Laurel Highlands Ultra

History of the 70.5 mile race

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The following is a brief history of the Laurel Highlands Ultra. Much of this history was printed by Mel Cowgill after the 1999 race. It also appears in the race recap for that year. Thank-you Mel, for providing this information.

The Laurel Highlands Ultra began as the "ultra challenge" in the late 1970's when brothers Joe and Paul Butchko discovered the Laurel Highlands Hiking Trail. The trail had just been completed by the State of Pennsylvania as a permanently marked hiking trail along the Laurel Ridge in the Southwestern corner of the state. The two brothers began running sections of the trail and soon decided to try and run the entire length in one day. So they invited a few friends to join them and the race was born.

That first attempt proved a true challenge, as none of the runners made it past fifty-seven miles that day. The first official run was held the following year (1980) with seven starters. Four of the runners made it to the finish line in Seward. Joe Butchko was one of those finishers. His brother Paul served as the official timer, and has remained as the race timer to this day. The race began at the southern terminus of the trail, running north for seventy miles. Each mile is permanently marked with small concrete monuments. The first two editions of the race, 1980 and 1981, were seventy miles long. In 1982 the starting line was moved back, next to the falls in Ohiopyle State Park, thus adding the extra mileage that now makes the course 70.5 miles long. Although, as many runners will attest, the final mile in Seward seems short.

The Laurel Highlands Ultra has many unique features. It is one of the few point-to-point trail races in existence. During its first twenty years, this feature also made it one the toughest races, as each runner was responsible for his/her own aid along the course. It was quite a scene to see a runners crew moving between road crossing so that their runner would be well supplied with food and fluids. The more adventurous of the crews were able to locate unmarked or well hidden roads that allowed them to access their runners at more points along the course.

In the year 2000, for the twenty first running of the race, Tim and Loreen Hewitt took over the duties of race directors, adding many changes to the race. The cut-off time was increased from eighteen hours to twenty-two hours. Aid stations were added at the timing checkpoints and at a few other access areas. A team relay was also added to give runners a taste of the Laurel Highlands Hiking Trail without a full committment. These changes proved very positive to the race, as the number of entries increased. The finishers rate also improved dramatically due to the changes.

As we entered our fourth decade of racing a new challenge presented itself as the bridge that carried the trail over the PA Turnpike was closed by the DCNR due to structural defects. Not wanting to change the spririt of a point-to-point race, it was decided that a detour would be put in place. The detour routed runners onto gravels roads in order to safely cross the Turnpike, before rejoining the trail on the Northern side of the road. The detour was approximately eight (8) miles, and cut about two (2) miles out of the actual trail, resulting in a net gain of six (6) miles. As a result of the added mileage, the time limit for the race was increased to twenty-four (24) hours.

In late January of 2012 the new bridge over the PA Turnpike was officially opened to the public. This news meant that the race returned to its traditional 70.5 format with a time limit of twenty-two hours. The return to the 70.5 format insures that the 77 mile record holders will stay intact, at least until the bridge has to be re-built sometime in the distant future.

A new women's course record was established in 2012. Debbie Livingston surpassed the record set by Alice Thurau twenty-two years earlier, by almost twelve minutes. This was the longest standing course record for the LHU. Debbie now holds the women's course record for both the traditional course and the long course. The race set another record in 2012. There were 123 starters and 85 finishers in the 70.5 mile race, the most ever.

The women's course record was lowered again in 2016 by Robin Watkins. With a time of 13:23:21, eleven minutes were shaved off the record set just four years earlier. Robin, along with her husband Adam became the first husband and wife winners in their respective divisions. The number of starters again increased, to 137. However, the finishers rate fell to 62.8% as only 86 runners reached the finish line under the twnety-two hour time limit.

For the second year in a row, a new women's course record was established as Sarah Schubert won in 2017 with a time of 13:18:58, a little over four minutes than last year's record. We also saw over one hundred finishers for only the second time, as the weather was much more cooperative than the previous few years'.

2019 was an excellent year for those attempting a personal record on the course. The weather stayed cool for most of the day with lower humidity than usual and only a brief period of rain. The women's course record was broken agian, this time by Leah Yingling, finishing in 13:17:48.

Women's Course Record for the 70.5 mile race

Race Winners and Statistics

Year Men's Winner Time Women's Winner Time Starters Finishers
1980 D.C. Nokes 14:05:00     9 4
1981 Scott Miller/Dan Brannen 12:49:56 Lorna Richey 17:05:19 38 16
1982 Greg Murphy 12:07:53 Mitzi Heinsheid 18:15:05 40 20
1983 Warren Fink 11:55:44 Joanne Robinson 17:46:17 40 10
1984 Lee Emerson 13:00:30     41 18
1985 Marty Howsare/Tom Possert 12:40:09 Sandra Stepp 18:50:32 40 20
1986 Tom Possert 11:56:18     28 13
1987 Jonathan Dehart 12:07:58     28 10
1988 Jonathan Dehart 11:48:28 Eileen Eliot 16:55:57 28 19
1989 Ed Motosicky 13:13:21     31 20
1990 Tom Possert 11:39:06 Alice Thurau 13:46:07 33 17
1991 Terry Crompton 12:09:54 Jill Julin 17:36:50 30 18
1992 Tom Possert 11:46:47 Suzi Thibeault 17:43:37 50 26
1993 Tom Possert 11:11:55     29 20
1994 Chris Gibson/Tom Possert 11:46:23 Nancy Hamilton 16:45:08 30 16
1995 Eric Clifton 11:57:39 Jill Julin 17:34:22 37 14
1996 Tom Possert 12:25:44 Deborah Askew 14:53:12 30 18
1997 Jonathan Strayer 10:59:37 Shelly Wunsch 17:12:34 22 15
1998 Courtney Campbell (70.5 mile course record) 10:43:34 Colleen Dulin 17:47:11 24 15
1999 Tim Hewitt 13:00:05 Jeanne Christie 17:18:17 21 16
2000 Courtney Campbell 11:25:27 Debra Reno 18:46:00 46 23
2001 Andy Herr 11:04:08 Karen Shiley 14:45:40 69 55
2002 Courtney Campbell 11:00:53 Sue Johnston 14:26:17 67 55
2003 Ian Schouten 12:12:20 Marcia Peters 16:33:05 49 34
2004 Andrew Herr 12:10:07 Donna Utakis 14:38:07 66 46
2005 Eric Linder 13:19:45 Donna Utakis 14:21:59 82 56
2006 Leigh Schmitt 11:27:13 Connie Gardner 14:21:21 85 68
2007 Adam Lint 12:11:44 Francesca Conte 14:05:00 94 70
2008 Randy Miller 13:13:06 Joanne Fenninger 15:35:37 69 47
2009 Sean Andrish 11:41:37 Amy Sproston 14:02:41 94 72
2010 Angus Repper 14:25:36 Callie James 17:09:48 116 58
2011 Derek Schultz (77 mile course record) 13:17:20 Debbie Livingston (77 mile course record) 16:27:33 86 55
2012 Brian Rusiecki 11:30:37 Debbie Livingston 13:34:12 123 85
2013 Devon Olson 12:05:27 Karey Elliott 14:55:37 110 77
2014 Devon Olson 11:50:23 Mary Beth Strickler 16:01:13 125 104
2015 Doug Stephens 13:20:15 Tina Jeon 13:50:21 123 81
2016 Adam Watkins 12:14:30 Robin Watkins 13:23:21 137 86
2017 Michael Heimes 12:27:22 Sarah Schubert 13:18:58 143 106
2018 Brian Dugovich 13:47:20 Emma Paras 15:00:10 131 85
2019 Cameron Stauffer 13:03:04 Leah Yingling 13:17:48136 95


Copyright © 2005 - 2019 Richard Freeman