Wow! What a run!! This course always whips my butt. It's not called "Lovin the Hills" for nothing. Here's some simple stats for starters:
My 9th 50K and 12th ultra and 39th marathon or beyond race
Time: 6:22:39 (Not my fastest nor my slowest on this course)
Distance run: 32.48 miles (according to my Garmin). Yep, this course was 50K+
My buddy, Jerry, and I made the 45 minute drive together for the race. He was running the accompanying 15 miler. Temps were in the low 20's and not expected to get out of the 20's all day. The wind was fierce with a sharp bite. A dusting of snow had fallen overnight, but did not affect the trails. The trails were dry. At 8:00 it was game on.
Basically the course has 3 legs: Leg 1 is a 5.8 mile loop; Leg 2 is a 6.4 mile loop; Leg 3 is a scenic out-and-back along a ridgeline with a nasty 3.5 mile loop before returning to the finish.
Loop 1: There are a couple of steep and long climbs here and a couple of intermediate climbs with a couple of screaming downhills. Mostly though the trail is runnable and I felt good. Finished up this loop around a 10:40 overall pace and wondered if I could maintain sub 11's throughout.
The hills in Leg 1 are only a tease for what is about to come.
Loop 2: This loop was different from previous LLTH's. I liked it because previously we had a long road section and this year, no road, all trails.
Some more hills, some long, some steep, some steep and long, but usually we were always ascending or descending at some grade. Where I had company on the first loop, I was mostly alone on this part. Occasionally I would pass a runner, but mostly it was a quiet and cold morning in the woods. I ended this loop with my pace just above 11 minute miles, but feeling good still. Hard to maintain a consistent pace with so many dern hills. Then it was off to the most hilly and roughest terrain of the course.
Leg 3 (out-n-back): This leg started with a section about a mile in length of a wide trail that was smooth and easy to run. I ran with a lady and man through here, who seemed to be working together. We didn't speak, but I felt their energy and picked up the pace a little. Another lady came up behind us and for the next few miles we all four leapfrogged. I would pass them on the ups, sometimes running when they were walking, or sometimes all of us walking, then all 3 would pass me on the downs. I am a terrible downhill runner. Never have been good at running downs. Even in college xc, I excelled on the ups, but would be passed on the downs. But, that's how I roll.
Finally around mile 16 the man and woman let me pass them for good and I never saw them again. I didn't quite understand because they seemed to be running so well. The other lady though stayed with me. Again, we played leapfrog. Me catching her on the ups and her ... yeah you got it. I was through this section that I gobbled down a PB&J uncrustable I brought from home. PB&J uncrustables provide the best fuel for long distance trail runs and they taste great. At mile 20+ we came to an Aid Station and it was time for a 3.5 mile loop that would lead us back to the same AS before the final trip home to the finish. I learned that the lady with me was in 2nd place for the females, which really has no relevance for my report, but just sayin.'
Also, my hand held water bottle was icy and I could no longer drink water through it so had to unscrew the cap and drink that way. Then I couldn't seal the lid back on because of the ice build up but was able to get the lid on just enough so it wouldn't fall off. That's how cold the wind made things feel.
Now this 3.5 mile loop is the toughest part of the course, in my estimation. About 200 yards into it there is a climb that had to have been at least 400 yards and it was STEEP. I caught up with a couple of guys here and commented how this had to be the toughest hill so far. They agreed. I power walked past them and when I finally crested that monster, I started running and maybe ran a quarter of a mile only to walk again up another steep climb about half as long as the previous climb. The one respite from this toiling climb was a pretty view of a farm down in a valley. This section did have some pretty views. The trail here continued through some thick foliage and brush. One section had huge rocks jutting everywhere which reminded me of the Appalachian Trail at the JFK 50. Also, at one point I had to stop and look for the pink ribbons marking the trail. The trail came to a creek crossing and once across I couldn't find the trail. A few seconds later I found a pink ribbon and continued on. Then I noticed that my shoestring had come untied. How in the world did it come untied when I know I had doubled knotted them? So, off with my gloves to re-tie. I looked behind me and saw the 2nd place female off in the distance.
I was relieved to get through this section and back to the AS. My watch said nearly 24 miles and I knew I had to be almost 9 miles from the finish. Yeah, this was going to be longer then 50K. I last ran this race two years ago and it came out to nearly 32 miles according to my Garmin. With the modification of the second loop this year the website did say it would be a little longer. How much longer though?
On the return section I met many runners still on the "out" part of the out-n-back. I was glad to be running here because although there were more hills to climb and descend, most of the trail was easier to run than the nasty 3.5 mile loop. It is not only the hills that makes this race tough, but the terrain. Mostly single-track, there are numerous logs to step over, twists and turns, zig this way, zag back that way, and duck under that branch. Roots are everywhere and running down steep hills with roots ready to trip you up takes an enormous amount of concentration and agility. I didn't fall once, but I did trip over something while running a steep downhill and I caught my balance before crashing. That would've hurt big time if I had fallen while running down a hill. One runner behind me did the same later on and he almost ran into me while trying to brace himself.
I ran this section mostly alone passing an occasional tired runner. At mile 27 I came to an AS and I asked the volunteer there if the course was long. He said "Yes." I asked him if it was 32 miles long and he grinned sheepishly and said, "Yeah." I smiled back and said, "That's good. Free miles."
Around mile 28 I caught up with three runners. One was a female so I knew she must be the first place lady. When I passed, I said we had around 4 miles or so to run. My Garmin read 28.33 miles. The lady asked me what mile we were and I told her 28.33, but that the course was a little long. I trudged on and was finally feeling the physical depletion of long-distancing running, yet was trying to maintain pace without slowing. I still felt I had enough juice in the tank to get me to the finish, though.
At mile 30.20, I came to the last AS. The first place lady had caught up with me and I asked the AS volunteer how much further, mostly to see what he would say (could this thing be 33 miles??). He said, "Two miles."
I took off and never saw the lady again and another guy caught up with me and I couldn't figure out where he had come from because he wasn't with the others I had passed earlier. We chatted a bit and he seemed full of pep. I was waiting for him to pass me and even scooted over once to allow him room to pass, but he never did. We came to a hill and I just gasped and started walking. He walked too. At this point I was gassed. The cumulative effects of so many hills had taken its toll on me. This is what this course does; it just beats you down. I walked a part of that hill and then I got mad. Just mad at myself really. I was starting to throw a pity party for myself. I was exhausted and running on fumes, and I was allowing that to affect my attitude. I believe that attitude is everything in life. Challenging circumstances and difficulties come our way every day, and we can live UNDER our circumstances or ABOVE them. I would rather live above them. I was tired, no exhausted, but hills be damned I was going to run. So I ran. I ran and even picked up the pace. The guy behind me just suddenly disappeared. I thought he would hang with me, but I guess he had had enough too. I had less than 2 miles to run ... hopefully ... and I was determined to enjoy these last two miles. "Running is a gift," I told myself and that raised my attitude to a positive one and I actually felt ... well not physically peppy, but ... mentally more into the game.
Periodically I glanced at my Garmin ... 31.05 miles ... 31.50 miles ... then 32.00 miles and still no finish line. Then I hit one of the steepest climbs of the race. I knew it would be here because I have run this race three times before, but it is always overwhelming. I walked ... then ran ... then walked ... 32.25 miles. Come on finish line... Finally, I crested yet another hill, and saw the short gravel road which would lead to the finish. My friend Jerry was there to snap a picture and I crossed the finish line surrounded by about 3 race volunteers. The Garmin read 32.48 miles.
When I finally stopped running I was just cooked. The JFK 50 was not as difficult as this. I hobbled into the heated building where hot soups and chili awaited me. I sat my throbbing body down on a bench and said to Jerry, "This race always leaves me feeling beat up like no other race." Well, it didn't take too long for me to regain my senses. I talked with a few other runners, some I had met along the trail, and downed a bowl of chili, and grabbed a hot chocolate for the road.
So, I am happy to have completed another trail adventure. LLTH is a tough monster, but I always go back to face it again. My legs are sore and I am more beat up the day after this race then typically after a trail run, but the greater the challenge the more rewarding is the accomplishment. The Saturday before Valentine's Day is the day to love the hills in Louisville. I am sure on the Saturday before Valentines' Day 2013, Lord willing, I will be there again.