Holston River Endurance Challenge – Race Report

At the beginning of August, I ran my first timed race. The way timed races work is you run a set course (often a loop or out and back between 1-6 miles long) for a certain amount of time. The race is about how far you can get in that set amount of time.

Holston River took place at a campground near the Bristol Motor Speedway. The course was a 1.2 (ish) mile loop around the campground. The event started on Friday evening and finished on Sunday, depending on which category you entered. There were a bunch of options: 36 hour, 24 hour, 12 hour (Friday night, Saturday day, Saturday night), 6 hour (Friday night, Saturday day, Saturday night), and 3 hour (Saturday day). I think that was all of them. I signed up for the 6 hour Saturday day option. What possessed me to sign up for a daytime race in early August, I’ll never know.

Barry couldn’t come down for this one because he had to work, but I stayed with my in-laws overnight Friday night. On Saturday morning, my mother-in-law and I made the short drive from their house to the race site. I got checked in, picked up my “schwag” (a t-shirt, a magnet, and a collapsible water bottle), and took in the scene around me. There were runners going by who had been running since Friday evening. I’ll be honest, some of them looked like zombies. I started to wonder what I had gotten myself into.

Softest shirt ever!

After applying sunscreen, pinning on my bib, and making a quick trip to the campground bathhouse, I headed over to the start line. There was a group of about 20 of us hanging around, waiting to start. The group was a mix of 3 hour, 6 hour, and 12 hour runners. The race director gave us a prerace talk on the course, how timing worked, etc. She also explained our metal pint glass finisher awards.

Because this race was on a short loop, we would run through the aid station every 1.2 miles. In an effort to reduce waste, the RD came up with this awesome idea. Our metal finisher cups served as our aid station cup during the race. They had all of the cups marked with our race number on the bottom and they were all stored upside down on a large commercial dishwashing-type crate.

During the race, we used these cups for anything we wanted to drink at the aid station (water, soda, beer (yes there was a keg), etc.). Once we completed our race, we were to take the cup with us as a finisher’s award. Neat, right?

The start of our race was about as laid back as you can get. We were all standing off to the side (to allow runners currently on the course to go through). The prerace talk was done, so we were all just standing around chatting. All of a sudden the race time clock clicked over to 12 hours, which was our cue to go. Someone shouted “oh, GO!” and we all spilled onto the actual race course and took off. Just like that.

It was really humid that morning, and would remain so throughout the day as temperatures climbed above 90. Nearly all of the course was in direct sunlight as well, which would definitely become a big factor for me as the race went on.

My longest run going into this race was 9 miles and I hadn’t run over 20 miles total in a single week since returning to running post-injury back in May. I had absolutely no idea what to expect from this race, but I was there for the experience and to see what would happen. My loose goal was 15 miles, but Barry thought I would run 25. I would end up surprising myself and exceeding both predictions. There were definitely points where I questioned my sanity and life choices along the way. But not in the beginning.

I started out feeling fresh and happy to be out running. I decided to use a 10 minute run / 5 minute walk interval. This approach worked really well and carried me through the first 3 hours of the race with a total of 11 laps for a little over 13 miles. Then it really started to get hot. And I started feeling pretty tired.

When I signed up for this race, I thought boredom might be a factor. Six hours of running the same loop over and over? I mean… look at the map from my GPS watch. It looks like some kid went nuts with a crayon or something.

In preparation for the boredom I had already made a prerace bargain with myself. Make it through the first half of the race, and you can get your iPod. All of a sudden I found myself 3 hours into the race and, mentally, I was doing just fine. I was enjoying taking it all in, and I was also getting to run by a group of friends each lap who would cheer me on. I also kept playing a game where I was giving other runners nicknames in my head. And I wasn’t bored.

Maybe this type of race is my ‘thing.’ Or maybe it was just because all of this was a new experience. Who knows. I’ve got another one coming up in November, so we’ll see what happens there. But anyway, I decided to keep running without music and focused my sights on hitting 20 miles. The iPod now became a bargaining chip for 20 miles.

The race course was on a mixture of gravel, a little pavement, and a small grassy/muddy section. The gravel. Let’s talk about the gravel for a minute.

One particular section of the course had large, construction-type gravel. I had been warned about said gravel (thanks, Matt!), so I had on thick socks. But thick socks were not enough. I really don’t know how the runners doing the longer timed events managed it. After three hours of running, the balls of my feet started to really bother me. And then they started to downright hurt. And then I became convinced I had a blister encompassing the entire ball of my right foot. And then I was sure that said blister had ruptured and an entire flap of my skin was moving around down there. I was unwilling to take off my shoes and socks to investigate during the race. But afterwards I did, and I found nothing but sore feet. (Don’t read that like I’m disappointed – I was utterly relieved.) The balls of my feet felt bruised and sore, and stayed that way for a couple of days. But after that I was fine. Side note: Isn’t it funny how you come up with stuff in your head during a long run, and then it almost always turns out to be untrue?

During the second half of the race, I walked the big gravel section every time. My run/walk intervals were now out the window and I was just doing whatever I wanted. The race course also had a small hill that I walked pretty much every time after the first four laps.

Somewhere in the midst of hour 4, I started to feel really bad. I got nauseous, had some waves of dizziness, and just felt sick. The heat was definitely getting to me. The aid station was so well-stocked, with ice, cold water, soda (Coke, Mountain Dew, Ginger Ale, etc.), and all types of foods. They had sweet foods, salty foods, pickles, etc. They also had actual meal-type foods throughout the weekend for runners (breakfast burritos, eggs and bacon, burgers, hot dogs). And here’s one of the extra special things they had: Sno Cones! I was thrilled to see they had fired up the Sno Cone machine when I rolled into the aid station somewhere between hour 4 and 5. It was the best thing ever.

That Sno Cone definitely gave me an extra boost to continue plugging away. At this point I had my music going and even though I still didn’t feel great I was ready to keep trucking. A little while later, I started to have some issues with my calves cramping. I knew I wasn’t getting enough salt, so I resorted to drinking straight pickle juice in the aid station. It helped a little, but I was definitely in a losing battle with the heat.

During the final hour, my mother-in-law and father-in-law arrived back at the campground. It gave me a boost to see them. I was so hot and tired at this point, but I also knew I was close to hitting Barry’s prediction of 25 miles. I had to keep moving. I simultaneously wanted to just be done and I wanted to hit that mileage goal.

After lap 20 (24 miles), I only had about 20 minutes left. I had no idea how quickly I had been running laps, and I didn’t think I had enough time to run another lap before the 6 hours were over. At this race, only complete laps counted. I was actually disappointed, which is funny because a few minutes ago all I wanted was to be done. I consulted the RD’s husband, who was running the timing system, and he told me I had time for one more lap. So off I went! I spent that whole lap afraid that time was going to run out before I got back. But I made it with 5 minutes to spare. In total, I ran 21 laps for 25.5 miles and a total time of 5 hours and 55 minutes.

And then the best part of the day – I sat down! Then I laid down in the grass on a beach towel and covered myself with another towel. Even though it was still above 90 degrees, it felt glorious to finally be out of the sun even if that meant being covered with a towel.

All in all, Holston River was an awesome experience. The August heat and humidity made for tough conditions. But the race directors put on a seamless event and I had a blast! I can’t wait to dive deeper into this world of timed races.

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