Louisville’s Lovin’ The Hills 50k trail run was my first ultra back in February 2007. I had no idea what I was getting into. While it may not be the toughest 50k in the country; with roughly 14,000 feet of ascent, it’s pretty darned tough. I didn’t know anything about proper nutrition, didn’t even own a pair of trail running shoes. It snowed that day so the trails were pretty slick. I was nursing a sore leg. My time that day was 9 hours 14 minutes. I was pretty sure I came in last place, but a few managed to slip in behind me. After finishing I thought that was one tough run and while I’m glad I did it, I never wanted to do it again. Well you know what that means. A few days later I was thinking about possibly going back for some revenge on those Kentucky hills.
I learned a lot in the past year. I learned that my leg problem was caused by a tight hamstring. I learned that trail shoes are priceless on ice and snow covered or muddy trails. I learned proper nutrition before the run and refueling during the run. During the past year I was blessed with good health and was able to get in some solid training, not just running, but I also kicked my strength conditioning up a notch. Lots of burpees, squats, and box jumps. This year I was about 15 pounds lighter at the start of the race.
I followed Hammer’s advice on nutrition. The night before the race I ate maple pancakes at Cracker Barrel around 9 pm. I slept until 6 am, so with an 8 am race start it was too late to eat breakfast since Hammer recommends your last meal be no less than three hours before the start. Hammer also recommends taking 100 to 200 calories about 5 to 10 minutes before the start, so I ate a Hammer gel about 10 minutes to 8. Hammer’s philosophy is replenishment rather than replacement. While burning 700 to 900 calories an hour you only replenish with 200 to 300 calorie per hour. I lost count of the number of Hammer gels I ate during the race, but between those and the Heed I was drinking I’d estimate that I was taking in about 200 calories an hour. I was also taking Endurolytes capsules, about one per hour. The aid stations were well stocked with all kinds of goodies, but I only ate a few crackers and Pringles from the last couple of aid stations.
The chart above shows the elevation profile for the last 17.5 miles of the race. The website where I found it says, “Please note that the miles are close together on the chart so it is not as bad as it looks.”
Most of the runners I talked to after the race agreed that it is as bad as it looks.
At the start of the run it was about 30 degrees and there was some ice and snow on the trails. The first 13 or so miles consists of two different loops with both bringing you back to the starting line. I was running with my training partner Tom. We kept a steady pace and walked all the big hills. Physically I felt pretty good through both loops, but mentally I was down a little. The last 17.5 miles is an out and back. I stayed behind Tom because he sets a more reasonable pace than I would have. By mile 16 I starting feeling better mentally and wanted to pick the pace up some, but was patient and stayed behind Tom. It was probably around mile 19 or 20 that I decided it was time to start pushing a little harder. As I approached the turn around at 22+ miles I started thinking that if I kept this pace I could beat 7 hours. Shortly after the turn I passed three or four other runners which was a huge mental boost for me. I was walking the toughest hills, but some of the easier hills I ran. I kept telling myself that runners who want to beat 7 hours don’t walk when they can run. At the 25 mile aid station I was very confident. I knew that if the wheels didn’t fall off I would easily beat 7 hours. At the 28 mile aid station I realized that if I pushed myself to the finish, not only would I beat 7 hours, I would beat 6:30. Fueled by pure adrenaline I ran most of the way to the finish except for the toughest hills. When I saw a sign that said ½ mile to go I started getting severe cramps and spasms in my inner thigh. So close and now some dumb cramp is going to cripple me. No way! I pushed on and when I could first see the clock at the finish it read 6:28. I had to run past it a short way and then turn back toward it. As I finished it read 6:30 and some seconds. I was overcome with emotion. All that hard work paid off.
During the run a volunteer along the course asked if we were lovin’ the hills yet. I said I don’t know about love, I’d call it more a deep admiration and respect. You have to respect those hills. Last year those hills chewed me up. This year I feel like I took out a little sweet revenge on the hills.
There are links to the elevation chart, videos of the course, and LLTH blog at the Headfirst Performance website. A big thanks to all the volunteers, the race directors, and the Cherokee Road Runners for putting on a great event.