Highlands 2013 Race Report – Craig Burns

Highlands Sky 40.

Ascents, descents, creek crossings.

Mud, rocks, running.  Done.

The longer version is:

Months prior to toeing the line I had this re-occurring lower abdomen pain that was difficult for the doctors to diagnose.  (With a cancer diagnosis in my history, they were a little concerned.)  One morning’s run was so painful, that I contacted the race director and pulled out of the race.  After the pain subsided, I re-contacted him, and said I would at least try to make it to aid station four.  It was finally diagnosed as an inguinal hernia, and I await my very busy surgeon to have an opening.  To date I have not had some serious injury or health issue weeks prior to a race, so I knew to trust the grace of God to help me no matter how bad I felt.  One day, I proclaim and confess that this side of heaven I will run an ultra without a hernia, flu, viral syndrome, degenerative hip, cancer, Achilles tendonitis, plantar fasciitis, migraine headaches,  rotator cuff syndrome, bunions, capsulitus, etc., etc.

To add to the moment, my wife invites our middle granddaughter to join us, and a plan is made.  She is seven and is a natural runner, and has already completed a 5k so I knew she could handle the start to the first aid station if Dan would approve.  He did, and so grand dad and granddaughter on Father’s day Saturday started together.  By God’s divine timing, we just ‘happened’ to sit at a table that the aid station workers for #1 were sitting.  Amanda and Tom met my granddaughter and with their permission, they agreed to watch her until my wife arrived. There wasn’t a need as my wife was right behind us in the car, but it was nice to know she would stay with someone she knew if needed. This would put me in last place at the first aid station, but I didn’t really care.  Soon after the aid station, I met the first of many who would be having equipment malfunction due to the very wet, muddy bogs.  I read in another report that one person lost her shoe in a bog and the water was so deep, she never found it.  She had to go seven miles without a shoe.

Starting slow has its benefits.  I was able to pass a few people, and that gave me a little boost of morale.  My hernia was behaving and I felt decent and after the ascent from aid station one to the top the rocky filled and water filled bogs were fairly easy to navigate and led a few people through them at a decent pace.  I was afraid to look behind so I introduced myself and a nice sounding lady named Catherine was behind me and we ran well together through this section.   Leaving aid station two with 20 minutes to spare my hernia starting hurting, and this portion was painful.  When possible I tucked my hand between the strap on my waist pack and the hernia to hold it in place and push it back in.  This affected my coordination and balance on the pretty steep descents on this portion.  I finally found a rhythm and started running and led a pack of four talkative young ladies down and down.  I turned to see who it was near the bottom and nearly fell.  I let them pass as the ascent began, and now the hernia was combined with some serious stomach gas.  I have never prayed for a fart or poop, but I was doing some serious praying for one or the other.  The scenery and setting was absolutely the prettiest portions and I soaked in the beauty of the forest and the sound of the overflowing creeks to soak in some peace.  I remembered praying about some stressful issues from living in Washington D.C. and I got a strong sense to “don’t bring that stuff here.  Enjoy this moment and listen and see what is all around you.” The creek crossings were helped by the volunteers who put up ropes.  Even with the ropes, the crossing prior to aid station three was treacherous for me.  I almost fell in many times.  The rocks were slippery, so I slogged through thigh deep water, and still almost fell.  Leaving aid station three there was a notice that this was bobcat country.  If that is so, the bobcats must love steep grades.  Wow, is all I can say.  Eventually the top came, and then it was more creeks that once were a trail.  Holding my hernia and navigating the rocks was tricky and I eventually gave up running and walked most of this section.  I was glad to finally get to the bridges and then to the road.  I had pre-planned to stop at aid station four.  Running uphill on the road didn’t hurt the hernia as bad as the descents so I was able to finish fairly strong.  My wife and grand daughter were set up a half a mile from the aid station, and were surprised by my granddaughter who had gathered a handful of yellow flowers and jumped out from hiding and showered me with her bouquet.  I jogged into the aid station, and let them know I was done, and I was thankful to the Lord that the hernia, though painful wasn’t strangling an intestine or something even more serious.

I appreciated so many things about this race.  Dan Lehman, being the main reason.  He has gathered an incredible group of volunteers who were knowledgeable and helpful at each aid station.  His pre-race dinner was so filled with give a ways; most people that won got product that were equal to their race entry.  (Except the two who won a copy of my books.)  I appreciate the grace of God and the cool weather. I am also appreciative of the fellow back of the packer’s.  We all have a story and though we all dream of running with the lead pack are just glad to be alive and moving.  I am still undecided but for now I think I would rather have cold and wet, than hot and dry.  It was like running through creeks for ¾ of the first half of the race, but it was better than burning up from the heat.  Thanks be to God and everyone who made this race a reality, even though it was only half a reality for me.

Craig Burns