I have been waiting to run this race two years ago after hiking/camping the last 40 miles of it. Finally got to run it this past weekend.
On the map, one might be fooled that it is flat as a pancake. Laurel Highlands is not. There are many hills and over the long distances, they wear you down. The elevation chart is deceptive because change in 100-200 ft for one little hill on the map is tiny compares to 70 miles, so they appear as flat.
The two biggest climbs are on either end of the trail, with I believe over 1000ft. Garmin told me I had over 10,000 ft of elevation gain. Not sure if it is accurate, but that gives a feel of how much climbing there is.
I waited at the finish line at 3 AM in the morning of for the bus to take me to the starting line. It was about a little over 24 hours later, before I made it back to my car. I ran all 70.5 miles of it.
If you ask was the race hard? I don’t think it was considered ‘hard’ for ultra people, say compares to the Worlds End Ultra that I was volunteering last weekend. Laurel Highlands Ultra was not easy either. It was not a beginner race. Many people did drop, like one I was running with for many miles.
My initial concern was whether I would finish. The course can be technical. There were a lot of rocks, some mud, and the distance was quite long – 70 miles. We had plenty of time 22 hours total to run it. I used all 22 hours, but the last 15 minutes.
My feel is, it was just hard enough for me to get my foot into the ‘real’ ultra running. I ran a few trail races before. Rocky Raccoon was one. Old Glory, 50k at First Landing, and JFK can be considered a trail race too. Those races were like baby steps because they were less technical. The courses for those were mostly flat with hills like 10 ft ish (Old Glory was much harder, but was mostly on road). The Laurel Highlands was 100% on trail and hard trail due to a lot of rocks in certain sections I got to say. The trail was mostly well maintained and marked but still, it was a hard day of running.
I made a few friends. Mostly with people around my pace. There were many strong runners. One guy in my group of the back of the pack runners said, he hasn’t seen anyone the first 20-30 miles because the strong runners bolted out of the gate and never were seen again. There were maybe 5-10 of us in the back. I might be the first person he saw all day – and that was because I was one of the few with a 5:30 AM start and I slowed down quite a bit that the 6 AM (slower ones) caught up to me. Many in the 5:30 start were super strong runners, and they didn’t slow down. The later start was for the slower people I think. Often time, I felt I was the last one.
As the day progressed, Aid Stations were closing and the station captain was saying to his staff as I was passing through “there were only three more out there.” I sensed I was the last few runners holding up the station from closing. I didn’t mind though because I wanted those statistics to know how close I was to the cutoffs.
Through out the race, I know I need to run about 18:53 minute pace to finish. I was somewhere close. By halfway, I gained about just an hour of buffer. Late in the day though as evening approached, my pace was drifting more and more to 20 minutes a mile. I started to see my buffer time being cut from an hour to cut off to 30 minutes and at the last 3 hours of the race, it was nail bitting, hovering between 5 minutes to 15 minutes to the final cutoff. There was one point, I told myself, I couldn’t do it, holding a 4 miles an hour pace and I might have to come in 5-10 minutes after the bell.
I did it. I finished it. Couple other straglers with me also finished. I was with #120 for a bit. I thought she wouldn’t make it. She was sitting at the side of the trail around mile 55 at 9:45 pm the last time I saw her. She made it in like 8 minutes before the 4 AM closing (I had left the course by then, but I wish I was there to congratulate her on her huge finish). Her husband was her pacer, and he went out looking for her. He must have said many things to inspire her to get her moving and got her to the finish! She must have been like me, mad dashing to the finish line trying to beat the final cutoff. I didn’t get to witness it.
For me this race was seeing people who were close to giving up gain a new momentum. There were couple others like this. It would be too much to share. Even if they didn’t finish, they tried and that was very inspiring (#142 too).
Mostly note to self, #8 saved me from taking the wrong turn twice.
Lastly, a crew at the Aid Station 5, saved my race for emptying half of the stuff in my hiking backpack. I was the only guy running an ultra with a 10+ lb sack on my back. The lady said, that wouldn’t do and made an executive decision to help me repack only the essentials. At the time, I said, I don’t even want to carry my hydration bladder. She said you must need water. Thank God for her! My pack was lighter and I drank like a liter of water every 8 miles. Was I glad I did not ditch the water at the station. Deep into the race could affect your decision making skill as you can see. I might have dropped from the race if not for her, either carrying too much or not enough. Otherwise, this would have been a very different report.