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.
HOME Copyright © 2005 - 2015 Richard Freeman
Race Winners and Statistics
Scott Miller/Dan Brannen
Marty Howsare/Tom Possert
Chris Gibson/Tom Possert
Courtney Campbell (70.5 mile course record)
Derek Schultz (77 mile course record)
Debbie Livingston (77 mile course record)
Debbie Livingston (70.5 mile course record)
Mary Beth Strickler
Copyright © 2005 - 2015 Richard Freeman