Laurel Highland Race Report(LONG) (Read 710 times)


            Well I decided to do the Laurel Highlands Ultra on kind of a whim.  Sarah Woerner and Mark Mason were the original two who then convinced Dreama Campbell to join them.  Then Sal Coll and I with a week and a half to go decided to join in on the “fun”.  Carl Woerner was going to do the 50k version at the race but ultimately with some details becoming unclear on race day decided to crew for us all instead(he was going to crew after the 50k but I can attest that with many of us having early troubles he was very important to all of us finishing and getting as far as we did if nothing more than moral support).  He also took a ton of very good pictures. 


       It mind sound dumb but I underestimated this 77 mile race.   I knew it was mountainous, tough, and obviously long, but I just didn’t understand how long and steep the climbs were.  There weren’t switchbacks on many of them, and they seemed to come at times that dictated walking on flat sections that look good for running on the course profile. 

          Start:  We woke up, got ready and saw Carl off for the start of the 50K when a few minutes later the race start we had thought we found the day before was found to be incorrect.  Even thought it was only about a quarter of a mile off the mental boost of not having to deal with such a finding seemed very important.  We quickly checked in and then I headed for the bathroom for one last stop.   I returned with just mere minutes left before we would all set off.


    Miles 1-11.6:  The start was good.  I settled into a slow pace and knew that there would be a hard climb at mile 6 that’d last until around mile 9.  I wasn’t prepared for what kind of climb it was.  It was brutal and didn’t have switchbacks for the most part making it even more visually daunting.  I ran with several people and eventually settled into a groove with several runners who I paced with for quite some time.   The first aid station was good and a blur as it seemed I downed some boiled potatoes and other goodies mixed half water and Gatorade in my camelbak and took off.   I felt good and kept at my easy pace.


    Miles 11.7-19.3:  On this section the race stopped being about the race for a while and I really just started to enjoy the scenery.  It was strange because later in the race it was much more saturated with the beautiful ferns and Laurel but at this stage their intermittent appearance was new.  The pace was good so I kept at it and just plodded along.  At the aide station the people who refilled by pack had a very hard time undoing the first aide stations tightening but once completed I was again well on my way.  All signs were good.


    Miles 19.4-28.  At some point here I passed Sal.  I didn’t actually know that he was in front of be but I felt like my pace was still pretty conservative though the early hills were starting to take a toll as the heat built and I also needed to find a place for a potty break.  Once this was complete I again settled in and got to the ski resort feeling really good despite the heat.  After this my next recollection was the detour.  I think this area of the trail was pretty uneventful in memorable parts but also put a big dent into my second half of the race as the heat got to me once I reached the detour. 


    Miles 28-44:  I’m putting this all together because it all really focused in on the detour.  At the point we turned onto the road for the detour I felt good.  I was intentionally getting some good walking in, but felt relatively good.  The guys at the detour turn were very nice in having ice and water when I was only expecting water.   By the time I reached the checkpoint for the end of the detour however I was not doing so hot.  I sat for a brief moment and I think at this point I simply noticed my feet were starting to hurt a little.  I was still running pretty well when I did run but I felt tired and unmotivated by the pain when I did so.  As I was leaving the checkpoint I thought I saw Sarah arriving so I delayed my departure for a moment to verify if it was her.  It gave me a little extra rest I needed and was a lift to see someone else from our group. 


    Miles 44-52:  I was rejuvenated a little getting back onto the trail so I felt good for the next 6 miles or so but then in the second 6 I was hurting pretty bad due to my feet.  I developed what I believe to be a stone bruise on the bottom of my left foot and then as time went on I believe my compensating for this caused the tendons on top of my right foot at the ankle to also become very painful.  I still felt reasonably good however and made it to the next aid knowing I would need to hold onto my mind to keep from doing anything to jeopardize being able to finish by pushing too hard and completely wrecking my feet.  So I walked a lot more. 


    Miles 53-64  As I entered into the aid station at mile 52 Carl greeted me and told my I looked great though I knew I didn’t.  He was a big lift and after this checkpoint I was eager to keep moving thinking that I might have to walk a lot in the coming hours to make it.  I turned out to be right.  Mere moments after passing Carl on the trail I heard him encouraging Sarah.   I knew she was going to pass me soon and she soon did.   It was amazing to see how strong she seemed running, and even more so after finding out how bad her IT band was hurting.  I had tried to run a trail run with IT problems and at the end of 20 I was note even able to walk.  She was running at a good clip after 50 miles.    I hoped to stay with her to have some familiar company for a bit but I was unable to keep her pace.    So I settled in and started to notice a lot of yo-yo action between myself and several other people.  I’d pass them when I felt good and then they would blow by me.  I started to wonder just how exactly I was holding up, and how they were able to do what they were doing.  In the end when I felt good I went with it and when I felt bad I suffered through it. As time went on my feet hurt worse and worse.  Doubt crept into my mind and many times I really wanted to quit but I didn’t’.  I don’t really know why I was able to keep going.   From time to time I’d find a way to run without as much pain.  I found that if I stayed up on my toes and ran faster that I could do pretty well.  It was when I ran slower that I hurt because I was landing on the left foot and the collective pain would lead me to walk.


    Miles: 65-77:    I kept at and eventually came to the last checkpoint walking and hurting.  Carl told me I was doing great and I was anything but great.  Here I really took in a long break and ate a lot, drank a lot of coke since I was getting kind of sleepy, and generally took in the experience of being in a really tough race.  I saw Carl snapping some pictures and I remember cracking a smile thinking, “I wonder how bad I’ll look in those pictures”.    I was amazed to see many people who had passed me in the previous 20 or so miles who now were at this aid station and who now looked worse than I did(at least to me).  I took in some ibuprofen and then set off while others stayed at this station.  This is when the amazing happened for a while.  As it was now Dark I felt great.   I love running in the dark, and actually love running alone in the dark.  I passed many people and thought, “wow, this might not be so bad after all” and then the pain started to creep back again.  I reached the Gas line road and was greeted by people who ran to the aid station with me.  They tried to feed my some grilled cheese but I went with cookies and coke.   They had a new flavor of cookie and it was definitely a nice change.   I chatted for a minute and thought if I took a little break my foot might feel better so I did so.  It didn’t though and as I set off on the last 8 miles I knew I would be in survival mode.   I was only passed by one person thought and that came with about 2 miles to go.  When the person passed me I had remembered them passing me about 20 miles before, and about 5 miles before the last aid station I had passed them feeling good.   Here I was with 2 miles to go and I couldn’t run long enough to keep up.  I resigned to walking until 1 mile to go.  At that point I threw myself into running until I would be on the verge of screaming in pain.  Then I’d give it a go again.  When I spotted the finish I went for it and finished strong.  I really felt like that if I didn’t have feet that were screaming in pain that I could have been running pretty fast the last few miles.   I was then handed an award sporting the “77” I had completed and spotted Sarah in a chair next to the finish.   I chatted with her and Carl then we showered off the Poison Ivy and trail muck the best we could.  We were finished in both senses of the word.  


    The Finish:  We then ate chili.  It was AWESOME and I only wished I had eaten more after I climbed into the van.  I sat and watched as people came across the line.  I was amazed at how some people who had passed me not that long ago were now a very long way behind me in finishing.   It is a testament to how hard this course indeed was.   


      Carl then got a call that Sal’s day had ended.  Sal told me he was locking up when I passed him at about mile 20.    Knowing how hard it was after that I knew it was amazing that he made it to mile 64 before the medical people didn’t let him continue.   When they brought him in it was even more evident of how hard he had pushed himself.   They wanted him to go to the hospital but even then he was too tough to relent.   Races like this one show in a cruel way that sometimes the results aren’t in any way related to what is fair. 


    Dreama then came in and seemed to be doing pretty well.  She was with a good sized group for the finishers and she immediately set about getting cleaned up. 


    Mark finished and I was truly amazed considering Carl told me he had been throwing up like crazy in the first half of the race.  I had felt good the first half and barely held on.  He had been through hell the first half and still finished.   To sum it up our whole Chattanooga group was very tough. 


    Looking at the results only 58 of 116 finished.  Sarah was 15th overall and 4th Female.  I was 18th, Dreama was 39th, and Mark 50th.   Chattanooga was definitely well represented and anyone that took on the “Fern 77” knows it was a battle royal.   I also thought it was interesting that there were only 3 finishers who were under 30 years of age.  Sarah was the youngest finisher, and I was the youngest male finisher.  I guess I can hope I’ll get better in the coming years as I get more base miles. 


    Just some notes:

    This was one of the prettiest courses I’ve ran on.  At times the ferns and laurel were amazing.  The aid stations and the people who manned them were outstanding.  The race was very well put on, and they did an excellent job all the way around.  It was evident that this was a race for crazy ultra runners that was envisioned and executed by crazy ultra runners.   The only negative of the whole thing was the detour which was out of everyone’s hands.   I don’t know if I’ll be back soon but I’ll definitely want to go back some day.

    2010 Races: Snicker's Marathon(2:58:38), Scenic City Trail Marathon(3:26:36), Laurel Highlands Ultra 77(19:13:44), Ironman Louisville(13:07:07) 2011 Races: Mount Cheaha 50k 5:22:47, Tobacco Road Marathon, Mohican 100 Miler

      Nice report. Glad you survived.

      It was a mother this year. My first was last year.

      That detour killed. To be in the sun so long under essentially cloudless skies: Ugh. There was barely any tree cover and I found myself going from one side of the road to the other just to get some. Totally sapped me.

      I described it in my report as "the most brutal ordeal I have ever been through."


        Very nice Job by you dnephin.  I'm glad I'm not the only one that thought it was the most grueling thing that they've done.   I'll probably do the race again one day when there's no more detour. 


        Have you ever done a 100 miler? 

        2010 Races: Snicker's Marathon(2:58:38), Scenic City Trail Marathon(3:26:36), Laurel Highlands Ultra 77(19:13:44), Ironman Louisville(13:07:07) 2011 Races: Mount Cheaha 50k 5:22:47, Tobacco Road Marathon, Mohican 100 Miler

          Not yet. Probably.