Highland Sky 40 miler
“A Mentally challenging course for the
June 19, 2004
by Maria Bertacchi
cannot take credit for the title of this race report, although I wish
I could. Credit belongs to the retired school teacher from Virginia,
whose name of course, I cannot recall. It’s not his fault I
can’t recall it, I was too busy trying to remain upright; and
remembering his name, his comment AND upright was more multi-tasking
than I could handle at that moment. My apologies to him and to my
plagiarism, but you know, plagiarism is all the rage these days.
Highland Sky 40 miler is a beautiful race run through the Dolly Sods
wilderness area in West Virginia. I know it’s a beautiful area,
because I have seen the brochures. I’ve not seen much of the
area/run course other than what is located directly 10 feet in front
of me and on the ground, as the course is full of beautiful rocks,
beautiful mud, beautiful roots, beautiful holes, and did I mention
rocks? Lots and lots and lots and lots of rocks. “Sod”
must be Gaellic for “rocks”.
area received 3 ¾ inches of rain on Friday, during the day.
This made all the rocks very wet, but not soft. This also made for
some amazing mud. Black, tar like goop and brownie batter colored
muck that wanted nothing better than to remove your shoes. One young
lady lost her shoes, twice, and had to fish them out. She was lucky.
Many other runners were sucked into the quagmire never to be seen
5 am, we were bused from a nice warm bed to the start. This year was
cooler than last year and no early morning fog to run in, the fog
came much later. The first two miles were on a paved road. Running
past homes with curious dogs watching us pass by. The course turns
left and we begin the first of two big climbs. Well they say, we only
have two big climbs, Charlie and I decided hours and miles into the
run that the race director, Dan Lehmann, who appears to be a very
nice, upbeat and positive person, is not to be trusted. The course
is uphill both ways.
2 to 10 is an uphill climb to aid station #2. On a trail ironically
named, “Flat Rock Trail”. There is nothing flat about the
trail (its uphill for pete’s sake!) or the rocks. Oh, sure.
Some might be flat. But they are mostly jagged, pointed things that
reach out and mug your feet. In conjunction with the goop and muck,
one did not necessarily run (or walk for that matter) – Charlie
named our technique “The Drunken Stagger”. We hoped that
all those late night drinking binges of our youth would pay off. I
believe it did since neither of us fell and we were moving well.
“Moving well” is a subjective term- we did not fall, and
we slide backwards less than we moved forward.
this race moving well, means to make it to aid station #6 at 26.6
miles before the cut off time of 7:30. Last year, the cut off time
was 7:13 (I think) and many folks did not make it. Last year I made
the cut off, with 5 minutes to spare. Charlie also made it, but with
no energy to spare and choose to drop out of the race. This year, he
was determined to finish. We figured with the additional time, we
could make the cut off and still run slow enough to have the energy
to finish. But in the backs of our minds we were also concerned.
conditions were tougher this year. The mud was muckier and the
footing was tenuous in lots of spot - I am sure others will write
race reports that contradict this assessment- these will be people
who had time to shower, change, take a nap, eat lunch, read “War
and Peace” all before I ever finished the race. While I felt I
was in better shape this year, I also felt as if I was working harder
to just keep my shoes on and remain upright.
get to the infamous cut off aid station, one needs to run on “the
road across the sky”. That is what Dan calls it. He, as I
mentioned before is a very nice, upbeat, sort of guy. With the
gangly, thin physique of a really good runner. He fervently believes
that one can make up lots of time when one finally gets off the
trails, onto this road. He also believes the course gets “easier”
after aid station #6. He also believes in the Easter Bunny.
hit the Bataan Death March road (so dubbed by me last year. It’s
a rolling, hilly road, with no trees. You can see for a mile or two
ahead. All you could see, last year, were the staggering forms of
roasted runners, lurching forward, as this was the one spot, all day
that the sun decided to make an appearance.). Fortunately this year,
we had no sun and a ½ hour more in which to hit the cut off
aid station. We also were feeling not so bad and did indeed run/walk
this section quicker.
is also the section of trail where Jim Cavanaugh picked up Sharon and
Lisa, and spontaneously became the team: Jim and the Jimettes.
good news is we made it to aid station #6 with a ½ hour to
spare (and 8 minutes earlier than I had arrived last year! Yay!).
The bad news is the trail does not get “easier”. It gets
“different”. You slog through a bog. Come to think of
it, the bog was probably drier than the first part of the course.
Back in to tar colored mud, we went. Mud that made really cool
sucking noises every time you yanked your foot up (if you had the
energy to actually pick up your feet). The wind also picked up in
here as did the rain, and I began to get cold.
another (surprise) climb UP, up up up up up and for good measure, up
some more, until we could no longer see anything because we had
entered a cloud. Okay maybe it was just fog, but I like the thought
of being in a cloud. It was raining/misting on us. We were having a
hard time picking out the little orange flags marking the trail.
Last year the course went over a field of rocks, to a lovely scenic
overlook. We went the same way this year, but could see nothing, not
even each other. We wandered off course, found a flag, then heard a
voice and went that way. A volunteer dressed in a yellow poncho
guided us by voice to the aid station. I think he had wings and a
this aid station #7 to #8, the course changed from last year. The
ski resort allowed a motorcross race to occur at the same time, and
apparently their course, crossed and used our course. So when we got
to the ski slope, instead of going downhill, we went up (didn’t
I say this course went uphill?)- further into the cloud. Due to the
motorcross race, the race director Dan literally had to bushwhack a
new 3 or so mile loop for us. There was no trail for most of this,
just ribbons to follow in the trees with some interesting downhill
butt sliding spots. Of course at this point, Jim, the Jimettes,
Charlie and Paul from Bethesda, disappeared into the murk. I was
slowing way down because I was growing more and more fatigued.
I popped out of some trees and found Charlie waiting for me. After
scolding him about not waiting for me (no need for him to NOT get a
finisher’s shirt just because I was bonking)-on we went, for
more downhill (okay I lied. The course has at least ONE downhill)
through the trees, hoping the motorcross guys would not lose control
and come careening off their course on to ours. We hit aid station
this aid station to the end it is mostly road. I have never been so
happy to see a road in my life. No rocks chewing on my feet and
tripping me. No mud pulling at my shoes. No cloud! A small bit of
trail was on marshy grass (this followed the highway we would cross
to enter the Canaan Valley Resort, where the finish line was
located). At the entrance to the resort was the last aid station and
2 miles to go. Again, the course was slightly different this year. We
ran more paved road leading to the resort than we did last year, but
turned right into the woods for one last little bit of mud, water and
roots, before popping out behind the resort to the finish line.
done! Charlie’s first finish and we knocked 23 minutes off my
time from last year. Amazing.
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