Monday, June 11, 2018

2018 Laurel Highlands Ultra Race Report

The day began early with a 2:30 am wake-up. Ooff... We had decided to stay at a hotel close to the finish in Johnstown, and due to the point-to-point nature of the course, that meant that we had to drive 1 1/2 hours to get to Ohiophyle for the 5:30 am race start. Ah, race mornings ;)

My parents were staying at a hotel near the mid-point of the race, so we drove to their hotel, picked them up and then continued on to Ohiophyle State Park. Once we arrived, I quickly hopped out of the car and walked in the darkness over to the visitor's center to find the bathrooms. Having a real bathroom at the start of an ultra is so nice, especially if you are a woman, as there is rarely a line for the women's room!

The start

With my parents

The Falls 

It was in the low 60s at the start and due to heavy fog, it wasn't as light as I thought it would be at 5:30 am. It was hard to hear the race director's announcements over the roar of the water as we lined up along the walkway at the edge of on the Youghiogheny River (no idea how to pronounce that...). A few minutes of nervous energy, and then we were off!

I had decided to put myself a little further at the front of the pack than I might typically, just so that I could use the short road portion to my advantage and hopefully get a bit ahead of the conga line once we hit the trail. When we turned into the woods, the light was still really dim and I was regretting not bringing my headlamp! Thankfully the first mile or so of trail was on a nice wide gravel road that paralelled the river, which was some pretty nice running and allowed us to spread out a bit before heading into the singletrack. Although I did chat here and there with a few people as we settled into our own paces, I mostly just focused on running comfortably and not tripping in the semi-darkness ;)

A short bit later, we took a sharp left and headed up into the woods. I knew from looking at the course profile and reading about the race that the first 11 miles would include the biggest climbs. The miles did not disappoint, with some steep uphills at mile 2 and 4 and a good, mile-long uphill around mile 6. The trail was typical hiking trail, I'd say, with rocks and roots, but nothing that couldn't be maneuvered, although it was so humid I was soon drenched in sweat and the rocks were so slick it seemed as if they were sweating too! ;)

As is typical for me, I would pass people on the uphills and they would pass me back on the downhills. I had a few good laughs with some of the guys I was running around about this. With one guy in particular, named Kurt, we would literally end up leapfrogging all day long.

The first aid station was at mile 11ish. I stopped briefly to pick up some more gels and fill my water and got back on my way. Ryan, Mom and Dad were a great crew team and made it easy for me!

Mile 11

The crew mobile :)

One happy, if sweaty, runner!

There were a bunch of short climbs and descents between miles 11 and 19 when I saw the crew next and I was also happily surprised to find that there were some nice stretches of runnable terrain and that not all of the singletrack was rocky and rooty. I was feeling good and moving along well, but things were starting to warm up and I was getting hot. 

Coming into mile 19

Up into the woods at mile 19

Ice bandana!

I picked up the ice bandana at mile 19 and it felt so good! It was definitely getting roasty toasty out there! I was really enjoying the terrain and the trail was beautiful, the woods lush with green. Up along the ridgeline were beautiful stretches of mountain laurel and down in the hollows there were streams and interesting rock formations. Towhees sang in the woods and there were large stretches of forest floor and fields covered in sweet smelling hay-scented ferns. 

I had expected to see Ryan, Mom and Dad at mile 26 so was surprised to find just the aid station and no crew there. I stopped and filled my water and had a cup of coke and continued quickly on, but not finding them there when I expected to see them combined with climbing up to the top of Seven Springs, a ski resort and also the highest point along the Laurel Highland Trail and being out in exposed fields and on the ski trails in the heat of the day before descending to the crew stop kind of put me in a bit of a funk. Ryan says I was most definitely a cranky runner at mile 28 ;) Sorry guys! I stopped there and sat down, ate, getting more ice in the bandana and just in general getting my head back on straight! 

Coming up to the mile 28 crew stop

I managed to cool down and turn it around between miles 28 and 32, making up some ground. It was still incredibly warm and humid, and I was drenched in sweat and had all sorts of leaf matter and mud stuck to my legs but I felt so much better when I saw everyone again in 5 miles! Changed my shirt here, which felt great. I was drenched!

Mile 32

Headed out of mile 32

My rock star crew eating lunch at mile 32 :)

At some point between miles 32 and 39, I managed to run right by a copperhead curled up in the middle of the trail. I really thought it was a rock but a bit of movement caught my eye and I turned around to discover the snake, its tongue flicking. I yelled back to the guy I had been leapfrogging with to watch out for the snake. Wouldn't want to stop on that guy out there! Whew!!! A little bit later, we also crossed the Pennsylvania Turnpike on a huge bridge. Pretty cool!

Laurel Highlands bridge

Coming into mile 39

I left mile 39 with a piece of bacon in one hand and some pringles in the other. The pringles got soggy before I had a chance to eat them, but I did get the bacon down :) The stretch between mile 39 and mile 46 was rocky and uneven. There was just not much rhythm to be found and that section just seemed to take forever! Coming into mile 46, I sat down and ate and asked for some bodyglide on my ankles at the sock line, which were getting rubbed raw with all the sweat and debris on my legs. I had been running somewhere between 3rd and 6th woman all day long, but taking a slightly longer break at 46 meant I got passed by a few women there, and I left in 7th. I wasn't in the hunt for any sort of placement, but I had told Ryan I wanted to push the final section of the race, to race a bit more so to speak.

Climbing up to the aid station at Mile 46

Leaving mile 46

Another long stretch between aid stations coming out of mile 46, but Ryan was planning to run in a few miles at mile 57 and then join me for the final 13 miles, so I was looking forward to that. I had originally intended to run the whole thing alone, but when my parents decided to come out to crew and cheer, it gave me the option to have Ryan pace me, and after being out on the trail, I realized that with a small field and rough terrain, it was pretty lonely out there and I knew I'd be glad for some company in the later miles. 

Somehow I left mile 46 without restocking my gels, so I had 3 gels and half a bag of chips to get me through 11 miles. Oops. There were some pretty stretches of mountain laurel and more rock formations and fields of ferns and good stretches of fairly runnable trail in this stretch. I had plugged my watch into the battery charger earlier and it was stowed away in my pocket and not tracking exactly right, but one of the interesting things about the Laurel Highlands Trail is that there are stone markers every mile, so when I reached the 50 mile marker, I took out my watch and noted that it had taken me 12:30 to do that 50. Slowest 50 ever! Ha!

I was hoping I could get to the mile 55 marker before Ryan caught me, but while it was close, I didn't quite get that far before seeing him come up the trail in the opposite direction. I was happy to see him though, and we chatted away as we ran into the mile 57 aid station. 

Running with Ryan

The trail wove in and around a number of really cool rock formations in various spots

Laurel Highlands trail marker

Mountain laurel

I rattled off to Ryan the things I wanted to do at mile 57 and told him that I had passed three people in the last stretch, including one woman. It was about 14 hours in and Ryan told me there were a few woman not that far ahead. I was still feeling good and was looking forward to pushing the pace a bit in the last stretch with Ryan.

Coming into mile 57

Ryan told me I needed to get in some calories at the aid station so we took a bit of time there. I sat and changed my shirt and had some coke and smoothie, got my headlamp, debated if I needed the ice bandana still and decided against it as it seemed to have cooled down. I also had some broth, as I wanted something salty and saw someone eating some and it looked good. I also decided against changing my socks, which given the state of my feet a day later was a mistake. Should have taken the time, maybe even at mile 46. Oh well. My parents did a great job helping us get ready for the darkness and the final miles of the trail, and then we were off.

I was feeling good and the trail was fairly smooth and flat and nice for running. At some point, a few miles out, I said to Ryan, I have this weird taste in my mouth, and he told me to just take a few sips of water, all the while apparently thinking, uh oh, she's gonna puke. And you know what, I did. And it was horrible. I am not going to lie. It was straight up terrible. I've never thrown up before during an ultra, and I hope I never do again. I had one episode and then another much more violent and explosive one, and then one final round that was incredibly painful. I was feeling really panicked after and am so incredibly thankful that Ryan was with me. I'm not sure what I would have done if he hadn't been there to calm me down. I had a few sips of water and walked a bit, and then I really did feel better and we got in some good stretches of running. Shortly after the puking episode, my friend Kurt passed me again. I was happy to see that he had rebounded and was moving along again as when I had passed him last, he told me he wasn't doing very well.

Soon after, it got dark enough that I donned my headlamp. We wound through some pretty fields and Ryan's headlamp caught the glint of a set of eyes down in the brush. He called me back to take a look, and it was a little spotted fawn curled up in the underbrush. What a sight! So cute. We also passed through a few stretches of 5 foot tall cinnamon ferns; it felt like we were back in the dinosaur age! There were also patches of incredibly dark black deep mud. Even with our headlamps it was hard to discern the mud until you were right on top of it and realized there was a 6" footprint down into the mud.

The final aid station was at mile 62 and there was no crew access. We stopped there and I had a cup of coke, a few strawberries and took a gingersnap cookie to go. I had to take really tiny bites to get that cookie down. It took quite a while. We ran again for a bit but then I felt like I had to throw up again and my stomach just couldn't handle the jostling of the running. It was incredibly frustrating because my legs felt good and I still had energy and fire, but my stomach just would not allow me to do anything more than powerwalk. And poor Ryan, all he got for being such a good crew person and pacer was puke and a long slow walk in the woods in the dark :)

Despite not being able to run, I was still able to keep up a decent pace, or at least it seemed like it, as we caught up to Kurt again and passed him on an uphill, and then even after he passed us back and we got caught by another woman, I was able to keep them in our sights and gain ground on them until the final few miles when we hit the last downhill stretch to the finish line. I never wanted to fall asleep but I most definitely was wobbling in the final mile as the calorie deficit caught up to me. Two gels, one cup of coke, two gingersnap cookies and two strawberries in 13 miles after throwing up whatever had been in my stomach was simply not enough. I did all that I could to move as fast as possible but the reality is it was pretty slow go and I probably lost 45 minutes to an hour in those final 13 miles due to my stomach.

Still, seeing that 70 mile marker and the lights of the finish line through the woods felt good, and I am proud of the effort I gave out there. It may not have been quite what I had hoped but I didn't give up and I pushed as much as my body would allow.


Coming into the finish

Gotta turn the watch off ;)

So happy to have had Ryan with me!

Tired runner and pacer :)

Mom and I

I am so grateful for Mom and Dad for driving up from NC to watch me run and crew and cheer, and of course, ever so grateful to Ryan for crewing and pacing and in general putting up with all my craziness. Also incredibly thankful to Irene and Dana for hanging out with Sam for the weekend. I am one lucky lady 💗 No race is ever completed alone and I have the best support crew ever!

My goals for Laurel going in were to push the pace in the final stretch and "race" with the thought that I could get in the mid 17 hour range. In the end, I finished in 18:36:13; 8th female and 34th overall. Of course, the three ladies in front of me were 20, 15 and 6 minutes ahead, so had I not had stomach issues I feel I might have had a real shot at 4th or 5th place, but oh well, you get what you get and I am still happy with the effort I gave.

8/17 women; 34/85 overall
131 starters/85 finishers

A few lessons learned:

- Just because the sun goes down does not mean you still don't need ice! Yes, it seemed cooler at 7:30 at night but in reality, it was still hot and it was definitely still humid. I should have headed out with the ice bandana on from mile 57, that might have made all the difference. 

- Hot liquids and a hot runner are not a good mix. As I had nothing different at mile 57 than I would normally eat in an ultra except the broth, our assumption is that combination of the broth and my body still being quite warm is what caused the puking. 

- The tops of my toes and ankles and around my sock line were rubbed raw from a combination of being wet for 18 hours and the debris that got stuck to my legs and into my shoes. I should have changed my socks along the way, but because it was "just" 70 miles, I decided I would just stick it out. My feet are not very happy with that decision ;)

- Enjoy the journey! I feel I am pretty good at this, but even after puking, I still enjoyed the smell of the ferns, the breeze blowing on me as we crossed the powerlines, the tall cinnamon ferns, the baby fawn curled up in the brush. 

- Don't count yourself out. I lost a lot of time after the puking at mile 59 but I didn't give up. Oh, I had a few moments here and there where I would feel downright horrible and wanted to just curl up on the side of the trail, but reminding myself to focus and thinking about my goal of pushing til the end kept me moving along at as good a clip as I could muster. I didn't get complacent, I just simply couldn't push beyond the boundaries my stomach was setting. 

- 10 hours in a car the day after an ultra is brutal! I would not recommend it ;) 

- Once again, and as always, I am one lucky lady to get to go on these crazy adventures and be supported by my family and my best friend 💗 Thank you Mom, Dad, Ryan, Irene, Dana and Sam. 


Anonymous said...

So exciting to see such a great detailed race report! And all the pictures!!!!!!

Congrats D! Awesome running and WS qualifier done! You are amazingly tough!


JoAnne said...

Sorry about the puking! That sounds horrible and I know how frustrating it must have been since you still felt good otherwise.
Congrats on another great ultra finish, though!
Sounds like you found plenty of things to enjoy out there. :)