I’ve had a heck of a time writing lately. I’ve spent a lot of time reflecting on running Highlands Sky 40 and am not even sure how to describe how amazing it was. There’s really no way to recreate the experience. There are quite a few really awesome race reports, and I definitely could do no better. The good news is that I finished (9:36:05) better than I had anticipated, though I really had no clue what to expect. The course was just purely breathtaking!
The scenery of HS40 changes so dramatically and the course is highly technical (FUN!). The aid station workers and volunteers are absolutely wonderful. They really make the event a top-notch race. I think it’s a race everyone should run once in their life, if not twice!
My husband and my son went with me and stayed in Canaan Valley the night before and after the race. The prerace briefing and dinner was a lot of fun and the homemade beer was fantastic! We were bussed to the start line the morning of the race, and I met my very good friend, Jennifer, there. We had talked about running together and had basically agreed to stick together for the first half and then feel things out from there. If one of us had lots of juice in the tank, then go for it! The first 15 miles was pretty much steady climbing and tromping through thick black mud which was determined to eat your shoes off your feet. Shortly before mile 20 where drop bags were, nature called! Yah, well, I was half expecting that since I wasn’t so honored that morning. As luck would have it, we ran right past a park restroom. Seriously! So while I got down to business, Jennifer went on ahead to the aid station.
By the time I got to aid #4, Jennifer had already changed shoes and was fixing to head out. I ended up eating more goodies than I should have, and it took me longer than I expected to change shoes and reload my pack. I wasted too much time. I felt really, really good coming out of the aid station. I put on some music and planned to soak up some quick miles on the straight stretch of gravel road ahead and possibly, if I was real lucky, catch up to Jennifer. Time flew by on the Road Across the Sky. It felt so good to get some speed again after the first sluggish 15 miles. I finally caught up to Jennifer and stayed with her. I figured it was a good idea since it would help me keep my pace in check and not knowing what the second half of the course was like.
We talked and laughed for hours and hours. We both felt really good… almost too good! Most of the time, it seemed more like a leisurely long run than a 40-mile fell race! The only time I felt slightly rough was in and around the last 2-3 miles, but it was more of a mental fatigue that would come and go in waves. Only having 2 hours of sleep the night before might not help.
Approaching the finish line and hearing the cheering and clapping – everything melted away. Flashbacks of the challenges I took on as I dove into running, fitness, and a better life less than two years ago, and then only a year ago when I dreamed of running my first ultra and becoming fitter than I had ever imagined possible, and remembering lying in the ICU this time last year, crying and scared, deeply aching to run again. Then when Jennifer and I crossed the finish line together, hand-in-hand, a moment happened for me: I had come full circle… again.
I’m so grateful to my very supportive and patient husband… following me around and making it possible for me to do the crazy outlandish things I thrive on. I can’t fathom what my world would be like without him. He’s my backbone and a deep part of who I am. My very sweet and innocent special little boy, who so intently listens to his momma’s long-winded stories and enjoys being toted around on road trips. And, of course, my daughter, who gladly joins me for long running escapades on weekends filled with mixed emotional bags and uncertainty and never doubting. Now that’s a support crew.
Next year, I have every intention of running HS40 again, and I have little doubt that I can run it faster. I felt so good at the end and still had fuel left in the tank when all was said and done. What’s next? I’ve signed up to run the 50-mile day of the West Virginia Trilogy in October. I’m taking 4 weeks to do some much-needed leaning out as it seems my training for HS40 added a tiny bit of weight to me. I’ll be hitting the weights hard and building up my base mileage again before I start serious training in August.