I lift up my eyes to the hills. From where does my help come?
I have run 48 marathons including 15 ultras. THIS particular race has been the most challenging of them all. I took up the challenge of running Lovin' the Hills 50k for the 5th time. Some years there has been snow/ice on the trails and a couple of years it has been dry. And the course is also longer than 50K. Last year my garmin read 32.48 miles at the finish. This year one section of the course was re-designed promising that this section would be "shorter and flatter."
There are 3 legs to this race. Leg 1 is a 5.5 mile loop with some nice wide running trails and several gnarly single track sections with big hills. Leg 2 is around 7 miles and this is the new and improved section that has had some new trails built during the past year. It really did seem "flatter," but don't take that to mean there were no hills, it just seemed more runnable. Leg 3 is an out-and-back single track with a 3.5 mile loop at the end of the "out" part. Leg 3 is just ridiculous! The hills on this section can be very long and a few excessively steep.
There were three races taking place simultaneously. 48 runners would finish the 6 miler; 88 would complete the 15 mile race; and 96 of us would conquer every hill out there in the 50K. The race started with temps a degree or two above freezing and a cloudless sky with the sun and temperature rising. A perfect day for running! Knowing what tough course lay before me I had decided to enjoy the day and not concern myself with time or place. I started out running what felt a little slower than usual. On Leg 1, I walked the long hills that were steep and even on the ones that were not so steep, but long, I would run a quarter of it then walk. Experience is a great teacher and as a student of those hills I have learned that the baddest of the hills was yet to come, so to push the hills early in this run could mean a feeling of death later.
Leg 2 was a little less crowded since many of the runners had stopped at 6 miles. I ran along easily enjoying the day. Most of this part was nice running, but a few hills had to be walked, or at least jogged up very slowly. Finally I came to the end of Leg 2 where the 15 mile runners say bye-bye to the 50K warriors. We "warriors" were spread out as I began Leg 3 and within a half of a mile of running Leg 3, I looked up and saw the first of many intimidating hills of this section.
I climbed the hills through this section walking as fast as I could. I am certain that I could not have run them any faster than I was walking. I caught up with a runner every once in a while and my walking/jogging pace was usually quicker than theirs, so we exchanged pleasantries, or grimaces, and carried on in our own little world of ultra running. I got to the 19+ mile aid station and grabbed a homemade PB&J sandwich that was cut up in the shape of a valentine's heart.
How appropriate. I ate that heart-shaped sweet thing as I began the steepest and longest ascent of the entire race.
The 3.5 mile loop after mile 19 is one tough and rugged section. The first hill here is so steep that I was walking with my hands on my knees. The hills here and throughout the course can be deceiving. Just when you think you are at the top of the hill, there is sometimes a bend in the trail and the ascent continues, but steeper. This loop has a lot of ups and some quad beating downs. As the race progressed, I felt worse going down than up because my legs were feeling shot. I mentioned to one guy along the 3.5 mile loop that the hills just eat you up. He didn't say a word back to me. Maybe the hills had left him speechless.
After finishing the 3.5 mile it is time to head home to the finish, but it is still 9 miles away. I had company on the way back with a guy who stayed behind me until two miles to go. He would run when I ran and always walked when I walked. We chatted a little and it was nice to have someone to suffer with. He seemed content to run my pace and he commented at one point that I was leading a "nice pace."
The last aid station is 2 miles from the finish and, course with some long hills. I am never one to loiter at aid stations so I left it quickly and the guy behind me stayed behind a little longer so I was on my own until the finish. I ran most of the next 1.5 miles, and then I got to the notorious last half mile which is a steep climb all the way to the finish. OK, it does level out about 50 yards before crossing the finish line, but this is one heck of a hill for the end of a race.
I crossed that finish line feeling completely spent, yet very satisfied that I had finished what I think is one of the toughest 50Ks around. My buddy Jerry who had run the 15 miler was there to greet me after waiting 3.5 hours for me after finishing his race. He's a terrific friend. Oh, and my garmin read 32.08 miles. My time was 6:40:42. It is my slowest. Thankfully, I don't feel the need to measure success by the clock. I was able to do what I love and in that I am content.
Post-race: Lots of good food. The RD always makes different types of chili and soup and various kinds of sandwiches. I talked with a few runners that I have met in previous years and at other races. Sometimes these ultras/marathons have the feel of a "family reunion."
Thanks for reading.