Sunday, February 10, 2013

Race Report: Holiday Lake 50k

One reason I admire marathons and ultras is their unique ability to elicit both feelings of euphoria and that of deep suffering and despair within the same race, and sometimes within a very short time frame. I’ll be honest and say I’m somewhat disappointed with certain aspects of my race and very happy with others. Sometimes the best of plans don't come to fruition and you don't realize the mistakes you made until after the fact. Either way, I went out there and gave it my best, had a great time (for the most part) and learned a few valuable lessons along the way.

Running gear
Lesson #1 - Don't stray from your nutritional game plan. 

I usually have oatmeal and PB-banana before races and it works well. Two days before the race Jordan told me he wanted Panera bagels to bring. Not a bad idea - definitely more convenient and I often eat a PB-banana sandwich before workouts so shouldn't be an issue. It was. I ate later than planned and it sat heavier on the stomach than expected, plus it didn't get my bowels "moving" as I needed. I paid for it later in the race. Other things also went awry with my nutrition plan (see below).

French press coffee was a definite winner!
Lesson #2: Caffeine + Adrenaline + Being really excited can be a deadly combination.

There's no doubt I went out too fast. Part of this was race strategy: I definitely didn't want to be in a crowd for the dark single track during the first 4 miles of the race and I wanted to "stay in the game" for the ladies race. The other part, well, was a combination of stubbornness and lack of foresight. I probably would have been ok had I backed off at the first aid station, but instead I pushed forward. Chances are, if you're thinking during the early stages of a long race "this pace could either lead be epic or is suicidal," you're probably running too fast. I learned at last year's Richmond marathon that great races come from running fast AT THE END. The saying "old habits die hard" definitely applies here.

A friend asked me around mile 8-9 if we were running too fast and I said "I don't really know." Then a fellow VT runner (whom I shouldn't have been running with in the first place) chimed in "we're on pace for a 4:15" (i.e. faster than the female course record). What I know about my (more rational) self is that I need to run at an uncomfortably slow pace in the early miles. However, it took me until mile 13 to really back off and by then the damage was done. I switched into coasting mode and hoped my nutrition would carry me through, which brings me to my next lesson...

Lesson #3: Learn how to hold onto things.

Around mile 10 I dropped two shot bloks. Not a big deal. In fact, I even stopped to get one off the ground and then ate it. Yummy hard shot blok + a little added crunch ha! At the turn around though, I failed to pick up my small flask with extra fluids/electrolytes. Then later I made a bathroom pitt-stop and accidentally left a gel and my electrolyte tabs behind. Those were definitely essentials to my nutrition plan that I needed. I tried to compensate with some PBJ at the rest stations, but those weren't cutting it for me. The caffeine from a few sips of Mtn Dew was nice, but definitely not as helpful as my caffeinated gel would have been.

Lesson #4: Push fluids & electrolytes (even on cold days)

Early in the race, my handbottle lid was frosty and frozen and pushing fluids was the last thing on my mind. I drank well early in the race and refilled by bottle earlier than originally planned, but it was not enough. During the more technical and high traffic single track section of the race (~6 miles long), I barely touched my hand bottle. Running was hard enough. When things started to go downhill, I didn't compensate by drinking more which was also a big mistake. It was much warmer in the later stages of the race and I suffered significant cramping. Even a day later, I am still feeling the effects of dehydration. After the race, Jordan said he drank through 4-5 hand bottles. I think I drank about 1.5, plus a few sips at two aid stations.

My fueling plan.. except I forgot to pick up the flask &
never opened the 2nd package of shot blocks...
Lesson #5: Know you're never safe (and that things could be worse).

In the final 8 miles, I fell from 3rd place to 8th. Two familiar faces passed me and said "run with me." I tried, but I should have dug deeper. One girl, Kaylyn, was hurting just as much yet went on to place 4th female. Another friend, Rob, tried his best to get me to stick with him in the final mile but I was "too dead" to care. That cost me 7th. In the midst of bonking, I felt miserable and at certain points, wanted to lay down and never get up. I'd look behind me and see no one, think I was "safe" and kept running. Like clockwork though, another racer would magically appear and pass by. I pushed forward with hopes of a strong(ish) finish. I was at least running and not walking, which is better than some previous races. By the way, bonking during a 50k is far worse than a marathon. In this case, I suffered for 13 miles instead of the usual 6-8 during a marathon.

Thanks to Rob for the encouragement late in the race
(also pictured is the girl I should have beat had I stuck with him)
My look of disgust "I really hate everything right now."

Final stretch.

The overall result? An 8th place finish (for females) and overall time of 4:47 and some change. I missed my PR by about two minutes and still managed a top 10 finish. I am happy, but not content. It's hard knowing you could have (and should have) done better. But, as my wise husband pointed out: I guess it's good to know that I can still have a decent race result on even a bad day.
The entire VT Ultra Team raced well!

Lesson #6: The real reward is in the journey.

Much like last year's Rock n' Roll USA Marathon, this race left me doubting a lot about my training and fitness level and even self-worth. Am I training as hard as I should? Have I improved at all in the past year? Is it really worth all the effort? Do I really want to put myself through this again?

The answer is YES.

I have worked very hard: A "bad" race can't erase this. I am much fitter than I was last year: failure to perform up to my expectations does not deny this. As for the last two questions? The day I answer no will be the day I quit racing. Until then, I'll keep pressing on! The past few months have been very rewarding as I have stepped outside my comfort zone in many ways. Bad races are inevitable. I truly think it comes with the territory of endurance racing and also with putting yourself out there.

Someone once told me I would never be a good distance runner. "You are not built for it," they said, "you are setting yourself up for failure." Know that I am a pretty stubborn person and those words have resounded in my head for many years as I have worked to prove them wrong. If you truly love what you do, with the right drive, encouragement, coaching and training, know that you CAN do anything.  I am thankful to all who have supported me in my running and the countless words of encouragement: my family, TriAdventure, VT Ultra, and friends. To Dr. Horton: Thank you for the honor of a #4 seeding and for believing in me. To say at the finish, despite my failure to follow through "I know that you had it in you and will do well this year" means the world to me. Thank you!

Of course, I must give a shout out to my wonderful husband! Back in the days when I hated running even a 10 miler, he was there to push me through it. His enthusiasm for running inevitably rubbed off on me and I am forever blessed for his encouragement on my best (and worst) days and for sharing with me in the journey.

Us in our top ten finishers attire. Changs for the win!
Speaking of journys... we officially bit the bullet and are committed to the rest of the Beast (Jordan) and LUS (Me) ultra series for 2013... Which means, more fun times to come!

For a more detailed race report, also check out our "couples" blog at Chang's Ultra Adventures 

Full race results.

Thanks for reading!


  1. Sounds like you learned a lot from this one and I'm sure it will help you with your next one. Still a very impressive time. Thanks for taking the time to write a great report.

  2. It's SOOO hard to hold back early, thanks for the reminder! Still sounds like you kept it together and got the job done. It's an amazing accomplishment no matter the placing or time. (And this "not built for it" business? What the heck does that mean? Clearly you ARE! It's what's built between the ears that matters the most! and you are tough!)

  3. Yea, Cort. We'll just say the person and I are no longer friends... And it is EXTREMELY difficult to hold back early. Ironically, even knowing my actual pace via garmin was no help... haha

  4. You did GREAT! Running fast and flat for so long is really hard! It's much easier to hold back when there are big climbs at the beginning...

  5. Kristen, I know exactly how you felt about this run. You can look at it several ways. Sometimes you have to go out hard and risk "failure" to know where your ability truly is. You know a 4:15 is not in your range now (it's hasn't been in any women's range), but who knows, maybe a 4:35 is? Plus, a 4:47, though not a PR, would have easily netted you a top 3 finish in almost ALL previous Holiday Lake races. When your "bad" day is still faster than most women have ever run the course, it means the world better watch out for when your good day arrives. I think that day is coming soon!

    -Mike Bailey

  6. @ Mike: I think that's sort of the approach I tend to take (risking failure)... except this time I know I let my feet get away from me! Thanks for the encouragement! @ Rachel: Big climbs are uncharted territory for me so it will be interesting to see how that goes!


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