Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Holiday Lake 50K++ (Feb 11 2012)

On February 11 2012, I took a pretty big leap. I've been running marathons since 2008 but since I've been getting better at running over the last year I decided to take the plunge and start running ultra-marathons. I got the idea in late July when I ran the San Francisco Marathon. I had convinced this girl Katie to run it with me and since it was her first marathon and I had a few under my belt I even offered to run it at her pace. For me the race was pretty straight forward, I was capable of running about 8 min /mile for the whole race but we settled in much closer to 11 minute miles. By the end of the event I felt like I could keep running for much longer. This was an epiphany moment for me, while in the past 26 miles seemed like a hard cap it was now much less daunting. So I started some research and set my sights on a 50k nearby in Virginia, the Holiday Lake 50k++ and started training. En route I set a PR at marathon distance of 3:34 which I am still pretty stoked about. Anyway fast forward to Feb. 10!

Friday morning I loaded all my stuff into the car. Running clothes, check. Nuun, double check. Various running gu's/shot blocks/goodies checkity check check. I drove down to Alexandria VA and met up with my friend Bel. The weird thing about my friends is I'll say something like "Hey do you want to take half a day off work, drive into the middle of no where, sleep in the car, and then refill my water bottles while I run 30+ miles" and then they usually say yes....anyway my friends are pretty cool like that. Anyway, so we set off in Bel's car (no one wants drive my stick shift) and headed for the Holiday Lake 4H center outside of Appomattox. We got in around 5 pm, and quickly ran into friend and ultra-running guru Dave Snipes, we caught up for a bit and he assured me I was more than ready for the run. I checked in, at about 3 metric tons of pasta at the pre-race dinner and then hung around for the pre-race brief. The race director David Horton is pretty awesome he gave us the low down on the race and then assured us first time ultra-runners that finishing an ultra isn't about how athletic you are but more about how much you want it. He then proceeded to call out the really cool people who were at the race, included was Patrick McGlade (who I had just been introduced to and was sitting right next to me) who has run across the United States in 2010. He also called out Snipes who ran a total of 10 100 mile races last year. The point of all this was here are these normal guys doing amazing things. After the brief, Horton gathered all us newbies up for some sage wisdom most of which came in handy on the trail.

That night I didn't get much sleep, cars are uncomfortable and for the first time in a while I was looking into the unknown. I'd never gone beyond 26.2 miles before and hadn't faced a distance I hadn't completed since 2008. Eventually, I got a few hours in and woke up just before 5 when my cell alarm went off. I got dressed, decided on wearing my under armor leggings but just going with a long sleeve shirt for my top, threw on my coat, filled up my water bottle and headed to the pre-race breakfast. I downed some coffee and a bagel with cream cheese and before I knew it Horton was telling us all to get to the starting line. 
I was feeling pretty good morning of!
I found a spot in the middle of the pack. I really didn't know how fast I could run 50k but I wanted to come in around 5 hours. So there we were all gathered up, we made an attempt at the national anthem and while it wasn't super bowl quality I'd say it was pretty good for 6am! I switched on my headlamp and Horton began counting down to the start.

All the headlamps are actually kind of creepy in the dark!

We were off in the dark and trotted up the road about half a mile until we hit the trail head. Once on the trail things quickly became single track. Running in the dark was easier than I thought it would be, my head lamp was plenty enough to see around me. I was pretty excited as we went through some ups and downs and over several wobbly bridges. Eventually, just after the sun had come up I passed Snipes who gave me some encouragement. Soon enough Aid Station 1 appeared out of no where.

This is where I made my one big mistake of the race....I hadn't really been drinking a lot up to this point and my water bottle was about 1/3 full. So as I tossed Bel my coat and she grabbed the headlamp off my head I declined stopping to have her refuel my bottle. Horton had warned us not to do this but I was being dumb, so I grabbed a cookie from the table shoved it into my mouth and pressed on. The trail skirted the road for a good while and we were treated to some pretty fast running. My water bottle was empty with about 2.5 miles until the next station, and I cursed my foolishness assuring myself that I'd refuel and then hopefully catch up on hydrating. I ran through a small stream and thought "so that is the big crossing everyone talked about...that wasn't too bad" about two minutes later I hit the real stream crossing which was about ankle deep. I blew through the stream and while the water made my feet cold they soon dried out.

Crew members weren't allowed to meet us at AS 2 but luckily the people manning it were very helpful. They filled my water bottle up while I grabbed some m&ms and a cookie. Most of the next section of the course was fire road or jeep track. This was nice and fast but I did a lot of swerving around to avoid the loose gravel on the road. At one point Horton drove past in a truck and gave everyone some encouragement. Then there was a turn and I ran right past a horse farm. This was pretty cool, I have a couple friends who for some reason are really into horses so I made a mental note to try and coax them into running this race so they could see the horse farm... this probably won't work but at the time it seemed like a great idea. Soon enough AS 3 appeared where Bel had a full water bottle and a gel pack waiting for me. I grabbed some chips tossed Bel my empty bottle. At this point I was about 12 miles deep into the race and I was feeling pretty great. The next section went by really fast. I was feeling strong making good time and the elite runners started coming back by soon enough. Almost all of them gave me a "Good job" or a "Keep it up" which was pretty great, you'd never get such courtesy from the elite runners in a road race! As I got close I started being able to see the turn around from across the lake. There were a set of stairs going down to a dam which the course crossed. At the time I thought this was really cool.

I hit the turn around at about 2 hours 31 minutes got a full water bottle, some shot blocks and a boiled potato dipped in salt off the snack table. If you are new to ultras don't shy away from the potatoes and salt...it may seem weird...in reality it's amazing! As I rolled out I squeezed past two girls walking and eating. I apologized through a mouth full of potatoes, one of them said "its ok...now GO GET IT". What could I do but obey! I started making my way back, I saw Snipes who cheered me on as well as a guy who had gotten hurt and had a leg covered in blood, it didn't look too good. Eventually, I recrossed the dam and hit the stairs which had been nice going down but were awful going up. Things started to go bad for a little while here. I was about 18 miles in, I had been drinking a lot but was still a little dehydrated and my stomach started to turn on me. I toughed it out until we hit AS3 again and once I hit the road crossing I walked it in with a guy and a girl who happened to be with me. I asked how they were doing, the girl replied "Like death", so I quoted Horton from the night before "It never always gets worse". This turned out to be totally true.

My return trip through AS3 was good, they had two things which I REALLY REALLY wanted pretzels and mountain dew. Pretzels are running fuel goodness and I hadn't drank mountain dew while running before but many people had told me it was the equivalent of rocket fuel. I drank the dew and chowed down some pretzels before declaring that the AS3 workers "are totally my best friends ever". After that I headed up the fire road. My stomach was still an issue and by the time I hit the horse barn again I decided to head out into the woods and answer natures call. This turned out to be a good idea, I got back onto the trail, flipped on my ipod and took a  swig of Nuun. Then three things happened all at once, my stomach started feeling better, the caffeine from the Mountain Dew kicked in and my Ipod played "When Worlds Collide" which makes for a great running beat. I powered down the fire road, at one point I ran along side a guy and chatted with him but he told me I should "use it while I have it" so I took off up the trail. AS2 went by pretty fast...more mountain dew...more potatoes. I hit the big stream again and this time the cold water on my feet and ankles was glorious. I suddenly realized I had passed marathon distance....I got a little anxious but was feeling pretty ok so I pressed on.

The miles went pretty fast and I finally hit AS1 again. Bel was waiting with a chocolate bar which I had instructed her to only give me after I had made it 29 miles. However, I really didn't feel like chocolate so I told her to keep it. With my water bottle refilled I took off again with another potato. After a mile my water bottle was half empty this was disheartening so I started conserving a little for closer to the end. I ran through the hills and over the bridges that had been done in the dark and was really enjoying the run. I was tired but I was just kind of taking what the race gave me at this point. With about a mile and a half to go a really cute girl in a pink shirt passed me. This was a big hit to my ego because I remember seeing her inbound to the half way point as I was going out, so I knew I had lost several minutes of time on the back end of the course. I was determined to try and keep her in sight for the rest of the race. This served as pretty good motivation. Toward the end right before we hit the road again the girl, who looked like she could run for 20 more miles, pulled out of sight as everyone upped the speed for the last 3/4 of a mile.  I pushed it the best I could into the finish and was greeted by Horton who was waiting just across the finish with a hand shake and a congratulations. 

Trying to put on a strong finish

I Came in at 5 hours 22 minutes, a little slower than my goal, but considering it was my first ultra I'm content with getting the finish! Overall, the race was amazing. I had run 33.2 miles and it was far better than any road marathon I had ever run.


 Trail ultras just seem to be a different breed of race from the big commercial races I've normally done, I like it and I mean to continue to push the distance. After a quick shower and drinking some water I headed back to the car and settled in as Bel drove us to the nearest town where I quickly devoured 3/4 of a large pizza. Since then training has started up again, I got in to the Bull Run 50 miler in April which is sure to be extremely challenging!

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