Highlands Sky, a 40 Mile Race that feels like a 50 miler

I debated all Spring on whether to run Dan Lehmann’s race. I had run a lot of ultras (for me) this year and I was unsure whether to do one more before getting some rest prior to the Fall racing season. I figured I could handle a 40 miler and besides I ran this race it’s inaugural year in 2003 and I survived. What I forgot was that covering 40+ miles would not be the hard part but how long it takes to run this particular 40+ miles.

What really drew me back is the scenery from start to finish. We run through lush green forests, over large rock outcroppings, across high meadows, up and down a long service road (a.k.a. “the road across the sky”) and down a section in the woods properly nicknamed “butt slide”. This new section was replacing the wet bog area we ran through in 2003. I also heard it would be easier or faster?? I’m still not sold on it being either.

It was a cool, dry morning and great running weather (dryer than in year’s past). I ran the first section or two with the previous year’s overall winner Bill Young and the eventual winner for this year Ian Schouten. Bill had his entire family manning the 2nd aid station, which I thought was very cool. I enjoyed talking with both Bill and Ian for the first few miles. After the first big climb Ian mentioned that the climb did not feel too bad and we both laughed as we knew that we would be feeling that climb a few hours later. By the second major climb we had all separated so I would find myself running alone in silence from here to the finish. I did mumble a few choice words to myself after hours of running over rock after rock. I started getting some blisters on both my feet around mile 17. I knew it would be a long day now. As my blisters got worse it was very difficult maneuvering over, around, and through all the technical sections, which is what this course is all about. I found myself missing the service road section and longing for the 2 miles of roads near the end. The only time I was comfortable was when my foot would land on a flat smooth surface. I was out of luck on this terrain.

I was never able to catch the swift moving Mr. Schouten. Blisters or not he was out of my reach. I decided trying to finish and maintain 2nd place would be my priority. The last short trail section before we entered the park entrance to the lodge and the finish was tough for me. The grass was waist deep and I figured Dan must have forgotten to get out his weed eater prior to the race. (Bill also mentioned something about the need for a weed eater in this section as he crossed the finish line) I ended up walking most of this grassy trail as my feet were killing me and it was hard to see where your feet were landing. I’m still not sure if there was a trail there or not. I eventually made it through to the finish and was very glad that my racing was over for a while.

I have raced and trained on some beautiful trails but the Highlands Sky course is my favorite even though it is brutally tough. I hope that Dan is able to keep having this race year after year. He is an awesome race director (runner) and has every detail worked out. The volunteers are top notch. The aid stations are as good as it gets. The pre-race and post-race meals are wonderful. Dan mentioned during the race briefing that someone had filled out the section of their entry form on how they had heard about this race by putting down ”they had heard voices under their bed”. These same voices will be bringing me back to run here again.

Author: Mark Lundblad