Tiger, Charlie, and Lynn before the start
I think I'm getting the hang of DNFing races. At this rate, by the end of the year, I will DNF more races than I finish, lol. I just hope I don't get too comfortable with the DNF. I had to laugh at myself this weekend, however, because the whole experience was nonsensical. I was in over my head and out of my league. I told the sweep that this would be the first DNF that I wouldn't feel too badly about. I was miserable, so I really did not mind being pulled from the race. I timed out at the 10.5 mile aid station of the Highlands Sky 40 Mile about 45 minutes over the cut-off. I wasn't running at all. I could barely walk. I really just did not want to be there. I don't say that very often about runs that I do. This feeling was so unusual for me.
I had been warned several times about the toughness of this race, but I'm hard-headed and stubborn. I wanted to at least try it, because I had also heard that this was a beautiful course. I am all about some beautiful scenery. I have no idea if any of that beauty was in the first 10.5 miles, however, because my head was down, looking for roots and rocks that would trip me unexpectedly. I had also been told that if I could get through the first 20 miles, the second half would be relatively easier. Unfortunately, I have no knowledge of whether that is true or not either, since I wasn't able to complete the first half of the race.
We parked at the finish at the Canaan Valley Lodge near Davis, WV and were bussed to the start near the Dolly Sods Wilderness Area in Laneville, WV. Waiting around for the start, I reconnected with Charlie (TN) and Lynn (TN). The last time I saw them was at the Ghost Town 38.5 Mile in 2007. At the time, they were living in Colorado, but they had recently decided to move back to the southeast. Caroline (VA) was also there. She had offered to share her room with me, but I knew I would arrive late on Friday and didn't want to wake her in the middle of the night. Instead, I slept for a few hours in the car in the parking lot of the lodge.
All four of us started out on the road section together, but my running buddies were soon ahead of me. Before I even hit the trail section, the sweep was right with me, and nobody else was in sight. This is the first sign that I am not having a good race, lol. The sweep, Mike (WV), had run this course in about 9 hours. That's very fast! He would run ahead of me, pull the streamers from the trees that were used to mark the course, and then run back to check up on me. I felt guilty for not being able to keep up with him!
About the time that we hit the trail section, it started to rain. It had stormed during the drive up on Friday, rained during the night, and now the rain was again coming down steadily and heavily. This is the second sign that I am not having a good race, lol. At least it wasn't hot, I thought.
We were in a meadow, which was relatively flat and should have been runnable, if not for the rocks. My glasses were fogging up badly at this point, so I had a difficult time seeing where I was stepping. I just kept walking as fast as I could, following Mike. We crossed a rushing stream before heading up the mountain. This is when I almost fell apart and recognized the final sign of not having a good day. I would trudge a few feet, stop to catch my breath, and trudge some more. I could see Mike running ahead, pulling streamers, and then waiting for me. He would ask if I was okay, let me know what the trail was like ahead, and then he would take off again. Poor Mike must have put in at least 20 miles, running back and forth to check on me. At one point, I apologized to him for being so slow. He was nice about it, saying that he was just doing his job. He even gave me one of his gels, after we had been out longer than expected and before hitting the 10.5 mile aid station.
Once we reached the top of the mountain, it was relatively flat again, but now we had roots in addition to the rocks, and get this, the trail was completely flooded. As many trails as I have run, I had never seen entire sections of trail covered in water like these trails were. It would have been easier to just lie down and swim the trail. I couldn't figure out how to run on or through that much water, lol. It was cold on the ridge, and now my feet were freezing from the water. Most of the time, the water came up to my calves, but there was one section where the water came up to my thighs. Later, after I had been pulled from the race, I was told that some sections were waist high, and a stream crossing was chest high. The race director was trying to figure out how to get a rope out to that particular stream crossing to help runners get across. This was not happening. I can't wait to read race reports of those that were able to finish the course. I want to know how they did it and stayed within the cut-offs.
The cut-off for the 10.5 mile aid station came and went, and Mike and I were still out on the flooded course. We were both so off pace that we couldn't figure out how far we had gone or how much further we had to go. Somehow, we finally made it. I was promptly asked to turn in my bib number.
There was one other girl at the aid station who had also been pulled for time. I later heard that she gave the volunteers a hard time about not being allowed to continue. She protested that she would go on even without aid. Of course, they still would not let her continue. As much as I hate DNFing, I will never argue with a volunteer about being pulled from a race. These volunteers are spending their weekend out there supporting us for hours, unpaid, and in all types of weather conditions, and it's unfair and selfish to be disrespectful when they are doing what they've been told and are trying to help. It's just my pet peeve and not worth two cents in the end, I suppose.
The aid station was pretty much packed up and ready to go. I wished Mike well and thanked him for his help. The last person that had been allowed to continue had left 30 minutes before, so he had some running to do to catch them. He is such a good runner, even through the flooded trails, that I'm sure it was not a problem for him.
I climbed into the truck. We picked up another guy at the next aid station who had dropped out due to back spasms from all of the twisting through the flooded trails. As we were leaving, we also saw four runners pulled for time climbing into the back of another truck. We were all having bad days.
I thanked Lydia and Margaret, the volunteers who drove us back to the lodge. I quickly changed from my wet clothes and dumped the mud from my shoes and socks. It had stopped raining, but the streams were still rising I heard. I'm a wimp, I thought, and a slow one at that. I headed for home much earlier than I thought I would have.