This post is the second part of the Holiday Lake race recap series. Get the complete story by reading part one first.
Between miles 17/18, a group of runners walks toward me. One of them is hurt, his face bloody from some kind of eye injury. As we pass I ask if I can help, and they answer no - they are OK assisting the injured runner back to the start for medical assistance. I touch the runner’s shoulder as he walks by, and tell him he’ll be fine. He thanks me, and they move on.
The next few miles are single track wooded trail, with the steepest hills of the entire course, and frequent views of Holiday Lake. The field has thinned out, and for the most part, I run in peaceful solitude from here on out.
Hitting the wall, aka. bonking: A condition caused by the depletion of glycogen stores in the liver and muscles, which manifests itself by sudden fatigue and loss of energy.
Mile 23: Suddenly I am exhausted. On a miles-long stretch of mostly flat dirt road, running into the wind, calories depleted, I want nothing more than to be scooped up and carried to the finish. But I am still running - and so are my eyes. The wind causes them to tear up. If only I’d brought sunglasses. I feel the tears start to freeze on my face. Then I feel my contacts harden on my eyes. They stop moving completely, frozen. I am running almost blind, with only moments of clear vision. I slow to a walk, which feels like giving up - it’s either that or risk falling - and I continue, head down against the unrelenting wind, until the course takes a turn, and I can see again.
At mile 25, I cross the stream a second time. This time, frigid water feels downright heavenly on my tired feet, and I want to stand in it, maybe for a while, but I keep moving.
Around mile 27, my stomach is growling with hunger. I knew my pre-race breakfast of an apple and protein bar was subpar, even as I ate it. The energy gels I typically rely on for calories have been nauseating. Till now I’ve been able to stomach just 3 GU energy gels, an orange slice, .5 L water, and about 3 oz of Mountain Dew at each aid station. So, about 12 oz of Mountain Dew total (a drink that would normally disgust me). Today it’s all I want, but it’s not nearly enough.
Mile 28 brings the final aid station. I plan to hang for a few minutes and basically eat as much as possible, but all I take in is more Mountain Dew - about 6 oz - and a Fig Newton - before the aid station worker delivers a no-nonsense, tough love talk and gets me back on the trail.
At mile 30, my foot catches another root and I fall to the ground. Is it the same root I tripped on at mile 2? Quite possibly. This time, I don’t rise quickly. I stretch my fingers wide, grasp the leafy ground and push up into a runners lunge, bend each knee once to feel things out, then stand. This fall physically hurts much less than the first, but emotionally, it depletes me. I run again, slowly, holding back tears, as what sounds like wheezy whimpers rise from my chest.
Mile 31. One mile to the finish, and I whisper a silent thanks to Dr. Horton for ending this race on a downhill.
At the finish, I am greeted with hugs that feel much too fleeting, another cup of Mountain Dew, a carnation in honor of Valentine’s Day, and a finisher’s shirt. It is over. I smile for a few photos, eat a warm lunch, shower, then nap. Physically, I feel strong and not too sore, but it will take the next few days to restore my confidence and energy - to recover from hitting “the wall” at Holiday Lake.