On March 14 I traveled through dense fog and a predawn light rain to Grand Rivers, Kentucky to participate in the Land Between the Lakes Trail Runs. I originally entered the two lap marathon, but a few days earlier I had decided to run the one lap "23K" distance when RD Steve Durbin announced that it was necessary to move the event onto roads because of extreme saturation from snow melt and rain.
I almost did not race. In fact, on Friday night at 10 pm I finished a consultation with Rasputin, an imperial stout, that resulted in me deciding against three hours of driving to run in a predicted rain on roads when I had my heart set on running a trail that I have come to love. I sat the alarm just in case, but I was awake when it went off at 3:45 a.m. Given that I was not in the mood to race - or to suffer - I soon found myself sipping cold pressed coffee and trying to convince myself that a huge effort on a hilly road course in the rain would be a rewarding experience. And that it would be fun!
I topped off the pre-run Calories with a vanilla VFuel while jogging to the start line. Once there I started talking to Chris, an old friend, a talented runner, and the last athlete I recruited while coaching at UE. There was a little confusion at the start as RD Steve yelled something (instructions?) through a bullhorn and then jumped into an SUV. We thought we heard a horn, but we weren't sure, so everyone just stood there. A frantic arm ushered us on and the crowd began the ascent out of the marina. Shortly after beginning to run I realized that I had forgotten to turn on the Polar V800 to allow it to sync with satellites - for the second year in a row. Too much chatting and not enough focusing.
About a quarter mile later the V800 vibrated to alert me that it was communicating with satellites. At that time I was still chatting with Chris. We were leading the pack up the first long grade south on the Trace road. Within three minutes I realized that I was breathing a lot harder than Chris, who was on cruise control, so I slowed a bit and watched as he pulled away. I ran alone for most of the next eighty minutes.
We soon turned onto Kentucky Lake Drive (1.7 mi) and passed the point where the course normally would have accessed the Canal Loop Trail. Continuing on this narrow road was what I had dreaded. I vaguely remembered driving it a couple of years ago on a sunny day, but I clearly recalled the hills along the route: long and winding ones, short and steep ones, long and gradual ones, and a damned near vertical one. There was a fine mist falling and a few patches of fog along this scenic road that often provided pain therapy in the form of bluff top views of the fog shrouded Kentucky Lake.
Baby stepping my way up the steepest hills allowed me to keep my heart rate from exceeding my anaerobic threshold. I was averaging mid-six miles while only going 7:30-8:30 uphill because I opened up the stride and flew downhill as fast as my legs would go. Given that I spent almost a year avoiding hills after my neck injury, I was thankful for the light and cushy HOKA Cliftons that spared me a lot of bone jarring on those fast descents. I used the same pair during the Tunnel Hill 50 back in November. There is no doubt that I will be returning to Ultimate Fit for more Hokas in the future.
Kentucky Lake Drive eventually looped back to the more gently rolling Trace Road at 3.8 miles. At 4.4 miles I took water at the North Welcome Center aid station. Then the course briefly followed a soggy leaf and pine needle covered bike path before turning onto another narrow asphalt road. This road, narrower than Kentucky Lake Drive, reminded me of a those roads that meander through campgrounds. The last 0.8 miles of this road was gravel. Yes, it consisted of a seamless series of hills! And the scenery was absolutely gorgeous!
At 5.7 miles we came to a junction. RD Steve Durbin was there. He lied and told me that I looked great before saying "Go down 1.1 miles and come back." And so I did. I ran down and down and down some more along a narrow old strip of worn asphalt. It was covered with leaves through which the runoff was finding passage. Splash. Splash. Splash. When I finally saw Kentucky Lake again I had dropped to its level. I wasn't looking at it, though. I was contemplating the ascent up a short forty foot high cliff in the road. WTH?
|The bottom of the "cliff" comes into view.|
Knowing that they were lurking behind me likely caused me to push that mile long ascent a little harder than I had been going uphill. That put me in distress for the first time. It also kept Scott from catching me until the 49-minute mark. I asked him if he was going all four laps for the 50 miler he had entered. He smiled and said "probably just three." At LBL you are allowed to drop down in distance during the event. I wondered at that point how many people would drop down that day. In case you didn't catch this nugget of fact - Scott had just moved into second on the road between two people running one lap while he was running three. Hence, he's a stud muffin!
Honestly, I increased my effort and stayed just behind him for one short climb and one long ascent in an effort to distance myself from the others in the group he had just gone through. I regained the bike path along the Trace Road just behind Scott and noticed that two other runners were still lingering about 150 meters back. I checked the V800 and saw that my average heart rate had risen from 160 to 162 since I started the climb back to the road junction. Given that I wanted to stay below 164 (86% max), I realized that I had to back off a little. For perspective, I normally average 168-172 in half marathons - when I suffer a lot. Those hills were making me suffer in a different way, so I backed off and watched as Scott pulled away. He was leaving the Welcome Center aid station as I returned to it. A loop there allowed me to see that the same two runners I'd seen before were still close together and not far behind me with about four miles to go.
Note: Scott Breeden ran three "laps" in 4:02:37, which is less than1:21 per lap. Chris won the one lap race in 1:23:45 and I finished third in 1:27:16. Scott's effort puts the rest of our times in perspective. He runs big miles on big hills near Bloomington and is quickly becoming a great ultra trail runner. And, like Chris, he is a really nice guy.
From the North Welcome Center the course retraced the early miles around Kentucky Lake Drive. Yay! Big hills in reverse! It was while approaching mile ten that I heard footsteps behind me. The runner seemed to gain ground on me while we climbed and then drop back as we descended. When he finally pulled along side me at about mile eleven I saw his Nashville Striders singlet. He looked to be about 20. He said that he was only running one loop. I said "We're almost there" and he looked over and excitedly responded "I'm looking forward to a sprint finish!" I smiled and thought have fun with that, whipper snapper. A quick look over my shoulder allowed me to see that no one was within three hundred meters of me at that point. Still, I stayed close to the kid until we reached the Trace Road again.
Before long we both turned onto the finishing straight and, sure enough, I watched as Kevin (the kid) dashed away to the finish line. When I arrived the volunteers saw my number and urged me to continue. Nope. I was done for the day. My legs, though weakened, still felt great at that time, but I knew that another lap would have resulted in significant and long lasting pain. A muffin from the nearby cafe sounded like a more satiating choice. I enjoyed that muffin, a drive home, a ballgame, and a nap while several of my friends made up to three more loops on that challenging course. VERY IMPRESSIVE! Congratulations to all of you!
All in all, I enjoyed another memorable experience at LBL. The race course, which I had premonition of, turned out to be much more enjoyable than I had expected. In fact, I urge Steve Durbin to find another date on the calendar to offer this version of LBL running every year. I would attend and, judging from what I've heard and read, so would a lot of other runners.
Now I need to resume planning another spring break adventure in the mountains of North Carolina. ST