By Ed Cacciapaglia
The 2005 Laurel Highlands 70 mile trail run had a record number of entrants, 82 starters in all. After finishing my first 100 mile run last month, I decided that I enjoyed the scenery and abuse Laurel Highlands dished out to me last year so much, that I just had to go back and try it again this year. In addition, I was able to “suck” two of my 2005 Massanutten Mountain Trails 100 Mile (MMT) compadres, Bill Turrentine and Dave Yeakel and my MMT pacer, Rayna Matsuno, into doing the run.
Having read Steve Pero’s post MMT write-up, I wanted to test the theory of “staying just ahead of the bonk” by eating just enough calories. After last years experience, I made sure not to carry everything but the kitchen sink with me during the run. I took full advantage of the drop bags at miles 46 and 57. I left a 70 ounce Camelbak filled with water in each drop bag, along with some of Luanne Turrentine’s cookies, Gu/Cliff Shot packets, Yoo-Hoos, Succeed tablets and Ibuprofen. I also had a flashlight at mile 46 and a headlamp at mile 57. I planned to carry a water belt with two 20 ounce bottles and a hand-held 20 ounce bottle until mile 46. If necessary, I would change shirts and possibly shoes and socks at mile 46.
Bill and Luanne Turrentine, Dave Yeakel and I drove up to Chalk Hill, 10 miles from the start, the afternoon before run. We met up with Hunt Bartine and Joan Messick and had dinner at an inn up the road from where we staying. Bill, Dave, Hunt and I were running the 70 miles. Luanne was planning to do some crewing and hiking. Joan would crew and pace Hunt the last 24 miles. We ate our dinner and went back to our rooms for the night. We met up with Lucia Davidson and Rayna Matsuno who were staying at the same place. Joyce Fendley was in her room resting up for her run. It was almost 9 p.m. and with a 5:30 a.m. start, we needed to get our sleep in. As usual I got some rest but little sleep.
We left for the start at Ohiopyle at 4:30 a.m. and arrived 15 minutes later. A few of our VHTRC friends were already there. Several more would arrive by the bus from the finish line in the next 5 minutes. Sophie Speidel was there in her usual good spirits, fresh from the Thursday night Wolftrap Furbutts’ Happy Hour, with her camera taking some pre-race pictures. Sophie would later run legs two and three of the relay. The other members of the VHTRC relay team, Keith Dunn and Quatro Hubbard were ready for action. Soon the bus unloaded and out came Donna Utakis, Vicki Kendall, Linda Wack, and a host of other runners. I got my race packet and pinned on my number before getting a muffin and a cup of coffee. Even at 5 a.m. the air was warm and sticky, so I knew we were in for a much warmer day than we had for last year’s run. But I was mentally prepared for the heat and humidity, so I wasn’t going to let it ruin my day.
At 5:21 a.m. this year’s race director, Rick Freeman, announced that the run would start in 9 minutes. I headed down to the river to contemplate the long run ahead. I planned to start out more slowly this year, with the idea that I would stay behind Randy Dietz early and try to stay up with Randy later. Last year Randy had run a fast 15:14 time on the course. Randy had finished almost 4 hours in front of me at MMT this year. And I know Randy tends to run slowly in the early parts of long races, a very wise strategy.
Nine minutes later we were running on the asphalt trail, towards the bridge over the Youghiogheny, onto the fire road and onto the trail where we would spend the next 70 miles. I was running slowly at the start. As soon as we hit the first uphill, I began walking, so as not to expend too much energy too soon. Bill Turrentine and Dave Yeakel were running just behind me and Randy Dietz was running slightly ahead. I heard a voice that sounded suspiciously like Rayna’s talking with Dave and Bill, so she must hast come up to join the party. Though I felt comfortable, I could already feel my body warming up on this sticky morning. After a significant climb, we came to a place where the trail began to descend. I tend to run the downhills fast, but I tried to maintain control and save my quads for later in the run. Still, I moved ahead, passing several runners, including Randy Dietz on this section. Soon one of my Grand Canyon runners from last summer, Ken Hubbard, caught up with me and we ran together for a time. Ken said he was getting ready for the Leadville 100 and would soon be going out west. I told him this would be my last major effort until the fall (except for Catherine’s Fat Ass) and wished him luck.
TIME FOR PLAN B
Soon we came to the bottom of the hill. After crossing the creek, we would have our longest climb of the day. Randy seemed to stop by the creek, so I thought, “Damn, there goes Plan A.” Time to switch to Plan B: run my own race, being careful not to expend too much, too soon. At this point, I was feeling good as I passed several runners going up the hill. I popped out my first Gu packet of the day and took a Succeed tablet. Soon, I caught up with Jaret Sieberg. Jaret said he was trying to get back in shape and he looked like he was running well at this point. Of course we still had 63 miles to go. I passed Jaret and continued on walking and running alone as we climbed to an aid station, which had only water available. I refilled the 2 bottles I had already emptied on this warm day. The man tending the water said he was afraid they would run out with a lot of runners still coming through. I thanked him and headed on up the mountain, soon reaching the top, where the trail flattened out for the next several miles.
I ran mostly alone in this section, though I passed a runner from Kentucky who said he was doing his first 70 miler and had never done more than 50-K before. The day was warming up and I noticed that one of my nipple bandages had fallen off. Oh well, it was warm anyways, so I decided it was time for the shirt to come off. Soon I came to the Maple Summit aid station where Luanne T., Lucia D., Keith D. and Sophie S. were helping out and waiting and cheering the runners as we passed through. They asked me if I needed anything. “I just need my water bottle refilled.” They did that, I thanks them, drank a Gatorade, ate some candy and headed on through.
THUNDER IN THE HILLS
After a few minutes, I could hear the sound of thunder rumbling through the hills. Then the rain came and took some of the edge off the warm, muggy day. I was happy to feel the cooling raindrops on my head and shoulders. The only problem was that the rain made parts of the trail more slippery. At one point, I slid on a wooden step leading up to small bridge crossing a creek. The rain fell for about a half hour. After a few more miles, I started the climb up to the first check point near Route 653. I reached the check point at 4:02, close to my 4 hour projected time of arrival, 17 minutes ahead of last years time to this point. Still feeling comfortable, I got my bottles filled, ate a little sandwich, and moved on through.
After a few more miles, I came to the Seven Springs Resort. The trail had a detour sign. I could see why; they had cleared the top of the hill and were building something on the top of the mountain. I figured the smart thing was to follow the detour signs. I stopped and waited for the runner who was just behind me. He agreed with that strategy. After a few hundred feet on the detour, we looked to the left and up and saw 5 or 6 confused runners, included Prasad Gerard. They said they had been up there for the last 10 or 15 minutes. It seemed sort like Moses lost in the desert for 40 days and 40 nights, trying to find the trail. Obviously the construction crews had removed any trail markings, so I told them to get on down here and follow the detour signs. I was sure we would reconnect with the actual trail, and soon enough we did. I was feeling just a tad tired, as it had warmed up again and the humidity was out in full force.
Soon I came to the next aid station, refilled bottles, ate a quarter of a sandwich and scooted on across the road, back onto the trail. Feeling refreshed, I started running again and after a short while, caught up with Mike Bur. Bur said I was looking good. That helped boost my confidence. I ran with him and some other guy for a ways before Mike had to stop and answer nature’s call. I reached the 32 mile check point with 6:55 on the watch, slightly ahead of my planned 7 hour arrival. I was pleased with my performance to this point.
I fully expected Randy Dietz to be catching up at any minute. But no one running close to me had seen or heard from Randy yet. After descending for a ways, the trail got tougher over the next couple of miles as there were two fairly long climbs. It took a good 20 minutes to cover mile 34, but soon enough I was at the 35 mile mark, 7:45 into the race. It began raining again, no musical rumbles from the sky this time. I was running alone and strong, once in a while catching and passing a runner. I popped my Succeed electrolyte capsules every hour or so with two capsules every 3rd time. I took a Gu or Clif Shot every 1 to 1½ hours. It seemed to be working o.k., I was staying just ahead of the “bonk” and my energy level was good. One runner was playing cat and mouse with me, catching me going up the hills with me passing him going down.
SLIP SLIDING AWAY
I came to the rusted bridge over the PA Turnpike and made my one strategic blunder of the day, not taking the right turn off the dirt road after the turnpike. That’s what I get for not attended the trail briefing the night before. Several other runners made the same error and we headed up the nice dirt road, looking for yellow blazes and finding none. After a few minutes one of the runners said “F—k! I remember hearing something about avoiding going up the Jeep road after the turnpike.” So after 10 minutes of blundering up the road, we turned around and headed back to the base of the road, where we found the trail going off to our left. I decided I wasn’t going to let this incident ruin my day or my run.
Occasionally I slipped on the now getting sloppier trail. Intermittent rain was falling and the humidity was high, but the temperature was mild. I remembered from last year to pay close attention to the trail as it went through miles 41 and 42. There are some interesting rock formations in this part of the course. After a few more miles I came to the mile 46 check point and asked for my drop bag, which Lucia retrieved. I wanted my Camelbak, so I could bathe myself with water, as I had already decided I was going to stick with the water bottles instead of changing to the Camelbak. I didn’t change shoes or socks either. I drank some Gatorade, took my flashlight, some Succeed, Ibuprofen, and Gu out of the Camelbak, stuffed them into my pockets, ate one of Luanne’s Ginger Cookies and headed back out on the trail. 46 miles down, just under 10:45 on the trail and still no sign of Randy. How far behind me is he? Surely he’s going catch up sooner or later, as I am not going quite as fast as I was and I had lost time due to my flawed navigational skills.
I probably had my lowest point of the day during the next 5 or 6 miles. I took frequent walk breaks even when I was on flat trail and my left foot was hurting when I struck it wrong. I hit the ground three or four times. Each time I fell, I would stop running after the fall. I tried to be careful while trying to cover as much ground as possible. Around mile 52, the trail seemed to get easier. I took some more Gu and began running more purposefully again. I ran much more and the miles were going by in 12 to 14 minutes instead of 15 to 19 minutes. Another runner caught up, but I soon pulled away. I took a couple of 3 minute walk breaks before finally coming into the last checkpoint.
I asked if Randy Dietz had been through here yet and was assured he hadn’t been. I also asked when Donna Utakis had come through, they replied, “around 2 hours ago.” Donna went on to be the first woman, finishing in 14:21. She will be back next year. I was surprised to see Vicki Kendall resting in a chair as she had dropped out earlier in the day. Later, Vicki revived and paced Barb Isom over the last 13 miles of the course. Sophie came into the aid station while I was there and told me Bur was a few minutes behind me. I told her to tell him to get moving and maybe he could catch up and we could finish together, BUT “I’m not slowing down for him.” I asked for some chicken noodle soup, ate it, grabbed my Camelbak, poured water on me, took my headlamp out of the Camelbak, and got my bottles refilled for the last time of this run. Someone asked if I wanted to put on a shirt and I replied, “Nah, I just want to get finished.” I then popped 2 ibuprofen tablets and a Succeed capsule and headed on. It was 7:10 P.M. and I was on a 17 hour pace if I covered the last section in 3:20, which would be just under 15 minutes per mile on the section. From my experience last year, I knew it was likely that I would slow down some after it got dark and there were less than 2 hours of daylight. My mental calculations indicated I would have to do the last 6 or 7 miles in darkness.
Off I ran, crossing Rt. 271 and towards the one short dirt road section of the course. I passed one runner who said he had bonked before the last aid station. He said he was recovering and he knew he had less than 11 miles to go and I encouraged him to keep on rolling. During this section I tripped a couple of times, but unlike earlier in the day, if I was running when tripped, I got up and continued running. I felt my third or fourth or fifth wind, so I kept putting one foot in front of the other and moved ahead. Soon I was on the dirt road, less than 10 miles to go. I got to the aid station at the end of the dirt road, drank a cup of water and had a sliver of a grilled cheese sandwich. “Where’s mile post 62?”, I asked. “A couple hundred feet ahead,” the aid station worker replied. “Thanks,” I replied and moved on down the trail.
ON TO THE FINISH
Last year I remember being in pain during the last section. My quads were shot and my body was just plain tired. This year I felt good, I was able to run, though I took my time because it was getting dark and I didn’t want to take a hard fall and have it screw up an absolutely wonderful day on the trail. This part of the trail seemed so much easier this year. I turned on my lights and kept moving, taking one last Gu as I ascended the last uphill between mile 65 and 66. I was almost 16 hours into the run, and I would be done in a little more than an hour. After clearing the last small climb, the gradual descent began. I could see two lights ahead of me on the trail. I caught up with these two lights, being worn by a man and a woman who I think were relay runners. They were walking. I said, “you’re on track for 17 hours if you move fast from here.” They said, “we’d prefer to make sure not to hurt ourselves.” I was hoping they would join me on the run to help light up the trail, but I understood. I kept my pace slower than I would have during daylight, being careful not to trip. I cared more about finishing feeling good than breaking 17 hours at this point. I knew there weren’t very many runners ahead of me. Jaret, Bur, Rayna, Randy, Barb, Hunt, Bill, Dave, Quatro, Joyce, and Dodds were all running behind me and all of them would finish. There was one other light visible ahead of me on the trail, and I was moving a little faster but I was not going to catch him or her. Just stay on the trail, watch your step and finish well, Ed, I told myself.
Mile 68 and the rhododendron grove gave way to mile 69 and the shortest mile. Did anyone ever tell you the last mile at Laurel Highlands is an ANTI-HORTON mile? I mean it’s way short. I was just running along at a 13 or 14 minute per mile pace and it took me 8 minutes to do that last mile. Soon the trail gave way to cheers and I ran to the finish line thrilled to be done, finishing in 17:00:38, good enough for 12th place overall. The race director, Rick Freeman, congratulated me as did Lucia, Sophie, and others. I was able to walk almost normally, the only damage was a few blistered and bruised toenails.
I was happy to see the next runner to come in, Jaret Seiberg. Jaret said he was trying to catch me but “you must have run that last section pretty fast.” I’d say Jaret is back to his old form. A half hour and several runners later, Rayna and Bur came into together, Rayna had an incredible race for her first really long (over 50 mile) run, a 17:33 finish. My Grand Canyon buddy, Ken Hubbard, came in 20 minutes after that. A few minutes later I found out the answer to the question: “Where’s Randy?” Randy Dietz finished and I was there to congratulate him. He had a rough day on the course, but he toughed it out and finished ahead of more than half of the other finishers.
Thanks to all who helped out with this race, especially race director, Rick Freeman and thanks to Luanne for the cookies and Lucia, Sophie, Keith Dunn, Joan Messick, and everyone else who helped out at the aid stations. A special thanks to Steve Pero for giving me the idea that less food is better. See you all next year.