Kentucky: Land Between the Lakes marathon

Land Between the Lakes (LBL) was another of those races that several runners at other trail races had suggested. Race distances include 23k, marathon, 60k, and 50 miles. All races start at 6:30am and have a 12 hour limit – perfect for someone like me who is worrying about whether I was back in shape after a break. The website includes plenty of detail about the looped course. All runners start and finish in the same place, but the number of 11.3 mile loops to complete varies by distance. The website notes 4 climbs in the second half of the loop, with about 2000′ of gain total. My map was almost identical though the one linked on the website:

My elevation profile showed only 1700′ of gain, likely because my watch stopped at about mile 23:

I’d placed LBL on my list of possibilities for Kentucky early in my 50 states on trail planning. After Stone Cat, I finished another 50k in November at Tejas Trails’ Wild Hare as a last long training run for the Brazos Bend 50 mile in December. Both of those went well and I had a short break planned for early 2017, with the hope that I would have another race on on the calendar by March. Not only was LBL in early March, but it was also an hour’s drive from that friendly stranger I met on the plane in September on my way to Woodstock. Although he missed out on opportunities to crew at Wild Hare and Brazos Bend, he enthusiastically supported me doing LBL.

I flew to Nashville where the friendly stranger picked me up and we continued on to Grand Rivers, KY. It was about a 2 hour drive from the airport to packet pickup. Runners were given a choice of shirts, a hat, and a few other goodies. Our next stops were to find the aid stations where my friendly stranger would meet me and to check out the trail conditions. We found everything easily and were happy to discover that all aid stations could be reached by car. We then headed to our room just north of Grand Rivers, about 20 minutes from the start.

I was awakened the next morning by my friend’s laughter. He was apparently amused by the weather as he looked out the window.

At least this time I’d packed gloves and a jacket for the start.

Race report: We drove to the start at the marina and found parking with about half an hour before the race start. I spent the time trying to get warm. The start was in the marina parking lot and the first (and last) couple of miles are on the road, including over a couple of bridges. Here’s the view from the second bridge. The turn off to the right after that bridge is up and over a hill before turning onto the trail that runs under the bridge.

The snow was steady during my first loop but it wasn’t cold enough to stick to the trail. The trail was not too technical and there were plenty of views of the lakes. Aid stations were no more than 3 miles apart and had all of the usual trail food – chips, candy, coke. Although this was a big race with around 700 runners across the four distances, the trails weren’t crowded and were generally wide enough for easy passing (or for being passed). As is typical, the runners were friendly and there was plenty of opportunity for conversation.

By the second loop, the snow had stopped and the trails were a little muddy, but not too bad. I wore my Saucony Peregrine 5s and they were fine. I finally took off my throwaway jacket from Goodwill on the 2nd loop, but kept the gloves on for the entire race.

My friend wanted to get a sense of what the race was like, so he joined me on the section with the most climbs, from AS 3 to AS 4. He was excited and I think that ended up being my fastest section. At the end of my second loop, I turned back up the hill to the bridge. The last couple of miles were on road and my watch died just as I left the trail. I knew this was a slower marathon than in the past. My training hadn’t been as strong as in the fall and there had been more non-racing travel than usual. I’m not sure if it was the lack of training or lack of road running, but those last miles on the road were not fun despite being mostly downhill.

A small crowd cheered runners in at the finish. The party was a block away at the same place where we’d picked up packets the previous day. The building was warm, bathrooms were large enough to change in, and there were several varieties of soup and drinks for runners and crew. I was surprised at how many runners and families were hanging out at the party. We eventually made it back to our hotel to clean up, change, and check out the area. Overall, the race was well organized, the trails were in great shape, the scenery was nice, and there was plenty of food at aid stations and the post-race party.

Off-trail: We had dinner at Patti’s 1880s Settlement after the race. It’s a huge place and there were signs of spring blooming all over the grounds.

We drove back on the slow route, through the Land Between the Lakes National Recreation Area. We saw plenty of bison and birds. The drive is pretty and there’s so much to see that a day wasn’t enough.

One of the funniest moments of the weekend was the friendly stranger/my crew reporting on his aid station experiences. “A runner stopped at the passenger side of the car when I was waiting for you and asked if I minded if she went to the bathroom.” He said no problem, go ahead. “Then she squatted, right next to the car! She held onto the door at the open window and was able to hide from everyone right there by the aid station! Do you do that too?” Apparently this experience didn’t scare him away – he moved halfway across the country to me 3 weeks after this race.

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