Who knew? Who knew how fun it could be to run 40 miles of “Wild, Wet and Wrocky West Virginia?” One-hundred and twenty runners from across the Mid-Atlantic and East Coast states came to Canaan Valley Resort near Davis, West Virginia to find out. Many runners found themselves driving through stormy weather that put 3 and 3/4 inches of rain on the trails of Dolly Sods. Dan Lehmann, the race director found himself on the Timberline Slopes bushwhacking a fresh trail through pine trees, ferns and mud to reroute the course around another event taking place the same day. No sense in dodging ATV’s and dirt bikes after running 36 miles.
While runners registered and enjoyed a great pasta meal we were treated to a slideshow of last years course photos. The pictures prompted some wonderful memories of the inaugural race. During the race briefing about 14 runners stated that this was their first ultra. Wow!
After a short drive to the start at the Laneville cabin in Dolly Sods the runners milled around nervously. The weather was discussed. Hydration strategies were evaluated. Drop bag contents were compared. Now it was time to run. Highlands Sky has three unique sections. The first section includes a tough rocky climb through a hardwood forest and when you get to the top you are treated to grassy bald that is covered with boulders and wind swept pines. As we ran through the fog on the summit we missed the expansive views to the east and west, but it was for the best since it forced you to kept your eyes focus on the technical trail. A maze made of mountain laurel guided us around rocks, across streams and through the mud to the second aid station. The course continues through the forest and will cross the Red Creek four times over its entire length. At the 18 mile mark the course changes dramatically.
A right turn onto Forest Road 19/75 forces us to plod along for the next 7 miles. This road has been called many things. Most of which can’t be repeated. It provides the biggest mental challenge of the course, especially since you have three opportunities to drop and watch other runner suffer for the rest of the day. The final leg of the run is truly special and those who make this far are rewarded, albeit with more water and rocks.
Each meadow is prettier than the next. The Red Creek tinted by tannic acid flows below and now is a friend that will cool you off as you wade through it for the last time. Ferns brush your legs as you enjoy the views. Less rocks for a few minutes. As you crest the Timberline Slopes you come to a pile of rocks that a glacier left thousands of years ago. “Almost done,” you think as you approach the aid station with the toughest of volunteers. These guys get wind blown and rained on no matter how nice the weather. One more hill, but wait.
The course is now unknown to the veteran runners. The bushwhacked trail beckons. Runners barrel across large rocks and trample lush ferns. Then all of sudden it gets slick. Those who have not fallen yet are about to kiss the ground. Here come “but slide hill!’ There is no avoiding it, no embracing it. Just a controlled fall for the next hundred feet. Aid station workers state that not one person had finished the last section without comment. On to the finish!
The next three miles are uneventful. Whitetail deer look up from the road as to say “Excuse me…I am eating here.” After a couple miles on or near the road we head back into the woods for a brief moment to suddenly pop out at the finish line to cheer of encouragement. The best part of it all was just walking 100 yards to your hotel room for a warm shower and a BBQ chicken dinner. The evening was capped with several servings in the Laurel Lounge. What a great father’s day weekend! I’ll be back next year. Who knew?