Laurel Highlands Ultra Race: 77 Miles of Fun?



Ultrathoner and I are going east in a few weeks to western Pennsylvania.  Our goal, besides visiting and eating lots of Mom’s blueberry pie, is to run the entire length of the Laurel Highlands trail.


In one day…


All 77 miles of it…


Only 1.6 miles short of three marathons…


The thought of this makes a 50 k seem to be a pleasant afternoon outing now.


The race is on the Laurel Highlands trail (with a six mile detour due to bridge construction) which starts in Ohiopyle, PA and continues along the Laurel Ridge, a long contiguous mountain which is a common feature, in the Appalachians.   It heads northeast to its terminus outside of Johnstown, the region where I spent most of my childhood.


The trail has features that seem out of place after so many years of hiking and running in the Rockies.  Each mile is marked with a concrete trail sign, similar to a Mayan stela or obelisk from the old world.  Even with a well defined trail, a groove cut into the earth, the trees are blazed with ensure you stay on the path.  One feature that I am happy was not copied as trails were built in the west is the lack of switchbacks.  Trails in the east commonly go straight up the hillside guaranteeing an excellent leg workout!




We have 24 hours to complete the race.  The winner each year finishes in 11 and 13 hours or so. 


Can I finish in 15 to 17 hours?


I do not know.  That is the beauty of an ultra run. Your finish may not be the finish line.  As the miles add up weather, nutrition and one’s mind can all work against the months of training.


I have found the body is much stronger than the mind lets it know most days as part of our own self preservation.  Extensive mountain climbing and long distance running have taught me how to silence that part of my mind.


With five rolling cutoffs my race strategy is partially pre-determined.  With roughly a 70% finish rate the past several years I am assuming the cutoffs are at least average to generous for each segment.  According to a chart on the website an overall pace of 18:42 min/mile will get the job done in 24 hours.




Well that is too slow.


So I am going to eat this elephant one bite at a time; or in this case five bites.


My race pace this month for the marathon and 50 k were both just over 10 min/mile.  My only 50 mile race clocked in at 11:40 and that was due to dealing with an injury that showed up at mile 38.


The 'worst' part of the course appears to be the first nine miles where I will be confronted with the majority of the vertical gain.  I will be walking a lot at the start which will keep me strong for later in the race and give me time to really keep my fuel and fluid levels up.


A 15 to 17 hour goal puts me in the 11:40 to 13:15 min/mile range.  To keep the math simple on race day I will split the difference and aim for a 12:30 min/mile average pace.  At this speed I’ll meet all the cutoffs and finish only a few hours after the leaders.


I hope.


Only race day will tell.


Inyanka yo!


Get out and explore the World!

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About Haliku

Mountain climber, ultrarunner, scuba instructor, world traveler, student of life
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3 Responses to Laurel Highlands Ultra Race: 77 Miles of Fun?

  1. Xenia says:

    I almost didn't read the rest of the post because I was distracted by the mention of blueberry pie. Yummy…This race sounds crazy brutal. My advice to you is to stay vertical. Wise words, I know. :)Best of luck.

  2. SandyU says:

    Wow, best of luck to you both! My husband & I are attempting the 35-mi Rachel Carson Trail Challenge in a couple weeks (also in Pittsburgh), which seems to pale in comparison!

  3. pupalupagus says:

    Don't start too fast,remeber your pace, have a great time. Tell your parents hello from the ones that remain home to work!! 😛

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