Race morning was a bit foggy and warm. Weather forecast called for temps in the 75-85 range, with a 50% chance of thunderstorms in the afternoon. Race start seemed to go off right on time. Rick Freeman, Race Director, had warned us if the train was approaching Ohiopyle, less than 1/2 mile from the race start, we would have to wait. It was rather funny to hear a train come through just minutes after most of us crossed the very active rail line.
The fun at the Laurel Highlands Ultra race starts almost immediately-a climb. With over 100 runners registered, it was already a move a foot and stop. But then the trail opens up and it is runnable.
For most. Within a half mile, I try to speed up a bit and WHUMP! down I go-hard. Both knees, right elbow, right palm. Left hand was carrying a handheld water bottle, so was spared. Embarrassed, I spring up. It’s not worth the time to try and clean up the dirt out of the blood.
The first challenge of the course is the 2 mile climb out of mile 6. I had a mini goal of not getting passed through here, and I achieved that. I also passed people. I had my “up” switch going and was in a rhythm, and didn’t want to get sucked into anyone else’s pace. Before long, we were done! with “one” of the worst climbs.
Usually I am rewarded with a nice breeze up around mile 9. Not so much this day. It’s just hot and humid. The first water stop is at mile 12.
The Laurel Highlands Hiking Trail is rather unique in that there is permanent cement mile markers, every mile. While that may play with some runner’s heads, I found it valuable to know exactly how far out I was from the next aid station, and tried to conserve the water.
The first 30 miles I have been on several times, and am most familiar with. I am running leap frog with around the same people. I talk a little bit, listen to some conversations, but don’t get caught up in any deep discussions. Michael Frere, of Elite Runners-Trail Runners, out of Pittsburgh catches me right before we get to Seven Springs and we chat a bit. It is interesting to hear the active clay shooting range right next to us. There was several signs warning us to stay on the trail.
At Seven Springs I wet the bandanna and put it over my head, ala “running the Sahara” look. I know there is no shade as we summit the ski resort. I refill water bottles, eat a bit more, and head out. Jim Chaney catches me on the downhill here. He’s running the 50K, and is a very fast runner. That was another sub goal of mine, to see how far I could get before he caught me-the 50K runners started at 8am-I bet that was a tough humid time to start the race.
Around mile 29 is what I think is the worst hill on the course-a very steep blip on the map. I think people think about Seven Springs being the highest point. Well, it is, but then you run down from the resort, and then basically ascend to the same elevation again.
And it’s warm out. You can cut the humidity with a knife. My clothes are wet, they’ve been soaked through since around mile 2. I’m taking an electrolyte pill every hour. I probably should have been doing more. At this race, the Aid Stations are situated where there is trail access. This means the distances between AS are 7 miles-a close one-and 12 miles.
I come into the Mile 32 AS and ask how far to the next one. “12 miles”. Wild Bill was there too, and looked about as dismayed as I felt. I filled my 2 Liter bladder almost up. I refilled the handheld. I ate some food and headed out.
A few miles down the road, it’s time to run the bonus section.