Three long years ago Holiday Lake was my first ultra. I remember that weekend vividly as I packed up my wife and 5 month old daughter for a weekend journey into the unknown. I had no idea the adventure, pain, struggle, will power, and pure joy that day would be the catalyst for. People often ask me why I want to run such long distances by myself in the woods. I honestly do not have an answer for them. I don't know if you are born with it, or if it is like a healthy virus that infects you when you are around other like minded runners. Once ultras get their hooks into there is no turning back.
Much has changed since that cool and sunny February day back in 2008. My little girl is now 3 and refuses to give me a hug when I come home from a run if I am sweaty (she asks if I was racing and says "Daddy, your all wet!"). My fitness level and race knowledge have also grown through training and race experience. So I decided to come back to Holiday Lake once again to try and quantify how much things have changed.
My other motive for running at Holiday Lake was getting in a 30+ mile training run in for my upcoming 100 attempt. Ideally I would have made this a training run, but it is a race and to give less than 110% would be wrong in my mind and somewhat disrespectful to all the volunteers and one legendary ultra runner/race director. I knew that conditions would be ideal from Dr. Horton's emails and the weather forecast. I had set a reasonable goal which would give me a nice course and 50k PR.
The race started as normal and I ran up the road at an easy clip. Once into the woods I stayed close to those runners with headlamps since I did not have one. I was feeling pretty good from the start and decided to push it a little and see what happens. My plan from the start was to run the first lap, but not to push too hard. I wanted to have something left for the second part of the race. It was a good plan, but I failed to execute it. As I was running up the shallow grades of the race I watched my watch tick down my average pace. I thought that maybe it should be ticking up the pace, running a little slower on the ups would be wise. It just did not register in my brain for some reason. I slowed down somewhat between aid station 3 and the turn around. This section is a little more technical and passing other runners on the narrow lake trail makes it even more difficult. I looked at the clock as I grabbed some more fuel out of my bag at the turn and it read 2:37.
I was feeling good still and figured I could easily run under 5:20 for the race. That is when, as has become the norm for me, the wheels started to fall off. Somewhere around the mid point of my recent races I go through a sharp mental down. If I look at the split times of races these periods often are minutes per mile slower on average than the rest of the race. This down hit me hard right after the turn and lasted for 8 miles. When I finally hit the middle aid station on the back portion of the race I had pulled my self out of it and ran most of the way in to salvage my original goal time of 5:45.
I believe we learn something from every experience we have in life, ultras included. I take away 2 lessons from Holiday Lake:
1) Slow down at the beginning, even if I would not have had the down period the second part of the race would have been over a minute per mile slower in the second half of the race.
2) I must determine why I get so down, this is clearly mental because I almost always pull myself out of it finish much stronger than the down period.
These are both lessons I have been taught in numerous ultras, maybe this time they will stick.....