Holiday Lake…the “easy” 50K…continues to teach me lessons.
….in 2012: That I could COMPLETE.
…in 2013: That I could RACE.
…in 2014: That I could ENDURE.
Two years ago, on the eve of Holiday Lake, I heard stories about the snow year (2010). I remember telling Kelly, “thank goodness the weather is good…I would never have the nerve to run if there was snow on the ground!”. I got the chance to prove myself wrong this year, as a mid-winter storm dumped 8-10 inches of snow on the course.
We checked on Friday, opting for an unheated cabin:
And took in the beautiful, snowy camp:
By Saturday morning, warm temps and slight drizzle had compacted to about 6 inches of slushy snow.
We set out, in 35 degrees and rain, right on time – 6:30 am. I really had no idea what to expect and if I could “race” in those conditions. Looking over the entrants list, I thought that repeating my 6th place finish from last year might be a stretch, but top ten was still realistic. We started the easy 1/2 mile climb up the road and climbed onto the single track. Right away the slow running and uneven footing made me uncomfortable. When I tried to speed up and find a rhythm, my heart rate climbed too high. I felt that I was slowing those behind me. As we made our way through those first few miles, I readjusted my expectations. I let some women pass me, knowing that I couldn’t get sucked up in running a fast pace this early in the day. I found some space to breathe and, though I never did get that rhythm I wanted, I did get my body back into an aerobic state.
It was the footing that killed me. I wore my Hoka Kailua’s, with screws in the bottom, but it was a poor choice for me. With every footfall I slipped, and had to stabilize. Nothing felt balanced, and I just wanted more traction. I didn’t want to talk or make conversation with the other runners. In fact, it was the most silent ultra I’ve run…I think we were all working incredibly hard.
Around mile 6, I started to feel my left Achilles, and the whisper quickly turned to a steady nag. Not again. It had last given me trouble in 2012, and required several months of rest. I slowed again…this time to watch my footing, to baby my ankle. For the next 10 miles the pain ebbed and flowed. I decided that if it got worse, I might have to drop at the turn around. I HATED the idea of quitting. I HATED the idea of continuing only to injure myself and not be able to run the rest of the season. I HATED that this crappy weather wasn’t letting me see how my training paid off. I was low and grouchy.
BUT….when I looked around, I still saw lots of familiar faces. I was still with the folks I usually run near. Brian and Tim. Sophie. Alexis Thomas in eyesight up ahead. Coming into the turnaround the top females were just leaving…only 3-4 minutes ahead of me. If I didn’t stop to refuel, that is 🙂 The race was the same, just harder circumstances.
My achilles felt OK at the turnaround, but I took my time. Filled up my water. Changed my shoes. Chatted with Aunt Sue. My cousin Mark was there, nursing sore calves, so we headed back out to the trail together. When I left, I heard that I had dropped to 11th. I could see #10 right in front, but I really didn’t want to race. I wanted to finish, worn out but uninjured, that was all.
Mark had to stop to stretch his calf, so I left him and caught up to the girl in front of me. It didn’t take long to recognize her as Elaine from the Steeplechasers, and we chatted a bit before she opened up a gap and took off. My new shoes provided better traction, but I was still low, and maintained a miserably slow pace through Aid Station 5 and 6. Mark caught back up to me and asked if I wanted to run together. I told him, and honestly believed, that I was going to be walking a lot of the last eight miles, so he went on ahead. Not one but TWO women passed me, which put me in 13th place.
With eight miles to go, I suddenly realized that my fueling strategy had been WAY off all day (really, Annie….It took you 24 miles to realize you should be eating more?). The slow going and tough conditions meant I was working much harder than last year, but I’d been on the course 5 hours and only taken in 400 calories. I immediately fished the baby food pouch out of my vest and ate that and a gel. Soon, my legs came back and I picked up the pace, passing the girl just ahead of me. Happy to be out of the slump that had me all day, I trotted on, determined. I caught up to Brian about a mile before the last aid station. We ran together for a bit, but I charged on to see if I could gain some ground. I saw Elaine and Steve, and amazingly, a bit of red far up the trail that told me I could still catch Mark. It took two miles, and if I’d had just a bit more trail we’d have hit the road together. But he got there first, and I couldn’t catch him on the downhill to the finish. I was THRILLED to come in right behind him – having run our own races separately most of the day, we still finished within 30 seconds of each other!!
Dr. Horton gave me a big hug, and instead calling out “1st loser” as I’d expected, presented me with a Patagonia backpack. I was 10th female!
Standing at the finish line, there was Sophie and Jamie – they’d come across just before me. I was actually amazed to see how close we all were. As the other runners and friends filtered in we traded stories of the day…the misery of the trail…the slog through the mud and the muck…and the happiness and triumph of finishing a difficult day.
Once again I’m reminded that this sport is 90% mental. Would I have done better had I put my head on straight earlier in the day? Maybe, but it really doesn’t matter. I come away with so many lessons….so many things I’d do differently.
- Shoe Choice: The Hoka’s were great…except for the traction. Next time, more screws…more tread. The Saucony’s gave me traction, but their flexibility murdered my joints and tendons from the ankle down.
- Fueling: Slower pace does NOT equal less work…not in those conditions. Eat, Eat, EAT!!! I’ve now visualized a small Italian grandmother to sit on my shoulder and nag me through my next race….
- The race is won (or lost) in the second half. I know this. It seems true for most every race. BUT….its still easy to get caught up early in the day. I can’t be sure, but I think that the top 10 were only separated by 6-7 minutes at the turn. Coming out of the turn in 11th, I should have considered myself very much in the hunt for top 10. Instead I was content to slog along. Maybe I would have gained more time had I a strategy for the second loop. Again – its hard to say, but an interesting mental note for future events.
There were so many, many selfless acts and stories of courage from the trail on Saturday:
- Elizabeth was ready to call it a day at the turnaround when John Hurley came upon her and convinced her to head back out. She continued, caught up to Nigel, and stayed with him as he gritted out a really tough last 10 miles. Working together, they made it in before the cutoff!
- The biggest story of the day was, of course, Amy Albu. Amy slipped at the stream crossing, breaking her leg in two places. A team of runners, including an ER doc, splinted the leg and took turns carrying her a mile to the next aid station. These folks sacrificed their own race to help a fellow competitor…a perfect example of the trail spirit and ethos that makes this such an amazing sport.
I feel so blessed to be a part of this community!