Sky to Summit 50K, Ski Valley, Georgia 5,3

Elevation Range: 3100'-4696'               Elevation Gain: ~7,500'              Results
November 8, 2014 - After nearly three months of much needed rest and recovery from a year
of injury and abuse I have been anxious to gauge my healing against a worthy trail challenge.
The southern Appalachians are under-appreciated for their severity of relief and the technical
nature of their trails, not to mention their stunning beauty in every season.  Setting altitude
aside, the trail challenges of the Appalachians are much tougher than those of the Rockies,
without a doubt.  Running from Georgia's Sky Valley Resort to the Summit of Rabun Bald twice
would be just the ticket to let me know whether I have rounded the corner on my year of injury.


The morning greeted me with frost that needed scraped from my windshield.  At 32 degrees I 
was glad I am getting soft and sleeping in hotels the night before events.  With a sunny, mild
day forecast I decided to go light on my attire and bear the chill at the outset.  A hundred or so
of us headed out from the base of this lovely ski resort to immediately hit a four-mile climb up
paved roads and then forest service roads to the summit of Rabun Bald at 4696' looming above.
Letting the rabbits run, I immediately got into my zone without warming up and found the right
gear to climb comfortably.

The running seemed easy as I took up with a few others of like ability, chatting casually on our
way to the top.  The morning was clearing and I wanted to see the 360-degree view of this
wonderful country, so I stepped off the course and climbed the viewing platform at the top
with a young woman named Meridith Ussery, who was running her first ultra.  After a wardrobe
adjustment, taking time to eat a couple gels, and photographs I headed back into the race.


From the top the singletrack trail wound its way down, down, and down, with a couple bumps
along the way.  For the most part I ran alone, focusing on each step of the leaf-covered rocky
terrain, making sure I didn't catch a tip and crash.  With injuries completely healed I am still
hesitant to let myself go and really hammer.  Experience and what wisdom I seem to pick up
seems to dictate a more conservative approach to stretch out the joy of running and racing for
as long as I can.  The course dropped at least 2500 feet in the next eight miles with aid about
half way down and aid at the bottom.  

The warm fire at the first aid station was so inviting I sat down for a few minutes and leisurely
chatted with the volunteers as I ate a couple more gels.  Without losing my place I resumed my
descent into a new section of the course that was more bushwhacking than trail.  I was loving
this part - edgy, tough, a bit dangerous.  I fell a couple of times here, sliding off the trail in
the loose leaves, before crossing a knee-deep stream just before the turn-around at the bottom.
Check out my interview in the video below at about minute 4:00.


I was able to see the interval those I had been running with had gained on me during my gentle
descent, but was confident that I would catch them all on the climb out from mile 12.  Coming
off the top at a gingerly tempo, my quads were unchallenged, leaving lots of juice for my hamies
to climb back up out of there.  The day was warming up nicely as I comfortably climbed the 
seven miles back over the top of Rabun Bald before the sheer descent on the other side to
mostly follow a spur for three miles down to the aid station at miler 22.  The course was taking
its toll on this down-climb and I was able to move quickly past those who were not prepared.

After a quick exchange and hug from my friend Kathy Farmer, who was volunteering there, I hit
the service road and passed a half dozen more runners that seemed spent, satisfied to walk.
The course ducked back into the woods on singletrack for a mile or so to send us past the
scenic Holcomb Creek Falls before climbing straight up above the falls and finally back onto
the road.  As I continued to move up the hill I gradually overtook Leo Fung from Calgary with
whom I share several acquaintances from that part of the world.  From that point in the event
we moved easy together through the final six miles, chatting and having a good time.  There
was no one catching us and no one seemingly ahead of us, so I just backed off and cruised into
the finish with Leo, totally enjoying the day.


The course takes on a bit more singletrack through the woods before emerging on paved roads
which we had used on the initial climb.  There was little point in racing down to the finish.  It
was nice just to float in and enjoy a bit of running society.  Leo bought me a Stella as we
sat a bit, enjoying the finish of those behind us and the cameraderie of finishers, organizers,
and families.  With a two-hour drive to western North Carolina where I would take on the 
awesome Slickrock Creek the next morning, I didn't linger much beyond an hour.

I felt good.  Legs showed no sign of wear, nor would they the next morning.  I was prepared for
the 50K distance and didn't have to push it to finish in the top 25% of the field in 7:14.  An
hour faster finish was certainly possible if it would have been important, but I was there to
measure my progress and not to prove anything.  The run was beautiful, as were the people I
shared it with.  Gives me great encouragement to continue doing this, despite my inclination
to transition more into climbing in times ahead.  Living moment to moment, one adventure at 
a time!