Friday, February 17, 2012

2012 Lovin' the Hills Race Report

In my previous post, My Transcendent Moments as a Runner, I discuss my most cherished moments in running. One is "Conquering THE Race." If you are a runner or know a runner, then you know what I mean. Since beginning racing in 2009, I've had two very significant races--one of which was the 2009 Kentucky Derby Mini-Marathon. I never thought that race could be topped, but after thinking about it for the last few days, I can honestly say that the 2012 Louisville's Lovin' the Hills race is my all-time favorite, most challenging and most emotionally invested race.

Almost immediately after having my son July 30, I was motivated to get strong and regain my running fitness. It has been a long and difficult challenge but I have been dedicated and disciplined. After running my first trail race in December, I was hooked and made a commitment to run the 15 mile option of the Lovin' the Hills race. But I was very concerned because I knew that given my time constraints, I didn't have the amount of time I would have liked to prepare. Prior to the race, I had never run more than 14 miles in my life and it had been more than 2 years since doing that. I was anxious, but I knew I'd regret not doing this race. And after watching Running the Sahara and hearing Ray Zahab say, "Any limitations that we have, are those that we set upon ourselves. If you think you can only run 5 or 10k, you’ll only run 5 or 10k. It’s where you set those goals—because really there are no boundaries," I knew I had to DO IT! If I told myself that I could run the 15, then I COULD!

The training runs 2 and 3 weeks before the race were humbling, to say the least. I was slow--I knew that already--but slow running over the course of 15 miles means you have to really know yourself, be tough mentally and be prepared with enough fuel for your body as well. Prior to running this race, I ran 13.4 miles on similar but not-as-tough terrain. I knew I COULD finish 15 but I wasn't sure how I'd feel doing it. So, my main goal was to finish. My second goal was to not finish last. And my third (secret) goal was to finish in 4:30 or less.

Driving to the start, I was nervous because it had been very cold and snowy the night before and the road to the start is basically all uphill and most people call it "scary." I was afraid it would be slick but luckily, it wasn't. At the turn, there was a sign directing the racers to the start. I honestly teared up a little in anticipation. Everything I have been working for was about to start in an hour! I was emotional and very, very excited.

The parking area was buzzing with activity and as I've found to be the case at trail events, the racers were extremely friendly. It's such a fun atmosphere. The man parked to my left was whistling and singing and talked with me about how over-prepared he always is (me too!). The woman parked on my right was super friendly but nervous because it was her first trail race. These events are like parties, and because they are small and geared to a specific interest, everyone knows each other, or at least it seems that way. And even those people that have only met you once will scream your name and run to give you a hug or a high five. It's incredible!

The race actually started on time and I was excited to run the first leg--I know it very well and I know I handle it very well. There was lots of chatting and laughter during the first 5 miles or more. My cousin was running the 6 mile race (the 6 mile, the 15 mile and the 50K all follow the same course for the first 6 miles) so we stayed close throughout, and it was fun to talk with her and everyone else nearby. I also met a man named Ted with whom, we discovered, I share a Birthday! (Trail racers are such a talkative bunch and you always make new friends!) Before the end of the first leg, I was behind a group that was running a steady pace except for on downhills. I decided to pass them and power down the hills and I broke away at that point. At the end of the first leg, I stopped for a bathroom break, some food and some Gatorade, thanked the volunteers for being in the freezing cold and then headed back on trail to start the worst part of the rae. This part leads onto the Blue-Mitchell Hill Lake Trail, which connects to the Yost Ridge Trail and a spur trail until finally, you are in the Yost area of the Forest and by far the most hilly section.

I was basically alone for over a mile and just focused on running strong, and I felt very good. On the Yost Ridge Trail (over 7 miles in), I saw the lead runner coming at me. He was flying and looked strong. I was impressed at his speed--if he was doing the 15 miler, he was almost done. And if he was doing the 50K, he was in a great position to finish near the top. Eventually, I saw the road crossing that meant I would be heading into the Yost area--the part of the race that I dreaded. As soon as I crossed the street and hit the single track, I looked uphill and saw a group of about 7 or 8 runners in the distance, coming right in my direction and flying downhill. I stayed clear of them to give them their space to run their race and I was shocked at how nice these guys were--all but one told ME that I was doing a great job. I saw Eric Grossman, who I was rooting for to win but he was at the back of the pack and dare I say, I doubted him. I shouldn't have.

Yost was a real challenge--it's extremely hilly and the fatigue started to settle in. I did catch up to some of the people that I had passed early in the race (who had apparently passed me when I took my break) and that gave me a little bit of a kick. I could see Ted about .25 mile ahead whenever the turns of the trail allowed it and I really wanted to catch up to him because he had been doing a nice, steady pace before and, well, he was just NICE! I wanted to talk some more! Eventually, I did catch up and I got my wish. I hit the wall at mile 11 and stayed there throughout mile 12. Had I not been with Ted, I'm fairly sure that I would have given in and walked but this nearly 70 year old man didn't give up and I wasn't about to either. (I found humor in the fact that we had apparently both reached for a Clif bar at the same time--and we both complained at how freaking hard it was. It was like chewing a huge piece of concrete because of how cold it was!)

Right after mile 12, there was another aid station and it was nice to see some friendly faces--runners and volunteers. There were oatmeal creme pies and crackers and cookies and all kinds of goodies but really, all I was concerned about was filling my handheld with water. After stretching out my VERY tired, stiff, sore legs, I took off again, knowing that I would soon be heading back to the finish--about another 5K was all we had left. I was feeling a lot if discomfort but wasn't ready to give up and just ran as much as I possibly could. It wasn't long before I was back out of Yost again (YIPPEE!) and back on the spur trail. I looked ahead after hitting a turn and thought I saw another runner--that gave me a little motivation. I WAS GOING TO FIND THIS PERSON! I never saw them again on the spur trail but after reaching the Yost Ridge trail again, I was happy to see my training buddy Ed! I wouldn't have made it through the training runs without him so it was great to see him at this point in the race.

When I made the turn from Yost Ridge to Blue trail, I looked downhill along the switchback and saw the elusive runner that I had seen earlier. YES! He was a considerable distance ahead but just seeing him made me feel happy! I watched him run around the lake fairly easily and I'll admit, I gave up the hope that I'd ever catch him. I saw Craig, the photographer, so I tried to look a little stronger than I felt! My Garmin beeped at me and I lost reception right at 13.44 miles. As I left the lake and made the turn back uphill, I saw the runner again and he had stopped to walk. I caught up to him and we talked--he was very nice and encouraged me. We saw the "house" where the finish was and we both got that extra kick. We could see the clock in the distance and it showed 3:5x:xx...we could potentially finish in under 4 hours! Somehow, my training buddy, Ed, had made his way to the turn to the finish and he was so encouraging and told me how awesome it was that I was going to finish in under 4 hours "easy!"

As I crossed the finish line, I looked for Mom but she wasn't there yet because I had told her I'd finish in 4:15 or 4:30! But my cousin (who had finished her 6 mile race a couple of hours earlier and had promised at the beginning of the race that she would come back to see me finish) was actually there waiting for me! Not many people would race, go home and then come back! She's awesome! I crossed the finish at 3:56 and received a tree--yes, a tree! And there was a Montrail rep there who was very complimentary about my shoes--the Montrail Mountain Masochist. I raved about the shoes to him--after all, they got me through the most grueling 4 hours of my running life!

I loved this race and I love Headfirst Performance for the awesome job they do for the racers. Cynthia Heady is an outstanding human being and she's also an outstanding soup and chili maker! I couldn't wait to get inside and enjoy her food! There were 6 different soups/chilis, the best coffee in the world and my personal favorite, the natural peanut butter and 7-grain bread! It doesn't get any better than that after a chilly 4 hour run on the best trails in the Louisville area!

I'm looking forward to doing this race again next year--but I'm hoping to double the distance and do the 50K. I can't wait!