Sunday, June 21, 2009

6/21/09: Highland Sky 40 Race Report

Yesterday, I attempted to run the Highland Sky 40 in West Virginia. Man I got my @** handed to me!

I saw the run had 5,700 feet of climbing over 41 miles, so I figured it would be great as a last big training run four weeks before the TRT100. Man, I got rocked on this course!

After about 2.5 miles of road, you have a 5 or 6 mile climb up from 2,500ft to 4,700ft. When we started climbing, the sky opened up, and it POURED. I have never experienced rain this hard. The whole trail turned into a river flowing down the mountain. You were running through water the whole way up.

Once we got to the top, there was flat running across the top of the mountain until about mile 11. The only problem was that it was rocky up there and covered in 6 inches to 2 feet of standing water at this point. For miles we were trudging through the water and trying to negotiate rocks that were invisible under the muddy water.

I got to the mile 10.5 aid station in just under 2 hours. I was still making pretty good time given the big climb and crazy conditions. At mile 11 we started back downhill.

The terrain was really rocky, wet, muddy, and technical (far from my strength in trail running). My stomach was also going downhill quickly. Uh-oh. In the middle of my funk I slipped on a wet rock and came down hard on my knee. I hurt but seemed mostly ok, so I walked it off and kept on going.

It was still pouring, and we started hiking up to the mile 16 aid station. I was slowing down and really fighting with my stomach. There was also a pretty big stream crossing shortly before the aid station. I suppose it would have been easy enough to cross in most conditions, but it was a RAGING torrent at this point. It was hip deep with a rocky bottom and moving REALLY fast. Unfortunately there wasn't a rope going across, so I barely made it over.

I went through mile 16, and the next section to the mile 20 aid station was mostly flat. This part was also soaked in water and super muddy. You'd go through spots with mud up above your knees! Luckily my shoes were tied tightly. I was worried they'd come off, and I'd never find them again!

I could hardly run anymore my stomach hurt so much. All I wanted to do was flop down on the side of the trail. I decided the best thing would be to run through the pain until I made myself throw up. Eventually it worked. I threw up around mile 18 or 19. A lot. I knew I'd feel good for a few miles and then crash, so I hustled over the to mile 20 aid station.

I was in tough shape at this point. My knee was flaring up, and I had nothing in my stomach. I was totally depleted. I sat down for about 10 minutes, drank as much as I could, and tried to eat.

I felt a bit better, and the next aid station was only 4 miles away. It was all dirt road through rolling terrain, so I figured I'd head off and see if I started feeling better.

I felt fine for the first mile, but then I went downhill quickly. I felt like I was about to throw up again, and I was having a hard time drinking anything. I knew if I threw up again, I'd have serious dehydration issues.

I came to the next aid station and threw in the towel. The nice people there helped nurse me back to health, and I got a ride back to the finish line.

The conditions were certainly extreme this year, but this race is no joke! It's some wild, tough terrain with lots of water, lots of climbing, and lots of technical terrain. I hope to be back someday, and I'll definitely respect this race more when I do.

The good news is that my feet held up incredibly well in the wet, rocky running. I also think I may know what is going on with my stomach. I've noticed a pattern that when I drive to a race the night before, I eat a turkey wrap and have a bad race the next day. When I fly in early or drive to a local race in the morning, I have pasta the night before and feel great the next day. I think I'm just not getting enough carbs the night before when I eat the wrap.

Other good news is that I did a 14 mile trail run today and felt fantastic! My knee feel fine, and I ran 7:40 pace despite the tough 24 miles the day before.


MG said...


I think we were sitting next to each other at the mid point aid station. I'm sorry to hear you didnt finish, but when you told me you had just puked i was worried a little bit. I passed you a little later on when you were walking on the road and you looked very pale. Glad to hear you are recovering well. The course got a bit drier in the second half and no more crazy creek crossings.

Will said...

I remember sitting next to you. It sounds like you finished, so congrats!

Yeah, I was in really tough shape. I probably should have dropped at Aid Station # 4 instead of pushing on to # 5.

I've thrown up several times before while running, and this was by far the worst.

Hopefully I won't have stomach problems at the TRT 100 in a few weeks!

Dylan said...

Classic "First Place of DNF" strategy Will. I think that you're due a first in Tahoe...unless your support runner out kicks you.

Also, a running question for you:
Let's say, hypothetically, that I went for a 20 mile run Monday when it was 88/feels like 97 out and very humid. Let's also say, hypothetically, that I got very sweaty. Perhaps there were a few water fountains that I ran by, but I imagine that I was pretty thirsty. Possibly, in this hypothetical situation, I licked some sweat from my arms and found it quite refreshing. Is this a good replenishment strategy for an ultra-miler like myself?

Will said...

Haha, a perfectly good strategy. I'm always a fan of whatever works.
Though I'd also recommend carrying a bottle with you!

Can't wait for Tahoe. Training has a been a bit shaky recently, but I'll try to bring it in Tahoe. 1st place or DNF!

Dylan said...

If it works, feel free to lick my arms while I'm doing support in Tahoe. I will start carrying bottles with me and filling them up with my own sweat. If it works well, I'll start selling "Dylan's Ultra Sweet Sweat For Runners."

More seriously - Tahoe's gonna be awesome. I'm sure that you'll tear it up. Training is overrated anyway. And I know that "shaky" training is probably like 90 miles this week instead of 100...still plenty.

Laura said...

I'm glad to hear your knee is okay, wet rocks can be dangerous! Other than that, as I was reading I have to say the torrential down pour sounded kind of exciting :) But maybe not if you were not expecting it.

As for pre-race fuel - YES, carbs are crucial! I can't believe you were running races like these with just a turkey wrap. I even like getting a little fat in there - I know we are told to stay away from it, but I always feel energized when I eat lots of cheese the night before or even some butter on a bagel or toast in the morning. My favorite pre-race dinner is some type of baked pasta - I get my carbs, dairy/protein/fat, and veggies all in one. I've lived by that for years, and only just recently in Runner's World and whatnot have they started talking about fats as a source of energy - lots of elite marathoners eat things like pizza and hamburgers before big races apparently (that is too much for me)!