If I had to sum up the 2010 Holiday Lake 50k++ in 4 words, I’d have to go with: “Snow. More snow. Ouch.”
Seriously, the presence of 6″ of crunchy snow turned what is usually a flat, fast, first-timer friendly 50k into one heck of a challenge that I was NOT expecting at this point in my race calendar. Last year at Holiday Lake I ran my 50k PR in 4:10, good for 11th place but resulting in some nasty ITBS that left me unable to compete in my planned spring races. Knowing this, I went into this year’s race telling myself that I was out there to run my own race and not compete for top-10, no matter how much instigating I got from Horty.
Let’s backtrack a second and start from the beginning: my supposed 3.5 hour commute down to the race start which ended up taking 6 hours due to glorious snow traffic on the lone day that government employees had to report to work this week. Arghhh! This caused me to miss the pre-race briefing and pre-race meal; thankfully I came prepared with my own dinner and rather than enduring hours of hunger, I only had to endure a cold piece of salmon, a cold sweet potato, and the awkward preparation of said food as I drove in stop-and-go traffic. Yum? Hey, whatever gets the job done.
Weather forecast was calling for temps in the teens, reaching mid-20′s with the occasional chance of flurries. We woke Saturday morning to find a fresh inch or two of powder and temps closer to 30. This just meant less clothing needed at the start and a few extra inches of white stuff to suck away the energy of every footstep.
At 6:30am we headed off into the “darkness”, but the presence of moon-lit snow made the use of headlamps absolutely unnecessary (Sidebar: Hey Clark, you have my headlamp, I’ll get it at Terrapin). Matt Woods, the #1 seed and fellow Tuesday-night WUS runner, quickly took the lead as we headed a half-mile up the pavement to our turn onto the trail. My screw shoes were audibly noticeable I’m sure, but later on I would become extremely grateful for going screwed rather than regular-shoed or Yaktrax’ed (yeah, I just made up some words… tough).
Once we hit the trail it became painfully obvious that today’s race was a horse of a different color. Half a foot of crunchy snow forced us front-runners to high-step like a footballer through car tires, and with each step came the process of “step, crunch, drop down, stumble, lift, repeat”. We all appeared to be searching for footsteps from those in front of us that matched our desired stride length and placement. With all my barefooting as of late, I was unable to find someone with a matching short stride and was left running with the rhythm of a 4-year-old playing drums on Rock Band for the first time. It had to have been equally comical.
With not much elevation change and all the crunchy white stuff looking the same for miles and miles on end, there’s not much to report on for the first half of the run. No rhythm, high-stepping and knowing that I was going to be out there much longer than originally planned led me to be downright miserable. I even gave serious consideration to dropping from the race at the turnaround. After all, I had the inaugural Cupid’s Undie Run waiting for me back in DC, an event that my roommate and I had organized without first considering my need to redeem myself in the Beast Series this year. I voiced these sentiments to my buddy Jack Kurisky whom I was running with at the turnaround and he quickly slapped me back into reality. I had unfinished business with the Beast, and no matter how much misery I was in or how many half-naked runner gals waited for me at a bar back home, I had to finish this stupid race.
…so on I went. Counting the passing runners at the turnaround I found myself in 8th place and 2:39 in to the “fun”. Hmm, I was about 40 minutes slower than last year but in a much better placement, guess the conditions were equally challenging for everyone else! As I made my way onto the second loop (this time in the clockwise direction) I started passing a large number of runners in the final portion of their first loop who were only minutes behind. The trail conditions, while wet, were becoming much more tolerable and runnable. I was finally able to get into a groove and zone out. Yes! Thank you, Jack, for not letting me drop!
My hip flexors were sore from the 16 miles of high-stepping, but with my new-found ability to actually run, I became a much happier camper. The miles ticked away and so did the number of runners who remained between me and the finish. I wasn’t purposefully passing folks, but I had a mantra going in my head and it was motivating me to get to that finish line. “Gotta get to the Undie Run, gotta get to the Undie Run, gotta get to the Undie Run.” Hey, whatever does the trick, right?
I also knew that the faster I cruised along and the closer I got to the finish, the greater my chances of doing something stupid like blowing up or getting injured. Neither of those are on my to-do list so I tried my best to maintain a steady but reasonable pace. I hadn’t set out to race, and I didn’t think I was putting in race effort for a good portion of it, but now that I found myself in 4th place I realized I in fact was pushing a bit harder than originally planned, and since I had put in all that effort to get there, might as well not blow it at the end.
At one point I slowed to a walk near a hill and felt my hammies tighten up. This was a sure sign that I was getting pretty fatigued, so I told myself no walking until the finish line is crossed. It may have also been a sign that I was low on electrolytes, so I popped another S-cap. The plan seemed to work and the hammies cooperated through the finish.
I honestly expected to get passed in the last mile by some marathon runner doing his first ultra like I did last year, but thankfully this year I was able to maintain a solid distance from others. The final half-mile downhill on pavement is much more enjoyable when you’re able to run it at your own pace and you’re not tapping in to imaginary energy reserves trying to run down some speed demon who took your top-10 slot.
I crossed the finish in 5:10 and in 4th place, an hour slower than last year but in a much better placement. Was this year’s field less competitive? Did I get better? Am I better suited for racing in difficult conditions whereas others who normally do well at Holiday Lake are not? Who knows, but it was one hell of a race.
Oh yeah, I stuck around the finish line for all of 5 minutes before going to grab a shower and hitting the road. Much fun was had at Cupid’s Undie Run, but I’ll save that for it’s own separate post ;-)
All pictures courtesy of Doug Sullivan.
Full race results here.