Since I heard about "Louisville's Lovin' The Hills" two years ago I have been clamoring to race it. The course has a reputation of being slow, difficult and full of steep climbs just slightly more difficult than those found around Bloomington. That's my kind of trail race. I decided this year that I would give the 50K a shot, and Katie jumped in and said she would run the 6 miler.
My once a week long runs have all been on this sort of terrain. The Paynetown / Pate Hollow trail in Bloomington was probably the best specific preparation I had done for the race as the elevation profile is similar albeit with slightly smaller climbs.
We got into Louisville on Friday night and stayed on the South side closer to the race site at the Jefferson Memorial Forest. My friends Scott, Becky and some of their trail running friends also stayed at the same hotel so this made the prospects strong for a fun race weekend.
I ate a light breakfast of two eggs and four pieces of toast at the next door Waffle House in the morning. Since I have cut caffeine out, I also was able to down several cups of coffee and get a giant boost of performance enhancing adrenaline before the race. We had a short drive to the race, got registered, and tried to stay warm as the morning was pretty cold before the 8AM start.
Race Start / First Loop
|Photo from Jonathan Clinthorne|
As we lined up at the start, I took off fast with the lead pack in my coffee fueled state of excitement. I ran back for a minute and then ran up with Scott at the front for almost three miles. The start had the fastest section of trail, and my Garmin splits were around 6:45 for the first two miles. This felt a lot like the fast downhill start of the Tecumseh Trail Marathon.
After the third mile I dropped back and ran with third and fourth runners for a while, until finally I dropped my pace a little after the second climb and let them get away. I felt the fast start was efficient, but pushing too hard on the first climbs of many was something I needed to avoid as my base of hill climbing was definitely not as strong as these guys.
As I ran in fifth place, I noticed that as I neared the end of six miles and the first of the three different loops in the course I was getting close to being caught by Russ, another Bloomington runner.
I slowed at the aid station and opted to grab a cup of water and one cup of Heed, and downed them both. Russ passed me, and I quickly dashed down the single track of the next loop to catch up.
|End of 1st Loop|
Photo from Jonathan Clinthorne
1st Loop Split: 5th Place - 46:13 - 8:04 / mile pace (would have been good for 2nd place in the 6 miler!)
As I ran down hill into the second loop I tried to relax a little although my excitement was still a little bit high to reign in the pace much. I ran with Russ for a while and then took off a little faster for a while with another runner who caught up to me. The runner turned out to be Ryan Case, a friend of Scott's. I chatted and hung with him for a few climbs but his strong climbing wore me out pretty quickly toward the end of the second loop and he eventually disappeared out of sight as we reached the climb at the end of the loop.
I only packed a small waist belt of gels, so I also attempted to eat my first gel during this loop. It was a little later than I had hoped but the pace had been to0 agressive up to this point to really relax and try to eat a cold and very un-fluid-like gel.
The second loop also seemed pretty fast overall. I spotted the 15 mile winner once somewhere in the loop and he was very aggressively hitting the climbs.
2nd Loop Split: 6th Place - 56:02 - 8:47 / mile pace
As the third loop began, we crossed a rather small patch of single track where water flowed down over a cliff. In colder conditions, it would have definitely been ice and pretty treacherous. There wasn't a cloud in the sky so the sun quickly warmed me up to not even a hint of feeling cold anymore. If I had a good drop point I would have certainly ditched my tights at this point.
As I started in to the long out and back segment of the third loop called the "Siltstone Trail" I spotted Russ catching up as I came into each climb. Eventually I ran with Russ for a number of miles on the way "out".
The Siltstone portion of the course was definitely the aesthetic highlight of the course. I started to truly feel the "runner's high" and often look out to the North to see the overlooks off the ridge to rolling farmland below and even the Louisville skyline.
As I neared the end of the "out" portion of the Siltstone I knew I needed to relax a little more as I had at least 11 miles left in the race and I needed to start getting a gel or two down and allow my stomach to actually digest a little. I finally let Russ go and that was the last I saw of him in the race.
As I ran the long downhill into the small loop at the end of the Siltstone at "Scott's Gap" I hit another aid station and this time took a cup of water and a cup of Coca Cola. The coke was great and lifted my energy level a little more and settled my stomach.
As I ran into the "Scott's Gap" loop (3 miles) I saw Scott coming back out with no other runners in sight. I slapped him a quick high five as I passed and could tell he was very aggressively flying over the trail to a hopeful win. I was alone again, as I would be for the entire 3 mile loop which had as I recall the steepest and most difficult climb of the race. I could do nothing more than "euro-hike" it, using my arms to push down my quads for a boost. I knew the 2nd - 6th runners were all also somewhere in the 3 mile loop at this point.
This was also the slowest part of the race for me as my average pace dipped down to a race low of 12:31 per mile during the loop.
|Scott's Gap Loop|
I came out of the Scott's Gap loop and got another boost in morale when I saw Katie waiting to cheer me on at the aid station as I downed another cup of coke and water. I got a kiss for luck and kept going.
As I headed back into the Siltstone for the leg back to the finish I started to see hordes of runners. This was a big motivator as they all shared the trail and gave great encouragement and some reported how long ago they had seen then next runner. I knew I was at least ten to fifteen minutes back from the next runner so I tried to relax and run a steady pace. The climb back onto the Siltstone ridge was also pretty tough.
I ran as well as I could on the flats and rollers, and didn't really start to hit a low until close to the end of the Siltstone section. Even during the low, it was good to feel like an "ultra" runner again after wading through a plethora of injuries and unsteady training over the last year.
I saw Katie again coming off of the Siltstone to the last leg going into the finish and at this point she said I looked good but I was having serious trouble doing any uphill running or aggressively running downhill. The last few climbs including the one to the finish were pretty difficult.
I put together a solid streak of running for the last mile and ran uphill to the finish, where Scott, Katie and crew were all waiting at the finish line to cheer me in.
I just stood next to the finish for a long time, enjoying the moment of simultaneous energy, depletion and satisfaction that every runner knows after a strong finish.
|Photo from Jonathan Clinthorne|
3rd Loop Split: 7th Place - 3:37:51 - 11:08 / mile pace
Overall Finish: 7th Place / 5:20:17 / 31.7 Miles / 5,689 feet of climbing
Katie also ran a great race as she has been training well and bagged a 3rd Place Female prize in the 6 miler!
It was a good day for all the runners we knew. Scott won the 50K, Becky won the 15 mile, and Ryan ran well and picked off two more runners for 4th place in the 50K. It was also good to run with Russ for a while and he finished 15 minutes ahead of me by the end.
A few thoughts on the race after finishing:
- This was the toughest course I have run, without a doubt. It contained about 21 steep and challenging climbs. Having a strong enough base to keep fresh legs and run every downhill and flat aggressively would have been a big help.
- The course and trails were beautiful and scenic.
- I enjoyed an aggressive start and getting to run with each of the 1st - 6th runners for a while. It was actually a nice way to spectate everyone else's race to an extent.
- I need a good liquid fuel for colder weather when gels are too thick and difficult to get down.
- It's possible to run an "okay" 50K with only a long run and mostly cycling and swimming training every week.
- The post-race food was great, with tons of home cooked food, homemade bread, and lots of delicious soups and chips and salsa.
- We chatted with the race director for a while, who was super nice.
- It was great to see Scott nail the race with a course record by over 40 minutes.
- I need to make a return trip just to hang out and run these trails again.
To cap off the weekend, we made some new trail running friends and I even got a pair of Hoka One One shoes at the Zappos outlet for $60!
If you're reading this and are a local runner, add LLTH to your race list for next year! I hope we will be there again!