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Laurel Highlands 70 Miler: A Modern Day Fairy Tale

Once Upon A Time, a girl with pigtails ran the Laurel Highlands 70 Miler (in 2006). She was met with wonderful cool weather and helpful spirits and she completed her journey with aplomb.
She ventured forth again in 2008, but the Evil Rains came and she failed. She knew she couldn't let Evil triumph, so she returned once more to fight the good battle. This is her race report. It's a modern day fairy tale!

Self-Doubt. I don't think I've ever had more anxiety about a race. I was filled with doubts. I didn't believe I had the mental toughness to push through when things got difficult. I didn't want it badly enough.

Problems. I had good reason to feel pessimistic. Since changing my diet to Whole30/Paleo, I'd only had a SINGLE successful long run. The fuel I'd been trying and tweaking only got me so far in each race. The taper was upon me and I'd run out of time to test any other methods. I would be trying an entirely new fueling system in the longest race I'd done in seven years. WHAT COULD POSSIBLY GO WRONG?

Betrayal. My beloved Vasque Transistor FS, the shoes I've worn during all my long trail runs for the past three years, were causing me ankle pain even on short runs. I'd have to rely on my Asics road running shoes and my seldom-worn (and never tested on trail) Brooks Pure Cadence for most of the 70 miles. 

Experimenting with Potions. I had decided to try Vespa Junior for my fueling strategy. The ingredients read a bit like a recipe for witch's potion:
  • Filtered water
  • Orange juice
  • Honey
  • Royal jelly 
  • Bee propolis 
  • Wasp extract
  • Eye of Newt (ok, kidding on this one)

According to the website, it helps the body utilize fat stores for energy, especially if your daily diet is Paleo/low carb. You still eat some carbohydrate during the run, but much less than you'd otherwise need. It also appealed to me because I could avoid consuming a lot of sugar.

The plan: Consume one Vespa 45 minutes before the race began, then every three hours. I'd eat baby food squeeze packets and LARABARS for carbohydrates. I filled my hydration pack with good plain water, and took a page from
my favorite American Women's 24-Hour Record Holder and ate pieces of Nuun for my electrolytes. Fizzy!

I reigned in my pace out of respect for the difficult course, and to assess whether my fuel was going to work. I felt curiously optimistic.

LH 2013 Elevation according to my Garmin

There's a bit of climbing in the first 9 miles ...

Magical Occurrences. I started the race not truly expecting to finish, but determined to enjoy the miles I ran. I made a promise to myself to stay positive and not let a single complaint escape my lips. I felt well-rested and strong. My improved climbing ability thrilled me. The temperatures stayed cool. Hubz crewed for me, and his steady, take command style was the perfect fit, as usual. My fuel seemed to be working.

Three Pairs of Shoes. My Asics GT-2000 road shoes worked better than expected on the wet, steep trail. One drawback: I felt every pebble and twig. By Mile 39 my feet were tender, so I switched to my Vasques, hoping they'd work. But they had turned against me. Within a couple of miles, they began to hurt. The next chance I had, at mile 46, I swapped them for my yet-to-be-tested-on-trails Brooks Pure Cadence. They were the good fairy in this tale. Cushioned and protective, roomy in the toebox yet snug enough to prevent my foot from slipping, they delivered me through the perilous woods.

Leaving Mile 57 Checkpoint
Leaving Mile 57 Checkpoint. It's not yet dark, no idea why my headlight is on.

Solitude. I ran alone from Mile 20 on, but for a few short conversations with other runners. I was making up time and feeling good, and enjoying the silence. Memories of my last race here came flooding back as I recognized each section of trail and drank it in. I couldn't wait to see what awaited me around the next bend.  

Rejuvenation. All the anxiety, doubts and worries I'd been carrying drained away with my rhythmic steps. A deep peacefulness settled into my soul.

I didn't want it to end. Until about six miles from the finish, I was enjoying every moment. Yes, oh yes, I was sore and stiff and hurting, but what I was gaining was worth all that and much more.

I chose to leave my camera behind. No matter. No photograph can capture the way the waning sunlight sets the field of ferns aglow at Bearpen Hollow, nor the satisfying cadence of running those gentle downhills. It can't convey the cloying scent of the flora and damp grass, the sounds of alternating calls of birds as they settle in for the night, the peeping of frogs in the darkness, the staccato of thousands of light rain drops hitting the tree canopy but never reaching you, the silence in between.

I have often remarked that the Laurel Highlands Hiking Trail is my favorite. Yet I was repeatedly surprised and moved by the surrounding beauty as I ran. I felt grateful to be out on these trails. I was so glad I decided to run despite my qualms.

At the Finish Line with my sweet obelisk of victory!
A Happy Ending


  1. Many, many congrats Kirsten! A positive attitude (almost) always prevails. And so do the PureCadence. An amazingly well-rounded shoe. Girlfriend just bought a pair and I just might be able to turn her into a runner again.

    Anyway, thanks for the report. Great job again. Rest up and recover well.


  2. LOVE THIS. Miss you, friend.

  3. So happy for you, Kir! Laurel is indeed a magical trail, and how wonderful that you had such a great experience with Hubz crewing and bossin. You are running very smart...way to go!!

  4. What a wonderful race report! You captured your thoughts and experience so well that I didn't want it to end. I hope you're still feeling the high of your amazing accomplishment. Congrats!

  5. Just lovely. There's no need for photos of the beautiful sights you saw—you beautifully captured all the lovely things you felt, which is even more important. Congrats on a race well-enjoyed!

  6. Simply Awesome, Congratulations!

  7. Beautiful, Kir. Absolutely beautiful. Proud of you, friend.

  8. Congrats again Kir!! I'm so glad it all worked out so well, you are an ispiration!! <3 you!!

  9. YAY! Great job and congrats on such a good race!

  10. Amazing. Congratulations on enjoying every minute of it.

  11. Congratulations!! It sounds like a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Your report made me want to get out there and train for a 70 miler. Almost. ;-)

  12. And that trophy (and the satisfaction it represents) is better than any prince a fairy tale princess could ever find!

    Congratulations on a race well run!

  13. Great race report, and Congratulations on conquering the course!! :)

  14. Awesome! Awesome! Awesome, Kirstin! So happy for you, and I loved your race report! Loved hearing that you enjoyed every minute - that is the kind of thing that keeps me running, so thanks for sharing it.

  15. Kir, so great to hear your race went so well. No doubt that it was only a matter of time before your n=1 tinkering would figure out the right way to fuel and really kick some ass out there.

    I remember a twitter convo with me, you, Katie and Whole9 where it was recommended to up the carb intake day-to-day. Did you ramp up the sweet potato consumption in the weeks leading up to Laurel? Or do you attribute your success to the addition of Vespa? My working hypothesis is that folks newer to paleo would benefit from Vespa since it encourages a faster push into the utilization of fat for fuel, whereas longer-term paleos naturally tend to gravitate to this and the Vespa might not be as much benefit. Since I can usually go 4 hours sans calories on runs before getting hungry, I'll grab some Vespa and see if it pushes that hunger further out.

    Congrats, again! Hope your recovery is going well.

    1. I have upped my high carb veggie intake, but I did that before Capon Valley too and it didn't seem to make a difference.

      My hunch is that I
      a) just took longer to get "fat-adapted"
      b) need to add more fat to my sweet potato baby food-applesauce-coconut milk fuel mix AND
      c) probably add protein at a certain distance, based on my good run at Kerry's Death March (and consumption of Elkwallow burger halfway). Six miles from the end of LH70, my legs REALLY started to hurt. I'm glad it wasn't a 100 miler!

  16. Congratulations - now you have a set of book-ends

  17. Hey there, you passed me by in the last miles - you were going strong/I was going slow, we shared how delighted we were to be under 10 miles to go. Great blog post! :-) Perry

    1. Ah yes! Congrats on your finish, Perry. Hope to see you on trail again soon.

  18. Hey Congrats, I was just wondering what hydration pack you use. I have one with all the pockets in the back which makes things really difficult.

    1. I use the Nathan HPL #020. It has 2 decent sized pockets in the front which will fit some gels or other food, a small camera, or whatever you want to be able to quickly access. It also has a back pocket. I like the way it rides (no bouncing or slipping).

    2. Thanks, I will definitely look into that.

  19. Great run out there, with the right set of mind!!!

  20. Moose from ohio says you where awesome , 6 years later and with no pacer you where within six minutes of the other great finish there. More than anything is the late race charge you put on to finish so well. You looked great and I loved talking to the guy with the two minnow buckets.

    1. Aw, this comment made me smile so big! 2006 was so much fun trading places on that last section and Bob C. singing ...


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