Highlands Sky 2010 – Luke Wendt

Race report for the Highlands Sky 40 Mile Trail Run

June 28th 2010

Last week I ran my first ultra!  Why? I am not sure I have the answer but I am glad I did it.  Last year when I turned 40 I figured I should try an ultra marathon before my wife.  Yes we are “competitive healthy.”  Meaning we support each other in our adventures but are looking to see what we can do to get one up on one another.  My wife was a professional fitness competitor and once she retired from fitness she jumped into triathlons and within a year she had her first ironman under her belt.  I figured the only chance I had to “beat” her was to do an ultra.  Plus for my 40th birthday, why not? 

To prepare mentally for this race I needed something to help me if and when I had trouble training or even during the race.   After much research, I decided to raise money for the Pat Tillman Foundation.  Currently, I have raised over $1,300 for them in less than 4 weeks.  So running for Pat and for those who have donated to my cause helped keep me where I need to be with training and “racing.” 

I enjoy a challenge and I got that from the entire race.  This race is two races: the 1st 20 miles and the 2nd 20 miles.  They are amazingly different.    

The 1st 20 miles was more to my liking and fit my running personality.   After reading race reports from last year’s race, I had a great respect for all those who raced survived last year.  Also I believe race director Dan paid the 1st few runners to just blaze a trail that is close to 40 miles because there were parts of this 20 mile which had no resemblance of a trail.  I am still looking into this possible theory…  That being said, time flew by for me since most of my time was really concentrating on the trail.   I met some really nice runners who welcomed me to West Virginia and were glad I was there. (Gary K., Jim H. and Garth G.)   Thanks to them for the positive encouragement.

The 2nd 20 miles, wow!  Being a bigger runner, heat and sun are two things I try to avoid when signing up for races.  That was not the case today.  The sun was out and it was hot.  However,  a nice breeze helped.  To make things interesting, the 2nd 20 miles is open and had very little shade.  This was the major difference between the 1st part and the 2nd.  So, after a change of shirt and socks I was off down the road which kept going and going and going.  I did stay up on my salt and nutrition so no major issues there.  I do remember someone howling as I approached aid station #7.  I figured it was close, no, not really.  I think it was about 15 minutes from when I first heard it to when I walked into AS #7.  The man with the clip board took my number, put his arm around me and walked with me encouraging me and giving me the scouting report of what was next.  I had flashbacks of my football coach doing the same thing before sending me in with a play.  This pumped me up more than any PBJ sandwich or gel would ever do.  Thank you goes to whoever that was!

I got to Timberline Ski Resort and had no issue with going up the mountain (called Upper Salamander).  Then we ran down the mountain which seemed like a DOUBLE BLACK DIAMOND.  However, it was only a blue, for you skiers, but it sure felt like a double black diamond.  If the body had not already had enough abuse from RD Dan, he decided to throw this at us.  Once down the ski mountain it took me a while to get the feeling back in my lower extremities.  I got some help when I saw a “friend” in regards of a draft horse that was on the trail.  I race Clydesdale (weight base) so when I saw my big friend with his head down and moving forward, I just made up my mind that I would do the same. 

The final aid station to the finish was the war of attrition.  Here you see runners who are making deals with themselves.  You don’t actually hear it, but you see it on each of their faces.  “Just get me to that tree.”  “Hang on, for a few more miles.”   In the same respect you also see a lot of encouraging.  “Keep it up, we are almost there.”  “Run with me to the shade.”   As I turned into the resort I was not sure how many miles I had left because my watch had died right before Timberline.  As I headed into the final trail section I caught up with a runner and he was going to let me pass and I told him, “Dude, I have had 9 hours to catch you, I am not going to pass you in the last 30 sec.”  And for me, that is how I can summarize my race.  I was out to have fun with my fellow athlete, (I would not call myself an ultra-runner yet).  Sure it is nice to have a good finishing time, but for me and my first ultra, hey it’s a “PR” anyway you look at it, right?   

Suggestions for first time runners of the Highlands Sky 40 miler:

  1. Don’t worry about the nettles; they don’t differentiate between the 1st timer and the veterans.  They only sting for a little bit. 
  2. Change socks and shoes at halfway point.  
  3. Bottles or backpack?  I think RD Dan gave the best advice, use what is comfortable for you. 
  4. Stay up on nutrition.
  5. Have fun and enjoy it.  Make friends and keep moving forward.