I went into the final gear I had left, I'll be honest I turned back once. Beth Minnick was on the road behind me, it was a race after all. I was running as hard as I could and yet it probably was fairly slow. I passed Joe Alderson, he cheered for me, I thought what's he doing in his car? I passed Robert Allen in his car, he said something which I thought was Alexis? and I barely breathed "I am Alexis!" clearly out of it. I asked Blake as I passed how close the people behind me were, he laughed "What people?" That was a little refreshing. I was proudest, as ridiculous as it sounds, at that moment that I hadn't needed my iPod at all throughout the day. Then I saw Todd, Cooper and Bailey crossing the road towards the finish line. I heard Horton saying my name and then it was over.

There's so much to say about the after race, but seeing how verbose my race report has already become I will just sum it up, I love the people, I had a good day considering tough conditions. I had familiar friendly faces at every turn, I suppose I did so well because I had the home field advantage. I knew the course, even blanketed with snow I knew the ground beneath, I knew the aid station workers, I knew many of the other runners. I wanted to be who those cheering me on thought I could be so much that I pushed to be for them what they seemed to expect from me. Even in the end, when they said that it was all me, I knew that they were wrong, that my day was so much more than me. It was a good crew consisting of Todd, our older children Cooper and Bailey, and Blake. It was good friends along the way, building me up. It was positive aid station workers helping me along. It was the training in the weeks before with the Blue Ridge Trail Runners. It was a feeling of home and community. And it was a pain in my butt.

Literally, my hips and glutes were taxed beyond what they are used to, as are my calves. Few days of smarter rest and recovery than I instituted last year should be enough, and then it's on to training for Terrapin. I'm so thankful everyday, but especially after days like this past Saturday, to be a part of such a wonderful family of people. Too many to name but you know who you are, thank you for including me.

-Alexis



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