Overall an excellent event and West Virginia Mountain Trail Runners did a great job putting on the race. I highly recommend anyone thinking about it to register for next year's edition when available.
The weekend started out with good weather for the drive from Alexandria, VA to Canaan Valley State Park, WV. Just a bit over four hours travel time - not bad. The campground was excellent with superb views of the Canaan Valley and surrounding mountains. The pre-race dinner was about average - spaghetti with meat sauce, veggie lasagna, bread, cookies, etc. The stand-out was the local beer from Mountain State Brewing in Thomas, WV. After dinner the clouds starting rolling in, accompanied by thunder - uh oh.
After raining through most of the night the 4:00am wake-up was actually nice, cool temps with a slight breeze. After a quick breakfast - just coffee, fruit, and a few sweets - we boarded buses to the start. Portajons at the start were superb, I hope they sustain this performance in the future.
Promptly at 6:00am the field was off and running!
The first two miles were on a paved road following a river until we came to a Forest Service right of way through two fields. After the turn-off was Aid Station 1 a short distance across the field. We began heading up steeply alongside Flatrock Run. The first Thunderstorm started about 30 minutes into the race and began dumping buckets. The trails were already inundated from previous rainfall so the trail conditions were quite challenging. Much of the trail was under standing water or on the inclines under moving water! After climbing from 2500 ft to just over 4000 ft elevation the trail crossed the Roaring Flats. Imagine running through gutters filled with black mud while surrounded by mountain laurel and rhododendrons.
After hitting Aid Station 2 in 2:30 at mile 10.5 the trail continued across the Plains until dropping down the side of the mountain. A 1200 ft descent down mountain to the South Fork of the Red Creek and then following creek to Aid Station 3 for a 1600ft climb kept things interesting. The rain continued to fall through this portion of the race. Crossing near the head of the creek was interesting to say the least - the water was fast and cold. After Aid Station 3 the trail ran through the Red Creek Plains - more water logged singletrack. There was some excellent - and dry! - running in some pine groves on the higher ground during this portion. Near the end of the Red Creek Plains we crossed "10 Bridges," ten wooden foot bridges through a very swampy area. Just after the last bridge the trail hit a forest road and headed about a half-mile down the road to the half-way point (20 miles) at Aid Station 4.
Since Aid Station 4 was the half-way point the drop-bags were laid out. I did not dare change shoes since the course was proving to be "wet, wild, and wrocky" as advertised. I only changed socks, dropped my IPOD and gorged on peanut butter and jelly sammies. There were lots of families and spectators here and it made for a festive mood. Great atmosphere. I even got a hamstring knot massaged by one of the volunteers! My time at the half was 5:00, right on my target pace of 10 hours.
The next section of the race traversed a Forest Service road known as "The Road Across the Sky," it had some killer views over the Dolly Sods Wilderness Area and the Monogahela National Forest. Thankfully the sun had come out and the rain went away. Since Aid Station 5 was only three miles from 4 I did not even stop, just grabbed a drink of water on the jog. I made it into Aid Station 6 in just under an hour; not bad to put together seven 9:00 minute miles after the first twenty! At this point I started thinking I had a chance to really make a good time and beat my goal of 10:30. However, this superb effort came back to bite me a little later.
By the time I hit Aid Station 6 it was windy and cold. The route followed the Raven Ridge Trail across the Dolly Sods. I fought bad winds until the trail crossed a small stream and went into the trees. The rolling open hills and sparse copses of trees during this portion made it very beautiful and fast. I ate up the hills and was able to run very well over the flats. At the end of this segment was a superb boulder field that was approximately a mile long - some you could run between, some over, and some around. However, navigation was tricky and challenging. A long gradual climb through some open forest ended at Aid Station 7.
After passing through the aid station I picked back up my run but my stomach went into revolt. I had to walk about 35-40 mins to get it to calm down; not to mention drink a lot of replacement fluid and eat a ton of Skittles. After my stomach finally settled back I was at the bottom of a huge ski-slope at Timberline Ski Resort. This was a hard long climb and the sun was out in full force. Once at the top the trail immediately started downhill on the infamous "Butt Slide" portion of the segment. I was able to run the entire slide quickly. I firmly think that rock climbing and mountain biking made me an excellent downhill runner because I can pick a line easily. Also, my renewed emphasis upon core workouts helped my body control at speed.
After coming down out of the woods and running a dirt road I hit the Aid Station 8, the last one. From here I knew it was all a matter of pain tolerance. I opened up my pace and ran the last 4.1 miles to the finish at about a ten minute/mile pace. After crossing back into the Canaan Valley State Park the route followed the entrance road for about a mile before going onto a walking trail. A final 50m climb up from the trail to the grassy back lawn of the resort was followed by a quick 100 yards to the finish. My time was 9:23, good for 60th overall out of 201 starters.
Final thoughts - the hosts were superb, I cannot say enough about the fun, family-friendly atmosphere, kudos to the WVMTR. My Montrail Hardrocks performed flawlessly. I almost ran in my Mountain Masochists but they were pretty light and I wondered about the steep rocky descents during the first 10 miles. This was the best decision I made all day, my feet only had one small blister on one toe. Perhaps if I had not pushed so hard on the "Road Across the Sky" I could have broken 9 hours; lesson learned for next time. My Nuun Hydration products were excellent. I only recently started using these and they proved their worth at Highland Sky.
All in all it was excellent race and a great experience.
My final final words are reserved for my family. Thank-you to Angie my wife who supports my running/outdoors/adventure habits with early wake-ups on weekends as I get out of bed to run and camping in biblical floods at ultra-races. My kids are the world's best pace crew, thinking of them is motivation to run fast to the finish! Thank-you honey for all that you do and supporting me.