My Highland Sky 40 Mile Adventure Report – Ronnie Bierman

I awoke at 4:30 in my van parked not too far from the lodge at Canaan Valley. A few decided to sleep in their car. I was one of them. I got dressed, not knowing just how chilly it may be, and proceeded to the bus. I was able to grab a cup of hot java gold at the lodge before starting the 25 minute bus ride to the race start. Once there, the excitement grew.

I overheard others talking about the first twenty miles or so being brutal. I was a bit intimidated at some of the conversations. Whatever. I got to meet Dan’s son Willie. He was doing his first Ultra. Wow… a 40 Miler for your first Ultra, I thought. Nearing the top of the hour, most placed their drop bags in the truck and were ready for the start. I took a last minute pee and headed to the bridge. We were off.

The first few miles were a bit boring. Yet, once I hit the trail, boring was overtaken with challenging. I don’t mean just physically challenging either. It was mentally challenging as well. I could not believe the terrain that I was expected to run upon. There was NO time to look up to enjoy any of the beautiful scenery. One glance upward meant a twisted ankle or severe face plant. Oh yeah…. I almost forgot. What the heck are Stinging Nettles? I asked a shiny legged woman, I believe that her name was Melissa, why my legs are itching and stinging so badly. She told me that we have been running through a mile or two of Stinging Nettles. She told me that she coats her legs with Vaseline before the run as a preventative measure. Let me tell you…they suck. I investigated the stupid plant species once I was home. Read up on them before you run this course. The stinging does go away after a long time. I was very glad to get to a stream crossing to wash my legs off.

OK, as if the hills are not brutal enough. There is a very long section of just giant rocks that you must run upon. A section of rocks mixed with giant chasms of deep mud. As you try to miss the sections of mud buy jumping from rock to rock, your pace is totally screwed. I missed a rock and sunk over my ankle into the miry crap. My momentum continued me forward leaving my shoe about 8 inches below the muck. I grabbed some bushes for balance and pulled my shoe from the suction. Many runners passed me; most laughing. I had to laugh too. It was all part of the experience. I only ran about 30 more feet before I tripped and hit my eye on a rock. Ouch. Yet, that did not hurt nearly as bad as finding out that my nice “Bolle” polarized sunglasses fell off my shirt upon impact. I was 3 miles further into the course at an aide station before recognizing they were gone. I weighed the cost and figured that 40.8 is long enough without making it 46.8. Someone got a nice pair of shades.

As the race continued, I was delighted to find out that I was almost to the drop bag aide station. YES… clean socks. However, a feeling of doom and despair completely enveloped me. I was hitting a “wall”? I started thinking, “I am so pooped and I am not even half way yet”. I tried to shake the thoughts and turned on my tunes. Jerry Garcia and Bob carried me the next mile or so. I exited the woods and ran the dirt road to the aide station. I ate a few PBJ’s, chugged down some drink, filled up my North Face hydration backpack, and changed my socks. I was ready to run some road, sunglasses-less, I might add. The wall fell!

The aide stations were fairly close while running on the road. I ran with David Snipes for most of the road miles. I did not like the road section. Just one long road that seemed to climb and climb. I was about 1 mile from the last aide station on the road when a horsefly or deerfly or whatever you call them decided to start attacking me. I did not want to run any faster trying to escape it let alone do ballet moves trying to swat at this predator. He stung me or bit me whatever they do 3 times; once on the neck and twice on the back of my arm. Stupid bugs. I was happy to get to aide station 6 and head back into the trails. Raven Ridge Trail was amusing.

As I started running, I notice a gal that I encountered earlier on in the run; Heather Griffith. We chit chatted for a while and ended up running the rest of the 14 miles together. We shared stories and adventures. It was nice to run with someone. I drug her some and she drug me some. We just had to stop every now and again so that we could enjoy the scenery. This was the most beautiful part of the run. It was gorgeous. It was a grassy field for miles and I was on the top. I loved this part. I felt like a male version of Julie Andrews in The Sound of Music. Yet, it was me running across the meadow. I noticed some beautiful white boulders a mountain or so away. They were cool too. God’s Majesty at it’s best. I did not know that I was heading to run on them. They became a technical part of the run. We had to really look for the orange streamer tape during this section. It might be on a tree, tied around a little rock, or stuck to a bush. The boulder hop was fun. Heather did not like that part. We encountered some hikers and they cheered us on. How cool. We got to the aide station and she got her Mt. Dew. What a happy gal she is now. On we ran. After practically crawling down this dirt landslide hill, we came upon some sort of 4 Wheeler Track. Good bye to the softly chirping birds and the rustling of leaves. It seemed crazy compared to the beautiful solitude that in which we had been running.

After leaving the last aide station, I knew that it was just about “Running Home”. I was only 4.2 miles away from the finish. Lots of tall grass and a narrow trail kept me company during this section. The trail meandered through the resort area and of course ended with a final hill to climb before the short jaunt downhill to the finish. Dan was there to take my photo. I picked up the pace a bit wanting to hit a 10:30 time. I just missed it. I originally set my goal for 10:00 but camaraderie took precedence. I cheered as Heather, my new friend, came in next.

Wow. I did it. I ran it. I hosed my shoes off, my legs off, and my feet off. I grabbed a few bites of grub, chuckled at the goose eggs on my shins, and cheered on the other finishers. What an incredible experience! I loved it. I really did love it. It was savage, but conquerable. I was beat up, but thrilled. I joked around with Heather about wishing I had a head cam so that people could actually see the crazy variety of terrain we ran. Non-Ultra Trail Running People would not believe it. I still don’t at times. I am sure that I will be running with Heather on some more crazy trails.

Thank you Anne Farmer for empowering me with the knowledge of this race. Thank you Rande and Kari Brown for helping me realize this gift of God that I am a runner. Thank you Dan Lehmann for a great 40.8 mile run. I will see you next year. This is my 3rd Ultra. Holiday Lake ’07 and Promise Land ’07 did not compare to this. Let’s see if Masochist or Hellgate hurts worse. Bring it on!

Afterthoughts – 2 of my favorite quotes from the race – After getting to aide station 6 and asking the workers if they had anything for insect bites, he commented, “If you didn’t smell like a horse, the horseflies wouldn’t be botherin ya”. Haha. The second is from Heather as she squinted back pain, “How many %$#@&? times can you twist the same %$&#@? ankle”.