December 28, 2017
It’s a cold morning across the Mountain State, below zero at dawn in much of the eastern mountain counties and single digits statewide. Certainly it will warmer for our first club event of the year. Frozen Sasquatch is 9 days away. I spoke to Mike Dolin earlier this morning and he’s promising slightly warmer, but still frozen temps for the race . . . a relatively safe prediction.
The following Saturday January 13th will be our Annual Meeting. You might think that an annual gathering in January in Helvetia a bit unwise, and possibly more would attend should it be in July. Could be the last January meeting, maybe you should plan on coming. We’ll have a run, a warm, plentiful lunch and a meeting where you can help plan 2018 activities. 10:00am at Lehmann’s. Feel free to bring something for the table. If you have comments for the meeting, but cannot attend, please forward. There is plenty of floor space and several couches if you care to stay Friday or Saturday.
Here are a few notables for 2017. . . . . .
Some years at this time you have the opportunity to vote for Board of Directors. This year there are three expiring seats. The three current board members, Ashley Dolin, Pete Daly and Adam Casseday agreed to serve again, there were no additional nominations. Consistency is good, but so too can be change.
All the best to you in the coming year,
The West Virginia Mountain Trail Runners is a 501(c)3 not for profit organization whose purpose is to promote running and the healthy, positive qualities running and fitness encompass.
Author: Krista Rogers.
There wasn’t a bit of chill in the morning air as I zipped shut the tent of my husband and four-year-old daughter at the Canaan Valley Resort campground. I walked into the darkness, headed to the resort’s lodge to board the bus to the starting line of the Highlands Sky Trail Run. If it was warm in the valley at 4:00 a.m., would it be cooler at 4,000 feet at midday? This was one of many questions I brought with me to my first Highlands Sky.
I was especially concerned about the climbs I would face. On the Highlands Sky website, the elevation profile looks like a thrilling roller coaster ride minus the loops. The line for miles 2 to 5.5 is nearly vertical. A disclaimer reads: “Steepness is exaggerated, it’s really not as bad as it looks.” This did not reassure me. Were my weekly runs up northern Virginia’s Little North Mountain (emphasis on “Little”) enough? Would the West Virginia hills do me in early?
Then there was the nagging question I always have when I’m among ultrarunners: What am I doing!? Every mile of running means eight to twelve minutes (or more) not keeping up the house or garden, working my job, or enjoying quality time with my family. In the month before the Highlands Sky, I had wanted to run sixty miles per week – and I did. Am I a bad mom? A bad wife? A bad employee? What do I get out of running such long distances that justifies the time, effort, and pain?
We boarded the bus at 5:00. At 5:51 the sun rose at the starting line. At 6:00 we were off. The first several miles felt easy. We left the road after two and a half miles, crossed a field of tall grass, and entered the woods. The narrow trail, flanked by stinging nettles, funneled us into a single file moving gradually upward. Two more miles went by. Runners chatted. Suddenly, the trail switched back and steepened. The distance between runners lengthened. Up, up, up we went. I searched for blue sky through the trees. Another half mile passed. There it was! In a few minutes we were at the top.
At about six miles into the race we were at four thousand five hundred feet, and the beauty of the forest was mesmerizing: the pink and white mountain laurel blossoms, the soft feel and rich smell of pine needles, the curious rocks, the intricate mosses, the shallow yet dark pools of water here and there. The silence broken only by the song of a single hermit thrush or chickadee. The narrow green tunnels of the trails. I relished the feeling of being up high. The hill really hadn’t been that bad!
I had read on the website that miles seven to eleven were quite technical, and they were. The trail was an actual stream bed, sometimes flowing, for stretches. Other times, roots or rock fields made the going slow. I was fascinated by everything around me on the high plain, but I didn’t linger. I went on as fast as I safely could, and came to Aid Station #2 with forty-five minutes to spare until the 9:15 cut-off.
Then came the steep descent of miles eleven to twelve and a half, and the subsequent railroad grade. The upland pines gave way to a typical hardwood forest. Here the going wasn’t any less technical than the previous miles. Actually, it was worse. A handful of runners passed me as I picked my way down a slick stream bed. The railroad grade, on which I had hoped to make good time, was muddy despite dry weather conditions. We crossed springs and streams, hopscotched over rocks, and wound around fallen trees. Grass and mud masked the trail, and between markers I got the sensation that I had lost it a few times. Eventually the course took us back up to four thousand feet and drier trails, but the roughness underfoot was wearing on me. I longed for aid station #4 (mile 19.7) and the forest road.
When I finally broke out of the woods and came to AS#4, my joys were three: the forest road, my four-year-old daughter, and my husband! All were a way to reset and refocus, and the effect was marvelous. From here I looked forward to an easier course so that I could reel in some of the runners who had passed me earlier. There were just two problems: my daughter’s reluctance to part with me tugged at my heartstrings, and the long string of runners ahead of me on the straight-as-an-arrow FR 75 would not be reeled in. My legs were sluggish. I barely kept pace. My body felt like I was still on the trail.
By midday it was hot and the road offered little shade, so the clouds that blocked the sun now and then were a blessing. A cool breeze sometimes met us in the dips in the road. Slowly I began to gain on other runners, especially on the hills. I ran past Aid Station #5 (mile 22.7), and recognized the unmistakable long braids of Race Director Dan’s son, Willie, as he turned to leave the table. Willie had given me helpful advice at the pre-race dinner, where my daughter had complimented him on his hair: “Two braids like Anna!” He had also brewed the beer. I decided to stay with him as long as I could.
The vegetation grew sparse on this, the Road Across the Sky, and a broad shrub and heath barren came into view: the Dolly Sods. Willie, a few other runners, and I were approaching Aid Station #6 (mile 27). There the course left the road and crossed the barren on a trail to the horizon. It looked appealing from a distance. As I turned to leave the aid station tent, my lower back and my right knee twinged. I hobbled on, wondering where the pain had come from and hoping it would go away.
The trail greeted our small group almost immediately with a wide mug bog, then rocks to hop. We next climbed an unexpectedly steep hill. (We’re already at the top of the world, I thought. How can we go up?) Beyond that, the plain looked deceptively fast, but the low spruce hid rocks and bogs that slowed me considerably. The heat of the afternoon made the soupy black ooze as warm as bathwater. Runners began to pass me once again.
It occurred to me that my knee had been bothering me for weeks, and I hadn’t really noticed. Now there was no denying it. The trail had aggravated whatever it was, and my knee felt like it would buckle at the first awkward step. From that realization on I walked over rough spots. Willie ran ahead, out of view. I walked to the horizon, over a low hill, and across more plain. Mud. Rocks. Willie, far ahead. Horizon. More plain. Hikers smiling sympathetically. Runners passing me. Mud. Rocks. Horizon. No more Willie. Trails converged, and then split off. I had no idea where or how far along I was; I had inadvertently left my watch at AS#4. I attempted to run and found I could not.
Next came the boulders, into which the trail simply vanished. Around each corner, it was a guessing game where to go next. I came to a runner just standing there, too overwhelmed to look for the next fluttering orange tape. My mood was black as the mud puddles. Finally I saw the white tent of Aid Station #7, an oasis that placed me back on the course. It felt like a finish line; I ignored the fact that I was only at mile 32.9.
“There’s my friend!” said volunteer Clara (Dan Lehmann’s oldest daughter and Willie’s sister) inside AS#7, also known as the “Lehmann Aid Station.” I smiled. I had met Clara, too, the previous evening. We had chatted on the playground outside the Canaan Valley Resort lodge when my daughter joined in play with Clara’s three-year-old twin girls. There Clara and her brother Lars had given me a volunteer’s perspective of the race, reassuring me about things like cut-off times. Willie had joined us at the pre-race dinner and shared a runner’s advice. And after dinner there was a wild game of duck-duck-goose with the kids. I felt like a new in-law at a family reunion, trying to figure out how I was related to all these wonderful people. Ah – that was it: ultrarunning!
“What can I get you?” Clara asked me. “Two ibuprofen and a salt tablet,” I replied. “My back hurts.” I forgot to mention my leg. Again Clara reassured me. There she was, in the tundra on the edge of the world, taking care of me instead of her girls. There I was, running instead of taking care of my daughter. I was grateful – to all of them. I left the tent and headed out along the rim of the valley. Slowly my knee loosened, or the medication took effect.
I was unsure of the trail ahead; I had studied the early hills on a map, but I had not looked at this part of the course much. It was supposed to be the “easy part”: a quick climb up a ski slope and the “butt slide” downhill to the finish. I joined a small group of runners and we made our way past the last few boulders, down a gradual hill, across an old dirt road, and through some brush to a ski slope. There the fluttering orange tape beckoned from high up the slope. Heat emanated from the hard-packed earth baking in the sun. I cursed.
The group walked ahead, and I climbed after them, breathless, to where the hill flattened a half-mile later. There the course cut into the woods on what was barely a trail, and continued upward. The other runners were out of sight ahead of me, but I could hear their voices – first to the right and above me, then to the left and below me. Suddenly we were going nearly straight down a steep, wooded hill. I relied on orange tape and rotted wooden mountain-bike jumps to show me the trail. The voices faded and, once again, I felt lost between markers. How could a trail possibly go here? I ducked under branches and trudged downhill through fallen leaves. This went on for over a mile.
The gravel road I finally reached brought me back, in more ways than one; I found I could run again. I decided not to stop at Aid Station #8 (mile 36.9) to avoid a stiff knee. A racing mother of four (I soon learned) caught up with me and pulled me along as we discussed the pros and cons of jogging strollers. “I did all of my weekday runs with a stroller,” she told me. I was very impressed. “You go ahead,” I told her. “No, I’ll stay with you,” was her reply. We ran together for more than a mile, until my knee pain got the most of me and I decided to walk again.
A mile later, at Buena Church, the course turned onto a roadside trail hidden by shin-high grass. The wide valley grew familiar, but it was another mile before I came to a site I recognized: the entrance to Canaan Valley Resort across Route 32. I passed the resort’s big blue sign and found myself on the road I had walked to get to the bus that morning. Just ahead of me was a runner whom I had passed several times on the course. He was walking. I ran to catch him. Only a mile and change to go!
We turned onto a newly graded dirt road and came to yellow “do not cross” tape where the grading ended. Ahead and to the left were dirt piles and tree stumps. To the right were the resort’s trails, marked in orange. I turned right. It was the wrong choice; I had failed to see orange tape fluttering from a tree on the left where a makeshift trail ducked behind a dirt pile. After twenty minutes in the woods within earshot of the finish line, I came back to the same spot and found the orange course marking leading away.
Minutes later I came down the paved sidewalk to the finish line, and my daughter lunged toward me. My heart leaped. I grinned and hoisted her into my arms. “NO!” she yelled and wiggled furiously. She had wanted to run across the line with me. I put her down, and we crossed holding hands. My husband looked on and cheered. I hadn’t even looked at my time. Suddenly it didn’t matter. The race was over, and motherhood tugged at my arm. “Come on!” my daughter said, pulling me toward the finish-line food under the pavilion. “Can you get me a cookie?”
Final thoughts: The forty plus miles of the Highlands Sky Trail Run greet a runner with beauty in abundance, as well as the camaraderie of ultrarunners and outdoorsmen – and especially that of Dan Lehmann, his family, and his friends. I brought many questions with me to the Highlands Sky. Some were the questions of a nervous runner, and some where the questions of a mother. The trail answered most of them, as always: its beauty restored me while its ruggedness brought forth the effort and perseverance in me that I needed to finish. I had it in me after all! The Lehmann Family took care of the rest of my questions. Thank you, Dan, Adam, Willie, Clara, Lars, and families, for restoring me, too, with your hospitality and the example you set for runners, parents, and people in general. Thank you for a great day and a great race.
FROZEN SASQUATCH – January 17,2017
KANAWHA STATE FOREST, CHARLESTON, WV
Author: Tammy McGaughey.
With the back of my Yukon packed with 4, yes FOUR, duffle bags, I headed south to the hills of West Virginia Friday afternoon for my first ever winter event. With the predicted frigid temps, I wasn’t sure what I’d need, so I erred on the side of ‘pack everything’. I know, you guys are rolling your eyes…grins.
What a beautiful drive…all the trees flocked with the fresh snow. I had four hours (oh my) to enjoy it. Yes, quite a drive, but easy traveling Route 79 nearly the entire way.
About 80 miles out of Charleston, I pass a familiar vehicle…Ryan’s Prius. From there, we caravanned together to Roberts Running Shop for packet pick-up, where we meet up also with Denise & Jim. Cute little running shop where we were given our bibs and REALLY nice race shirts…Patagonia Epilene long-sleeves.
Next stop…the Hampton Inn, Southridge…very nice accommodations. Ryan and I meet up to study the course maps and description for our journeys the next day and then grab a bite to eat at Panera. I turned in early, sleeping soundly for the first 3 hours, then it was my normal pre-race night routine of waking every hour.
Race day…I rose (easily) at 5:00. Temps are 14 with a wind chill of 8…holy crud. So on go the layers…3 shirts, heavy polartec winter pants, 2 prs of socks. Later, I’ll add a down vest, buff and toasty beanie, and 2 prs of gloves. After a quick bite of breakfast at the hotel (mmmmm, oatmeal and fresh fruit), off to Kanawha State Forest, just 20 minutes away.
At race check-in, I chatted with Maryann Yarborough, native of the area, to get her opinion of trail conditions, and to catch up with her trail ventures. Then with more anxious prep, I decided to strap on the Yaktrax and gators. Ryan and I toed the line with minutes to go, looking for our northern comrades, to no avail. Off we go…1/4 mile on road to the trail…up a nicely sustained hill. This 50K course is a 15.5 mile loop that is run twice. And this first hill was a wake up call. I was with a group of about 10 runners who didn’t say a word…quietest group of runners I had ever heard, or rather, not heard. Man, they’re serious or maybe just trying to truck it up the hill, as I was.
We made it to the top then enjoyed some nice running. In fact this entire course was very runnable. And quiet!…wow, so beautifully remote…no traffic, no gas wells, no industry…just peaceful, glorious serenity.
Beautiful stretches of single track trail … Not very technical … and acres and acres of gorgeous forest.
The first loop journey was met with very cold temps and some light snow that coated my lashes with tiny ice crystals. I encountered other runners with icing problems too…icicles hanging from beanies, mustaches and beards. It was hilarious. My gels had to be chewed like gum. Stinger waffles had to be snapped into pieces before thawing them inside my mouth. My choice of gear worked just fine, except believe it or not, I was a tad bit warm with the vest on the ascents and I really didn’t need the gators. Snow was only 2” deep and thanks to the runners ahead of me, the trails were tramped down nicely. Still VERY glad I had the Yaktrax, especially on the fire and park roads. It’s nice that we can access our vehicles at the end of the first loop … i’ll regroup there.
We passed through 3 wonderful aid stations on the loop at miles 5.1, 8.5 and 12, a couple with fires…enticing, wonderful fires. I tried not to linger, as tempting as it was. Everything was frozen at the aid stations…can honestly say that I’ve never slurped a ginger ale slushy, or chewed rock-solid oranges…different, but good! Now, if we can just figure out a way to get that kind of treat during those hot summer events!
There were some challenging valleys to climb,
creeks included …
… and a really neat rock outcrop…
The runner above was so sweet and offered to take my pic … evidence that I really was there …
The trickiest feat was keeping my water bottles from freezing. Once the volunteers unfroze them with warm water, I found that keeping them tucked inside my vest prevented further freeze-up. The aid stations were nicely placed at miles 5.1, 8.5, and 12. Volunteers were spectacular, meeting every need. We were even greeted by Sasquatch himself before one of the stations…so fun!
The last steep descent before the halfway point was just that…steepest descent on the loop with switchbacks and more rocks than the rest of the course, but still not terrible. I found it fun bounding down the mountain…to my truck. First thing to go…the gators. I decided to keep the vest…my new-found ‘bottle insulator’.
Loop 2…here’s that first hill again…in my opinion, the most difficult hill of the loop. I didn’t have my 10 silent runners with me this time…just the quiet forest and me.
The sun made an appearance on this second time around … highlighting the nice fire roads we enjoyed as a respite from the hills … some creek crossings …
… cool icicle stalactites …
What a place … breathtaking …
I ran the 2nd loop virtually solo…and I loved it. Time to reflect, dream, and be thankful that I can participate in great events like this.
For some reason, my back was really stiff during the run…stopped many times to lengthen and stretch. Hammies and hips on the 2nd loop were feeling the miles too. BUT, the serenity of this slice of heaven camouflaged the discomforts.
The cold had taken its toll on my Garmin…battery was dying….darn, if I can just coax it along a few more miles.
Leaving the aid station at mile 27ish, I once again found the final burst of energy as I always do at the finish of a race. Dang, Garmin called it quits at mile 30.03. I continued barreling down that mountain to the finish line at the parking lot, to be greeted by RD Mike Dolan (really cool guy), who handed me the neatest finisher’s medal, and a hand-thrown clay Sasquatch cup for 1st masters female! What a unique award. Earlier that morning, Mike informed us that the course ran just a little short. So judging from where my Garmin died, I’d say the course was 30.5 miles total.
As mentioned earlier, the runners garb was really sweet…
Beautiful course … I highly recommend it, even with the 4-hour drive to get there. I had the pleasure of chatting with a few other runners at the finish about their journeys, and also giving GRT plugs and inquiring about other events. Also, there were really great goodies at the end … bbq pork, soup, tea, coffee, etc. etc. As always, I met the coolest folks throughout my adventure.
The longer I sat, the colder I got. So I said my goodbyes and drove back to the hotel, where I booked the room for a later check-out. Wow, so glad I did. Even though it was the most expensive shower I ever took (LOL), it was worth every cent!! I know I stood in there for 20 minutes, slowly bringing the bones back to life.
Now for my 4-hour trip back to Chicora, PA. I stocked my console with water, a Pepsi and Belvita crackers and took off. At the PA line, I decided to stop, stretch out the legs, and hit the restroom. A two-hour stint of driving was not the best idea…yah, talk about rusty lock-up. The trip into that restroom was slow and calculated, eliciting curious looks from other travelers. Then back on the road for another 2 hours…to my driveway, my glorious driveway…it was a great 2 days, but it also was soooooo good to be home.
It was 9:00 p.m. You’d think after rising at 5:00 a.m., running 30+ miles, and driving 280-some miles, that I would be exhausted. Not so much. So I did my usual maintenance…drinking tart cherry juice, stretching and rolling (a tad bit painful, but good), and enjoying a cup of turmeric tea. Oh yes, took a preventive Advil, too…grins. Finally at 12:30, I drifted off.
Life was good to me…safe travels, a pristine run in the WV hills, spending time with great folks…yes, LIFE IS TRULY GOOD.
Author: Tammy McGaughey
Author: Mike Bowen.
Arriving only 20 minutes early to KSF in icy, 14 degree conditions, my buddy Chris and I weren’t sure how the actual race would unfold. I decided to try and start out easy and see how I felt. After nearly busting my rear in the parking lot, I was glad to see the main road was slightly drier as we set off toward the big climb up to the ridge. Towards the top, I realized I was in 3rd and bridged up to Ian, running and chatting for about a mile. We laughed at how talented Jacob is, who was already long gone(this kid is as talented as they come, and his cross training should really separate him from his peers).Anyway, I got a short gap on Ian, only to have he and Brandon(I think) pass me on the first descent to the aid station. We were then passed on the next climb by Adam(I think), who was flying considering he was doing the 50K. I didn’t realize that at the time though. We commented on the fact that sasquatch wasn’t in his usual location. On the next descent to the campground, they really put it to me opening up about a 30 second gap. I was starting to realize how slow I was on the drops trying to stay upright(Ian later showed me the custom spike job he had prepared for the race- I was envious…)It was starting to snow pretty hard at this point and I was stomach cramping a bit when I noticed sasquatch up ahead by a firepit. I commented on his lack of toughness and he grunted something about staying warm. Sure couldn’t blame him on this day. I was contemplating waiting for Chris to catch up to me and just run the rest of the way with him. Bob L then caught up and mentioned that he hadn’t seen anyone behind him in a while. I stopped at “the M and M aid station”, fueled up a bit and the cramps subsided as I headed up Johnson. I caught back up the Bob and Ian, again realizing a trend was taking shape- catch runners on the climbs and then lose them on the drops. I’ll blame it on old age and tired knees-though some of these guys just absolutely crush it on the downhills. At about mile 13 I hit a bit of a wall and had to really rally my tired legs, beat up feet, freezing fingers and numb face to keep it together. I was basically alone again as they had dropped me once again on middle ridge. Approaching Teaberry I got a bit of a second wind knowing the end was near and actually thought a sub 2:20 was possible, only to realize the final descend was icy, slick and treacherous, and that getting down in one piece was the wise choice. I had to laugh as I finally got to the ice covered parking lot, which was a fitting symbol of a very tough day of trail running. The warm food and drinks were particularly pleasing this year and a big thanks to the Dolins and all the volunteers for all of the hard work that goes into these races. At some point in these races, I often find myself questioning my sanity, when I could be back in a warm bed, but then after I thaw out I start looking forward to next one.