Am Was So Sick Of At This Race
Holiday Lake is a tough race for me on a good day. It is relatively flat and fast, two things I'm not especially good at running. It is a loop race around a beautiful lake in the middle of nowhere. I have grown to enjoy the loop over the past few years. It is full of rugged single-track and gentle double track, with just a little bit of gravel and paved roads. What I don't enjoy so much is all of the fast running. Thirty-plus miles without a good excuse to hike can wear you down fast. I like a short break every now and then to engage a new muscle group and break up the monotony, I don't know how marathon runners do it (I'm a sissy.)
But that's on a good day. A good day is not what I was dealt this year. A few days before the race, a virus that had been ricocheting around our house for two weeks finally found its mark and lodged itself firmly in my upper respiratory system. So it was gonna be like that. As rough as it was going to be to run a 50K sick, I at least had a reason to run slow. All I needed was a finish, a check in the first box of the Beast Series. I felt confident that I could finish Holiday Lake with one lung tied behind my back, so that's what I set out to do.
On race morning I got up feeling like a boa constrictor had wrapped itself around my neck and shoulders, so I took a hot bath at 4 am and a shot of Dayquil. I dressed for running in the cold, I shivered in my warm house, and I added a few more layers. We went and picked up a suburban full of delinquents and headed to Appomattox. I took a couple of ibuprofen with my second cup of coffee. Frank, Tommy, and Kevin made the ride go by quick, which was good because I was starting to think about sitting this one out.
We got to the camp and everyone jumped out to go get signed in and what not. I sat in the car feeling sorry for myself. Luckily for me Frank lingered with me, drinking the rest of Alexis' coffee. Frank wouldn't let me consider not running, so I took another shot of Dayquil and headed down to check in and join the living. I stashed the bottle of Dayquil in my dropbag and we set off into the dark.
The race always starts fast, and I had ended up too close to the front of the pack when we lined up at the start. I was breathing heavy on the climb up away from the the camp, but was running with Dennis and Steve and Brian, so I kept pace with them for the sake of pleasant company. I latched on to Brian, and although I didn't expect to keep our pace for long, we were running comfortably and talking. Brian is from Pennsylvania and I only get to hang out with him at the races, so it was awesome to run the first 13 or so miles with him and catch up on life. Ultra-running is as much about community as racing, and I was super happy to be catching up with some of our out-of-town family.
But then pharmaceuticals began to fail me. One minute I was running and chatting along with Brian about past and future mountain adventures, feeling like an invincible hero from Greek myth who could run forever and endure any challenge, and the next moment my lungs collapsed, and head imploded and my shoes turned to lead. Modern science had let me down. I encouraged Brian to run on without me, but he hesitated, determined to stick with me and clearly not understanding that I wasn't joking when I told him my race was over.
It wasn't until we noticed the hungry she-wolf stalking us through the woods that Brian finally abandoned me to my fate. He disappeared in front of me like the roadrunner in cartoons from my youth, and I plodded along in his dust trail waiting for Alexis to catch up. She caught me and commented on how "fast" I had been running for a sick guy. I let her pass me, knowing that she was about to start her race at the turn around, and knowing also that I was basically done.
(4 layers of shirts and I never got overheated)
About this time the front runners started to pass us on their return trip around the lake. It was great to see so many friends running so well, it helped to lift my spirit and take my mind off of my achy body. I strolled into the turn around and was super excited to see so many great friends there volunteering and crewing and just cheering us on. My impromptu crew was awesome all day. Clifton, Chelsie, and Adam were out there for other runners but took great care of me at every aid station. I didn't have to fill my own water bottle a single time, and more than once they pushed me out of an aid station against my will.
I went to my dropbag and drank about half of that bottle of Dayquil, and was pushed out of the aid station by Chelsie who didn't seem to bring her heart to the race this year. She yelled at me to run faster and I smiled and mockingly shuffled out of site where I immediately took to walking again.
Four excruciating miles later she would be yelling at me again to "get on out of here" and "eat on the move!" But by this point I was in survival mode. Just keep moving toward the finish line. The only thing that kept me on my feet for those four miles back around the lake was the smiling faces of so many friends. Those were the miles that I felt the worst physically, suffering between doses of chemical pain inhibitors, riding a euphoric wave of camaraderie and ignoring the complaints from the jogging corpse that was my body.
But I eventually came back to life. One of the beauties of Ultra Running is living through these little miracles. Defying all logic and reason, running until you feel as though you will certainly die, and then running a little farther and realizing that you feel good again. If it made sense it wouldn't be as wonderful, and I'm sure that there may be science behind it, but I like to think of it as the trails and the mountains and the trees reviving my soul and breathing new life into my legs. Like the Phoenix rising from the ashes.
So there I am with eight miles to go, feeling like this won't be so bad, running up hill to Jamie's aid station. Enjoying myself, and actually passing some runners. Jamie has hot food! This was the icing on the cake, and I'm glad Chelsie wasn't there to rush me out of the aid station. I drank some broth and ate a cheese quesadilla. Refreshed I set out on the homestretch. Bethany Williams passed me here running better than me, and disappearing out of site before we even made it to the creek crossing.
By the time I reach the last aid station I'm running in a delirious condition that feels like an out-of-body experience. Clifton, Adam, and Chelsie are there and cheer me on as I grab a few calories and take off hooping and hollering like a drunken fool. I catch site of Bethany in the last few miles, but can't close the gap on her. When I hit the pavement and try to speed up, she disappears again and my legs move like they are made of jello. I give up here. Content with a fun day of suffering with friends and fellow lunatics. I shuffle down the road and finish to jabs from Horton about why don't I run faster, and why do I let my wife beat me?
(Yes, I felt as bad as I look here.)
The truth is Horton, life is better around here when she wins. But I don't LET her beat me, she's just tougher than I am some days.
Another Holiday Lake done. My second attempt at the Beast Series is now officially underway. It's going to be a good spring.