Highlands Sky 40M - Davis, West Virginia 3,4

Elevation Gain: 5739' - High Point: 4690' - Low Point: 2499' - Results

June 15, 2013 - I love this race.  It has all the elements of a perfect trail event.
Given the perfect weather and a muddy or flooded trail much of the way, an
ultrarunner couldn't ask for a better way to spend the day.  Despite two
previous appearances here, I had forgotten just how many rocks one has to
dance with to successfully negotiate this course.  Maybe my memory fails me
a bit, but I still know how to dance.

The pre-race meal and mixing have always been worth hanging around for.  It
was enjoyable seeing a lot of familiar faces and spending time with friends.  These
folks are my family and a refreshing respite from the rest of the non-trail-running
world.  I decided to crash in the parking lot in my car rather than bivouac up in
the mountains as before.  Resort security seemed not to mind, so I spent the
night within steps of a Port-a-John and the bus ride I would take in the morning.

After a short, restless sleep and going through my usual pre-race ritual I boarded
a van in low fifty-degree temps for the ride to the start.  Humidity was up a bit
from the heavy rains of the previous few days, but it was mild enough that no
one seemed to be shivering during the half-hour wait.  The start was casual with
about two hundred of us spreading out over the first 2.4 miles of country road before
we hit single track and began the two-thousand-foot climb to the top of Dolly Sods.

I was in no hurry from the get-go and watched as younger, speedier legs moved
quickly away from me down the road.  The stream along the road spilling over its
banks foretold of a muddy, wet trail ahead.  My plan was to hold back on the reins
for the entire event, powering up the inclines, taking it very easy going down, and
shooting for a ten-minute-per-mile pace on the roads.  If I couldn't hold a 
conversation then the pace was too fast, so I purposefully socialized nearly the
entire way with a variety of interesting people.  It was a very enjoyable way to
"race", never reaching a point where my body failed me.

Having raced an 8:22 on this course previously, I was aiming for nine hours, not
wanting to spend too much of my athletic capital as I have perhaps the most
challenging and difficult event of my long racing career the next weekend
with Manitou's Revenge 55M in the Catskills.  (Stay tuned for that one)  With
only one week to rest I wanted to complete Highlands Sky with a lot left in my tank.  

Heading into the woods up essentially a stream bed I got sucked into eight inches
of squoochy mud and came out without a shoe, having to walk back into the muck
in my sock to retrieve my Montrail shoe.  Gave me a chuckle.  I love fell running.
There was no need to run around the mud and rocks, so the rest of the way was
straight ahead, splish-splashing to the amusement of the big kid inside.  After
getting into queue with a line of runners snaking up the trail ahead I finally got
impatient and powered my way around dozens of the speedier folks and moved
with control up, up, and up.  The uphills have become my strength, so I use it to
my advantage in races.

Running with deliberation so as not to fall while maintaining coherent conversation
(I still can't run safely and talk at the same time), time passed quickly, reaching 
the mid-point of the event at the Road Across the Sky in four and a half hours
after gliding through the harder half of the course.  In both previous runnings of
HS40 I was under four hours at the half way aid station, but both efforts left
me struggling over the last half.  Purposefully running with greater deliberation
found me strong and ready to fly over the seven miles of road before hitting
single track again.  I took up with another fellow named David who worked with
me to maintain a steady tempo, covering the seven plus miles, including walking
up the steepest sections of road, in about an hour and 23 minutes - a very good
mid-race tempo.

We held a good pace after returning to trails, pulling back all other runners we 
caught up to except one Scot by the name of Rupert.  After descending back into
the valley on a beginner's ski trail named Salamander (in lieu of using the buttslide
of previous runnings) I moved away from the other runners I was running with
when they slowed, and strode in the last two miles of roads in a tad over twenty
minutes to finish in 9:02:22 for 46th place of 163 finishers.  It was a comfortable
effort with  no ill-effects, injuries, or blood.  I met my nine-hour expectation with
plenty left in the tank.  After enjoying the cameraderie of many of those I met
during the event for an hour or so, I headed out to spend the rest of Father's
Day weekend with my son Keith.

Running a race under RD Dan Lehmann's direction always leaves a smile on my
face.  The volunteers were super, ready to serve and assist at the beck and call
of every contestant.  They make it so much easier and enjoyable.  Perhaps my
favorite part of the event, however, is drinking Willie Lehmann's microbrews.
His amber ale was superb refreshment at the pre-race and a couple cups of his
oatmeal stout at the Timberline Aid Station renewed some of the zip I may have
left on the trail up to that point.  Inspiring flavor.  Kudos to Willie.  As a home 
brewer myself, oatmeal stout is next on my to-brew list.  Yum.

Back to resting... to be ready for the ominous task that awaits me in the Catskills
in five days.  Will see if the Ole Gray Lar can pull another one out of his athletic
bag of surprises.