Sunday, February 13, 2011

Back to Holiday Lake 50K...and paying it forward

David Horton gets very excited at his pre-race talks, especially at Holiday Lake 50K. The race is made up of about 75% new-to-ultras entrants, and he loves to celebrate the excitement that we all felt the night before we ran our first ultra. Remember that feeling? Butterflies, nerves, fitful sleep, and the questions: What do I wear? How do I get my nutrition right? What if I'm last?

David Horton gave a very helpful talk to the first-timers

At the pre-race dinner, Horty was in rare form. Excited, happy, sometimes flip but full of wisdom gleaned from his years on the trails, he talked about his own failures--and warned that "everyone makes mistakes, and you will tomorrow." Afterward, he held a meeting just for newbies, and he did a great job of answering questions, reassuring those who were anxious (pretty much everyone), and erasing doubts. I wish he had held this meeting the night before my first ultra, Holiday Lake 2002. If he had, I would have walked more uphills, paced myself more carefully, and eaten more!

Mark and Harry listen as Horty gives his talk to the newbies. Mark is thinking, "this guy can't be serious...!"

My friends from Charlottesville, Harry Landers and Mark Hampton, were running their first ultra at Holiday Lake. Experienced marathoners, they are in the midst of their Boston training but were curious about trail ultras, so with some tweaking of their Boston training plan (and a course preview run two weeks ago), they arrived at HL ready to experience what ultra life is all about. Horton certainly gave them plenty to think about: "I've pee'd blood in ultras and had my arms swell as big as sausages...but this 'shouldn't' happen to you!" HA!

Race day we had perfect weather: 20s at the start, deep blue winter sky with bright sunshine all day and 40s at the finish. The "new" course, changed in 2009 with more trail and measured out as 33 miles, was dry, fast, and had no snow in sight. Horton predicted records would fall, and he was right. Many PRs for the 50K+ distance were set, and 96% percent of the runners finished. Holiday Lake is truly a perfect first ultra--where else can a newbie get personal advice from one of the sport's great legends and race directors, as well as excellent aid stations, course markings, and a runnable, beautiful trail?

Along a new section of trail

My race plan was to take the first, 16.5 mile loop at an "easy" 50K pace, which is about 10-minute mile pace for me. I started out with Jen Nichols, and we ran a bit with Kerry Owens, Marlin Yoder, Jen Davis before settling into our own comfortable rhythms. At one point I was greeted along the trail by Carter, who introduced himself as a reader of this blog and could not have been nicer...hope you had a great race, Carter! I was happy to pace off of Marlin until we hit the lake trail, where he waved me on. Here we saw the front runners starting their second loop, and they were hammering. Inov-8 teammate and friend Sabrina Moran was in second for the women in hot pursuit of Jennie Belt, and I was in tenth place for the women.

Bill Potts was in charge of the chaos that was the turn around, and he did a great job of getting the 300+ runners in and out quickly.

Potts paying it forward at the turn-around

I was hoping to run a 2:35ish second loop to match loop one's split and to see if I could hold on to a 5:15 finish time. This would be a huge PR on any Holiday Lake course for me, as my best time of 5:17 was run in 2002 and I ran a bunch of 5:20s, :30s and :40s over the next few years. I ate about 750 calories per loop which made a huge difference in my pacing, and I never had a bad patch, except in the last few miles...but I forced myself to eat two Clif Bloks every 10 minutes and this worked like a charm to get my mojo back. I hammered the last half mile of road with no cramping and finished at 5:14:02, a PR by three minutes! The icing was the hug I got from Horton as he shouted, "first old woman!!" which meant I won the Masters age group, which is always a tough thing to do in a race with more than 80 women.

Horton and me at the finish

Many celebrations took place at the finish line, including Sabrina's second place female, and PRs by Martha Wright (first in over-50) and Jen Pharr Davis, who is preparing for her assault on the AT speed record this summer.

Jen, Sabrina, Horty, Martha and me

The best moment, though, was when Mark and Harry ran in together in 5:58, looking like they had only run 10 miles, and Horton yelled, "Mark Hampton and Harry Landers, First Ultra!" Loved that.

Harry, Horton, and Mark at the finish

When Mark and Harry signed up for Holiday Lake a few months ago, I warned them, quite seriously, that their lives would never be the same when they finished. Ultras have a way of getting under our skin whether we like it or not. Case in point: in 2002, as I lay on the wooden bench at the Holiday Lake finish line and moaned "never again!" little did I know what life-changing adventures and friendships were in store for me. Holiday Lake opened up a door to a quirky, obscure sport that I love so much, and especially love to share with others.

Thank you, David, and all the Holiday Lake volunteers, who make it possible for that door to be opened, year after year!

**photos courtesy of Brock Nichols and Mark Hampton