Monday, June 15, 2009

Laurel Highlands

I spent Saturday, June 13, running one of the most beautiful ultra courses in the country, the Laurel Highlands 70 miler. Traversing the entire length of the trail, from Ohiopyle to near Johnstown, Pennsylvania, each mile is marked with a ~two-foot-high concrete obelisk. Laurel is a 30-year-old ultra event which due to its then 18-hour cutoff and no aid stations (each runner was required to have her own crew), previously attracted mainly the grizzled hardcore and/or faster runners. A few years back, fully stocked and manned aid stations were added along with an extended cutoff of 22 hours, making for a much higher finish rate. Most of the time you are running on bike- and horse-free singletrack through beautiful hardwood forests, the ground absolutely covered with ferns, interspersed with a few sections of rainforest/jungle-like rhododendrun groves and a short dirt road section leading to the Mile 62 aid station.

Having run just one event on the East Coast in over three years, Laurel was a special treat for me. Compared to the arid West, there is so much beautiful green. And the birds! I heard hermit thrushes, wood thrushes, veeries, ovenbirds, the squeeky-wheel bird, and the "Here I am... where are you?... here I am... where are you?" one (names escape me), all the birds I used to hear on my runs in Vermont. It was a wonderful day of running through the woods. :)

As for my "race," I'm satisfied with my time and performance (15:44) even though it was 1:18 off my best--and only other--Laurel of 14:26, seven years ago. The last two weeks were spent fighting a cold and nagging cough, and we were a wee bit jetlagged after flying into Dulles Friday evening and driving four hours to the start. Then I nearly missed the start! Thinking the race started at 6 a.m., we showed up around 5:15. I didn't realize the race started at 5:30 until I heard "5 minutes to start!!" and didn't even have my running shoes on yet. Doh!

The early miles felt humid but cool, and fortunately it never got hot. By Mile 6, I'd already decided it was going to be an enjoy-the-day race, coughing & hacking my way down the trail and having a hard time getting into a good groove. No worries; if nothing else, it would be great training for upcoming summer adventures. At the first aid station, I mumbled something to Chris, crew extraordinaire, about being prepared for a long day. It was fun chatting away the miles while running with Stuart Kern and especially David "I-just-ran-OD-last-weekend" Snipes, with whom I ran about 40 miles. My frequent outbursts of "Look at all these ferns!!" and "Do you know what kind of bird that is? It's an ovenbird! How cool is that?!" were probably getting annoying, but I was so enjoying the surroundings. By the halfway point, I finally felt like I was hittin' a groove and was able to dig in, running consistently and with pretty even splits, passing about a dozen people along the way. Chris ran backwards from the finish line to meet me around Mile 66, bringing lights and a Starbucks Doubleshot and telling me all about the adventures of his day, so the last four miles passed rather quickly. We ran without the lights until about a mile before the finish line, which I finally crossed at 9:14 p.m., third woman and first master, collecting my second wooden obelisk mile-marker replica. (I have a ways to go to catch up with Chris's SIX!)

Laurel is a truly great event, one of the originals. If you haven't yet run it, you owe it to yourself to do so. It's even worth a plane ride cross country!!


Olga said...

Gotta try this one day too, heard so much about it!

Jamie Anderson said...

Great job Sue! Enjoyed the race report. I gotta do that one some day.

amy said...

Great to see you at Laurel. What a gorgeous trail--the ferns were spectacular!!

edmunds said...

nice race report sue. i'm running lots these days, but will leave the ultras to you - you're amazing!

jeff :-D

I am a runner. "We are what we repeatedly do" said...

sorry to have missed you guys on the east coast. I enjoyed OD 100 the week prior and am not man enough to pull the snipes double. Good to see you running regular ultras again. Whats on the summer plans list??