First off, for anybody that notices, I know that I already posted what I did running-wise on 6 February, but for the sake of ending this week with my race report, I'm going to switch to a Sunday-through-Saturday week for the moment (and maybe for the foreseeable future, if this turns out to be more convenient. So, the weekly summary:
6 February: 5 miles in the morning (36 minutes), 6 miles in the evening (44 minutes)
7 February: 6 miles at APG (45 minutes)
8 February: 8 miles, including a 2-mile Patterson Park loop at 6:30/mile pace (56 minutes)
9 February: 3 miles in the morning (25 minutes), 5 miles in the evening (37 minutes)
10 February: 6 miles of treadmill hill (10% grade at 10-minute-mile pace, 60 minutes)
11 February: 3 miles in the morning (26 minutes), 4 miles in the evening (30 minutes)
12 February: 33.25 miles - 2011 Holiday Lake 50K (5 hours, 22 minutes, and some seconds)
Total time: 681 minutes (and some seconds)
Total distance: 79.25 miles
Quick commentary: Back to a "reasonable" mileage jump from last week to this week, but this time, on the strength of one particularly long run. A couple of good "hard" efforts, and an interesting "long run" . . .
So now, the Holiday Lake 50K race report:
First, a bit of background. Holiday Lake was a race that I had considered running last year, until Snowpocalypse came along and wrecked those plans. This time around, the roads were clear, and it was about time I got in a "real" long run, since the longest run I've done since my stress fracture was the 15-miler that I did on roads last week. (Before that, the last long run that I did was a 20-miler sometime in late November or early December - so it's been 2+ months since my last good long effort). Given that, I didn't come into the race expecting to "race" - this was going to be an opportunity to get back on trails, be around people that I like, prove to myself that I can still finish an ultra, test the effectiveness of the past month of training, and experiment with race strategy. Holiday Lake is the first race in the Beast and Lynchburg Ultra series, and, as such, is the "easiest" race (the difficulty ramps up as the year progresses). None of the single-track is particularly technical, and the only extended uphills and downhills are fairly gradual. The downside to this type of course is that just about everybody comes in looking for a track meet/50K PR (even though the course, like most trail 50K courses, is about two miles longer than it should be).
All that said, I rolled in to the 4-H Camp around midnight and promptly fell asleep in a sleeping back in the back seat of my car for 5 fairly solid hours. Although breathing the cold air was uncomfortable, I slept soundly, and woke up feeling at least as rested as I would on a normal day (which is not as rested as I'd like to be lately, but better than usual for a race like this). In the mess hall, I ate a very light breakfast (a few slices of melon and a cup of coffee), and went about my preparations efficiently. This is about as relaxed as I'd ever been coming into a race (which is saying something, because I should have been more nervous given the distance and the number of things that, based on recent performances, could have gone wrong).
After we all stood around at the starting line in the cold for what felt like a little too long while Horton said his pre-race prayer, we set off down the half-mile section of paved road (the only section like this on the course), and it was obvious from how quickly the front of the pack went out that this was, in fact, going to be a track meet. Trail conditions were clear and fairly dry, which made the early goings faster than I would have liked; that is, if I were trying to keep up with people. As it was, I was content to let a lot of people pass me, and fall into a steady 8-ish minute mile pace, assuming that they would come back to me.
I also managed to fall into a rut and skin my knee within the first mile of trail, during the awkward period of time between 6:30 and 7:00 a.m., when it's not really dark enough for a headlamp if you're careful, prompting somebody to say that that's why headlamps are good for something (smart aleck). Spoiler: I did not win "Best Blood," because I wasn't sweaty enough at that point for any of it to run down my leg very far (it clotted, or, more accurately, froze, pretty close to my kneecap). If you want to win that award, you need to sweat enough to make the blood smear in an interesting way. Sheer volume of blood might also do the trick.
Anyhow, as it turned out, although my pace was basically easy and sustainable, there were a few wrenches in the works early on. First, the temperature (somewhere in the 15-20 degree F range for the first hour or so of the race) caused the cap on my water bottle to freeze, and ice chunks to develop in the water, which made it a fine ballast for practice running with a bottle, but terrible for hydration. On top of this, the water being that cold in the bottle was freezing my hands through my gloves, although even if I hadn't been carrying the bottle, my hands probably still would have frozen through the gloves. Finally, I felt soreness in my hips and glutes, as I had lifted heavy three days in the past week (including the day before the race). This lifting-related soreness was not running soreness, but was enough to confuse my body into thinking that it was.
The good news, though, is that the hill and strength work had paid off, and I felt as though I had a lot of power climbing the hills. Also, my "hang back" strategy started to pay dividends between Aid Stations 1 and 2 (4ish-8ish miles), as all of those who got sucked in by the initial sprint-out were starting to slow.
Unfortunately, my strategy was also supported by an experimental "minimal nutrition" approach. I've noticed that in most ultras, people consume at least 200 calories per hour in simple sugars, and in most ultras, people also get sick to their stomachs. Coincidence? Maybe not. I decided to use this race as a proving ground for a low-calorie strategy. My strategy, however, involved eating nothing in the first hour (and drinking very little, due to the frozen water bottle, and inattention to the aid stations). This began to backfire at about an hour and a half (between Aid Stations 2 and 3), as I could feel my energy level dropping. With no spontaneous rebound in sight, I took two gels and hoped for the best. The best turned out to be a partial return of energy, but in the interim, a number of people passed me (a few of which I passed back before Aid Station 3). At Aid Station 3, I took half of a banana and a couple of mini-Snickers bars. A little better, but not really doing it. I was behind on my nutrition, and this showed on the way to Aid Station 4 (the turn-around point). Add to this the fact that within a mile or so of the aid station, the leaders were coming barreling back down the single-track trail for their reverse loop against the slower traffic, and this was a bit demoralizing. This called for a red sugar cookie at the turn-around.
I reached the turn-around at about 2 hours, 23 minutes - not bad, not blazing fast. On pace for under 5 hours, which, given the distance and my historical times in 50Ks that are not as much longer than they're supposed to be than this one, seemed reasonable, especially considering that even in the absence of nutritional issues, I had made no attempt to go "balls to the wall" on this race.
You'll notice that I've gone through a whole loop of what happened (the course is two loops of 16 miles and change), and mentioned very little about the course. This is because the course is not particularly memorable. There are single-track trails, gravel roads, fire roads, very short pavement sections at the beginning and at the end, and and the few road crossings. There is one deep creek crossing where your feet will get wet, and that will suck for about five minutes until your shoes drain (and if they don't drain, well, sad days for you). Running the first lap of the course clockwise puts you on east-bound trail around the time the sun is rising, so for a few minutes until the sun gets higher in the sky, you can't see anything. (This was surprisingly more fun than it sounds, because if you're lucky like me, you're in a wide open field of tall grass when this happens, and it looks surreally summery). On the return trip around the loop, there is enough light that you can actually see Holiday Lake as you run past on your way to the finish. The trail was rock-hard and rutted on the way out, and slightly muddy on the way back (as it warmed up to around 40 degrees by the 5-hour mark). And that's pretty much it. Horton has said that of all the races he puts on, this is his least favorite, and I can see why. It's a Rocky Raccoon-style 50k - good for running a fast time, not good for memorable or difficult sections.
In that spirit, the description of the reverse loop will be even more sparse than the description of my first loop. I was definitely walking more, but less due to running-related fatigue than to calorie deficit and delayed-onset muscle soreness from my weight training, which my body was still convinced was from running too fast. Because this was my first long run in a long time, all of this put me in a weird state where I had no idea what my limit was, or how much gas was left in the tank, and I had no capacity to surge with any confidence. At the same time, the remaining distance was rapidly falling into the manageable range on the return trip, and it was somewhere between Aid Station 3 and Aid Station 2 that I decided would be a good time to start running more and walking less, in preparation for a late-race surge to the finish. In fact, in spite of my random walk breaks, during which a guy who called me "Greenie" on account of my green Bull Run 50 shirt passed me, I mounted enough of a surge to pass him back, which was vaguely gratifying. I passed enough people coming in to Aid Station 1 that I finally decided to put on the afterburners from Aid Station 1 to the finish - I had reached Aid Station 1 at around 4 hours, 25 minutes, with a little over 4 miles to go, and my legs weren't sore, so a sub-5-hour time, in spite of my (by some measures) lackadasical effort, seemed within reach.
And, for the first two miles, it was. I passed at least a dozen people, including a bearded, bare-chested, MT-101-wearing Anton Krupicka wanna-be (with an awkward head bob and a slight spare tire around the middle that would not be Krupicka-approved). The last person that I passed said "catch them all!" as I was running strong, and there were four more people in front of me that were dogging it up a hill.
But with about 2 miles to go, and about 20 minutes to the 5-hour mark, it turned out that I should have stopped at the last aid station and put more gas in the tank. I felt my body become weak, I grew light-headed, and I suddenly had nothing left in my legs. I had most likely come into the race with smaller-than-usual glycogen stores due to a lack of recent long runs, and these stores were probably not full when the race started, and I wasn't doing all that much to fill them in the interim (only a haphazard 600-800 calories), and I suppose that it was bound to catch up with me. This had never happened to me before, and what was very strange was that as soon as it happened, any other pain that I had (hips, glutes, etc) disappeared, probably because this weak sensation was so dominant. Of course, being two miles from the finish, without any nutritional aid, there was nothing I could do but awkwardly stagger forward, over a section that one woman remarked would take "about 40 minutes" to walk, when one runner (who started running and passed me) wondered if walking it in might be a desirable way to end his pain. And so, the dozens of people that I had diligently passed in my last loop ("Greenie," Fake Anton, a rag-tag group of guys that decided that they would finish in "5 and a half, 6 hours, whatever") all passed me back in the last two miles, plus a few more for good measure. I didn't have the strength to muster a sprint for show on the final downhill on the paved road to the finish, and as soon as I crossed the line and shook Horton's hand, he asked me if I was alright, I said I felt terrible, he said I looked terrible (by all accounts, I was pale and disoriented), and he urged me to eat. I complied at the junk food table at the finish line, the only available food that didn't cost $11 (the $11 food, fried chicken and potatoes and maybe some green beans, was inaccessible because I didn't have $11 in cash, and I also took offense to paying $11 for what was basically KFC). Some cookies, cake donuts, M&Ms, and GU2O later, I felt sort of normal, although I can't help wondering if passing out for a few hours would have been equally or more effective than consuming about 1200 calories worth of junk food (I did feel as though passing out would have been sweet release). At any rate, while I was stuffing my face with garbage, "Greenie" (who, from the looks of his shirt, was some sort of hardcore Army Ranger), came over and called me a "stud" for valiantly passing him back earlier in the last loop, and staggering to the finish in spite of my horrid condition. So that was at least as gratifying as the Patagonia finisher shirt, which matched the plaid shirt I was wearing, so I could wear two shirts that I liked at the same time after the race. Take that, Abercrombie (except only halfway, because the plaid shirt is from your store).
In conclusion . . .
- Legs not sore
- No significant blistering or foot soreness/pain (wore MT100s, sockless and cut up so they don't cut my feet up)
- Finally finished a Horton race (the "beginner" Horton race, but still a finish)
- Sweet Patagonia shirt, IN MY SIZE (unlike the cotton race t-shirt - smallest size was a Large)
- Hung out with friends
- Ran on trails
- Had fun
- Didn't puke
- Tripped and skinned my knee, but didn't win "Best Blood"
- Hands were borderline frostbitten for about half of the race
- Misguided hydration and nutrition plan cost me at least 20 minutes at the end of the race, dozens of places, and almost my consciousness
- $11 for KFC-style post-race lunch - not a good deal (although since there is apparently not a KFC anywhere near Appomattox, VA, it's probably the best deal people can get around here)
- Non-descript double-loop course, except for a few very brief interesting sections
- Guy pretending to be Anton
- Guy who called me "Greenie," then later, "stud"
Overall, not a bad first race for 2011. Had some laughs, learned some things, had some fun. Can't say that I'm totally satisfied with the outcome, since (as always) it was my secret hope that it would turn out that I was in better shape than I thought. Nevertheless, I'm not in worse shape than I thought, which is really more important. And now I have an appetite for the MMT 100 training run next Saturday, which is also important. And there you have it.