This last weekend I attempted the Laurel Highlands 77 Mile Ultra and unfortunately had to drop at mile 53. That being said, I’ve never been happier with a DNF for whatever that is worth.
It’s been a while since I’ve written up a full race report, so I’ll provide the full lowdown on Laurel Highlands even though I didn’t actually finish
Start to 11.6
Jen, Eve, and I woke up around 4am to go from our hotel room to the start line. Eve was wildly unhappy with being woken up that early. The race start was in a really great state park that had a beautiful waterfall running through it. I started thinking that white water rafting or kayaking may be a more fun outdoor sport for the day, but too late to change plans now!
We started at 5:30am, and it was just light enough to see where we were going on the trail. It was already humid with temps in the 70s, and it got up to the 90s later in the day. Not exactly ideal, but what can you do?
The first 8 miles is mostly climbing, and I severely underestimated this climb. I unfortunately didn’t have much opportunity to get out to the mountains to train, and the climb was tougher than it should have been. It certainly was beautiful, though. We broke through the clouds and got to see the tops of surrounding mountains peeking out around us.
I was pretty tired by the top of the climb, and my legs felt way more dead than they should have. While the terrain mellowed out, unfortunately my legs never came back to me. I think it was a combination of not having enough trail/mountain training and too short of a taper, but this was definitely the worst my legs have ever felt during a race.
My stomach also started going downhill fast around mile 8. Uhoh … all too familiar of a feeling. My stomach was rumbling and roiling, I felt really full, and I was having a hard time getting anything down.
It was going to be a tough day.
11.6 to 19.3
I rolled into the mile 11.6 aid station feeling like crap. But you can’t stop a 77 mile ultra 11.6 miles in. Unless one of your legs literally falls off, it’s just not an option.
I moved through quickly, said hi to Jen and Eve, and started plodding towards mile 19.6. Things definitely weren’t getting better. My legs still felt like lead, and my stomach was getting worse. I also managed to make a wrong turn with a group of guys I was running with that cost us about 15 minutes. Doh!
I kept on moving forward and running slowly with my main goal being to get to the next aid station. I figured that once I got there, I could reevaluate and figure out what to do.
19.3 to 28
Finally the aid station! I immediately sat down, poured a bunch of ice water on my head, and started chugging some soda. Eve sat in my lap, and we hung out for a bit. The soda gave me some much needed energy, and I at least felt a lot cooler, so I dragged my ass up and started running towards mile 28. I told Jen that it would take me a long while, but I’d meet her there eventually.
So far I have never been able to bring my stomach back after it went south. This time when things went bad, I just shut everything down. Stopped eating much of anything, didn’t drink much water, and stuck to whatever soda I could stomach with some regular S-caps. Slowly I started pulling out of the funk.
My legs still were no good, but I finally felt decent and had my stomach cooperating. Woohooo!!! I was still moving slowly, but it was getting to be much more enjoyable. The trail really was beautiful. It’s just covered in lush ferns and really is a great place to run.
As my stomach continued to settle down, I was able to eat some fruit and a Clif bar, which tasted pretty good. Later on I hit some Clif Shot Roks, which I’ve recently become a BIG fan of.
Around mile 26 you hit Seven Springs ski resort. It’s a really cool part of the trail that is really wide open and gives you a great view of the surrounding mountains. Before I knew it, I was at mile 28 and finally feeling decent. Jen said that I actually looked like I didn’t want to die. Next aid station was only 4 miles away, so I got myself moving on down the trail.
28 to 32.3
I was still in much much better spirits, but my legs continued their downhill spiral. I really didn’t know how long I could keep going and was pretty sure I wasn’t going to make it 77 miles. But I was still having a good enough time and figured I’d keep shooting for the next aid station until my legs totally gave out. I figured that would be somewhere around mile 40 based on how I felt, which would at least be a respectable day’s work.
This stretch had a lot of hikers who cheered for us loudly as we went by, which was fun. I also had some company along the way for much of this stretch with a nice guy named David, who was having a great day and went on to a great finish.
32.3 to 44
I came into mile 32 tired but in good spirits. It was getting really hot by this point, but luckily we’d been in the shade for most of the day. I asked about the next aid station and was told it was at mile 39. I figured I could make it that far and told Jen that I’d see her there.
I took off and started slowly slogging through this rocky, technical patch. I was slowing down a lot, and my legs were seriously starting to hurt.
At mile 36 we got to the detour around the Pennsylvania Turnpike. The good part was that this section was on dirt roads and much more runnable. Bad part was that it was all in the sun, and it was REALLY hot.
As I kept chugging along the in the heat, I quickly started to realize that there wasn’t an aid station at mile 39. There was a manned water stop around 37, but I was only able to coax half a bottle from the guy. For some reason he seemed upset that I was asking. Given that he was there with the express purpose of handing out water, I’m not exactly sure what pissed him off so much.
At any rate, I was running out of water fast. I was carrying two Nathan handhelds with me, and they were getting empty fast. My 41 or so I was dry. I knew there was an aid station at mile 53 but didn’t know if there was anything sooner. If there wasn’t, I was going to be in big trouble.
I was making my way slowly up a big climb and getting incredibly worried about dehydration. Then I saw it! An aid station! My oasis in the forest! I took off running and ran my way all the way up there. As I got closer, someone started shouting over to me. Turns out it was Greg Zaruba.
Greg is fast guy, and I’ve had the pleasure of running with him in a bunch of races. He was recovering at the aid station, and there were a bunch of other guys trying to bring themselves back to life, too. Turns out that last section was brutal for everybody.
I got some much needed water, soda, and salt and was feeling MUCH better. Disaster avoided.
44 to 52.9
I left the aid station feeling better and was able to run for most of the first few miles. I then started to slow down fast, and by 48 or 49 just had nothing left. My legs were totally shot. I couldn’t run at all anymore, and my right shin was really starting to bother me.
I kept plodding along and inched my way closer to mile 53. I was planning to drop there and was feeling ok about calling it a day. Things hadn’t been ideal, but I’d gotten a lot further than I hoped. It was slow going, and I was very ready to call it a day when I got to the aid station.
I sat down and recovered for 20 or so minutes to make sure I was 100% in my decision to quit. I still felt crappy after resting there for a while, so I called it.
All in all, I’m really happy with how it turned out. I would really have liked to finish, and I think I could do very well on that course someday, but I pushed as hard as I could and ended up with my 3rd longest run ever (after Vermont 100 and 68 miles at TRT). Good enough for me.
- The important thing is that I learned a lot from the race, including:
It is possible to pull my stomach back when it goes downhill. It seems like the key is to shut down the eating and drinking until it settles down and feels better.
- I need more time in the mountains and on the trails. I knew I was pushing it with spending much of the year on roads training for Boston. Even aside from the climbing, it takes a lot of time on the trails to be good at running them. I need to be more consistent and will try to run tough trails more often in the next year leading up to TRT 100.
- Do more course research. I got stuck out there without enough water and need to avoid that in the future.
- Take Tylenol 8 hour before races and again during very long races. I think this would have helped a bit with my legs. I did it at Vermont 100 and had a good result there.
I’ll take it easy for a bit to recover but am excited to continue training hard and begin the long build-up to TRT 100 next year.