As you will find from many of the race director’s photos, the underlying theme of the 2009 Laurel Valley Whitewater Race was, “Thank God that’s done.” - usually coupled with runners rolling in to the finish; faces looking like they wanna puke; flopping down flat on their backs, with arms and legs stretched out wide, chest heaving up and down, and mouths babbling some colorful, somewhat incoherent speech.
Followed up 30 minutes later with, “so, uhhh, what’s the date for next year?”
A perfect combination of sweet and salty
Courses like Laurel Valley illustrate the true nature of ultrarunning for me.
You get it all:
- Incredible beauty
- Lush forest
- Roots, big rocks, little rocks, slurpee mud, pine-coverage
- Punishing heat and humidity and sun…
- …but with ice cold rivers, creeks and lakes
- Tight, technical ridge running
- Straight-up-steep, old skool east coast climbing
- Punishing (and I mean punishing) descents
- 3000+ railroad tie stairs along the trail
- Hand-over-hand climbing and jiving
- Wide trails, skinny trails and “barely-a-trail” trails
- Veteran runners, newbies and handfuls of sweeps
- 100% unsupported – you are on your own – no aid
- Ambiguous, no one knows for sure how far it is
- A certain respect that must acknowledged in order to safely come out on the other side
- No guarantees
That’s a lot of trail goodness jam-packed into somewhere around 35 miles.
Party at the Pizza Inn
Ok, so maybe it wasn’t a party, but since a bunch of us would be stealing a little corner of floor space at Byron Backer’s house, meeting at the Pizza Inn in Traveler’s Rest, SC just made good sense – gathering as a group, swapping ultra stories, and fueling up on loads of pizza.
In attendance was Jim Musselmen, Jonathon Savage, Bedford Boyce, John Teed, Mike Melton, Byron & Irene Backer and me, probably the least overall experienced ultrarunner in the crowd, but damn happy to be included none-the-less.
3:15 comes mighty early
Laurel Valley is a point-to-point race. This means that some runners have to leave cars at the finish of the race, and then catch a ride from another runner back to the start – all before the race begins.
Jonathon Savage and I rode to the start with Bill Keane, a 13-year Laurel Valley race veteran and terrific story teller. This would be Jonathon’s first Laurel Valley and it was a kick listening to Bill give Jonathon “the lowdown” on the race course and what to expect. Must have worked because Jonathon took second place overall.
Bill is adamant that the race is 40 miles; as for me? I’m not so sure – but who’s gonna argue with a dude who’s been running the race since I was back in my 20’s washing dishes in South Florida?
We got to the start at 5:50 a.m. with 10 minutes to spare until the start. I shook some hands, introduced myself to some newbies, and blinded a few folks with my overeager and early illumination of my headlamp.
…and as usual Byron Backer grabbed the lead like it was a blistering fast 5K.
A post-race email pretty much sums it up
Well, I could go turn-by-turn, like most race reports, or I could be a little more abstract.
With this being the third time I’ve run Laurel Valley, I thought I’d share an email that I wrote late at night to the ultrarunner email list.
I figured that, being ultrarunners, they could understand the emotions that were swirling around in my head. Here goes…:
Ya know what my problem is?
(by the way, I’m so interested in sharing my problem that I’m willing to endure the wrath of a trying-to-sleep wife, lying next to me with a pillow over her head, hurling comments at me to stop banging the laptop, go to bed and to quit being inconsiderate …but still I write…)
But my problem is I gots no damn memory.
Can you relate?
I lay here thinking about how am I going to break it to my CEO that yeah, man …I got accepted into another one of those “goofball races”.
I think about how much “fun” I’ll be having trotting through some new forest, on some new trail, all the while trying to keep myself hydrated, fed and coherent.
Naw, I don’t remember two days ago when I threw my bottles down on the ground, frustrated that my body was hurting so much that I couldn’t fight off the runner who just passed me one mile from the finish … huffing and puffing and tired and sweaty and beat-up and scraped-up – feet hurt, hammies tight as guitar strings, out-of-water …but with water around me, just too much effort too refill so close to the finish.
shirt stuck to me – annoying me. Ripping it off and swearing it’s not littering, …it’s “trail magic”. Yea sure, my stinky, sweat-soaked shirt is gonna be someone else’s trail magic.
But that wasn’t all – I cussed at every climb after the horse pasture bridge.
I complained that this stretch or that stretch was killing me – that I must have made a wrong turn – where’s that $%#@! white blaze?
Sometimes I was so hot that I’d stagger, foot half-teetering over the logs alongside the trail …logs that are probably along that ridge so people don’t topple over, but I was close to topplin’.
My head would swim, and I’d sorta laugh in an insane, introspective conversational laugh that would feel funny at first – a little weird after a couple of minutes.
Time to collect myself and continue.
Stop skipping creeks you idiot – prune juice-colored pee means you need some fluids, fool.
Damn that guy that said “if you keep up this pace, you’ll break eight hours”
Now that’s burned in my brain
Making me make bad decisions…
…or at least, hard, difficult ones.
Yeah, I forget about all that.
Running into the finish area like a kid chasing the ice cream truck, I barely hear the claps and hoots and hollers, running straight to Claude…
“Did I get in under eight?”
Sorta hoping Doom’s guess of 8:05 was just a tired, climbing man’s mistake.
But just like that, all the tough stuff disappeared.
I felt awakened. Fully alive.
Cascade Crest is two weeks away.
so I lay here…
thinking about new trails
all reciting much the same when they meet me – “ohhhhhh, you’re that dude from the ultra list”
“yup. I’m here to get my run on.”
I forget how bad running long distances hurts me.
Mostly because I think without running long distances “I” might hurt me.
I like the Runners From Hell
the meaning is for real.
Great – so, anyway, what in the heck does that post title mean?
Schicked, Gabelled and Doomed?
During this year’s race, I ran 90% of the day completely alone, always looking over my shoulder – and looking ahead to see if I could pick anyone off along the way.
While I was lucky enough to pass a few folks, I especially remembered getting skewered by the following folks:
- Richard Schick: No competition here. Rich passed me about 5 miles in to the race and I never saw him again. Damn that Rich Schick …I’m gonna get him one day. Did I mention he’s 60? What an athlete!
- Tom Gabell: Tom is the race director for the Hinson Lake 24-hour race. Tom particularly made it tough because I saw him coming into the horse pasture bridge as I was leaving. I knew if he caught me, it would be a clear indication that I was slowing down …or that he was speeding up. I think it was both, and when he approached a couple of miles later, I tried to stay with him, but he dropped me like a bad habit.
- Fred Dummar: Everytime I see Fred, I can’t help but yell “DOOOOOM!” – I was so happy to meet Fred in person, but not-so-happy to get passed by him in the last mile of the race. I did find some climbing legs, and regained my lead just before the finish, but that’s probably a little cheesy… BTW, the “lovely Mrs. Doom” is not just a Fred catch-phrase, she’s a great lady.
So there ya go…
Long live the LV.
Long live the Runners From Hell.