For four decades now, men and women have come from all corners of the country to partake in a grueling trek over the Laurel Highlands region.
Dubbed the Laurel Highlands Ultra Race, the 70-mile event tests endurance and strength as participants make their way from Ohiopyle to Seward.
More than 100 runners hit the ground Saturday morning in unseasonably mild, nice weather.
Rick Freeman, one of the race directors, laughed as he said it was one of their best years. Having been used to hot, humid weather or soaking rains, Freeman said it was nice to have beautiful weather with cool temperatures at the start, and no humidity.
“It got decently warm in the afternoon, but not like it usually does,” he said.
Weather plays a big role in how runners do in the race. Rain can make the single-lane course muddy with dangerously slick rocks underfoot. High humidity can make the air thick and muggy, and tire the runners out much quicker than normal.
Ironically, though, the mild and beautiful weather might have been deceptive to some.
“It surprised me that we didn’t have a higher finishing rate,” eh said, noting that he expected the rate to be close to 80 percent, but it was still in the mid-60s as it traditionally is. “I think with the nice weather, everyone went out to fast and just didn’t have enough energy at the end.”
Overall, Freeman said it was a successful race with no major problems or injuries, aside than typical soreness.
“The first woman, she was close to winning overall,” Freeman said, referring to Leah Yingling, whose overall finish time was 13:17:48. Yingling, a Johnstown native, remained just over ten minutes behind the lead finisher, Cameron Stauffer, who finished with a time of 13:03:04.
Freeman applauded Yingling’s efforts, as she set a new course record for women. He also laughed as he recalled her saying that she had to rush off afterwards because her bridal shower was the next day.
“She was quite a runner,” he said.
Other top finishers for the 70-mile race were: Buck Kinney with a time of 13:39:16; Michael Fisher with a time of 14:10:20; Chris Pabian with a time of 14:13:24; and Joshua Thomas with a time of 14:36:26.
Of the runners this year, many were repeat offenders; folks that Freeman said “kept coming back for more.” There were also dozens of new faces that came to tackle the challenging course.
“They were from all over, not just from around here. People that live in other states tend to come back here, some because it’s where they great up and they wanted to see family and do the race,” Freeman said. “Everyone has a Pittsburgh connection — somebody knows somebody. It’s pretty neat.”
“They all said how much they enjoy the trail. Hopefully they’ll come back to the area. It helps fill up restaurants and hotels,” Freeman added.
Many of the racers use the race as a qualifier for the Western States 100-Mile Endurance Run in California, among other larger racing events.
“People look at it and think they can qualify and not have to run 100 miles — but many people will tell you that it runs like 100 miles,” he said with a laugh. “It’s a tough course.”