Friday, February 28, 2014
Holiday Lake 50k++
Race #1 of the 2014 Beast Series
Place: 140th out of 281 finishers (314 starters)
I can probably make this the shortest race report ever:
Road > snow covered trail > snowy slush > knee deep creek crossing > snow covered fields > single-track snow covered trail trying to let leaders pass without falling into lake.
Single-track snow covered trail passing by those finishing lap 1 without falling into lake > snow/mud fields > knee deep creek crossing > snowy trails turned mud/water > road > finish.
That was about the extent of Saturday's 19th annual Holiday Lake 50k++ held in Appomattox, VA. Should you choose to continue reading, I can give you a few more details. Unfortunately I do not have visual proof of the mess that ensued. You'll have to take my word for it.
After a successful 2013 and completing my first 100 mile race, I did what any ultrarunner would do and planned out 2014. This year I wanted to complete the Beast Series which is a 6-race year long event held in Lynchburg, VA and the surrounding areas. Saturday marked race #1 of the series, the Holiday Lake 50k++. This would be my first race since last May when I completed MMT100.
The week of the race, my hometown saw the largest snowfall in over a decade. While the race location in Virginia didn't get as much as, they still received 7-8 inches of wet snow Wednesday night and Thursday. The roads were cleared on Friday as temps rose well above freezing and I hopped in the truck with Jon Westmoreland and headed to Appomattox. We arrived, checked in, enjoyed the pre-race meal and headed to bed. Sleeping in a bunk house with 16 other people is ok unless someone is snoring all night!! I didn't fall asleep until midnight I guess. Dr. Horton blew the bull horn at 5am. I hadn't slept that crappy since Massanutten and I've got a 2 year old in the house!
Light rain was falling as we gathered outside for the 6:30am start. Soon we were off on a crazy nasty adventurous day. The first half mile is slightly uphill on a road before turning off on to a trail. I started up front to try and avoid the bottleneck I heard would appear as we entered the trail. This means I also went out too fast, just as I always preach to myself not to do. It seemed as though taking 8-9 months off from racing made me forget a lot of things.
Once I got to the trail, I realized just how bad of a day this would be. The snow was slushy and slick. Footing was terrible. Every muscle in my lower body was being used to keep myself upright. I didn't like this. Being from NC, my experience running in snow is minimal. Especially with the amount that fell earlier in the week. This wasn't fun. IT WAS WORK! I wasn't a happy camper. The snow. My pace. The fact that we had to endure this for ~33 miles. All of that put me in a bad mood. I kept thinking to myself, just keep going, it'll get better. Eventually I came to the realization that it wasn't and I just had to stick it out to the end. I can't quit the first race of the Beast Series. I was just going to have to suck it up and get it done.
Before the race started, everyone gathered in the dining hall. I traded a few words with a guy who was running his first ultra. He said he heard there was a knee deep creek crossing about 15 feet wide seven miles into the race. I was unaware of this. And if true, was going to be mad at Jon for not informing me of this! As I passed through the first aid station grabbing a little food and drink, I was still in a sour mood. People were passing me, but I didn't care. I had finally convinced myself to run my race, not get injured, and try to have fun. A little over six miles in and we come to a creek crossing. My shoes barely got wet and I was hoping that was the creek crossing he was referring to. It wasn't.
Just shy of seven miles in, I arrived. There was no way around it. Well I take that back. There probably was. But I didn't want to look like the wuss and try to avoid it. I slowed to a walk and went for it. As expected, it was cold. My poor planning for the race was then realized. I only brought one pair of socks, shoes, everything. I was stuck with wet feet for the rest of the race. I could only imagine how big the blisters would be but I had hopes my Darn Tough socks would be worth their price and keep my feet in tact.
The next mile to the aid station was jeep road that was a mix of snow and mud. When I arrived at the aid station, word was spreading that a girl had slipped going in to the creek and broke her leg. Having broken my leg before, I felt for her and hoped that she could get out of there quickly.
Eight miles in and I had finally come to peace with the course. I knew it would be a test of endurance. I wasn't going to set any PR's. I just kept telling myself "survive and advance". Just make it out alive. The sections were long and alternated from trails through the woods to trails in an open field to trails that followed the paths of power lines/poles. There wasn't a lot of elevation change so really a lot of running. The trails were slush. If you got off the main path that everyone was wearing down, footing was worse. I could feel my legs getting sore by the minute.
There was a slight downhill coming in to the third aid station. I had fun almost skating down it as I ran. I departed and set my sights on the last section before the turnaround. The race consists of two loops, one clockwise and the other counterclockwise. As I neared the end of the first loop, the trail ran along the lake short. With the snow creating tricky foot conditions, and the leaders of the race already on their way back on the second loop, crossing paths was tricky as to not slide down the short embankment into the lake. Given that the leaders were out there to compete, I did what any runner should do and stopped to let them pass by without interfering. The last thing I wanted to do was to cost someone valuable time. We all know I'm not there to win the race!
I arrived at the start/finish area completing the first loop in about 3h15m. I drank an Ensure I had in my drop bag, grabbed some food from the aid station and set out on the second loop. I knew a negative split was out of the question, especially since I had gone out as fast as I did. So I thought to myself if I could do the second lap in 3h45m, I could break 7 hours. Not ideal for a 50k but given the conditions, I'll take it.
The second loop was the same as the first, just in an opposite direction. It felt like it was early afternoon but wasn't even 10am yet. A mile into the second loop, I passed Jon. We stopped for a bit to talk and he told me that he helped carry the girl who broke her leg out of the creek as he was right behind her when it happened. Jon is such a kind person. The night before the race he went with a few big guys and helped pull a girls car out of the snow that had gotten stuck. He's got his good deeds taken care of for a while.
As I headed back out the lake shore trail, I had to dodge those coming in and again make sure no one slid into the lake. Eventually all the other runners were gone and I was running by myself. I ran alone most of the day. But at one point another runner was behind me and I had almost slipped. She asked if I was ok and we started a conversation. We learned we were both running the Beast Series this year. Soon enough though, I decided that trying to hold a conversation and watch every step I was taking, along with running the pace she wanted to run was out of the question for me. I told her to go ahead and never saw her again the rest of the race. Call me the type of person who can't walk and chew gum at the same time. I can't run and hold a conversation at the same time. Proof that I train alone A LOT.
As I reached the next aid station, ~20 miles in, the clouds began to break. The hill I skated down was now an uphill and a spectator had set up a hammock between two trees. I would have liked to have laid down in that thing for a few minutes, but I had to keep moving. I was beginning to fatigue, but I tried to think positively about the finish. If I can make it to the second to last aid station, it's only 8 miles from there. Then it's a mile to the creek crossing and then three miles to the next aid station, and then only 4 to the finish.
Step by step, mile by mile, just keep moving. I finally reached that creek. The cold water was almost enjoyable on my legs. The other side showed what 300 runners can do to a trail. The snow had been turned to water and mixed with dirt to form mud. It was nasty. I kept trying to avoid the water puddles. Why? Who knows. That was stupid. My feet were already soaked.
I made it to the final aid station and one of the volunteers said I looked pretty clean from the ankles up. I was thinking to myself, that's because I haven't fell down. I knew not to say it because I would soon enough do just that. I grabbed some food and a handful of gummy bears and set out for the finish.
The trails through the woods were also trampled to death. You had two choices. 1: Run in the trenched out ditch filled with icy cold muddy water or 2: Run in the snow slush on either side of the watery ditch. Since I was already soaked, I chose option 1. Yes my feet were numb, but I knew I would soon be done. I was actually feeling pretty good though. Running through the mud wasn't that bad and I was actually running at a good pace. I passed quite a few people and just kept saying the faster I run the sooner I'm done. Once again, the highs and lows of ultrarunning made themselves evident in the days race. I always hit a low point around miles 18-25. And then I hit a groove after the marathon mark through 50+. Today was no exception, except I wasn't going beyond 33 miles. I was feeling it as the finish line drew near.
I passed one person who said a little over two miles to go. Then I saw the "1 mile to go" mark spray painted in the snow and looked at my watch. 6h47m. 13 minutes to get to the finish. I knew the road section was coming up soon and I couldn't wait. I wondered what it would feel like to run on the road after being in the snow all day. I soon found out. It hurt. When your feet are numb and pounding the road, it hurts. I didn't care. I was almost flirting with the 7-hour mark so I had to keep it going.
I crossed the finish line with an official time of 6:58:07. My watch said 32.63 miles. I don't know what the official distance was supposed to be. I didn't really care either. While it was my worst 50k time to date, I know that a race like this builds character than can go a long way. Especially with five races remaining in the Beast Series. I also wondered if this would be a sign of future races in the year. I hope they aren't all covered in snow!
Garmin Data from the race: http://connect.garmin.com/activity/446908555
Posted by Nathan Kreeger at 11:33 AM