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2008 Holiday Lake 50K++ Race Report

By hagrin - Posted on 01 August 2008

The Short Version
Great race, well organized, Dr. Horton is a very personable RD and I would definitely run the race again, but I had to DNF at the halfway point due to everything but the run and the trail. Entirely frustrating experience.

The Long Version
From the minute go, this trip was destined to fail. I decided to run Holiday Lake and the entire LUS Beast series and haven't been this excited about anything else running wise ... ever. My plan was to leave early Friday morning, make the ~7 hour drive from Long Island, go to the pre-race meeting and get a good night's rest at a nearby hotel.

Well, none of that happened and these factors (and not the trail's difficulty) was my ultimate demise in deciding to drop after ~17 miles. Work kept me in NY much longer than I expected and I didn't leave until early evening. The trip was going very well until I passed into Virginia and my GPS unit told me to get off near Culpepper, VA. I got off and started driving down the back roads of Virginia when I entered the town of Louisa. All of the sudden, over the sounds of my CDs and "Jill", the Garmin voice I have come to loathe, I hear the sickening sound of a flat tire rotating over and over. Great. It's about 12:30am and I have a flat where there are no lights on some back road and I haven't seen another car in about an hour. As I get out of the car, I notice that 1) my left rear tire is shot and 2) I can't see much else. Luckily, since the race starts under the cover of night, I strap on my headlamp and go and get the spare. Almost immediately, I am rushed at by a lone deer that obviously hasn't seen the movie Bambi. After hiding in my car (yeah, I hid, you would too), the deer became disinterested and wandered away. Thinking all was safe, I ventured back outside to start jacking up the car and entered my own version of Wrong Turn as a couple of cars slowly passed by, decided to stop and realized I had a car jack in my hand and decided I wouldn't be an easy target. Maybe it was the NY plates, who knows. Finally, a volunteer firefighter stops to assist me and gets me some directions, avoiding the highways, to the state park from state troopers. I finally get moving again ... at no more than 30 MPH and about 2.5 hours away still.

Needless to say, the state trooper's directions seemed wrong and didn't match the directions on the 4-H Holiday Lake website. I improvised and good thing I did since I made the right choice. It was now 4:15am as I entered the park and was able to park - 2 hours and 15 minutes until start time. I got dressed, organized my belongings, tried to get my bearings and before you knew it 5am approached. I walked over to the main house and waited outside for someone to show up. It wasn't long before Dr. Horton was the first face I would see and he let me in. I grabbed a bagel, sipped some Smart Water and tried to grab some sleep, but was unable to as other runners started coming through the door. So, 6:30am comes along and I have the following to deal with -

* I've been awake for 25.5 hours straight.
* I have a spare tire on my car and no idea where to get it fixed and need to be home by Saturday night
* I still have to run a 50K++ with some Horton miles

Pretty daunting task if you ask me. I was actually in good spirits as the race started since I saw a lot of people shivering near me and I was quite comfy in my shorts and Under Armor long sleeve shirt. The race starts and I had been warned about getting caught up behind the pack when everyone slows down on the single track trail. I was somewhere near the first 50 runners or so and was able to maneuver through the slow single track stuff very quickly. Normally, this would have been a perfect strategy for me, but by mile 1 I was already fighting sleepiness. By being in that lead group, the fear of slowing down the runners behind you makes you run as fast as the runner in front of you allows and this probably wasn't the smartest strategy after being awake for so long already. However, before the race even started, I was resigned to the fact that I had to run this race as fast as possible to give myself enough time to get out of the park and find a still open automotive store with a replacement tire (a task that didn't seem pretty easy due to where the race was located). By Mile 3 or so I knew I had no chance of doing anything useful. I wasn't going to be able to finish in my projected 5-6 hours and if I took any longer I would run out of time trying to find a new tire.

The trail is very soft in almost all areas (sans road section and a couple hundred feet of rocks) and you could probably wear road shoes for this race and be fine. You will need a light for the beginning of the race to navigate early, root filled sections (you should label your light with your name so you can drop it off at the first aid station which I didn't). The beginning of the race was soft with some roots with few leaves, nothing too awful. After the single track trail, it opens up into a vehicle trail I believe which was soft, but not too muddy. There is a short, short stretch of road which goes back to a trail that opens up into a large field. After that huge open field is your first water crossing which wasn't too cold, but was just cold enough to sap the last bit of energy I had. I think I was just too tired from not sleeping to have my body fight for warmth that I lost the desire to stay awake. I really don't remember anything outside of another, larger water crossing which I just plowed through even though there was probably a dry way around and a lot of single track back to the camp grounds. I would say 99% of the course is runnable with very few places where you have to slow down either due to single track congestion or "steep" elevation change.

I hit the turnaround in right around 3 hours and dropped. I think I muttered something about my knee hurting, but in all actuality I was worried about running out of time to get my tire fixed and get home that night. The timekeeper almost seemed shocked that I was dropping because I'm sure I looked strong enough to finish. In hindsight, I made the right choice as it took four hours to find a tire place with a tire close enough to get me home. If I had continued on and finished between 6.5 and 7 hours (disappointing, but respectable considering the conditions I was running in), I would gotten to the tire place I eventually bought the tire at after they closed and could have been stranded. I actually ran 10 miles today at 8 minute pace without any soreness so my muscles had plenty in the tank even if the rest of my body may have been tired from not sleeping.

Overall, it was an extremely frustrating experience although I found the running, while awake enough to take my surroundings in, very enjoyable and "easy". The course is excellent for a rookie ultrarunner with enough aid stations that you could almost run the course without carrying water, etc. The only negative I encountered with the race was the electrolyte drink they served (Clifshot?) which definitely made my stomach pretty angry with me and will know to avoid in future races. I'll be back next year to redeem myself, but I can't say I would change much other than having a full spare with me the next time I drive to an ultra. Congrats to all the finishers - most of whom were very encouraging as they passed and to all the volunteers (especially the one young lady who recognized I was so tired and disoriented that I couldn't even unscrew my water bottle).