2014 Holiday Lake Race Report (Hypothetical vs. Real Life)

Sunday, February 16, 2014

**One of the main instigators of this whole Ultra VT group-thing, Rudy Rutemiller, decided to create hypothetical Holiday Lake tweets on Saturday afternoon to make up for the lack of race coverage due to zero cell service at the Holiday Lake 4-H center, below are some of the tweets that ensued.**

Hypothetical Version:
As I slowly exited the fog from my deep sleep, I sat up in my hammock to witness a glorious sunrise dancing across the lake at the 4-H center in Appomattox, VA.  I had opted to forgo sleeping in a tent, and sleeping bag for that matter, because of the unseasonably warm temperatures we had been treated to for the 19th running of the Lynchburg ultra series opener, Holiday Lake 50k.  As I got dressed for the day, I half-smiled as a looked at all the cold weather gear I had packed and threw on a pair of shorts and a short sleeve shirt I knew I would discard at the first aid station.  The forecast predicted record high temperatures and the lack of rain over the previous couple weeks meant the course would be dry and fast, creating perfect conditions for a course record attempt.  After a delicious breakfast feast prepared by the 4-H staff, 400 runners set out for an awesome day on the trails where every participant set a personal best.  Once the last runner had crossed the finish line, Dr. Horton broke out a guitar and we all sang camp songs including Kumbaya.  It was a picturesque day and a Holiday Lake for the memory books!  The entire way home we continued to rave about how awesome of a time we had and couldn't wipe the smiles off our faces, ready to sign up for next years race, the 20th running.  Maybe we'll get lucky and get a little snow!

Real Life Version:

Race Morning: As I slowly exited the fog of my not so deep sleep to the sound of rain beating on the roof of my car, I hesitantly checked my phone and breathed a sign of relief to discover it was only 2AM and that I would not have to exit my sleeping bag cocoon of warmth for another couple hours.  I had opted to sleep in my car, the free option, compared to the $15 equally cold unheated cabins that remained for those of us who were foolish enough to not reserved a heated cabin in advance.  I awoke again a little after four in a panic, afraid my phone had died from the cold and that my alarm didn't sound resulting in me completely missing the start of the race.

Around 4:30, I admitted defeat and crawled out from under the pile of blankets that had kept me relatively comfortable throughout the night.  I began mentally preparing myself to emerge from the relative warmth of the car into the dreary dark February morning.  I dodged muddy puddles by headlight as I trudged toward the distant lights of the lodge with promise of warm water and hot coffee.  I was greeted by an energetic group of Liberty students who were fulfilling their duties of morning check-in for the runners and headed toward a table already half-surrounded by my fellow Ultra VT runners.  We shared laughs between sips of coffee and joked about the adventures that lie ahead of us for the day, curious as to what the unknown conditions would bring.  

Friday Evening: Jordan and I arrived at the 4-H center around 5 on Friday evening, quickly completed bib pickup and then mingled as runners arrived over the next hour.  At six, we gathered in the mess hall for a delicious pre-race dinner prepared by the 4-H staff that included salad, lasagna, spaghetti, meatballs, and choice of apple or cherry cobbler.  We were in great company at dinner sitting with Graham Peck, the race winner, and his family as well as John Robinson who won the male masters award on Saturday.  After dinner, Dr. Horton gave his always entertaining pre-race "briefing" that is questionably more standup comedy than actual "race briefing."  A little after eight, I headed off for bed excited and slightly apprehensive about the challenges the following day would bring.

Runners waiting around pre-race!

After finishing my breakfast, I headed off to do my normal pre-race routine including the very important pre-race restroom visit.  I was forewarned about the long line for the men's restroom (Thanks Kristen!) and unlike Promise Land, I made sure I got in line early enough to make it through the line and back to the start before the race started.  I arrived at the start line just in time for Dr. Horton's prayer and found a spot about 20-30 feet back from the banner.

At 6:30AM promptly, we were off and running!  The first little section of the course, about 3/4 of a mile, is up a paved hill on the road that leads to the 4-H Center.  The course then turns onto single track that winds along the lake for a mile or so before paralleling another road on more single track.  The image to the left is the first five miles of the course where the start is indicated by the green dot and the selected dark blue section is the fifth mile.  The course is comprised of doing the same big loop twice, first in a clockwise manner and then turning around and running counterclockwise along the same loop.  Essentially the course is one giant out-and-back.

A big topic of discussion at the breakfast table was what footwear folks were wearing and whether or not to wear Yaktrax.  It baffles me why we think it's a good idea to try something new on race day and even more so that I continue to do it again and again - enter overused Albert Einstein cliché, "Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results."  I digress.  Long story short, I opted to wear the Yaktrax after running in them maybe a handful of times (with relative success I might add) but quickly decided a few miles in they were not going to work.  I opted to leave them hanging on a road sign a little over 5 miles into the race and eventually picked them up on my way back (mile 25ish) to drop them off at the last aid station of the day.

I need to be more confident in my ability to run hard and be competitive.  I noted to Jordan on the ride to the race that this would be the first ultra that I didn't wear a vest...or bring a camera...and actually intended to run hard.  I started too far back in the field and quickly discovered that I was with folks who had different goals than I did for the day; not worse of unworthy...just different.  Perhaps running with these folks kept me conservative and allowed me to run well later in the race but I wonder how my race would have unfolded had I been further up.  One monumental difference in this race than other ultras I've done was the time I spent in aid stations.  I would say in total I spent less than 4 minutes in aid stations during this race compared to other races where I've easily lost 20 or more minutes in the aid stations.  I started with a half-full handheld and took water at the first aid station and ran directly through the second aid station, which is roughly the half-way point of the first loop.  I also carried all of my own fuel, opting to bring 7 Gu's with me for the race.

The Powerline Section:  When we previewed the course two-weeks ago, I distinctly recall Jordan and I discussing the power line section and how in the race it seems to go on forever.  Two weeks later and add 2/3 of a foot of snow and the one and a half mile section was THE most difficult section of the race.  There was a hard crust on the snow that had formed from the cold rain overnight and freezing temperatures causing each step to suck all momentum and made finding a rhythm impossible.  The best way to describe it is that instead of your legs running along two parallel lines moving forward and back on those lines, your legs are doing an "eggbeater" motion and running along a single line because each foot slid as it contacted the snow toward the middle of your body.  Eventually, we (another runner and I) reached the end and turned onto a fire road where we could stretch our legs and recover from previous grueling section.  We both agreed that we were grateful to have that section behind us.  It's interesting to note that it didn't just feel slower but that it actually was considerably slower, evident in the above splits.  Mile 10 is the dark blue highlighted section in the image above that encompasses most of the 1.5ish powerline section as well as small portion of mile 11, both considerably slower that the pace for two miles on either side, mile 9 (9:24/mile) and mile 12 (9:28/mile).

I don't recall the third aid station (perhaps because I ran right through it?) and eventually I began recognizing the section that runs around the perimeter of the lake, indicating we were close to the turnaround point.  It was at this point, mile 14ish that I caught up to Wyatt, another Ultra VT runner who went on to finish an impressive 11th on the day.  We made good time through these couple miles heading into the turnaround and eventually caught Jordan just before we entered the aid station.  I was a bit concerned when we caught Jordan, as he has always been someone I admire as a runner and someone who is considerably faster than me.  Because the course is an out and back, we had the opportunity to see how the race was unfolding upfront as the lead runners had begun making their way back toward us.  Just after mile 15, we saw Graham heading back and then 13 other runners before entering the aid station.  

Splits through the first 16 miles.
I spent maybe a minute at the turnaround.  Enough time to allow an aid station volunteer (Thanks again!) to fill my bottle, grab a handful of Cheese Its, and give Mike Jones a high-five before heading back on course.  I had been listening to music for most of the race but right at the turnaround I put in my second earbud and cranked up the tunes and felt awesome for the next 4 miles or so.  This section was really great because you have all of the folks who are on their way to the turnaround giving you encouragement.  I tried to tell every runner that I passed Good Work! but I was in the zone and certainly missed a few.  

I had been doing well with nutrition, taking a Gu every 45 minutes or so but around mile 21 the wheels began to fall off.  Again, the power line section was challenging but the temperature had risen and with the rest of the field having already run through that section once, it was easier to find better footing.  

During the power line section, I noticed a decline in energy and recognized that I wasn't taking in enough calories.  I filled my bottle with Gu Brew at the next aid station (mile 24.5) and also took my first...and second cup of Coke, which I discovered too late into Promise Land 50k++ gives me a HUGE boost in energy.  As I entered the the aid station, Wyatt came in right behind me as did Jordan, and we all made it quick stop before heading down the trail.  Shortly after the aid station, there is a knee-high creek crossing, Jordan had sprinted past me giving me some encouragement and disappeared around the corner just before the creek, by the time I had crossed he was already several hundred meters up the hill and I wouldn't see him again until the finish.  We later found out that a seasoned ultrarunner was seriously injured crossing the creek and had to be carried to medical help by fellow runners, she is now doing well and recovering from surgery, but it speaks to the AMAZING crowd that takes part in these events.

Splits 17 to the finish.
Between 25 and 28.2 were the toughest miles for me.  I picked up my Yaktrax just before 26 and ran with them until I reached the next aid station where I entered dazed and feeling weak.  However, Frank Gonzalez was at the last aid station and his enthusiasm is CONTAGIOUS!  I handed him my Yaktrax, obviously out of it and said "I don't want these anymore" as he handed me a cup of Coke.  As I walked out of the aid station toward the trail, he was counting down for me to start running and when I began "trotting" before he got down to zero he burst out yelling and encouraging me.  He. Is. Awesome.  Again, I have met some of the most amazing and positive individuals since I started running ultras.  Inspiring.  I did ask how far to the end and was somewhat unhappy with the response, although Frank was dead on about the mileage (4.1) to the finish and it was nice knowing how far I actually had to go.

The scene at the finish!
The last section winds along the lake and then along singletrack next to the road before the 3/4 of a mile downhill finish on the road we began on.  Around mile 30, I walked for a bit and was super lightheaded bracing myself on trees and trying to keep myself upright.  In the future, I need to eat more but it was good that I realized what was happening and that I learn from the experience.  Once I hit the road, I gave one final look over my shoulder and started to open my stride allowing gravity to take me home.

Pace breakdown via Strava for the race.
It felt pretty awesome to come across the finish with Dr. Horton announcing my name and shaking my hand, noting that he had "seeded me wrong."  We had a brief chat and I mentioned how difficult the power line section had felt, which was seconded by the runner who had finished immediately before me and was still in the finish area.  I collected my awesome finisher shirt and grabbed a few cake batter Oreo's (who knew?) and attempted to walk off the pain in my feet.   I hobbled over to the lodge where I found the rest of the Ultra VT group and immediately started replenishing calories with a bowl of Chili, a few more Oreo's, and several glasses of orange juice.  

Link to full results HERE

I was very happy to have a solid run and see the hard work I've been putting in over the past couple months pay off.  I was pleased to have finished 16th overall out of 281 finishers and 314 starters.  What is really awesome is that Guy Love had another impressive finish, taking 3rd overall and that two other VT triathlon students finished in the top ten, Dylan taking 6th and Jonathan, running his first ultra, 7th!!!  Further, Wyatt took 11th and Jordan 12th, meaning we had 7 Hokies (alumni and current) in the top 16!

How bout them Hokies!?!

Participant shirt left and finisher prize right.

Strava Details:

Of course, it wouldn't be a race report without the obligatory post run burrito/food picture.  Michelle and I had our Valentines Day on Saturday evening because I spent the actual valentines day sleeping in my car...in the cold...to go run 50k...in the snow...hrm?  

Maybe next year it'll be dry and fast and perfect for setting a course record...or maybe not! #HypotheticalHL


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