All 2011 Race Reports

Holiday Lake 50K 2011 Race Report

12 February 2011

by Dave MacLuskie

Short version:

First Holiday Lake run, but not first ultra

Lovely day for a great run.

Bit of a train wreck the last 8 miles, but not unexpected

Total time: 5:45.

Other thought: it's very odd to realize it's 2011. Does that freak anyone else out? It seems so futuristic. I expected to see a flying car when I looked out the window just now.

Long version:

Dr. Horton has been putting on races for a while. I believe this was the 16th running of the Holiday Lake 50K++. I gather the course has changed over the years though it's always been a bit long (hence the ++ after the 50K). I've heard the current course is between 32.2 and 33 miles. I've never run it before so it's a course PR for me in any case! It's so hard to compare any two trail races anyway, even if the distance is the same.

I arrived Friday for check in, dinner and a night in one of the 4H lodges/bunk houses that are situated within mere steps from the start line. It's a great deal and a fun set up. Dinner was quite tasty (spaghetti, lasagna, bread, and apple pie) and I chatted with a few table mates about their various races and adventures. Everyone has a tale to tell and such varied backgrounds. We were entertained by Dr. Horton's animated and somewhat irreverant pre-race briefing. I was pleased that the folks sharing the bunk house with me (literaly bunks too; 8 of them in the room I was in) were all interested in a reasonable lights out.

I felt like the odd man out in the morning as it seemed I was one of the few guys wearing tights. Most felt that the brisk temps in the low-mid 20's was perfect for shorts. I know you're suppose to dress for temps at the end of the race, but that's just cold! I had a pair of shirts on (thin merino wool) which has worked well for me in the past. With aid stations every 4 miles on the nose I skipped the hydration vest and but wore a similar vest so I could carry my camera and some backup snacks (gummi bears -- they don't rattle!). I had a hand held water bottle to remind myself to drink regularly. I started with it empty and filled at the second aid station and a few more times during the race. This worked out pretty well! I didn't have the freezing problem others reported. Maybe I have hot hands? (Probably because I ran with it empty during the coldest part of the day.)

We began running at 6:30 am, off into the dark. A few miles into the race I passed a girl (young woman? lady? human female) with a pair of braided pig tails (forgive any inaccurate hair terminology. My hair, where it remains, is 1/8" long). Her breath was condensing on her exposed braids and they were covered in a delicate frost. I commented as I passed that I liked the effect. We'd end up running past each other most of the day (note the foreshadowing) I never did ask her name and amused myself by mentally calling her "girl-with-frost-in-her-hair" (despite the fact that was the only time I saw it with frost).

I'd done one of the training runs and the first lap felt familiar and easy. I had a suspicion I was pushing the pace a bit but I felt good and was enjoying the run. Sometimes you get into a groove and just run. I enjoy that and went with it. Hint: more foreshadowing.

The creek crossing was cold, but overall a non-event. Your feet warm up in minutes and it's not really noticeable. My trail shoes seem to be giving me a bit of a blister problem so I ran in my road shoes (Asics Speedstars) which don't seem to show on many lists for trail running. They worked quite well for me and I had no foot problems all day. Being basically a light mesh top they drained water far better than my trail shoes ever have.

I had about a dozen rather spectacular stumbles during the day. (Un)fortunately most had witnesses. Three resulted in severe (ungraceful) full body jack-knifing as I caught myself from falling. Two resulted in full on ground impact which I turned into graceful (not really) rolls. My old Tae Kwon Do instructor, Master Ko, would be very pleased.

I hit the turnaround at 2:36 and knew I'd blown the plan. I didn't really have a plan, but if I did have one, I'd have blown it. I was quite a bit too fast for the non-plan plan. I had a drop bag but didn't need anything so grabbed another cookie and rolled on through the turn around and headed back out to retrace my steps (not including stumbles).

On the return leg I began to feel the pace but was making good time. Along the lake there is a constant stream of runners nearing the turn around and those leaving. Many of the trails are narrow and on a steep slope (one half of which leads down to the cold lake). This required careful navigating and was a nice mental distraction. Word of encouragement. Step to the side. Step to the side. Word of encouragement. Stumble on a tree root. Curse under breath. Word of encouragement.

It seemed to take a long time to get to aid station 3 (visit 2). Sadly it's now a blur and I don't really remember much. I probably grabbed cookies and I think I might have refilled water again. We then entered my least favorite part of the course: a run along a power line access road (or telephone lines. It had big wooden poles and wires. I didn't touch them to see what they did.) It's just a long, straight, never ending section for me. I felt that way on the training run too.

I hit aid station 2 -- half way point (of that loop) at 4:10 hours into the race. Those doing the math will already note the fade. With aid stations every 4 miles the math was pretty easy. Average 10 min minutes. Next aid station would be 4:50. Finish at 5:30. Easy. Reasonable. The problem was I couldn't maintain even 10 min/miles. My legs were just shot after 24 miles. No direct pain, just brutal fatigue and soreness.

About a mile out from the last aid station, the girl-with-frost-in-her-hair passed me again (one of probably a dozen such passings). She smiled and suggested I'd be passing her back soon, as had been our pattern for the last 5 hours. I chuckled and hoped it to be true but truth was I was struggling. Maybe she was too. I don't know. I still didn't ask her name (it seemed awkward after all that time and I had grown to like the idea that she was girl-with-frost-in-her-hair). I didn't see her after the race but I congratulate her on a well-paced run. I hope she was pleased with her own results.

As I hit the road I knew I was just a few minutes from finishing and shuffled it in for a 5:45 finish. I couldn't even rise to the challenge of keeping ahead of the few folks that barreled down that hill passing me on the way. Dr. Horton was at the finish line, as he seems to always be, to shake my hand and congratulate me. I believe he does that for every single runner (keep in mind runners finished fairly constantly in a 4.5 hour window). Though it seems a small token it's very much appreciated.

Funnily enough I don't have any photos despite carrying the camera. I did take some video though. (I feel obligated to stop for still photos but not for bouncy, nausea inducing video.) I'm still editing it but will put a link here in a day or two. Nobody wants to see my gloved thumb and crazy shots of the ground when I'm trying to not trip. It turns out running with a camera in one hand and a water bottle in the other is not that easy. It's even hard to securely stow the camera with only one hand.


One thing I was very pleased with was 1) no feet issues. 2) no IT band issues. Due to an IT band flare up after a mid-December 50K it took me about 5 weeks before I could run double digit miles without pain. With only one 20 miler and a pair of 15 milers as my long runs the last 2 months, I was "well tapered" for Holiday Lake. It's probably not a big shock my legs wore out when they did. Given a pain-free run at Holiday Lake I'm hopefully moving forward!

Every race is a learning opportunity. You get to look back and play the "what if" game. What if I did this differently? How can I do better? How can I run to my full potential? It has happened on rare occasion; a few times in my life. I know it when it happens. It didn't happen at Holiday Lake this year. Maybe next year? My fluids were adequate but I could have done better. I ate a cookie or two at each aid station (grab and go style) but looking back that was probably only 500 calories for the whole race. A fair bit lower than some recommendations I've seen (usually 200cal/hr). Was that a problem or is that enough for me in those conditions? I don't do the math when I run. I just grab what looks tasty. Choclate chip cookies were it for this race. The scientist in me would like to return every weekend for the next 4 weeks and run with slight variations of strategy. I don't think my legs would appreciate that.

Of course going out too fast is always high on my list. I know not to do it but darn it, it's doesn't feel fast sometimes! It seems I'm worse in trail races as they don't have the constant mile markers (not a complaint!) and instead of using GPS to track pace I just run with a plain old watch (by choice). There's always the thought in the back of my mind that I'll finish too fresh and be disappointed. I seem to err on the burn out method instead. I'll find the balance point some day, though it's probably always changing.

On the drive home I amused myself with the thought that I'm much better at racing half-races (the first half). Maybe in a few weeks at Terrapin Mountain 50K I'll pretend it's a 100K and just race the first half.

dave.macluskie AT