Highlands Sky 40 Mile Trail Race Report

A couple days have passed and my quads still haven’t let me forget about this race. My quads aren’t normally this sore, but then again I don’t normally have such unusual circumstances leading up to a race.

I started feeling a tad funky on June 11, and I developed a 101-degree fever by the end of the next day. An accumulation of infant-induced sleep loss, disease carrying children, general life stress, recently increased training load, and a lovable personality made me the perfect host for Virus 349XY.

The fever persisted, fluctuating in intensity throughout each day - my intracellular fluids apparently being too tasty and nutritious for Virus 349XY to throw up a white flag. Every time I thought I had won the battle, I’d start to become super fatigued and fevered again.

Did I mention I went to the ER? Because apparently I had also strained a deep abdominal muscle in the weeks prior and just in case there was an off chance I had actually formed a strangulated hernia, I wanted to know prior to an ultramarathon. But there was no hernia and they thought I was crazy. Not sad about that lack of findings.

But it wasn’t good enough to just be sick. That little punk, Virus 349XY, also sucked out my motivation, threw it on the floor, and stepped on it repeatedly with its tiny little virus boots. All 47 of them. Jerk. So I’d stress about all the stuff I should have been getting done while lying on the floor with my squashed motivation.

I certainly wasn’t eating or drinking like I normally would leading up to an event. The one good thing is I would have been tapering and resting anyway. With this increased rest, as each day passed, I could feel myself growing stronger, like the stench on a pair of sweaty socks in the laundry basket, but the week is only so long and the laundry is eventually all washed up.

sunrise at the race start

sunrise at the race start

After reluctantly making the trip south on Friday, we ended up getting to the pre-race dinner a little late. We joined the other racers to help ourselves to a good meal at the Canaan Valley Resort. I still didn’t have a huge appetite. Perhaps it was the (low) altitude. Probably not. I began to prophylactically guzzle Pedialyte and juice. Carbs and electrolytes, you mean everything to me. Please don’t let me bonk.

Off to bed before 9:00 PM under some decent fatigue. Mr. Virus gave his one last war cry by awakening me with a low grade fever again at midnight. We spoke briefly and I told him to get the hell out, I’d had enough of his misguided ways.

Race morning I awoke at 4:15 feeling pretty normal. But I knew there was no point in trying to hammer. Mostly because my wife coach told me so. My goal had to be modified from racing hard to simply completing the event. I’d come to terms with that possibility a couple days prior. Mostly because wife coach told me. Not ideal for something I had been building up to for 6 months but slow running is better than no running, right?

Wife coach wanted to see the start (and to ensure I wasn’t faking “normal”) so I skipped the shuttle bus and we drove down to the starting line at Red Creek. I was less excitable than usual but still just wanted to get moving. One of the race directors remained unwilling to allow me to race under a pseudonym in order to protect my fragile ego. I don’t want to mention any names but thanks Adam. My ultrasignup.com ranking has plummeted and my sponsors won’t return my calls. My lawyer will be in touch.

nobody seems to go slowly the first 2 miles of pavement

nobody seems to go slowly the first 2 miles of pavement

Anyway, I hiked so much more of the first half of the course this year than last. I went way too fast on that section last year. That definitely helped me to feel pretty decent at the mile 20 aid station. Wife coach met me there, I think mostly to grab the ripcord from my pack and provide a de-motivational speech if I would happen to look the least bit like a dying squirrel left by the side of the road. Boy was she surprised. And yet so proud. So proud.

It hadn’t rained much lately so the course was drier overall than last year. I was surprised to be in the top 10 at that point because I was really trying to hold back and many people were passing me.

switchback hidden amongst Stinging nettles

switchback hidden amongst Stinging nettles

more stinging nettles

more stinging nettles

traded nettles and slight climb for ferns and steeper climbing

traded nettles and slight climb for ferns and steeper climbing

trading up to pine trees

trading up to pine trees

topped out and we can see the sky again

topped out and we can see the sky again

Then as I began to run the “Road Across the Sky” there was no doubt that I just didn’t have any of my usual oomph to give. The legs were heavy, the strides were short, and the quads were already sore. Not good that early. But it didn’t come as a surprise, so I didn’t stress too much about it. I just tried to be consistent and enjoyed the sights and sounds of the birds, flowers, trees, and elusive wild pugs that have roamed this region for centuries. I stopped multiple times, which is atypical for me in a race, to take pictures and to listen for the faint snort of a wild pug.

wild pugs should be appreciated from a distance. The WV DNR denied their existence for decades but frequent sightings led to their ultimate acceptance into the local animal identification texts by 1974. The WV DNR suggests that you do not attempt to make contact with a wild pug as they are typically disease carrying scoundrels. 

wild pugs should be appreciated from a distance. The WV DNR denied their existence for decades but frequent sightings led to their ultimate acceptance into the local animal identification texts by 1974. The WV DNR suggests that you do not attempt to make contact with a wild pug as they are typically disease carrying scoundrels. 

pretty high up here

pretty high up here

Road across the sky is about to end

Road across the sky is about to end

Compared to last year, there were better conditions this year while coming across the wide open Bear Rocks segment of the course as the temperature was only in the 70’s and it was partly cloudy. I found Travis Simpson at the next aid station. He wasn’t having a great race either. Claimed he was mostly walking but for some reason I never saw him again after that aid station. A federal Strava investigation using judicious amounts of taxpayer dollars revealed that “walking” at that point must have meant a 8:00/mile pace.

There's a Lot of this

There's a Lot of this

overlooking the canaan valley from Rocky Ridge before descending 

overlooking the canaan valley from Rocky Ridge before descending 

more overlooking

more overlooking

I could not get down that mountain quickly enough. My quads had passed “GO” 10 miles earlier, taken the $100, and spent it on comic books and booze. Worthless. Get a job loser(s). After all I’ve done to/for you!

The final section of road where I was able to give a good push last year seemed to take forever. I reached the final aid station at mile 37.6 a full 10 minutes after my 2016 finish time. And I still had a few miles to go despite my begging and pleading to the aid volunteers. Still, no tears were shed. At least not by me, in public, at that moment. I knew others around me were not having stellar days. Wife coach would want me to continue onward knowing that another race is always on the horizon. I held my chest high and shuffled down Freeland Road as quickly as three fully functioning quadriceps muscle fibers could move a person.

somewhere in canaan

somewhere in canaan

and somewhere else

and somewhere else

An hour slower than last year, I finally arrived to the lovely sights of a finish line. I’m really happy with that, considering the circumstances. It certainly made for another level of challenge. One that I do not need to replicate again.

Thanks for a great event again this year Dan, Adam, and Highlands Sky volunteer army.

This article has been dedicated to the memory of Virus 349XY who passed in the early morning hours in Davis, WV while doing what he loved to do most. He is survived by his cousin, the mutated form 349XZ, currently residing in 127 different humans, mostly ultrarunners, across Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Virginia, and North Carolina.

Map: https://www.strava.com/activities/1041547950

Stuff I ate: ½ Gu Stroopwafel, 6 Gu gels, 6 Clif Bloks, couple handfuls Pringles chips, at least 16 oz. cola, 9 oz. ginger ale, 2.5 bananas, 8 dill pickle spears, handful of grapes, several mini Snickers bars, 3 handfuls of watermelon, 2 strawberries, my pride

Stuff I wanted to eat: freeze pops, more pickles, elk burger