Sunday, February 13, 2011

Louisville Lovin' the Hills 50K Race Report -February 2011

Louisville Lovin’ The Hills Race Report –February 12, 2011.
Troy Shellhamer

Race Literacy

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.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

New Spring Shoes to Get Excited About.

I wrote two entries today, so check out the entry below as well...

Finally! There is a whole batch of shoes to get excited about!

Maybe it is the FiveFingers movement, or just a total lack of low'slung racing flats for trails supportive enough for a 50 miler, but there a lot of great things coming to stores in spring 2011,

Keen A86
Haven't gotten a chance to  road test these, but I'm getting some in a few weeks to test out! Could be a competitive shoe for Keen finally!? It would be a first! 9.4 oz, drop unknown

Montrail Rogue Racer- Getting to test these in one week, Feb is here! 8.8 Oz 10mm drop

Montrail Rogue Racer upper

Saucony Peregrine- Still trying to source these without paying retail! The peregrines counterpart for the road however, has been getting nothing short of RAVE reviews, and a friend of mine, even wore the Kinvara, (road version), during part of the Pinhoti 100! I am excited to try this as it has the lowest drop in most any trail racer I have seen which still has enough support and cushion for most to run a 50 miler in as long as the trails are good singletrack 9.2 oz. 4mm DROP!
<em>Saucony</em> - ProGrid <em>Peregrine</em>

Late Winter and Early Spring Racing

So after the Lookout Mountain 50 miler in December, it was time to make sure a little residual shin/tendon soreness was resolved permanently before attempting to tackle the big mileage weeks needed for the 3 upcoming ultra's in Feb, March, and April- a 50K, a 50 miler, and a 100 miler respectively.

January included a lot of treadmill miles, and I ventured from my typical training style. Doing long runs on the monster grades at Jefferson is my favorite terrain for 30 mile training runs and had been the staple run for Pinhoti training in November. However, due to soreness in some tendons in my ankle and shin I decided to take it easy on the grades at Jefferson and limit my run mileage to mostly 20ish mile runs on the Jefferson trails. I bumped up the number of days I run weekly to compensate, and ran flat and treadmill miles to still get in the mileage.

January was actually my biggest mileage month ever, and I averaged over 15 mi per day on my training days, which is good for me. I usually prefer one or two 30 mile runs weekly, with 5 to 14 mile runs in between. But the long runs seemed to leave me dragging, so I just took it easy with 20 mile or less runs and was able to actually get in more miles overall in the process. It has been a balancing act, but I feel like a did good balancing it all out on the tightrope.

Lovin' The Hills is a 50K here locally, which brings in some pretty great competition, and it is an "A" priority race for me. It's followed by the Land Between the Lakes 50 miler in March only four weeks after Lovin the Hills.

On April 2, is the Umstead 100 miler. (Only 3 weeks post the LBL 50 miler.) The race entry filled in 9 minutes, and I was able to get in via one of the competitive slots that the event organizer leaves open. I had to fight hard to get in, and I definitely DO NOT want to let the organizer down, so I am planning a 100 mile PR for Umstead, NO PRESSURE RIGHT!?!?!?!? LOL. Umstead is a course unlike many other 100 milers. It is a 12.5 mile loop which is run 8 times. I am shooting for inbetween 15 and 16 hours, so we'll see what happens. 

After UMSTEAD, I have 3 weeks until we fly out to San Diego to start the Pacific Crest Trail on the 2700 mile Journey from Mexico to Canada. I suppose I call it my "off season"- No running, only hiking 30 miles per day on trails at 10,000' with 35 pounds on my back!

The plan after Louisville Lovin' The Hills, is to get back into Pinhoti mind-set- this zen like training state where I run for fun only, not worrying about mileage or training, but for the shear love of running. The past month involved hitting it hard, and trying to avoid injury in the process, babying my shin and ankle and making sure I recovered from a big race season throughout the fall, involving Ironman, the Pinhoti 100, and the Lookout Mountain 50. (by doing more flat miles and treadmill runs as mentioned earlier).  I took care of myself, and chilled out on the 30 mi runs. I took it easy in relation to intensity, and in the process, managed to get in the monster base mileage needed to formulate a strong foundation, now it's time to zen out, and revive the childlike excitement that comes with running in the moment and being present in the now, which also means ramping up intensity when I feel like it, and taking days off when I feel like it, FREEDOM! God I love running.