Friday afternoon, I drove up to my sister's house. We drove one hour from her place to Davis, WV for the pasta dinner and pre-race meeting. After getting back to her place, we attempted to fall asleep as quickly as possible since we were planning on getting up at 3:10 AM. Soon enough, we made the drive again to Canaan Valley to catch the 5:00 AM bus to the starting line near Dolly Sods. The time passed quickly and at 6 AM, we were off.
We ran 2 miles on the road before turning left passing through the first aid station and hitting the first trail section. This section started the first significant climb of 2500'. First it was a series of mild switchbacks but soon enough it was a steep, heart-pumping ascent. We were in with a pack of people at this point and no one was talking, complete silence.
After the ascent, we started passing through some scenic areas and then into some rocky sections. At this point, the course felt hard and I wasn't really into a groove yet. Everything felt difficult and I thought it was going to be a very long day. It takes a really long time for me to feel 'warmed up' in these things. After 8 trail miles, we hit aid station 2. This was much needed and I ate some grapes, an orange slice and a PB&J square and had the first of many cups of Coke throughout the day.
During this 5.5 mile section, we also had a steep, long descent section. I think there were some really great views here but I was busy looking at the ground five feet in front of me the entire time. Of course, after the descent, we had to climb again. This was the next significant climb of the race. Somewhere in there I think we also hit the fourth aid station. The rocks were the hardest part for me and I'm amazed by people who can glide over them making it look graceful and effortless.
Eventually, we came out to a dirt road. From what I had heard, this 7-ish mile section of dirt road called the Road Across the Sky was mentally grueling. We spent some time at aid station 5, also the halfway point. The second half of the race was supposed to be easier overall than the first half as well.
After filling up on a good amount of food and more soda, I grabbed my mp3 player and started running. Based on my experience in past races, I thought the music would be what I needed to force myself to run as much as possible during this section. Luckily, I was right. The music helped a lot. If I wouldn't have had it, I know I would've been walking more than I did. I also felt the best of the whole day during this section and ran almost all of it. At this point though, due to a bad combination of Heed and watermelon, my sister was feeling nauseous. I ran ahead of her and anytime she was lagging behind too far, I slowed up a bit. We passed through an aid station half way through this section and kept going.
At the top of a hill, we hit aid station 6. At this point, we were ~27 miles into the race. This was also the last cut-off in the race, other than the finish line, and we were about 30-40 minutes ahead of cut-offs, always a concern for me! I was happy to be well enough ahead of the cut-offs all day.
I ate a bit more but my sister held off due to her stomach issues which were starting to get better. Here, I was standing next to a guy grabbing some food and smelled the worst body odor ever. I assumed it was the guy but quickly discovered it was actually me. I smelled terrible by the end of this race!
At this point, we turned left back onto trails that went through a series of open meadows. It was more great views but at this point, it was the afternoon so we were in the sun and I was getting hot. The temperatures were quite mild but still felt hot while running in open sections.
This section was the hardest for me. It was 5.9 miles and the last aid station told us we had about 5 miles until we hit the boulders and then another mile until we hit the next aid station. I walked large portions of this and my energy was really low. The good part was my sister was feeling the best of her entire day during this section so I just tried to keep her in sight and keep moving even if it was slow. My legs felt fine, I just did not have the energy to get them moving.
By the time we hit the boulders, I was starting to feel a little out of it mentally. It was the longest mile ever and the boulders on a fuzzy brain were tough. Luckily it was a short section. I desperately needed some more Coke. My water, salt pills and the snacks I had on me weren't doing it. Those 6 miles felt like 15 but we eventually got to the station and they still had a small amount of Coke left. Luckily, the soda and a few Oreos seemed to help.
The next 4 miles included a climb up a ski slope followed by a very steep trail descent before hitting a gravel road. As soon as we hit the gravel road, I attempted to run and had really bad pain on the right side of my heel. I thought it was a blister but later discovered it was a blister that had popped. I've never had an issues with blisters like that but have concluded it was due to my shoes getting stuck in the mud a few times and my shoes slipping in the heel area too much. At least the pain got better after the blister popped.
We passed through the final aid station and had 4 more miles to go. I was a little encouraged thinking the rest would just be on the road so I put the music back on and hoped to just power through it. We ran for awhile but then hit a grassy field we had to run through. I hate running through fields. They are very hard for me for some reason so I ended up walking a bunch here as well. Also, I knew we were going to finish and think my motivation let me give up a little in the pushing the effort area. After running on the main road leading into Canaan Valley, we were diverted onto another small section of trail.
Finally, we came out of the trail and ran down a very short section of pavement through the finish line. I was beat but it was worth it. This is a tough course but it's absolutely beautiful and the course is very interesting.
After making the drive back to my sister's house, I picked up a pizza to eat on my drive home, grabbed a shower and hit the road for my 2+ hour drive back home. It was a long day and I drove very slowly because I was tired but eventually made it home and hit the couch around 10:30 PM.
Although I was sore on Sunday, it's not as bad as I thought it would be. The worst is my heel where the blister popped other than some mild overall soreness. I have been eyeing Highlands Sky since 2010 when I started running. It intrigued me back in the days when I was training for my first marathon. I knew I wouldn't be ready last year but have been planning to do this race in 2012 since mid last year. It was a long time coming and can say it was definitely worth it.
My only goals were the same I've had for all the other ultras I've done so far: finish, within the cut-offs and don't be last. The race has a 12-hour cut-off and we finished the ~41 miles in 11:22:15. I'm planning a little break after this race but admittedly I'm already thinking 'What's next?' and 'What could I have done better for next time?'!