Norwin graduates win Laurel Highlands Ultra relay
Josh Hooke, Joey Hawley and Cam Stumme all ran cross country at Norwin High School. However, their best long-distance running is happening now.
The trio of Norwin graduates and avid runners teamed with two other friends to win the Laurel Highlands Ultra relay over the weekend, a 70.5-mile race on the Laurel Highlands Hiking Trail that begins at Ohiopyle and ends near Johnstown.
The “St. Vincent Alumni + 1” team finished the race in 10 hours, 1 minute, 20 seconds, overcoming treacherous conditions caused by rain in the days leading up to the race and beating the second-place team by 86 minutes. It marked the third consecutive year the team finished in first place.
“This is my favorite race to do the whole year,” said Hawley, a 2007 Norwin graduate who attended West Virginia University. “I always look forward to this one, and I'm really glad I was able to perform well in the conditions.”
Hawley and Hooke, who are cousins, ran the Laurel Highlands Ultra relay each of the past three years. The race is broken into five legs, which cover 19.3, 13, 14.1, 10.7 and 13.4 miles.
Hooke, who ran cross country and track for four seasons at St. Vincent after graduating from Norwin in 2008, found out about the race after volunteering at an aid station with the St. Vincent cross country team. After graduating from St. Vincent in 2012, he teamed with Hawley and three others to win the Laurel Highlands Ultra relay in 2012 and 2013.
“I think with more experience comes more success,” Hooke said. “Even though as the years go on we get a little bit out of shape compared to the previous years (from) being out of college, we know the course better. It always helps going in knowing what the trail is like.”
Their three teammates had other commitments this year, however, so Hooke pulled in Stumme, his teammate and roommate at St. Vincent, and two more former St. Vincent teammates in Adam Smith, a Greensburg Central Catholic alumnus, and Matt Hagg.
Stumme, a 2009 Norwin graduate, ran the opening 19.3-mile leg, which includes more than 5 miles' worth of uphill climb. He said his longest race before the Laurel Highlands Ultra was 8 km, which is about 5 miles.
“I've never felt that bad after a race, so it makes me question if I want to do it again,” Stumme said. “But as time goes on, I'm sure I'll want to. I love it because your team's there. As hard as the 19.3 miles is, as hard as every consecutive mile is, as you get to the next one (and) next one, I said I wanted to keep going for Josh, who was after me. I wanted to put him in first going with the lead.”
Hooke ran the 13-mile second leg, which travels through Seven Springs Mountain Resort. Hawley ran the 14.1-mile third leg, which crosses the Pennsylvania Turnpike between New Stanton and Donegal, and tied the best time ever recorded for his leg.
The course was more difficult than usual this year because of several days of rain leading up to the race. Hawley said he was running through ankle-deep water at certain points on the trail. But the team still recorded its largest margin of victory in the past three years.
In addition to running the Laurel Highlands Ultra, Hawley, Hooke and Stumme are training partners and frequently compete in the same road races.
“We try to get together about five times a week,” Hawley said. “We'll try to get our schedules to match up. It's getting harder as we get older, but we still get together four or five times a week (and) run 7 to 9 miles a day.”
“I'm essentially Josh's brother,” Stumme said. “He lives 1.3 miles down the road from me. That definitely helps our friendship. I wouldn't rather be with anybody but Josh, running-wise.”
Hooke said he didn't know if the team would run the relay again next season or do either the 70.5-mile or 50 km individual races the Laurel Highlands Ultra offers.
“Some of the guys want to branch off and do an individual kind of thing,” he said, “but I personally think it'd be nice to keep the relay team alive until we lose.”