Originally written 17JUN2008.
14JUN2008 Johnstown, PA
The Laurel Highlands 70.5 Mile Run is a challenging race in the Johnstown, PA area that starts at one end of the Laurel Highlands Trail and takes you the entire 70.5 mile route to the other end. To do this race you will need a good pair of trail shoes with a toe guard. I personally recommend the Montrail Hardrock shoe for this course. There are an over abundance of rocks along this course and unless you want to feel everyone then you need the right shoes. Your toes and feet will thank you later. I wore a different pair of shoes last year and though they did have a toe guard as well, the Montrail Hardrocks were an improvement. The second major thing you will need is two water bottles or a hydration pack capable of carrying at least 32 oz. of fluids. The aid stations on this race tend to be at least 7 miles apart most of the way and by the race director's own admission this race is meant to be a bit challenging. In all fairness the aid stations are placed where they are because there are so few points to access the trail in between though. There are 8 official aid stations. Also try to remember your usual pre race nutrition and don't leave it sitting in the cupboard like I did this time. I managed with a breakfast drink and some oatmeal, but I wish I would have had my Hammer Nutrition Sustained Energy mix.
The race begins about a half mile from the trail head at Ohio Pyle. It is a beautiful location as are many points along the way. There are some great overlooks around miles 2, 8, and 21 as well. Mile two's is always covered in fog still around the time you pass it at 6 AM. Mile eight's was awesome with a rainbow this year. Anyway the race starts at 5:30 AM and most of the first 8 miles are a long climb. The key to remember here is that it is way early in this race and you will only hurt your performance later if you push hard up these hills. Remember I have done this race twice and I know how pushing too hard on these early hills can cost you your race later. The cut off times are generous and manageable if you just take your time on the uphills and make up for it by running smart on the downhills. This year I got passed by a lot of runners on the longest climb of the course between miles 6-8. As I told them it looked like I was dieing by my pace, but I was really just conserving energy I knew I would need for later. It took me 2h10m to reach the 8 mile point.
Around mile 8, when we finally crested the big climb, I met up with Scott, Joe, and Kirstin. We all met at the awesome overlook with the rainbow. Kirstin, Scott, and I then chatted as we ran the next few miles to the first aid station at mile 11.6. As is my custom I ate well at the aid station just like I always do. Gotta love the potatoes. They are better source of potassium than bananas and a great way to get salt too. Also salt doesn't taste so well on bananas. Between this aid station and the next one I met up with Levi after we leapfrogged one another a good portion of the way. I climbed better than him, but he descended better. The thing about this course is that you are usually either climbing or descending. There are very few truly flat areas or at least none you really remember.
On the way up to mile 19 you face the steepest climb of the course. This is another place where you just take your time and conserve your strength and energy for when you will need it later and can actually make good use of it. Levi left me in the dust here. At mile 25 I was at 6h38m and at mile 26 I was at 6h54m. Starting right around mile 25 God decided to shower us with rain and blessings. It rained steady for the next 25 miles it seemed and off and on the rest of the way. The rain may have slowed me down some by making the course slick, footing more difficult, and by adding more weight to my clothes and shoes. It was also a blessing because it had the very positive effect of keeping the temperature down and my personal kryptonite at bay - the heat.
At 35 miles I found myself at 9h38m. I hadn't seen Kirstin since the mile 19 aid station, which she got to before me, but was still at when I left. Somewhere after this she came flying by and I just latched on an imaginary tether and went along for the ride. Somehow I would get ahead of her again after the aid station at mile 39 and once again she came by running strong and pulling me along. Unfortunately she decided to end her race at the aid station at 46.4 miles, but I thanked her for unknowingly pacing me and helping me find my stride on three separate occasions this day. She had also gotten me to the aid station where I was forced to quit last year after failing behind the cut off times. Cramps got me last year, but between prayer, the rain to keep me cool, a better hydration strategy, and using Hammer Nutrition's Endurolytes I had no such problems with cramps this year. I have to sadly report that somewhere around the half way point I had passed Levi. He was walking slowly and he informed me he had twisted his ankle and I would have to finish for him.
I got to mile 50 at 14h15m. This was also the last time I saw Scott and unfortunately I did not find his name listed among the finishers. It got dark around 9 PM, which found me somewhere around mile 54. That was the end of my running for the day so for the last 16 miles I walked as fast as I could using my headlamp. I wouldn't call it speed walking, but maybe fast hikingl. Upon leaving the last aid station at mile 62 I locked my focus in on the finish line and locked in a very quick stride all the way to the finish. The last few miles are a very brutal rocky and slow descent. Even in good shoes after 30 plus miles of rain and tons of rocks along the way, the rocks in the end just sting your feet. Your legs having to play shock absorber after having done 64 miles already doesn't feel so great either. Joe did find his way to the finish line. He is the last official finisher listed.
When I saw the lights of the finish line I threw in one last run till I crossed the finish line. I officially crossed the line at 20h5m04s. Rick Freeman, the race director greeted me with a, "Mick, redemption!" cheer. I sent Vicki a quick text letting her know "We" had done it. Then I got to doing what do best, which of course is eating. God is great! With His help and by His strength I had been redeemed.