Land Between the Lakes 50 Mile

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:

  • Finish
  • 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.

First loop at Land Between the Lakes 50 Mile 2014

Image courtesy of Craig Dooley

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.

Second loop at Land Between the Lakes 50 Mile 2014

Image courtesy of Craig Dooley

Once again, I wrapped up my second loop faster than expected. Perhaps a 50 mile PR was in sight?

Perhaps, until this happened.

Epic mud at Land Between the Lakes 50 Mile

Photo courtesy of Tim Smith

…and this.

More mud at Land Between the Lakes 50 Mile

Photo courtesy of Tim Smith

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:

Land Between the Lakes 50 Mile buckle

One of the neatest buckles I’ve earned in a race

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.

Larisa and Melanie at the Land Between the Lakes finish line

With my friend Melanie, winner of the women’s 60k race

Up next…

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…

Fueling

I used a combination of TailwindVFuel, 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/Heart Rate

  • Calories burned – 5,637
  • Average HR – 154
  • Max HR – 167

Gear/Clothes

  • 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
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13 thoughts on “Land Between the Lakes 50 Mile

  1. M says:

    I definitely want to know more about your fueling (and everyday eating as it affects your training/fueling/racing). I’m always looking to improve and have read about these products. Also, what do you do differently fueling-wise in a marathon vs. an ultra? Thanks for posting and best of luck in your next races and your Olympic Trials training, so exciting!

  2. Congratulations on a great race and for gutting through those conditions! I would love to read fueling advice/experiences. I had some issues at my first 50 @ StoneCat, but got through it OK. Now that I’ve registered for Ghost Train 100, I’ve gotta hone the fueling! THanks for another great post.

  3. I so glad you continued on for the fourth loop. You looked really strong on that third loop (as you were pulling away from me :)

    Congratulations on a great run.

  4. M, thanks for the kind words. I’ll look to get a post up on the subject in the next week or two. Fueling for endurance events has always fascinated me. Though there are several approaches one can follow, it always boils down to learning your own body and what works best for you individually.

    I’ve found that I really do well on a “carb cycling” sort of diet in everyday life. I eat primarily low carb / high fat on recovery days, and then bump up my carbs on days that I’m running long and/or hard. Prior to adopting this approach, I ate a pretty terrible diet (high in sugar and processed foods), and it wasn’t until I made better decisions about my day-to-day eating that I was really able to make progress with my running.

    Regarding fueling – I’ve trained my body to a point where it requires very little fuel during exercise. I perform most of my training runs fasted at this point, though will sometimes take a PocketFuel, VESPA, or UCAN drink prior to a long, hard effort. This has enabled me to become very efficient at burning fat as a fuel source, which helps immensely at races of all distances. More to come…

  5. Conditions were “epic” out there for sure, and perhaps the toughest I’ve ever encountered at an ultra. A first for me: experiencing my feet go entirely numb after slogging through snowmelt for a few hours. Ah well, that’s the beauty of ultras. You can never quite know what to expect!

    The buckle is certainly one of my favorites. I really need to order a belt at some point so I can start wearing these beauties.

  6. Thank you, Lisa. I really believe that gutting out the tougher races only helps you shine when conditions are ideal. A fueling post is most definitely long overdue, and I’ll be writing one up in the next week or so. I posted a little bit of detail in this comment above, but will go into much greater depth when I have the time to get some thoughts on paper.

    Ghost Train is a wonderful race! The rail trail is just lovely and Steve is a top notch RD. Will you be running any other ultras this spring/summer?

  7. Tina, thank you! I was really impressed with just how well Tailwind worked out for me, especially in combination with VFuel and VESPA. I’m eager to continue trying it out at more races.

    Which 50k are you signed up to run? Best of luck with your training.

  8. Jesse, I’m still in shock over Eastern States. I wasn’t expecting to run a time like that three weeks after a 50 miler. It was really a breakout race for me mentally. I now have a glimmer of hope that I’ll be able to recover from Boston in time for Ice Age.

    What’s next on the horizon for you? I’m dying for some snow-free trail at this point!

  9. Rob, thank you! It took a lot of mental effort to push on for that fourth loop, but as soon as I was out there I ended up feeling okay. Conditions were so crazy at that point that it was almost comical, and for whatever reason that kept my spirits up.

    Congratulations on your finish and for sticking it out in that mud. Any fun races planned for this spring?

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