It’s been a week since I did this event– a busy week. We were away from home for 6 days counting the trip up to the Appomattox, Virginia area and finishing with a 4-day work-related jaunt to Topsail Beach, NC. In the middle was a short stay in Beaufort with the in-laws during which our 1996 Mercury Sable showed signs of its age and necessitated a borrowed vehicle from said in-laws and some more driving back and forth for Gary and Remy while I worked. The car repairs cost about $400, but it’s probably best not to think about how much gas all that driving ran us. But this is a race report, so I’ll report on the race.
The word race is a funny thing. The appeal of ultrarunning is that it’s achievably challenging yet absent the pressure of expectations to win. Truthfully, I do an adequate job of it so long as the distances don’t get ridiculous (read: ~50k), but I am not in the top tier of ultrarunning talent. I’m not in the 2nd tier for that matter. After lots of years of it mattering how I placed in triathlon, at first in order to prove I could and later because it was expected, it’s refreshing to participate without the disquieting spectre of relative-to-others outcome goals brewing over my head.
The Holiday Lake 50k++ brings out some amazing talent because it’s known as “fast” and “flat” and “short” relative to the other available ultrarunning alternatives, particularly out of the pool of events put on by the infamous David Horton of which Holiday Lake is one. In truth, with it’s sizable amount of fire roads it is faster than a pure singletrack adventure. It is flatter than a true mountain-based event, but only flat in the sense that the North Carolina piedmont from which I hail is flatter than trails found in Boone. The short appelation is amusingly ironic with its double plusses, but when you recognize that many ultradistance runs span 50, 60 and even 100 miles, those with a sense of humor can find some warped logic in that adjective.
It is because of the relative easiness of this event that it draws not only the speed demons seeking a new PR, but also the first-timers. Now, I’m neither. I signed up for Holiday Lake because I had some friends doing it and I wanted something achievable that wouldn’t create lots of training pressures so early in my year of running focus. I did, however, see this as an opportunity to run a best time for a 50k because those that I’ve done previously– Carrboro 50k in training last year, 50k en route to 40 miles at Uwharrie, and the mountainous Bel Monte 50k also in 2011– have taken around 6 hours each to complete. Even though Holiday Lake offers a couple extra miles over 50 kilometers proper, the terrain does favor a faster run.
When I first signed up and looked at a few of the times run by some of the women and people I know, I figured 5 hours might be a good stretch goal. This figuring didn’t account for a string of sicknesses in my household, so as the event neared, I adjusted my somewhat arbitrary estimate upward. As it turned out, my reliable stopwatch’s battery pooped out a few weeks prior to the event and I failed to properly power up my Garmin Forerunner 110, so I ran without any time indicator which suited me just fine.
We begin the run at 6:30am climbing a paved half-mile hill before entering singletrack. Because running singletrack in the dark with lots of people, even with a headlamp, doesn’t lend itself to easily moving up in the field, it behooves the middling-to-quicker runner to press the pace a little more at the beginning than would normally be warranted for an event of this distance. Starting easy and then jogging my way up to ultra-distance pace is one matter, but starting faster and dropping back is another, more challenging prospect.
I “settled” into a pace that might have been a touch too quick for my fitness. Looking back, however, it was pretty close to where I should have been. The long event can be summarized as running and chatting with some new friends while I under-fueled on the first half. This race consists of a 16.6 mile loop that takes everyone back through the start/finish area and then routes us back on the same trail in reverse. The singletrack portion near the end / beginning of the 1st / 2nd loops was easily the most technical part of the course. It also was, in true singletrack form, only suited for one person to pass at a time. Since this is where the comers and goers are passing each other, that added an element of mindfulness to the process that may have partially contributed to me not noticing early bonking signals until I hit the fireroad portion a little lightheaded and a little worried about how the remaining 14-ish miles might go.
I attempted to make up for my fueling error by pounding some gummies and it seemed to work OK. This is the point at which I got tired of the sweet taste of the gummies, which is the same point at which I realized how necessary they would be. So I kept the gummies going in and it worked. I was feeling better and reeling in a male runner every so often. It seems that female runners pace themselves better, since I passed none save Jamie who stopped at an aid station probably to run back with her struggling fiance. It’s not that I was running faster on the second half, mind you, it was a matter of slowing down less.
As I passed the 3/4 point and clicked off those final 8, 7, 6, 5 miles, I couldn’t believe how strong I still felt. It was at that point that I figured I’d better press the pace as much as I could so I didn’t finish feeling like I could have gone faster. I still was feeling great. Perhaps a couple miles from the finish, that part of my mind that’s looking for the end was making itself heard. I then had a thought that I couldn’t be much more than a mile away, rounded a corner, and found “1 mile to go” written in orange spray chalk. Another half mile of singletrack and I emerged on to pavement for the final half mile down hill. It’s the kind of hill that you can really lean in to and roll if your legs are still up to it. Mostly, my legs were, although my right hip flexor was sending a few warnings. Finally, I round the last turn to see the finish banner and time clock. Five-oh-four and 30 seconds…(aw man, so close to 5 hours but just a little short!) 31, 32…(oh man, how cool that I’m so close to 5 hours!)…35, 36… and I finish in 5:04:40.
Like I said on Facebook, I’ll take it. I think it put me in 14th place overall for the women. I think 6th in my age group based on what my mother emailed to me. Like I said at the beginning, ultrarunning isn’t my wheelhouse for top finishes. I will admit that this might have been a peculiarly competitive field compared to previous years. Just over five hours is a totally legit time, much faster than my 6-ish hour finishes from the past, and something to be proud of.
What I’m equally proud of is the speed with which I recovered from the run. I never felt a twinge walking down flights of stairs, which is great since that beach house in Topsail had lots of stairs. Yay me!