Days before the race everyone wanted to know, "are they still going to have that race? in the SNOW?? really?" One of the many reasons I have a growing passion for these races, they barely ever cancel. Sitting here trying to think of why an ultra race would be cancelled . . . .
1. Cold weather/possible chances of hypothermia . . .. scratch that...this isn't your neighborhood 5k . . unless its too cold to move your legs, the race will be held.
2. Its too dark. . .. get a headlamp . . if those are too expensive make a torch out of old t-shirts and gasoline.
3. The t-shirts didn't get shipped on time?? As cool as the t-shirts were at Holiday Lake for 2010 I have yet to run into anyone that runs ultras...just for the t-shirts . . .and they were there on time.
4. The course disappeared? If we can't see a trail we can't run. I had yet to experience this problem but like anything, the longer you stick with something the more you learn and yes the course disappeared under 5 or 6 inches of snow the whole time. Luckily it was very well marked.
5. Nobody showed up to the start?? Sorry race still happened, everyone DNF'ed.
6. There is no water left in the country?? Thats gotta be it...nope... Luckily for Holiday Lake this year we stayed plenty hydrated eating snow flying off the sneakers of the people in front of us.
Like I said though, these are far from complaints. This type of intensity is what pulled me into this community last year and is what will keep me coming back.
Now, onto the race.
I was ill-prepared and I will write this report through the lessons that I have learned this weekend. Lets just say the few days prior to the race my mind was all over the place (Organic Chemistry and Biotechnology in Human Civilization tests, working at a flower shop on Valentines weekend, a slight scare of the end of my running by throwing my back out and being immobile on the couch for 2 days).
Lesson #1. Don't be ill prepared. Especially mentally. Just don't.
Take off from Blacksburg around 8:00 pm, with no map, my running gear, a sleeping bag, two bagels, and an almost dead cell phone battery.
Lesson #2. When you think you have all your running gear, you don't. Lay it out the night before.
Lesson #3. When the race director sends out multiple emails about available lodging, take advantage of it. Don't try to sleep in your nissan stanza, first off, you don't fit. Second off, its snowing outside.
Lesson #4. One bagela and a Naproxen(pain killer for the recently thrown out back) is not a sufficient 50k breakfast.
Lesson #5. If you normally wake up at 9 AM and the race starts at 6:30 AM, make sure your phone is charged, with all 28 alarms set. Luckily, predawn headlights beaming through a frosty windshield served as a sufficient alarm this time.
So arriving around 11:30 after getting lost in Farmville, I decided it not to be in my best interest to go barging in on 200 sleeping runners shining a head lamp around and looking for a place to put a sleeping bag down. The stanza will do for the night. 27 different sleeping positions later, the first set of headlights crossed my windshield and I knew race time was approaching. Getting out of the sleeping bag it felt like about 15 degrees outside, I have no idea as to the actual temperature but I knew I was going to wear my windbreakers to run in today.
Lesson #6 If you're not going to bring your race gear, dont make your backup plan a pair of cotton long johns and a fleece jacket.
OK...now that I have my race gear on (see picture above, Oh yeah..and Alex...sorry I stole your gloves before I left) lets do this thing! Ironically I think the start of the race was where my whole week/day started to turn around. First a prayer and then the singing of the Star Spangled Banner, a very cool tradition at Holiday Lake. Sometimes you start to wonder what you are doing with your life in college, last night this is the time when you got home from the "Coconut Bangers Ball" and now you are standing in rural Virginia watching snowflakes bounce off of headlamps and singing the star spangled banner with 268 amazing runners.
Lesson #7 These people make me smile and I don't even know them.
Ready?? GO!! Tromp tromp tromp...up the icy paved road we go....Something is missing though. Ohhhhhhh boy. I forgot my headphones. Crucial mistake. I've never run an ultra without headphones. Should I run back to my car? Oh boy. Oh no. Wait wait...this is a loop so I could always snag them when I go through the halfway point... OHHH NO!
Lesson #8 (that I realized at about mile 7) I forget I even have headphones in after about 2 miles anyway. This whole time I thought it had such a big effect on my race . . . I beg to differ now.
Half a mile up the road we made our first turn, I was running with the front four. Being the only one with a headlamp after they missed a few turns, I was leading the way. Breaking trail for the whole race?? Not my typical position and I knew I would burn out by mile ten at this rate. (By the way...I think we all owe a cheers to Matt, Jordan, and Cameron to a truly amazing performance knowing that they were running about twice as hard as the rest of us breaking trail the for 16 miles!) The first three miles were my favorite part of the race, it was still dark, snow falling hard, running lakeside on some single track with about 17 other guys/gals. Other than crunching snow and the occasional "holler if you want to pass!", it was tranquil. The first aid station came in what felt like minutes and the pack started to break up. I decided to try to stay with the three others that broke out in front. Then we crossed the creek and the guy behind me asked, "was that the creek?"
Lesson #9 If its jumpable. It's not the creek. Not in ultras.
Then we hit the creek and yeah...hit it. The two guys in front of me plowed right into the thing in true ultra fashion, when I saw them I wanted to shout like I would if Virginia Tech won the NCAA basketball championship in double OT. It was truely a kodak moment and I was stoked. It was cold but wool socks limited the effects of that.
We continued on at a good pace and every now and again someone would drop off of our little pack and then all of a sudden I got nauseous from watching the guys feet that was running in front of me, looking back this could have been an effect of the pain killer but when it happened, it was intense. Aid station 3 and then we swung back down to the lake and the turn around was in sight. I dropped off the pack. I dropped off the pack and got reallll tired.
Lesson #10 Carbohydrates??? OHHH YEAHHHH. Not as much a lesson learned as just a mistake. A bagel, dosen't cut it and I kept putting off eating the clif bars I had in my camel back.
Made it to the turn around in about 2 hours 27 minutes, threw my water bottles to the side and got some drinks and sandwhich slices but made sure not to spend any more than 2 minutes as I had plenty of foods and water in my camelback for the 2nd half of the race. After the turnaround I was running in about tenth place. Due to the very narrow trail along the lake it was really hard to keep a consistent pace with people coming the opposite direction constantly. Between the halfway point and going back to the next aid station I did quite a bit of walking and lost quite a bit of time. As people would catch up I would try to motivate myself to run with them for a bit but could not keep the pace and finally somewhere in between the last two aid stations I found a group of guys that were running a a comfortable pace for me. Once again, I had started a WEEEEE bit too hard. After passing the last aid station and getting back down to the lake I ran and talked with Bert Hatchell all the way into the finish line, another reason why I love these races, just some cool people! Bert and I ran it in together in true style not sprinting it in and battling for 31st and 32nd, just being two guys out there for a good solid fun time knowing that we both had a great accomplishment under our belt for the day.
Lesson #11 Good positive folks all around, gotta love it.
Well immediately after the finish it was back to Blacksburg to finish up the Valentines day deliveries at the flower shop, and then the best nap ever. Congrats to all of you that ran Holiday Lake this year, truly fantastic that there was such a great finishing percentage!
Totals on the day -
Distance = 32 miles
Time = 5 hours 47 minutes 6 seconds
Shoutout = Bert Hatchell, had a great time running the last few miles with you, cool dude!