Snowpocalypse: Land Between the Lakes Trail 23K Race Report

Six days before the LBL trail 23K, marathon, 60K and 50-miler, the Land Between the Lakes area in Kentucky received 3 inches of ice topped by 4 inches of snow.  Some melting had occurred on Thursday and Friday in areas that receive sun, leaving behind a MESS of some hard-packed snowy areas with about 4 inches of snow and ice, some soft snowy/slushy areas, and lots of runoff and mud from the melted snow. However, I hadn't previewed the trail prior to the race to see how much snow remained, so I didn't really know what awaited me!

I spent the night before the race in Grand Rivers and had a wonderful dinner with some very cool trail runners from all over.  I only knew two of the people at our table of nine, but we were all quickly friends. It is funny--meet a runner for the very first time and immediately have a thousand things to talk about.  I love the running community so much.  One gentleman at our table was one I had passed some miles with at my last trail race two weeks ago.  The trail-running community is fairly small!

I tossed and turned for maybe 3 hours in my very own queen-sized bed and then gave up at 3:55 a.m., an hour before my alarm was set to go off.  I rarely sleep well before races!   Our hotel was super race-friendly, and they started serving breakfast at 4:30 a.m.   I started with coffee.  Of course.  4:30 a.m. selfie:

I only had to drive five minutes to the race start.  As I parked my car at 6:00 in the morning in downtown Grand Rivers, I should have had an inkling of what was to come.  Walking the quarter-mile from the parking area to the start, I had to skate across solid sheets of ice and step across mounds of plowed snow.

The first mile or so was on a main road, so it was clear.  Then we turned onto a side road that was solid ice!  From there we turned onto the 11-mile Canal Loop Trail, and I was surprised it looked like this:

The hard-packed snow was runnable, but it was treacherous.  It would be very easy to slide off down that embankment!

Throughout the race, there were 10 stream crossings!   We'd slip and slide down a snowy embankment, wade through 4-5 inches of mud, attempt to jump across the stream (with varying degrees of success!), and then hike up the slippery, snowy other side in our now muddy and possibly wet shoes.  There was certainly no danger of getting lost.  Just follow the dirty snow!

I was pretty happy that my stream crossings were successful and my shoes stayed dry through mile 7.   However, after that, my left shoe and sock were soaked during a stream crossing.  Then a few minutes later, both were soaked.  Icy melted snow water is pretty darn COLD on your feet!

Somewhere after the 10K point, I ran into my friend Dawn and we ran most of the rest of the race together. She is from Toronto, and running in the snow wasn't foreign to her.  We chatted and made the best of a tough situation!  Somewhere around mile 9, I turned to say something to her, then when I turned back around, I lost my footing on an uneven snowbank and fell right over.  It wasn't a graceful or an epically cool fall.  I just fell over onto the snow.  It was my only fall of the day, shockingly!

Also about mile 9, the temp started heating up and the hard-packed snow was no more.  It was a soft, slushy kind of snow that your shoes sink deeply into with every step.

It was also around this point that I realized how tired I was from fighting the snow.  If you've ever run in sand, it was like that at times---except the sand was slippery and made your feet cold!   Dawn and I started hiking the uphills at this point.  I couldn't get any traction at all!

At mile 11, I realized something startling:  my feet were numb.  Both of them.  Completely.  I could not feel my toes.  Of course, they'd been wet and immersed in snow and mud for many miles at this point!  Getting pretty sloppy:

 I kept plugging along though, numb feet and all.  I knew we were almost done with the trail and waited expectantly to see pavement as the last 1.7 miles were on the road back into town.

PAVEMENT NEVER LOOKED SO GOOD!   I exited the trail and turned down the still ice-covered side road, then I was back on the main road.   We had to go up two long, gradual hills.  Last year, those hills disheartened me.  I had run a terrible race and felt awful at that point.  I basically walked the whole 1.7 miles.  This year, I EMBRACED those hills and made a deal with myself:  I will NOT walk on this home stretch.  And I didn't.  I also "chicked" four guys (passed them), but a girl also chicked me.   It does feel good to pass four men on the home stretch, I'm not going to lie!  

It took a while for me to get my road legs back, but finally by the end, I was able to get down almost to normal half-marathon pace.  My legs had taken a beating though!

Last year in my terrible race on the same DRY trail, I finished in 3:07, head down, spirit broken.  This year, I finished in 3:06:55 with a happy and determined smile on my face. That is a WIN in my book!

As it turned out, it was probably the toughest 14 miles I've ever run.  The Canal Loop at LBL is fairly challenging anyway, but fighting with snow, mud and ice certainly added to the challenge.  I will definitely remember my snowy run!

Post race with my friend Dawn and new friend Rob: