I've been doing a lot of running lately in preparation for the Illinois Marathon in four weeks. The past few weeks have been my peek mileage and I've been pretty tired. These isn't really the best time for a race, but I didn't let my fatigue stop me. I really wanted to do a half marathon at some point. I found out several weeks ago that many of the local Buffalo trail runners were heading to Kentucky to run the Land Between the Lakes (LBL) trail race this weekend. LBL has four different distances, the shortest of which is 23 KM (a little over a mile longer than a half marathon). Perfect.
The race is about 4.5 hours away from Champaign-Urbana, so we made it a road trip. I rode down there with Andrew and Sandra. We followed Cousin Don, Brian, Juan, & Natanya in another car. Once there we met Jeff, Chris, Wes, & Becky, who drove another car. Just before the race we met up with Marla, who came late Friday night. Jeff's sister lives 10 minutes from the race start/finish in Grand Rivers, and she was kind enough to let many of us sleep at her house the night before.
This area of Kentucky was hit pretty hard by an ice storm at the end of January. Many, many trees were knocked over or broken in half. The forest was pretty messy. Fortunately, with the hard work of many volunteers, the 11 mile LBL canal loop trail was cleaned up and ready for the runners.
We awoke early on race morning to make it to the starting line by 7 am. The longest event is 50 miles (yes, fifty miles), which takes a long time to complete, so the race started early. It had already been drizzling for a few hours and it wasn't supposed to let up anytime soon. This was going to be interesting.
I squeezed my way up towards the front of the starting line. I was running the shortest race and I assumed/hoped I was one of the faster runners there. We started off with 1.75 miles of paved road before we reached the trail. The runners spread out pretty quickly. One guy shot way out ahead of everyone else. Then there was a chase group of three or four. Then I was in the next group of three or four. My first (paved) mile was quick, but not unreasonable.
I counted the runners ahead of me and figured I was in 9th when we hit the trail. The trail immediately went under the bridge on the road where we started. As I passed beneath it I heard the familiar calls of "Buffaloooooooooo." This is what the Buffalo trail runners yell when they see other Buffalo on the trail. Some of the others running the longer races spotted me from up on the bridge as I ran beneath them.
The early miles were pretty easy. The trail had a lot of twists and turns but not many hills at this point. There was a little bit of jockeying for position as I moved from 9th to 8th to 7th to 8th to 9th to 8th and so on.
The trail was in pretty good shape, though there were clearly some spots that were messed up by the ice storm. In a number of places a tree along the side of the trail had blown over away from the trail and where it was uprooted there was a big hole that required fancy footwork to get around. The steady drizzle made the entire thing just a little bit muddy, but it wasn't as bad as it could have been. My shoes were never in any danger of being sucked off my feet.
Around miles 9 and 10 (I think) there three or so fairly big hills, which were steep enough to cause me difficulty, but not so steep I couldn't run up them. I really struggled with these hills. I tried to make up for my super slow uphills by really pushing the flats and the downhills, but I fell back to 10th and I was losing ground at this point.
I regained a little bit of ground after the hills relented. By the time I finished the 11 mile trail loop I moved back up to 9th. The aid station volunteers informed me that I was 5th. Curious. This was the point where the 23K runners left the trail. The marathon runners ran one more loop, the 60K runners ran two more loops, and the 50 mile runners ran three more loops. This placing discrepancy must have meant that four runners ahead of me (and I was running pretty fast) were racing at least twice as far as me, or maybe farther. Impressive.
I was able to pick up the pace again once I was back on the paved road, but despite running my last mile in 6:40 one guy still passed me. I assume this means I finished 6th, though I never got any confirmation on that. I just based that on what the aid station volunteers told me. It was a solid race for me. I wasn't thrilled with it, but I wasn't disappointed either.
After the race I was soaking wet, so I headed over to Cousin Don's van (the Patti-wagon) to change into dry clothes. Juan had a really good race, because I missed him finishing while I was changing my clothes. I grabbed my camera and made it to the finish area just in time to watch Andrew sprint across the line in a photo finish. The other guy barely edged him out.
Natanya finished a few minutes later as 2nd place female. Apparently her socks slid down during the race and her shoes rubbed her heels raw and bloody. It looked pretty painful.
Sandra just ran a tough trail marathon last weekend and she wasn't quite sure whether some pain in her foot would allow her to complete this race. Not only did she finish, she did so with a great big smile.
Now that all the Buffalo 23K runners were finished we headed indoors for some delicious vegetarian minestrone. Andrew accidentally locked his keys in the car before the race and asked around about who could help him get into it. A firefighter showed up with some tools, and after much work they finally go it.
We were pretty cold and wet so we didn't stick around long enough to watch the other Buffalo finish their longer races. They did call while we were driving back to Champaign-Urbana and apparently everyone made it alright. Another successful race for the Buffalo of central Illinois.