Highlands Sky 40M 2006 – Caroline E. Williams

?Three strikes, you’re out,? so the saying goes. While I don’t live by this adage, I really couldn’t handle three, consecutive DNFs at this tough but beautiful run. Walker, my husband, also wanted to finish; as he had also DNF’d the first two years.

But my focus being on Vermont, I didn’t train specifically for, or developed a plan for this race. I relied on my overall conditioning, and my successful finishes at other races this year to carry me through the finish line.

I don’t know why this race is so tough for me. I’ve done other tough 40-mile events without sweating the cutoffs. Perhaps it’s because I still consider myself a late-fall and winter runner, and this event is held close to the warm, summer months. Uwharrie and Mt. Mitchell (both 40-mile events) are in February, when I’m in my top form. Perhaps it’s due to a mix of rocks, mud, ascends, sharp descends, and straight as an arrow road across the sky that makes this event so challenging.

The conditions couldn’t be any better with cool temperatures and overcast skies that kept the sun from beating down on us during that long, 7-mile road section. The entire course was also much drier than the first two years. We could actually see the rocks that peppered the course!

I went into this run with a minor pain on my right knee, lateral thigh, and hip that resulted from a bike spill three days before. And when I fell the first time, of course it had to be my right knee that made contact with a large, flat rock! Walker gave me some meds, and I carried on. Rob Apple passed us saying something funny and encouraging. Two or three other runners passed us, their hands making contact with my shoulders.

I never thought that we would be so close to the cutoff times. We reached aid six one minute before the cutoff! If Walker had not pushed me as we neared aid six, I am certain that we would have timed out there again this year. I’ve never been more appreciative of my husband’s presence during a race than at Highland Sky 2005.

The folks at Aid six were just wonderful. There, I saw Sharon Lapkoff’s husband, fellow runner Alex Morton from South Carolina, and few other familiar faces. It was so very good to hear their hearty congratulations, and encouraging words. At aid seven, we ate warm, chicken noodle soup given to us by Dan’s son. At this point, we were fairly sure that we would make it, although it would be close to the final cutoff for an official finish.

On the final stretch, within two miles from the finish, we saw Rob Apple again. He is finished, and driving back home already. He shouted, ?You guys did it, this year!? I refuse to look at my watch, so I’m hoping he’s right. I was thinking that if we didn’t make the cutoff, at least we’ll have covered the entire course this year. That, in my book, is not a DNF. That’s a finish, albeit an unofficial one. I looked at my watch just as we were heading into the final trail section. We had eight minutes! I was encouraged, so I picked up the pace. Then I heard David Snipes yelling something like, you run until you reach me, right here! I’m running towards him. He then warns me about the sharp descend going down to the finish.

I’m thinking, he’s nuts! There were much sharper descends on the course than this little, short downhill.

Two years ago, my birth-mother, who was visiting me from South Korea, helped the runners at aid four. At age 87, she wanted to learn some English. She asked me what she should say to the runners. I told her, ?Good job!? A couple of runners told me after the event that she was an inspiration. Last year, other volunteers asked me if she was with me, as they appreciated her help and enjoyed her company. My son was at aid four last year, in lieu of
mother. This year, it was just my husband and myself. And my birth-mother and son were both glad to hear that we finally came across the finish line. She boldly said the words, ?Good job!?

Dan, Lehmann family, the volunteers, and runners who encouraged me, thank you all so very much. To all the aid station folks, thanks for waiting for us, and encouraging us. To all the runners who recognize me from previous events, it is always so good to see you all again.

And until we meet again, HAPPY TRAILS!

Author: Caroline E. Williams.