Sunday, February 21, 2010

Holiday Lake 50K+

“But you, O Lord, are a shield for me. My glory and the One who lifts up my head.” Psalm 3:3

Last Saturday I ran the Holiday Lake 50K in Appomattox, VA. This is the second time I have run this race. The first time was two years ago. This year would prove to be a much different experience from the last time, not only was the course changed but there was about 6 inches of snow on the ground. We have had an incredible winter this year in Northern Virginia, so I guess it was fitting that we ran the race in the white stuff. I was grateful to Dr Horton, the race director, for not giving in to the “snowmaggedon” hype and not cancelling the event. Dr Horton had been sending threatening emails all week, warning of the heavy snow on the trails and impending slower times. He said that no one would be setting personal records this year and then laid down the ultimate challenge by asking if we were “Man Enough” to face the course. Well, with a challenge like that you have to run, Honor is at stake.

The race started at 0630 form the Holiday Lake 4H Center, which is about a 3 hour drive from my house, so I felt comfortable leaving at 0300. However, just north of Richmond it began to snow and with deteriorating road conditions I arrived at the start with about 5 minutes to spare. In traditional Horton fashion, we said a prayer and sang the national anthem and then we were off. As we ran up the hill away from the 4H center, it was obvious that I was not the only one affected by the early morning snow; a lot of folks were still arriving and would join in at the end of the pack.

The course follows the road for about .6 miles and then takes a hard right turn into the woods and we stay on trail for the rest of the 16 mile loop. I was running in about the 40th position or so and as we got onto the trail I discovered that this was going to be a slow day that was going to call for some patience. Even with 40 or so runners in front of me breaking trail, I found that I was not able to stay within others tracks and I was continuously stomping down new snow. After finishing the first loop I would find out exactly how much of an impact the snow was going to have. The first four miles seemed to go by quickly, as everyone settled into their pace and tried to figure out the conditions. The snow was still coming down and it probably gave us about an inch of fresh powder to contend with. The views of frozen Holiday Lake and the snow covered forest were incredible.
The first aid station came and went and I felt like I was settling into a pretty good pace. At about 6 miles we came up on a good size stream crossing that helped to ensure that our feet would stay wet for the entire race. I stopped to refill water and get a bite to eat at the second aid station (about 8.5 miles) and then it was off to a section of the course that I thought was the most difficult, a two mile stretch of trail that followed some power lines. The trail was a little more open and the snow was about 2 to 3 inches deeper. This section really took some life out of my already tiring legs and slowed down the pace even more. It was nice to get back into the woods. Aid station three came at roughly 12 miles and I got a little more to eat and then pressed onto the 4H center.

The last 2 miles of the loop are run on the opposite side of Holiday Lake and once again the views were great. With about a mile and half to go we started to see the leaders coming back for the return loop, they were looking strong. I could not imagine having to break trail for the entire race but these guys were trucking right along. I got to the 16.5 mile turn around at about 2h:50m, fueled up, and hit the trail to retrace my steps on the return loop.

Typically, it’s motivating to get to see everyone in the field as you run back on the loop but this year the snow trail had become a very narrow ditch that required a good bit effort to get out off the way of oncoming runners. So this was an additional energy drain for about the next two miles and coming into the 20 miles aid station I knew that my energy reserves were tapped. Heading out of the aid station I walked up hill for about a half mile before I started slowly running. This section of the course would be the slowest of the day. The temp had warmed into the high 30s and there was a little bit of melt occurring, however this just turned the trail into a slushy, muddy mess that was just as tough as the powdery snow on the first loop.

As I came up on the power lines I was hopeful that the trail had been pounded down, it was in better shape but still very difficult. Having made it through that section it was a welcome sight to roll into the 24ish mile aid station and know that I just had eight miles to go. I ran through the big stream again and it surprisingly warmed my feet up and melted all of the ice that had accumulated. Following the stream there was a good hill that I took some time to walk, my energy was gone and I was moving very slow.

I finally got to the last aid station and with 4 miles to go I tried to keep a consistent pace, albeit slow. I made it down to the lake and eventually popped out of the woods and onto the road a short .6 miles from the finish, which was all downhill. I crossed the finish line at 6h:24m and felt like I had just finished a 50 mile race not 50K. The snow on the first loop really had and impact on the second half of the race. The snow forced us to use some muscles that typically are not stressed this much. I really noticed that my ankles and hips were very sore and would remain sore for a couple of days.

I would like to thank all of the volunteers that braved the conditions and took care of us crazy runners throughout the day. I would also like to congratulate all of the runners that crossed the starting line, even with the conditions the finishing rate was very high which shows a great commitment and dedication to finishing what you started. Holiday Lake is a race that a lot of folks use as their introduction to ultra running and for those first time ultra runners that persevered, welcome to the club and I hope to see you again on the trails. Run Strong!

Photos from Doug Sullivan

Semper Fi and God Bless,

Injured Marines Semper Fi Fund
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