Louisville Lovin’ The Hills Race Report –February 12, 2011.
I spent Wednesday prior to the Louisville Lovin’ The Hills 50K sitting on the couch, watching Without Limits. The movie chronicles the life of Steve Prefontaine, one of the greatest American track runners of all time. Steve made himself known not only by being the first to cross the finish line, but by the style with which he did so. Steve lit out of the starting blocks, and had to be in first place from the start of each race to the finish. He defined bold and risky, and he had the luxury to attack from the gun. Steve ran races which were over in less than 13 minutes.
Saturday’s race however, Louisville Lovin’ The Hills, was nearly 33 miles, all on trails, with an elevation change of 14,000’-15,000’. True, to win this race, a runner may need a fraction of boldness. Most importantly however, that runner would need to know how to read a race to attack at the right moments, practice discipline to stick to a game plan, and have the ability to change that plan if needed.
Here is my journal of the 2011 Louisville Lovin’ The Hills 50K Ultramarathon.
Race day had finally arrived and it was beautiful, blue bird skies and temps forecast in the low 40’s. I had spent most of the week prior to race day hoping I wouldn’t catch the cold my wife had been suffering from, and although I had a little congestion, I managed to escape the worst of it. My nerves wanted to be on overdrive anyways, which lends itself to illness. I wanted to freak out about catching her cold, but I tried to remain calm and chill, knowing that was the most beneficial attitude. I trusted in my training, and relaxed on race week, only running 5 miles on Wednesday to break in my new LaSportiva Crosslites which I would be racing in. I didn’t stress about the head cold, or anything else. My work was done, and my job was solely to let the race come, and run my own race, doing the best I could do.
There were about 160 runners at the chilly start, for the two mileage options available, the 50K and the 15 miler. I made sure that this year, I wasn’t getting my shoes on in the car at the command for runners to “Go!” I searched through the crowd of runners for Russ Goodman and Tim Barnes, as I wanted to be right behind them for the opening mile. The opening of the race through the Horine section was set at a blistering pace. My heart rate monitor was in the 170’s and as my friend Jeremy and I chatted away, we talked about the intense pace being set up front.
Running a strong race is a fine balancing act, you must run your own race, yet remain in contact with your closest competition in the beginning, what a contradiction! Russ Goodman and Tim Barnes were looking incredibly strong as usual up front. I placed myself right behind Tim, as he usual starts strong and I didn’t want to let him, (or Russ), get too far ahead, as they are both truly amazing athletes with many past results to prove it. I was hoping we would settle into a more manageable pace once we exited the 5.5 mile Horine section, and entered the 6 mile Yost loop stretch. Regardless of what their pace was, after Horine I knew I would be settling into a pace which I could handle for the duration, as my goal is always to finish stronger than I started. The beauty of an ultra is if you can pace yourself well enough in the beginning to finish faster than you start, you’ll achieve amazing things. The challenge with that same philosophy is it takes a lot of discipline, and you can’t start too easy either. It takes a lot of training and knowing your potential.
During the week prior to the race I talked frequently with Ricky George about the race sharing our excitement for our hometown Ultra. Ricky estimated to hit my target goal; I would need to exit the Horine section in 48 minutes. Sure enough, as I exited that stretch, my watch read exactly 48 minutes. Ricky and Tim however, were edging a gap on me, and the pace had quickened. I didn’t fall into the trap though. I ran my race, and listened to my body.
Upon exiting the Horine section, you enter an Aid Station before you head out to Yost, and Stephanie was there to cheer me on with my big bucket full of EFS bottles and Powerbars. Stephanie crewed me the entire race even though she was sick, and without her EFS refueling, who knows what would have happened?!
Russ and Tim flew out of the Aid Station and I let them go. I had to stick my guns, and I had faith that in doing so, I would be able to finish strong and hopefully catch them again if they tired. Fortunately, we were all together again in only several minutes after the excitement of the Aid Station. In hindsight, maybe they just sped up to get through the Aid Station. Regardless, I was proud of myself for being in the right mind frame to run my own race from that point on, and it felt even better when we still regrouped only minutes after I let them go since I was running on my pace at that point.
Russ, Tim and I were only inches apart for the first several miles of the Yost stretch and it was probably the most enjoyable stretch of the race for me. I’ve been watching Russ and Tim for several years as I got into running ultras, and so it was great to be up there with them chatting and enjoying the beautiful weather we were running in. These are the guys I’ve looked up to for years as they made podium year after year in this race in others.
The Yost section for me has always been the hardest stretch. The climbs are relentless, and it always seems monotonous. I was starting to feel comfortable running with Tim and Russ, and I knew it was time to go back to running my own race. I didn’t want to go out too fast, and I didn’t want to be in front of them really, but I knew I could run faster than we were currently running through Yost, and still pick up speed in the second half, so I moved in front after summiting a climb midway through Yost and moved on. I found myself relatively alone for several minutes, but Russ had quickly followed suit, and I found myself running with Russ close on my heels to finish the Yost stretch.
It was a great feeling seeing the welcome center knowing that ahead of me lay the Siltstone Trail section of the race, since I’ve run that trail multiple times weekly for the last six months. There is an Aid Station at the beginning of the Siltstone stretch and it was warming up, so I stripped off the shorts I was wearing on top of my compression shorts, as well as my arm warmers. It was time for battle! Russ took the lead as I was shedding layers and getting more Powerbars and EFS, and so I made sure to make haste in my pursuit to get back within eye sight of Russ on the first climb of Siltstone. We ran together for about two miles, with Russ in front, and me on his heels, catching my breath from catching him again. I was feeling good on the climbs, and I reached a dilemma. I didn’t want to light up the race at this point. We were only 14 miles into the race, and if I took off, I would surely die in the end, and Russ would pass me. He is known for his ability to pace perfectly and run the same speed throughout. What should I do? Jump in front, and let him control the race from behind, or let him take the lead throughout Siltstone while I conserved energy and hopefully could light it up for the end? It was a tough choice, but I knew the answer. I pretended like I was alone, and ran my own race. I took first place back from Russ even though we were only at mile 15, it was tough to do knowing how early it was in the race and that I would have to defend first from then on. I knew I could control the race better from the front and inadvertently, I could just zone out and run my own run, on trails I knew well! I didn’t run “looking behind”, I ran by attacking what was in front. I was on the offensive, not the defensive, looking ahead not behind.
I ran the Siltstone out in 59 minutes which basically matched most of my fastest training runs. I was pleased to say the least, but it was about to get confusing. Siltstone is an “out an back” section, and you run a 3.2 mile loop around the Scotts Gap Trail before you head back on the Siltstone towards the finish. I was refueling my EFS and Powerbars, when I saw a runner leaving Scotts Gap. What the hell? I also looked back and saw Russ heading my way. Russ was right behind on the monster climb up Scotts Gap and I asked him in shock if he knew who the runner was who was leaving Scotts Gap. I had been sure I was in first. We both laughed and said we hoped it was someone who had taken a wrong turn on the course. It ends up, that is exactly what happened. Several runners had accidentally missed the entire Yost section. I took off again into the demoralizing Scotts Gaps section attacking what lay in front of me, not worrying about anything else. I was pretty calm and felt good. I made it out of Scotts Gap in record time, (35 minutes), and couldn’t see Russ anywhere behind me upon leaving Scotts Gap. (There is a great vantage point upon leaving Scotts Gap which provides views of the course behind).
I decided to take the first climb back onto the Siltstone ridge pretty easy and finally gave 110% from there to the finish. I completed my Siltstone back in less than 65 minutes, and I could definitely feel that the temps I was running in were the warmest I had experienced in the last few months. It was in the 40’s. I was mildly dizzy at a few points during big climbs, but I still pushed on, and focused on catching the runners who missed the Yost stretch, which entertained me! The out and back Siltstone stretch is also a favorite of mine because you get to see of all the other runners heading out to Scotts Gap and encourage one another. Upon finishing Siltstone I wasn’t actually sure if I was in first or not due to the confusion of runners skipping the 6 mile Yost stretch, but I had chased down most of them.
The final 2 miles of trail are all uphill to the finish, and there are several great vantage points. I didn’t see Russ behind me, and I knew I could dig deep and maintain pace.
Coming in to the finish was an amazing experience because I realized I could break 5 hour 10 minutes on the longest course that Lovin’ The Hills has ever been run on. With the addition of the new Yost Ridge Trail and the Connector trail, the entire race was on trails this year without the one mile road run, but it also meant the race was closer to 33 miles, so I was ecstatic to hit so close to 5 hours. Hearing the cheers of friends Ryan King and Kevin Sullivan from race sponsor Quest Outdoors was an awesome feeling. Ryan handed me my first place awards and I screamed as loud as I could and fell to the ground in elation. I had just won my hometown ultra, which happens to be one of the hardest 50K’s in the country.
One of favorite moments of every year is sitting around the finish of Lovin’ The Hills, with my friends talking about our races and sharing stories from our day and catching up on each other’s lives- The ability to do that after a win was pretty awesome, but not as awesome as seeing that all of my friends had great races too and were still smiling. Russ came in second only 10 minutes behind me, and Tim came in third.
My wife Kara was able to run with Kelly Morris and Melanie Bloemer and they all had a blast out there running together. Ricky George was able to run an impressive race even after an ankle injury that prevented him from training much on trails. I love seeing the look on racers faces such as Beau Hollis who just completed his first Lovin’ The Hills, such an amazing accomplishment, this race is no joke! All these runners overcoming the odds and running one tough race, that’s what it’s all about!
A great day and I’ll never forget this one.