Join me as I tell you about my experience of running this beautiful single track, point-to-point trail system from Ohiopyle, my hometown, to Johnstown, Pa. Before embarking, I had only ever run three miles there and back, making for a six-mile run.
First, let me thank my compassionate, uplifting, loving, understanding husband, Eric. He supported me in my efforts by dropping me off with our two young boys (Grey, ages seven to nine months during this adventure and Avie, age four) strapped in their car seats. I'd hug and kiss them all, quickly run off, and he would find fun things to do with our sons for one to three hours until pickup time. At the end of the runs, he had fresh, warm food, hot tea and lots of water. These runs typically took up half of a day and sometimes an entire day with driving, run time and recovery. Between both of our work schedules, breastfeeding, sometimes lack of sleep and unpredictable weather, we managed to make this little dream of mine come true. Often, I was exhausted, and often, I wanted to quit, but he cheered me on and continues to tell me time and time again that ultrarunning remains my destiny, that I can accomplish any running fantasy I have and that he's here for me.
THANK YOU, ERIC! <3 And thank you, Avie and Grey. I write these stories for you as much as I write them for my fellow runners.
Now, enjoy the story!
Saturday, Nov. 25
Garmin Stats: 10.75 miles/ 16:01 pace/ 2:53:57
Conditions: 32 degrees, sunny, calm
In June 2018, I formed an all-female trail running group. On the first day, 13 women ran through the woods together. Ecstatic and humbled (because I did not think anyone would want to join me), I came home beaming and talking non-stop about how fun and awesome it was to bring these wonderful women together.
Soon we were calling each other the Trail Tribe, and in that same month, I made it our goal to run the first 11 miles of the LHHT. At two months postpartum, I set the date for November. Each week we built up our mileage on the trails around Ohiopyle. We became stronger and were SO ready for this run. We prepared food for an after-party. Five of us showed up: Amanda (front runner crossing the bridge on he photo on the left), then June, Rachel J. and Shane.
Amanda, Rachel and I finished a minute or so in front of June and Shane. Cheering and yelling, I crouched down to take a photo of June and Shane as they made their final steps to the end of the trail. About 20 feet before the finish, June tripped, let out a horrific scream, and the celebration ended.
She had tumbled to the ground, hit her head on a rock and blood poured from a gash across the top of her forehead. A flap of skin revealed her skull. Shane wrapped her head in a sweatshirt. A van drove by, and I chased it down so that it could take June to Ohiopyle, where help could meet us more easily. We called 911. I said F%$! about 20 times. Eric picked me up, and we all met June and our new friends of the van.
After assessing June, they transported her to the hospital, where four of us gathered to continue the celebration of our big run! As 24 stitches were sewn into June's head, we thanked God that the situation wasn't worse and that we had each other. And we ate!
Saturday, Dec. 2
Garmin Stats: 7.03 miles/ 12:25 pace/ 1:27:17
Conditions: 40 degrees and cloudy
Running a new trail was all I wanted to do on this day, my 35th birthday. It was also hunting season. In the first mile, I came across a man popping a squat over a log and doing his business. Hey, we've all done it, but it's still HILARIOUS to see!
Thursday, Dec. 7
Garmin Stats: 9.68 miles/ 12:28 pace/ 2:00:50
Conditions: 35 degrees and mild
I enjoyed this section except for crossing through Seven Springs Resort and the ski slopes. As I navigated my way through the top of the slopes, the snow-making machines blasted out fresh powder It was loud, and snow rapidly covered the ground. I ran as quickly as I could but had to slow down to watch for the signs directing me along the LHHT. I was glad to be back in the woods!
Sunday, Dec. 17
Garmin Stats: 3.13 miles/ 13:44 pace/ 43:00.8
Conditions: Zero degrees with deep snowpack (i.e., no dirt, grass or rocks exposed) plus above ankle powder on top, windy
My intention was to run farther, but with the deep snowpack and feeling more tired than usual, I called my husband and asked him to pick me up at a closer parking lot. We took our sons bowling and out for lunch.
My thought at the end of the day: "Hmm, maybe I should wait until summer to run the entire LHHT..."
Friday, Dec. 22
Garmin Stats: 15.05 miles (one wrong turn added on one extra mile)/ 13:26 pace/ 3:22:25
Conditions: 48 degrees, calm, sunny
This was my favorite section of trail, particularly around Beam Rocks. Plus I met an ultrarunner, who recommended the TrailRunProject app, which I use frequently now. That was after passing him, making a wrong turn, then passing him again! I wish I could remember his name... Keith, maybe? It's always a joy to meet another runner who shares such a great love the sport.
Wednesday, Dec. 27
Garmin Stats: 12.13 miles/ 15:58 pace/ 3:13:40
Conditions: Negative four degrees with wind chill with one foot of snow pack and seven inches of powder on top; extremely deep, thick snow
"Should I do this today?" was the question that I asked my husband, Eric, all morning as we stared out the window at the thick blanket of snow covering our yard. Finally, we decided to do it. We loaded up the vehicle and our sons, ages four and at that time, eight months, and we drove to the drop-off point.
Within the first mile, my hydration bite valve froze, and it was clear that perhaps I should have waited for better conditions. But with the Frozen Sasquatch 25K approaching, I looked at this run as the ultimate test. To keep high kneeing and trudging through nearly knee-high drifts and mid-shin pack in merely running shoes challenged my mental fortitude.
Near the end of the trail, the blazes changed color, and at this time I attempted to turn on my cell phone to call Eric. The sun dropped below the horizon, and the temperature dropped with it.
Mistake number one: removing my glove in now negative eight degrees. Mistake number two: stopping my physical body, thus lowering my core temperature. My hands were now not functioning, and my eyes were blurring from the cold. Retinal damage crossed my mind, but I had to focus on getting out of the woods! Mistake number three: questioning my intuition. Of course I was on the right path, but the snow made it difficult to navigate, and I couldn't understand why the blazes were no loner yellow when they had been for the first 55 miles of the LHHT.
Finally, I made the decision to keep running down the parking lot trail, which was also much longer than the other parking lot trails. Seeing Eric and my sons overwhelmed me. I cried. My body shook. My hands curled and cramped, non-responsive. Grey cried. Avie yelled. YIKES! This was not fun, but in the end, I was grateful for the day and the wisdom I gained from it. And I vowed to never put myself in such a situation again.
Saturday, Jan. 28
Garmin Stats: 13.4 miles/ 12:41 pace/ 2:50:04
Conditions: 40 degrees, mild, no snow
After the previous run, we spent the rest of that weekend skiing. I had wanted to complete all 70 miles before 2018, but Mother Nature had other things in mind. So, I waited until the perfect day. One month later, it came.