Thursday, February 22, 2018

This one's for the girls - Holiday Lakes 50k

I've run a lot of races.  Some, I remember for the epic weather or shoe-sucking mud along the way.  Some, I remember for the soul-crushing bonk that I endured or the toe nail that's never been the same.  And some I remember for the beautiful vistas, picturesque mountains or waterfalls along the way.  This year's Holiday Lakes 50k will be remembered for the support, the feeling of sisterhood, that I felt throughout the race.

I traveled to Holiday Lakes alone this year - couldn't convince anyone from the northeast that they were ready to run a 50k in mid-February.  While that meant for a long and lonely car ride, it also meant that I could binge-listen to as much Wait Wait Don't Tell Me and bad 90s music as I wanted to.  But, arriving at the race, it meant that I did my shake-out run alone and that I didn't have anyone to sit with at the pre-race dinner. I made quick small talk with a few other ladies during registration, and at dinner, but still felt like a lone wolf at the race.

Following the pre-race dinner and meeting, I headed to the girl's bunk house where many of us were staying for the night.  Upon entering, I saw that one of the runners (Martha) was pulling out a bottle of wine and a few cups.  She welcomed me into the room to share a glass - and with that one welcoming gesture, I was no longer alone.  Ultimately it was maybe 8 of us that hung out for an hour all sipping our wine, chatting and laughing. 

(Running at Holiday Lakes)
The next morning the entire bunk house was busy as all us ladies got ready, but we still had an air of familiarity that comes with sharing some wine and some laughs.  I shared a bunk room with two Lynchburg University students that were both nervously getting ready for their first ultra.  They peppered me with questions, from what my favorite race was to 'what parts of your body do you body glide?'.  By the time I made it to the starting line, there were several ladies that I needed to wish good luck before the race started.

As we set off, I quickly fell into rhythm with a group of runners including Kristin who was a first-time ultra runner.  It was great to chat a bit with her (she grew up in Minnesota so she understood what I'd been training through this winter).  She accidently lead us off-course a few miles into the race - so once we were on-course again (only losing maybe a minute), I could feel her panicking just a bit to catch up to the 10 people that passed us and make up the lost time - so I immediately told her to take a breath, and not worry about the lost places or the end of the race, we'll all be separated by much more than the minute we lost there. We ran together and chatted for several more miles before I ultimately pulled ahead.  I knew instantly that this girl is going to fit right in with the ultra community - she was enjoying the comradery with fellow runners, cheering folks on, and taking in the trail/ultra vibe in a way that not everyone does.

(Passed this runner around mile 5, and couldn't help but sing a few lines of 'Lion Sleeps Tonight')

I ran mostly alone for the rest of the race, but at the turn-around, I was pleased to hear many of my fellow competitors (all the ladies I had gotten to know the previous night) screaming my name as I passed them, genuinely pleased to see me running so well.  They made me feel welcomed, they cheered for me as a sister or teammate, I no longer felt alone.

I was pleased to have crossed the finish line in first, and equally excited to watch Kristin rock her first ever ultra to finish in 2nd place (for the record, I'm guessing she's going to have a long and successful ultrarunning career).  I cheered on the 3rd place finisher, Shannon, who I had spoken to the previous night at registration - again, we were both thrilled for each other's performance.  The feeling of sisterhood was all around - even in the shower-house, Shannon, Sheila (who finished 4th) and I were in adjacent stalls and we were gabbing, gossiping, and hoping to share miles in another race soon. 

(Isn't a finish line hug from Horton the best finish line prize?)

As I started my drive home, I made it about 100 yards before I saw Sophie (the one runner I knew before this weekend) cruising down the hill to the finish.  I quickly pulled over and jumped out of my car to give her a cheer - she said to me 'did you win?'.  When I said yes, she veered away from the finish to give me a high five before continuing on to the finish.

I know that I am completely spoiled to be surrounded by amazing ladies that I train with on a daily basis - they support me (even when it includes doing a 10 mile run at 5am on a random Tuesday in -10 degree temperatures just so I have company), they encourage me (including cheering me on at local races or sending me text messages when I'm traveling for a race), and they make me want to run better to honor all that they have done for me!  I was surprised and pleased to have experienced a similar feeling of support, encouragement, and pride from the ladies at Holiday Lakes - it was truly a sisterhood that weekend!