By Jason B.
The 2020 Holiday Lake 50k++ was the 25th running of the race as directed by ultrarunning legend Dr. David Horton. The race will continue with a new race director next year, with the addition of a 25k course to go along with the Holiday Lake 50k++. Dr. Horton will certainly be missed, but the good thing is that he “might” run the race next year. The race is a 50k++ because there are “Horton Miles” added to the distance. Turns out this edition was only about a mile and a half longer than a regular 50k.
The race starts and finishes at the Holiday Lake 4-H Center. The course for the race is on the trails around Holliday Lake and the trails of Appomattox-Buckingham State Forest. I find it interesting that name of the race and the 4-H center spell “Holiday” with only one L, while the name of the lake and state park on the lake itself refer to “Holliday” with 2 L’s.
As I mentioned, the race starts and finishes at the Holiday Lake 4-H center. This is a great facility for the race. There is a dinner for the racers on Friday night and then Dr. Horton gave his race brief, which is basically rambling and storytelling with some important facts thrown in at random times. Dinner was good – meat and meatless lasagna, garlic bread, salad, and various cakes for dessert.
There is also a continental breakfast for runners the next morning before the race. It included coffee and SUGAR. There were mini donuts, pastries and other assorted sweet breakfast type foods. I honestly can’t remember what was there other than the small chocolate covered mini donuts that I ate, and that I noted that it was all sugary foods. I think it was great that there was coffee and something to eat!
Since I live three hours away, I took the day off from work and took my time driving down to the 4-H center. There are bunk rooms for runners to stay in on Friday night, so I took advantage of that, and it was well worth the 20 bucks. It is typical bunk room accommodations, so I recommend ear plugs and an eye mask if light and or sound bothers you. You also need a sleeping bag and pillow for the bunks.
The course for the race consists of two loops, one clockwise around the lake and then the same route but counterclockwise. There is a nice mix of single track and fire/logging roads for the course. Elevation gain and loss is minimal. My Suunto had about 1500 feet of gain and 1500 feet of loss for the entire race. The trail has a few rocky and slightly technical sections along the lake. This area can be a little tricky with runners going in both directions. Other than that the course is very runnable.
On Friday night, I did not sleep well, which is unusual for me, I generally sleep well the night before a race. I had a few butterflies on race morning. I think it was because I had been here before but not able to run. That race in 2018 is one of only 2 races that I have ever had a DNS (did not start). Even so I went through my normal morning routine and stayed in the cabin until the very last minute due to the 17 degree temperature at the start of the run. I shuffled out with 10 minutes to go, the bunkhouse is at the start/finish line, sang the National Anthem with the other runners, and then we were off. The course starts on an uphill road for half a mile before hitting single track. There was a little bunching once we hit the trail but after a mile or so the runners spread out and I found a nice rhythm.
The aid stations are basically every four miles and before long I hit the first aid station, topped my water bottle off with Tailwind and then was on my way. I was running fairly conservatively, Ultrasignup had me at an expected 5:30 overall finish, which I thought was pretty fast. I was hoping to run around a 6 hour pace. Soon the single track gave way to fire roads running through a nice forest. There was a water crossing around mile 7 that was probably mid-calf deep, even though the water was cold, it was quickly squished out with an uphill section of road.
Aid station 2 came and went with me only using Tailwind. I grabbed a couple of cookies but that was really it. I did not feel like eating much on this run which was a little unusual, I generally can eat pretty well except when it is hot. Since temperatures were cool this should not have been an issue. Even so, Tailwind was working for me like it normally does, so I kept plugging along.
More double track trails led to Aid Station 3. I was excited to see this aid station because it was where I volunteered at in 2018. I recognized some of the faces but did not linger there. Another refill on Tailwind, and this time I grabbed a frozen waffle that had been toasted on a camp stove. It was quite tasty and went down easily. The section from aid station 3 to the start finish is narrow single track that is some of the most technical of the course and runs right next to the lake. This is also the most congested section with runners going both directions. It was cool to the see the leaders fly by. After the leaders, I mostly just stuck to the uphill section of the trail and moved to let the runners on their second lap go by.
I rolled into the halfway point at the start/finish in just over three hours. I was pleased with how the race was progressing and I felt like I was running within my abilities. I grabbed my Aftershokz headphones for the second lap, refilled with Tailwind and grabbed a little corner of a PB&J. I was able to eat the PB&J but my mouth was not making saliva or something because it took forever to eat. As a side note, I walk and eat, I don’t try to run and eat.
The second lap went well, I walked the uphill sections of the little rolling hills on the course but other than that I kept chugging along at my “fat kid shuffle” pace. I even passed a few people on the second half of the course which allowed me to chat with some of the runners. I really like the social aspect of the race and it is always neat to learn about my fellow runners.
I did try to eat part of a quesadilla on the second loop but I just couldn’t seem to swallow it, I just felt like I was chewing forever. So other than Tailwind, I had no food on the second loop.
I rolled into the finish at 6 hours and 22 minutes. A pretty steady finish. Dr. Horton was there at the finish line for a congratulatory handshake and then I was given the Patagonia finishers shirt. I sat in the sun for a few minutes basking in the glow of the finishers area. I chatted some with my fellow runners, and encouraged the folks still coming through the start finish. I was able to hobble to the bunkhouse to shower and then back to the start/finish to order my meat lovers pizza from the food truck in the finish area. I could finally eat and the wood fired pizza was no match for my appetite.
Overall, I am very happy with how the race played out. I was able to stick to my strategy of slow and steady.
I would be remiss if I didn’t at least mention my gear for the race. I wore Altra Lone Peak 4 shoes, Injinji running socks, Dirty Girl Gaiters, Path Projects Tahoe base liner and Sykes PX shorts, a pair of lightweight tights, a merino wool long sleeve top, a beanie, light weight gloves with little hotties hand warmers in them and a buff. I started the race with a shell jacket also, but by mile 1 I was already starting to sweat so I ditched the jacket and stuffed it into my pack which was the Ultimate Direction Jurek 2.0 vest. This vest has seen a lot of trail miles but still works great.
Thanks for reading. I recommend the Holiday Lake 50k++. It is a great course for veterans and beginners. The atmosphere is awesome and the aid stations are well supplied, even if you only can handle Tailwind.