Monday, June 16, 2008

Highland Sky 41 miler (Davis, WV)

I was a little nervous this week for two reasons. One... i was going into unchartered territory with the distance of 41 miles and Two... i had a weak right ankle and this was a course notorious for it's very poor footing and tough mountainous terrain.

Miles for week= 60

Tuesday= night tempo run (6:24) w/ new Tikka plus headlamp on Tri for the Y course (5 miles)
Wednesday= 5 miles on Cayuga and pink trails
Thursday= Nobles Hill repeats (3) from my brother Jamal's driveway to bottom and back up...5 miles
Friday= 4 miles through my sister Nadia's neighborhood in Pittsburgh (Lawrenceville and Strip District)

Saturday= 41 miles through some of West Virginia's ski area/national forest and the most technical terrain i have run on to date.

I arrived in West Virginia Friday afternoon and as i got close to the race site i noticed that my little 4 cylinder car was having trouble climbing these hills. Right when i checked in to the motel i spotted another runner also finishing up his check in. I could tell by his large watch and gear he was lugging around. I introduced myself and asked about the race. He mentioned that he did the race last year but was forced to stop at the half way point due to knee pain. He also confirmed that it was indeed a difficult course with some very significant climbs in the first 15 miles of the race. We both got settled in our rooms and headed for the pasta party and pre race meeting.

After chowing down lots of pasta and salads and listening to race director Dan Leheman talk about the details of the race I made my way back to my motel room. I didn't sleep much this night. I woke up at 1:30 am thinking it was time to get ready and then i couldn't fall back asleep. Finally i got back to sleep but 4 am rolled around real quick.

I did the usual pre-race routine: eat, lube up in Body Glide, stock up w/ gels, endurolytes,etc. and sprayed on some all-natural bug spray which ended up stinking up the whole bus to the start! We rode from the finish area in school buses to where we would start our journey about a half hour away. I chatted w/ some other first timers as the sun started to rise and we all wished each other luck.

After a quick port o'potty visit i checked in w/ the Race Director and stretched out a little. He gave us a few last minute instructions and off we went.

I started off in first place knowing that we had a two-mile paved road section to start. I figured i could get a little cushion before moving into the steep vertical climbs in the forest. As we entered the forest Joel moved ahead and led the way. I learned that he had run this section before so i decide to follow him as long as i could keep up...which turned out to be not very long. With Joel out of sight i was passed again by Zach and then Tim. I kind of had a feeling that this would happen as i am not the best climber but hoped for the opportunity to catch them eventually. I ran for brief moments and then walked and mixed the two up this incredibly steep section. Finally, we made it but then it was down a very steep descent. There were parts of this course that seemed almost impossible to find places to put your feet. I had a sturdy ankle brace on though and wondered how long it would last.

Eventually, i heard two guys approaching from behind. The first guy caught me and i let him past. I caught up to him and began chatting w/ him. It turned out to be Adam Hill who won the Sulphur Springs 50 mile race three weeks ago and coincidentally he also spoke w/ Nancy Kleinrock at that race and mentioned how she kicked butt. I guess it's a small world in the ultra marathon scene. Also, after finding out that he just raced a 50 miler three weeks ago prompted me to push past him. After another significant climb we were almost at the half way point. I was in fourth place and had a little trick up my sleeve. Everyone had drop bags at the 19.7 mile aid station...everyone but me!

I decided not to stop and change shoes,socks,etc. and just quickly refill my bottles and grab some somewhat solid food. This turned out to be such a wise choice. I grabbed some PB and J's, fig newtons and a couple other random goodies and charged on surpassing Tim in third place. As i munched down while i ran/walked i looked back to see him gaining on me on the long straight gravel road. I figured this would be perfect. By the time he caught up to me i would be done eating and we could run together for the "Road across the sky" section. This was a mentally tough, hot, straight gravel road for about 7 miles. Tim and I got to know each other and ran with each other stride for stride as we put some distance on Adam and others. When he walked i walked and vice versa. It really helped to run w/ someone and we did so for the next beautiful 15 or so miles.

As w/ many other endurance races there were times of exhaustion, pain, fear, beauty and joy. The miles ticked by though and we had some incredible views of the beautiful state of West Virginia. Tim was having some problems of cramping though by about 30 miles. I offered an endurolyte capsule which i had been taking regularly and that had been helping me avoid this common trait of mine. I was so happy it was not happening to me but also felt his pain. I encouraged him to work through it and he really toughed it out a few times. Eventually they got too bad and he told me to move on. This was at about the 35 mile i pounded down the trails towards the finish. As i approached the last aid station i turned around to see him running 50 yards behind me...whoa!!!! i yelled .... "Good job Tim!!"

We were on the road by now and had a 5K to go where i got into a nice rythmn. Tim opted to walk a little and when this happened i knew i had third place wrapped up. Now i was pushing to break 6:30. I pushed and pumped my arms and rolled right through the last aid station to see David Horton yelling at us that the first two guys probably already finished. I wasn't really trying to catch them anyway because i had been informed at prior aid stations that they were so far ahead. I was just so happy to be running so strong at the end of a race like this w/ my ankle feeling great.

I figured it out mathematically that i could break 6:30 if i continued at a 7 minute/mile pace... assuming the rest was on roads. Well, it turned out that there was one last little section through some forest trail w/ one last climb for good measure. This slowed me down and i looked down to see 6:30 pass before my sweat. I could hear people...oh you ultra runners know how comforting it is to hear the sweet sound of the finish line. As i came out of the woods i could see the beautiful view of the finish line and the surrounding area at the Canaan Valley Resort. I stormed down the hill w/ a big smile on my face and pumping my arms in the air to finish in 6:31:11...good for third place overall and the seventh fastest time since 2003! I couldn't have been more satisfied with my performance.

I have to say the Dan Leheman (race director) put on one hell of a race and was just a genuinely nice guy. It really showed at the awards ceremony when he recieved a two minute standing ovation. I wish him the best of luck at Western States this year. Everyone was so nice down there and i met some great people at the race. I think i'm ready for the Fingerlakes Fifties!

Oh West Virginia mountain Mama!!!

1 comment:

Brian Thomas said...

Nice run! Looks like we are off and running with the fundraising. Already 10% there after only a few days! Keep up the great work!