Laurel Highlands Ultra - 70.5 Mile Trail Run
Laurel Highlands Hiking Trail from Ohiopyle, Pennsylvania to Seward, Pennsylvania
A Long Dayís Journey Into Night
Saturday, June 10, 2006
Standard Disclaimer . . .
Itís long. The run and the report. Maybe this will provide general entertainment. Maybe it will help somebody out in the future. It is definitely a good way to waste time while at work. Or while spending time in the small room (if you print it out).
What It Is . . .
The Laurel Highlands Ultra is a 70.5 mile trail run in southwestern Pennsylvania. The event has a half mile of road running at the start and then covers the entire 70 mile length of the Laurel Highlands Hiking Trail from Ohiopyle to Seward. It is almost entirely single-track running, but for a brief section at the Seven Springs Resort about mile 27 and another section around mile 61. This year was the 27th running. For me, it was just another stepping stone towards my goal of completing a 100 mile run this fall. I didnít have any major goals for the day. I did rough out splits for the four checkpoints along the way, shooting for a 15.5 hour run, which would put me at the finish line at 9 pm. I loosely based the splits on last yearís results and where I thought I was as far as conditioning. Never having run this distance, it was mostly just guessing. Nor had I experienced any trail running as technical as this run was supposed to be. Plus, Iíd probably get to do some running in the dark. Just a whole bunch of unknowns to deal with. Should be fun.
Getting There . . .
Renate worked a half day (for her) and then we had an uneventful (except for the big batch of thunderstorms we drove through) 3.5 to 4 hour drive out to Johnstown, where we would be staying Friday night before the run and Saturday night after. At a Holiday Inn Express, no less.
Johnstown was also where the pre-run dinner/packet pickup was. Iím still relatively new to this activity, but I can see how itís similar to Ironman races. Faces become familiar and friends are made as acquaintances are renewed at each adventure. Right now, the person I see most often is Gerard, who (or whom?) I first met when I coached his daughter in cross country and track. Gerard knows lots of people so itís good to hang around with him. Unfortunately, Renate and I got to the dinner too late to sit at his table, but the folks we did sit with were friendly. In that regard, ultra runs might be a little different than Ironman races. Not that triathletes arenít friendly, but, at the level I was towards the end, itís quite competitive, particularly for those of us trying to qualify for Hawaii. Thereís much more tension at the pre-race meeting and dinner for Ironman. For ultra runs, itís a much more relaxed atmosphere. (Iím not sure I explained this the way I meant. Neither is right or wrong. Theyíre just different.)
Anyway, dinner was pretty good and the pre-run briefing was relatively short. Though the course guy seemed to give mention to lots of areas where it was possible to get lost. I mean, to go exploring. I gave up trying to remember everything. Hopefully somebody would come looking for me if I didnít show up by Tuesday.
Friday Night . . .
Getting back to the hotel following the dinner/briefing, I commenced getting things ready for bright and early the next day. I pre-loaded several bottles with three scoops of Perpetuem and three Succeed capsules and filled up some gel flasks with Hammer gel. (In the interest of full disclosure, I have no financial interest (NFI) in any of the products mentioned anywhere in this report. Things work for me so I use them. I would be happy to get paid for using said products, but Iím sure thatís not going to happen.) I figured there would be a good chance that I would be changing shirts sometime during the day, so I pinned my number to my shorts instead of pinning it to a shirt. (Note to self: Pin the number to the left leg and not the right, next time. Hereís a too much information (TMI) for you readers: I wipe my runny nose with my right hand and then clean it off on my shorts. I kept catching my number when I did this. Renate says ďyech!Ē when she reads this part.) Finally, everything is as ready as itís going to be and I crawl into bed.
I really didnít sleep well. Thatís normal the night before an event, but this might have been a little worse than that. While I was tossing and turning I thought that it would have been nice to have had an allergy pill. Not because I was having allergy problems, but that they generally make me sleepy. Iím also wondering if maybe Iím going to bed too early in an attempt to get enough sleep. Mayhaps I should just go to bed at close to my normal bedtime and go from there.
Saturday Morning . . .
I woke up a bit before my 2:45 am alarm and took care of the things I had to take care of. A couple of Pop Tarts while I added water to my fuel powders. The early morning went fine and Renate and I were in the car heading south by 3:30 am for the 75 minute drive. Which seemed to take a little longer. (Plus we got to wait at the railroad crossing in town for an early morning freight train to rumble along. The wait seemed longer than it probably was. The train also seemed longer than it probably was.)
We get to the parking lot at Ohiopyle State Park and itís already abuzz with activity. Iím not, but I feel like Iím behind schedule. I head over to the restrooms to take care of some pre-race stuff and thereís a line of guys a half dozen or so long. I donít really want to stand in line, but I have to. And I fret a little. Things move quickly enough and Iím jogging back to the car to change into trail shoes and get my gear ready.
Then I hear my name, along with a bunch of others, over the bullhorn. Apparently I have to check in. I thought I had done that last evening when I picked up my race packet, but the guy said they wanted to know exactly who was starting out on the run. So, I checked in and jogged back to the car. Where I decided that it really wasnít as cool as it felt and a long sleeve shirt was going to be too much. So, I changed my shirt. (Good thing I didnít have to re-pin my number.) I shoved a gel packet down my throat (obviously just the gel, not the actual packet) and washed down my pre-race vitamin/mineral capsules. Strapped on my heart monitor. Fired up the GPS. (I wasnít entirely sure how well it would work. It had been pretty good during the trail runs I did near home, so I figured Iíd give it a go. I wasnít really going to worry too much about the numbers. Mostly I wanted them for post-race analysis.) I put on my water bottle belt that had my bottle of plain water, a couple flasks of hammer gel, and some extra electrolyte capsules. Grabbed my handheld water bottle that had my Perpetuem fuel mix. And then Renate and I wandered over to the starting line. Chatted very briefly with a guy wearing an Ironman Lanzarote jersey. Got a goodbye smooch from Renate. It was 5:30 am. It was time to go. So, we went.
Hi Ho, Hi Ho, Itís Off To Run We Go . . .
We start off on some bike path type of thing leaving the Park parking lot. Over a bridge. Across some railroad tracks. (No train this time.) Down a side street. And then onto the Laurel Highlands Hiking Trail. Pretty much right into single file running. Actually walking, since the beginning was up a hill. My preference is to be close to the back part of the front quarter of the pack so I do some bobbing and weaving on the road section. Iím not really sure where I am when we hit the trail, but Iíll hang for a bit and see what happens.
At the pre-run briefing Friday night, the first eight to nine miles were advertised as the toughest part of the run, hill-wise. And, looking at the course profile, it seemed like we would be going either up or down the entire stretch. Ah, well. Better the beginning of the day than the end.
There was some early jockeying for position. A little bit of passing and sorting out. My philosophy was to try and keep someone in sight, so that I didnít really have to focus on the trail markings. I could just focus on the trail rocks and the trail roots and the trail ruts. And there were plenty of those to focus on.
As well as plenty of yellow blazes. It was a well-marked trail. In addition to the yellow markings, there were concrete ďmile markerĒ posts every mile. I wasnít sure how Iíd feel about that. Being reminded every mile how much further I still had to go. I donít recall seeing the first couple, but then I saw ď3Ē. Wow! Only 67 more of those posts to go! It never did get to be a problem, and I actually looked forward to seeing the next one.
After a few miles, I guess, I was third in line of a group of six or seven. I had no idea how many others were further ahead, or further behind. I was just trotting along. Every so often, someone would pass the string of us and head on down the trail. And it seemed like some others would join our string. Eventually I got tired of staring at the same guyís back and, when I could still see the person further up the trail, I made a couple of passes and started off on my own. Iím not sure if anyone followed. For all I know, they all did. I wasnít worried about what was behind me. I just wanted to keep the one guy in sight. And, the early miles seemed to go by relatively quickly.
There was a ďfluid onlyĒ aid station at about the seven mile mark. Basically a guy with a pickup truck and some gallon jugs of water and Gatorade. I refilled my water bottle and moved on.
(I would hit the split button on my watch at each aid stop. Sometimes I did it as I got to the stop. Sometimes I did it as I was leaving. I didnít pay any attention to the numbers as I was running, but I looked at them afterwards. The time to get to this stop was one hour and 28 minutes, about a 12.5 minute per mile pace. The pace numbers arenít all that accurate because I donít know the exact distance that Iíve traveled, nor am I really sure of when I pushed my split button. That inaccuracy really bothers my anal engineer personality, the one thatís slowly being pushed aside by this trail running.)
And it really didnít seem like the early part of the course was all that rough. Sure, there were lots of spots where I would walk uphill, but it didnít seem to be as bad as the course profile made it seem. And, I remember being aware of all that at the early aid station. That probably boosted the over-confidence level to the danger zone and, I began to re-estimate my goal. Not a good thing to do after the first 10% of a run.
Leaving the aid station, two of the guys had taken off ahead so it was just a girl, a guy, and me. They were having a nice conversation and I was just hanging around. Then they started talking about the races later this summer they were training for. She was going to do Hardrock and he was planning on Leadville, two of the more challenging 100 mile races, to put it mildly. The thought entered my mind that, maybe, Iím in just slightly over my head to be running with them at this point. Itíd probably be a good idea to back off a bit. Being the contrary guy that I am, and because I was still in that over-confidence danger zone, I did the exact opposite, I passed them both somewhere around mile 15 and pretty much ran on my own for the next group of miles, just ticking off the mile posts as I came to them. Looking at the official results, I made it into Checkpoint #1 a couple of minutes ahead of the other two. (The times that I give for the checkpoints were those recorded by the race people. And the distances were as reported on the web site. My goal numbers were based on my originally hoped for 15.5 hour finishing time.)
Checkpoint #1 Ė Route 653 Ė 19.3 Miles
Goal Time: 9:30 am, 4:00 for 19.3 miles, 12:26 pace
Actual Time: 8:59 am, 3:29 for 19.3 miles, 10:50 pace
As one can see from the above numbers, Iím well ahead of my planned 15.5 hour pace. And this after covering the hilliest part of the course. Trying to be an optimist for a change, I figured I had set my initial goal too low and I was capable of a much better finishing time. Very much alive and kicking in the over-confidence danger zone.
I tried not to spend an inordinate amount of time at the aid stations. Iíd give Renate my handheld bottle holder which had my Perpetuem and sheíd replace the partial bottle with a full bottle. Iíd give my plain water bottle to a volunteer and he or she would fill it up with water. Iíd get a new gel flask and a smooch and be on my way. At some point in the day I was going to start eating ďrealĒ food, but I wanted to wait until further along. This way, if I had issues, Iíd be closer to the finish line and could gut it out. If I was going to have issues, Iíd prefer they be with 20 miles to go rather than 50.
So, it was back onto the trail and heading towards the next aid station, about seven miles away, near the Seven Springs Resort. And, for this stretch, I was running all by myself. No one in sight in front of me. No one in sight behind me. The pre-race briefing comment about bears and rattlesnakes entered my mind. The wind would blow, the trees would make funny sounds, Iíd run faster. Lions and tigers and bears . . . oh my.
But, mostly an uneventful trot and I made it to the aid station fine. Iím confused when I donít see any crew people around, just a few volunteers. ďIs this the aid station?Ē, I ask. ďYes. A big one.Ē, comes the reply. I mention crews and the guy says theyíre about a mile up the way at the road crossing. I get my water bottle refilled and some directions.
At the pre-race briefing, we were told this section, around the Seven Springs Resort, was, because of on-going construction, one of the more confusing sections of the trail. The volunteer mentioned following the yellow blazes until I see blue metal plates. That would be where the trail had been re-routed around the construction.
I glance at my watch as I leave the aid station. Itís taken me about four hours and 50 minutes for the first, roughly, marathon of the day. And Iím still feeling pretty good. Letís call it another marathon and two thirds to get to the finish.
So, Iím running along. All by myself. Following the trail. Feeling a bit uneasy, direction-wise. I come out into the open and a gravel road. I stop and take a look around. It looks like the actual resort area right across the way. I donít see any other runners. I donít see any yellow blazes. I donít see any blue signs. I see a stake across the way with yellow ďcautionĒ tape on it. I figure that to be construction-related and not trail-related. I ponder the situation for a brief period of time before turning around and heading back.
I meet up with the girl I had been running with earlier. She was also running the trail for the first time and was as confused as I. We meet up with several others, including the second place girl. They opt to keep going forward. Iím still not sure. Then a guy comes along who did the race last year and said that we were where we were supposed to be. So, I turned back around and ran with him. We get to the gravel road and he points across, where the stake with the yellow ďcautionĒ tape was. And then I see, opposite the stake, a yellow blaze. I wished I had seen that the first time. It would have saved me about five minutes of unnecessary running. As well as some mental aggravation.
Iím not sure which Iím more upset with. Losing five minutes or, now, losing to two girls. Just kidding. Mostly.
I walk up the wood chip incline alongside the guy who knows the way. At the top, near the pond/lake, I see the blue signs. And there are now a few others in sight. So it goes. Around the body of water, down through a field, then another field, and back into the woods.
Thereís really nothing monumental that I can recall about this section. Looking at the course profile shows the basic batch of ups and downs. It doesnít show any creeks, or ďrunsĒ as theyíre called, but Iíll mention this here anyway. All the little streams had real foot bridges crossing them. Mostly good, solid split log things. No bouncing to them. (Not like the bouncy bridges at the Bull Run Run.) There were some damp, soggy, boggy areas that had rock crossings, but my feet never got wet. As far as that went, it was a very dry trail. There were also spots where the mountain laurel and/or rhododendrons threatened to overgrow the trail. Nothing was in bloom, but, if one is into blooming flowers, it probably would be a pretty sight when it happened. Again, the bridges, soggy areas, and overgrowth occurred here and there throughout the day.
Mostly, itís just run when I can and walk when I canít. (At this point, the walking is because of steepish uphills and/or heavily rocky areas.) And, about 11:30 in the morning, I pull into the second checkpoint.
Checkpoint #2 Ė Route 31 Ė 32.3 Miles
Goal Time: 12:15 pm, 2:45 for 13.0 miles, 12:41 pace
6:45 for 32.3 miles, 12:32 pace
Actual Time: 11:34 am, 2:35 for 13.0 miles, 11:55 pace
6:04 for 32.3 miles, 11:16 pace
The numbers show that Iíve picked up a few more minutes on my overall goal. Iím aware of being about forty minutes ahead of schedule, but Iím not feeling like Iíve done too much.
The volunteer asks if he can get me anything. I say, ďYeah. My wife.Ē Looking around I donít see Renate. One of the other crews says that sheís not here, yet. He says theyíve been chatting at all the previous aid spots and she hasnít made this one. He asks if I need anything, offering to crew me through this stop. Iím ok. Itís really not been that long since the last fillup. I quaff a couple cups of soda and get my water bottle refilled. Before leaving, I ask the other crew guy if he can tell Renate, if he sees her, that Iíve come and gone. And, I saunter back into the woods. Seven miles until the next aid station.
Iím not sure if I mentioned this previously, but, if I did, it bears repeating. There are concrete mile markers at each mile. These have been steadily incrementing all morning. Iíve crossed a couple of semi-major roads and a minor road or two. There was the one little batch of civilization at the Seven Springs Resort. Itís been rocky and rooty and hilly, but not really all that bad. The 14 miles from checkpoint #2 to checkpoint #3 are supposed to be the gnarliest and most technical as far as running goes. Lots more rocks, apparently.
I reconnect with the guy who got me pointed in the proper direction back at Seven Springs and we run, more or less, together for the next several miles. We see the mile 35 post. Time check shows 6:50 for the race time. Heís done this race several times before and his goal for today was to be here at about seven hours. He figured this would give him a daylight finish, 15 hours. All that sounded good to me. But, I was especially happy to have him around when it came to crossing the bridge over the Pennsylvania Turnpike.
We come out of the woods and head over to the right a little bit. I guess this is between the 36 and 37 mile posts of the trail. I think Iím still in control mentally, but maybe Iím starting to slip just a bit. I donít remember the bridge as being right there, but Iím sure I would have come out of the woods and taken a look around and noticed it. Especially since there was no other way to get across the turnpike. We cross the bridge and make an immediate right turn back into the woods. We had been warned about this turn at the pre-race briefing, and I thought it was fairly well marked with yellow blazes on both sides of the opening, but it was nice to have a ďlocalĒ to guide me. He even pointed out that the bridge was between miles 99 and 100 of the Pennsylvania Turnpike. So, any of you driving in that area, if you look up, thatís what that little bridge is.
Once into the woods, my guide left me and I was, again, on my own. But, that was ok. I was still enjoying myself and my day in the woods. I still had expectations of beating my original 15:30 goal. And the next aid station was only a couple miles away. It would be good to see my crew again. I will admit that when Renate wasnít at the previous stop I had a bit of negative thinking along the lines of maybe something went wrong. It would be good to allay those thoughts. So, I continued on my merry way.
And I came in contact with a pair of backpackers, fully loaded for a week (at least, it seemed) in the back country. ďYouíre more than halfway there,Ē they cheerfully told me, obviously aware of the foolish quest I was on. Later, I would meet up with another pair of backpackers and a couple of random day hikers, all with the same general words of encouragement. Which makes this as good a spot as any to mention that whenever there was a road, paved or otherwise, that allowed trail access, there were big ďWelcome to the Laurel Highlands Hiking TrailĒ type of signs. ďNo horses. No bikes.Ē And generally a big log across the trail to discourage them. Just another hurdle for the rest of us. And the hurdles seemed to get higher as the day went on. So it goes.
Around the 39 mile point of the run, at Lynn Run Road, is the aid station. This would be about 13 miles since Iíd last seen my crew, right around two hours and 45 minutes of trail hopping. I was due for a refill of my Perpetuem bottle and my gel flask. So, I pull into the aid station and Iím surprised that Renate isnít there. I speak with the crew that I had seen at the previous stop. He mentions that Renate did show up at the last place, babbling something about directions, but that she was skipping this one and going directly to the next one at Route 30. I guess there was a bit of miscommunication. I had told the other guy that, back at the 32.3 mile aid station, I was ok on fuel. Apparently it came out that I was ok through this station at mile 39, as well. Not really. That meant about another 7.5 miles on what I had. I got my water bottle refilled and scarfed down a couple of orange slices. And, I watched the third place girl come and go.
Renate wanted me to insert a clarification here . . . She said she really tried to find the 32 mile aid station, but the directions were not up to snuff and her car GPS wasnít any help. She commented about having to drive 15 miles up and down hills while I was running ďonlyĒ five miles. As for the 39 mile aid station, she was planning on getting there even though the other crew told her it wasnít necessary. But, she ended up doing some extra exploring out on the roads and, when she came to a dirt road that said snowmobiles only, she decided it wasnít meant to be and went in search of the aid station at 46 miles. Where she was told the snowmobile sign applied only in the wintertime. Ah, well, she figured, based on her time exploring she would have missed me anyway. Renate just wanted me to know that she tried. She really did. I know, sweetie. And I appreciate it.
I was in decent shape, fuel-wise. I had about a third of my bottle of Perpetuem and half a gel flask. At the early aid stations, I would take a big, healthy hit of both and then swap out the bottle and flask for full ones. This had been two aid stations in a row where I didnít get that shot of calories. I wonít say I was rationing things, but I was aware of what I had and how far I had to go. And, just to show how my mind was slipping, I forgot I was carrying a second (full) gel flask. I had two right from the beginning of the race and never touched the second one.
The other thing, my Perpetuem bottle also had some additional electrolytes added in. Fortunately I had some extra capsules along with me and I was bright enough to start taking one of those every hour. Or more often if I felt like things might be cramping. (I never did get a full blown cramp. It was a beautiful day, weather-wise Ė coolish temps and no real humidity Ė which helped a lot.)
I guess Iíll get back to running. Which is what Iíd like to be doing. Immediately after leaving the 39 mile aid station is the worst stretch of non-runnable trail of the day. It was barely walkable. Big huge rocks, almost like a rockslide. And I wasnít entirely sure where the trail was. But, I would see the random yellow blaze and figure that I must be on the ďtrail.Ē Still, I kept looking around, figuring there had to be an easier way to get from here to there. But, if it existed, I never saw it. Fortunately, this didnít go on too long and, soon, I was back to the trail type running I had been doing.
Also in this section, the Laurel Highlands Hiking Trail ďsharedĒ the trail with other ďminorĒ trails. I thought there was adequate signage, pointing the proper way for the LHHT. But, Iím running along, and I see, coming towards me, the guy I had crossed the turnpike bridge with about four miles ago. I hadnít seen him since he left me in his dust and I was very surprised to see him coming back towards me. I didnít think there was any way I could have been off course and Iím sure he thought the same thing. Or he was hoping. But, he turned around and ran with me. And then he saw the sign that he didnít see the first time. I donít think the extra bit he ran was all that much, but itís still more than anyone wants to tack onto a long run. I know. I did it back at Seven Springs Resort.
(Speaking of extra running, or additional outs and backs, Iíll throw this in here, but I donít recall exactly where it was. Iím trotting along at a comfortable pace when I hear someone behind me approaching at a rather brisk pace. I find a suitable spot to pull off trail and, what had been, the first place girl goes zooming by. ďWhat happened to you?Ē I ask, sort of incredulously. She talks about ďextraĒ trails and additional running. I try to commiserate, mentioning the extra bit we did back at Seven Springs. She says sheís now done three more. ďI donít have time for this,Ē she said. ďI have to get home tonight.Ē I thought that to be a tad humorous, though I kept my chuckle to myself. Still, with all the extra running, she managed to finish as first girl.)
And that was about it for excitement. I safely made it to the Route 30 aid station. Running low on fuel, but running. And I was happy to see that my crew was present and accounted for.
Checkpoint #3 Ė Route 30 Ė 46.4 Miles
Goal Time: 3:30 pm, 3:15 for 14.1 miles, 13:50 pace
10:00 for 46.4 miles, 12:56 pace
Actual Time: 2:59 pm, 3:25 for 14.1 miles, 14:32 pace
9:29 for 46.4 miles, 12:16 pace
I had remembered from my pre-run calculations that I wanted to be at this checkpoint, number 3, ten hours into the day. So, I knew I was thirty minutes ahead of schedule. I was aware that I was starting to slip a bit. I had a couple cups of Coke and one potato chip. Thatís right. Just one. I guess they werenít Lays. I chatted briefly with a guy Renate said was in the same running club as Tim and Mary Johnson. He did Arkansas last year and offered to answer any of my questions. (Tim later told me it was Bob Curci. Thatís him in the yellow jacket in the picture.) Bob also said he ran to this checkpoint from the finish line and that the trail was pretty runnable. I remember the race people also saying this at the pre-run dinner last night. Still, I wasnít entirely sure about my running ability. I got my fresh Perpetuem and gel and headed back onto the trail. Right before leaving the aid station, a guy wearing a Bull Run finisherís fleece commented to me, after noticing the Bull Run t-shirt I was wearing, that the weather was much better than it was for the race back in April. I was thankful for that. But, enough dilly-dallying. It was time to hitch up the mule and go.
At the 50 mile post I got a time split. 10:35. It had taken me two hours less to finish the Bull Run 50 mile run. Back when the race clock ticked beyond 8:35, somewhere in the 40 Ė 42 mile range, I remember thinking that I was entering a new dimension as far as running time went. And, now, after reaching 50 miles on the Laurel Highlands Hiking Trail, I would be running longer, distance-wise, than I ever had before. Lots of firsts and longests here.
But, I wasnít doing real well. Calculating afterwards, it had taken just over an hour to go about 3.5 miles. I was doing much more walking than running. The physical down turn was well under way. While out there, trudging along, I tried to recollect where the next aid station was. I donít know if it was any warmer, but, for some reason, I was going through more water along this stretch and I was hoping for an aid station to refill my water bottle. I really thought there was supposed to be one in the 51 to 52 mile range. I knew the last checkpoint had been at 47 and the next checkpoint was at 57. Where was the middle aid station? And then I remembered reading that it was a fluid only station. Ok. The last fluid only station was a guy, a pickup truck, and gallon jugs of fluids. Where was this one. For some reason the non-existence of it really hit me hard. About the 54 mile post I knew it probably wasnít going to happen. About 55 I met some guy heading in the opposite direction. I didnít see a number pinned anywhere and guessed that he was either a support runner or some guy out for a nice, short, run. I asked about the aid station and he said it was still a bit ahead. Another pin prick into my mental balloon. I was deflating rapidly. Nothing to do but keep up my trudge. And, try to re-group mentally. I was pretty sure I wasnít going to get a physical second wind.
Checkpoint #4 Ė Route 271 Ė 57.3 Miles
Goal Time: 6:00 pm, 2:30 for 10.9 miles, 13:46 pace
12:30 for 57.3 miles, 13:05 pace
Actual Time: 5:38 pm, 2:39 for 10.9 miles, 14:35 pace
12:08 for 57.3 miles, 12:42 pace
Sitting here, comfortably, at my computer writing up this long dayís journey into night, itís easy to second guess myself. As far as mental toughness goes. The pain and fatigue have, mostly, faded. The negative emotions have, mostly, subsided. ďWhy did I have to walk so much?Ē I ask myself. ďThings couldnít have been so bad that you couldnít trot the trottable sections,Ē I tell myself. And then my other self tells my comfortable self, ďShut up and type. You werenít even there. You donít have any idea what youíre talking about.Ē (The self that was out on the trail used some bad words when replying to the comfortable self. I wonít print those in an effort to keep this story ďGĒ rated.)
I would try to trot along random stretches. But, I really found this to be painful. Primarily my upper legs, but my feet were a little less than happy. Mostly, I was just trying to shuffle as quickly as I could. I was actively searching out the mile markers and counting down the miles. And, I thought a lot.
Can I really do a 100 mile run? Do I really want to? Fortunately, I was able to positively address thoughts along those lines and they didnít last very long. I did spend a fair amount of time analyzing my training for this run. I was very aggressive in my preparations, stringing together four 100 mile weeks during the month of May. And doing back to back long runs each week, including a 21/30 and a 26/26 the last two weeks of May. I got through this big block relatively unscathed (massive knocking on wood), though I did shred the pinky toe on my left foot. That necessitated a couple of days off and bit of knife work to alter my shoes to ease the pressure on the toe.
In the back of my mind, while doing all the training, was the thought that I was doing too much. But, this was not my ďAĒ race and I wanted to see what would happen. How will I know where my boundaries are if I never cross them? How will I know where the edge is if I never go over it? Well, while spending all that time wandering in the woods, I think I answered those questions. I came to the conclusion that I would make some adjustments in the buildup for the Arkansas Traveller 100 in October.
I also recognized that I probably, as usual, started off too quickly. I was reminded of my first ultra race, the HAT 50k last year, where I ran the first loop way too fast and had to walk most of the second loop. I wonder if Iím ever going to learn to be conservative at the beginning of one of these things. Obviously staying at a Holiday Inn Express didnít make me any smarter. Can I sue for false advertising?
I continued shuffling towards the finish line. Alone with my thoughts. Alone with my footfalls on the trail. All by myself in the woods. Not all that bad a place to be as Iím pretty comfortable with myself.
Thereís about a 1.5 mile stretch of gas line dirt road from 60.5 to 62 with an aid station at the end. I get on the road and I can see someone way up ahead in the distance. I make an attempt to run. Itís kind of a rocky, rutty, dusty dirt road and it goes uphill. Nothing steep, just a gradual and steady climb. I pass the handmade sign for mile 61. Nine miles left to my day. I glance behind me and donít see anybody. I donít know if thatís bad or good. I stop to visit a tree.
I finally reach the mile 62 aid station, though it seems to take forever. Looking later at the splits I punched in on my watch, it took almost an hour and a half to go 4.7 miles. And that included some ďrunningĒ on the dirt road. I donít know if itís bad or good that I didnít know that then.
As I pulled into the aid station, a volunteer asked what he could get for me. ďA taxi,Ē I mumbled. ďSorry. We ran out,Ē was the reply. ďOk. How about some Coke?Ē I stayed there for about five minutes. I even tried a bit of cheese sandwich. After one bite, I could tell that any more wouldnít stay down. So much for my foray into real food. I probably should have had a PB & J quarter, but it was a couple cups of Coke.
I glanced at my watch while there. It was just about 14 hours of race time. I had eight hours left to make the cutoff. I had eight miles left to make the distance. Yeah, I think I can go at a one mile per hour pace. Renate probably wouldnít care for that, so I guess Iíd better try to be just a bit quicker.
I left the aid station. I was done with the dirt road. I was back on the rocky, rooty Laurel Highlands Hiking Trail. Though, according to race propaganda, I mean race literature, it was all downhill to the finish. And easy running. One foot in front of the other. Repeat. It was just about 7:30 pm. I had somewhere around an hour of natural light. Then Iíd get to play with my flashlight.
I was doing all kinds of mental calculations in my mind. (Kind of redundant. Where else would I be doing mental calculations?) If I could just manage a 15 minute per mile pace, Iíd break 16 hours. Letís see. My original goal was 15.5 hours. Ninety minutes? Thatís about 11 minutes per mile. Well. That ainít gonna happen. And, I had serious doubts about breaking 16 hours. Ah, screw it. Letís just proceed merrily, merrily, merrily down the trail and get there when I got there.
I was surprisingly at peace with my day. I had come to the conclusion that my biggest mistake had been my training. And, I was happy that it was too much training, rather than not enough. It would be easier for me to back off a bit for my next big run (yeah, right) as opposed to having to try to increase volume. What bothered me the most was that I wouldnít get to atone for this performance for four months.
And, I walked. With a random fast walk thrown in for fun. Even at my pokey pace, and as long as I had already been making semi-steady forward progress, time never seemed to drag. I never looked at my watch and thought ďman, that last two minutes took forever.Ē I just went mile post to mile post.
I was occasionally passed by runners and their pacers, as well as by the odd relay runner, and the odder solo runner. Everybody was supportive and friendly. There was the relay runner who came barreling back towards me. ďDo you see a yellow mark?Ē he asked. I pointed out the one I was just approaching. He said he couldnít find the next one. There was a tree with orange tape around it. I pointed. He pointed to the four others in a circle that also had orange tape. Ok. Iím confused. Not sure what kind of tree work was going on. He set off on what looked to be the best option for the trail. Still no marks. Finally there was one. I made the comment that this would be not very much fun in the dark. He ran ahead. I walked.
(There was one runner who passed me earlier in the day, while I was still capable of running and I was, who wasnít carrying any water. Totally freaked me out. As I wrote earlier, the weather was pretty near perfect, but I didnít see how anyone could go the distance between aid stations without fluids. I commented as he passed me and he just said he was taking double hits of fluids at the aid stations.)
I came to some big huge trees blown over in a past storm. I went left. And dead ended. I looked around. I didnít see any yellow blazes. Heck, I didnít even see any orange tape. Then, on the opposite side of the big huge blown over trees I saw a yellow mark. Back the way I came. No big deal, but, again, something Iím glad I dealt with before dark.
And I was searching for mile markers and counting down to the finish. Maybe(?) three to go. And(?) seven hours to do it. I break out my flashlight. Was that something moving just off the trail? No, scaredy pants, itís just the shadows. Fortunately, the wind had died down so the trees werenít making their creaking and groaning noises. ďLions and tigers and bears. Oh, my.Ē ďWeíre off to see the wizard.Ē Ok, Steve, get a grip.
Iím passed by another runner and his pacer. Iím stunned that, between the two of them, they have exactly zero lights. Somebody miscalculated finishing time, Iím guessing. Not sure how theyíre going to manage when it gets really dark. Right at this time we all come to a run volunteer. He says heís putting glow sticks at the technical spots. I thank him. He has a nice bright flashlight. He looks back at the two guys who just passed. I thought I saw him shake his head. I walked on.
I was passed by a relay runner with two lights, a headlight and a flashlight. I had a headlight along. Well, actually, Renate had it in the crew bag. I knew it was there when I left the mile 57 aid station. I knew, also, that I was going to be doing some night traveling. I just figured the flashlight would be enough. And, for the pace I was going, it was. I think for anything quicker, and there were sections that could have been run, a headlight, along with the flashlight, would have been great. As it was, I had to keep moving my flashlight from foot level to eye level so I could find yellow blazes to make sure I wasnít walking randomly through the woods as bear bait. Not that I wasnít bear bait while on the trail.
Wow. Iím really starting to ramble. I guess the writing process is similar to the running process. I start to fade a bit the longer I go. Iíd better get off the trail, and the page, before I hurt myself.
I remember a ďfull moon risingĒ off to my left. Not being astrological, but if Iím heading north wouldnít the moon be rising on my right? Where the heck am I going to end up? No problem, Steve, just follow the yellow-blazed trail. And watch out for the flying monkeys. Pay no attention to the shadows.
I come across the random glow stick. A welcome beacon in the night. I catch up to the lightless runner and his pacer. They now have a flashlight. Iím betting the relay runner with two lights gave them one of his. What a great guy. The penultimate mile marker, number 69, should be somewhere. I ask them if they saw it. And, lo and behold, there it is. One more mile to go. And, according to the run guy at the pre-run briefing, itís actually a ďshortĒ mile. Ok. Letís call it 15 more minutes.
Itís a little bit of a rocky stretch. I fall back a little. No sense getting in the way of their finisher picture. I hear the noise of the finishing area. I donít see it yet, but I know itís out there. I hear lots of clapping and cheering and carrying on when the pair ahead of me finishes. I see the 70 mile post. I come around the bend. Lots of cheering and carrying on. Iím done. Iím handed a block of wood. Itís a replica of the 70 mile post. I get a hug and a smooch from Renate. I greet her like I hadnít seen her for hours.
Checkpoint #5 Ė Finish Ė 70.5 Miles
Goal Time: 9:00 pm, 3:00 for 13.2 miles, 13:38 pace
15:30 for 70.5 miles, 13:11 pace
Actual Time: 9:51 pm, 4:13 for 13.2 miles, 19:10 pace
16:21 for 70.5 miles, 13:55 pace
The run people keeping score ask me if I remember passing such and such a person. I stare blankly. We narrow it down by gender and then hair style. They say she got to checkpoint 4 before me, but hasnít made it to the next aid station. They have timing data from all the aid stations, not just the checkpoints. I mention that I remember her at the last aid station. Forgetting that it was really the checkpoint aid station and not the last one. The timing guy mentions that it took me about two hours and 30 minutes to cover the last eight miles. He said that was a great time in the dark. I pointed out that it wasnít dark when I left the aid station. (When Renate went back over to the guys to mention my incorrect recollection, they tell her the ďmissing girlĒ has been found. She apparently left the checkpoint 4 aid station, but doubled back and dropped there.)
Iím stiff and sore and tired. Iím starting to chill up a little so itíd probably be a good idea to change clothes. I grab a Mt. Dew out of the soda cooler and tell the food volunteer Iíll be back after I change. Iím not all that hungry, but I should throw something down my throat. Renate says thereís a short cut through the woods to the car, or we can walk along the road. She makes it sound like the car is miles away, but itís just around the bend. I opt for pavement, not sure of being able to pick feet up high enough any more to avoid rocks and roots and having no desire to kiss the ground.
Which, I should point out, I managed to do the entire day. I never got nailed by a trail-gremlin. They tried. Boy, did they try hard. Lots of stubbed toes on ďmovingĒ rocks and roots. I just donít think I was ever going fast enough to completely touch the ground. On past occasions I would be moving a bit more quickly. When the momentum of my lower body was interrupted by a trail-gremlin, my upper body would continue moving at speed and, soon, come in contact with the ground. For this run, there just wasnít enough upper body velocity. Maybe the only advantage to moving at a pedestrian pace. I did roll my ankles more than a handful of times, once, about ten miles in, that made me yelp. Fortunately, no damage was done.
Not really much more to say at this point. Clothes changing went fine. Not much appealed to me at the food tent, but I got a bowl of soup and half a cup of coffee. Mostly because I just wanted something hot. I sat in Renateís chair for a bit and ate my soup and drank my coffee and watched some people finish. And it seemed like as good a time as any to leave. We said our goodbyes to the people we had been chatting with. They asked how far we had to drive. I was a bit misplaced and thought we were back at the starting area, which would have meant another hour plus to get back to the hotel. It didnít register when Renate said it was only a fifteen minute drive or so. It didnít register until we were close to the hotel.
A semi-quick stop at the McDonaldís drive-thru Ė I really had a hankering for fries Ė and then to the hotel. No sense unloading the car, I didnít need anything. I did grab a couple pints of Guinness out of the cooler as I needed something to wash down my fries. I was only able to eat one of my two orders of large fries. They just werenít all that crispy. I guess when you get them about 11 pm, thereís a chance theyíd been sitting around for awhile. But, they went well enough with a pint of Guinness. A nice hot shower to scrape some of the grime off and then to bed. It was a semi-successful event and it was now over.
For what itís worth, my official finishing time of 16:21:21 places me 25th out of 68 finishers (85 starters).
I donít know if Iíll ever make it back. Iíd like to, but there are lots of other runs I want to do in the coming years, so Iíll just have to see. Itís a bit much for a ďtrainingĒ run. Well, maybe if I do Hardrock or Leadville I can return.
Thanks, everybody, for reading. Maybe Iíll see you down the trail some day. Next major event for Renate and me is a little 100 mile run in Arkansas.
Some Additional Observations & Notes . . .
In no particular order . . .
I hit the split button on my watch at each aid station. Sometimes I forgot to hit it when I entered the station, but I got the split as I was leaving. So, itís kind of questionable as far as which split an aid station time is part of. I didnít do anything with this information during the race. I havenít done anything with it since, either. Iím also not entirely sure where we were mileage wise when I took my splits. For the report, Iím using the ďofficialĒ times for the checkpoints and the mileage listed for them.
The only time I took a split both entering and exiting an aid station was at checkpoint #4. I knew I was going to be at that stop for longer than I had been at any of the others and I was curious as to how long it would be. Looking at my watch afterwards showed that I was there for 9:38, just under ten minutes. I was pleased that, even when I tried to spend time in an aid station, I could keep my lollygagging under ten minutes. I might have been in a couple of the others for as long as five minutes, but I think most were just a few minutes.
There were a smattering of Shelter Areas along the trail. For hikers, I guess. There would be signs pointing towards a Shelter Area, and a blue-blazed trail. I never wandered down to see what a Shelter Area looked like, but I was tempted on occasion.
On lots of occasions, there were these huge, house-sized rocks and the trail would squeeze between them. That was neat. And there would sometimes be trees growing in these very narrow sections. The yellow trail blazes would be on the corners of the big rocks.
If (probably when) we do this run again, weíre going to stay Friday night at a hotel closer to the start. Making that 75 to 90 minute drive the morning of the run is just too tedious. Even if we do the pre-run dinner in Johnstown, getting the drive out of the way the night before would be much better. Iím not sure what is close to the start, but even something thirty minutes away would be better. But, obviously, weíd still stay in Johnstown Saturday night, after the run.
Sunday morning soreness wasnít terribly bad. Worst was both Achilles tendons at the heels. I wonder if thatís from all the ďflat footedĒ uphill walking. Iíd imagine being on my feet for 16+ hours also has a little to do with it. I wore my Montrail Hardrocks (hey, maybe I should do that race) as I have for all my long ultras. Maybe I should put some heel lifts in. Just something to think about. My left forearm was also a bit tight from carrying the water bottle all day and the small of my back was sore from the water bottle belt I wore. Little things that donít show up on ďshortĒ runs. There were also a few chafing issues. It would probably be a good idea to reapply some bodyglide about halfway through the day. There were some minor hot spots on my feet, but nothing that seemed to be too bad.
I never did see the ďadvertisedĒ bears and rattlesnakes. That's probably a good thing.
About a month after the race, I received, in the mail, a nice engraved plate for my big block of wood. It has the race name and date along with my name and my finishing time. It looks pretty nice.
Thanks, everybody, for reading. Hope you had a good time. By the way, if anybody has any comments, queries, suggestions, corrections, etc., please pass them along.
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