Just one week after the Dirty Kanza 200 and with the body still recovering, I was on the start line for the Laurel Highlands Ultra(what could possibly go wrong?). This is a 70.5 mile foot race on the Laurel Highlands hiking trail starting in Ohiopyle and going to a bit north of Johnstown. With me were Doug Ulishney, Jerry Agin(5 time 70 mile finisher), Kat Salerno and Jon Wright (figuratively. they were on ahead at their checkpoints).
I had organized the relay team and took on the first leg of the race which is also the toughest. It had several rocky climbs and was 19 miles long. The morning started off extremely foggy, particularly at the higher elevations. Dropping Kristen's car off at the 19 mile checkpoint and then continuing on to the start area was an adventure. After leaving the car where we were pretty sure we were supposed to, we got into Ohiopyle and got everything ready.
I'd only gotten about 5 hours of sleep the night before and I thought that was a bit on the short side until Kristen told me she only got 3. Wow, I must've overslept. I don't like getting caught up in traffic at these things so I started near the front. One thing I've found is that I have to be very careful not to start out too fast. 19 miles is a long way, by far my longest run ever having only started out in this game less than 11 months ago. After the initial jump off the line in which I led for the first 20 meters(just to say I led the race at one point), I settled down into a comfortable running pace. Before long we hit the trail proper and we climbed the steps off the fire road and it was time to start the real 19 mile segment.
I haven't done many very long races, the longest being the Fools 25K in April. There I went out way to fast and posted what would have been a pretty good 5K time for me at the 3.2 mile checkpoint. This time, I forced myself to let the runners who were just ahead of me to go and concentrate on my pace. 3.5 miles in, I was holding down 10 minute miles on what was very difficult terrain. It wasn't made any easier with the light misting we were experiencing. It made for some slick descents and rocks and the log bridges over streams were absolutely treacherous. Step wrong and you were sliding right off. Kristen had started in the 70 mile race but didn't expect to get all of it. I figured maybe I could act as a pacer and keep things at a pace that wasn't too fast though that was more for me than her. Starting the first major climb at 6.5 miles, I experienced my first issue. My left knee and leg which I thought was recovered from the previous week, apparently wasn't. I felt some tightness and had to let Kristen and a few others with us past. I tried walking with them but knew to do so would hurt me later so I maintained what I could to the top. Passing the 8 miles point was almost depressing as I did that little thing called math and realized I was on a slow day and it wasn't going to get any easier. I wasn't even half way too!
One of the things I love about running trails is when you are out in the woods and often the only thing you hear is the wind, maybe some animals moving about and the footsteps of yourself and maybe the other person you might be running with. Here, I would hear the voices of runners either in front of me or behind me and was finding it distracting as I was really trying to find that zone. Hearing the voices from the 11 mile checkpoint as they cheered runners coming in didn't make it any easier. I heard them from almost a mile out and it just seemed like it took forever to get there. Upon arriving, I found a chair and a handful of orange pieces. One of the volunteers got me some ginger ale which really seems to do it for me in these events. After taking the few minutes break, I got up and moving again. I was going ok for the first couple miles when the knee started having it's say again. This time it was talking to me in unison with the ankle, big toe(victim of about 12 rock kickings) and the hip and none of them were happy. One other runner took a quick stop to pop some endurolyte caplets and an advil. I don't like taking these particularly during races but I was desperate. He gave me one and I continued on. It did seem to help the pain but I wasn't getting any faster. I'd missed the 13 mile marker in my misery and this just seemed to compound everything as I couldn't believe just how long it was taking to get to the marker. Finally, I came upon the 14 and I felt a bit of relief as I wasn't going as slow as I was thinking I was.
One last climb at about the 18 mile point was my final test. I got passed by a guy who I'd beaten at a trail half the previous fall who recognized me and said hi. I tried to force myself along to keep with the group. Somewhere along the way, they got off trail and as I was a bit behind, I didn't miss the trail markers. I made it in and did the handoff to our 2nd runner who shot out of the checkpoint. From there, I hobbled over to the aid station and as I was climbing up to the roadway, I saw the group that missed the turn coming into the checkpoint area. Well, I got past someone there at least.
After recharging a bit with some food and drink, I hopped in the car and got to the 3rd checkpoint. There I met up with Jerry and Kat. I was feeling cold and dehydrated so I was eating and drinking more while there. I also had Kristen's stuff for the checkpoint too. The watermelon/pineapple drink she'd mixed up looked really tempting but she needed it for her race. After a bit, Doug came flying into the checkpoint area which was really unexpected as his announced antipated time was 2:30 and he came in at 1:55. Off Jerry went and after talking a bit, Kat left for the next checkpoint while we waited for Kristen. When she came in, she said she was done. She'd been running up in the lead of the race but without the necessary miles of preparation she wisely called the attempt off and walked it in to the checkpoint. We go Doug back to his car and while I went up to the checkpoint, Kristen took a break to sit in the Yough after dropping me off at my car back at the start area. I made my way up to the 3rd checkpoint and was there for a while when our friend Tiffany and her son came in to wait with us. Her husband was running the full 70 and had some issues at the previous checkpoint and she seemed a bit worried as he'd slowed down some. After Kristen came in, I stayed a bit longer but had to head to the 4th checkpoint. I got there and found Jon waiting for me with his wife. I got him his number and we went in and met up with Jerry and were chatting a bit. All the driving around I had done so far really began to show just how long this race was for the people doing the entire distance.
Once Kat came in, Jon bolted off. She ran a really good leg of the race and Jon was intent on trying to finish before dark. He took a light just in case though. After waiting at the checkpoint a bit longer and with Kat and Jerry looking to head back to the burgh, we decided to head on to the finish area. We saw Tiffany coming into the checkpoint and it was sounding like Dave was going better once he got some real food in him. It was good that he was going to be able to finish.
We got to the finish area and they had a good food booth with some awesome veggie chili. That took the edge of the hunger I was experiencing. The fruit and other snacks really weren't cutting it anymore. We also split one of the Sam Smiths Raspberry Ales we brought.which really tasted good. After a bit, our 2nd leg man, Doug arrived back to await Jon's arrival. We were chatting a bit with his wife and suddenly about 20 minutes before we were expecting him in, he came charging in. After my crappy showing in the first leg, we wound up recovering to pull out a 4th overall in the mixed relay. We were pretty happy with that as we'd all agreed before the race that we were running with no ambitions. In the end, we all had a lot of fun and are already talking about doing it again next year. I want a shorter leg though.