I had another great time at Laurel Valley this year. Time, as in fun, not performance. For those unfamiliar with Laurel Valley it is a run of about 35 miles along the Foothills Trail in the South Carolina upstate. The run is self-supported as access is basically nil from Rocky Bottom where the race starts to the Upper Whitewater Falls parking area (where the race ends). While the run is very scenic, the self-supported nature does add a bit of intrigue to the run. No biggie though, just grab some of whatever you like to eat, a couple of water bottles and throw it in a pack and get going. Don't forget the iodine tablets to treat the water and a little dose of humility. If you forget the latter, the trail will provide it for you.
Two years ago, when I first ran LV, I got my a$$ handed to me. Yeah, it was over 100 degrees but I was still unprepared for what was ahead of me. I got some lovely blisters on my heels as a souvenir. Remember this lovely picture?
Last year I ran great and had an absolute blast, running much faster than 2007. Cooler temps helped as did being in really good shape. What would 2009 hold? Well, I ran slower than last year, but faster than 2007. About what I expected. I am not in as good of shape as last year, but one thing that matters at LV is experience and I had two of these under my belt.
The temperature was certainly warmer than last year but the humidity was what I really noticed. I made great time early. In fact, my buddy John and I were really cruising the first three hours or so. I knew I couldn't hold the pace and let John go ahead. He went on to post his fastest time on the course. I got to Toxaway a bit before 9:00 and was really wiped - not a good sign at LV. I took it easy on the next sections walking all the hills and running easy on the flats and downhills. When I got to the Horsepasture River (about 2/3 home), I did something I have never done in my previous two runs - got in the water. Man was it great! I spent a solid 25 minutes in the water there and it made a big difference. I left around 11:45 and figured I was about 3:30 from the finish. Last year, it took me about 3:15 from this point to finish.
As the temperature rose, my spirits tanked. I was drinking well and eating a gel about every 30 minutes. I was also taking two S! Caps every hour (about 700 mg sodium). My legs were just dead. I moved along as best I could and eventually ran out of water. Bill Keane, a grizzled veteran of this race and many throughout the southeast gave me some of his water to try and lift my spirits. Bill is 64 years young and is still cranking these things out. Awesome! I felt better running than walking which was weird given the situation. Eventually I got to Thompson River, which is about 5 or 6 miles from the finish and the last major water stop. Guess what, I got in the water again for about 20 minutes and it felt great. A couple of folks joined me and it was really hard to get out. I left just before 2:00 and decided I would walk every step in. My race was shot and it would be nice to know how long it would take walking every step. I ran really well last year and covered this in about 1:25.
It was very uneventful the rest of the way. After all, I was walking! I crossed the falls and had the final doozy of a climb between me and the finish. Last year, I did the final climb (about .8 miles) in around 18 minutes. I would need to do it in about 25 minutes this year to break 10 hours. So, I took it easy and made my way up. Then I ran the last 1/4 mile or so in to post a 9:56. Not my best but not my worst. I had a lot of fun and really took it easy so I am not sore at all as I type this. What a great event! They even had ice cream at the finish - thanks Mike Day!
It's funny, Mark Long and I remarked as we were sitting in Thompson River, why we come back every year. The answer is actually pretty easy - we're stupid and never learn!! Seriously, LV is as pure a run as you can get. If you are looking for fancy aid stations, nice awards and to be pampered - go find a local road 10K or even a marathon. If you are looking for a scenic trail and a great group of folks to share it with and nothing more than maybe LV is for you. There actually was a shirt this year but finishing this race is the best award I get all year. Now, with three LV finishes, one that starts with a 10 (10:24 in 2007), one with a 9 (9:56 this year) and one with an 8 (8:06 last year), I need one that starts with a 7. Guess where I'll be the second weekend in August 2010?