February 16, 2008
Holiday Lake 50k++
I could start with my first pair of “trail running” shoes purchased
while under the influence of a doctor-administered sedative. Or I could
fast forward to crawling home through the woods a few months later with
a stress fracture, or a year after that loping through a suburban
greenway following a red fox on a very cold January day 2006 for my
first 7-mile run. We all have various milestones along our paths that
remind us of who we are, where we have been, and where we are going.
About year ago on an ultra cold February Friday morning, pumped full of
more adrenaline than common sense after a 12 mile training run, I
hurriedly assembled some camping and running gear then headed for
Appomattox to make an attempt at some serious foot travel the next
morning. I got cut-off at the half, tucked my tail between my legs and
headed back for the mountains. Six weeks later, I was able to complete
my first marathon, a distinct milestone, a notable marker, but not my
destination. After unsuccessfully recovering from some PF for a few
months with minimal running, a fellow runner urged me to treat it more
aggressively with enough success that I could start building up mileage.
I laid out a plan. Holiday Lake was still in my sights as the next
milestone. There were 30 weeks for training available and I used most of
them. There was a rolled ankle, a foot sprain, stressed out adductors
and core muscle (or lack thereof), and just plain old worn out days
along the way. But I’d still take all the hard days rather than give up
a single good one. Along the way Beth, my neighbor from down the street,
decided to run Holiday too. We did a few runs together. I kept her from
running too fast and she kept me from running too slow.
There were some hard days. These were my key runs since early December:
14 miles -2 complete up and downs on Whitetop Mt FS road with 30+ mph
winds and light snow
20 miles out and back on the AT across Whitetop sandwiched between
20-mile bike rides
16 miles -1 ½ up and downs across Holston Mt dirt road with a thin pack
of snow and ice,
20 miles out and back on AT sandwiched between 9-mile bike rides,
24 mile Gov’mint Road loop -from Damascus south on AT, down Holston Mt,
back on FS 32 (Government Rd). The same thing a few weeks later with
about a 90-minute start in front of Beth and Nick.
Maybe this was a little on the training overkill side for Holiday Lake,
but I didn’t want to get caught with my draws around my knees at the
3:30 cutoff like last year. Also my general level of fitness is below
par and needs extra work. Besides, bottom line -running in the
mountains is just plain fun.
As the event draws near Beth, Nick, and I arrange to
carpool the 4 hr trip, along with my wife Bonnie. Nick is not racing
this event this year but wants to go crew for a friend who has the
ability to 1st OA. We arrive, in Appomattox, check in at lodging and
head for the 4H Recreation Center at Holiday Lake for check-in, a meal,
pre-race briefing by the infamous and notorious, race director Dr.
Horton. The Dr. takes a special interest in his runner like none I’ve
seen. In a special briefing afterwards for first timers, he talks to us
on some key issues of running long, like nutrition, electrolytes,
urination, “if you’re breathing is too hard, you’re running to hard”,
talking to and making a friend on the trail is more interesting than
anything on an iPod, “don’t wear tights unless its really, really cold,
just don’t wear tights”, and the psychology of getting to the finish.
But in the end we are supposed to do whatever works for us. I especially
liked this xHortonation: “It never always gets worse.” He ran a
top-notch event on every level of organization and execution.
So I made it to the starting line a second time, sore in places, maybe
10hrs sleep last two nights combined, but 10 pounds lighter than last
year, a couple of pounds stronger, more trail hardened, and with the
support and collective wisdom from a growing group of runners I know
scattered from just down the street to the far reaches of the WWW.
People like you who take the time to encourage, instruct, and just
listen to one another through the highs and lows of training and racing
with our very soles. (Sorry, couldn’t resist that one)
The weather was superb -almost storybook perfect for running –unlike
last year’s sub 15*F start and snow the year before that. This year the
start was just below or at freezing. After a prayer, the national
anthem, we start. 6:30am is still dark; headlamps light the way for the
first mile or so. I’m a back of the packer and know there are some
bottlenecks along the first half-mile, so I just walk and wait until
people thin out. A gentle single track takes us across the Holiday Lake
dam and transverses a steep hill above the lakeshore with velvet green
mossy shoulders for the second mile. I take a customary stretch break
and water some shrubs. The mid section is mixed fields of pine scrub and
deciduous woods, even a bit of asphalt, but largely jeep roads. The sun
was bright and encouraging with just an occasional brush of a breeze.
The trail condition was excellent also. It was damp enough to give the
clay and humus a cushy, luxurious feel, with only a few muddy spots that
could mostly be avoided. With a mad dash, the pair of water crossing
barely got both socks damp. It was definitely a plus-plus experience in
weather and trail conditions.
We drop our lights at the first aid station at 3.5 miles. Up to here
I’ve been struggling some with a little extra early-run pain, but it
ease’s up. I start with a refill of Clif sports drink for my handheld,
breaking the cardinal rule of “race with what you train with”. Then, I
never meet a cardinal rule I didn’t want to break or at least rough up a
little bit. It worked fine without gastrological misadventure. I asked
the volunteers to water it down some and they were most helpful. Bananas
are my staple, and I pocketed a few chunks at each station and ate on
the trail. My stops rarely lasted more than a minute maybe two. At the
aid station a few miles before the start/turnaround/finish point. Dr
Horton is waiting for the leaders coming back who are due in soon. He’s
munching a hamburger. “Here, wanna bite of hamburger?” He points it at
me about chin level. I have a very strict personal policy of not turning
away an offer of food. I take a chomp and hit the trail. Sure enough,
just a little ways into the woods here comes Brad Mongold looking like
he’s on a Monday morning recovery run. He finished first with a sub 6:37
pace and just a few minutes off the course record.
My savior of the day was Adrianne. She is a nurse with 10 years of
military in her past, working at an ER in Arlington, Va. She’s a “tri-gyrl”.
Some of her friends talked her into to running it with a good bike and
swim base but not as much on the hoof. We talked miles away through the
first mid-section and the woods leading up to the end. She kept me on my
S-caps regime when I would have forgotten. My first mile was about
18:00. A 12:21 pace would cut you off at the half. Adrianne and I make
the turn around at about 3:07. I take a stretch break before going back
into the woods on single track hugging the high water shoreline. I find
this second section of single track the more difficult. It has several
moderately steep climbs but only a 100m or so. Adrianne and I drift
apart before getting back to the mid-section.
Official finishers must complete in 7:30. I have a boat load of time in
the bank for a finish and wonder if I can break 7:00. At 22 miles I make
the second cut-off easily with no sign of a “wall”. I did take some IBU
just before the turnaround and this keeps my foot pain in check. I chat
with several people as we run the flats and downs and walk the ups. “The
first shall be last.” I’ve heard that somewhere and so it is with the
aid stations on a loop and reverse course. At this point we’ve done 50k.
All that’s left is the plus-plus to make 34 miles and home. I’m tired
and struggling some. A group of 6 or 8 filter into to the last couple
miles of single track, much prettier in the daylight I’d say. By myself
at the end, I pop out of the woods with a quarter mile down hill
pavement run to finish. Bonnie and Beth are there with cameras, so I
corndog it up a bit and finish with a run. Dr Horton congratulates me at
the banner, 6:37:51. Beth finished an hour and a few minutes earlier. I
make my way to the lake for a standing ice bath. After a shower,
Adrianne finds me and I thank her for the kindness that kept me going.
We round up Nick and hit the road.
On the way back I survey the mountain that is the Promise Land 50k off
in the distance.
Maybe April 26 will be a milestone.