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2008 Slim Pickins FA

Posted Jan 27 2009 8:24pm
The annual Slim Pickins FA run, which is organized by the NEO Trail Club and only open to members, took place yesterday. Leading up to this run I told everyone that it looked like we were going to have really nice weather compared to last year. Well, I must have jinxed us because shortly after that a winter storm warning was issued for much of the Great Lakes region on Friday into Saturday. I was a little concerned that my drive over to PA after work on Friday would be treacherous but luckily we didn't get as much snow as they were forecasting. Of course in the mountains they always get a decent amount!

Friday night I arrived at the Fairfield Inn & Suites by Marriott in New Stanton, PA around 7pm and waited for Bob and Jim, who were finishing their dinner after already enjoying 7 hours of trail time. While I was waiting for them I checked my email on the computer in the lobby and received a message from Eric (new NEO Trail Club member from Pittsburgh) saying that he was going to join us in the morning. The hotel we stayed at was really nice and was just renovated this year. It's about a 40-45 minute drive to Ohiopyle where Saturday's run started from. Besides free internet, they had a breakfast bar, pool, jacuzzi (my favorite), and a nice fitness room. Our room also had a flat screen TV, microwave, and refrigerator. But what really put the icing on the cake was Jim's ability to get us the room at a rate where we only had to pay $12 each for both nights!

Before heading to bed I went to Subway across the street and ordered a foot long pizza sub, knowing that I'd need the extra calories on Saturday. This was the first Subway I've been to where they had a drive thru. Then I layed out my gear for the run to make sure I had everything and after enjoying a few Sierra Nevada beers it was lights out around 10:30.

In the morning we woke up shortly after 5am, got ready, and then stopped at McDonald's before driving to the start of the run. I ordered a McSkillet burrito, sausage McMuffin, and two hash browns. This is one of the reasons why I love ultra running! After arriving at the Ohiopyle Visitor's Center around 6:45, I walked over to the Falls Inn and used their outdoor restroom. It was freezing this morning (around 18 degrees) and the high was only supposed to get up near 30... brrrr! Runners began pulling in and after a group photo we were off and running a little bit after 7:00.

From left to right: Dan, Jim, Me, Kim, Bob, Les, Roy & Eric

The plan for this year's Slim Pickins run was to start in Ohiopyle and run out 26 miles to Seven Springs and back for a total of 52 miles. Since this is an FA run though everyone can choose to do whatever distance they'd like. My original intent was to run the whole thing but I decided to look at my watch around 7 hours into the run, see where I was at, and then make a judgement call from there.

During the first 5 miles you basically climb up and over a couple mountains, gaining a lot of elevation quick. Click here to view an elevation profile of the trail. This makes your body work hard early on but the good thing is it makes you generate a lot of much needed body heat and at the top of each peak you are rewarded with breathtaking views of the Youghiogheny River and Ohiopyle valley. Here are some photos I took on the way up. The sunrise over the mountains was beautiful to watch and made the uphills seem a lot easier...

The snow made running the downhills really fun but you couldn't get too relaxed because of the rocks and roots that were covered up. A few times I turned my ankle but nothing serious. Just enough to make me wake up and pay attention. I mainly ran alone for the first half of the run but was able to share some trail time with Eric and Roy.

In between miles 5 and 6 your legs get a short break from the uphills, but it doesn't last for long, because at mile 6 you start heading up the monster 3 mile hill which takes you to mile 9. This is always hard to get to the top of, but the 3-4 inches of snow on the trail made it even tougher. The only reprieve is being able to take in the views on your way up...

On top of the ridges and in open areas the wind was roaring through the trees and at times I think it probably gusted to 25+ mph. Throughout the day I felt like I dressed warm enough for the conditions, but as Bob suggested I should probably purchase a shell jacket soon to wear as a protective layer when the weather gets really cold and windy. Even with the right gear though it didn't take long to get cold today if you stopped for any period of time. I tried to keep my breaks to 5 minutes or so, unless I was protected by a hillside or rock wall. One thing I was glad I decided to do was wear my gaiters for the first time today. They worked well and prevented any snow from getting inside my shoes and collecting on my socks, but I was a little annoyed by the snow/ice buildup on the string that goes underneath the shoe.

I kept trudging along and soon I was approaching 15.5 miles. After looking at my watch and doing some math in my head I figured it was best to turn around and complete a 50K (31 miles) rather than continue on to Seven Springs. I knew that if I kept going to mile 20 then I would be tempted to continue to mile 26, and that would force me to be out on the trail in the dark for longer than I wanted to be. Around this time I started hoping I'd see either Jim or Dan heading towards me so that I could run back with someone. Much to my surprise I saw someone heading towards me... and that person was Dan! It was funny because he had the same game plan in his head too. We had fun chatting on our way back and it made the miles go by a little quicker. A few miles after turning around we ran into Bob, followed by Kim and Les. Here's a picture of Les as well as a couple photos that Kim took of Dan and I with mile marker 14 in the background. Notice that I'm actually smiling in the 2nd picture...

This is definitely one of my favorite trails to run on. Not only do they have markers at each mile, but they have numerous foot bridges built to take you overtop of streams. Here is a bridge that goes through one of my favorite pine tree sections. Notice in the 2nd picture how much deeper the snow was on the foot bridges compared to the trail...

Dan and I made pretty good time on our return trip and pushed the uphills and downhills on the last 9 miles to finish in 9 hours, 45 minutes. The best part was we finished just before sunset so we didn't need to use our lights. After we were done we went back to our cars to get some warm clothes, but not before waiting another 10 minutes in the cold as a train passed through Ohiopyle...


Dan then decided to drive back home immediately after the run. I went over to the Falls City Pub, which is conveniently located right next to the start of the Laurel Highlands trail, to enjoy some much needed food, refreshments and warmth, while waiting on the runners still out on the trail. I ordered the grilled chicken wrap, which had onions, peppers, and mushrooms in it, and had some Arrogant Bastard and Great Lakes beer. While I was eating I was able to enjoy watching my alma mater Penn State crush Michigan St. to win the Big Ten and advance to the Rose Bowl. Man, I felt like I had died and gone to heaven. An hour and a half later Bob came into the bar, followed by Kim, who came walking into the bar with her headlamp still on. That was pretty funny. Then Jim and Roy came in (Jim ran 50 miles and Roy did 40) and we all enjoyed each others company before leaving to pick up the aid that was stashed out on the trail. Once we got back to our hotel, Bob, Jim and I used the jacuzzi to loosen up our muscles, had a few beers, and headed to bed.

As always it was another great event and we were already talking about plans for next year's run. Man, someone needs to win the Mega Millions soon so that we can do this everyday!

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