Elizabeth's Laurel Highlands 70.5 Trail Ultra Race Report
After my DNF (did not finish) in the Massanutten 100 Mile trail ultra, do to an injury that could have ended my season if I continued, it was time to begin the healing process. In short, I began a rest, Ice, compression regimen and foam rolled (SMR) as well as strengthened the injured area that happened during the MMT 100 when I rolled my ankle. Within a few weeks I was feeling great and had no pain or residual effects. I was extremely happy I did not do any long-term damage, it was a good thing that I stopped when I did...
On to the Laurel Highlands 70 Mile Endurance Run!
Since my recovery, my training continued to move along nicely; my goals for badwater were coming to light. My training plan was to do either several consecutive long training days and then taper or one long run with moderate effort and then taper.
On June 10th I spoke to my friend Lisa, who was planning on going to PA for a 70.5mile endurance race that Saturday. As soon as I heard this, it sparked a serious interest. I checked out the website and thought to myself that this would workout nicely; it would have been perfect if it was in a warm weather climate. I asked Lisa if it was ok for me to tag along and so we left on Friday at 3:00p.m.
Lisa met me at Sloan Kettering Memorial Hospital where I was visiting my mother who has been battling cancer and then we were off on a girls gone wild ultra running adventure but instead of taking off our tops and filling our bottles with alcohol we were putting sports bras on, filling our bottles with sports drinks and deciding which flavors of gels we were in the mood for.
Again I knew nothing about the course, not even the aid stations splits… We arrived in Johnstown, PA at 10:00pm, just enough time to get at least 3 hours of sleep before we had to get up to meet a group of very unique individuals for a school bus trip to the start line. I wish there was some way to capture the energy of a bunch of people with hydration devices and compression socks all hopped up on caffeine eagerly awaiting the start to their adventure. It was very intense ride but yet a sense of calmness was felt during the 1.5 hour drive to Ophyle PA.
We arrived Ophyle PA; home of the Youghiogheny river which was rushing beautifully beside us. It must have been 4:30 or close to 5am when we emptied the school bus and milled around for 45 minutes until the start. I picked up my number and placed my drop bags in the appropriate locations. Wow, yes I’m using drop bags, its been years since I have used a drop bag and it was strange. I then looked around and there were no flashes of the camera, I thought to myself where is Joe? That’s right, I forgot, I’m doing this thing solo. No paparazzi, no support, no one to say, “do you have this, make sure you do that, smile for the camera, now get moving”, etc… Weird!!
All morning I had this nagging pain in my stomach that was telling me I might have made a mistake. The night before I was asking Lisa, since she did the race last year if I should take my lovely Nathan hydration pack or a single bottle and she said that I would be fine with just a single bottle. Even though I should know by now that more is always better. It doesn’t matter how many times you do these things, every race feels like the first time. Lesson numero uno go with your gut!
Race start! Weather is a little chilly but I know that will end soon. Lisa and I started together and talked for a bit until silence fell upon us as we maneuvered our way up the trail. The beginning of the race was a little slow because of the single track which made it hard to pass other runners. The trail started to climb up, as I thought to myself; “here we go, I wonder how long this climb is”? We started passing a bunch of people and then Lisa with other runners decided to pass me on the climb as well. I gave them the okay to move on ahead, knowing for sure that I would see them shortly. I kept her in my sights while we bombed down these awesome downhill sections. The trail weaved through the forest so elegantly it was as if the trail was made for running. Little footbridges ended each decent marking the start of another climb. After about 7 or 8 miles I learned from other people on the trail that this was pretty much it for the steady climbing and from then on it was a rolling running fest.
The forest was beautiful, thanks to all of the rain the area has seen recently which has really brought out many different shades of green you wouldn’t get a chance to see other wise.
Man oh man, I thought to myself where is the aid station we have gone 7miles already and I’m way out of fluids! And how do I know this because there are mile markers EVERY MILE! I started to look around for a stream or a person and then I noticed another runner in front of me... “hmm I wonder who that is”? As I got closer I noticed it was Donna Utakis so I decided to strike up conversation, “hey what’s going on Donna”? I had no idea she had won this race in the past and she had no idea who I was. She told me that the first aid station is at mile 11, “ohhhhhhh, okay then, well I see a rushing stream so I’m heading over, see ya”! Yes I took the chance and filled my water bottle more than once with rushing stream water. I quickly filled my bottle then headed down the trail. I got to the first aid station thirsty but feeling good! The energy felt at the aid stations was super; you see there was a relay race going on at the same time as ours so each team was really rallied up! Their energy offered great motivation to those of us going solo. I ended up catching up to Donna again and we ran together chatting for about 20 miles, she was a very nice women. I look forward to seeing her at the escarpment race. I felt pretty strong that day so I took the lead and kept it.
The aid stations were pretty far apart offering plenty of mileage to get lost in the beauty and spirit of it all. There were moments when I felt lost in the canopy of the trees. The fern and laurel grew besides the trail as if purposely there to swallow you whole, the beauty was endless! I’ve never seen so many ferns of various sizes, some were even as tall as me. My feet flowed effortlessly down the wonderful single track lurking for the next hill or rock scramble. Miles would click by; and to be honest, those mile markers were really getting to me towards the end. I would purposely run with my head pointed slightly to the left so that to try and avoid seeing them, LOL..
Mile 57.5 a major aid station came and I had no idea what place I was in. I think people were trying to tell me but I was tuned out to my music. I think I heard I was in 2nd but I knew who was in front and I knew who was behind me so I just enjoyed and kept my pace. I even stopped a couple times when there was a brief clearing to look into the valleys that was nearly 750 feet below. I was still feeling good even though I battled through a little nausea at one point but I cured that quickly.
“Awesome”!, 3 miles to go and the last 3 happen to be all down hill, whooohooo … I opened the legs up and sprinted, thinking to myself, “maybe Joe snuck down to watch my finish”, I ran across the line Looked around...., “nope no one here, guess I have to take care of myself, it was a good thing I still felt great!” I headed straight for the soup and then to the car to clean myself up, then I went back to the finish line to cheer on all the other runners coming to the line. I anxiously waited for Lisa, hoping she beat her time from last year. Yes she did, awesome! I held on to second but I have to say, I could have pushed a bit harder so until next year, I look forward to seeing this beautiful trail again and tilting my head slightly to the left...
This race reminded me of why I love trail running events so much! Ultrarunning races on trails offers us a glimpse of what once was, you know before development & traffic... Please visit and support our nations lovely parks you won’t regret it. I would have never known the laurel highlands trail existed if it weren’t for ultrarunning and the wonderful race directors who choose to organize this event and of course my friend Lisa, thanks again for sharing such a beautiful race with me!