Running should feel natural

Running should feel natural

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Holiday Lake 50k++ Race Recap

The most miserable race you'll ever love!

The Holiday Lake 50k ++ - "plus plus" since its notoriously longer than 50 kilometers.  I've heard some estimates are at 33 miles.  However, that's the thing with ultras, the course "is what is it" (okay, I hate that saying but it seems appropriate).  Its true though, you can't really think in terms of a distance PR, its just your time for that course on that day.  And this certainly held true last week at Holiday Lake.

Race: Holiday Lake 50k ++
Location:  Appomattox , VA

Date: Feb 15 , 2014
Finish Time: 6:09:40


First off, this race had a great "Ultra" feel to it.  We arrived the night before at Race HQ, set up in a community center at a 4H camp.  Opting for the on-site accommodations we were treated to hostel (or kids' camp) style bunk beds with a central bathhouse.  I slept surprisingly well.  Once morning arrived I went through the usual race day routines and we set off at promptly 6:30am.

This isn't an actual course picture (I didn't carry a camera), this is actually the result of a Google Image search for "snow ice slush mud".  Surprisingly, its a pretty good depiction of what the course looked like (at least in the "easy" sections).

On the way out there was a little more snow, about a foot that had been trampled down by the front runners.  Soon it would melt enough to create a soupy slush for us to run through.  To my own surprise, I got hot enough trudging up some of the hills to debate ditching my rain jacket.  I'm glad I held onto it, and ended up leaving at the mid-point aid station.  There was also a creek crossing with water up to your knees that we had to wade through.  It was numblingly cold but at the same time refreshing.  Even more refreshing was realizing we would go through it on the way back!  Oh, and did I mention that it was dark and freezing rain for the first hour?!

Most of the time you had two (miserable) choices: run through the melted (and often running like a mini-stream) path of ice-mud, or run on the less traveled sides that meant crushing through a foot of snow coated with ice.  Take your pick.  Ultra running isn't supposed to be easy, but while I've enjoyed most of my trail running in warm weather this type of choice had not yet occurred to me.

The course itself went up a 3/4 mile of road before it entered the trail.  There was a mix of singletrack running, jeep roads, and power line pathways briefly around Holiday Lake and then winding through the absolute middle of nowhere Virginia.  We eventually got back to the lake and returned to base camp at the half-way mark, only to turn around and make our way back counter-clockwise.

For the most part it was uneventful, just the way it should be, filled with conservative, steady miles of running.  I did notice an extreme drop off in runners on the way back though.  Around the marathon mark it was really getting tough.  I wasn't out of energy, but my toes were physically going numb which had me concerned.  I would stop every mile or so and swing my legs to get the blood back in my toes.  I kept pushing on, trying to make progress, and hoping the sun would come out enough to warm me up.  It was just a giant mental push on until about 30 or 31 miles in, at which point the thought of finishing made me so happy I had a burst of energy.  Once we finally popped back out onto the road I sprinted the final 3/4 of a mile, passing 3 more people in the process!


The Runner

Who is this David Horton character anyways?  Well, he is a pretty badass ultra runner, not just for his accomplishments but kind of for his originality and forward thinking in the sport.  He started ultra running before it was a "thing".  He was setting the records just for fun, some of which would later be broken but only by sponsored athletes only out there to break a record.  He is one of only a handful of people to complete the ├╝ber difficult and culturally underground Barkley Ultra-Marathon.

A brief bio from Liberty, where he teaches:
Since 1977, Horton has ran approximately 160 ultra marathons (any race that exceeds the 26.2 mile marathon standard), 30 marathons coast to coast of the continental U.S. (1995) and holds the record for running both the Appalachian Trail (1991) and the Pacific Crest Trail (2005). Horton’s record-setting completion of the Appalachian Trail took 52 days and nine hours to complete – an average of approximately 41.7 miles per day.

With all this he is surprisingly down to Earth, even a bit feisty, characteristic of an everyday southern Gentleman.  He doesn't just relish in his accomplishments, but also encourages other to run and puts on some badass trail races in Virginia along the way.  Most runners simply refer to these Ultras as "Horton races".  Check out "The Runner" for a recap of his epic run on the 2,700 mile Pacific Crest Trail.

Horton and I after the finish.

All in all it was a fun time, and a memorable race - as long as I can mentally block out miles 23 - 29.  Beast Series Race #1 Done!

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