Holiday Lake 50K+ Race Report
I drove up Friday evening to Holiday Lake 4-H Center in Appomattox, Va. This was my first time racing Holiday Lake 50K, simply due to the fact that this is a tough time of year to train. Most of our training runs this winter were in frigid temps with several weeks of ice-running. I’ve heard horrendous stories from friends about this race in past years - tales of hypothermia and breaking through ice at the creek crossing.
I woke up at 5 a.m. to a very chilly 20 degrees. I knew there would be a creek crossing early into the race so wool socks were a must, since they would dry quickly. I ate my pre-race breakfast of coffee and overnight oats with fresh berries/bananas in the cab of the truck with Charlotte.
The race started promptly at 6:30 a.m. and I settled into a nice easy pace. The 50K (32 mile) course is a 16.5 mile double loop that has a lot of runnable single-track and fire roads. The trail meanders through beautiful loblolly pine forests, winds along the banks of Holiday Lake and transitions between single track and logging roads. We ran silently in single-file, soaking in the sunrise and mist above the water. The unavoidable creek crossing was frigid, but I told myself that the conditions could be so much worse in February.
The front runners were already making their way back on their second loop and I got excited about the idea of being halfway done. I saw Jennie first, with Emma only minutes behind her on their way back on the second loop. Charlotte was there waiting for me and I was able to ditch my layers and resupply my fuel. On to the second loop! I had a new level of energy and wanted to run the second loop faster than the first. I set the pace for a group of younger guys, who were eating Cheetos and starting to bonk. My legs didn’t even get tired until 4 hours into the race. I was surprised that my body felt as good as it did. I continued to eat strategically - alternating between real food, chews, and making sure I was drinking both water and an electrolyte mix. The aid stations were phenomenal, with colorful arrays of gummies, candies, cookies, sandwiches, fruit, quesadillas, etc. One aid station even had perogies! I almost grabbed one, but decided not to since I’d never tried one in a race setting. (Emma wished she hadn’t eaten the perogies). I pretty much fueled myself the last half of the race with salted potatoes and honey stinger energy chews.
The last 10 miles were painful, but it’s really just a mind game at that point. Your body will take you far, especially when you fuel properly. This was probably the best I’ve ever felt in a race setting. I like to think it has something to do with consistency in training and my mindset regarding the goals for this race.
Running ultras is HARD. I don’t care who you are. Everyone struggles out there and it’s something to embrace and work through, rather than beat yourself up on things you could have done better. As I reflect on Holiday Lake, many things went well for me. Looking forward to what Promiseland brings in April!
Things that went well:
Perfect weather and course conditions!
Nutrition was on point. My stomach didn’t hurt once! I need to stop training with things that are too chewy, because they don’t work on race day - Bobo bites, energy bars, etc.
Overall, my body felt really strong. I can tell that my PT exercises and 2x/week strength training at the gym is making a difference.
Ankles felt stronger! Maybe it's all of the single leg deadlifts and balance work on the bosu ball.
No stress. The entire race I felt calm and focused, vs. the typical nerves I deal with at the beginning of a race. I viewed this race as just a really long training run in the woods on a beautiful sunny day. I didn’t worry about anything else except the present – to keep moving my body, eating, drinking, and enjoying the fact that I get to run all morning in the woods, experiencing new trails and sharing this wonderful sport with others who love running.
I highly recommend Holiday Lake for anyone looking to do their first 50K, or if you just want an excuse to stay in shape over the cold and boring winter months.