|Recovering, warm and full of soup, with my buddy Tom.|
2013's LLTH was a record breaking affair. Total number of participants was the highest ever, and the course record was obliterated. It started out much like the others that I've run - the front of the 50k group keeping it conversational for the first couple of miles while a few of the 6 and 15 milers blast up the trail.
Absent this year was race founder and the event's most prolific winner, Eric Grossman. So, it looked like it would be a showdown between Scott Breeden and Troy Shellhamer, but you should never discount the other players who may have come in from out of state, or the strong guys who have gotten faster.
Coming out of the Red Trail, Breeden was already starting to distance himself. I was just trying to stay comfortable running with Troy, and there were a couple of guys around that I didn't know. As we headed out on the Yost section, it looked like it was going to be a day for fast times. We bombed into the new section of much wider and flatter trails and the miles flew by. It was Troy, myself, and Harvey Lewis running together for all of that section.
We rolled by the Welcome Center and headed out onto the Siltstone for what I think is one of the sweetest sections of trail in the region. My legs were feeling pretty heavy, and I was beginning to consider whether or not I could keep up this pace. A couple of climbs later I had my answer as Troy and Harvey were getting smaller and smaller. By the time I reached the aid station at Scott's Gap, I was pretty happy to stand still for a second and prepare for what I think are three of the toughest miles of the race. A friend of Troy's gave me the low down. As upbeat as she could be, she explained that Troy and Harvey were up about five minutes and Scott was up fifteen. "Fifteen minutes?" I asked. That was more like an end of the race kind of gap, and we had (well, I had) about twelve miles left to run. Ouch.
So I headed into Scott's Gap loop aiming to minimize the damage. While I was trying to will myself up the first climb, I got a glimpse of what good climbing looked like. Ryan Case, from Ann Arbor MI, shot past me leaving no chance to go with him. He was climbing super strong, and by the day's end would narrowly miss catching 3rd place.
With Scott's Gap finally behind me, I had the return trip on the Siltstone and few additional miles to the finish. I was running 5th which I was OK with, and my pace through the first section of the Siltstone felt pretty good. Then, while I was stopped at the aid station at Bearcamp Rd., Russ Goodman came rolling through. My introduction to racing LLTH came from Russ when he ran away from me on the Purple Heart Trail (they don't use that trail now that Scott's Gap has been reopened) as he went on to win, beating me by 12 minutes. Needless to say, he's not the kind of guy you want to have pass you late in the race. But, it was a good shot in the arm for me. I hadn't been really racing for hours and now I had to decide whether or not to just let him go, or to dig deep and get that spot back. I have a ton of respect for Russ and knew that even if I got back in front of him, I wouldn't be safe until I crossed the finish line. I simply tried to run more of the climbs than he was, and soon moved back into 5th. Pushing myself hard to the end, I managed to stay away.
5:03 was my fastest LLTH yet - fifteen minutes better than last year and one place worse. Although it would've been nice to go under five hours, according to realendurance.com, my time is the 13th fastest at LLTH all time. That's pretty cool. Big kudos to all the folks that make this race so special - Cynthia Heady, Ed Kirk, Louisville Parks, all of the marvelous volunteers, the sponsors, the folks that come from so far away (Minnesota, Iowa, Michigan, N. Carolina, and all the surrounding states), and to all of the 250 or so who braved this course. Congrats to Scott and Troy for breaking the course record - Troy is running great, Breeden is looking super human. It was good to meet Harvey Lewis and run with him for a little while. I now know that he's done this race before - he's just way faster now. Thanks to Ryan from Michigan for reminding what going up hill is supposed to look like. And, special props to my good friend Tom Nielsen for completing his first LLTH 50k. Look out LBL, here we come.