Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Russian Roulette

Running Races in February is a lot like playing Russian Roulette, the chances of dodging the bad weather bullet are pretty slim. If you sign up for two races in February the odds are even worse! I'm testing the odds again in 2014 and so far I'm not winning :)
 Holiday Lake 50K was my very first ultra. I ran a 5:35 in 2008, then I came back in 2009 thinking I could knock some time off, but battled an IT band issue slowing to 5:57. 2010 was a snow year and I hit an all time low of 6:49. I cursed every snowy slip-sliding step, ankles bashing into the ice crusted trenches and sucking every ounce of energy I could muster. I swore off HL after that year, every time someone would mention running it I would come up with a list of excuses a mile long..... it's so flat..... I don't like out and backs,  it's too close to Mount Mitchell, two races in February is too much, too risky!
I made it three years before someone was able to change my mind. A conversation with Beth Frye about running plans for 2014 made me realize it was time for a re-do at Holiday Lake. I needed to go back and wash that bad taste out of my mouth. I love running Terrapin, Promise Land, and Masochist, so it seems silly to miss out on completing the LUS series because of Holiday Lake. "Sure let's do it", I agreed, then realized that instead of the two weeks that traditionally lie between Holiday Lake and Mount Mitchell this year there would only be ONE! This should be interesting....
Snowy Run Thursday Morning
I built myself up, started to get excited about a potential PR at HL, happy to leave the bad attitude from 2010 behind! Then the snow came....I was so excited about getting out of work early Wednesday, then waking up to our offices being closed on Thursday!! I went on a snow day run testing my new screw shoes, then skiing with friends....who had time to think about the reality of running a 50K??? Then it all started to sink in! That snow isn't going anywhere, it's going to be 2010 all over again!
Thursday night I secretly wished Horton would cancel the race. I decided immediately I couldn't keep slipping into that negative thought pattern. Positive thinking = positive results. This WAS going to be a good weekend! We were staying at a neat B&B in Appomattox and having dinner there Friday night, and the main goal was to just get through it in one piece, uninjured going into Mount Mitchell the following weekend. "We are so very lucky to even be able to participate", I told myself, "don't take that for granted".
No pressure just a fun weekend! That is exactly what we got!
We had a great time Friday catching up and enjoyed our dinner, slept great and woke relaxed and ready to go. Smooth sailing getting to the camp and parking, only one final decision left. Screw shoes????
I put screws in some old Montrail Fairhavens and tried them out on Thursday and they just didn't seem to make a difference in the amount of snow we were dealing with. I had decided not to wear them, then thought maybe I should put them in my Masochists which are my normal go-to shoe just in case I changed my mind. At the last minute on Saturday morning I decided why not wear them? If they help a little at some point along the way it might be worth it? there might be some icy spots? crunchy layers? The last minute race jitters swayed my gut feeling not to wear them and I started in them, reasoning that at the half way I could change them if need be.

X-Country Ski Fun on the Virginia Creeper
I enjoyed the early miles, "playing" in the snow, but there was no mistaking it for fun, it was clearly going to be work. Muscles that are usually just along for the ride would have to participate in order to get through this, we were all over the place getting tossed around by the slick uneven surface. It was exhausting just trying to pick the path of least resistance. We hit the first section of road which was a welcome sight, a chance to actually open up and run (aahh!) I firmly planted my right foot to get some speed going and upon impact I felt a sharp pain in the front of my right  foot, **** ****!!!! Several four letter words spewed from my mouth. I felt the screws! I thought I had felt them earlier, but on the snow it was much more manageable, on the pavement not so much. Beth encouraged me to just try and put it out of my mind so I adjusted my stride and just tried to find soft patches of ground to land on. It was mainly just one in the front of my right foot that was a real threat, no biggie, right? It's merely a puncture wound :).
We came into an aid station and got to see Tammy, I chatted with her then I turned to see where Beth was and saw Jeremy Ramsey. He said something about getting out of the aid station first? I laughed thinking we were just trying to get through this thing, I'm sure we're miles behind the ladies out front. We took off and caught up to the guys ahead of us who also mentioned something about thinking we were the first females?? everyone must be confused? We started seeing some of the front runners and making our way back around the lake, I was excited to be done with the first half and seeing some familiar faces run by was uplifting. Cheering on the front runners briefly took my mind off the tiredness. Two females caught up to us and we all came into the turn around close together. I felt pressure to get in and out quickly so I grabbed some food from my drop bag and asked Tammy to grab my extra shoes in case the screw situation got worse. I was shocked to realize at that point we really were in first and second leaving the turnaround? Once again it was fun to cheer on the incoming runners and navigate the narrow single track, but once we got past I felt the wind leave my sails. I stumbled and fell. I put my hands down in the icy cold watery slush and soaked my gloves. I had left my extra pair in my drop bag because I had taken them off early on and had been annoyed just carrying them, but now I had no backup. Beth to the rescue! She dug out her extra pair and hooked it up! We just put our heads down and tried to stay steady. The power line section was freaking brutal, you could see ahead forever and the footing was horrible. I was having flashbacks to 2010, we had to just laugh it off, stay focused.
Marc Griffith caught up to us on the road and it was a nice distraction to chat with him for a while, I was feeling taxed. He told us Holly was close behind. I told Beth that I was so happy with how we had just kept up a consistent pace for so long in such crazy conditions, that if we could just hold onto top ten I would be ecstatic. I was definitely feeling the burn, but every time I would try to take a walk break it felt harder to walk than it was to "run", "slog" whatever you want to call it so I would press on.
Holly passed us at some point and I expected others would be close behind. We got to the single track back around the lake and I was happy to let loose a bit on the downhills and flats but the hills were not my friends, I had nothing left for them. One little baby hill stopped me almost dead in my tracks, I heard Beth catch up and I turned back to check in and see how she was doing, but it wasn't Beth, it was Alexis. I said hi, we exchanged a few words and she passed. I kept her in sight but catching her didn't seem likely. Even if I could get to the road close enough to chase down the pavement, I was afraid of such intense pounding with the screw shoes.
 I hit the road and  took a deep breath, just tread lightly but as fast as you can without puncturing a hole in the bottom of your foot!! Click, click, click, click I cursed the decision to wear the screw shoes all the way to the finish line. All the hard work, freezing cold mud puddles, slips, slides, missteps, post holing, and struggles to keep moving, quickly faded away as I crossed the finish line, happy to be uninjured and 3rd female. It was great to see Beth finish her 1st HL with a huge smile on her face. We had worked hard and enjoyed actually running a race together, most races we're very close in finishing times but often don't see each other for much of the race.
 Only time will tell what challenges we'll face at Mount Mitchell, even with all the warm weather and rain in the forecast there will likely be a good bit of snow and ice to deal with. We may dodge the weather bullet on Saturday, but the remnants of this past weeks storm I'm sure will make me once again question why I chose to play Russian Racing Roulette in February again!
Happy Campers

Thanks to Horton and all the volunteers out there who make it possible! thanks always to Tammy our loving trail mom, head handler extraordinaire! and I vote Frank Gonzalez best trail cheerleader of the day! he was cracking me up out there. If you don't believe that there were really 34 miles of snow, check out some of the other reports and photos of the course. http://www.extremeultrarunning.com/2014_holiday_lake/stories.html

Gear: Smartwool Long Sleeve quarter zip
Old Navy Capri's
Injinji Wool knee socks (Sadly it was their last tour of duty and I can't find them anymore)
Montrail Masochists
Nathan Intensity Hydration pack
Fuel :  Vanilla Gu and some FIG bars from Nature's Bakery, I had just picked up at Sheetz for a snack on the drive up, stashed the extras in my drop bag and ate two packages on the return trip. They were awesome! super tasty and sat well on my stomach. Hope I can find some before for next weekend.

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