Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Laurel Highlands 77 Mile - Race Report!

I guess I needed just a wee bit more time to completely recover from the hamstring injury I've been rehabbing since MMT100.  The 32nd running of the Laurel Highlands 77 mile ultra turned out to be a fun and festive time for sure, but I'll admit I was less than pleased when I had to reign things in to protect my leg half-way through the race. I never run races with winning as my #1 goal, but it was pretty frustrating to have to let go of a win I thought was in the bag. The good news is, once I adjusted my stride/pace to keep the hammy safe, I was able to shuffle through the rest of the lush and lovely Laurel Highlands Trail with a smile on my face. I've said it before, and I'll say it many times again: It's tough to beat running through the woods all day long!

The race started off on the right track as about 100 of us started running north up the damp and foggy Laurel Highlands trail at 5:30 a.m.. The sun wasn't quite strong enough to shine through the heavy tree-cover on the trail yet, so the first couple miles were a bit of a slip-n-slide adventure on the wet rocks and sneaky mud patches. I took my one and only fall of the day in this stretch as I trusted a wet rock a little too much while attempting to leap over a stream. As soon as I fell, the early morning silence at the front of the pack was broken with the standard call-and-response:

Concerned fellow runner, after hearing the fall behind him: "You OK?"

Me, obviously lying, definitely annoyed, but also pleased to now have a wound to enter in the Best Blood competition: "Yup...fine."

After shaking off the fall I quickly found my stride during the opening 8 miles of climbs on the trail. When I cruised through the first Aid Station at mile 11, I was in the lead of the 77 mile race (three guys in front of me were running the Relay Team version of the race) and feeling great. While the trail was a bit more rocky/rooted than I expected, it was certainly no Massanutten trail, and I appreciated the fun of navigating up/over/around all sorts of big rocks and fern-covered trails. I found my groove and settled in through mile 33 or so when the race course unfortunately had to turn off the trail and head down a 7 mile road detour. This was the second (and last) year that this traditional 70 mile race would need to include the extra 7 mile detour due to a bridge over the PA Turnpike being out of commission. The new bridge should be done in time for next year's race, and even though I'm never one to shy away from extra miles in a race, in retrospect I really wish it was completed in time for this year's race instead.
Cruising along the green highway early on
Showing off my 'no time wasted' Aid Station skills...refill on the fly!
Here's where I unfold the details of the Perfect Storm of Stupidity that led to my immediate downfall in this race:  The hamstring issue I've dealt with for the past couple months only flairs up when I run at full stride on long downhills.  My rehab between MMT and this race had me confident that I could cruise through the terrain of this race without any hammy issues because the elevation profile for the Laurel Highlands Trail showed no long downhills until the final mile or two at the finish. The reason why I'm an idiot is the elevation profile of the trail didn't include the 7 mile detour section, and I stupidly didn't bother to check out those detour miles online to see what type of downhill miles they involved. As it turned out, when I made the turn on to the road and saw about a mile-long downhill in front of me, all I could do was sigh a mighty sigh and hope for the best. I probably made it about a half-mile down before the inevitable lightning bolt hit my leg and I had to apply the brakes. Never mind hanging on to the nice cushy lead I had built up, I couldn't hold off a frog with a limp at this point. With the guys behind me easily running 6s-7s down that hill (compared to my 14 min shuffle/stretch/shuffle/stretch pace), I figured I'd be passed before too long, and I was right. It's mentally never fun to be passed easily in a race, but it's even worse when you know there's nothing you can do about it.

The first guy blew by me like an Indy Car. I didn't even have time to catch his license plate (bib number) to see if maybe he was only a relay runner (they had red numbers, we had black). I gave my usual "Nice work, Man. Looking good!", but he was by me so fast all I heard in response was, "Vrroooooommm!". If only there was a pit crew nearby to swap out my bum hammy for a new one. By the time I mercifully finished the road section and got back on the trail I was running shuffling in 4th place and trying to find motivation to get to my crew at the next Aid Station. Before too long I was surprised to catch back up to Indy Car guy on the trail (actual name: Andrew Bartle). He was suffering and wobbling a bit from dehydration, so we joined forces to form the saddest-looking two-man army of all time. As we both struggled with our respective issues, things were made even worse by the fact that the Aid Station was about two miles further down the trail than we were told at the previous stop. When we finally stumbled in to that mile 52+ Aid Station looking like zombies, Andrew's wife greeted us with a hearty and hilarious, "You guys look great!".  That smile helped ease the pain a bit.
Judging by that vein in my head and the ice under my hat, this photo was taken AFTER the road section!
My parents were also there with a nice cooler of ice and some encouraging words (I probably should have mentioned before now that they drove out to crew for me, and they were great to have there all day to keep me moving!). I knew the rest of the course didn't have any long downhills (until the very end), so I figured if I kept things slow and easy I'd be OK to cruise it in to the finish. I walked for a bit out of the Aid Station hoping Andrew would catch up and we could survive the last 25 miles together, but after a mile or so my leg started getting stiff and I knew I needed to at least shuffle along again to keep it warm and somewhat loose. During the rest of this 10 mile section I found my comfortable 11-12 min cruising pace and enjoyed the extra time that gave me to look around and appreciate the scenery of the trail. Maybe going slow isn't so bad after all!
Super-crew parents at nearby Fallingwater the day before the race
After one last crew stop with about 13 miles to go, I was definitely in my comfort-cruise pace and only broke out of it to cautiously move down some short steep areas. My only desire for the rest of the race was to make it to the finish before the sunset, and even with my slow descent down the hills of the last couple miles, I was able to cruise it in with plenty of light to spare.  At the finish they told me I was 2 seconds away from breaking 14 hours, but quite honestly I hadn't even looked at my watch in about two hours so time goals really weren't on the top of my list. Plus, I kind of like having 14 hours, 00 mins as my finish time...Nice and round. Also, from the Random Facts file: Out of all the races I've run in my life, I think 50% of them have ended with me finishing in 3rd place. I don't know what it is about me and 3rd, but we're like old drinking buddies who may start out the day with separate plans, but more often than not still end up hanging out with each other by the end of the night.
Regardless of where you finish, it always feels good when you finish!
Two of the speedsters who blew by me on that road section had plenty of time to clean up and take a nap before I finished. A big congrats goes out to Derek Schultz who took the win in 13:17, and Josh Finger who grabbed second in 13:42. It was a pleasure chatting with both of them after the race, and I'll definitely be watching the race results later this year as both of them attempt their first 100 milers (Derek at Pine to Palm, and Josh at Vermont). Congrats and best of luck to both of you guys!

After cleaning up and eating some excellent homemade chili at the finish, I had the great pleasure of cheering in my friend Andy who made the trip up with me to run his first race over 50 miles. Andy's parents were also out to crew for him all day, so we had quite the group waiting in anticipation for his headlamp to come charging down the trail at the finish. As it turned out, Andy showed veteran poise and patience on the tough course and cruised in to finish in 20th place. Well done, Mr. Gingrich!
Hanging out with my mom at the finish
Andy does it!
All smiles at the finish!
In pulling up and protecting the hammy like I did, I know I made the right move to allow me to get back to normal (if not flat) training in a couple days. The real goal has always been Sparta this year, and I'm happy with my decisions to both drop MMT and pull up at LH77 to make sure training for the real race remains on track. I have many many many miles to run this summer, and a happy hammy will go a long way to making them all a success.  Now, if you'll excuse me, I need to hop in the sauna for the next couple weeks to prepare for my Badwater pacing adventure with Chris Roman. Can't wait to post the photos and story from that!


Kim said...

Nice report Dan.
That road detour-it's at least a 3 mile downhill, until you make the left hand turn, to the horrible road without a berm,to cross the turnpike.Last year, that's where my blisters erupted.
Got to love the (rest of) Laurel Highlands Trail.I think I will be back next year, for the 70.5 race..as long as I am recovered from MMT!!

Dan Rose said...

You said it, Kim. That paved road with no shoulder to run on will never make my X-mas card list. I would have preferred taking my chances running across the 4 lanes of Turnpike traffic!

Chris Roman said...

Great post buddy, looked beautiful, sorry you had to dial back but smart to keep the eyes on Greece. Enjoy the sauna, see you very soon in the desert :)

Ric Munoz said...

Sorry the hammy acted up, Dan. But I'm glad you survived all that downhill and the spill you took on that rock. Congrats on hanging in there to take 3rd place -- next year it'll be 1st!

Andrew Bartle said...

I don't know if I would have made it to that aid station without your "It's just around the next corner" motivation. Thanks again. Hope your hammie heals fast.

Elena Makovskaya said...

Nice report!!! I was there too - pacing and crewing a friend Jenn and saw you few times when still crewing in the first half. When pacing, me and Jenn we were constantly swapping places with Andy all the time and we finished about 2 minutes after he did. We will be back next year!