After a few hours of recovery, and a few large, well, slowly getting larger meals, I think it is time to drop my thoughts about the Laurel Highlands 70.5 mile Ultra from June 9, 2012.
John Weaver Jr, Danny Mowers, and I left Altoona to head to the packet pick up in Johnstown. We were meeting Benjamin Mazur and the folks from Try Chips at the dinner. As usual, we were late. Nothing more interesting than walking into a dinner while the RD is wrapping up his speech to the large group of races. We were able to get our packets, eat some food, and then head to our place to stay for the night.
We got up on Saturday morning and got prepped to run. John was dropping Danny and I off at the start of the 70.5 miler and then heading to the finish of the 50k so he could catch the bus to the start of the 50k. We got to the start area around 430 am and were some of the first ones there. We got checked in and then John took off to his race. Danny and I mingled around and got ready to run.
I had made a pre-game decision to run in my Saucony Peregrine trail shoes versus my Montrail Mountain Massochist trail shoes. I decided to go with light and fast instead of heavier with more protection. This is a choice that I will probably never make ever again. I like the Peregrines, but I will have to stick with my heavier shoes with more protection in the future. (More to come on this later).
At 530am, we were off. We started in a parking area right next to the Ohiopyle Falls. Beautiful place to start a race. From here we ran about 1/2 mile to the trail head, and fortunately that train didn't block the road for us. What is it about trains and ultras for me???
We hit the trail head and I made myself a promise that I would not run hard until we reached the top of the mountain. I was able to run a nice easy pace and get up the top. The trail here is very runnable and very nice. There was a great view below us of the fog over the Yough River. What a great site early on.
I got in with a pack of about 12 runners that were planning on going under 18 hours for the run. I was very happy with this and we had some great conversations on the trail. We had some Canadians with us and they really kept us entertained.
At the 6 mile mark, there is a nice new bridge that we crossed the stream on. From here it is approximately 1.5 miles to the top of the mountain. This is a very long and demanding climb. We paced ourselves and got to the top. Once at the top, the trail becomes runnable and faster. I had the game plan to get into the 11.9 mile aid station around 3 hours. I got to the aid station in 2 hours and 56 minutes. Things were looking good and the game plan was working. I hit the aid station, got refueled and got my water filled back up. At this point, I had already drank 70 ounces of water and took 2 electrolyte pills. Once I got it all topped off, I took off. I hit the trail by myself and felt incredible. This trail is scary fast. I was running at a pretty good clip and was able to enjoy the woods and trails by myself for about an hour. I ended up catching up with a guy named Jeff from the Virgina Happy Trails Running Club. We ran together into the 19.6 mile aid station. At this point, everything felt great and I knew that would be some good running ahead. I fueled an filled up another 70 ounces of water. After this was done, I took off again.
We hit the trails and we were running good. I was sweating pretty bad and everything on me was soaked. I figured at this point that nutrition, electrolytes, and fueling were nailed down. Wow would I be wrong in a few miles.
We ran and got to the aid station at Seven Springs. This is around 26 miles. I was still feeling good. Legs were not an issue and hydration and electrolytes were still good. I refueled and tried to eat something, but my stomach did not like the food. I had a few small pretzels and then took off.
We came into Seven Springs and at the top of the mountain you exit the woods and run around a lake. From here, it is down to the bottom of the mountain, and the majority of the time, you are in nothing but sun. Very little shade and it was hot at this point. It was right around 11am when I came through here. I had my friend, Jon Wright, meeting me at the aid station at 32 miles and told him I would be there between 11am and noon. Jon ended up meeting me at the crew support area around 28 miles. I told Jon that my legs were feeling good, but I needed some ibuprofen for my swollen feet. My feet were taking a beating in the Peregrines from all of the rocks. I was wishing for my Montrails to appear out of no where so that I could change shoes. Jon told me that he would get me some meds and meet me at the 32 mile aid station.
Jon met me at 32 miles and I was having some serious stomach issues. This was right around 1255pm. Some nice ladies in the aid station area got me some ginger ale and let me use their chair. I slowly sipped the ginger ale and took some advil. I sat for about 10 minutes and everything seemed to be working itself out. I got my pack filled back up and said goodbye to Jon and thanks to the ladies. Off I went feeling really strong again. Still no leg issues.
Once out of the aid station, I hit the first climb shortly down the trail. I started climbing and the stomach issues came back. I tried to drink some water and put down and electrolyte cap, but my stomach didn't want to hear it. I cracked open the cap and poured it into my mouth so I could get some much needed electrolytes. Stomach still not cooperating. I got to the point where I was running about 400 yards and then nearly throwing up. I went to a run until I had to puke and the walk until I felt better mentality.
I hit the 39 mile aid station and more friends were there. Tim and Jackie from Try Chips, and Mary Kowalski, gave me a pep talk and got me some nutrition. Mary got me some ICE COLD water to calm my stomach. Tim gave me some ginger chews and a potato roll and cheese sandwich. I was able to get these down and after about 10 minutes I hit the trail again. I ran for about 2 miles and everything got really bad. I was stopping and puking every several hundred yards. Around the 44 mile mark I was sitting on a stump yacking my guts out when another runner came around the corner. He stopped and turned the other way because he said that if he watched me puke, I was going to have company.
I finished up my mission to empty everything out of my stomach and tried to run again. I got a few hundred feet down the trail and the puking started again. This continued until just between mile 45 and mile 46. I knew that the aid station was only a few hundred yards away, so I plugged on to make it there.
Upon making it to the aid station at 46.4, I handed my bib to the staff and told them I was done. I was still 2 hours and 45 minutes ahead of the aid station closing. The staff told me to take a break, calm down my stomach, and hit the trail again. I told the staff that there was no way that I could go on. I was starving and couldn't eat. I was hot and couldn't cool down. I could not even get any water into my body without puking it back out. I told them I was done and dropped from the race.
While sitting at the aid station, I learned that there were a lot of drops from my exact condition. I thought that I had hydration and everything nailed down, but I guess I was wrong. It was a huge learning experience. It was also a learning experience to finally tell myself that I had to stop or go to the hospital or worse. It took a lot for my stubborn ass to say that I was done. But fortunately, I am doing this race report from home and not from a hospital bed.
In regards to the course, Laurel Highlands is a difficult course. There are numerous climbs and descents. The trail is beautiful and there are some great views along the way. The trail has a mix of everything from pine forest to ferns to 15 foot tall rocks that you run through. I guess that the Laurel Highlands is now my new nemesis. This was the first race that I have dropped from, but in the end it was a good choice to "Do Nothing Fatal."
Laurel Highlands - I will be back next year. I have some serious unfinished business with you!!!!!