(Kate Abbott's report)
I signed up for this race the week before the race because it was on a Saturday and was somewhat local (90 miles away). In my post MMT funk/break from running, I had it in the back of my mind for a while but was dithering. When we returned home from a week in Puerto Rico, where walking on the beach and swimming were my sole forms of exercise, my running partner, Mark, pressed me gently and I signed up. Not to be left out, he did as well. With 10 days to go before the race, I tried to get some miles in and get legs back into the running groove. I never bothered to study the course, and if I had, I would have found that the website said almost nothing. Mark assured me it would be easy.
We left my house at 3:10 am for the 5:15 packet pickup. It was very dark and I was kept awake the night before by a feverish 5 year old. En route, it began to rain heavily as we reached Route 81 and headed north for the Winchester area. We arrived well before 5 and waited for dawn to break to find the portapotties (unusually gross) and picked up our packets. I debated sunscreen (put some on) and sunglasses (left them behind). Spre-T greets us at the start and we bemoan how out of shape we are. The pre-race briefing was rather vague: I heard the words “mud around the lake”, “a hill you will hate us for”, “you can make up time on the middle 10 miles” and “the last eight miles are downhill”. We figure on around 8 hours.
Right before the start, a deluge begins. The RD notes that my truck lights are on. We detour back to turn them off and leave off my sunglasses, placing us at the very back of the pack, where we will spend a good deal of time. The first mile is on a road, but a muddy one. We slip and slide in the puddles and the footprints of the faster runners. Then, a monster hill. This must be what the RD meant, I muse. The mud sucks at our shoes, threatening to remove them. At one point, I have no traction and fall hard, grabbing onto trees to stay upright. Mud and blood cake my legs. We reach a point at around 2 miles where the mud lessens. Up ahead we see the elites and the fast packers running towards us. They missed a turn and went a mile in the wrong direction. We wonder how they could have missed it—it is SO obvious…don’t they understand trail markers? (This will come back to haunt us).
For the next couple of miles, the faster runners pass us. Several VHTRC runners appear, heading in the opposite direction. Apparently, they hit the first aid station at 1.3 miles instead of 5 miles and are back tracking to make for an honest course. At the aid station, we catch up to one guy and pass two women. We are no longer in last place. Mark pauses at the port a potty and I head up the trail. After about a mile, I see a hill that is unbelievably steep. Fortunately, the fog has set in and I don’t really see HOW steep it is. I climb from tree to tree in the mist, not daring to stop and look for Mark as I fear I will not continue if I do. I crest the hill and in another few minutes, Mark catches up. We confess to each other that at mile 7, the fun factor has fled, between the mud and the hills. He says that if we get to the aid at mile 10, we can double back, according to the map, and turn it into a 20 mile training run. This sounds very appealing. We reach a set of power lines, where a nice lady is directing traffic to the next aid. Unfortunately, she has not a clue what the course is and we are confused when the next aid station appears at 7.5 miles after a climb over some cliffs. The aid station folks tell us the next aid is five miles up. We realize we don’t have much choice and head to the next station. The first two miles are in dense fog, almost a cloud, and the scenic overlooks show us nothing. Thick moss and narrow trails. Several runners pass us, they tell us they started 30 minutes late. Boy are we slow. Then comes an agonizingly steep descent down to a fire road. “We better not have to climb this on the way back”, I tell Mark. He, ever the optimist, assures me we won’t. A VHTRC runner who passes us next tells us we DO have to climb back up on the return. I wonder where the easy 10 middle miles are. We hit the next aid at 12.5 miles. The aid workers tell us that the next 10 miles are a road out and back and that they will see us at 22.5 miles. This seems reasonable; we can drop at 22.5 and get a ride back.
Coming out of the aid station, we realize that now we can actually do some running. The sun is out now and it is getting hot. The rain washed off all the sunscreen and I wish I had my shades. We try to make up some time, but figure that we will be around 10 hours if we complete it, something we did NOT prepare our respective spouses for—well at least I did not. A tall runner approaches us, carrying something strange in his arm. A shirt? A dead bird? We get closer and he shows us a bedraggled and very much alive kitten which he found on the road. That gets a big “awww” from me. We start to see the faster runners coming back towards us. SpreT gets lost again when he misses another turn. As we approach the next aid station, we wonder what happened to the trail markers. A passing runner had told us “two more hills to aid”. We count two hills but no aid. We start to despair. Well, I start to despair. Mark is cheerful and I am saying Bad Words because I am out of fluid. We turn around and finally find the aid station, going a mile out of our way. Fluids topped off, we head back. We count 5 runners behind us—how did THAT happen?
Back to aid at 22.5 (23.5 for us). There are four kittens at the aid station (three black and white and one orange) and they try to get me to take one. I tell them that I cannot carry a kitten for the next 8 miles but that I will talk to them at the finish. I am sorely tempted but realize my DH will KILL me if I bring home another animal. For the next mile, I pick names for my kitten: Ultra, Skyline, Mud, Gore… Mark mentions that we have not seen many animals today.
Opps, we were going to drop here.. Oh well. Two more runners are now behind us. Back up that horrible blue trail with the brutal switchbacks. Mark is having a rough patch so I try to keep us moving. We are not talking much—working hard to get up the hill. I look up and see a black shadow cross the trail. My mind says: deer? Dog?...OMG is it a BLACK BEAR. I stop dead and mouth the words “Bear” to Mark who looks like a deer in the headlights behind me. The bear is about 50 feet in front of us. We watch him silently for a few seconds and then he looks up and sees us. He makes eye contact and then runs away, fortunately in the opposite direction. What an amazing sight! A few minutes later, a six foot black snake is lying across our path so we admire him.
We crest the bad hill and head into the last aid station. Now that the fog is gone, we can see it .75 miles away up the power lines. The sun is relentless. We see the scenic overlook but are too tired to stop and admire. Where are those 8 miles of downhill? Last aid and they have not much left so I fill my bottle with coke. Under four miles to go. I realize that now we must go DOWN the monster hill. Gulp. Sure enough, it is worse on the way down. We do make it and wind our way thru a weird construction site toward the campground where the finish is. We resolve to run when we see people watching, which happens about .25 miles from the finish. We run thru the flags together and I immediately down a hamburger, which is pretty unusual for me. Mark does not feel great so he is more cautious. We tell the finish line official that there are 7 behind us and he says that they all dropped. Then, he gets word that there are two men at the last aid station. We are totally confused by this because we never saw THEM at all…
Finish time is 9:23 and we are pretty sure we were DEAD LAST. But, still better than DNF. We hobble to the car and work our way home, tired but pretty pleased.
Thanks for reading!
(see 2010-07-10 - Skyline Challenge 50k for Mark Zimmermann's report)