Laurel Highlands Ultra: 3 Trail Runners Show You How It's Done

Ever wonder what it's like to run the Laurel Highlands Ultra in Pennsylvania? 
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In this article, three trail runners show you how it's done...

On June 8, 2024, the Laurel Highlands Ultra, directed by Redpoint Productions celebrated it’s: 

  • 45th anniversary of the 70-mile race 
  • 19th anniversary of the 50k

Here's what happened...

Photo by Goat Factory Media

The Laurel Highlands Ultra race course

The Laurel Highlands Ultra is a point-to-point race beginning at mile marker zero (the southern terminus) in Ohiopyle, Pa., running north along the Laurel Highlands Hiking Trail (LHHT), a forested single-track with rocks, roots, mud and big climbs. 
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The 50k ends at Jones Mills while the 70.5 mile ends in Seward, the northern terminus. 
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The entire trail, part of Laurel Ridge State Park, is clearly marked with yellow blazes, well-maintained and remains on one linear path the entire time with one exception: 

  • Miles 26 to 28.5 meander through Seven Springs Ski Resort. Large posts garnering the LHHT’s yellow hiker symbol guide through hikers and runners in the correct direction, and pin flags and caution tape are set out on race day. 

Race distance options

  • 70.5 miles (a Western States 100 qualifier)
  • 70.5-mile relay (consisting of two to five people)
  • 50k
  • 50k relay (consisting of two to three people)

Elevation

  • The steepest sections of trail are at the beginning, in the southern half, meaning 50k racers experience the toughest stuff. 
  • The last 20 of the 70.5-miles are more or less the least technical and flattest, until the final three, which is a descent to the finish.
Laurel Highlands Ultra 50k elevation chart: My watch has clocked approximately varying elevation, from 6,000 to 6,490 feet of ascent and around 4,837 feet of descent.

Terrain
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The LHHT is classic Pennsylvania (or Rocksylvania as it’s known in trail talk) single track: 

  • Rocky, many encased in moss and lichen
  • Often wet
  • Riddled with roots
  • Short, punchy hills
  • Half-mile to one-mile ascents and descents
  • Some smooth, flowing sections thrown in for good measure

Swag
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Racers received:

  • A soft cotton t-shirt (available in XS, thank you!) 
  • Finisher’s medal
  • Glass mug with LH Ultra emblem

Three Racers Recap the 2024 50K🏃‍♀️🏃‍♀️🏃‍♂️

Cunningham finishes the 2024 LH Ultra 50k in 6:07:24 (Photo/ Keli Decarlo)
  • ⏱️Time: 6:07:35
  • 🏃‍♀️Fifth Female

Cunningham has finished the official 50k race four times plus one solo unsupported effort and the 50k relay once:

  • 2019: 6:49, fourth female (injured & sick)
  • 2020 solo, unsupported: 6:35
  • 2020: 6:02, first female
  • 2021: 6:12, first female (flash flood, severe lightning thunder rainstorm from miles 8 to 19)
  • 2022: relay, 4:55, first place mixed
  • 2024: 6:07, fifth female

Previous recaps: 

The 2024 50K
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😀Race Favorites

  • Sunny, 70-degree weather with no humidity and a light, steady breeze. Unheard of! 
  • Talking and laughing with fellow racers for the first 20 miles
  • Socializing before, during, after 
  • About 20 miles in, I picked up the pace and didn’t see anyone except for the 70-milers who had a two-hour earlier start time than the 50k racers, so it was fun to cheer for them as I passed by and to not get passed by anyone
  • Seeing how many pieces of trash I could pick up - 8 total, including an unused GU Rocktane and an empty Salomon soft flask - let me know if they’re yours!

😭Difficult Moments

  • Chafing, a first! My husband saved me with a fresh pair of shorts at mile 18/19, and my friend gave me her chapstick, which I used for the last 12 miles. 
Mile 18/19 crew area at Laurel Ridge (Photo/ Keli Decarlo)

😋Food & Drink

First 11 miles: 

Middle eight miles: 

Last 12 miles: 

Result of fueling: 

  • No bonking or ups and downs, energy stayed steady 
  • No cramping
  • Never hit a wall
  • Finished fast and strong
  • Felt like I could keep going 
  • No gut bombs
  • Couldn’t urinate for many hours afterward, bloodshot eyes and salty skin-  maybe I’m a heavy sweater and needed more Pickle Juice Shots

👟Gear & Shoes

Trail Run Tribe friends Colleen O’Neil (left), Andrea Detwiler (middle) and Brynn Cunningham trained together for their local 50k and made it in the top 10 at, 8th, 10th and 5th, respectively. (Photo/ Keli Decarlo)

What would you do differently? 

  • Use a one-liter hydration bladder in the third vest that I switch into at mile 19 rather than a two-liter (see fueling above)

Why this race? 

  • It’s my local 50k, starting in my hometown of Ohiopyle! 
Detwiler finishes the 2024 LH Ultra 50k in 7:07:18 (Photo/ Keli Decarlo)
  • ⏱️Time: 7:07:18
  • 🏃‍♀️10th Female 

😀Race Favorites

  • Being on a beautiful single track point-to-point hiking trail for (almost) the entire distance
  • The blooming mountain laurel and creeks
  • The awesome aid station volunteers
  • Running on a local trail that I've been hiking and running sections of for 15 years (and not having to travel far to get to the race), 
  • The near-perfect conditions weather-wise that day. 
  • Oh and that I beat my time from 2021 (the only other time I ran this race) by 33 minutes and finished without injury.  

😭Difficult Moments  

  • I'd say the Seven Springs ski area section, lasting from the last aid station to about a mile before the finish (miles 26-29ish). 
  • There's a long semi-steep downhill in that section that was hard on my body that far into the race (I was able to run but not as fast as I'd like on a downhill) followed immediately by a seemingly never-ending uphill climb. 
  • Despite not being nearly as long as earlier ascents in the race, I became viscerally angry at that hill, and it seemed far, far worse than it actually was. Fortunately the last mile is relatively flat and goes through a beautiful pine forest which helped turn my mood around. 

Food & Drink
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I started with: 

  • A two-liter hydration bladder filled with Tailwind Endurance Fuel that I partially filled up twice (at the last two aid stations), once with more Tailwind and then with Skratch powder from the last aid station. 
  • Also a 17-ounce soft flask filled with ice water

I ate:

  • About five to six ProBar chews 
  • A Honey Stinger Waffle
  • About a one-inch piece of dark chocolate
  • Some cubed potato and 
  • Salted clementines (all of which I brought with me) 

Then a few little treats from the aid stations:

  • Some pretzels
  • Goldfish crackers
  • A pickle
  • Along with a couple cups of water and Skratch 
Mile 18/19 crew area at Laurel Ridge (Photo/ Keli Decarlo)

👟Gear & Shoes 

What would you do differently? 

  • Honestly, I can't think of anything in particular. I'm not sure if it could go any better than it did. 

Why this race? 

  • Because it's a local point-to-point race, so I didn't have to travel far
  • I've been running on this trail for a while (see question one haha)
  • Also, after running the relay the last two years and the 50K in 2021, I felt that I needed to do the 50K again after that initial hurdle of "can I even do this?" had been answered
  • ⏱️Time: 6:37:54

😀Race Favorites

  • Ever-changing terrain and difficult climbs
  • The amazing help at each aid station 
  • Location in the amazing Ohiopyle, Pa. Our group of 10 from Ohio enjoy hanging in the downtown area. 

😭Difficult Moments 

  • Hit a real low period at mile 16 until the aid station at mile 18 
  • Mile-long climb with about 1,000 feet of elevation at mile six
  • Final three miles- I didn’t have any legs to climb. Quads started cramping and in the final miles I slowed down, unfortunately.

Food & Drink

👟Gear & Shoes

Why this race? 

  • Over the years I met some running friends, and we signed up for the relay in 2022. In 2024 I wanted to give the whole 50k course a try with the two relay teams we brought and my friends Casey Koza and Brynn Cunningham.

Have you ran one of the Laurel Highlands ultras?

Tell us about it in the comments or create a WeeView about the race.

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Brynn Cunningham
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Trail runner, ultrarunner, white water boater, cyclist (mostly MTB), swimmer, triathlete, cross country and backcountry skier...

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