March 8, 2014
Land Between the Lakes National Recreation Area
Grand Rivers, KY
I registered for Land Between the Lakes in a desperate effort to escape the arctic Northeast. Scenic, smooth, and very much runnable, the course sounded like an ideal place to shoot for a 50 mile personal best. Yet as appears to be the case with all of the races I’ve entered as of late, I seem have a knack for bringing bad weather with me wherever I travel. In the days leading up to the event, Western Kentucky was pummeled by a freak snowstorm. I was hopeful that the trails might drain out to some extent, but en route to Grand Rivers it became quite apparent that the snow was there to stay. The kind folks at packet pickup confirmed my inkling – conditions out on the course were going to be tough.
Ah well. I’m that odd sort of gal who thrives when the going gets rough, and I was ready for a challenge. With a 50 mile PR off the table, my goals entering into the race were simple:
- Have fun and stay positive
- Keep HR average between 140 and 155, allowing for terrain-dependent fluctuations
- Execute fueling plan, adapting if needed as the race progresses
The morning of March 8 dawned clear, calm, and cool. On the advice of my friend Troy Shellhamer, I positioned myself towards the front of the pack. With hundreds of runners entered in the race, I knew it would be important to jockey for position right at the start to avoid getting backed up on the singletrack. Feeling light and fresh after a week of tapering, I couldn’t wait to get started.
At 6:30am on the dot we were off. Adrenaline soaring, the first 1.9 miles of tarmac flew by. Turning onto the trail proper, I was greeted by a footbed of slippery, packed snow. Though pleasantly surprised at how firm conditions were to start, I found myself working a little harder than usual to keep from slip-sliding in my road shoes. With my heart rate trending higher than on plan, I backed off the pace slightly and allowed a few of the speedier guys to pass.
As billed in the course description, the Canal Trail Loop was downright beautiful. I completed my first loop in good time and began my second in good spirits. Though the trail was slightly slushier, the conditions almost seemed better that second time around. With aid stations every 3-4 miles, the race was extremely well-supported which enabled me to travel light. Other than a quick stop at my drop bag to pick up a few VFuel gels, I was thrilled at how steadily I was moving. I settled into a good rhythm with a friendly runner named Kyle. As it turned out, he had also run Lookout Mountain 50 back in December. The miles ticked by as we shared stories of our experiences there.
Once again, I wrapped up my second loop faster than expected. Perhaps a 50 mile PR was in sight?
Perhaps, until this happened.
Rising temperatures coupled with the trampling of several hundred pairs of feet had transformed the trail into a watery trench of snowmelt. My stride turned into more of a “wade” as I slogged through calf-deep sections of mud. Entering into the race I’d expected conditions to be hard, but this hard?
Struggling through that third loop, I started to question whether I’d be able to complete the full 50 mile distance. Dropping down to the 60km event seemed increasingly tempting. Conditions could only get worse at this point, and the thought of running through another 11 miles of mud, water, and ice seemed overwhelming. As much as I wanted to call it a day, I resolved to stay positive. I shifted my thoughts to the small little details that made the run special – the sweeping views across the lake, the fleeting mud-free sections of trail, the steadiness of my breathing, the beating of my heart.
Arriving back at the road, another surprise awaited me as the aid station volunteers informed me that I was in the top 5 overall for the 50 mile race. No quitting now, lady!
With renewed strength and a fresh mindset, I tackled that final loop with steady resolve. Now very acquainted with the course, it was comforting to know that every familiar hill climbed and mud pit I trudged through, would be the last of the day. My pace was far from fast, but I was still running.
…and for the first time ever in an ultra-distance race, I was downright thrilled to hit the 2 miles of asphalt that took me back towards Grand Rivers. With the finish in sight, I picked up the pace and sprinted as best I could, crossing the line in 7 hours, 28 minutes, and 14 seconds – first woman, fourth in the overall field, and winner of a super snazzy painted buckle:
As tough as conditions had been, I was glad to have slogged them out. It’s during those times where we need to dig deep that we are able to discover just how strong we really are.
My recovery from Land Between the Lakes went surprisingly smoothly. Since the race I’ve completed some quality fast finish long runs and track workouts in preparation for the Boston Marathon. I’m still on the fence as to whether I will run it at a hard effort or a steady training pace, as I’m also signed up to run the Ice Age Trail 50 Mile 19 days later. Lots of priorities to figure out!
Some fun facts…
I used a combination of Tailwind, VFuel, and VESPA during the race with huge success. It’s been neat to note how efficient my body is becoming with regards to fueling, which is a topic I might cover in a future blog post if there is any interest. All in all, I consumed ~1,250 calories during the run.
- Pre-race – 1 serving of Generation UCAN and 1 pouch of VESPA
- Gels consumed – 9 VFuel (7 peach cobbler, 1 chocolate, 1 vanilla)
- Water consumed – 40oz (mixed with 3 servings of Tailwind)
- VESPA consumed – 1 pouch in-race
- Salt consumed – 2 SaltStick tabs
- Protein consumed post-race – SFH Recovery (chocolate)
- Calories burned – 5,637
- Average HR – 154
- Max HR – 167
- UltrAspire Spry race vest
- UltrAspire 16oz handheld
- Polar RCX5 heart rate monitor
- Voler Artico Thermo arm warmers
- INKnBURN Lust tank top
- Pearl Izumi Infinity Run skirt
- Hoka Bondi B2s
- Drymax socks
- Dirty girl gaiters (skulls)
- Headsweats race hat
- Ryders Nitrous sunglasses