West Virginia and the Highland Sky 40 was also pretty wet, wild and wrocky. Dawgs, Hunt and Phil Nissen traveled to the picturesque Canaan Valley State resort area to run the second year of this challenging trail run/ climb in the Dolly Sods National Park and Canaan National Wildlife area.
The run starts in a high mountain valley of about 2500 ft and climbs to 4500, in some of the nicest, prettiest and unique areas i have ever been to on the East Coast. There were about 150 starters in the run coming from at least 20 different states and Canada. The first 8 miles are climbing to a ridge which is at over 4000 ft and is actually the Eastern Divide. The trails were primitive wet and boggy, but with 8 super aid stations, spectacular vistas, nice people, great awards, meals and prizes, this will be on my to do runs for the future, for sure. Typically, i started a bit fast, but slowed down soon enough,( about mile 10 ) to not have too dramatic a slow down in second half and finished reasonable 10+ hour time. Phil, apparently had an even better second half than first and finished in 11 hour segment.
Buzzard/TrailDawg Diana Stump, who was joined by 5 other Lancaster Buzzard folks had another great top place run. Diana finished as 4th woman overall with an 8:54 and although no official age group would have been 2nd in her group. Buzzard Marsha Peters placed first in womens masters with a time of just over 9 hours. Other Buzzards, joining Marcia and Diana for the caravan/trek getting there were David Halblieb, Jeanine Standish, Megan Clark and Kathi Franco. Below is a link for more picts and brief write-up and attached are some pictures of dawgs and buzzards on the run.
Author Hunt Bartine
Who knew? Who knew how fun it could be to run 40 miles of “Wild, Wet and Wrocky West Virginia?” One-hundred and twenty runners from across the Mid-Atlantic and East Coast states came to Canaan Valley Resort near Davis, West Virginia to find out. Many runners found themselves driving through stormy weather that put 3 and 3/4 inches of rain on the trails of Dolly Sods. Dan Lehmann, the race director found himself on the Timberline Slopes bushwhacking a fresh trail through pine trees, ferns and mud to reroute the course around another event taking place the same day. No sense in dodging ATV’s and dirt bikes after running 36 miles.
While runners registered and enjoyed a great pasta meal we were treated to a slideshow of last years course photos. The pictures prompted some wonderful memories of the inaugural race. During the race briefing about 14 runners stated that this was their first ultra. Wow!
After a short drive to the start at the Laneville cabin in Dolly Sods the runners milled around nervously. The weather was discussed. Hydration strategies were evaluated. Drop bag contents were compared. Now it was time to run. Highlands Sky has three unique sections. The first section includes a tough rocky climb through a hardwood forest and when you get to the top you are treated to grassy bald that is covered with boulders and wind swept pines. As we ran through the fog on the summit we missed the expansive views to the east and west, but it was for the best since it forced you to kept your eyes focus on the technical trail. A maze made of mountain laurel guided us around rocks, across streams and through the mud to the second aid station. The course continues through the forest and will cross the Red Creek four times over its entire length. At the 18 mile mark the course changes dramatically.
A right turn onto Forest Road 19/75 forces us to plod along for the next 7 miles. This road has been called many things. Most of which can’t be repeated. It provides the biggest mental challenge of the course, especially since you have three opportunities to drop and watch other runner suffer for the rest of the day. The final leg of the run is truly special and those who make this far are rewarded, albeit with more water and rocks.
Each meadow is prettier than the next. The Red Creek tinted by tannic acid flows below and now is a friend that will cool you off as you wade through it for the last time. Ferns brush your legs as you enjoy the views. Less rocks for a few minutes. As you crest the Timberline Slopes you come to a pile of rocks that a glacier left thousands of years ago. “Almost done,” you think as you approach the aid station with the toughest of volunteers. These guys get wind blown and rained on no matter how nice the weather. One more hill, but wait.
The course is now unknown to the veteran runners. The bushwhacked trail beckons. Runners barrel across large rocks and trample lush ferns. Then all of sudden it gets slick. Those who have not fallen yet are about to kiss the ground. Here come “but slide hill!’ There is no avoiding it, no embracing it. Just a controlled fall for the next hundred feet. Aid station workers state that not one person had finished the last section without comment. On to the finish!
The next three miles are uneventful. Whitetail deer look up from the road as to say “Excuse me…I am eating here.” After a couple miles on or near the road we head back into the woods for a brief moment to suddenly pop out at the finish line to cheer of encouragement. The best part of it all was just walking 100 yards to your hotel room for a warm shower and a BBQ chicken dinner. The evening was capped with several servings in the Laurel Lounge. What a great father’s day weekend! I’ll be back next year. Who knew?
I guess we were just lucky last year for the inaugural running of the Highlands Sky; the event went off without a hitch. So I suppose it is fair to expect that this year something had to go wrong. While flagging the course two days before the start, I came across some new markings utilizing part of our course. The owner of the tract told me months earlier that another event, a motorcycle motocross, was going to be using some of the property on the same day as our race. We had adjusted our course accordingly to be away from the mountainside the motorcycles were using. I thought we had everything decided. Well things changed and they had moved into our area and were not going to budge. Only 6 hours before runners were due to arrive on Friday, in the middle of a 3-inch downpour, 1.5 miles of course had to be cut through steep, dense woods, over boulders and down mudslides. With that fiasco behind everything was looking up.
Runners arrived Friday evening at the Canaan Valley Resort to enjoy the amenities offered by the venue. Steve Bowles commented, “Geez, the race is at a resort. The trails are probably all walking paths. How tough could it be?” But the comforts of the facility lie in stark contrast to the challenging 40 mile Highlands Sky course across Dolly Sods.
In the men’s race Bill Young took an early lead over Derrick Carr and pulled in to AS #2 with a three minute lead. Young extended his lead to 6 minutes at the half, but Carr pulled up toward the end to finish only 2:35 behind the leader. This was Bill’s first ultra win with a 7:08:00. He remarked how stressful it was being in front.
In the women’s race Katherine Franco, Sarah Almodovar, and Sophie Speidel took the lead. At half way point AS #4 Almodovar led Speidel by two minutes going into the road section. By the end of the 7.3 mile “road across the sky” Speidel had pulled ahead by three minutes. Sophie Speidel maintained the lead to take home her first ultra win with a time of 8:06:51.
After all the planning and preparation for the Highlands, the sharing in the excitement and joy of the runners, there is a little bit of an empty spot when it’s all over….till the next time we get together to hit the trail.
Congratulations to all the runners. After what seemed like a bad start, the weekend turned out to be a winner. Thank you to all you volunteers who did such a fine job. And many thanks to all our fine sponsors; Montrail, Canaan Valley Resort, Tygart Valley Orthopedics & Sports Medicine, Hammergel, Patagonia, Fuelbelt, Timberline 4 Seasons Resort, Tucker County Convention & Visitors Bureau, Alldredge Academy, and the US Forest Service Monongahela National Forest.
See you next year.
I wasn’t sure I was going to run Highland Sky this year until three weeks before the race. I had just run the Promise Land and Capon Valley 50Ks and didn’t think it was a good idea to press my luck (and my body) to try an ultra that was rumored to be incredibly challenging and hard. I also needed to make sure I wasn’t asking too much of my family to allow me yet another 24 hours away from home…but the stars lined up just right when Rachel Toor, my new ultra friend whom I had met last year at Masochist, invited me to stay with her, and Quatro Hubbard, my training buddy from Richmond, agreed to give me a ride. My kids were happily hanging out with their dad, who had been away on business all month, so I felt I could go guilt-free. (When you are a mom trying to do these crazy races, it’s hard not to feel guilty). My kids practically begged me to leave (“Dad is more fun than you, Mom”), so the weekend was on.
We arrived at Canaan Valley Resort just in time for dinner and I immediately saw Rachel, who was taking notes for an upcoming article she is writing for Running Times, where she is a senior writer. Dan and Jody gave us a warm welcome, and it was great to eat some good pasta and catch up with some of my Virginia Happy Trails friends, the most excellent and fun-loving group of trail runners on the planet (the WVMTR crowd is a close second). Dan gave us the briefing (“It’s wet. It rained a ton today.You will get wet.”), and after waiting for Rachel to get a play-by-play virtual tour of the course map by Bill Young, it was time to get some sleep.
The next morning, we boarded the bus at 5:00 am for the 30-minute ride to the start. I liked the idea of a point-to-point run, since it would mean we were actually going somewhere. The weather was cool and cloudy…perfect. I was a little nervous about my hip flexor, which had given me problems at Masochist last fall, and this would be my longest race since then. Gary Richwine, a VHTRC friend, offered me some Advil, which I took without hesitation. I was carrying 2 hand-held bottles, one of water and the other of half Gatorade and half water, and I carried a third bottle of water just in case. I have learned that I really need to hydrate well and not wait for an aid station, or else I bonk, big time. I also took 2 “S” caps right before the start and planned to take one every half hour. I did this at Promise Land and Capon Valley, and it worked well, so I was sticking to that game plan.
Rachel and I started together on the 2-mile road section. We went really slow and easy, catching up with one another and generally having a relaxed run together. She had told me she was not going to push herself too hard, since she would be pacing a guy at Western States the following week (Rachel is in big demand as a WS pacer, having done so once before and having written the best ultra article I’ve ever read on the WS pacing experience…and no, she is not paying me to write this race report!). As we began the first climb, Rachel went on ahead as I took a few photos with my disposable camera. I did this at Promise Land and really had fun with it since it helped me relax and keep my pace slow. The first climb got muddier and more slippery as we approached the summit, and I was grateful for the first rocky section at the top, since it gave us a break from the muck…or so I thought.
I passed a large group at the top, including Rachel and a few other women. I really enjoyed the Flat Rock trail section…it was rocky and wet but slightly downhill, so it was fun to let go a little. I came into aid station 2 (mile 10) at exactly 8:00 am, and was told that I was the first woman. With that suprising news, I pigged out on the fig newtons and PB &J’s, re-filled my bottles (both hand-helds were now empty), and started down the trail. I ran for a good bit with Rod Sparks from Cincinnati, who was training for his first Ironman in Wisconsin, so we talked about triathlon for a long time. On a steep technical section I passed another woman, so I figured I was NOW the first woman. This was a new experience for me, as I had never led an ultra…the closest I had ever come was second. But it didn’t really matter…I just wanted to run strong and finish strong, and let the chips fall where they may…
Coming into aid station 4 (mile 19), I was still with Rod and Chris from NC, and was looking forward to changing into dry socks. I was happy to see Dave Stuckey, another VHTRCer, since we always finish races together and seeing him here meant I was pacing myself well. Dave introduced me to the true first woman, Sarah Almodovar, with whom he had been running. (Note to self: take the aid station folks’ statistics with a grain of salt…they are awesome at helping re-fill bottles, but they may not always be accurate with runner placings!). Clean dry socks and some potatoes with salt did the trick and we (Sarah, Dave, and I) were off down the 7-mile “road across the sky”, which Dan had explained was the Eastern Continental Divide. It was a welcome change from all the standing water and rocks from the trail, and I really enjoyed hammering the downhills and running the flats, and power-walking the ups. And the ups we could see for miles. I was able to get into a goo! d groove and pull away from Sarah and Dave with this combo of running and walking.
Before I knew it, it was mile 26, and it was time to enter the famed Dolly Sods (a.k.a. “Dolly Bogs”) Wilderness. I knew that Sarah was still close, and I was trying to enjoy myself, but now the added stress of keeping a lead was beginning to wear thin. The Dolly Sods were beautiful, so I snapped a few more photos and plunged into the muck. No use trying to go around the muck…it was just best to plow through and enjoy the cool mud and water. A climb out of there a few miles later brought me to mile 32, but not before I saw a sign where Dan had written “You ARE An Ultrarunner!!! Aid Station Just Ahead.” I laughed out loud at that wonderful sentiment. I emerged from a rock bed to find the aid station overlooking the gorgeous valley, and saw the nicest young man (Dan’s son, I later learned) who yelled “You are the first girl!!!!” Wow, did I love that! The first 41-year-old girl! It made my day.
As I cruised down the ski slope I thought I heard the whirr of a waterfall…alas, it was not to be. Instead, it was the roar of the ATV race, which Dan had warned us about. The quiet of the forest was replaced by mud-slinging, toxic-fume emitting, noise-polluting motorized vehicles…on top of that, Sarah was making her move about 200 yards behind me. I had a serious discussion with myself. I considered my options: I could: a). continue at this comfortable pace and let her pass me ( “maybe we could cruise in together?” I thought), or b). I could put the hammer down and see what I was made of. I also heard, in the back of my mind, the stern voice of a certain training partner asking me, “Are you going to win this race, or what?!” That was it. I chose option “B.”
Enter the Lehmann Butt Slide. Having never run The Barkley (and never planning to), I have only read about Leonard’s Butt Slide. This Highland Sky version was a real treat: Dan had basically re-routed the original course (because of the ATV race) into the woods and it was a steep, twisty, butt-sliding ritual of trying to catch a glimpse of the next ribbon before you hit the next tree limb with your head, or go off course all together. One nice volunteer told me “be aware of the motorcycles!” just as one plowed into mud yards away from me. Needless to say, it was a test of patience to get through that section with all the noise, mud, and the non-trail that one had to run. Thankfully, I saw the aid station at the bottom, yelled out my number, and kept going. It was great to see a dirt road, which led to a real road, and I was beginning to sense that I was almost home. But not before more wet marshy trail to run…
Entering the Canaan Valley Resort, with 2 miles to go, I started to reflect on the day. I had accomplished my goal of running strong and finishing strong (OK, I ended up walk/running the last 2 miles since my knee was sore). It was exciting to think I would finally finish first in an ultra, and I was so grateful to have had the awesome opportunity to push my body and spirit beyond their comfort levels, and to have a family that supports me as I pursue this wacky dream. It was a beautiful course and I was having the time of my life! But strangely, I also felt that something was missing… and I realized, as I was running those last few yards in the rain, that what I truly love about ultras are the people, pure and simple. I love the challenge and the adventure that I am faced with every time I start a race, but I also love to run with my friends, to make new friends while on the course, and to share the experience with someone! I didn’t know before the start. For the last 4 hours of this race, I was by myself, and it was hard to concentrate, to remain focused, and to keep a positive attitude. As I ran down the hill to the finish and hugged Dan, Jody and Rachel (who had dropped to save herself for WS), my thoughts were of my friends still out on the course, and I couldn’t wait to see them finish. One by one they returned, covered head-to-toe in mud. Some (Dave Stuckey, David Snipes, Jim Cavanaugh, Frank Probst) sprinted in. Dru Sexton and Graham Zollman jogged in and happily yelled “we LOVE this course!!” Quatro came in with a huge smile declaring “keep the Lehmann Butt Slide!” All had accomplished an incredible feat under very tough conditions…and I was happy to be among them once again, where I belong.
Author: Rachel Toor
We negotiated an hour of whining. Whether it was to be running-time or stop-time was never determined.
My brother Mark and his wife Allyn live in Charleston, West Virginia, the home of the Rattlesnake 50 km and the Snowflake 50 km. Both are races I am delighted to drive five hours to run. Afterward my brother cooks a big dinner and Allyn’s two sisters and their families come over. I usually whine a bit and drive home the next day.
Mark called to say that he’d read in the local paper about a brand new event –
The Highlands Sky 40 Mile Trail Run – at a place where they skied in the winter, and resorted in the fall: Canaan Valley. I had visions of wandering lost for 40 years, trying desperately to reach the promised land of a finish line 40 miles away. Until I learned that in West Virginia, Canaan rhymes with inane. If you rent a big house, I told my brother, we could all go up and I could run the race. (This is the same brother who, when I told him that I had bought a black leather jacket and needed a motorcycle to accessorize it, ha ha, got me a Honda Rebel 150cc.) Within a nanosecond, Mark had rented a big house and I was compelled to enter a race longer than I had ever run.
My sister-in-law comes from hardy Virginia stock. Her family history is straight Southern Gothic. One day I will write a novel about them and no one will believe it is anything other than fiction. The four sisters, three of whom now live in Charleston, are close and tolerant. Except that they do not tolerate whining, from each other or from others. When we decided that my brother, his eight-months pregnant wife, two sisters, one five-year-old child, my 16-year-old dog Hannah and her two canine cousins would accompany me to this race, they said I would be allowed an hour of whining, no more. The quarters were too close, the drive too long. I was lucky to get an hour, they said.
But, but, but, I said. I’ve never run that far. I don’t know if I can do it. It’s up a mountain and back down. It’s the first year of the race – things always go wrong the first year. I could get lost. I often get lost. It’s desolate and deserted up there. There are no previous times to try to gauge how long it will take. It could be wet. It could be cold. I will fall. (I always fall.) There might not be enough – or the right kind of – food at the aid stations. I haven’t trained enough. I’m scared.
You have 47 minutes of whining left, they said.
After the race briefing I thought I was going to have to plead for more time. Dan Lehmann, the race director, casually mentioned that there were cables across some of the stream crossings. He emphasized the rockiness of the course. He noted that it had been a rainy spring and that the peat moss sods were, well, sodden. The weather up there, a freak of nature kind of place, atypically bare and barren for lush West Virginia, was highly changeable. It could be cold. Windy. You will get muddy, he said. There’s a hose at the finish, he said.
I do not like stream crossings. I do not like being cold. I do not like losing my shoes in the mud. I particularly do not like point-to-point races. Except, of course, for the Boston marathon. As in Boston, we loaded buses. At Highlands Sky we loaded at 5:00 am to get to the start. We drove until it was light, and then, as in Boston, waited in line for the porta-potties. At 6:00 am, Dan said, not terribly loudly, “Okay, go ahead, have fun,” and we went ahead.
In the first few miles, I started a conversation with a guy my lawyer brother had pointed out. He does constitutional law, Mark said. I trotted up and asked the long-haired young man what kind of constitutional law issues arose in Charleston, West Virginia. Lots, it turned out. A number of us listened while making the first big climb. Con Law Man talked about defending a student who wanted to start an Anarchy Club in a local high school (the irony of forming an anarchy club seemed to get lost somehow), defending the KKK, and suing the state legislature. We joked that the state prosecutor was being prosecuted for sexual harassment (“It’s just how we talk to each other in this office,” was his defense), and that the governor’s love-letter emails to his mistress had recently been published in the newspaper. What kind of a state is this, I asked? One like any other, Con Law Man said. I guess. Then, as usual in ultras, talk turned to other races, other towns. As we climbed higher, we spoke less and spaced out.
After a long, steep, rocky downhill, a woman I’d passed caught up and commended me on my downhill running. Short legs and stupidity, I said, go a long way. I asked about her running history and she told me that she’d run five 100 mile races, winning or coming in second. I apologized for not recognizing her name. Most people know my name, she said, because of last year’s Vermont 100 mile race. Michele Burr told me that she’d finished the race and promptly went into a coma for five days, suffering from hyponatremia. I thought about drinking less water and trying to eat more salt after that.
We were running in creek beds, through water and on jagged rocks. The first half was billed as the hard part; after mile 19 or so, it was supposed to be easy. Maybe, if running 7.3 miles on a straight dirt road, where all you see stretching ahead is uphill miles and ant-sized fellow runners, can be considered easy. Maybe, if running for hours through bogs of standing water and knee-deep, shoe-sucking mud can be considered easy. Maybe, if climbing to the top of the world on rocks as big as your head and being buffeted by a strong wind can be considered easy. Maybe, if you don’t think running 40 miles is hard.
I crossed the line. That was hard, I said to Dan. I was smiling. It was hard. He said I looked fresh, happy. I was happy. How could I not be happy? The course was so well marked that even I would have had to work to get lost. The aid stations were not only well stocked, but well staffed. The volunteers were personal pit-crew for each runner, suggesting things that you didn’t even know you wanted until they offered. The course was not only beautiful, but varied; something for everyone to love, and very little not to like (though the 7.3 miles of road was less than lovable).
That night, soaking in the hot tub, the sisters said I had a lot of whining time left. I should feel free to let loose. But I could produce no whines, just kept smiling, feeling fortunate to be able to do something so wonderful, surrounded and supported by friends and family. It’s hard to whine once you’ve arrived in the land of milk and honey.
Highland Sky 40 Mile Race Report – Davis, West Virginia
Author: Tod Massa
Well, the Highlands Sky Ultra 40 in Canaan Valley State Park West Virginia was everything I was told it would be: Hard, and perhaps too much for a first ultra.
First, let me say that West Virginia Mountain Trail Runners, Dan Lehmann, and all the volunteers put on a helluva race! While this was only fourth race, first ultra, I didn’t see anything to complain about. Well-organized, well-planned out, everything done to the smallest detail from what I could see. The aid station volunteers were wonderful – can’t say enough about them! The trail was also really well marked. A lot of effort had gone into staging this race.
I got up to Canaan Valley State Park Friday afternoon, a bit later than I intended after a series of sub optimal routing choices. While I was in the parking lot I saw a man in shorts with very muddy legs and a handful of surveyor flags. I went up to him and said, “You look like a race director.” He allowed he was and we introduced ourselves and he explained he had been out marking the last couple of miles and that it would be a bit muddy out there. Dan then excused himself to get cleaned up before the dinner and briefing.
During the dinner I met a number of runners who were all very supportive and encouraging of my first ultra attempt. Really, it was a bunch of great people. It was clear though from the briefing that this was not going to be an easy race…that iterated and reiterated. I was already convinced of that from studying the topos, but I was not going to be dissuaded from the attempt. After dinner and the briefing, I packed and repacked my Camelback and my waist pack. I laid out my clothes and set three alarms for four, four-ten, and four-fifteen.
It was a humid and foggy morning when we loaded the old school buses with ski-racks for the ride to the starting line. Afterwards it was a half-hour of general milling and potty stops. Six o’clock came soon enough and we were off. It was a fast start on roads for two miles and change through the first aid station and then across a grassy field and into the first ascent.
Did I mention it was muddy? And steep? No? Well, it was. Rocky, too. At each aid station, there was a sign with a time on it that represented what time we would be there on a 16-minute pace. This was really key since we had to make station #6 (26.7 miles) by 1:10 pm in order to be allowed to keep going. The difference between station #1 and #2 was about 8 miles and a 2300 ft climb over less than three miles. We had been advised not to worry too much about our times at stations #2 and #3 as we could make up quite a bit of time between #4 and #6 since that was a seven-mile stretch of forest road. It was a demanding run but I got there only five minutes off that pace with a couple of runners I had hooked up with along the way (Maria and Charley). A few minutes of eating and drinking and then off again, feeling pumped about the race and my time. Things went well, until the next major climb, 1200 ft that just kicked my butt. We made it to #3 and were now 30 minutes off the pace, trying to figure out where we lost the time (I learned today that the distance between #2 and #3 was more like 7 miles instead of the 5.5 we were told). Anyway, it was somewhere in there, at 3.5 hours that the first cramps started -right on time, left thigh, just like back in Tybee during my first marathon back Feb 1st. I swear I had been doing everything right…hourly gels and Enduro-Caps, drinking, eating, trying to maintain an appropriate pace for my abilities and the terrain.
Rocks. Mud. Steep ups, steep downs. Narrow trails, logs. Everything you could want, except in my case, speed and endurance. For the next a few aid stations all I was able to do was make up a few of the 30 minutes I was behind. My right foot was in pain, and I was getting hit with serious cramps in my thighs every 20-30 minutes. I got to the midpoint and headed for my drop bag. I swear, I never realized how wonderful it could feel to pull on a pair of clean, dry wool socks. It was pure heaven! My feet and legs were black from the churned mud of the heather on top of the mountains we had climbed. The pain in my right foot was, I realized, from a huge blister on the end of my second toe that had ruptured and torn on both sides. So, I quickly bandaged it up, grabbed some grapes and moved on.
It was to no avail. I could not run enough on the road to make up any time. The road was straight, unyielding, and hilly. Every time you crested a hill, you saw the next one…and the next one. I began to accept a DNF. But even then, I refused to give in. I made it to #5, ate, drank and kept moving.
And soon it was over. I made it into #6 at 1:39….29 minutes too late. DNF. The volunteers were apologetic about having to enforce the cutoff, but I had agreed to the rules in signing up. Wasn’t their fault at all. I had done my best and simply fallen a bit short.
And that’s my story. It was great challenge in a beautiful place with a lot of really great people. I had done everything I could to make it, but just didn’t have enough to go all the way…at least not in time. I figure, that I at least finished a marathon, and that makes three for the year so far….and I really only started learning to run again a year ago next month. So, I feel pretty good, despite the DNF. Not happy mind you, but it was quite an accomplishment for me.
So, next year, I’ll try it again. In between now and then, I’m pretty sure I’ll find something else to try….probably the Great Eastern 50k in September.