Sunday, June 12, 2011


This weekend, I drove over to Ohiopyle to run the Laurel Highlands 50K. This was my first race since last Fall when I injured my IT band and my 2nd official ultra, my first being YUT-C in '09. My sister was also running the 50K and Brian was doing the 77 miler. The longer distance is usually only 70 miles, but due to a bridge out over the turnpike, an additional 7 mile detour was needed. This was the last year for it.

I met Jim Harris, Tim End (Jim's cousin), Eric Harris, Eric's friend Nick, Lloyd Thomas, Brian and Jamie on Friday. Jim got two rooms at the Lodge at Chalk Hill about 20 minutes from the start line in Ohiopyle. I got there an hour before them, so I drove to Ohiopyle to see the waterfall and natural waterslide. This was my first time around this area and I thought it was beautiful.
On Saturday morning, Jamie, Eric, Nick and I woke up at 6 o'clock. The 50K started at 8 and the 77 at 5:30. Jim was also doing the 50K, but took the other guys down to the start for the 77 and hung around till the 50K start. Jim had also dropped a car off at the finish line on Friday, so that made things a lot easier for us since the race is a point-to-point.

We got to the start line around 7:15 and checked-in. About 15 minutes before the start, I decided I better hit the restroom. There was a line, so I got out of there 3 minutes before start time! As I was coming out, I dropped my Nathan handheld water bottle and the top of it broke. I wasn't too worried though since I had my camelback.

Rick Freeman gave a pre-race prayer, then countdown the last few seconds to the start, and we were off! This was my first time on these trails, so other than looking at elevation profiles of the course, I didn't know what to expect. I made a quick dash for the front of the pack at the start because the trail is single-track and hard to pass someone on.

It wasn't long before everyone was walking....even the lead guys! I knew these hills must be for real if they were walking already. The first 8 miles or so has 3 giant hills. The final one lasts a couple miles. The trail was pretty technical in the beginning and had some muddy and wet parts. You really had to watch your footing and every step. One slip could turn into a badly sprained ankle or a nasty tumble down steep stairs.

It was a relief getting to the first aid station around mile 12. I planned on getting in and out of each aid station as quick as possible since you can waste a lot of time here. I started out with Cameback Elixir in my hyrdation pack and refilled with Gatorade at the aid station. I had a few stomach cramps in the first 3 miles that luckily went away. Not sure if it was the Elixir mix, since I hadn't tried it before race day, or something else. I also had 2 packs of GU Chomps and a gel pack.

I was feeling great after the hills. Jim, Eric and Nick ran together for a good portion of the race and I yo-yo'd back and forth with them multiple times during the race. I tried to make up lost time walking the uphills by taking the downhills fast.

Between miles 12-19 is when things started getting tough. I was doing a pretty good job hydrating, but learned that salt pills would've been a good investment. I figured the sodium in the gatorade and Elixir would be enough, but not the case when you're sweating a storm on a humid day with giant hills facing you. I felt sluggish and walked a good part after losing sight of Jim and the boys around mile 15.

I couldn't believe the climb when I got to miles 18-19. It felt harder than the first three hills since it was more than half way into the race and my legs were feeling beat. The incline had steps at some points. I stopped half way and sat down on a log thinking that finishing with anything under 7:30 would be a miracle.

I finally made it the mile 19 aid station. There I got my camelback refilled and ate as many saltine crackers as I could. After 5 minutes of being there, Jamie came strolling in. It was great seeing her! We stayed for a little while longer then left together.

From 19 to the mile 26 aid station, we mixed in walking and running. I was now finding it a whole lot easier running when I had someone to get my mind off of it. My calves started cramping during this part of the race and felt like they could pull at any moment. I had to change my stride and not kick back as much. I also knew that I had to watch every step because if I tripped it would be game over.

Unfortunately, I tripped. Over a rock or a stump or something. Jamie was running in front. I instantly fell to the ground and let out a loud yell. I layed there and held my calf until it stopped pulling. It had locked up into a ball, so I started massaging it. I was pretty worried though because this could've meant walking to the finish for me. Some guy a little ways back heard my yell and asked if he could help any.

Luckily, I was able to continue running and walking and made it to the mile 26 aid station. The guy there gave me two salt tablets and I ate some potatoes with salt. Jamie and I refilled our packs halfway with a gatorade/water mix and got on our way. As we were leaving, it made both of us feel good when these cyclists, decked out with jerseys looking like they just got back from the Tour De France, said something. One of them said, "So you guys have already done a marathon?! That's awesome." They all looked shocked and wished us good luck.

I was pretty happy we only had 5 miles left, but knew these wouldn't be easy. Every so often, one of my calves started to pull slightly. I ran very gingerly hoping nothing major would happen. I knew we still had a pretty hefty climb ahead of us around mile 28 near Seven Springs.

The views from the top of the hills at Seven Springs were amazing. You could see the huge slopes and houses on the side of the hills. There was also a lake at the top where people were paddling and kayaking in. I imagine they use this in the winter to make snow.

After finally making it up the big climb and within a couple miles to go, we could smell the finish line. We ran into Jim and Eric in the last couple miles. When I made the last turn to the finish, I asked "Where's the finish?!?" Whoever's cruel idea it was, you had to pass the finish and make one last (small) loop around the parking lot. I crossed the line in 6:43.


Jamie said...

congrats!! it was great running w/you!

shannon said...

Beautiful part of the world there! Congrats on a strong finish on a tough course. :)

Jeff said...

Thanks Shannon!