Dan Lehmann, Race Director
June 14, 2003
“This course is sick!! I love it!!” called Andras Bucsinszky as he rolled into Aid Station #3 near the end of the second major ascent. With his great Eastern European/Long Island accent, he had the aid crew in stitches. Then up the hill he scrambled toward the next section of rocky ridgeline. So went the day for the 102 starters of the inaugural running Highlands Sky.
The Highlands Sky is the first event sponsored by the recently organized West Virginia Mountain Trail Runners and it was truly a success. Without familiarity with the course, the runners faced unknown challenges. The course is tough; but the incessant spring rains had the earth saturated and the rocks slick, which made it even tougher. Clark Zealand (Ont.Can) took the lead early. At Station #2, mile 10.1 after a 2300’ ascent, he had 7 minutes on second place Eric Grossman (KY) and 20 minutes on third place Mark Lundblad (NC). Zealand held that lead to win in 6:09:11. The race for second was exciting with Grossman coming off a five-year hiatus from ultra running, and Lundblad running his first ultra distance! At Station #6, 26.6 miles, the gap between the two was still 12 min. The next 5.5 mile “big muddy” section slowed Grossman; and Lundblad checked through #7 1 minute behind. Sensing he was being pursued, Grossman was able to push and maintain the 1 min edge for the final 8 miles to finish in 6:32:37 with Lundblad crossing the finish at 6:33:40.
Anne Riddle (NC) and Bethany Hunter (VA) were also close at Station #2 with Riddle leading Hunter by 2 minutes. Riddle maintained a 2 min lead to the half way mark and the beginning of the 7.3 road section across Dolly Sods. Here Riddle extended her lead by 10 min. She went on to win the female overall in 7:10:32 with Hunter crossing the finish at 7:28:34.
Tom Nielsen (VA) took first place in the male Masters category with a time of 7:13:49, and Rachel Toor (NC) the female Masters with a time of 8:24:34. Male Grandmasters went to David Horton (VA) crossing the finish in 8:04:15, and the female Grandmaster was Debbie Miller (KY) with a time of 9:20:08.
A real congratulation goes to all who took on the Highlands. This is a very challenging course and all are commended. Next year the race will have a 12-hour limit and an adjusted cutoff of 8 hours at Station #6. Mark your running calendar for Fathers’ Day weekend, June 19, 2004.
Iplay Photos and Coverage
|First||Last||Age||Bib #||#2 10.1 mi||#3 15.6 mi||#4 19.3 mi||#5 22.3 mi||#6 26.6 mi||#7 31.9 mi||#8 34.4 mi||#9 37.4 mi||Finish|
Highland Sky 40 Mile Race Report – Davis, West Virginia
Well, the Highlands Sky Ultra 40 in Canaan Valley State Park West
Virginia was everything I was told it would be: Hard, and perhaps too
much for a first ultra.
First, let me say that West Virginia Mountain Trail Runners, Dan
Lehmann, and all the volunteers put on a helluva race! While this was
only fourth race, first ultra, I didn't see anything to complain
about. Well-organized, well-planned out, everything done to the
smallest detail from what I could see. The aid station volunteers
were wonderful - can't say enough about them! The trail was also
really well marked. A lot of effort had gone into staging this race.
I got up to Canaan Valley State Park Friday afternoon, a bit later
than I intended after a series of sub optimal routing choices. While
I was in the parking lot I saw a man in shorts with very muddy legs
and a handful of surveyor flags. I went up to him and said, "You look
like a race director." He allowed he was and we introduced ourselves
and he explained he had been out marking the last couple of miles and
that it would be a bit muddy out there. Dan then excused himself to
get cleaned up before the dinner and briefing.
During the dinner I met a number of runners who were all very
supportive and encouraging of my first ultra attempt. Really, it was
a bunch of great people. It was clear though from the briefing that
this was not going to be an easy race...that iterated and reiterated.
I was already convinced of that from studying the topos, but I was
not going to be dissuaded from the attempt. After dinner and the
briefing, I packed and repacked my Camelback and my waist pack. I
laid out my clothes and set three alarms for four, four-ten, and
It was a humid and foggy morning when we loaded the old school buses
with ski-racks for the ride to the starting line. Afterwards it was a
half-hour of general milling and potty stops. Six o'clock came soon
enough and we were off. It was a fast start on roads for two miles
and change through the first aid station and then across a grassy
field and into the first ascent.
Did I mention it was muddy? And steep? No? Well, it was. Rocky, too.
At each aid station, there was a sign with a time on it that
represented what time we would be there on a 16-minute pace. This was
really key since we had to make station #6 (26.7 miles) by 1:10 pm in
order to be allowed to keep going. The difference between station #1
and #2 was about 8 miles and a 2300 ft climb over less than three
miles. We had been advised not to worry too much about our times at
stations #2 and #3 as we could make up quite a bit of time between #4
and #6 since that was a seven-mile stretch of forest road. It was a
demanding run but I got there only five minutes off that pace with a
couple of runners I had hooked up with along the way (Maria and
Charley). A few minutes of eating and drinking and then off again,
feeling pumped about the race and my time. Things went well, until
the next major climb, 1200 ft that just kicked my butt. We made it to
#3 and were now 30 minutes off the pace, trying to figure out where
we lost the time (I learned today that the distance between #2 and #3
was more like 7 miles instead of the 5.5 we were told). Anyway, it
was somewhere in there, at 3.5 hours that the first cramps started
-right on time, left thigh, just like back in Tybee during my first
marathon back Feb 1st. I swear I had been doing everything
right...hourly gels and Enduro-Caps, drinking, eating, trying to
maintain an appropriate pace for my abilities and the terrain.
Rocks. Mud. Steep ups, steep downs. Narrow trails, logs. Everything
you could want, except in my case, speed and endurance. For the next
a few aid stations all I was able to do was make up a few of the 30
minutes I was behind. My right foot was in pain, and I was getting
hit with serious cramps in my thighs every 20-30 minutes. I got to
the midpoint and headed for my drop bag. I swear, I never realized
how wonderful it could feel to pull on a pair of clean, dry wool
socks. It was pure heaven! My feet and legs were black from the
churned mud of the heather on top of the mountains we had climbed.
The pain in my right foot was, I realized, from a huge blister on the
end of my second toe that had ruptured and torn on both sides. So, I
quickly bandaged it up, grabbed some grapes and moved on.
It was to no avail. I could not run enough on the road to make up any
time. The road was straight, unyielding, and hilly. Every time you
crested a hill, you saw the next one...and the next one. I began to
accept a DNF. But even then, I refused to give in. I made it to #5,
ate, drank and kept moving.
And soon it was over. I made it into #6 at 1:39....29 minutes too
late. DNF. The volunteers were apologetic about having to enforce the
cutoff, but I had agreed to the rules in signing up. Wasn't their
fault at all. I had done my best and simply fallen a bit short.
And that's my story. It was great challenge in a beautiful place with
a lot of really great people. I had done everything I could to make
it, but just didn't have enough to go all the way...at least not in
time. I figure, that I at least finished a marathon, and that makes
three for the year so far....and I really only started learning to
run again a year ago next month. So, I feel pretty good, despite the
DNF. Not happy mind you, but it was quite an accomplishment for me.
So, next year, I'll try it again. In between now and then, I'm pretty
sure I'll find something else to try....probably the Great Eastern
50k in September.
We negotiated an hour of whining. Whether it was to be running-time or stop-time was never determined.
My brother Mark and his wife Allyn live in Charleston, West Virginia, the home of the Rattlesnake 50 km and the Snowflake 50 km. Both are races I am delighted to drive five hours to run. Afterward my brother cooks a big dinner and Allyn’s two sisters and their families come over. I usually whine a bit and drive home the next day.
Mark called to say that he’d read in the local paper about a brand new event –
The Highlands Sky 40 Mile Trail Run – at a place where they skied in the winter, and resorted in the fall: Canaan Valley. I had visions of wandering lost for 40 years, trying desperately to reach the promised land of a finish line 40 miles away. Until I learned that in West Virginia, Canaan rhymes with inane. If you rent a big house, I told my brother, we could all go up and I could run the race. (This is the same brother who, when I told him that I had bought a black leather jacket and needed a motorcycle to accessorize it, ha ha, got me a Honda Rebel 150cc.) Within a nanosecond, Mark had rented a big house and I was compelled to enter a race longer than I had ever run.
My sister-in-law comes from hardy Virginia stock. Her family history is straight Southern Gothic. One day I will write a novel about them and no one will believe it is anything other than fiction. The four sisters, three of whom now live in Charleston, are close and tolerant. Except that they do not tolerate whining, from each other or from others. When we decided that my brother, his eight-months pregnant wife, two sisters, one five-year-old child, my 16-year-old dog Hannah and her two canine cousins would accompany me to this race, they said I would be allowed an hour of whining, no more. The quarters were too close, the drive too long. I was lucky to get an hour, they said.
But, but, but, I said. I’ve never run that far. I don’t know if I can do it. It’s up a mountain and back down. It’s the first year of the race – things always go wrong the first year. I could get lost. I often get lost. It’s desolate and deserted up there. There are no previous times to try to gauge how long it will take. It could be wet. It could be cold. I will fall. (I always fall.) There might not be enough – or the right kind of – food at the aid stations. I haven’t trained enough. I’m scared.
You have 47 minutes of whining left, they said.
After the race briefing I thought I was going to have to plead for more time. Dan Lehmann, the race director, casually mentioned that there were cables across some of the stream crossings. He emphasized the rockiness of the course. He noted that it had been a rainy spring and that the peat moss sods were, well, sodden. The weather up there, a freak of nature kind of place, atypically bare and barren for lush West Virginia, was highly changeable. It could be cold. Windy. You will get muddy, he said. There’s a hose at the finish, he said.
I do not like stream crossings. I do not like being cold. I do not like losing my shoes in the mud. I particularly do not like point-to-point races. Except, of course, for the Boston marathon. As in Boston, we loaded buses. At Highlands Sky we loaded at 5:00 am to get to the start. We drove until it was light, and then, as in Boston, waited in line for the porta-potties. At 6:00 am, Dan said, not terribly loudly, “Okay, go ahead, have fun,” and we went ahead.
In the first few miles, I started a conversation with a guy my lawyer brother had pointed out. He does constitutional law, Mark said. I trotted up and asked the long-haired young man what kind of constitutional law issues arose in Charleston, West Virginia. Lots, it turned out. A number of us listened while making the first big climb. Con Law Man talked about defending a student who wanted to start an Anarchy Club in a local high school (the irony of forming an anarchy club seemed to get lost somehow), defending the KKK, and suing the state legislature. We joked that the state prosecutor was being prosecuted for sexual harassment (“It’s just how we talk to each other in this office,” was his defense), and that the governor’s love-letter emails to his mistress had recently been published in the newspaper. What kind of a state is this, I asked? One like any other, Con Law Man said. I guess. Then, as usual in ultras, talk turned to other races, other towns. As we climbed higher, we spoke less and spaced out.
After a long, steep, rocky downhill, a woman I’d passed caught up and commended me on my downhill running. Short legs and stupidity, I said, go a long way. I asked about her running history and she told me that she’d run five 100 mile races, winning or coming in second. I apologized for not recognizing her name. Most people know my name, she said, because of last year’s Vermont 100 mile race. Michele Burr told me that she’d finished the race and promptly went into a coma for five days, suffering from hyponatremia. I thought about drinking less water and trying to eat more salt after that.
We were running in creek beds, through water and on jagged rocks. The first half was billed as the hard part; after mile 19 or so, it was supposed to be easy. Maybe, if running 7.3 miles on a straight dirt road, where all you see stretching ahead is uphill miles and ant-sized fellow runners, can be considered easy. Maybe, if running for hours through bogs of standing water and knee-deep, shoe-sucking mud can be considered easy. Maybe, if climbing to the top of the world on rocks as big as your head and being buffeted by a strong wind can be considered easy. Maybe, if you don’t think running 40 miles is hard.
crossed the line. That was hard, I said to Dan. I was smiling. It was hard. He
said I looked fresh, happy. I was happy. How could I not be happy? The course
was so well marked that even I would have had to work to get lost. The aid
stations were not only well stocked, but well staffed. The volunteers were
personal pit-crew for each runner, suggesting things that you didn’t even know
you wanted until they offered. The course was not only beautiful, but varied;
something for everyone to love, and very little not to like (though the 7.3
miles of road was less than lovable).
That night, soaking in the hot tub, the sisters said I had a lot of whining time left. I should feel free to let loose. But I could produce no whines, just kept smiling, feeling fortunate to be able to do something so wonderful, surrounded and supported by friends and family. It’s hard to whine once you’ve arrived in the land of milk and honey.
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