Laurel Highlands - Member of the old and tough trail series
Be a kind runner and Karma will take care of you – for a price. Karma decided I needed a little kindness at Laurel Highlands. I figure it’s because I came back to erase the DNF from 2007.
At the pre-race dinner I joined a random table of runners. While waiting for the official start of the feeding window we discussed our running exploits. Turns out the runners at the table were a relay team and one of the guys lives in Keller TX and another is a nuclear engineer! None had run an ultra-marathon and they were genuinely fascinated by my running tales. Years ago they had hiked the Laurel Highlands Trail on a 7 day scouting trip. Now they were back to run the trail.
I have to say these guys bailed my ass out. I might have finished the event, but I should have packed my bags at the 50K mark. The relay team stayed about 45 minutes behind me for most of the day. At each aid station the rest of the team would be there to greet me, tell me I was great, that I looked good, and fetch items for me. They were the third best crew ever (Lean Horse and VT crews were way betterJ). I must say it is remarkable how things worked out for this race.
The Laurel Highlands area is beautiful. The area is about as mountainous as it can get for the Eastern US. The trail is heavily treed with numerous babbling brooks and plenty of scenic views. When you see it you just want to go run it! It doesn’t take long to figure out that what is nice on the outside isn’t so nice on the inside.
The race starts near a picturesque waterfall in Ohiopyle PA. After ½ a mile of easy road running you make a sharp left turn and almost immediately say “damn”. With less than a mile of running I realized a long legged flatlander from TX was going to have a tough day. The downpours in the preceding days made for slippery and muddy footing. The climb at mile 2 (one of about 20 significant climbs) put the hurt on a bunch of runners, me included. I love the downhill, but the past couple of trail events have soured my perspective. I’m beginning to dislike downhills because they now represent an upcoming make you want to cry uphill.
Laurel Highlands added a new dimension of the “Rock Experience.” I thought the Catoctin 50K had a bad case of rockitis. Someone must have sprinkled magic water over Eastern PA because these rocks are ridiculous. The vast majority of the trail is strewn with every size, shape, and orientation of jagged rocks. On rare occasions you have the opportunity to attempt running on slippery flat stone. The constant twisting from uneven foot plants led to very painful feet, ankles, knees, and hips. By mile 60 I didn’t have enough leg left in me to be able to run over the rock encrusted mine fields with confidence and eventually walked in the final miles. Walking was the safe and right choice for me even if it resulted in a couple of extra hours on the trail.
I was exhausted by mile 46. This is the point I DNF’d in 2007. I ran a very conservative pace and maintained good hydration, but I was whooped. I think a lack of sleep during the week took a significant toll on my performance. On Wednesday work issues resulted in 2 hours of sleep. For the race, I had to be up at 2:00AM in order to make the 3:30AM bus. The combination of 2 days of minimal sleep was too much to overcome, especially on a “Kick your ass while you’re down trail.” I’m thankful (I think) the new-found crew kept me in the game. Had I been solo, I likely would have dropped.
I’ve been wearing Hoka Stinsons for a little over a year. Not once have I had a significant issue. For this run I had issues with heel rubbing along the back and inside of the foot. The rubbing led to a half dollar sized blister and loss of skin on the left foot. I figure the uneven footing from the rocks combined with the wet conditions were the major contributors. That, and Karma decided this was the price I needed to pay for providing me with a 5 person crewJ
I finished without a single fall. I stumbled all over PA – but no falls. Once I toed a rock, jumped into the air with the right foot, and stuck the landing with both feet facing the opposite direction! I stood there for a few seconds, swiveled my head in circles, and thought, “What the hell just happened?!”
Laurel Highlands is in the category of the “old and tough trail series.” It’s been around for 35 years. In the beginning there were no aid stations and the trail was not maintained. I can’t imagine a self-supported run on this trail. Race entry is still done in the old-school way. You mail in the form with a check. First come first served based on the postmark date on the envelope. The event is super organized with a very friendly race director and supportive volunteers. That said, three of the aide stations are a haul (about 13 miles) over very tough terrain. A lot of planning and thought is needed by each runner when deciding what gear and hydration system to use. If you are looking for a challenging trail event give either the 50K or 70.5 mile Laurel Highlands run a try.