I very nearly did not run the 2009 Holiday Lake 50K++. It wasn’t because there was any question about whether I had trained properly for the ultramarathon. There was no question at all – I hadn’t. In fact, when a friend noted a week prior to the race that I must be in “taper mode”, my wife had a hard time keeping her muffled snicker from escalating into an all-out guffaw. Taper from what? Tapering presumes training, and my sporadic running routine of late could hardly be called training.
But still, I was intent upon running, believing that muscle memory from last year’s race, stubbornness, and the fact that the cutoff had been extended to 8 hours would allow me to get a coveted finisher’s shirt.
Then, on the Thursday before I was to leave for the race, my Dad got sick. Seeing your father in a hospital bed with IVs stuck in both arms can readjust your priorities in a hurry. There would be other races. This was my only father. I emailed the race director that I wouldn’t be running.
So, Friday evening found me in my Dad’s hospital room instead of the pre-race pasta dinner at Holiday Lake. There was no question in my mind that that was where I belonged. Then, toward the end of the visit, Dad asked me if I was running the next day. I said “no” and tried to change the subject – I had hoped that it wouldn’t come up. His eyes locked on mine and he asked me why I wasn’t running. I stalled. While he had made it clear in the past that he thought that running ultras was excessive and even unhealthy, I knew he would be upset at the thought of me canceling on account of him. I hedged and made a comment about the race being held again next year. “Good luck tomorrow,” he said, and closed his eyes. That was that; there would be no more discussion. I was running.
By the time I got home from the hospital, it was close to 8:00 p.m. I wolfed down supper – I had hardly eaten anything all day – and hurriedly finished the packing that I had begun a couple of days before. By the time I had finished ooh’ing and ah’ing over the Valentines that my 5-year-old had collected at his school party and read him a bedtime story, it was after 9:00 p.m., and I still had a 2-hour drive ahead of me. Finally, though, I was in the car and headed toward Holiday Lake, buoyed by my family’s hugs and good wishes, and chuckling at my son’s instruction to “win”. At this point I was seriously just hoping that I would finish.
A couple of hours later, I pulled into a dark parking lot at Holiday Lake. There were a number of vehicles in the lot, but apart from the hum of a generator powering the heater on a nearby RV, all was quiet. That suited me fine, as I all wanted to do was crash. My original plan had been to camp, but it was late, dark and cold, so I decided to sleep in my jeep instead of going through the effort of pitching my tent. I reclined my seat as far back as it would go, draped my sleeping bag over me, and tried to go to sleep.
A cold and fitful few hours later, it was 5:00 a.m. and time to check in at the registration table in the dining hall. I made it inside the building, gave my name at the registration table, and was told I wasn’t on the list. It didn’t take long (after a momentary panic) to figure out that my name had been removed based on my emailed notification that I was canceling, and they handed me my bib.
At 6:25 a.m. I joined 256 other runners at the starting line, and after singing the National Anthem and hearing some final instructions from the race director, we were off into the dark.
Part II to follow….