The first race for me this year was this past weekend. Louisville Lovin' The Hills has a 6 mile, 15 mile (which was actually 16 miles this year), and a 50k option. I opted for the 15 mile option because of a few reasons. First, I had never ran this race before. Second, I figured there were a lot of hills because of the name (Lovin' The Hills). Finally, with the harshness of this winter I have really had a hard time keeping a consistent training schedule going. By the end of the race I was very glad I didn't do the 50k!
I have ran a few trail races since I started running a couple years ago. I did a 9 mile trail race in the snow and an 8 mile that I got lost and ended up running 12. I have been getting some long runs in on the weekends during this winter so I figured a 15/16 mile trail race would be a decent challenge. What I didn't know was that it would end up being the hardest 16 miles I have ever ran!
I already mentioned about the harsh winter in the area but let me lay out the scenario for this race.
There was probably 3-4 inches of snow and about 3/4 an inch of ice on the ground. To top it off, race morning temperature was 20 degrees (which froze the opening of my water bottle during the race). I had seen a post about the trails the day before and they said there were a ton of trees and branches that were either weighted down by the ice into the path or completely broken into it. The race organizer said the forestry tried to clean up what they could but there wasn't much time between the ice storm and the race.
Here is what I encountered. As you can probably guess, running through 3-4 inches of snow and ice is going to slow you down a bit. I had already planned for this as I had been through it before. What I hadn't been through before was the ice. There was ice on the ground, ice on the trees, ice on the bridges, ice on everything (as you can see in the pictures). There were so many trees and branches crossing the path that I had to constantly switch between watching my footing and what could possibly smack me in the face. I even fell a few times by either slipping or tripping on down limbs. Not bad enough for injury but I would be lying if I said they didn't hurt.
Then there was the hills. There were so many hills on this run that it really was humbling at times. Some of them were so steep that everyone walked up them and just accepted that it couldn't be run up. The crazy part about the hills is that because of the snow and ice, going down the hills was just about as much work. If you got going to fast you could slide right off the trail. There was one hill I remember that as I got down to the bottom was a solid sheet of ice. The bottom of that hill was one of the times that I busted my rump on.
Just to give you an idea what the hills were like, here is the elevation chart for the 15/16 miler.
I don't really know what mile I was on but I am assuming a little past half way when I started getting cramps in my calves as I climbed a steep hill. I could work out the cramps and run when it was level or downhill but every uphill pretty much forced me to walking. By the end of the race I had a guy who had caught up with me tell me he would carry me up one hill if I couldn't do it. I finally had to tell him to go on because my calves and quads were cramping in BOTH legs at the same time! (and there was no way I was letting anyone carry me)
The good part about having to walk a few of the hills was the scenery. I got a chance to take a look around and see how beautiful the course was with the ice and snow on everything. It was truly breathtaking. I also have to hand it to everyone who had a part in making this race happen. The aid stations were fully stocked and everyone was extremely friendly and helpful. The food after the race was outstanding as well. Chili, cookies, coffee, hot chocolate, and bagels were just a few of the refueling options after the race.
All in all, I consider this an epic run which I fought through the ice, snow, down trees, and cramps to my worst timed 16 miles ever! (3 hours and 21 minutes). The trail was marked well despite the conditions and there was a nice finisher medal unlike any other I have seen. I can honestly say that it was a race unlike any other I have ever seen or attempted as well. Maybe I can attempt the 50k next year!
***Some of the pictures in this post I got from the race website (http://llth50.blogspot.com/)***