In 2006 after moving back to Louisville from the White Mountains in NH I began to trail run. After living in the White Mountains and hiking the Appalachian Trail in its entirety, trail running on Kentucky's run-able trails enticed me more than hiking here in the Midwest as trail running gave me something to focus on. Its a dance with the terrain where one is constantly engaged, navigating roots, rocks, ridgelines and obstacles. Upon moving back to Kentucky I missed all day hikes in the Whites but my time was also more crunched. I could cover 24 miles and climb 6000' at Jefferson Memorial Forest in 4 hours and still tend to a busy day of work and classes.
The first fall Kara and I were in Kentucky I signed up for the Kentucky Ultra Series. This was a series of races that included a marathon at Otter Creek in December, a 50k at Jefferson Memorial Forest in February, and a 50 mile run in March at Land Between the Lakes. Trail Running was exploding and it was the era of Krupicka and dirtbag running and the whole scene had me on fire to spend as much time on trails as possible honing the craft. Whenever I could I put my nose in a book or got online and studied nutrition, form, heart rate, injury prevention, etc. I wanted to truly meet my potential.
Louisville Lovin' the Hills 50K is a badass race. I can't think of any other 50k courses that boast over 6000' of climbing. It's my dream course; raw, powerful, brutal, steep climbs and descents, technical.
I remember the earliest years out there. On the Siltstone out and back seeing guys like Eric Grossman and Russ Goodman charging back still looking strong after all those miles. I'll never forget those images of the early years and the feeling of "wanting to be them" one day.
Not only is Louisville Lovin' the Hills my hometown race but it was my first Ultra. It's become a family. Todd and Cynthia heady have made the race an annual homecoming of sorts and I love them both. They are both genuinely awesome people who put on a great run. Hanging out after the race and catching up with everyone as we dine on a smorgasbord of delicious eats is what it's all about.
In the 10 years since that first experience there have been a lot of highs and not many lows. It's kept me fueled. It's become a system, a ritual, a science. January is high mileage and high intensity on trails to prep for LLTH. One week of easy recovery miles post LLTH and then it's time to maintain mileage and intensity the rest of February for LBL 50 Mile in March which is a great race in it's own right full of strong community, tough competition and great people.
This January's routine would need to vary slightly from my normal schedule. I'd need to cut mileage a little to allow for recovery from a strong 100k I raced on January 2. I kept my mileage low in December to make sure I came out of The Pistol fresh and planned on hitting it hard in January.
My mileage in January was still much lower than normal with some weeks as much as half of normal. In the past I've run close to 100 trail miles weekly in January, but this month I was having trouble finding the time to get in 60 miles weekly due to a busy schedule and lots of snow mid-month. My body fat percentage stayed the same (4.5%-5%), but I added few pounds of muscle from doing squats and some extra weight routines at the gym to stay injury free. Regardless, I kept my diet up and ate a lot and fueled appropriately. I wasn't getting in high mileage, but the quality was spot on, with appropriate intensity on the climbs, and I got some good training in the snow.
The week before the race I found my motivation waning. I was completely exhausted and stressed from pushing to accomplish everything that my "life" requires. Running was strong and going well, but I felt I was barely treading water in regards to my other priorities. Motivation can be a bitch. I need to remind myself sometimes that all of my stress is SELF-IMPOSED and honestly for the most part I don't have to do most of what I'm stressing about. Half of the balls I'm juggling can just be dropped. I have to remind myself Chill the F out and focus on real priorities and learn to put some things on the back burner, My real priorities are my kiddo, family, nursing and being a running coach, etc. Music is a fun hobby, not a job, and I shouldn't stress so much about practice. Occasionally I need to let go. One day off won't kill me. I don't need to be "on" 24/7. I'm working hard on some things I'm excited about but I can't do everything at once. This is a simple rule in goal setting. To reach a goal, distractions are detrimental, cut the fat and focus on the task. There is always a cost of pushing, of burning the candle at all ends. Downtime is needed. Stress is incredibly detrimental to performance as it hinders drive. When I push hard and take on too much, I tend to live inside my head and become vacant to the people around me because I'm constantly thinking about what I need to do next. That's not cool and its not healthy. Remember...it's all about maximizing our potential. Try to juggle too much and ALL the balls drop.
The days immediately before the race I found complete salvation. I didn't check my phone all day and I didn't go anywhere. I learned to LET GO; to let go of the need to control every moment and constantly be pushing, be productive, be working towards a goal. I refocused and took care of my real priorities. I spent an extra day with my daughter. Instead of spending two hours shuttling her to grandmothers, I hung out with her, and ran a little less that day. I simplified. I tried to be present in the moment at my job nursing and not worry about what else I could be doing. The result? Peace. Happiness. Rejuvenation. On Friday I took my daughter to school close by, and then came home to a quiet house. I was able to decompress finally. I stopped being forward thinking and was able to just BE. I felt vigor. I felt energized. I was in the moment and finally free of myself. Shutting it all off put the ball in my court. By mid-day Friday I was truly excited to be free of the self-imposed shit I had been surrounding myself with. By letting go of control ironically I was back in control.
Race morning I started with passion inside. It was cold and I felt free and alive in the moment, the bitter cold air stinging my exposed flesh made me feel invigorated. I wanted to destroy myself out on the course...raw, brutal, physical. I felt GOOD.
I found myself in the early miles in the company of good friends Jeremy Brown, Ben Shirrell and another gent I'm not sure I know. It was nice camaraderie and these dude are solid are trails. I think Ben Shirrell could be a fantastic trail runner some day soon. He ran with a solid game plan and paced perfectly.
I was slightly relieved and somewhat disappointed there were no other 50k guys around me in the early miles. I was pushing the climbs and helping to set pace for the 15 mile guys and I knew from the start it would be a strong day in the hills.
Around mile 7 I found myself alone out in front with no other 15 mile guys around. Time trial efforts tend to work well enough for me. I had confidence I could push myself pretty hard without the motivating force of others on my tail or out in front, but I knew it would be a struggle to beat times of years past with the great battles that have occurred on the trails. It was different than in previous years since I was in front from the start.
I thought of LLTH's of past and runs I did with Grossman once I'd finally gotten a little faster. One of the more memorable LLTH's was with Eric where it came down to the final climb on the course and only a minute separated us...for me it was pretty epic. He trailed me the whole run back on Siltstone, staying right on my heals. I played my cards right trying to grind him out over the long haul to take him out in the closing miles, but he pushed hard and passed me on the last climb. At UROC 100k several months prior I had passed him on the final climb. It was very cool to be cat and mousing with this guy I respected from the time I started running. Little did I know back then we'd share some of my fondest memories together like the Tour de Virginia running 600 miles on the Appalachian Trail in VA in 108 degree weather.
I thought about just last year in which Matt Hoyes led all the way into Scotts gap and I wondered if he would hold pace and get his LLTH win. He'd be running so strong all year and finally broke into an impressive 2:30's marathon PR. I finally caught him at Scotts Gap and we shared some miles together in and I passed him. I spent the last 6 miles out in front pushing my hardest and as much as I didn't want to check my shoulder I did occasionally to see if I saw him on any approaching ridgelines. Matt is a new dad, so congrats to him!
I kept memories alive the whole run. Memories of seeing Scott Breeden come in as a youngster many years ago and now grow up in the sport and dominate.
I felt good the whole time. Nutrition was perfect and the body held up well. I ran out on Siltstone in under 60 minutes which is always my benchmark for a solid run. The return trip on Siltstone ended up being about 62 minutes which I'll take. It was a solid finish.
On the final climb up from the welcome center I had the pleasure of seeing my family which was awesome. I'd had the joy of seeing my daughter Denali all day as she helped crew with Stephanie, but at the welcome center, I heard a cow bell ringing and noticed it was my niece Skylar, and then I noticed my parents and sister and nephew! It was very nice of them to make the trip out to see the finish of the race, and to see my 10 years in a row at LLTH end in defending my win from last year with a pretty solid run!
So... The details. (The course has changed and varied in mileage quite a bit over the years...so times are all relative, but it's still fun to see.)
2007-9th place 5:52
2008-4th place 5:20
2009-5th place 5:14
2010-4th place 5:41
2011-1st Place 5:09
2012-2nd Place 4:47
2013-2nd Place 4:37
2014-3rd Place 5:48
2015-1st Place 4:41
2016-1st Place 4:53
Many thanks to Cynthia for the special and thoughtful award! I'm looking forward to next yr.
2016 has been lucky so far!