By Brian McNeill
For all the talk on the VHTRC List about bears, I must say that I have accomplished something more momentous than a mere bear-siting. On Saturday, at LHTR, I saw 1,233,678 chipmunks (or it might have been 1,233,677 chipmunks with one fat field mouse trying to wear stripes in order to look thinner) and a huge porcupine ambling off the trail at about mile 63. At first I thought it was an opossum; Tom Corris suggested that it was the upraised white tail of a skunk, and that we were about to be sprayed, but we were both wrong. It was the sheen of the quills on the porcupine's back. No deer, no rattlesnakes, and no bear. It is now proven, however, that the dominant life-form in Pennsylvania is the chipmunk.
Oh yes, there was a race on the LHT on Saturday as well. I finished 42nd in somewhere around 20:25-- I neglected to check the exact time. (Note: I see from the race results that it was 20:49, not 20:25. I must have wandered around for 25 minutes at the finish line asking "Where's Waldo?" or some such drivel…) Hell, I even neglected to collect my drop bags after the race. I drove back to the finish line after taking a shower to get them about an hour later. The ever unflappable RD, Tim Hewitt, said "you must be McNeill! Yours were the only unclaimed drop bags with anything of value in them, and your shoes weren't my size. I would have mailed them."
I was right on my desired pace through 46 miles, slacked off a bit leading into the A/S at mile 57, but was still only 15 minutes behind. (My goal was to break 20 hours). I walked the last 13 miles with John Dodds, Gena Bonini, and their pacer Tom Corris. It took us about 5 hours (Note really 5:15) to cover the distance, a distance I'd hoped to cover in 4:30 or less.
During the section between 46 and 57 miles, I had the opportunity to spend some time with the legendary Art Moore, who recounted his LHTR double in 1986, when he did it as an out-and-back. The first leg, he did in 13-something. He then did the second, return leg in 21 hours. He said that he had logistical problems with his crew that cost him more than an hour on the return. Given that Art is now 65, that means that his 34 hour, 140 mile performance was done when he was 50 or 51. Sounds like a job for Scott Mills!
In retrospect, I'm glad that John and Gena offered to have me join them, since Tom did an admirable job of setting the pace and doing a superb job at navigating the course at night. I don't think I could have covered the ground as quickly by myself as the late hour, the isolation of the trail, and an aching left knee would have quickly sapped my energy. John, one week after completing Kettle Moraine and a month after his buff performance at MMT, could easily have run the last section, but he was there mainly to encourage Gena, who, like me, was doing her first 50+ race. There as so many nice people in this sport. Gena, John, and Tom are three of them.
What a great course--very runable, with a manageable number of rocks, and few killer descents to wreck my legs. Extremely well maintained and blazed. It's almost impossible to go off course. I only felt really bad one time all day, and that was around miles 25-28, when I spent some time in the exposed sunlight at Seven Springs Ski Resort. The temperature probably reached 80 degrees at mid-day. Not terribly hot, but sufficient to catch the unprepared and unwary.
I did lie face down in a stream just past the turnpike at mile 36 or so in order to cool off. I was running that section with a fellow (not a member of VHTRC) who was attempting to run the race with a single water bottle and no electrolyte supplements. I was very surprised that he had made it that far. Just before the A/S at mile 32, he said he was cold, and he was experiencing pilio-erection (body hair standing straight out). That's usually the last thing that happens before the onset of heat-exhaustion. When we got to the A/S, I told the volunteers to please tend to him, and to make sure that he took in some fluids and salt. I lectured him a bit and said that I was going on but that he should stay there until he took in at least 3 or 4 bottles of water and took in some salt.
Normally, I wouldn't scold a fellow runner, since I'm certainly no great sage of running by any means, but I couldn't believe that he didn't respect the distance, the heat, or the course enough. Besides, if his body had shut-down on the trail, by the Ultra Runner's code-of-honor, I'd have been obliged to 1) stay with him until we could get him medical attention, or 2) hand him a .45 with a round chambered and tell him to do the right thing. I hadn't gone 1/2 a mile and again he was right behind me!!! He said that he refilled his bottle and was ready to go. He looked terrible, and ultimately dropped at mile 46. That shows how slow I must be—I looked pretty good and felt great- and he still caught me.
Everyone was most supportive, and the aid stations were quite sufficient in number, with at least water and sports drink every 7 miles or so. I've been told that since Tim & Loreen Hewitt became RD's that the number and quality of A/S have gone up every year. The A/S at mile 57 was definitely VHTRC quality, with plenty of hot-food (soup and grilled cheese) and cold Pepsi.
A couple (I don't remember their names) who ran the race last year passed up a chance to run LHTR again this year, choosing to do Vermont instead, setup their camper and an unofficial aid station next to a gas-pumping station at mile 63 or so. Their aid station was a most welcome beacon amidst the dark forest. You can do this race without a crew.
I don't know that I would do this race every year, but I will definitely go back. The huge rock formations and lush landscape of ferns and mountain laurel are worth a return trip. If you haven't done this race, I would definitely recommend that you run it at least once. Especially if you like Chip & Dale and their many cousins.
Photos courtesy of Steve and Deb Pero.
There are more on their photo page.
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