Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Holiday Lake 50K++ 2016 Edition

The first real race of 2016 is in the books: Holiday Lake 50K++. I missed this one last year because I had the flu. The ForReal flu. Like the sickest I've ever been in my life flu. The flu that lets you know what it really means to have the flu. It was the first time in my life that I had even been unable to care for myself. Terrible. So, last year I was there just to crew Ginger and the rest of the gang. This year, though, I managed to avoid getting sick before the race. So, here's the story:

I was, as Quenton Cassidy the protagonist of Once a Runner would say, "running through" Holiday Lake. That means that I did not take a break in my training or "taper" to prepare for it. HL was a step on the path towards my goal race for the Spring: Umstead 100. I did, though, want to have a good showing. My plan was simple: Go as hard as I could on lap 1 without emptying the tank too early. My goal was to push hard-- but not too hard-- and then burn the ships and leave nothing in the tank over the last miles. That's pretty much how it went.

We drove up to Appomattox Friday evening when we all got off work, picked up our packets, hung out with the VT Ultra Crew, and then settled into the Super 8 for a great night's sleep. Chris, Julia, Ginger, and I shared one room. Royce, Sean, and Brett shared the other. Sean annoyed Royce with his snoring (Nice work, Sean). We awoke to some ridiculous temps Saturday morning. It was in the low teens at the start. We hung out at the 4H camp lodge for a bit drinking coffee, making last minute plans, and celebrating Valentine's Day StewartStyle.

It would be Sean and Dave's first ultra, so they were pumped. Ginger was psyched to get some HL redemption and beat her time from last year.

From the gun, Brett, Chris, and I went out at our planned pace of 8:30ish miles until we hit the first creek crossing around mile 7. The water was COLD. It really wasn't too bad though. I was happy to be wearing my La Sportiva Ultra Raptors, which drain water very well. Even better if you just float over the creek, which I demonstrate below:

After you get through the creek, there is a nice gentle uphill that lets you warm your legs and feet back up. I had to stop for a quick "nature break" so I waited for a downhill section where I could make up the time Chris and Brett would gain during a 1 minute stop. That meant mile 7 would be sub 6 for me to catch up. It hurt, but I made contact with the boys and off we went. After few miles on the jeep road, we turned back onto single track where Chris aka "The Conductor" was shoveling coal into the hopper and pushing the throttle forward on the pain train. Miles 5-13 were all sub 8.

That's how it went for a few miles until Chris put in a little dig and tightened the screws. He managed to gap Brett and me, and it took us until the 16 mile turnaround to bring him back.  Julia was a rockstar at the turnaround point, and she got us in and out quickly as we all grabbed fresh hand bottles. I had prepped a bottle with 3 gels in the pocket and tailwind, which I was grateful to see was not frozen. If it had been, I would have been in trouble because I was counting on those calories for the second lap. We left the turnaround with an average pace of 7:59 for the first 16 miles. Pretty much exactly what I was hoping for.

We pushed on together through the next 5 miles or so, and then Chris had some stomach pain and had to ease off the pace. When Brett began to amp of the pace again, and I had to let him go around mile 22. I had one of those conversations with myself about embracing the suffering and kept charging on towards my goal of leaving nothing on the table and finishing the race well. I kept reminding myself of the blog that Brett has shared with us on Friday: Sabrina Little's advice from her dominating performance at Rocky Raccoon 100 last weekend was the refrain in my head for the last 10 miles. "Choose Joy" and be a "There You Are Person" kept me in the right headspace as I buried the needle and ran as hard as I could. I said hi to all the runners I saw heading the other way. Mile 25 was the toughest mile for me, but somewhere around there Jonathan, Butch, and some of the other VT Ultra crew lifted my sprits by yelling for me to keep pushing.

I went through the creek for the second time, and felt my shoes freeze almost instantly when I came out. Instead of dwelling on that, I "Chose Joy" and embraced the suffering. From there, I pretty much just emptied the tank and kept digging. I looked at my watch at mile 31 and saw that I was going to have to push hard to try to get in under 4:30. I dropped a 6:16 pace for the last downhill half mile on the road, but missed 4:30 by 1 minute and 3 seconds. 4:15 had been a "Dream Race" goal and 4:30 had been my realistic but pushing it goal. All in all, I was quite pleased with 4:31:03. Here's the Strava file:

I finished 19th overall and 2nd in my age group. Not bad for "running through" the race. If I'm honest with myself, I have to admit that finishing in the top 20 at a Horton race was not something I ever dreamed possible until a few months ago. The fields are always DEEP at his races. I am deeply in the debt of Ginger for all of her support and help with eating a healthy diet. She understands my need to explore what I am capable of, and she supports me in all the miles I'm putting in-- and that means a lot. I also owe Jordan, Brett, Royce, Chris, and Sean a big debt for training with me and helping me realize my potential. I also want to thank Jonathan and Butch for all the encouragement out on the course. It was great seeing you guys out there!

All in all it was a great day. I'm proud of our little community. Everyone runs hard while being nice. I can't think of a better way to be than that.

Ginger had a huge PR on the course and finished 24th Female at 5:57:31. I am so proud of her!

Brett finished 17th overall with a huge PR
Chris finished 31st overall at 4:45:40
Royce smashed his HL PR and came in 40th overall at 4:56:50
Sean crushed his first Ultra coming in at 5:04:56-- Congrats, brother. You got skilZ!

The VT Ultra Crew dominated the head of the race as usual:
Darren Thomas snagged 3rd overall
Mike Jones was 8th overall
Leif was 9th overall
Henry snagged 12th
Hannah was 3rd female and scored a solid course PR.

Big ups to Josh Starner who rocked out his first 50K race at 6:19:22. Congrats!

Next up is a bunch more miles to get ready for Umstead. Training is going well so far, and I'm looking forward to seeing what the rest of February brings.

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Starting off 2016

I kicked off serious Umstead 2016 training on Jan 1 after taking a couple of down weeks at the end of December. The new year started with some work on cleaning up the diet and sticking a little closer to the Whole 30 principles, which I think went pretty well. So far, I've been feeling strong in training, and I've been having a lot of fun out on the trails.

The first race of the year (Lakeside Trail Race 15 miler) was  blast. Ginger, Sean, Josh, Jill, Chris, Julia, Lou and I had a blast on the trails.

The race went well for everyone. I was able to take 18 minutes off my time from last year and come in at 2:03, which was good for 2nd in my AG and 10th overall. It's nice to start the year with a top 10 finish. Mostly, I was happy to have a good day on the trails and run hard for the full 15.

I've been averaging about 59 miles a week so far for the year, and I've been able to put in some solid climbing (35K feet, which is more than double last year at this point). I think the climbing is building good strength for the Umstead laps. I've also logged 303 miles so far. Last year, I was at 220 at this point.

The first real long run of the year was the VT Ultra Fat Ass 50K at Pandapas. Brett, Jordy, Dave, and I ran together and got it done in a little over 6 hours.

Ginger and I have mixed in some good hikes to the Cascades with the buddies to take in the frozen scenery.

A huge snowstorm has made things interesting, and it turned the first Catawba RunAround of the year into a real sufferfest. We began the day at the gas station parking lot because the Dragon's Tooth lot was covered in ice. Jody, Brett, Matt, Josh, and I set to work on a long day of slogging through the snow.

The technical parts of the first climb were fairly clear, so we made decent time. But, other parts slowed us down quite a bit.

Climbing Macafee's Knob went really well, and we made up some time on the packed down or thawed sections, and made the summit quickly.

We got through some of the more runnable sections in good time.

After Tinker's we thought we might make it all the way around before dark.

But that was not to be. North Mountain was an epic slog. The waist deep snow drifts and seemingly endless sawtooth climbs along the ridge really took a toll on us as the sun quickly dropped behind the ridge.

We ended up back at the gas station parking lot a little over 11 hours later. Not bad for 35 snowy miles. Here's link to the Strava file:

I thought this was a great way to kick off the week of my 43rd birthday. This run was my 43rd Ultra. I didn't plan it that way, but sometimes things just work out right.

We were all a little scarred by the adventure, but I think it's safe to say we are ready for the next CRA. Here's hoping for less snow in February.

We rolled into February with some decent runs at Pandapas and last weekend we hit up some miles from Mountain Lake to Barney's Wall and the Cascades and back.

The boys and I have had some great adventures already this year.

And we are just getting started. This weekend we all have Holiday Lake 50K on the books. I know Sean will do great with his first 50K. Royce and Brett are ready to smash the course, and I know Ginger is going to exceed her expectations and have a great day. Just look at her smile when she came across the line last year.

And, no February post would be complete without a big shout out to everyone who made my birthday special. Ginger rallied the gang to set up an awesome birthday party. She's really the BEST!! We had a lot of good food, (She got me a birthday pizza from Benny's again, people brought donuts, peanut butter balls, and Smores), and we introduced Christmas Tree Burning to our Blacksburg friends. THIS is a FIRE:

I'm looking forward to a great year with my awesome wife and amazing friends.