Run19:38:58 70.5 mi (16:43 / mi) +3476m14:30 / mi ahr:142 max:185
Successful traverse of the Laurel Highlands Trail!
I signed up to run the Laurel Highlands Ultra at the end of last year. It’s a 70.5 mile point-to-point race that traverses the length of the Laurel Highlands Hiking Trail. The trail is located within 1.5h of our house and it seemed like a great local option for my first attempt at an ultramarathon. The timing worked well too because my motive behind running an ultra was to be in awesome shape for the world rogaine championships in August. Then COVID happened and everything was cancelled… I had already put in a lot of training time so decided to use the fitness and just run the Laurel Highlands Trail solo.
START to CP1 (11.6 mi): Kevin (the most awesome crew person!) dropped me off at Ohiopyle State Park on Sunday morning, and at 5:30 a.m. I headed out. It was a cloudy morning so I used a handheld flashlight for the first few miles to avoid tripping on rocks. The first 8 miles have the most elevation gain of the entire race so I started out easy and hiked most of the hills. They didn’t seem as bad as I remembered from our training run earlier this year. I made good time and got to the first CP right on schedule.
CP1 to CP2 (19.3 mi) and CP2 to CP3 (28 mi): These sections went by quickly. The first felt mostly downhill with just one steep climb at the end and the next was pretty flat. Navigating through Seven Springs was a little confusing, but there were lots of signs and I made it through. I was super hungry when I got to CP3 so I ate a bunch of food and changed my socks.
CP3 to CP4 (32.3 mi): Apparently, I ate too much food, too quickly because my stomach was not super happy as I set out again. It never really recovered for the rest of the day, which is odd because I do not usually have stomach issues. I was able to continue eating, but I don’t think I was eating enough. I was still moving really well though and even a little ahead of schedule. Saw a number of people backpacking, hiking, and trail running.
CP4 to CP5 (39.1 mi): There were some longer climbs in this section and it was quite rocky so my pace slowed a little. I was pretty excited to pass the half way mark! I also crossed the turnpike on a cool footbridge. I was about 10 minutes ahead of schedule when I arrived at CP5 and still feeling good. Changed my shoes and ate some watermelon.
CP5 to CP6 (46.4 mi): This was another section that felt mostly downhill. Once I hit 44 miles I knew I could finish. Only a marathon to go! For some reason that seemed like a very achievable distance. I started running a little more and made good time through this section. At the aid station I picked up my head lamp – I could have just barely made it without, but I didn’t want to have to worry about light.
CP6 to CP7 (57.1 mi): My quads really started to hurt once I hit the 50 mile mark. I was still running though, and in really good spirits. In hindsight, I should have saved a little more energy. I made it to CP7 just as it was getting dark. I was 15 minutes ahead of schedule and optimistic that I would be done in under 19 hours.
CP7 to FINISH (70.5 mi): I held up so well through the first 60 miles, but then I hit a wall. My body decided that it was done running. I couldn’t manage more than a shuffle and that wasn’t really any faster than walking. I’ve never before reached a point where I couldn’t just block out the pain in my legs. I think it was as much mental as it was physical. Kevin had planned to meet me again at 62 miles, but the dirt road was blocked by a locked gate so instead the last section ended up being the longest. It was also full dark soon after I left CP7. It actually didn’t bother me at all to be hiking solo through the wilderness at night – I thought it might without a map to distract my mind. It was a little chilly though and rained lightly for a while. I just wasn’t having fun anymore. I wonder if it would have been different in a race, knowing that others are out there and adding the excitement of an official finish. I also think I didn’t eat enough through the day and it finally caught up with me. I continued to move onward. I could still walk quickly, but without mixing in running it felt like I was moving so slow. Met up with Kevin at mile 65 and that helped quite a bit. It was frustrating to not be able to run the final downhill miles to the finish, but I didn’t run an ultra because it would be easy. Finished in 19h 38m, which was a little slower than I was hoping, but as the primary goal was to finish it was definitely a success :)
A few more random thoughts. The trail is pretty rocky. It alternates between enough rocks that you need to slow down and sections of smooth, beautiful trail. I figured my feet would bother me, but they held up super well! They only really started to hurt after 17ish hours. It seems that over time my body is adapting to spending stupidly long amounts of time on my feet so that’s pretty cool (the first 8 hr rogaine we did my feet were killing me by the end!). Each mile is marked by a small cement post. You wouldn’t believe the number of stumps along this trail that looks like mile markers… Last, but definitely not least, Kevin was an amazing crew. I’m so lucky to have a husband that encourages all of my crazy adventures!
I learned a lot about ultrarunning, both training and ‘racing’. My legs are still sore and I am already pretty sure I will run another one. Someday my ultrarunning fitness and a 24h rogaine will coincide, and it will be awesome.