Laurel Valley Ultra

Rocky Bottom, SC

Single Track Trail

31 – 35 – 40 Miles?

08/13/2005

 

From Claude Sinclair, RD

 

The 11th version of the running of Laurel Valley had several surprises this year.   First, Laurel Valley, of Maine, entered and ran the race of her namesake.  Second, Annette Bednosky used the Laurel Valley run as her first race since winning the Western States 100.  Third, Will Harlan returned to post a win.   But the biggest surprise was the heat and humidity which resulted in slower times.  Both of the 2004 winners, Sally Brooking and Brian Kistner, were struck by the heat.   Both were about an hour off their usual times.    60 runners started and 60 runners finished.  The sweeps did their job and kept everyone moving and got everyone to the finish safely.    The distance of the run is as evasive as the Lock Ness monster or Big Foot.  A linear map has it at 40 miles,  a GPS and Wheel has it at 33.6 miles, and a wheel used over 20 years ago has it at 31.5 miles. 

 

From Annette Bednosky

 

The 2005 running of the Laurel Valley Trail Run happened on August 13th 2005.  About 60 runners started at the 72degree dawn start with a musket shot at 6:30am at a small trailhead  of a National Recreation Trail called the Foothills Trail. This trail travels around the mountains, hills and gorges of Northwestern South Carolina. The Laurel Valley portion is single tracked,  shaded, and varies between smooth mud, many creek and river crossings, mostly on bridges. There is rarely a time on the route when one can not hear some sort of moving water.

It is a point to point run with no aid provided. Runners provide their own shuttles and carry any food/ fluid and water treatment needed. We followed white blazes and most of us had no idea of pace or distance covered as there are very few signs marking this segment of the trail.

 

The ending point for the run is at a picnic shelter in Occonee State Park, SC, home of the sensational Whitewater Falls. Cold drinks, snacks and an enthusiastic small gathering including RD Claude Sinclair welcomed runners as they finished by running the last several hundred yards on the courses only pavement.

 

What made this run special for some is that is was HOT. Over 100 degrees with 98% humidity. That is even hot for SC mountain standards! Many folks were slowed by the heat-times ranged from about 5 hours to 13 hours. 

What made this run special for me, is that it is the first event I participated since Western States 100 in June and since my father’s death due to cancer in late July. I was worried that I was too stressed and not trained enough to be able to run well. I was looking forward to just getting my “first run without my dad” over with. I was relieved to find that this run acted as a sort of catharsis for me…some purging of fear, sadness and also an energizer for getting back in “training mode” for fall races. Although I sweated more during this run then I ever had before, I really enjoyed myself and found invigoration and freedom despite the oppressive heat and humidity.

 

Laurel Valley is a beautiful route and is simple and mysterious at the same time. It is a low-maintained run that helps me remember my love of running in exquiste places with fabulous people.

 

From Will Harlan

 

The race started at 6:30am. I arrived at 6:32.  (It's a long story involving a friend's two cats, a flight to San Francisco, and a lot of unexpected paperwork).

         Race director Claude Sinclair’s starting gun (actually a Civil War cannon) blasted as I was driving into

the parking area. I quickly laced up my shoes, grabbed my water bottles, and scampered toward the trail.

         I passed runners one by one, beginning with trail sweep and good friend Lloyd Basten. Eventually, I caught up with the lead pack and chatted with Byron Backer, Matt Stanek, Brian Kistner for a few minutes. Byron mischievously tried to suggest there was another pack of runners ahead of us, but I knew that no one goes out faster or harder than Byron.

         I picked up the pace around mile 5, inspired by the crashing waterfalls and jaw-dropping-beautiful scenery. A few miles later, I crossed paths with a black bear snacking on some berry bushes along the trail. He scampered quickly up the hillside, and I passed by him reverently and respectfully. The spine-tingling encounter with raw wildness pumped me with a bit too much adrenaline, as I reached Lake Jocassee faster than I had expected.

         I would soon pay for it. The morning sun crested the mountains, and the heat and humidity arrived early. Only a trickle of breeze seeped through the trees. As a completely self-supported race, I stopped at a spring-fed stream to refill my water bottles and slam some gel. I was soaked with sweat and covered in spider webs, and no-see-ums danced around my head and ears. And I still had 20 miles to go.

         The Foothills Trail is one of my favorites…it’s incredibly well-maintained, with footbridges spanning whitewater creeks and dozens of wooden steps built into the hillsides of steep slopes. For the next ten miles, I trudged along the Foothills Trail, trying not to think about the distance ahead, and simply enjoying the rugged, remote mountain setting.

         I had a few bad moments when my salt tablets and iodine tablets disintegrated – awash in the accumulated sweat. So I had to choose my water sources very carefully (fortunately, I did not acquire the gut-wrenching giardia that previous Laurel Valley runners have experienced). The course continued to roll through gorge after gorge, gradually climbing up the Blue Ridge escarpment.

         Finally, after several imaginary conversations with vireos and trees, I arrived at the Whitewater River. From there, it’s a three mile upstream run, followed by a precarious moss-covered boulder crossing of the river, and a long march up the gorge wall. Day-hikers and tourists admired 411-foot Whitewater Falls in the distance—and seemed puzzled by a guy in shorts emerging from the woods, dripping with sweat and plastered with dead bugs, huffing it up the endless wooden staircases. At one point, I passed a woman walking her dog while I was on all-fours, trying to pull myself up the hill. The dog mistook me for a fellow canine and nearly pounced on me.

         Lightheaded, I reached the top of the gorge and stumbled into the picnic area finish line. I was thankful to have finished a little after noon, before the furnace-like heat really cranked up. I was amazed by the runners who rolled in after me—especially the gritty back-of-the-packers—who endured a lot more than I did and slugged through one of the hottest, stickiest afternoons of the year to reach the finish line.

 

 

 

 

From Laurel Valley

 

I arrived in South Carolina a few days early and drove to the finish at White Water Falls. There I ran about 2 miles  out and 2 miles back. The 2 miles back was absolutely  horrendous so it was a good taste of things to come. I  took a hike up Table Rock Mt. the day before the race and  then met R.D. Claude, Will Brown and a few others at the  hotel. We had a pre race meal at a nice restaurant with  about 20 runners attending. I had beer and steak. I think

They were happy to see I wasn't a tea-totaling vegetarian  type Yankee.

 

 We met at the finish area at 5:15 to car pool to the start  at Laurel Valley. After milling around the start in the  dim morning light  for a few minutes, Claude blasted a  shot from his huge civil war rifle and the runners were  off...slowly. We had to climb single file up a steep set  of wooden steps embedded into the hill. This was my first  taste of the infamous "wooden steps" that climbed up and

down over and over again throughout the course. There must  have been thousands of them. They were just wooden blocks  or small logs pounded into the steepest sections of trail  to provide footing for the hikers and probably to prevent  erosion, too.

 

 Less than a half mile into the race a woman with dark hair  went by at a fast clip and I thought it must be 2005  Western States winner, Annette Bednosky. It was and I  never saw her again, she was long gone by the time I got  to the finish. I felt pretty strong, especially on the  climbs. I was there to enjoy myself and never ran so fast  that I wasn't comfortable. I socialized and took in the  sights. I ran the early miles with a man who had done the  course several times. He gave me a description of the  course that went like this..."first we run down to the  lake and we climb back up, then we run down to the river  and we climb back up, then we run down to the next river  and we run back up, then we run down to the creek and we  run back up...etc" It was a pretty accurate description.  The single track trail had excellent footing for the most  part. There were many, many fast moving pristine rivers  and streams which we crossed on various types of foot  bridges. We ran past waterfalls and through dense tunnels of Laurel  and  Rhododendron. The sounds of rushing water and singing  birds provided the background music. The scenery was  enough to make me stop in my tracks at times to take it  in. More than once a nearby runner asked if I was OK when  I stopped like that and I just smiled and said I was feeling great! I met several runners on the trail and enjoyed their company. I had thought I might spend a lot of time alone  on the trail, but I was never alone for more than 30  minutes or so before meeting up with another runner, if  only briefly. Also I thought the heat would be an issue

 for me. The temperatures climbed well into the nineties  and the humidity was near 100%.  I drank 20 ounces of  water every half hour and took 2 Succeed electrolyte tabs  every hour.  Every time I started to feel a little  overheated, I would get a brief break from the heat with a  slight breeze at the top of a climb or a cool mist from a  rushing stream or river. Of course, with all the water I

 was drinking, I was stopping to fill a bottle every half  hour and stopping to pee quite often. Will Brown, veteran  of many Laurel Valleys, had given me advice the evening  before which I took to heart..."carry 2 bottles and fill  each one the minute you empty it." The system worked  perfectly as the iodine tablets took 30 minutes to work  and that's exactly   how long it took me to empty a bottle.  I think I was  drinking more than I ever have in a race, but my stomach  was handling it well. I was feeling very good despite the  heat so it's something I will try to do in all my hot  weather races.   I leap frogged for several hours with two women, Denise  and Diane. It was fun to pass them on the climbs only to  have them catch me on the downs (my trail running  weakness). We ran some of the flat sections together.  After about 4-5 hours of running, I picked up my pace and

 effort a little.   The last 1/3 of the race was probably  the toughest as far as climbing and descending, tackling  wooden steps, and scooting over or under fallen trees. I  was glad I had a little energy left. I caught several  runners and tried to talk a little to each one. Finally I  came to a sign that said White Water Falls parking area  1.7 miles. But I had been warned that this was a lie and

 didn't get too excited. The stretch between this sign and  the metal bridge, which marks the point where I only had  one enormous climb left to the finish, is difficult

 mentally and physically. Finally I crossed a wooden bridge  that I remembered from my pre-race out and back run from  the finish.  Then I came to the metal bridge which  required a scramble up some good sized rocks to climb  onto the bridge and then a scramble/slide back down off  the bridge on the other side. There were a few people who  had hiked down to the river from the parking area and they  gave me words of encouragement. I passed a woman sitting  on a rock at the beginning of the climb and later found  out that it was Sally Brookings, a fantastic ultrarunner  who was having a rough day.  She made it to the finish

 shortly after I did.  I had been looking forward to this last climb because I

 knew it was a tough one and I thought it was a very  fitting ending to a great run. As soon as I started to  climb, I got a surge of energy. I walked and ran up the

 hill and finally got to the long wooden staircase that  leads from the lower observation deck to the upper deck. I  was running up the stairs when I hit a road block of  tourists, 4 across shoulder to shoulder. I said excuse me  and after glancing at me they plastered themselves against  the side rails making a wide passage for me. I was muddy  and wet and sweat was flying off my hair and shirt and  shorts in great big droplets.  Quite a contrast to the  tourists who had walked down from their cars in golf  shirts, skirts, and sandals. I got to the top, paused to

 look at Whitewater Falls, and then ran down the paved path  to the finish at the picnic shelter near the parking lot.  I drank about 6 cups of delicious ice cold coke, sat in  the shade on the grass, met some more wonderful people,  and smiled like  an idiot.