Highlands Sky 2016 Race Report – Jeff Suvak

Highland Sky 2016!!!!!!!!!!!

May I start by saying that it is a privilege to experience some of the most beautiful country and people in the world! To me, the area is semi secret, I treat this as an invite by local folks to share the incredible treasure that they call home! Thank You!My wife Debbie and I try to make the trip to Seneca Shadows and this area at least once a year and are always blown away by what we discover here.

This year was my second HS40 and 4th ultra overall. My first Ultra ever was the 2012 HS40. Ran that with my daughter Jessica and new friend, John Stout. John wrote a great report of the 2012 experience which is a must read. That race was a first ultra for both of us and a crazy, hey we’ve gotta do something like this! John is running the 2017 and is telling me it’s time to go again!

It all started in 2011 when my daughter Jessica ran a 50k in Ohio’s Cuyahoga Valley National Park, I could not believe that much range could be run in a day! I figured something like that could never be accomplished by me. I was turning 50 and thought, what the…. Time for something crazy. Found out that there was an ultra that circled one of my favorite places, Dolly Sods! A most challenging course in pristine WV forest, perfect! Looked like the perfect event put together by local running legend Dan Lehmann. I thought right! It is the perfect run! The 2012 was something I will never forget! But that is a different story. I must reiterate about trainer #2 that year, thanks again Matt Young for the guidance and patience on how it’s done. Will never forget that trainer run day either!

Fast forward to 2016, prepared better this time. Due to injury, I missed out on my long range training but did get all the hill repeat training in which proved to be beneficial. Nothing in Ohio prepares you for conditions in the Sods, but I must say we do have incredible trails that would surely please and did the best I could with the hills we have.

Race eve arrived, we got to Canaan late and missed the pre race meeting but did get there in time for the pasta which was delicious! The new lodge is first class and was just being built my first time out. Was a bit bummed to miss pre-race, missing out on info and chat with other runners.

That night, no surprise was tough to sleep in anticipation of the next day. Woke up the next morning at 4 raring to go. The view from the 4th floor balcony looking North was amazing with thick fog blanketing low lying areas, high peaks above it, this would be the day my fav running partner Jessica and I would complete another HS40! Was very thankful my wife Debbie would drive us to the start! Thank you!

The starting line was buzzing with energy and happiness, careful check in was being done to account for runners starting! Said hello to a local Ohio runner Jennifer Yaros who did her first HS40. Before you know it, it was go time! Mentally this year I did not worry about a race, just an all day journey through beautiful country! Mile 1and 2, just cruised at a 9 pace, heard all the similar sounds of Red Creek, cheering and neighbors dogs getting riled up by the commotion. Figured it may be some of the same dogs from years past. Amazing to see great looking horses in pasture as we whizzed by.

AS1, stopped for some water and good cheer knowing the big climb is ahead!Over 8 miles to the next aid station.

Was conditioned for the climb, it went well, thrilled to have my daughter Jessica run with me up the big ascent, the conversation melted the miles away. We were surprised by the amount Stinging Nettle on the way up! Heard some runners yelping, luckily Jessica and I never received a good Zap. Summited to the Roaring plains and incredible open highland beauty, conditions were so wet and muddy up there!Would not miss it for the world however! Much of the trail up there was submerged, flowing stream and mud bog. AS2 was very welcome! Much needed drink and food, ate my fill of P and J sandwiches! A favorite!

The next stretch of trail is a tough one! That decent is a killer, perhaps the most remote part of the race, still early on but taxing on the quads! AS3 came as a surprise, an unforgettable climb and pop out to extreme care and much needed nourishment! Always impressed how well the runners and bib numbers are accounted for by the volunteers!

The next stretch of trail is pretty fun, starts off technical then eases to flats, water, wooden bridges and openings. Most of the ascent and climbing is done! The final mile of gravel road to AS4 is fun, the people, cheering and encouragement is energizing and we are half way done!! Drop bags! The most stocked aid station! A good feeling for a runner!

Oh this next stretch, miles of gravel road, you think you can make up time but it seems up hill most of the way! Much tougher than you might think! AS5 could not come soon enough, may I say it was a fun one! Fresh watermelon!! Have never had that at an aid station and wow was that perfect!!Also tried my first salt capsules ever. The volunteers were great.

Finished that dang road to perhaps the highest point of the race! The view there!!! AS6! The final cutoff, still making good time at this point. As always, top class care, got my fill of food and drink in prep of the final half marathon! Unfortunately my training did not go this far and it was time to run on desire.

The next stretch of open hilly grassland is something from a dream, it kept my mind off the exertion. It took some time to get to AS7, a rather awesome stop! Laughs, fun, energy and beer! Jess and I had some and Damn did it taste good! Love that Mountain State brew!! Just what the doctor ordered.

On our way, made it to timberline ski resort and one last climb up a ski run, soon to come was the notorious butt slide, a ligament testing rugged drop back into Canaan. Valley. This is where Jess finally went ahead around mile 34, so thankful to run with her all those miles! She could have easily been an hour ahead at this point but stayed to run with me.Thank you!

Next, the butt slide! Steep!! Tough! Leg burner! Seemed endless then relief, gravel road and mild decent to AS8. Final drink, big encouragement and 4 more miles of road to finish.

Flat hot pavement to finish, a family and kids with a garden hose sprayed me down as I passed by their house! It was great! Welcomed the cooling! Was able to run nearly all the way to finish which I could not do in 2012. One mile to go! Feeling ok! Began to hear cheering before long! Almost done, could see the resort! People saw me coming out of the woods! “Runner coming”! People cheering for me! 100yds to go! Feeling like a rock star! I can see my wife, my daughter and her boyfriend Chris. Cameras, Dan Lehmann and Adam at the finish! The finish! Handshakes and the perfect day! After all the greetings, kind of wandered off for a minute to sit down and let all the emotions spill out without anyone seeing. One can’t explain the incredible feeling after something like this, you must experience it! Pure perfection!

Thank you for such a great event to participate in! The care, organizing and attention to detail are first class! Thank you to all the volunteers! The hospitality makes you feel like you’ve known them forever!!

Author:Jeff Suvak – Cleveland, Ohio