Holiday Lake 50k++
February 14, 2009
On Saturday I ran the Holiday Lake 50k++, the first of six ultras I will be running this year that comprise the Beast Series. The “++” after the 50k indicates that these miles (or kilometers in this case) aren’t standard issue miles, but they are in fact Horton miles. Horton miles are special because even though David Horton is a Ph.D., he apparently does not know how to measure distance properly. This particular 50k measured out to be 32.3mi on my GPS, but previous versions of the course were known to run upwards of 34mi.
Runners gathered at the 4-H Center the night before the race for a pasta dinner and typical Horton antics. In addition to being the location for the race’s start, middle and finish, the 4-H Center features a full cafeteria, bunkhouses and hot showers – the perfect amenities for a race.
Saturday morning gave us an early race start, 6:30am, so it was necessary to don the headlamp if you wanted to avoid tripping on roots in the dark. Too bad I brought my cheap headlamp that had a nearly-dead battery. It was worthless. I think I would have been better off carrying a jar of lightning bugs.
After a group-singing of the national anthem, Horton yelled go and we made our way into the darkness. The first 0.6mi was on paved roads so I used this time to find and situate myself behind a runner who was running my pace and had a bright light that I could mooch off of. That plan seemed to work pretty well and as soon as the sun poked its beautiful head out I started picking off runners with my favorite phrase: “on your left”. Temperatures started in the low 30s and slowly creeped into the 40s as the day progressed – perfect weather for fast running.
Lately I have been running plenty of 50k’s but they have all been run at a slow and easy pace for MMT training. Today I was taking a different approach and giving it my all to assess my current fitness level. My previous 50k PR was a 5:18 set at Potomac Heritage in October (my first ultra) and I know I have gotten faster since then, so my goal was to shoot for sub-5. I focused on keeping my heart-rate at the appropriate levels and not worrying about my placement among other runners.
The first lap (a tad more than 16 miles) was flat, fast and fairly uneventful. I ran straight through the first two aide stations, quickly filled my water bottle and grabbed a piece of banana and PBJ at the third and was on my way. At one point I came across Jeremy Ramsey, winner of last year’s Hellgate 100k and member of the Inov-8 ultra team that was rolling deep at today’s race. Passing him seemed out of place for a newbie like myself, but I just assumed he was having a bad day so I continued on my way and thought nothing of it. As I got closer to the turnaround, the front-runners started passing by and, although I didn’t care about my placement, I started counting runners to keep my mind off the somewhat hard pace that I had been holding. One, two, three… eight, nine, ten, TURNAROUND. Seriously? Just 10 people ahead of me? I thought I was going to be counting to 30, not 10. I was in 11th place?!? Well then, looks like this race just got interesting.
At the turnaround Horton was yelling something at me but the only words I heard were “top 10”. Hmmm, temptation to push the pace was calling, but I held back and stuck to my plan. At the next aide station I stopped to fill my bottle and again Horton reappeared, this time proclaiming “Bobby, you’re in 11th place. You’re the first loser! The next guy is 1.5 minutes ahead. Go get him!” I’m not one to disregard orders, especially those coming from the Race Director, so off I went up the hill, this time with a bit more pep in my step. Screw the original plan!
After about 2 miles I caught sight of the 10th place runner. I slowly picked up my pace so that I could eventually pass him in a comfortable pace without sprinting. The overtaking occurred just after the next aide station. He had slowed for a cup of water and I kept at full speed since I was carrying all I needed. I kept a strong pace to get some distance and get out of sight so he wouldn’t be tempted to re-take 10th. I looked back periodically and the plan seemed to be working.
During the last few miles, the strong pace and the flat course had me wishing for a hill so I would have an excuse to walk for a bit. Ingesting a GU packet every 45 minutes seemed to be working in terms of energy levels, but now my right hamstring was just barely starting to cramp. I had been taking an S-cap electrolyte pill every hour, but with this cramp I popped another and it seemed to help slightly. Then, with a mile to go I came upon a small hill came and I relished in the opportunity to walk. It felt marvelous…
…until I looked back and saw someone just 100 feet behind me! F*CK! I suddenly got that adrenaline kick that is all-too-familiar from my skydiving. This sprint up the remainder of the hill was a good start, but with the high of an adrenaline kick comes the low as it fades. I felt the energy drain out of me as the runner (Graham Peck) slowly approached and overtook me. I had just enough energy to muster out a “damn”, but with that Graham gave a wave of the hand and said “come on!” – he wanted a fight!
We busted out our 6-minute-mile paces (no joke) and gave 100% effort to the finish. He pulled ahead by about 100 feet, and as we turned onto the pavement it was a half-mile downhill battle to the finish. I leaned into the hill, and with what seemed like no fuel left in the system, I was running off of pure grit and determination in hopes of earning a top-10 finish. It was the longest half-mile I have ever run. Thoughts of tripping and the resulting carnage crossed my mind. When I thought he had won it, we approached a steeper section and I once again leaned into it, taking full advantage of gravity and the extra weight that I carry around compared to other ultrarunners. Graham looked back as I started to close the gap. With maybe 100 yards to go and 75 feet between us, reality sunk in and my 11th place finish was finalized. I crossed the finish in 4:10:50.
The feeling of defeat in the fight for top-10 hurt for maybe two seconds until I realized I had shaved an hour and eight minutes off my previous 50k PR! It was the hardest effort I had ever given in a run, probably by ten-fold, but damn did it feel good to completely blow away my sub-5 goal!
Q and me sporting the lovely Valentine-themed finisher’s shirts