Laurel Highlands Ultra

History of the 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.

The next big change was the addition of a fifty kilometer race in 2006. The 50k race is also a point-to-point race, beginning in Ohiopyle and ending at the trailhead near Route 31. The course is one of the more difficult 50k's in the country as it climbs out of the Youghiogheny River Gorge before traversing the terrain around the area ski resorts.

The 2009 race saw both the men's and women's course records fall. Adam Hill from Ontario, Canada broke the men's course record by a scant ten seconds. Martha Nelson shattered the womens course record by forty-four minutes. Martha also finished second overall in what was her first ultra. Not a bad introduction to ultrarunning!


50K Race Winners and Statistics

Year Men's Winner Time Women's Winner Time Starters Finishers
2006 Ian Schouten 4:32:16 Katherine Bogard 6:19:27 46 46
2007 Jeff Kosiorek 5:05:52 Mary Kreis 5:51:53 44 42
2008 Ed Lyman 5:07:11 Mary Kowalski 6:13:19 47 44
2009 Adam Hill 4:32:06 Martha Nelson 5:07:40 57 55
2010 Joshua Finger 4:57:33 Laren Rusin 6:50:56 83 69
2011 Micah Scott 5:11:23 Perla Rodriguez 5:48:44 112 93
2012 John Wallace 4:34:47 Monica Duffell 5:29:07 114 94
2013 Enos Benbow 5:06:47 Nicole Hughie-Terry 5:19:03 104 95
2014 Greg Lackey 4:52:51 Candi Lockard 6:28:36 65 57
2015 Alex White 4:40:45 Kate Hails 5:19:08 91 83
2016 Jaron Martin 4:48:17 Stacey Falk 6:03:39 93 76

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