Most of you have read or heard of Mike Allen’s comment as he crossed the
finish line at “Louisville’s Lovin’the Hills 50K” (LLTH), “I ran out of loving before I
ran out of the hills”. Five years ago, I was there at the finish to greet Mike and to
hear those words. Mike had invited me to come down to Louisville and run one
of his favorite races. I was hooked on this incredibly hard course.
“Louisville’s Lovin’ the Hills 50K and 15 Mile Trail Races” are held just south of
Louisville around Valentine’s Day each year. For the past five years, I’ve joined
several of our local runners, Ingrid Honzak, Bob Burke, and Mike Allen, to run
hills (I should really say walk) unlike any that we have in the Miami Valley. Two
years ago, I convinced Jocelyn Piccone to come down to see what I had been
blathering on about. She experienced some of the worst conditions imaginable,
ice covered off camber single track trails, mud, more mud, and ascents and
descents that seem to go on forever. She continues to run with me despite the
While I certainly don’t consider myself a trail evangelist, there is a great thrill with
introducing others to new trails and great events. This year’s race included 12
ORRRC Dirt Dawgs, seven of which experienced LLTH for the first time. Susan
Harris, Sarah Tebbens, Gina Colston, Ruth Kohstall, Andy Helmick, and Jeff
McPherson joined Jocelyn, Ingrid, Bob, Mike & me for what turned into an arctic
About a week before the race, we were running in shorts and t shirts in the most
unseasonable of weather. Early forecasts for the race expected mid-forties with
clear skies. With twelve of us planning to attend the race, there were a flurry of
emails back and forth as the weather proceeded to return to the norms of
February. By the morning of the race, temperatures had fallen to the low
twenties and with winds approaching 20 MPH, the wind chill was in the single
digits. And it stayed that way all day. The good news, the trails were frozen
solid with no mud. The bad news was the wind, which blasted the tops of the
ridges, especially in the last 18 miles of the course.
The course consisted of two different loops and then out to a three mile loop
before returning. The first two loops consist of ups and downs nestled into the
woods. There are switchbacks, but more often than not, the trails seem to go
straight out or down the hills perpendicular to the invisible contours lines
stacked on top of each other. These first loops offered some shelter to the wind
blasting in from the Northwest. From the tops of the hills, you could look down
to see runners snaking their way far below. Susan said that she preferred this
view to be down in the valley and looking up to see the slow progress of runners
trying to reach the next crest.
Running along one ridgeline, Jocelyn and I heard yodeling from another. Of
course it was Susan running with Gina & Tammy, singing songs from the
“Sound of Music”. We proceeded to play a ridge to ridge game of Marco Polo.
The 15 Mile racers and the 50K racers split at about the 14 mile point.
Distances at this race were a mere approximation. Todd Heady, the race
director Cynthia’s husband, is known for his long courses. We came to find out
much later in the day that the 50K was much closer to 33 miles than 31. It really
doesn’t matter, you just need to cross the finish line.
The second portion of the course, The Siltstone Trail, is different than the first.
After climbing out of the valleys, most of the running is along the top of ridges
offering great views. These views meant exposure however. As I ran, power
walked, or struggled up to the ridgelines, I noticed the silence of the woods
being replaced by the growing howl of the wind. The sky was clear, but snow
that had fallen the previous evening would swirl up from the ground or down
from the overhanging branches. The three mile loop at the end of the out &
back is known as the Scott’s Gap Trail. By now, if I say that this trail offered
some of the best views of the surrounding landscape, you should know what I’m
I’m still undecided which is harder, the outbound or inbound course. I kept
thinking on the way out that if I was running now, it would mean I’d be walking
later. I kept vacillating on whether I wanted to run now or later on.
Susan managed to get us rock star parking when we arrived at the race start.
We were able to actually park 25’-0” from the start. Since the temperature was
so low, we stayed in the car until minutes before the race. After a few minutes
of socializing, the race started.
15 Mile races, 50K racers, and racers of a recently 6 mile run started and quickly
became a conga line of runners as they entered the single track trail. Jocelyn
was signed up for the 15 Mile race, but was seriously considering upgrading to
the 50K. I told I’d stick with her, and if she decided to do the 50K, I’d run with
her. Mike Allen started with us as well. Of course, Ruth, Jeff, and Andy were
nowhere to be seen after the race started. Susan, who planned to run the 15
Mile race started with Gina and Tammy, who were running the 50K. Being a
good boyfriend, Bob had signed Ingrid up for the 50K, which was a surprise to
her. Sarah planned on a nice leisurely run since she was scheduled to run the
Austin Marathon the following weekend. There were Dirt Dawgs all over the
trails; most of us wearing the yellow and red Finisher “Buffs” from the 2011 Dirt
Dawg Trail Series.
Six or seven miles into the race, Jocelyn’s calves were telling that going on for a
50K would be a bad idea. A few miles later, Mike decided that another 50K
wasn’t going to happen. At the trail juncture of the two races, I heard someone
call, “Is that Ken?” Ed Kirk, who I’ve always called Mr. “Lovin’ the Hills”, was
directing runners. Ed and I have seen each other at many ultras, and have
always exchanged a few pleasant words. I headed out on the Siltstone Trail on
my own after saying good bye to Jocelyn. Since I had forgotten my watch, I was
running by feel, not concerned with time. I ran when I considered it runnable,
and power walked the uphills. Some of the downs were so steep, going down
was nearly as slow as up, especially out in Scott’s Gap where I sent loose
stones skidding down the trail ahead of me.
Taking a cue from John Belluardo, I started counting returning runners. The first
two that passed me were over 13 miles ahead of me. I heard later on that they
battled it out over the entire course including the run up the final hill to the finish.
Winning time - 4:46:07. The third runner was 4 minutes behind the first two I
learned as I entered the Bear Camp Road Aid Station. The gap opened up. 4,
5, 6, 7, I kept expecting Jeff and Andy. Finally in 10 th place, Jeff came
bounding down a ridgeline trail, bare legs exposed to the wind. No time or
place for either of us to chat. Susan told me that Jeff ended up with 11 th place
after alternately between 10 th and 11 th throughout the race. Mostly I would
see one runner at a time. Occasionally a pair would come running along. Andy
finally approached in 18 th place smiling with joy.
I entered the Scott’s Gap Aid Station to be greeted by name by the Aid Station
Captain, whom I seen and chatted with in previous years. Just like “Cheers”, it’s
great to be at a race “where everyone knows your name.” Still running by
myself I entered the Scott’s Gap loop. Up, up, up probably one of the longest
climbs of the course. On one of the descents I came up behind a woman
wearing the brightest yellow mittens I’ve ever seen. As I passed her, I asked if
she were wearing her mother’s oven mitts. She stuck with me as we returned to
the Scott’s Gap Aid Station. After exchanging a few words about how lonely
and remote the ridges felt, we decided to stick together for the return runner.
Debbie, had run the Sedona Marathon, the previous weekend, and was running
on a nearly empty tank. I think she appreciated having someone else set the
With company, running the ridges back seemed to go by quickly, even though it
felt like we were going in slow motion at times when the wind blasted us in the
face. Debbie said several times that if I wanted to go ahead she wouldn’t mind.
Since I wasn’t racing, and knew that I’d probably only end up finishing a few
minutes before her, we stuck together. Debbie’s boyfriend Chris met us at the
last aid station, and accompanied us to the finish. Coming up the hill, nearing
the finish, Andy was there cheering me on. He waited hours to see me finish.
Exhausted, I didn’t get the opportunity to ask him about his race, though Susan
told him Andy said he could have done without Scott’s Gap. Jocelyn
volunteered to drive Andy home, which I’m sure he appreciated. I’ll hear about
their races later on. Ingrid and Bob had stayed around to great me as well,
which was a pleasant surprise. I had heard at the Scott’s Gap Aid Station, that
Ingrid had dropped there with neck pain. Seeing her was quite unexpected.
I changed into some dry clothes, and as I was drinking hot chocolate and eating
spicy potato soup, Gina & Tammy finished their day running up and down the
cold Kentucky hills.
I really don’t know my time since I didn’t wear a watch or look at the timing
clock as I finished. The results haven’t been posted yet, but time and places
don’t really matter. I’m pleased that I had the opportunity to introduce one of
my favorite races to the Dirt Dawgs, and that we were able to extend the
fellowship we enjoy locally to a distant race. I’m looking forward to hearing of
everyone’s story and running together again.
Kenneth J. Seidl
12 February, 2012
Just after writing this, the results have been posted, so I’m legally obligated to
give you the statistics.
15 Mile Race - 109 Finishers
86 Jocelyn Piccone 3:30:25
87 Mike Allen 3:30:38
89 Susan Harris 3:35:19
100 Sarah Tebbens 3:53:16
109 Bob Burke 5:04:03
50K - 75 Finishers
11 Jeff McPherson 5:47:05
22 Andrew Helmick 6:34:07
37 Ruth Kohstall 7:18:31
61 Ken Seidl 8:35:17 (a new official Personal Worst)
67 Gina Colston 9:01:14
68 Tammy Donaldson 9:01:14