by Jaret Seiberg
I confess I signed up on whim for the Skyline 50 miler. It was a few days after a tough Bull Run 50 miler and I must have still been out of my mind. I also mistook "country" road for "dirt" road.
Still, I was one of a core group of runner for the inaugural Skyline 50 miler, which also has a 50K, marathon and half marathon.
To be honest, anyone who ran less than the 50 miler really missed out as the best parts of this out-and-back course where miles 13 to 37.
But I get ahead of myself. This run occurred two weeks after Bull Run and may be my worst performance ever in a 50 miler even though I ran my second fastest 50 mile time. The field was small -- only nine 50 milers -- and I finished right in the middle in fifth place in 8:24. The winner was Andrew McDowell in 7:08. So we were a relatively fast pack.
The course starts at the Warren County fairgrounds off Rt. 340. I parked right next to the finish line, which may be the best race logistics ever. After picking up my swag, which included a great technical shirt and a don't-run-me-over light, we got a pre-race briefing. Listening to the briefing was key as James explained everything about the course.
We started at 6:05 AM and left the fair grounds on a dirt road before hitting pavement. These here hilly back-country roads. Around mile 4 the front-running bastards were headed back to us worried they missed a turn. One of the runners from West Point called the RD and it turns out we were on course after all.
We crossed the Shenandoah River on a very low bridge for the first aid station around mile 5. From there a pack of horses raced us as we followed the road, ducking under I-66 on several occasions.
Aid station two was just before Rt. 55 near the country store by exit 13. We then followed Rt. 55 toward D.C. for about three miles until aid station 3 and the start of the AT section of the run.
This trail section was fantastic. The AT here is not very rocky and often is quite runnable. Plus the mountains were covered with trilliums, which is a flower with whitish-pink pedals. It only has three pedals, which makes it distinctive. It looks a bit like a tulip.
From the aid station, we climbed up the AT for a few miles. None of these climbs were brutal and despite the rain -- which started coming down pretty heavy at times -- the course was very enjoyable. At the fourth aid station, some folks got lost. I put this on the runners and not race management. James clearly explained what to do at the short out-and-back to the aid station. Still, some folks just missed it. One poor 50K runner went past it by nearly five miles before turning back.
Aid was standard fare, though it could have used some more real food like PBJ sandwiches or potatoes. Still, there was choice and plenty of food and water.
The next 18 miles were the best part of the course. We had single track along the AT and the flowers until the turnaround in Sky Meadow State Park. It was hilly, but not very rocky with the exception of a small stream that one needed to cross.
All of the aid stations remained well stocked on the trip back. About the only downside of the return was the section on Rt. 55. In the morning, there was no traffic. The road was much busier in the afternoon. That did, however, provide an incentive to finish that part faster.
At mile 44 the horses didn't even bother to race me. I took it as a insult. It was like they were saying you are now moving so slow we won't even bother to run with you. I breezed through the final aid station, climbed a hill, and ran in the final few miles.
The post-race BBQ in the pavilion was great. And my car was right there so it was easy to get dry clothing and a grilled chicken sandwich all at once.
I talked afterward to the RD and he said they may move the course next year closer to Browntown. If they do, I'd certainly try that route. I also might return to this course. Running through the Trilliums rivals running through the Blue Bells at Bull Run.
Overall, this was a solid, well-organized race. I hope it returns in 2010.