Holiday Lake 50k++
Saturday, February 14, 2015
In 2011, Holiday Lake was my first ultra, my initial interpretations were that it was a fast course, but still different from roads. It is more beautiful than most people give it credit for, sure, there are a number of miles that can be tedious, but in winter much of the outdoors feels grey toned and barren. What the miles of service roads and powerline loop lack are generally made up for in the miles of trail around the lake coming and going from the state park and start/finish areas.
The trouble I seem to have with Holiday Lake is it's placement on the calendar. It falls in the heart of winter, yes, but it's the proximity of it to what is usually a difficult fall with longer grueling events followed by the holiday recovery period that makes it even harder for me. I haven't gotten quite back into the swing of things before Holiday Lake creeps up on me.
It's with this background in mind that I decided to train differently for this year's race. I decided to 'experiment'. I wouldn't worry about long runs or mileage, but would try to have a more regimented routine, one that would include tempo runs and some other speed. Trouble is, when you haven't been doing much of anything and you jump into speed and tempos, you can quickly become sidelined with injury. Which is kind of what happened to me. I won't go into the nitty gritty details, but basically I allowed my fastest run of the past year to be followed the next day with a similar attempt. Bad move. Que sad music and angry calf.
The experiment to not run long or at high mileage became an experiment to completely fallback on my ability to run a 50k on experience alone. Training was bagged in lieu of healing up, better to be undertrained than injured, when will I ever learn blah, blah, blah...
I was nervous about the lack of training. I was a little sad that I can't squeeze in the necessary training in just a few short weeks. But I wanted sub 5. Still unsure of what the year holds for me, I decided that sub 5 and an hour better than last year would be goals A and B, with option C to PR should I be doing better than I expected.
The week of the race I was less crazy than usual (I think!?). I made one big change end of last year, during Masochist, I decided to trust the runner that I think I am. I think some would probably call that change confidence, whatever it was I hung to it during Hellgate and I held onto it going into Holiday Lake. I knew certain things, that I wouldn't likely PR, that Annie would perform better if the conditions were optimal and that I would push for a sub 5 if nothing else whether I could actually pull it off or not.
Todd, who has committed to running the Beast Series, and I met Frank G., Tommy Cook and Kevin Corell Saturday at 5 a.m. in Lynchburg to drive to Appomattox. I was excited that Frank was going to ride with us. I knew he would be his usual boisterous self and take my mind for the most part away from the race. I was right, the travel time ticked away and before long we had made it to the camp.
We arrived in time for a quick trip to the bathroom, check-in and a few hellos. Not a lot of extra down time, but I prefer it that way. It was cold out, roughly 20 degrees at the start, and I wore the same pullover and shorts I wore the first time I ran here in 2011. I also wore my calf sleeves, but only to keep my soft calves warm, my Hellgate Drymax socks and Hokas. I wore my most favorite Mountain Hardwear vest filled with pepto, Tums, a variety of GU (about 10 in all), wipes, two Ipods and earphones. I had my gloves and hat and my newly purchased Ultra Spire water bottle to cradle but seldom sip for the distance. I took two Pepto and two Tums, more for routine than necessity, and headed to the start.
I always lose people at the start. I can never find Todd. It's always like fumbling in the dark even though I have on a headlamp (my cheap extra from Target). The race always starts just before I am ready. That road always gets me. I hate charging up it, but I also worry about trail positioning, usually I am coming to the conclusion that trail positioning IS important just as I realize I am now in the rear of the pack. (!IN 2016, NOTE: Start further to the front).
I am jockeying for position when I realize I should have readied my iPod from the go but now have to dig around in the 12 packs of GU to get it out. I decide to hold off until after Aid Station 1 for it. The headlamp is useful, I am always glad that I wore it even if for only 20 minutes it serves a purpose. The first few miles tick by effortlessly because I am so busy passing clusters of runners. Rick Gray joked as I ran past that there were many girls in front and I needed to get busy, we laughed but then I did notice there was a stretch of women just ahead, several of them I knew including Anna and Elisa. The miles between the state park and aid station 1 are in my opinion, fun and varied and I am surprised how quickly it seems we get there.
The sun was now coming up and I could make out individual runners ahead of me. I passed by Bethany through here but then had a female fly by me, it's always nice that this happens, keeps the ego balanced and alert. I glanced at my watch, having meticulously made a fueling plan. Before the race it was to consume a GU every 40 minutes the first two hours and then one every half an hour there on out. But I decided after I had started running, that I didn't like GU enough to do that and I would start with one at 45 minutes in and go from there.
Todd had handed me the keys before the race start, he had a cold and figured I would finish the race before him. I was in another place mentally and didn't stow the keys, instead I had them in my hands. I had noticed them only after I was running. I thought about stopping at the suburban and stowing them there but I had already lost enough positioning early that I decided to just carry them. I didn't want to hold them for the whole first loop though and they became, as I neared aid station one, a near obsession. I decided if I saw someone I knew at the aid station I would pass them off.
I got to aid station one in about 38:30, I was happy with that. I saw Chelsie standing up ahead and I asked her to take the keys, which she did. I was running through not stopping because I hadn't eaten or drank when Gina reminded me I was still wearing my cheap headlamp. I hurriedly pulled it off and threw it into her arms and headed on.
This next section, I knew, was fast and thus fun. It's one of the hardest sections in my mind and yet possibly my second favorite. Roughly two miles of single track that weaves along the paved roads that run beside it. I was following a guy I didn't know who was running a beautiful steady pace and so I just held. We came upon little clusters and passed them. About mile five I ran up on Robbie, he said he thought I was ahead but I rather hurriedly answered that I always start in the rear, my frustration with myself but as soon as I passed him I worried that I had come off rude. I hadn't meant to, I was just expressing my frustration with myself. You must be hangry, Alexis, eat a GU. I did, my first.
I ran on holding what I thought was a good pace, it felt good, in hindsight probably too good, I probably should have been pushing a little more. On the way to the first creek crossing I caught up with Dennis. He was in a good mood, feeling good. He said that Todd was just ahead. This startled me. For days Todd had been talking about running 7:30 hours and just finishing, his cold knocking him further down with each day leading into the race. He had spent the earlier part of the year jeering that he was going to beat me, but the cold had changed all that talk. The news that he was out ahead, when I thought I had been running well, was a shock. I laughed that he must not be as sick as he was acting.
Dennis and I ran onto the second creek crossing where we saw Clifton, he cheered and said I was 7th or 8th female. I am never that far up in the first few miles at Holiday Lake. Almost immediately another female passed by me, followed by another I recognized as running 2nd at Iron Mountain last year, Michelle. I thought about chasing but decided that I was running a pace I felt confident I could hold. I held on hope that they wouldn't be able to hold their paces, that I would catch them in the second loop.
At the start I had given Jamie Swyers a ziploc bag with another two GU and some Tums as she was leading aid station two. I didn't think I would need those things having a pretty stocked vest, perhaps too stocked, but I was touched by her offer. It just feels good to have people looking out for you. I told her I should be at her aid station in 70 or 72 minutes. If I get there before 70 minutes, I told her, tell me to slow down, I am running too fast.
Heading to her aid station I looked at my watch, I was running right on schedule. I realized I didn't have a plan after the aid station for time. But I didn't follow through that thought by coming up with a plan. At aid two I filled my bottle and Jeremy Ramsey said my husband was just twenty seconds ahead. That's what I hear I said. I headed off in hot pursuit.
On the long and semi sloping gravel road that leads away from aid two I caught sight of the bright Hawaiian shirt he had on. I could have given an effort here and ran a little harder to catch him but I chose not to. Todd is generally not very nice when I catch him during a race, he won't for my own benefit, let me run with him, but I decided just to trail him for a while. I decided I would catch him in the power line section.
The course changes made the course easier, we no longer had to run a short but gnarly trail section and some rough, usually muddy service road that made up the previous course, but now a short gravel uphill that I liked and a longer paved road section that I didn't, to get to the power line. There were still two females in sight but again I didn't chase.
I thought for sure Todd saw me when he turned onto the power line section because he picked up the pace a little. I fell back on the power line section, I had thought I would catch him but I didn't. I was passed by a runner and the females ahead pulled out of sight. I went to my music and just plowed along. Before long we were turning towards the stable, crossing the paved road. I ate another GU and drank some water noticing that the bottle was nearly full.
I talked with a runner I recognized from the races but had never met, Jeremy. At aid station three Chelsie asked if I need anything but I had decided to run on through this aid station, my bottle still almost full. She told me Todd was just right ahead, I told her I had been reeling him in for miles, he was running pretty good for a sick guy. But he was making for a pretty good rabbit so I was happy to have him just ahead.
This last four miles of the loop are my favorite at Holiday Lake. The terrain changes every little bit, there is rolling single track, a few steeper hills, a beautiful view of the other side of the lake, rocks and roots. a long set of frustrating stairs, a frozen damn, and then before you reach the turn around my most favorite section of really fast moving single track trail.
Between the sections of single track there is a little climb on double track. I walked because a female ahead walked, and I didn't want to catch Todd before the loop was over. I decided I would slow, that I didn't want to run too fast to get done with this loop, because I wanted to negative split. I looked at my watch and decided that I didn't want to run better than 2:25 the first loop because I couldn't imagine I could run better than 4:50 on this day. I walked again and decided I also didn't want another GU, that I would wait for the turn around and drink some Mountain Dew instead. There is this one section where there is a sharp turn on the double track, Todd and Brian were just ahead, Todd jeered "Why are you running so slow?" I just answered that it was because I AM slow.
I was still reining Todd in when the front runners started to pass by headed back in for their second loop. This makes alertness a necessity in these miles but I love it just the same, I love passing the other runners, cheering their names, seeing where they are at. So many of my friends were doing so well, Frank, Sam, Joe, Mike, Marc, Jeremy, Bethany was behind Martha but they didn't look worn, I knew a race for the win still loomed ahead for them. Just past the bridge, at the make shift steps derived from cut logs, Todd was stopped as if waiting. I'm done, run on and have a good race, he said. I asked him how he was feeling and why he was running so fast. He said he wanted to go out and give it a good effort but that he was feeling pretty bad now, that he would probably run 3 or more hours for his second loop. I ran on not quite believing it, I figured he would maybe hold on better than that.
At the turn around there still seemed to be a few women just ahead, but I couldn't get it straight was I 9th? 10th? 11? Several people said different things. I got to the turn around and Mike had my bag ready. Clifton got it opened and handed me the Mountain Dew. Chey filled my bottle and her son gave me two more GU. I drank what I thought was about 100 calories of the pop, as I figured it was substituting a GU. I looked at the clock, 2:24. Knowing what kind of training I had leading up to the race I was pretty certain I wasn't going to negative split, but I went on out for the second loop still gunning for that sub 5.
Leaving the aid station I felt good, I took inventory. I felt good for having run a 2:24 loop, my legs still felt good, but I just didn't feel strong enough to chase. I kept on cheering for friends who were headed in to finish their loop. My music was still on, but low, and I cheered for each and every runner. Then this Jake Bugg song comes on, and I am thinking about my first HL when Todd and I knew five runners, how I had done the same that day, cheered on each runner as my knee cried for me to stop. This year I seemed to know at least a third, I would call their names when I could, a few I didn't know called my name. It was a distraction but also a gift, I'm lucky to be here, I'm lucky to know so many good people, to feel this good today.
I was running up this little hill and I knew there was a runner just behind me, I assumed the runner wanted to pass so I took to walking and stepped aside for them to pass. It was Brian! We immediately took to talking, about the Beast, about the winter and the training for Holiday Lake, about doing it again this year, will we? Won't we? It was great to have a friend to chat with and the miles passed by easily to the next aid station.
At aid 5 Clifton asked why I wasn't drinking, it was so touching. I wasn't though, so I didn't need to stop at the aid station, I just moved on but Brian stopped. I thought about waiting for him, but then I figured he would catch up. I walked a few steps of the steep hill that leads away from the aid station in this direction, but then I saw Rick Gray up ahead. So I ran on.
Rick is a solid steady runner, I set my sights on him and just went back to my music. At the power line loop section I had gotten close enough to realize he was running with Michelle. I didn't know what place I was in the females but I knew I wanted to catch her but then I didn't run like I wanted to catch her. I was enjoying the day, I was enjoying my pace and my music, the solidarity, the occasional conversations with friends, I felt good. I felt strong. But I didn't or wouldn't run harder. It's hard to explain, but it was like I knew I could run the pace I was running to the end, but I couldn't decide if risking running harder would be smart or would just result in cramping and ultimately a slower time. I went with safe and happy.
I continued to keep my sights on Rick and Michelle though. I started to calculate times for finishing, I still wanted that sub 5. I wasn't sure I could do it, I had to run a 9 minute pace for every mile left in the race. Just run steady I told myself, you can do it. Then I had to stop to pee. Coming up the road I ate a third GU. At aid three/six Jamie brought me over my bag but I didn't need anything out of it, I had just eaten a GU on the slight climb to the aid station and still had another 7 in my vest. She offered me some broth and I drank a little, figuring the salt would be good. They told me I was 9th female but there were females just ahead I could catch. I left, took inventory again. I felt really good, I was surprised and pleased about how good I felt. I was having a good day and there is success in that alone. Just hold off another female and you've secured a top 10, I told myself. That and sub 5 will do for the day.
I ran on but had completely lost sight of Rick and Michelle. I wondered how close behind the next female was. I didn't want to get past in the last eight miles. I mean, I don't ever really want to get passed, it's part of why I start further back. The creek crossing was FREEZING the second time through, I was startled by that, I thought it would seem better the second time through not worse. Not long after the creek crossing I came upon Rick and Michelle. They had been running a very steady pace, I told them so. I passed by but they were eating, I figured they would hold my pace as I had been holding theirs and they did for quite some time after.
Back at my second favorite part of the course, the flat trail that leads from the creeks to the last aid station with Michelle and Rick behind me I thought I would push a little, try to create a little space between us. I didn't sprint but picked it up. I ate a GU and tried to take it serious. It felt good for a while, I looked at my clock, I had just over an hour and somewhere between six and seven miles left to go. I got to the last aid station but Rick and Michelle were right behind me, I had been running for 4:17. Chelsie and Mary Beth asked if I needed anything. I need more time, I said. They said I could catch more runners but I had to go. I drank a cup of Mountain Dew and left. But I was done. I had run a little harder in the previous miles and hadn't felt good, I was enjoying the steadier pace. I was torn though, because I really wanted that sub 5.
Running down the hill from the last aid station my quads quivered slightly, as if suggesting they may cramp. I had four miles to go and about 42 minutes. I decided to play it safe, no more pushing, I would run smart and I would run steady and I would run sub 5 and I would be great with that. That was our plan, now we just had to see it through. I passed a guy who didn't talk and another near the state park who said he felt great but his legs were cramping. I told him I felt about the same. I decided to eat half a GU, there was this whole conversation in my head for several minutes to arrive at this decision, but I decided the smart thing to do was eat HALF of a GU. So that is what I did.
At the state park I saw Rebekah, how I crave consistency, she was just where she had been the year before, she had just arrived she said as I passed. I love how so many friends who aren't running will come out to offer their cheers and support for all of us. I smiled that the Blue Ridge Trail Runners exist, that they were alive and present on that course.
The last two miles were good, I felt strong enough to run all but the last climb. Coming out on the double track I knew I had just over a mile to go, I could see a runner up ahead turn into the final trail section. How that section is such a lovely sight at this point in the day. Hitting the paved road is bittersweet, you only have about six tenths to go to the finish but it's pavement and though it's downhill it's on legs that have run a fairly fast thirty plus miles. I had a little more than ten minutes to go sub 5. I gave it a steady effort until I reached the suburban where I dropped my bottle. Then I ran a little harder.
I didn't PR. I ran 4:54, only two and a half minutes off of my PR from 2013. But I felt good, I just hadn't been able to conjure up a race and part of that was the knowledge that my training just didn't back that kind of day. Looking back I probably felt a little too good, but if I had run harder and cramped I don't know that would have resulted in a faster time overall. I was ninth female, which means for a lot of the day I was running lower down than I thought. I like running top 10 but going sub 5 was more important to me.
In 2013 I had worried that I hadn't run fast enough, hard enough, but the next morning my body told me I had done well, I woke up sore and tight on Sunday morning. This year I woke up feeling far too good on Sunday. I chose to look at the bright side, I ran just two minutes off of my PR and felt pretty good doing it, so perhaps I can go forward and actually run sub 4:50 someday. So regardless what I said at the finish line, I will be back, most likely next year. What can I say? I liked how quickly 30 miles went by, I liked being strong enough to run sub 5 on what I think has been little mileage and training.
As soon as I was done I headed to the car to get my water bottle and I went ahead and changed clothes. I made it back to the finish line and settled in to cheer other BRTR and other friends in. It's my favorite part, the finish line. And not because I am thankful "to be" done, but for "having" done the race, for seeing so many friends run PRs (and a very many of them did) and many others run their first ultra or their first Holiday Lake or their first Holiday Lake after a long hiatus in which life took them somewhere else for a while. We hung out until our last friend finished, Alicia, who was one of those first five ultra runners I knew who talked me into Holiday Lake in 2011 and whom I chased around on roads that first season. She's now the mom of three very small children. They were there along with their dad, to cheer her in, That look on her face as she ran toward them and the finish line, that feeling, that's the answer.
And now it's time to train for Terrapin.