The Bimble <> Monthy Python relationship is well documented, and the title fits the race: Highland Sky. A different state for most of us, a different distance from any (?) other race, and a different landscape than ANYWHERE else.
This was my 4th Bimble road trip of the year 2012, my year of rest! I have now determined that “rest” means no 100s. The first big trip was to Hashawa, with a big bunch of Bimblers and a fun race. The second trip was to Seneca Creek, only four Bimblers, a race that is a personal favorite, and PR location, for me. The third trip was with a different bunch of four Bimblers to Promise Land. Not much more can be said about that race, probably the BEST 50K race outside of CT you will ever find. And now, it was off to Highland Sky.
The Bunch of Bimblers: Ultra, Downhill (the Olympian), Silent Runner, Spuds, Chipper, Booman, Nadia, and me, with Diana performing, as usual, flawlessly in a supporting role Many vehicles converged, as planned, in Davis West Virginia, with an earlier, somewhat impromptu, meeting in Hamburg PA, to eat at Hecky’s, and for a quick family visit for Ultra. I love that this tradition works even when we are NOT going to a Horton Race. Somehow, Hamburg is to Ultramarathons what Atlanta is to air travel.
Check-in, pre-race meal, official race lodging, and finish line are all at the Canaan (pronounced kuh-NAYN) Valley Resort, a state owned ski/golf resort state park. Restaurants, gift shops, swimming pool, etc… very civilized if not quite luxurious. All the usual pre-race “stuff” occured at the pre-race meal, then we all retired to our rooms.
A short bus ride, around 5AM brought us to the starting line somewhere on the outskirts of nowhere, so that we might run through the MIDDLE of nowhere on our 41.something mile run back to the resort. We all immediately exited the bus (except Nadia who was chauffeured) and queued (how British of me!) up for the loo
The crowded start was promptly at 6. The run to the first aid station was on a slightly undulating paved road which stayed congested. I should have gone with the flow, but I started WAY back, and got to feeling antsy. I then overcompensated and rushed ahead. At the first aid station, we left the road, and I settled down. The big climbs are all front-loaded on this course, and the UP began. It started with manageable switchbacks that allowed running for the first hour. The only real challenge in this stretch was the stinging nettles. Ouch! Then it got really steep, and it was mostly walking for a while. Then the trail turns flatter, more technical, and incredibly beautiful. The trail is totally engulfed by Mountain Laurel in bloom as you bound downhill, often unable to see the bright white rocks at your feet due to the fact that the vegetation covers the trail. The sensation was almost one of being a zipper, with my legs just opening the trail for a moment or two, and then the low branches sealing up behind me. There is a big down again, to aid station 2 as I recall, and then another big UP.
This is where it gets interesting… you are now running on a plateau, the Dolly Sods. The landscape is unreal, unlike anything east of the Rockies or south of the Arctic. Long views, big meadows and bogs, strange rock formations, all at over 4,000 feet. Then you come to the Highway in the Sky. 7 miles of forest road with aid stations at either end, and in the middle. I was warned that I would hate this section, but I did not. If you could pry your gaze away from the arrow straight road stretching to the horizon (many could not) there were great distant views to either side. I had two unexpected greetings, one from Diana, and the other from David Horton, along this stretch, and picked up my only running companion, if only for a few miles, during this stretch. At the end-of-road aid station you have finished 50K, and the race begins.
It was advertised as “all downhill from here”. It is not. Firstly, I think I had subconsciously categorized this race as a longish 50K rather than a short 50 miler. Secondly, I had put on my road legs and now had to venture back on to technical terrain. Thirdly, it is NOT all downhill. BUT, the scenery for the next 6 miles or so was breathtaking, unless it was the race itself that was taking my breath away? Distant views, above treeline, water crossings, meadows, a single shade tree that begged for someone to nap beneath it in a grassy field, strange rock formations that looked like a lunar landscape, and an aid station at which I wanted to stay, not unlike my infamous Braemore stop during The Bluff several years ago. Oh, and Diana, popping out at the top of the biggest mountain, to cheer me on (how did she do that?). She also told me that Nadia, feeling great, had opted for the just-invented 50 mile option at Highland Sky!
Finally, it was ALL downhill from there. “The Buttslide”. Crazy steep, loose rocks and dirt, grab the trees as you careen by them. Or bounce off them. All of the hard-fought elevation gain of the day disappears in just a few minutes! Then, a little gentle trail running to the last aid station, and out onto the road. Then into deep grass in the bright sun where I totally cramped up to the point of not even walking. Salt, fluid, massage, walk, shuffle, run. That cramp cost me my goal time of 8 hours by a few minutes, but I was very happy with the result. The finish line was very festive, and it was great to hang out (showers within 50 feet of the finish line) and watch everyone else come in.
Everyone had different plans for the trip home, and Booman provided excellent co-pilot services all the way to the 3 AMish arrival back in Branford. I even got a few hour sleep before I got up to run the Branford Road Race with my son, Spruce. I smoked that 5 miler in 1:10 Hah!
Footnote: Dan Lehman, the RD, will be running with the Bimblers in the morning (Saturday, July 7th). See Spuds’ porting on the bulletin board for details. He’s a great guy, and it should be fun to show him Booman’s Trail. Rumor has it he has some applications for next year’s race…