Laurel Valley is a 35 mile unsupported trail run on the border of North and South Carolina. There is no aid and no way to drop out, unless you go back to the start. You carry your own food and first aid and refill your water at stream crossings. The course involves single-track trail and some old forest roads that have been converted to trail. The climbs are very steep and frequent, but not incredibly long. The race ends at Whitewater Falls, the highest waterfall east of the Mississippi. Unfortunately, to get to the finish line, you start from the bottom of the falls and crawl to the top on a steep rocky trail. As race director Claude Sinclair has put it, this is a race that scares off some runners and attracts others. This is the fifth year I have run Laurel Valley and I just think of it as a long training run. I’m doing what I would be doing on the weekend anyway, running in the woods without any support.
This year, as I crawled out of bed at 3:30, I thought to myself that I didn’t remember getting up quite this early in the past. But I missed last year’s race because of my injury, so I didn’t trust my memory from two years ago. And then when we started the race at 6:00, it was very dark. It has never been dark before and I have never carried a light. I tried to follow people with lights, but that didn’t really help as the first part of the run is very rooty and rocky. So, in the dark, I tripped, “twanging” my hamstring. I learned later that the darkness was not nature gone awry, but the race started a half hour earlier than usual.
It got light enough to see around 20 minutes into the race, and despite the sore hamstring (and an inability to breathe at first) I felt pretty good. But about 45 minutes into the run on a nice downhill, I caught my toe on a rock and really pulled the hamstring. I stopped and stretched it, but could only limp down the hill. Lacking common sense when it comes to injuries, I continued on, thinking that maybe it would loosen up. It didn’t hurt on the uphills, but I was exceedingly slow on the flats and downhills. I was very frustrated as other runners passed me in areas where I should have been making good time. I knew that this year I could break my PR (7:53), but not now with my hop/limp/lope. After an hour or so of frustration, I decided that I might actually try to enjoy the run for once, since I was forced to do it at a slower pace. After awhile, my gait adapted, and although it was still very slow, I was able to “run” without pain. I finished the run in 8:50, an hour slower than I wanted, but I will take that with a grade 2 hamstring pull.