Overall, it was a great day for the Changs and a solid start to our busy race schedule this year. We both placed in the top 10 despite a competitive field and, though neither of us PR’d, we ran solid races. Jordan tied for 7th place with a time of 4:09 And Kristen placed 8th (female) with a time of 4:47. The Hokies had a strong showing too!
Coming into this race, I was really excited about my training because I have had the opportunity over the last several months to get in some really quality long runs on a consistent basis due to being back in Blacksburg, where you can go in any direction and run for hours. Though my overall weekly mileage has not been stellar due to my poor excuses of long hours at work, I was excited to see how my new infusion of long runs would help my race a Holiday Lake 2013!
Holiday Lake was my first ever ultra which I did when I was 18 and a freshman at VT. Since then I have expanded to many other races and distances, but HL still holds a special place for me and I have many fond (and not so fond) memories of this race.
This year we arrived late-ish on Friday night and got to spend some good time with the VT Ultra folks and several other friends that we have met during our travels. Notably we got the chance to catch up with our running buddies from Winchester where I went to grad school. After the meeting and chatting with folks, Kristen and I headed off to the Panda Express 2.0 to car camp for the night.
The morning of the race, we woke up promptly at 5am and began our morning routine. We had plenty of time to get all our things together, eat breakfast and relax before the 6:30 start. Props to my wife for deciding to bring our french press coffee maker so we had some good brew rather than waiting in line for coffee. By 6:25 I was out at the starting line and we were singing the national anthem. Kristen, however, was nowhere to be found. After the national anthem, I found her by the drop bags, struggling with some final adjustments. Horton yelled “30 seconds!!!” and we were still not at the starting line. With about 10 seconds to go we scrambled over to the start and got settled in for the race.
Horton yelled “Go!” and off we were into the dark morning. Immediately a pack of 12-15 guys and gals formed at the front on the climb out of the 4H camp. I tucked in about 30 feet back, not wanting to get caught in the crowd when it came to turn right onto the single-track section. I ran behind this group for another ½ mile or so and then slowly started moving up. I ran for a couple minutes with Holly Bugin who ended up winning the women’s race and setting a new course record. As we ran up, down and around on the first section of the course, it became clear that no one from the front pack was taking the lead. The lead group included the likes of #1 seeded Frank the Tank , the #3 and #4 seeded runners as well as a couple younger runners. Normally by this point, 2-3 runners would have bolted off the front and left the rest of the top 10 in their wake. This year, however, no one was pushing the pace and a big group entered AS 1 together. At this point I was still hanging between 50 and 100ft back and spent some good time running with Matt Bugin, Holly’s husband. We discussed how we thought the race would play out with the big group of leaders up front, and no front-runner taking charge. Between AS 1 and 2, we picked off a couple people who started falling off the back and we found ourselves in 9th and 10th place.
At AS 2, Matt stopped for fluids and I kept trucking. I passed another 2 runners between AS 2 and 3. This section was really beautiful this year because it was turning into a clear, sunny morning and we were running straight into it, making it possible to only see the silhouettes of the other runners. This gave me a real peaceful, quiet feeling and I really enjoyed this section, which is mostly on flat fire roads through evergreen trees. Coming down into AS 3, I found myself behind the 6th place male at the time and decided to hang with him for awhile rather than pushing the pace too much during this first loop, which has been my downfall in the last couple years of running this race. I followed him for the rest of the first loop and we caught another one of the early leaders, who had eventually broken away from the pack.
By the turnaround I was solidly in 7th and had the chance to scope out everyone else as we turned back to begin our second (counter-clockwise) loop. Matt Bugin was the next person behind me, probably about a minute back. I got to see Kristen, who was rocking out in 3rd place at this point. During this section I also got to see the rest of the VT Ultra crew rocking out! I always enjoy this section because I receive a lot of encouragement from other runners as well as get the opportunity to give out encouragement to other people. It’s great to see runners of ALL abilities out there tacking this 50k. I don’t care who you are, or how much ultra-running experience you have…running a 50k is tough, no matter what. I respect anyone who gives an Ultra a shot and I love Holiday Lake because it’s the one race where I get to see and talk to EVERYONE who is running the course.
On the way back, the runner in front of me tripped and went down hard. I stopped to see if he was ok and he waved me on, saying he was ok. So then I was in 6th. I ran all by my lonesome in 6th for the next hour or so, which is a situation that I both love and hate. I enjoy the solitude of running on my own, but knowing someone is right behind you can be very stressful as well. Eventually the runner who had fallen got his composure back and charged past me a little before AS 6. At this AS I was feeling pretty crummy, but Horton was there talking with his bullhorn right into my face about how I was in 6th place and needed to move up one spot to fulfill my seeding of 5th….haha. That got me in and out of that AS pretty quick. I knew that the section between AS 5 and 6 was mostly gentle uphill and that AS 6-7 was much easier in terms of climbing. This got me going pretty good for a while but eventually I started feeling bad again. I would go through bouts of feeling super good and super bad, but the positive side was that I don’t think my pace shifted very much either way. I was really focused on maintaining a good running pace and this is where I think my consistent long runs really helped me. I was able to maintain a decent pace, even though fatigue, soreness and pain was really setting in.
By the time I reached the last AS, I was REALLY starting to feel it but I was determined not to let the wheels fall off in the last 4 miles, which is par for the course for me. I usually get to the last AS and then hang on for dear life, hoping no one passed me. This year turned out much differently. As I stopped to fill up my bottle for the last time and get a little salty food in me, Matt popped into the AS right behind me. As I left, he caught me and I was sure he was just going to go on to crush me to the end. Instead, he ran up next to me and said, “Finally, someone to run with!” This is what I LOVE about ultra-running. Even though we were racing each other and we both shooting for a top ten finish, there is so much camaraderie in this sport. Those words really lifted me up and I got a second wind. We ran together for the rest of the last section, throwing down a pace that I had NEVER run before for the last 4 miles. This was the first time I had ever felt strong finishing up this race.
As we climbed up towards to road finish, I was feeling really good and ran all the climbs, which was also a first. I am usually ‘hands-on-knees’ death-walking at this point, but the encouragement of having someone with me (not blowing past me) kept me going strong. As we popped out on the road for the last ¾ mile, Matt and I reminisced on what a great morning it had been, knowing that were set on finishing together tied for 7th (my highest placing ever.) We crossed the finish line in a little over 4:09, good enough for my 4th top ten placing at HL out of 5 outings.
Today, looking back at the race, I am super happy with my overall preparation, performance and execution. My nutrition and hydration were spot on and I had no major GI or other issues. This race probably could not have gone much better for me and on top of it all, I had a blast being out there with my wife, friends and fellow ultra-marathoners!
Also read about Kristen's lessons learned on trail on her other blog: Real Food For Fuel
After a long day of prep, packing and driving, we arrived at Holiday Lake around 7pm on Friday night. We signed in and joined for the latter part of dinner, the part where Horton talks and rambles for a very long time about anything and everything he can think of regarding the race. But it’s ok, because he does make it entertaining and give away some pretty sweet door prizes. Afterwards we hung with the Hokies for a while, chatted with friends we haven’t seen in a while and then headed off to bed.
Race morning: Wake up call was 5am and we quickly scrambled up to the lodge before it became too crazy. I’m super glad I brought my French press for coffee because there was definitely a shortage otherwise. However, there was plenty of hot water!! Anyways, we ate breakfast, got changed and piddled around otherwise getting ready. Being the obscenely slow person that I am, an hour and a half later I was still scrambling at the finish line getting set. Thanks to my hubby for helping me out last minute!
Horton yelled “go” and we were off. I took off pretty quickly up the hill because I knew what was coming next., and a single track trail, pitch dark and a crowd don’t mix well for me. I was very happy with my positioning for the first four miles, but had a feeling I might pay for it later. By aid station 1, it was light out and I ditched my mini flashlight. I was starting to feel good and knew I was somewhere around 2-3rd female. I knew I was making swift time, but it was conversational pace and I felt fine… no problem right? I didn’t start to worry until the first ranked female passed me (I thought she was ahead already) and I caught a few other faster Hokies. A smart runner would have acknowledged this and backed off. This stubborn runner did not. In the back of my mind, I wanted to keep with a crowd so as to avoid no-man’s land (like last year). I kept going.
2nd aid station came up and two females stopped. I took this as an opportunity to make up some time and blew past it. Maybe a mistake, but perhaps not since I was “self-sufficient” with my fueling plan. I continued to feel strong through the next aid station, where I refilled my hand bottle and prepared for the next section of single track to finish out the 1st loop. At this point, I started to throttle back a bit knowing I was in good enough position for the first lap. I started to cramp some due to my lack of bowel movement before the race, but pushed it to the back of my mind as long as possible (let’s just say there are few areas of discretion along this course!) I passed Jordan and he confirmed I was in 3rd place and that the top two were not too far ahead, then a few minutes later I found myself at the turn-around point. This is where things began to unravel…
First, I struggled to get my fuel pack on (holding my lap 2 supplies). Then in frustration I took off without my smaller hand bottle and electrolyte tabs (I did have extra). The next four miles were fun because you pass all the incoming runners and this is always encouraging (more so being towards the front). I continued to run a steady pace without issue. Around mile 20 though my cramping returned and I was forced to take a pit-stop. Not fun, especially when I realized I left my gels/electrolytes on the ground. Between aid station 3 and 2 I began to fade, but still running strong. However, I arrived at the 2nd to last station in rough shape. I desperately grabbed some salty foods off the table, and I should have filled up with Gatorade instead of the water I was drinking. With such a cold start to the race, I definitely under estimated the warmth of the later stages and my need for water and electrolytes. I fell into 4th around mile 25, and a few miles later fell into 5th. My shoe came untied and I didn’t care. Despite countless reminders from passing runners, I ignored it for about two miles before finding someone to tie it. Similar to last year, it took seemingly forever to reach the last aid station, where I received a lot of encouragement and in return mumbled something along the line of being miserable. On the positive side, I was still moving and not walking…
The last few miles were a blur… I was counting them down and trying to stay moving and stay positive. At a few points, I felt like I had come to a stand still and just wanted to lay down and quite. I didn’t really care what the result was, I just wanted to be done. I kept looking back to see if anyone was coming. Somehow, I never saw anyone behind me yet a few minutes later I would inevitably be passed. With 1 mile to go a friend, Rob, passed me and encouraged me to keep up for a strong finish. I tried my best, and thank you Rob for being so insistent! I needed that! I finally hit the road, where Jordan was waiting with the camera. He ran with me to the end… such a great husband! After I finished, Horton looked at me and said “Youuuuuu died!” Yes, indeed I did. Lesson learned, the real race does not begin until the 2nd lap and the first is merely a warm-up. Hopefully next year I will remember that :)
The VT Ultra team also KILLED it and carried on the tradition of Hokie Domination at Holiday Lake. Congrats to all the runners for all the toughness, excitement and endurance you guys showed out there. Thanks to all the volunteers and Dr. Horton for once again putting on an awesome, challenging race! This was the perfect way to start off our long year of racing the LUS and Beast Series. We officially signed up for the series!!! Onto Terrapin Mountain 50k!