Highland Sky 40-mile trail race

June 8, 2019 — Canaan Valley, WV

I hadn’t run an ultramarathon in four years. The last time I did Highland Sky I had food poisoning. A bad hamburger had me laid out on the couch for days. I decided to be a hero and run anyway. Salmonella 1, Marmot 0.

But I decided it was high time to end my ultra draught. I owed the Sodds big time, and was ready to suffer a little on those trails. The last year has been a multi-stage journey of having a first child (euphemism for ‘total shit-show of blasting my body open and then ripping my life apart’). But every time I thought I was done for, the Sodds perked me up.

The Dolly Sodds became my refuge through all the ups and downs of pregnancy. So as soon as Bjorn was 5 weeks old, when we dragged him out there.
And kept dragging him through winter. Because in West Virginia, you’re free to be whatever kind of mom you want to be.
Apparently I’m the kind that doesn’t worry too much about ice.

Bjorn is now ten-months old, everything is groovy (thank you, infant formula!), and running Highland Sky seemed like the best way to express my gratitude to those trails and how important they were in getting me through some rough patches of severe morning sickness and postpartum depression. I don’t think it should be called ‘postpartum depression’. I think it should be called ‘natural response to the sudden downgrade from Pregnant Lady Pampered Like a Queen to New Mom Serving Her New Master’s Impossible Needs Like a Slave.’

Things didn’t start off easy. I hated those three months of breastfeeding more than I’ve hated anything in my entire life. It was hard to bond with a creature that was causing me so much suffering. But formula changed everything and Bjorn and I are best buds now.

Highland Sky Question #1: Would you rather be a marmot or a puffin? 

Trevor (aka Tropical Puffin) and I finished Highland Sky each envying the other’s racing style. Puffins consistently perform at high levels by having a tight lid on their emotions, keeping their cool in the face of adversity, and generally making very difficult things look easy (like 200 mile races). On the other hand, Marmots are kind of hot messes. They run on fire and emotion. They vomit everywhere. Their emotions oscillate from exhilaration to whimpers to fury. And that’s just in five minutes.

From my vantage point, on my hands and knees in the grass by the finish line, barfing into a puddle, Trevor’s cool and collected running style seemed to offer a lot of advantages. I think most runners would agree with me.

I’ve actually been trying for a decade to run more like a Puffin: less fire, more ice. During Highland Sky I repeated a couple mantras over and over to try to pull myself into a Puffin state of mind.

Mantra #1: Just cover the distance, best you can.

I would take a deep breath and try to remind myself that running Highland Sky isn’t about racing other people. Or breaking records. Or living up to your seeding. It’s about setting out to cover a pre-specified point-to-point course, with all its beauty and varied challenges, the best you can on that particular day.

Mantra #2: Manitou’s! Manitou’s!

Manitou’s Revenge is the only trail race where I’ve really been able to fully achieve that just-cover-the-distance mentality. Simply because it’s such a man-eater of a course. So I found myself chanting Manitou’s! to try to pull myself back into that mentality.

Mantra #3: I can slog for miles…and miles…and miles…

When nothing else is working, sing a lil Who.

Well, here’s a poke at you
You’re gonna choke on it too
You’re gonna lose that smile
Because all the while……

I can slog for miles and miles
I can slog for miles and miles
I slog for miles and miles and miles and miles and miles
Oh yeah!

But while I struggle to try to be a little more Puffin, maybe there’s a part of Trevor striving to be a little more Marmot. Not necessarily the part where I threw up my whole stomach at mile 32. Or in the first half of the race where I was feeling sorry for myself for feeling sick and lousy and getting passed by everyone and planning to drop at the midpoint (Bjorn — and his momma — have been fighting respiratory infections all spring). Or those many miles I spent fuming about certain people at work. Because that’s a great way to conserve energy during a long race when you’re not feeling well. But having a little more fire in the belly can come in handy in the homestretch.

Robin enjoys a second wind in the second half.

With four miles to go, Aaron told me the lead woman was only two minutes ahead. I could just see her off in the distance down the road.

Brain: Let’s win!

Legs: Very funny.

Brain: This is it! Reel ‘er in!

Legs: May I remind you that we’ve been running for, um, 7 hours. Through knee-deep mud. Over mountains. Boulder fields. Nettles. That damn Road Across the Sky.

My legs had certainly not forgotten the 7-mile Road Across the Sky.

Brain: Yes, but….

Legs: And you’re sick. You’ve been coughing all week. You have a baby. Full of germs. You haven’t slept right in months.

Cute little germ factories.

Brain: But that’s not at all how the story goes. This is where we win. Cue the music!

Legs: You just threw everything up like 3 miles ago. We’re running on empty.

Brain: But you always outkick ’em in the end. Even just two months after giving birth.

Legs: Honey, this ain’t no 5k. Let’s toss your script. Welcome to the real world, where you haven’t run this far in 4 years. Where you did a grand total of 1 training run over 20 miles. And where, I hate to break it to you, that girl up there ain’t cracking. So let’s try to rein in the crazy and settle for a respectable second.

In the end, my brain conceded. As much as I wanted a comeback, to show that I still had my old pop even after having a baby, I gave in to realism. I tried put myself into a position where I could pounce if the lead woman faded. But she held strong, running all the hills, even through that awful thick grass at the end. We were both moving well and passed a couple of guys who were struggling at the end. Over the years, my finishing kick has gotten me out of so many jams. But not after 40 miles.

Finish area carnage, in order of suffering (left to right). I’m sure you can recognize Mario in his familiar position.

Sometimes you just have to be happy to cover the distance. And we had a killer women’s field, with Robin, Sheila, and Katie W. rounding out the top-5. Not sure when Highland Sky will again see such a deeply talented group of women filling out the top-5.

Smiley Shelia has definitely figured out how to Puffin.

I smiled as I finished, genuinely happy to get a big hug and finally be able to collapse. I couldn’t get up for a very long time. Except momentarily to spew again.

It was a while before I could stand. Or even sit up. Bjorn took it all in stride.

Highland Sky Question #2: How many Canada geese would it take to kill you?

Trevor says 4. I’ll go with that.


Aaron/baby care

Keith/race pictures

Adam and Dan/killer swag


One Response to Highland Sky: apparently still a (ultra) runner

  1. ultrarunnergirl says:

    Hooray WUSsies! Nice comeback on little sleep. I try to sleep extra every night for my friends with babies.

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