From the beginning of last week, I was worried about what Holiday Lake would be like if we really got this supposed 10-12" of snow. Truth be told I complete forgot about the snow until Friday night. Then I got the worst pre-race jitters I've ever gotten. I decided that I would just focus on having fun, chatting with people, and encouraging anyone I came across. Seemed like a solid idea, considering I wouldn't be setting any personal records with the snow.
So my fiancée, Kati, and I drove out to Holiday Lake at a ludicrous 4:30 AM to make sure that we could find a place to park with plenty of time. Unfortunately, I had to wake my roommate Greg up who I had forgotten to tell that I was leaving early. I started off the morning flustered already that I had forgotten to tell him that.
When we got to the race, I spent most of the morning in the car, relaxing. I figured there was no need to be anxious. Kati and I walked down at about 6:20 and it sounded like they were getting ready to start. I told Kati I wasn't worried, though, because I hadn't heard the national anthem yet. Things were fine. We always sing the national anthem before Horton's races. It's honestly probably my favorite thing about them. We slowly meandered to the back of the group and right as I thought, "When are we going to sing?", Horton yelled "ALRIGHT GO!" and we were off! At least, the race started. At the very back of the group, I immediately realized that I had a LOT of people to get past if I wanted to keep up with anybody I knew.
As we got up the road I realized just how bad the bottleneck was. Every year I've run with someone who wanted to start off quick to avoid the bottleneck at the stairs. I never realized how bad it actually was. So I sprinted up the hill next to the stairs and started dodging through people. It was incredibly tough but exhilarating to jump through snow, dodging people and trees to get to a good running pace. Even without a headlamp, the snow reflected enough light from others' lamps that I was fine. I had a feeling already that this was going to be a tough race, but a fun race.
Once the road opened up I already realized that this was going to be a very cold, wet, and muddy race. Through the trees everyone seemed to take the same trail. On the first wide road everyone seemed to go a completely different direction and there were a million different footprints. Time to suck it up and just get through whatever I could. The first section went by incredibly slowly (or maybe I was just so concerned with passing people) and by the time I got to AS 1, I was just excited to see Frank Gonzalez and Sam Dangc, people I knew. I asked Sam to just top me off with fluid and took off again. I need to keep passing people. Apparently I passed Bethany Williams at some point. I only figured it out later because I recognized her shirt when I saw her later. But other than her, I still couldn't find anyone I knew.
When I got to the first creek, I tiptoed across rocks to avoid getting any more wet than I needed to be. I REFUSED to be soaking wet this early. Hopefully the big creek was low. It wasn't. The people in front of me slowly waded through the creek and I decided that wasn't for me. I launched myself off the land and thankfully made it through with only three big splashes. I don't think the other runners appreciated the water I slung everywhere. I didn't ask.
The tire tracks Dr. Horton left on the next section were a welcome relief. I didn't know how long they would last, but all I knew is that I loved them. I could run on these forever. I knew they wouldn't be forever, though. I came to AS 2 and said hi to Brenton Swyers. I asked him how far ahead our friend Clifton Williams was. I was hoping I had done at least SOME significant catching up. Still 3 or 4 minutes. I didn't know if I would be able to catch up, but I would certainly try. Last year I ran way too hard trying to catch Brenton, and I was resolved not to be that stupid again.
Soon after I FINALLY saw someone I knew: Robbie Shull. He was lead a pack of 2 or 3 people and I figured I could use a rabbit for a while, too. I fell in line to catch my breath so I could be REALLY excited when I finally spoke up. I don't think he realized that I followed him for almost a mile before passing and saying "You've been such a great rabbit! Here, I'll do the trudging" and got in front. He looked like he was doing well for his first ultra. In retrospect, I should have stuck with him for a little longer, if not indefinitely. He ran a great pace.
AS 3 came up quick and Todd Thomas and Blake Edmondson were there! They would be a huge encouragement for the day, and I was stoked to see them. They were cheering everyone on and it gave me a bit of juice. Any encouragement is welcome after the section between AS 2 and 3, which is always the worst part of that course, but especially today.
The front runner passed a lot later than last year, which gave me hope that I was running well. I didn't know if I was running well or running harder than I should, but I was hoping the former.
As I was coming up to the dam, I noticed Alexis Thomas on a switchback. I think I yelled "Alexis!" but I can't remember. All I remember is that I was worried. I always tell Alexis I hope to be as fast as a girl as her someday, but I know she's faster. When I caught up, I asked her, "Alexis, are you having a bad day or am I running way too hard?" I already knew the answer. Unless she was having a terrible day, I needed to slow down to have something left. I stuck with that group for the last mile of the loop until I saw Clifton coming out of the turn. We all said hi and I was impressed. He must have been running like a crazy man! Or he's going to burn out. Either way, I hoped I could catch him. Todd and Blake were again at the aid station and they snapped a couple pictures. They were the heroes of the day, pushing and encouraging everyone. They really highlighted the race for me. I took it easy coming out of the loop and unfortunately never saw Alexis or Clifton again.
After the turn I started getting slower and my hip started hurting. I figured it was nothing and kept repeating one of Horton's mantras, "It never always gets worse". I figured it would go away. I just needed to keep pushing. I saw Frank again running the course and he sounded surprised. "Look at you!!" He knew how far back I was at AS 1. I guess I had caught up a lot of ground. It was encouraging.
I came into AS 5 as Blake snapped pictures. I wasn't feeling well and told myself coming up that I needed to tell him I didn't feel very aware. I knew I needed something, I just didn't know what. He told me to eat. DUH. Why didn't I think of that? Solid life advice. I ate some potatoes and started back at it.
That's when the hip pain started getting bad. Really bad. Like, taking-your-breath-away bad. I started walking every single uphill no matter how steep. Lots of runners started to pass me until, when I moved out of the way for one of them, the runner started literally pushing me down the trail. I turned around and it was Robbie again. I told him good job and keep going! He was going to finish his first ultra really well. With a quick smile, he was out of sight twice as fast as I passed him the first time. Eventually I wandered into Brenton's aid station and I told him about the pain. We talked for a bit and I'm not ashamed to say I spent 4 or 5 minutes there. I wanted to enjoy the race and not hurt. Bethany Williams came up on us and she passed me less than a mile later. Brenton and I bragged on Clifton, her husband for how well he was running.
Right before the creek crossing, I caught up with a guy standing where the trail turned left and the forest road went right. He was confused and I jokingly wondered who would ever mix that up? There was a streamer off to the left right where the trail is. Well, a couple miles later Hannah Bright comes flying up behind us on an uphill. This was her first ultra, too. She recognized me and we chatted and she said that she had accidentally gone the wrong way (at the streamer!) and went an extra mile and a half. She was determined to catch her friend Keely O'Keefe, who had passed me just a couple miles before that. She was excited when I told her Keely was only a couple minutes ahead and took off.
When I finally got to the last AS I hear Frank yell "What are you doing all the way back here?!" and I told him about my hip. He and Sam gave me some ibuprofen and tums and told me to get back out there. Frank said "When you hit the finish line, you're going to feel so good you're just going to keep running!" I immediately thought of Forrest Gump and decided if anyone asked me where I had been at the finish, I was going to tell them "I was running!" like Forrest Gump. Those jokes are always funny.
The last 2 miles were full of people who needed a little encouragement, and I loved getting to push each and every one of them. Even though I could feel the hip pain any more, I could tell that my hip wasn't right, but I was going to finish! Coming down the road I wasn't even running full stride, but hobbling the best I could. All I knew is that Kati was waiting for me and the sooner I finished, the sooner I was getting a kiss from my fiancée. As I came into the finish I heard Horton yell my name "Andrew Charron! He got best blood a couple years ago and now he's limping into the finish line! Best limp I've seen all day!" I'm just glad I was the best at something!
I saw Clifton and congratulated him on an incredible race and most of the people I knew had already finished. Even through the pain, the snow, mud, and muck, it was honestly probably my favorite race to this date. Thanks to people like Brenton, Sam, Frank, Todd, and Blake for making aid stations a consistent relief from the trail and a wonderful woman to get a congratulatory kiss from!
I have to say I will never forget