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Race Result

Racer: Aaron Schwartzbard
Race: Highlands Sky 40 Miler
Date: Saturday, June 20, 2009
Location: Davis, WV
Race Type: Run - Ultramarathon (Other)
Age Group: Male 30 - 34
Time: 6:37:13
Overall Place: 1 / 165
Comment: Beautiful course---more like a "western" race!

Race Report:

The 40 Miler this weekend was excellent! I could have used a little more taper—my legs never felt awesome—but this race wasn’t my primary goal for the season, so I didn’t want to ditch too much training. We had to catch buses at 5am to get to the start (its a point-to-point). The rain held off until around 6:30am, a half hour after the race started. But when it came down, it came down in sheets. It got to be fairly ridiculous after a while. The trails were under several inches of water for miles at a time. In most places, the trails are fairly rocky, which means that it took a lot of trust in one’s ankles to run through the water (ie, because the rocks were hidden from view). But on the bright side, that meant that the trails didn’t (for the most part) turn into a swamp of shoe-sucking mud. A lot of the race was like running through a creek bed. And the real excitement came at the “stream” crossings. Streams that are usually knee-deep trickles of water had become waist-deep and fast-flowing. I got to the first one, and thought, “They can’t possibly mean for us to cross that without a safety line!” Then I remembered that the stream probably wasn’t so bad even a few hours ago. Fortunately, I didn’t end up washed down to the Mississippi.

Back to the beginning of the story, I took the lead in the first 100 meters of the race, and put about a minute on everyone else by the time we got to the trail (the races started with two miles of road). Around mile five, we started a four mile climb. I’m not a great climber, so I was pretty happy that the longest climb of the race came so early. A couple guys came in to view behind me near the top, and if the climb had been a mile longer, the would have passed me. But we got to the ridge, and I was able to start putting time on them, running through shin-deep water over rocky trails.

Around half way, we hit “The Road Across The Sky” section of the race—eight miles along a dirt road that shoots straight up the eastern continental divide. The road goes straight through a series of saddles, so I’d get to the top of one climb, and see the road dip deep into a saddle, then climb back out to the top of the other side, a mile in the distance. Each time I got to the top of a climb, I’d look back. I never saw anyone. So I knew I had at least a mile on the next guy.

At mile 27, we left the dirt road, and headed straight into the Dolly Sods Wilderness—a high meadow (between 3000 and 4000 feet) with vegetation that looks much more like Canadian flora than the sort of stuff you normally see in the mid-Atlantic region. It’s a beautiful area, with a lot of wide, open space and tall grasses. It felt much more like running out west than the dense forests of the east coast. Unfortunately, I was heading into a 30 MPH sustained headwind. It was blowing so hard that running down hills became difficult. The rain didn’t bother me much—I got wet, that’s all. But the wind really took a lot out of me. It was only for about three or four miles, but those miles took a toll.

For the rest of the race, I tried to keep an eye out behind me, in case anyone was catching me. Didn’t really matter though. If anyone was catching me, I probably wouldn’t have been able to respond. The last aid station was four miles from the finish, and the last four miles were on roads, or fairly flat trails. The only thing that really disappointed me was that I wasn’t able to hammer out those last four miles. That’s the kind of terrain where I would have expected really to push for a strong finish. Instead, I was just shuffling along, looking behind me every once in a while, trying to calculate how much faster someone would have to be moving to catch me if they came in to view. I’m going to blame that on hard training leading up to a short taper. It was only in the last half mile that I started to feel confident that I had it wrapped up. I emerged into a grassy field, and spotted a timing clock in a picnic pavilion at the bottom of a hill. (The finish line banner had to be removed because the wind kept blowing it over.)

I finished, got a hearty congratulations from the race director, grabbed a root beer, and hung around for the next few finisher. The finish is right behind Canaan Valley Lodge, where most of the racers were staying. So I went back to my room, took a shower, put on some less-stinky clothes, threw all my race gear in a bio-hazard bag, and returned to the finish line to watch everyone else finish, and to enjoy the after-party. It took me seven years to finally make it to this race (June’s a busy month!), but I think it’s fairly likely that from now on, this one will be a permanent fixture on my calendar. Good times in West Virginia!