Land Between the Lakes 50 Miler Race Report
Troy Shellhamer March 12, 2011
Trying to sit here the week after the race I have so many thoughts on the race I am not quite how I want to spin my report of the Land Between the Lakes 50 miler. Should I start with an action packed opener? …At the halfway point I couldn’t believe it; I caught and passed Zach Gingerich, one of the fastest ultra runners in the country, winner of the infamous Badwater Ultramarathon. My goal pace was 1h30m per lap and I was currently ahead of schedule running 1h25m per lap. We were setting a blistering pace, both on par to crush the course record. Who would blow up first?
Should I discuss training leading up to the race? …The weeks leading up to the Land Between the Lakes 50 Miler were some of the best weeks spent training in the past several months. Finally completely free of concerns of injury, I could tackle the climbs out at Jefferson Memorial Forest once again and get in big miles. That was my goal, getting in big miles to lead up to the Umstead 100 which was only 7 weeks after Lovin’ the Hills. Squeezing in Land Between the Lakes would be considered a training race for Umstead, but one in which I was trying to break the old course record in hopes of leading up to a great performance at Umstead.
Should I start with a deep introspection? Telling the story of how it feels to achieve a goal of beating the old course record, but still coming in 2nd place to the old course record holder.
Or, should I just recall it all- tell my story and recall what really down during the LBL 50 this year.
The week leading up to the LBL50 was rather smooth. Much smoother than a usual race week I might add. There was no threat of a head cold, which usually appears the week before a big race. There was promising weather on the horizon. I wasn't stressed about race day, even though I had high hopes of setting a course record. All in all, it was just calm and smooth. I believed it was just another training run. The course at LBL is set up in a loop format, which is run 4 times. This is a stress free set up, in that you can have a drop bag at the beginning of the loop, and there are several aid stations throughout the course for extra fluids or nutrition. I didn't need to worry about the course markings or fluids or nutrition, I have run hundreds of miles at previous LBL races. So all I had to do on race day was go and run 50 miles as quick as my body would allow. I made the decision on race week to stick with my tried and true La Sportiva Crosslites. They might be a little heavy and overkill for the high quality singletrack at LBL, but the new shoes I had ordered and toyed with were a little tight in the toe-box and maybe a little too minimal. If I went with the minimal shoes, my legs would probably get a little more trashed from the lack of stability offered and unfortunately, this race wasn't the end-all be-all. I had to think about my "A" race which loomed in the future, The Umstead 100, only 3 weeks after LBL.
Two weeks ago I went down to LBL and ran some practice laps on the course to assess the possibility of breaking the previous record . The course record was set by Zach Gingerich the previous year. Last year was the first year anyone has ever gone sub-seven hours on the course. Zach ran the 50 miles in six hours and forty minutes. That equates to running 4 laps at one hour thirty minutes per lap, and then allotting forty minutes of time for the road run section. (The start and finish is in Grand Rivers, which is a little resort town several miles outside of the loop which the race runs the majority of its miles on. You start in town and then run to the loop, then run back from the loop to the town on the road once again when you have finished your laps on the trail.) When I went down for the training run, I ran laps of 1 hour 24 minutes which would have broken the record. My training run was only 32 miles though and I needed to hold that pace for the entire 50.
As no one before Zach Gingerich had run a sub-seven hour pace at LBL, and I was shooting for his six hour forty minute course record. I felt I was in good company. I didn't think many others in the race would be shooting for that time. I was curious as to the likelihood of Zach Gingerich showing up again this year, which could put a big damper on my hopes to win this race. To clarify; Winning was goal number 1. Setting the course record was goal number 2. I heard it through the grapevine that Zach had not signed up to race the LBL 50 this year, but that Steve Durbin, the race director, (a great guy too!), had held a spot open for Zach "just in case." I was fairly certain Zach wouldn't be there and that the race would be open to the lowest bidder in the field. I don't quite know why I didn't think Zach would be there. Maybe it is the win of Badwater, or the 100 mile PR he ran at Umstead last year in just over 13 hours. (Yes, 13 hours and 23 minutes to run 100 miles) For some reason, I just didn't know what his goals were this year, and I didn't think he'd be there since he hadn't signed up.
Race morning was the most beautiful start I have been present for at LBL. It was in the mid-fifties already at six in the morning and there was not a cloud in the sky. I saw Russ Goodman at the starting line, (who thankfully was running in the 60K! ), and other friends of mine, Ricky George, Lee Lingo, Cynthia Heady, Melanie Bloemer, and a whole crew of Louisville people who are all awesome fun. We were all chatting away taking pre-race pics and then I felt immediate anxiety like when you're five years old and your parents just busted you doing something naughty. My stomach dropped out slightly and I felt tightness in my chest. Seeing Zach at the starting line was like seeing the hangman walking with a noose. I know he has been beaten before, but not on this course. This is flat and fast, his style running. He was coming off of a DNF at the Rocky Raccoon 100 miler in which Ian Sharman just ran a sub-thirteen hour 100 miler. Zach probably had something to prove.
In ultras if you begin to slip for one second and get caught up in running someone else’s race, you lose. The trick to running the perfect race is to run for yourself and yourself only. You can't gauge your performance and more importantly your race on another’s position relative to yours. Finishing strong is everything, and to do that, you must forego the wild antics in the beginning when everyone else is starting like bats out of hell. Long and slow and methodical is the key to success. It is a magical balancing and juggling act. Therefore, seeing Zach at the starting line should not have altered my race in any shape or form.
At the command to start I jumped on Zach's heels and began pursuit. I was in front of 99% of the race field, including hundreds of racers who were doing much shorter distances. I didn't mind this scenario, as honestly, a strong runner can recover from a quick start after their bid has been made in the beginning and their claim has been staked. My strength is strong finishes and so by the time that we had run our 1.75 miles on the road to enter the trail network, Zach was already out of sight. I knew that since I jumped in front of the rest of the field early, I wouldn't have to contend with maneuvering my way around the other racers as I ran on the narrow singletrack trail. The course record was 6:40, and I knew that if I stayed true to my effort, strategy, game plan, whatever, that I would run the best race possible.
The first few miles on the trail I ran with a guy named, Tim, from St. Louis. As always, the best aspect of Ultra is the multitude of 'Ultra-cool' people you run into. After the first aid station I was by myself already, and making haste. I didn't have a sense of ease and calm. I wanted to assassinate this race and destroy it. I wanted to do with flowery emotions or a good time out in the woods today. I do love the trails and the mountains, etcetera but today was about running fast. I wanted a continual effort from start to finish. During the Lovin' the Hills race, my competition stayed with me, not in front of me. I could rest and then take off again. This race though, the finish line was pulling me recklessly towards it like a city slicker being drug behind a rabid devil horse in the wild ole west. I don't think I was honestly running for me. My first lap was one hour and twenty four minutes, which was six minutes ahead of schedule. I didn't slow and recover for lap two; even though I was putting forth what I felt was less effort. I once again ran a one hour twenty four minute lap. Towards the end of the second lap I was doing great. I had settled into the pace I wanted and I was running with the mentality that no one else was out there, (which is when I do my best). Then the unthinkable happened. I caught Zach Gingerich. Near the end of the second lap, I saw his red baggy shorts bobbing through the forest and I was gaining on him. My plan was NOT to pass him, but follow behind him at his pace while I recovered and then I could wage my attack once I had recovered by running the pace he was setting that enabled me to catch him.
I led the 50 milers into the beginning of the third lap, with Zach Gingerich in tow. How could this be? It lasted about two minutes. At the aid station, I had no crew to pass me a bottle and so I had to run to my race bag to grab my bottle. This cost me a minute in which Zach took off. The first half of the loop was flat, and Zach was faster. The second half of the loop is hilly, my specialty. I would catch Zach at the end of the lap, see his red baggy shorts in the woods, and then I would have to WASTE another minute at the beginning of each of my laps, and he would be gone. It would take me another 11.3 miles to catch him, when the routine would start all over again.
My third lap hurt. I ran a fraction faster than my goal pace, at one hour twenty nine minutes. I was still ahead of schedule to beat the course record. Zach and I spoke briefly while running together at the halfway point about how the LBL course record would probably fall today. It was refreshing to finally talk with one of the fastest runners in the world. Seriously, this dude ran the Umstead 100 in thirteen hours twenty three minutes. He won the Badwater Ultramarathon which is 135 miles of pounding pavement in the heat to through Death Valley to Mount Whitney.
He was right in front of me, dragging me through the Land Between the Lakes Recreation area. Was this my greatest race ever or my worst? What could I do besides delay the burning in my entire body? I wanted to stop but there was no chance I could, or would ever do that. By running my first two laps six minutes faster than goal pace and running a minute faster for the third lap, there was no room for a stellar finish. I was hanging on for dear life, pushing through the pain and trying to not think about anything. As I stated earlier, I find the best ultra finishes come when you can surge ahead the last 25% of the race. To "surge" ahead, all you really need to do is hold pace. This strategy has worked beautifully in the past, but it just wasn't going to happen today. I had dug too deep. I was in maintenance mode. Fighting hard to hold pace but it was proving to be a difficult task as I clocked in my final lap at one hour thirty-six minutes, only six minutes slower than goal pace. I was still far ahead of the curve and knew that the record was going to fall that day, but I still wanted to seek out Zach and bridge the gap.
I knew that as soon as I completed my fourth lap, I would be able to hammer on home. I could handle any amount of pain for the last three miles of the race, especially since these miles were on the road. I knew I could jump up to at least 8.5 miles per hour from the 7.5 miles per hour I was running on trails. Once you exit the trail, there is a small out and back section of the course that is uphill. You have to do this small out and back before heading back to the finish line in Grand Rivers to actually make the race 50 miles.
I saw Zach on the out and back. We gave each other a high-five and congratulated one another. I knew that although he was only a few minutes ahead which is a tiny gap in a 50 miler, I could not catch him on the road. I did however, want to kill myself to try to get as close as possible. I wasn't giving up. I was attacking. I wanted the smallest fraction of time possible between our times. I managed to run just over 6 minute miles, (just under 10 miles per hour), for the last two miles. I lit a fire under my tail as soon as I realized that I might be able to break the six hour thirty minute mark. I crossed the line in 6:29. Six hours and twenty-nine minutes for 50 miles. I broke the old course record by eleven minutes.
Zach broke the old course record by around 18 minutes; Unbelievable. He finished in 6:22.
Apparently, Zach absolutely demolished the last two miles as well. I did not gain any time on him in those last several miles at all, and I was absolutely flying. I would like to think that maybe seeing me that close at the out and back, lit a little fire under his tail, but who knows...
It has taken me over a week to really take a step back and analyze this race. I was so shot after it was done; I was just rather emotionless and stoic. I said I was happy, but I didn't really know how I felt. Could I have done better? Could I have paced myself better for a stronger finish?
I honestly don't think I could have raced any faster. True, maybe I could have taken the first lap a bit slower, but my last lap was only six minutes over goal pace. That basically negates going slower the first lap. This violates everything I usually practice. But this was a true race, and I believe it is because I truly pushed myself to the complete edge, and barely held on, that I was so shot. I did hold on. I didn't blow up. I wasn't able to hold pace for the last lap, but going slower in the beginning wouldn't have saved my fourth lap. My fourth lap was actually pretty good, I was just fried, and I like finishing strong.
The emotion wasn't overflowing the day of or after the race. I was pleased, but I didn't really know how I felt. It was a mixed bag. It was a huge and complex race. I am, however, growing happier with this race as each day passes. It was just a lot to take in at first. I was really close to winning. My goal wasn't to get second. It was to win, and set the course record. In the past I tried to not gauge success on placement, but on finishing time and goals more pertinent to self and not others. By setting my goal on winning and not just breaking the breaking the course record, I managed to go above and beyond the realm of what I thought was reality. I thought on the best day possible I could run a course record 6:40. By spending my day chasing down Zach in hopes he would drop or blow, I ended up surpassing my own expectations of self. I stayed ahead of the 60K, (38 miler), race the whole day. I am very happy with that. There are a lot of factors I am now seeing that show me this race was more intense than I felt originally.
As always, the best part of the day was hanging around at the finish, talking to friends and racers about their races. Land Between the Lakes was my first 50 miler five years ago, and I have run it every year since. It will always be held deep in my heart as a very special event, with amazing people and community to support it.
Now, in only two weeks I tackle the course at Umstead, one hundred miles on a crushed granite running path. A super fast running surface, with the same elevation gains as Land Between the Lakes, just doubled. The course holds approximately 8000' of climbing on its 8 laps of 12.5 miles each.
Every race holds lessons. Sometimes the best performances aren't the most fun, and sometimes the most proud moments aren't relative to placement. Pinhoti holds such fond memories, and Umstead shall too. Running 100 miles in less than a day is always the definition of an epic experience. I can't wait.
Thursday, March 3, 2011
I always use my golf club analogy for running shoes. There isn’t really one shoe that is going to fill every need. There are drivers, putters, sand wedges, etc. With trail running shoes it’s the same- there are racing flats for single track perfection, cross country racing shoes, long mileage beefy trainers, mud shoes, and there are shoes that fill the middle ground in-between.
I came across the Avia Stoltz while researching shoes that I could wear during my upcoming 100 mile ultramarathon, the Umstead 100. I wanted a shoe which was what I call a hybrid, one that performs equally well on road and trails, because the running surface at Umstead is a fine crushed granite powder loop, which one could wear a road shoe or a trail shoe on. I wanted a firm sole in a light shoe, and the Avia looked like it might fit the bill.
The Avia Stoltz is a do-it-all trainer which can fulfill all your needs. It was designed for off-road triathletes. The shoes weighs in at 10 ounces, and still offers more cushioning and support than most other shoes in that weight range. The light weight is achieved by a micromesh upper which feels very comfortable against the foot, as it hugs your foots natural curves and anatomy. The shoe has a long pull tab in the back, making it easy to get on and off, since it is designed for fast transitions. The cut on the ankle is honestly higher than a lot of other shoes out there now, as minimalism is a movement which is taking over the running world. Personally, I don’t really like how high the ankle/collar/tongue rises on the shoe, but that being said, I feel that the sole on the shoe is so good, (and comfortable), I am willing to overlook the somewhat high ankle cut on the shoe which impedes the natural motion of the foot, and I will keep enjoying the shoe for its intended purpose. I have a disturbing amount of shoes in my arsenal, so that is saying something for this shoe by the way! I like it…
The shoe is very cushioned by dual density foam, and the heel provides plastic stability supports which aid in guidance. This shoe is still classified mostly as a cushioned trail runner by Avia, and they say it has minimal guidance even though it has plastic heel inserts. The forefoot cusioning is awesome, you definitely won't get jarred by rocks, roots, etc. You will not feel them through the forefoot of this shoe. After putting it through the ringer at Jefferson Memorial Forests highly technical singletrack, I find it feeling better after putting a few miles on it. It excels on terrain which is not technical, because the fit in the toebox in heel is rather high volume, which means my foot slips around a tiny bit. This is highly PERSONAL, because my foot is rather medium to low volume. The heel is definitely high volume in this shoe though, and so if your foot is high volume, you might really love this shoe. I find that I will be wearing mostly on non-technical trails where road work may come into play as well. Running at Cherokee park would be perfect terrain for this shoe, where you often find yourself on road traversing to the next trail.
The sole provided firm cushioning, which feels great on the crushed running path at Tom Sawyer. Once again, terrain in which this shoe truly excels, since it is not technical, and the wearer needn’t have top-notch trail-feel and the ability to handle tight switchbacks.
As far as sizing goes…I usually wear a 9.5 or a 10. Right now I am trying a size 9.5 out. I could probably jump to a 10. You really need to try them out. If anything, I would say order your normal size, or if anything, size up a ½ size if you usually float between 2 half-sizes.
This is one that I definitely recommend trying out for anyone looking to get into trail running, or for any other trail runners who are always looking for a new shoe to try out. It is only available locally at VO2 Multisport, so stop in and try it out. The guys at the shop are all awesome, and Jeff, the owner, even runs ultras too, so he is a great resource to help you find the right shoe.
As far as do-it-all shoes go, it’s going to be hard to beat the Avia Stoltz. Most shoes in this category usually feel a little sloppy to me as I tend to wear more minimal footwear, but the sole on this shoe is awesome, and the upper hugs the foot well enough that you don’t lose all dexterity and trail feel. This shoe excels on non-technical terrain, so for most mountain bike trails and singletrack trail it is a very good shoe that most runners will love. It offers all the support and cushioning one could want in a lightweight package, which is hard to do! It’s a sporty little Subaru, ready to tear it up off road and then get you home in style and comfort too! Oh and speaking of style, I think the shoe is pretty damn good looking too! But hey, I like a little flash…
-Just dropping in for a quick update.
We ate at our favorite local joint in Grand Rivers, "The Light Side" and enjoyed a leisurely breakfast over several hours and drank a ton of coffee hoping to energize our spirits. Around 11 pm the sun came out and we were ready to hit the trails.
The run started with a runny nose and the onset of a cold, but I quickly began to feel better, I managed to run the 11.3 mile loop much faster than anticipated and I have very high hopes for the 50 miler in March. Last year Zach Gingerich ran a 6 hour 40 minute course record on the 50 miler so I know where I need to be. Hint Hint... My goal is to go under 7 hours.
The Montrail Rogue Racers were pretty awesome. I have been searching high and low for a minimal shoe, which still offers enough support for a 50 or a 100 miler. I probably wouldn't wear the Rogue Racer on a singletrack course that was 100 miles, but for me, it is probably perfect for the LBL 50 here in 2 weeks, since it is on high quality singletrack.
The Rogue Racers offer a race slipper fit, which could be described as narrow in the toebox. In La Sportiva I wear a 10 in Crosslites, and in Montrail for the Mountain Masochist, (my 100 mile singletrack shoe), I wear a 9.5. My New Balance 101's are also a 9.5. With the Rogue Racer's I have a perfect fit if I wear literally the thinnest sock I own. If I even wear a thin Injinji the toebox is too tight and I would have to jump up to a size 10. If you are usually borderline on shoes, like how I wear a 9.5 or 10, I would recommend sizing up...That being said, my 9.5 are great, (perfect fit), as long as I wear a tiny teeny weeny sock.
The Rogues offer surprising support in such a light package. I would say that anyone who likes the La Sportiva Crosslite would also like the Rogue Racer for different applications which require less support and traction. The cut of the Rogue Racer is very low which allows for natural movement of the foot. The weight of the shoe is all in the sole, which provides good traction when needed, but the upper is so light that is sacrifices protection from rocks and roots and stumps. This means you best not stub your toe!
Overall, I am very pleased with the shoe. It is the lightest shoe I can imagine actually wearing for the entire 50 miles. I have tried the NB 101 in 50's before, but I usually don't stick with it for the whole race. The Rogue Racer offers the beauty of not having to change shoes.
I ran the 31+ miles for my training run on Saturday, in a little over 4 hours, which pleased me, as my last 2 laps were at race pace and I actually went faster than anticipated.
We camped that night at a beautiful secluded spot by Lake Barkley and slept well in our new Nemo Asashi tent. It’s very nice to finally have a car camping tent that we can actually sit upright in!
Upon returning to Louisville on Sunday and going to my mom and dad’s house to pick up Kody, (our dog), I was super excited to see that my PCT guidebooks had arrived.
It was a tough choice to decide upon a set of guidebooks and maps for the PCT because there are several options and honestly, many have their drawbacks. The set I had wanted from the beginning is also the most expensive, and once they arrived and inspecting them, I am very glad we got the ones we purchased. They contain maps within the books so you needn’t carry separate maps. (The set is made by a former thru-hiker named Erik the Black.)
I had the chance this week to read some journals written by former thru-hikers. My love for the lifestyle has me feeling lucky and wide-eyed in anticipation for the hike and for a thru-hike of the Continental Divide Trail in the future.
March 1 has arrived also…This means less than 2 months before I step foot on the PCT for a 2658 mile journey on foot from Mexico to Canada on the Pacific Crest Trail.