Friday, June 15, 2012

25 years sure went by fast

It is hard to believe that 25-years ago tomorrow I started my bicycle ride across the United States! I had wanted to do this trip since I read a newspaper story in 1980 about a man who completed a similar tour. I had always enjoyed camping and I enjoyed bicycling.  Why not combine the two together and see the country?

So I did...

I kept a journal during the 46-day trip and I hope to post its contents here as soon as I can completed the editing. (come on Jerry, it has been 25-years! You are not finished yet?)

I think that it is safe to say that this trip changed my life in the sense that it opened my eyes and made me realize that there was (is) a whole world out there waiting to be explored and experienced.

Brookville Star Article the week after I left for the West Coast
(Click for a larger view)

Monday, June 11, 2012

2012 Laurel Highlands Ultra Race Report

This year marked the 33 running of the Laurel Highlands Ultra.  The race is a point-to-point course that follows the Laurel Highlands Hiking Trail from Ohiopyle, PA to just south of Seward, PA.  I completed this race last year when the course was extended 7 miles due to a detour caused by bridge repairs.  This year the route was back to the original 70.5 mile distance.

My training this spring went well.  I did not get a lot of long long runs completed, but I had been running faster this year than I have in years past.  I was thinking that a midnight finish would be a good goal for the  event (18.5 hours) and seemed reasonable.  As always, the main goal for me and ultras is to (1) finish, and (2) stay out of the medical tent!

Once again this year, I drove out Friday afternoon to Johnstown for the pre-race meal/meeting and then slept in my car at the finish line Friday night.  The shuttle bus left the finish line Saturday at 3:30am and we headed off towards Ohiopyle.  I rode the bus with Paul L. and it was nice to catch up with him a bit.  The starting area was pretty full with people since the race had sold out with 130 people registered.

Pre-race, I was a bit worried, ok, a LOT worried about my right calf.  One week prior to the race I re-injured it during a run and could not run on it for several days.  I was worried that I would start the first climb out of Ohiopyle and not be able to go any farther, making for a very short and disappointing day.  Race day I took a short run from the rest room to the starting area and felt the calf twinge a bit.  I took an ibuprofen tablet and prayed for the best.

5:30am we started out from the parking area towards the trail-head.  Calf felt ok and it felt good to be moving. The weather was cool but was forecasted to be mid-80s with some humidity.  I was not worried about the heat since the trail is mostly in the woods and shaded.  (I should have been worried)   The first few climbs felt good and I was trying to be patient and go real slow for the first 10 miles.  I went much too fast last year and paid for it later.  Paul caught up with me and we ran together for a few miles.  He was handling the downhill parts much faster than me and he pulled away.  We each said "See you later" and continued on our way.  The big climb towards mile post 8 seemed bigger than last year but before I knew it, I was at the first aid station!  It was good to see Slim and Kimba there helping the runners and I got in and out quickly.

The LHHT trail contains a wide variety of conditions, with the common denominator being rocks!  They are everywhere.  Sometimes large, sometimes small, but they are everywhere.  Not MMT-like, but you have to keep vigilant or you will trip. (Disclaimer: I have not been on the MMT course, but I have seem photos... :) )  The mountain laurel was in bloom and was nice to run through.  However, the fragrance was almost overpowering at times...

The temperature kept climbing along with the trail.  Eventually we reached the Seven Springs Ski resort, which is the highest point of the trail, 26 miles from the starting line.  One other intersting thing about the LHHT is that there are mile posts that you can use to keep splits and to know how far you have gone and have to go.  This both a blessing and a curse... Sometimes you could swear the posts move farther away...

I spent a lot of the day playing "ultra tag" with people.  "Brian" told me about this phrase.  Ultra tag is where you seem to always leap-frog people as the day goes on.  It seemed that a lot of people around me, and myself included, were having stomach issues.  This is typical in ultras where after a while nothing tastes or sounds good.  When you did eat some food, it would just sit in your gut and you wished it was out...  Just like a car needs gasoline to run, our bodies need food/calories to run.  I typically have a bad patch from miles 28-34 and this race was no different.  I forced a couple of gels down and that started the recovery.  It was taking a long time however to get back to feeling good again.  The whole day ended up being this way.  I would force some food down at the aid station, feel good for about 45 minutes, and then start to crash again.  Force more food down and start to slowly recover.

I eventually realized that I should try to eat more frequently and used my watch alarm to prompt me to eat every 12 minutes or so, even if it was only 2-3 pretzel nubs or a bite of a power bar, but eat something!  It only took me 50 miles to figure this out...  It seemed to help since my mood seemed to stabilize but my lack of big training runs was starting to become painfully obvious.

However, the scenery of the course, the aid station volunteers, and my fellow runners helped to distract me and keep me moving.  I caught up with two ladies after the mile 57 aid station and they had a tremendous 16 min/mile power-walking pace going.  I tried to keep up with them the best that I could.  When we approached the gas line road that lead to the 62 mile aid station I ran ahead a bit.

I was looking forward to this aid station all day. Last year they served soup and grilled-cheese sandwiches which tasted so so so good!  This year's menu consisted of potato soup with grilled-cheese sandwiches.  I sat in the chair by the fire, (two big no-nos for ultras "beware the chair") and enjoyed a bowl of soup.  I don't know why, but that soup tasted so good again this year.  Probably the same reason peanut butter and jelly sandwiches taste better at the top of a mountain than at the kitchen table...

I had little less than 2 hours to complete the remaining 8 miles and I knew that my midnight finish was not going to happen this year. I was ok with that and just was happy with what had happened.  I left the aid station and the two ladies were just behind me. I heard them talking about wanting a sub-20 hour finish and I realized that I might be able to salvage a sub-19 hour finish!  Game on!  My glycogen-depleted math skills said that if I could keep a 16 minute/mile pace, I would be real close.  I started running the best that I could and the first mile was 15:30.  great!  Next mile, 16:50.  Ok, there was a climb that slowed me down. Next mile, 20:30!!  Oops, wrong way... Next mile, 19:50...sigh... Don't give up! 

The last 3 miles are downhill, and a pretty good grade downhill to boot.  I heard voices behind me and was NOT going to get passed again here like I did last year and I started to run again, downhill, on a rocky course, in the dark...  Tripped once, twice, three times within a minute and decide that primary goal #2 is more important than a time goal.  It turned out that the voices I heard were in FRONT of me and I was the one doing the passing.

Shortly afterwards, two other people came flying by me like I was standing still...actually I was since I stopped to let them get by...  I could hear the crowd at the finish line and ran the last (short) mile in 8:30...

I finished the race in 19 hours 11 minutes and 23 seconds.  I was the 49th out of 85 finishers.  Oh yeah, Paul finished just ahead of me at 18:58!  I was less than a mile behind him!!!

It was a great day even if I did not make my time goal!  Good experiences on an awesome course with some of the best people around!  It does not get much better...

See you next year...