Highlands Sky 2010 – Matt Young

Highlands Sky 2010

40 Miles of Wild, Wet and Wrocky WV

I was nervous the days leading up to this year’s race but having one under my belt eased the anxiety that I felt last year.  I’d been looking forward to the start of this race since I crossed the finish line last year and counted down the days.  It was in the low 60s to start and the forecast was for a warm day.  Because of our camp being just a few feet from the starting line I have the luxury of laying in bed until 5:00 when most runners are getting on the bus to head to the start.  My appreciation for this race goes beyond the respect for the distance, the beauty of the terrain or for the strength and will you find in the runners, to a family heritage started many years ago with my Grandaddy.  I’ll spare you the details that can be found in last year’s report at www.wvruncoach.com/race-reports/.

The start came quickly when Dan yelled something like, “Now get going” and it was off.  On the road to Flatrock I was asked what kind of time I was shooting for and all I could say was “a good time.” But really I had three goals. First, to take 15-20 minutes off of last year’s time, 2) to survive the first half so I could run the 2nd without misery and 3) have a negative split in the second half.

Flatrock  was dry but covered with nettles. My legs stung more than I remembered on any other time running up Flatrock.  The nettles are a nasty little curse and if you don’t know what a nettle is check it out here:  http://www.wisegeek.com/what-is-a-stinging-nettle.htm .  Flatrock is about 5 miles to the top and it’s all uphill. I set a reasonable pace keeping my heart rate low and walking where I needed too.  I took my first check about mile 7 and found that my legs were already a little heavy which was concerning.  I downed a gel and worked across Roaring Plains and the rocky trail stumbling and bumbling with my heavy legs.  I arrived at aid station 2 already 10 minutes ahead of last year and in the back of my mind wondering if I could hold it or if I was setting myself up for a big fat bonk somewhere down the trail.  Aid 2 was manned by the Young’s so they took special care of one of their own and got me out quickly.

The day was going to be hot so I drank consistently and ate frequently to keep everything in balance as best I could.

After an uneventful trip down Boars Nest it was another climb back up South Prong but the last major climb.  I realized I was further ahead of schedule than I wanted to be so I took it easy up the trail to try and save some legs and keep my heart rate low.  At Aid 3 I asked how many runners had come through, which isn’t typical for me, but I was curious.  78 runners had already passed. Wow, I finished exactly 78th last year. Interesting. I was kind of surprised because I was about 20 minutes ahead of schedule and in the exact same spot that I finished before. But, last year I passed runners in the 2nd half so if I could stick with my plan maybe the same would happen.

I like the 10 bridges section and count them off as I run cross them. It was good to hit the road again knowing that Aid 4 and the half way point was only 1 mile away. My dad was waiting to see me and it was good to see him.  He ran along side me and asked how I was feeling and all I could say was OK.   Then he asked, “how do you feel compared to this time last year.” Good question.  And I think I said, worse.  In the back of my mind I was a little worried that I my legs wouldn’t hold up. For the past 13 miles I’d been praying for the strength to outrun a chariot just like Elijah (I Kings 18:46).  It was starting to work.

I arrived in at aid 4 in 4:35 and 25 minutes ahead of last year.  So I was a little encouraged but only a little.  I was also a little worried.  My dad and I made our way to the drop bags, I filled by hydration pack, refilled my food and opted not to change my shoes and socks.  I didn’t realize then the difference keeping my first pair of shoes would make.  I also didn’t want to disturb the dirt and grit that had settled in my socks that might later cause me blisters.

It was getting  hot now with the sun coming up high in the sky.  I soaked my bandana and tied it around my neck and hit the road.  The road across the sky gets mixed reviews but I like it. It’s 7 miles of forest road that you can run so I settled in to a rhythm and ran along. It was uneventful for me and I felt my legs come back and covered the 7 miles in about 1:15.  Aid 6 at mile 27 was manned by my friends Michael and Dolin and they got me loaded back up with water and a few gels, snapped a few pictures and I was back on the trail from Bear Rocks.

I like to break this event down in sections.  I believe the training and physical preparation leading up to the race carries your body this far, about 27 miles.   But leaving Aid 6 with 27 miles down and 14 to go the body is tired and your heart and mind have to take over.  A race like this tests your mind and your heart even more than you body.

The last 14 miles tends to spread the runners out and I was alone for big blocks of time.  But I was passing someone every now and again and I wasn’t being passed.  Kind of like last year.  I was rolling on the flats and downhills but slowed on the uphills. Still, my legs felt good now for being this far in to the course.  At this point my strategy was run where I can, walk when I have too.  But I was running more than I expected.  It was really hot now and the sun was beating down. In the plains there’s very little shade and there was no cloud cover. There might have been a breeze but I didn’t sense it.  Aid 7 at about mile 32.5 seemed to take forever to get there. The boulders came and went but I like the boulders too.  I think it’s the change and the mental diversion.

I was in and out of Aid 7 pretty quick and again, the aid workers were great.  It was back to the trail and on to Timberline where there was a change in the course eliminating the butt slide and sending us up one side of a ski slope and back down the other.  It was brutal.  After 30 some miles slogging up a ski slope was bad enough. But the worst part was running down the other side. It was lose dirt and some small rocks and steep enough that your quads took a pounding but you also had to hold yourself back causing more strain on my legs.  That downhill was over a mile but felt much longer.  But it was downhill and I could keep my heart rate low and my feet just rolling over.

The stomach cramps started about here. I changed my breathing rhythm, pushed out, held it in, pulled on my sides, bent all the way over, stretched out tall.  I did just about everything but they wouldn’t go away. I lived with them for the last 7-8 miles, not much else to do.

Aid station 8 was my favorite. Not only was I just a little over 4 miles from the finish but an angel of a volunteer covered me with a cold wet towel. She wiped down my neck and arms and squeezed it over my head with drenching ice cold water. Man-oh- man did it feel good.  I’m not sure who it was but if you by chance read this, thank you.

I found it very hard to run now but I realized that I had about 48 minutes to cover the final 4.2 if I wanted to break 9 hours.  So I ran. Or more like a shuffle but it was a running motion.  I hit the park still moving along and looked for my wife and daughter who might be waiting for me at the park entrance.  I’d been waiting all day to see them.   I told her I wouldn’t be there before 3:00 and I think it was about 2:35.  After a short time here came Ann Marie and I waved and got a little choked up. Both of my sides were cramping bad now.  I ran bent over at the waist and changed my breathing again to try to break up the cramps and it helped a little but the cramps still wouldn’t go away.

I hit the last trail section and caught the last runner to pass me.  I knew I had a little cushion so we walked together for the last part. I came up the last hill and could see my dad with my daughter, Caroline.  She was holding a poster  for me, “I love you Daddy.” Those of you that know me well won’t be surprised to hear that I teared up.  We ran hand in hand for a few steps but I didn’t trust my legs not to collapse and drag her down with me so my dad took her and I went on down the hill to the finish.  At the finish I could see Ann Marie, my mom, JG on crutches, and Wendy. And of course, Dan, taking pictures and smiling as he does for everyone that crosses the finish line of his race. I went back and got Caroline and we crossed the finish again together.  Dan snapped a picture that will be one of my favorites of all time (see below).

It was done and I finished with 27  seconds to spare to break 9 hours and 48 minutes better than last year.  I’m glad I didn’t change my shoes.

By the numbers.  Average pace was 13:10 for 40.96 miles including stops at aid stations (moving pace was 12:25). Elevation gain 5877. Elevation loss  5141.  Best mile, mile 1 in 8:00.  Slowest mile, mile 16 in 19:10 up South Prong and Aid station 3 (the ski slope was 3rd slowest in 17:10).  Avg heart rate was 78% of max and I burned 4,913 calories.  First half split was 4:35 and second half was just under 4:25.

I’m thankful for another finish, a great day and a healthy body. I’m thankful for the Lord’s strength to finish and for my family’s support.  Thanks to Dan and all of the volunteers that work hard so the rest of us  can have a great race.  Checkout the other race reports at the Highlands Sky Website. If you read them all you’ll get a view from the front with the winner, Eric Grossman, and a view from field from the others but they are all great reads with different perspectives.

There’s also a good recap on from Daniel Todd who also took some amazing pictures.

You have a lot of time for your mind to wander in an event like this and there are many scenes to take in over 40 miles.  As we worked our way over the course and went from mountain streams, hardwood forest, Canadian like tundra, and open grassy plains I remained awe struck by the beauty of God’s creation.  And there’s a hymn that ran through my mind over and over that tells the story:

I Sing the Mighty Power of God….Lord, how thy wonders are displayed,
where’er I turn my eye,
if I survey the ground I tread,
or gaze upon the sky!

See you next year-