The Louisville's Lovin' the Hills (LLTH) 50K trail race didn't go exactly as planned, but I survived and made it to the finish. When I started out Saturday morning, I had goals of racing close to the leaders, finishing among the top 3 and running close to five hours on the tough trails. But when the going gets tough you keep going, but you adjust your goals. My goals went from staying in the top 5, to staying in the top 10, to just finishing. I finally finished in 6 hours, 17 minutes and 33 seconds, about an hour off from my goal time, which got me 15th place out of the 68 finishers.
I felt really good when the race started - actually, too good. I didn't think the weather was too bad, just a tad chilly without much wind. And once I got running, it felt really good. For trails in February, it was decent weather. The one problem that did give me fits all day was the trails though. I couldn't get good footing at all and the up hills and down hills took a lot out of me. I struggled so much that by the time I reached 10 miles, I was already struggling to keep my pace. I fell down about a dozen times, turned my ankle about five times and did a few dives right off the course. The trails were kicking my butt, and I knew it.
With the 15-miler runners ahead of me, I think I was leading the 50K runners early on. I let some of the 15-milers go on and couldn't see anyone behind me so tried to stay relaxed, running my own pace. Troy Shellhamer eventually went passed me, and at around 10-12 miles (not really sure about this) two other 50K runners joined us to form a 4-person lead line. Russ Goodman was leading the line, followed by Shellhamer, myself, and Tim Barnes a little bit back.
Besides the tough up-and-down trails, what really threw me off was the constant change in pace. I'm more of a road runner that likes to get in a rhythm and pluck the miles away. The other three runners knew exactly what they were doing, they seemed to be pros at long-distance trail running. It seemed like every time we walked up a challenging hill, I would struggle to get back on their tails while they seemed to be floating.
With the slippery ground, the hills and the constant change in pace (all things my body wasn't used to), I knew I wouldn't be able to hold on to these guys for the entire race. I finally started to fall back at around 18-20 miles (not sure on this either), and before I knew it the trio was out of sight. Goodman ended up winning in 5:06:12, while Barnes came in second in 5:13:17 and Shellhamer got fourth in 5:20:08. The first female runner, who was flying when she passed me just before the final turnaround, came up with third overall in 5:18:04.
Meanwhile, I struggled to keep form. And just after the final turnaround, about eight miles from the finish I was told, while I was in fifth place overall, I started to cramp in more places than I could count. And when I started to cramp, I really started to cramp. I felt like I was in decent shape coming into the race, but I knew the differences in my training versus the conditions would get the best of me. My pattern was much of the same for the final eight miles: run until I cramped, walk a little, stop to try to work out my cramp, walk a little more, then run until I cramped again. I actually continued to enjoy the race while I was able to run, but the cramping and stopping is what really bugged me. I just got frustrated. And it didn't help that I went the wrong way a few times and had to backtrack. But that was my fault - I've figured out that trail running is about navigation as well, which is something I'm not very good at.
So, more people went past me than I wanted and more time passed, but I eventually finished. And although it wasn't what I had hoped for, I'm still glad for the experience. I love running on trails, but I definitely need some more work, both in my training and my racing strategy.
Some training changes I would make are adding way more fartlick-style sessions each week to get used to the adjustment in pace, add some walking intervals in my training, and increase my long run from 3 hours to close to 5. As for racing, I would start out even more conservative (even though I felt fine), stay relaxed and maybe walk the early hills a little more.
But overall, it was still a fun race. LLTH does a fantastic job. And I'm sure I'll be out on the trails in no time.