Laurel Valley featured the usual suspects this year. You can see some of them pictured to the left. It was great to have Kelley and Vic in the mix too for their 1st trip through this remote wilderness course. Christian even made this his ultra comeback race willing to man up and start the race with a paralyzed lung. Tough , stupid? Either way he was going in and you gotta respect that. Then you have Fejes on the right who made the USA 24 Hr. team this year. He was playing it safe and not running this year due to the race. At least one of us has some sense.
Wayne and I had a classic race on the course last year. He finished about 2 minutes before me and this year we decided to try and push each other to a sub 9:00 hour finish which would be personal best for us both. Either way it was gonna be a "Bro Run" - Good hard running while spending a day on the trails together enjoying some of the finest single track that the Carolinas have to offer. That's exactly what we did.
The race started promptly at 6 AM in a unusual cool August rain. We slowly made are way up the first climb in the dark with headlamps glowing up and down the trail.
This race is special to just about every runner for different reasons. It always has that family reunion vibe to it. From the pre-race dinner on Friday night through the end of the event on Saturday. There is just something special about the Laurel Valley trail, but the race weekend is even better.
To be completely honest we both had 8:30 as a finishing time goal this year. We worked the hills and ran everything that we could hard. We were right on track for our goal time through the first half of the race. We hit the 8 mile mark in 1:50 ahead of pace schedule.
Then the 13.3 Toxaway Bridge mark around 9:20 - still ahead of the 8:30 pace. It was great to see my brother & sister-n-law here with a small aid station setup for runners. We had a quick laugh with them, grabbed a nutty buddy and kept cruising.
We handled the first tough climbs of the course well and we were both excited to be at mile 21.7 Horsepastuer River in 5:45. We were only about five minutes behind our goal time and still moving well. No mental or physical issues to speak of.
We both knew that the toughest part of the course was ahead of us. The final 11 miles or so is about 85% uphill. Not just uphill, but relentless climbs that look the same and just demoralize you. Many make you feel that you are lost in the wilderness and just running in circles. If the course was not so beautiful it would be enough to drive you into madness.
Wait, it did drive us into madness......again.
We attacked the climb after the river as hard as we could. Still no real problems to speak of. We climbed and climbed the long fire road until finally reaching some nice running stretches into Bear Creek.
The course threw another obstacle at us. One of the suspension bridges had been hit by a falling tree and it was all twisted up over a big ravine. Runners were forced to shimmy across it the best they could in hopes that it would not give way leaving you to a 50 foot rocky fall below.
I kept mentioning that we had the toughest climbs ahead. Probably too much talking and not enough going. At this point we begin to lose steam. From Bear Creek up to Thompson River you just climb and climb. I mean stupid climbing where get 60-70 steps, take a turn and then a nearly vertical fire road is in your face. You climb up that and then it looks exactly the same again.
By the time we made it up these series of climbs we were spent. We forced ourselves to run the flats and downs hard, but even that was a struggle.
Thompson River marks the 28 mile mark and you have about a 10K to go which is over 6 miles. Once again the climbs keep coming and this set of hills ruined our chances of a sub 9:00 finish. It nearly ruined our chances of a sub 10:00 finish.
With that being said we enjoyed the run and decided that clock would not dictate what kind of experience we would have on the trail.
We kept plugging away running some with Grant, Jon, Mullet, and some others. We finally made it to the final climb and finished out the torture of climbing up another 1,300 ft. mountain and stairs, rocks, and roots.
We finished up around 9:49 together and enjoyed catching up with other runners at the finish. Laurel Valley continues to top my list in the ultra world. It has all of the elements that I love about trail running. When you mix in about sixty other like minded runners it just makes it that much more special. This was my 4th race finish and 13th time running through the entire course. I hope to have 1,000 more opportunities to enjoy it.
Thanks to Claude & Martha for putting this race on for so many years. Also to Will Brown and Bill Keane for hosting the dinner and helping with many of the race duties.