Sunday, June 26, 2011

Real Power Tools

So, now that my Laurel Highlands race has been completed, what is next? Well, Denise and I have been discussing the idea of a wooden fence for the backyard ever since we moved in here almost 9 years ago! The time has arrived...

I plotted out where we thought we wanted the fence to go and calculated the amount of materials we would need. 285 feet of fence, 40 posts, and around 610 pickets... I also got a quote for someone to install the fence for me... Needless to say, I am doing this myself and saving some serious money.

Anyways, with 40 holes to dig, I was NOT going to attempt that by hand, so I went to the Solon Hardware Rental Counter and asked what kind of tools I could use. They recommended the Toro Dingo with a 12" auger attachment. This was an awesome piece of equipment to say the least! Here is a picture of me just after I unloaded the machine and was headed into the woods to dig a practice hole.

There was a certain technique involved to get the holes straight, and I got pretty good at it after 30 holes. The back section of our property has several small trees with some beech trees mixed in. Lots and lots of roots to work through. I was able to dig a bit and then have to clean the roots from the auger, or worse, cut the roots out of the way. That was not too fun but a saw-saw, shovel, pick, and spud-bar helped a lot.

Here is another in-action photo as I was in the 'easy' grassy part near the end.

40 holes in 6 hours! I had estimated that I would use as much of the 24-hour rental time as I could in order to get all of the holes completed. I was very pleasantly surprised with how well the dingo performed.

This last photo is of me as I moved the dingo back to start the first 'real' hole. It shows the pile of lumber that is soon to become a nice red-cedar picket fence!

Tomorrow is the hole inspection. That's right, Twinsburg requires that the post holes be inspected before you set the posts... Then I get to do a little concrete mixing for the poles. This will be time-consuming since getting the poles set straight and level is crucial for a good-looking fence. I will start in the back for practice...

More updates later as the project progresses. I am enjoying the opportunity to use some other muscles for a change instead of just running.

Monday, June 13, 2011

2011 Laurel Highlands Race Report


I drove down to Johnstown, PA Friday afternoon and arrived at the pasta dinner at 5:45pm. I checked in and received my bib number and shirt. The race directors started covering the necessary information while we were eating our meal. The course description was a bit confusing and I stopped listening around halfway through. My biggest fear was getting lost during this race and the description was doing nothing to reduce this fear.

Eventually, the meeting was over and I drove back up to the finish line where I found a parking place and proceeded to get my stuff ready for the early 3:30am departure. I had decided to sleep in my car and catch the shuttle bus to the starting line. I was by myself for this race, no crew or pacer, and I wanted to keep it simple. I fell asleep fairly fast and only woke up to close my window when a brief rainstorm passed by.

I woke up before my alarm went off and got ready for the day. The bus departed on time for the trip to the start at Ohiopyle. While I was waiting for the start, it felt like I had sandpaper in my left sock. I removed my shoe and leftover grit from my last muddy trail run was still in my shoe… Not a good thing… I was starting to panic a bit but then used my extra water to wash my foot off, re-lubed with Vaseline, and hoped for the best. My right foot felt fine. First lesson: Make sure your shoes and socks are clean!!!

The race director prayed a short prayer and then said “10 seconds to the start”… then a simple “Go” and we were off.


The trail is simply beautiful! Yes, the first 12 miles are tough with the rocks and climbs, but overall, it is an amazing trail. There were several maze-like sections through large rocks, similar to the Ledges area in the CVNP. The mountain laurel was blooming, but I think that we were a bit late for peak. There were several sections of the trail that went through what seemed like an endless sea of ferns. Very nice to see and they did not completely cover the trail like people said they have in years past.

The trail was marked with yellow blazes on trees and rocks where appropriate. As I mentioned earlier, my biggest fear was getting lost. This fear was unfounded. There was only one section that went through a grove of hemlock trees. The trail was almost non-existent since the needles made the ground all look the same. The blazes were on the trees, but with some blow-downs mixed in, it was a challenge. I was glad that I hit this section before nightfall.

The detour was not real fun since we had to leave the trail and go on the roads around the closed bridge. The sun was out, it was hot, but I could see storm clouds coming our way. I have never wished for rain during a run until now… It did start to rain as I neared the end of the detour and it indeed felt very nice to cool off a bit.

The soft trail felt so good again under my feet. Despite my best efforts at blister prevention, I could feel some hot spots forming. I stopped at the 44-mile aid station and applied more Vaseline to my left heel in an effort to slow down the formation of the blister. I knew that I would not stop it and would just have to manage. My right foot decided to also join the “blister party” and I knew that it was going to be an interesting night.

I still felt pretty good mentally and my legs felt good too so I kept running. It was getting dark so I turned on my headlamp and kept going through the ferns. I looked ahead and I saw something in the trail. I first thought it was a possum, but it was larger. Raccoon? Wrong color. Wow it was a porcupine! It was trying to run down the trail away from me as fast as its little stubby legs would go. I was running slowly behind it clapping my hands and making all kinds of noise in an effort to “encourage” it to move off of the trail. It finally turned left into the ferns and then stopped about 1 foot off of the trail.

I thought that was weird. Why would it stop? I could see the top of the porcupine sticking up over the ferns. It was not far enough off of the trail for me to pass safely. I did NOT want to get stuck by quills. I was shouting and making all sorts of noise…not a movement! I grabbed a rock and tossed it at the porcupine and nothing!!! I slowly moved closer to it and peered around and it was a stupid tree stump!!! Boy did I feel silly. I immediately recalled a hallucination story I heard a guy tell during Burning River about, of all things, a porcupine that blocked his path. I knew that I was NOT hallucinating but was just happy that the critter had moved on… I was laughing at myself pretty hard as I started running down the trail again.

Not 10 yards later, my “friend” was back to running down the trail away me again! It tried to climb a tree and got up around 3-feet before it peered around and saw me coming at it. Its eyes got big and it dropped back to the ground and kept going! By now I was laughing and screaming, “Just go right or go left! Get outta the way!!!” Eventually, it went right and climbed up a tree around 10 feet off of the trail. Finally, I could pass by.

The night was quiet with a clear sky and near-full moon. The fireflies were out and it was a very peaceful time. I did not see nor hear anyone for most of the night except for the aid stations.

My feet were becoming more and more uncomfortable and I knew that I would make the cutoffs for a finish, barring an injury. It was now just matter of if I would make 21 or 22 hours. I was able to run the flats and power hike the uphills, but the downhills just killed me. My pace was getting slower and slower but I tried to keep positive and keep moving.

The last two aid stations had soup! Boy did that ever taste good and helped to lift my mood. It was tempting to stay a bit longer and enjoy the food, but I wanted to get to the finish line. I still did not see anyone on the trail until mile 75, when a group of 3 passed me on the 3-mile downhill section… I tried to hang with them but my feet did not want any of it…

I could hear and see lights of the finish line ahead and I crossed the line after completing the 77 miles in 21 hours and 28 minutes.

The race director handed me my finisher’s award, which is a wooden replica of the trail mileposts. There was a 77 etched in the front. We will receive a plate with our name and finishing time engraved on it to complete the trophy! Pretty cool! The best part is that the 77-mile is a limited edition, 2010 and 2011, since the race will revert back to the 70.5 mile distance next year!

More soup at the finish line! I also had a bowl of beans and rice, which also tasted really good. I chatted with Jim for while and felt my exercise-induced coma approaching. I said goodnight and headed to my car. Changed clothes and tried to wash the worst of the grim off of me and quickly fell asleep. I woke up at 5:40am and they were tearing down the finish area. Fell back asleep and woke up again at 7am. I was the only one left in the parking lot…

Lessons learned:

1) Go a little easier at the start. I knew better and thought that I was going pretty conservatively. I backed off a bit once I realized what I had done but…

2) Blisters. Wash my shoes completely before a race.

3) This is “only” a 77-mile race. Treat it like a 100-mile race. It will punish you if you don’t… trust me…

I am pretty pleased with how things went since it could have been a lot worse. I hope to find out next year how it can be better!

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Laurel Highlands pre-race prep complete

I just finished packing my drop bag and gear for the Laurel Highlands Trail Ultra. I will leave tomorrow afternoon to drive down to the finish line, take the shuttle bus at 3:30am saturday morning to the starting line, and then at 5:30am, start running back to my car!

This is my extra incentive to complete the race: My ride home is at the finish line... :)

Weather looks like it could be rainy, but hey, it is not like I did not do any training this spring in the rain... I knew those runs would come in handy.

Taper is going well since I am about to jump out of my skin. I like this feeling of excitement, fear, and anticipation of a wonderful experience on a fantastic least everyone says that the trail is fantastic. I...can't...wait!!!!

Race report will appear next week...