21 Jun 2014

Highlands Sky 40 2014

Author: Matt Young | Filed under: race-reports

Highlights and Observations From My Sixth Highlands Sky 40

A view from Dolly Sods on Friday

A view from Dolly Sods on Friday

I don’t write reports for every race but this race is different. Race reports are sometimes read by first time runners as a way to prepare for the race and being a coach I can’t help but try to offer some help to those looking for it.

First, a few highlights:

1) For the first time my family; Ann Marie, Caroline and Charlie (my mom and dad too) were with me for the entire weekend. I loved having them at the dinner, AS 4 and the finish. This finish line is the best of any race.

2) On the way down Boars Nest about mile 12 it hit me just how thankful I was to be out on the course again. My friends Michael and Chris were with me and after a brief sentimental pause the conversation deteriorated to one resembling that of junior high boys.

3) A rope across the second crossing of South Prong saved my life. It hit me so fast that I’m not sure what happened except I was in a hurry, slipped, went down backwards, and the rope sling shot me back up for a graceless recovery. My friends said nothing at the time but laughed to themselves and mocked me later. I wish I could have seen it too.

4) At the halfway I felt as good as I ever had. I arrived in about 4:05 which is about average for me too. I thought Charlie might have cried when I left but I laughed to myself as he was much more interested in the rocks and muddy puddle than he was me. He’s all boy and part dinosaur.

5) Feeling good as I started on the Road Across Sky, I resolved to run the entire thing. Up until the last hill I made good on that and it was my best split across the top of the Sods. It’s a very runnable stretch where you can bang out some faster miles. Some don’t like it but I love it. Plug in and zone out and enjoy the consistent running.

6) I almost always struggle with side stitches at the end of long races but I’ve been working on fixing that. If you struggle with stitches google rhythmic breathing and try it; it works.

7) I ran from the last aid station to the finish with Ann Marie. I’d looked forward to it all day and wanted to share the last 4 miles with her. We cruised on the flats and downhills but I had nothing left for any remaining hills.

Coming in to AS 8 to meet Ann Marie. I guess I was announcing my arrival.

Coming in to AS 8 to meet Ann Marie. I guess I was announcing my arrival.


8) Caroline crossed the finish line with me as she has for 5 straight years We had another good picture but I regret that we didn’t get a family picture.

Caroline crosses the finish with me. Ann Marie and Charlie are in the background.

Caroline crosses the finish with me. Ann Marie and Charlie are in the background.

Now for some observations compiled over a few years.

1) 101 Runners ran their first Highlands this year. That shocked me. Experience counts so you have to run more than once. I’ve heard many accounts of people cutting 15,30, 45 minutes.. even an hour off of their first Highlands Sky time when they run again. Experience in training and racing this course is a tangible benefit. A healthy perspective of the race and your own abilities counts just as much.

2) Yes, there are rocks. Lots of them. And you won’t know what that means until you see them. You’ll be forced to tip-toe dance more than run. Roaring plains is the main culprit followed by the top of South Prong and the Sods with the moon rocks and boulders.

3) Yes, there is mud. There’s always mud. It’s just the way it is. And it’s black and sometimes brown, and sometimes deep and always slick. Don’t be surprised by the mud.

4) Flatrock is not sprintable but people seem to try. I’ve never understood this. Plod and hike but don’t work too hard. At the top of the five mile climb of Flatrock there are still 33 miles to go. At the top of the second biggest climb, South Prong, there are still 25 miles to go. Proceed with caution. Save your legs.

5) Travel light, the aid stations are great. Sometimes it looks like a backpacking trip at the start.

6) Chasing splits is a sucker’s bet. Take what the day and course give you. We all know we’re supposed to focus on effort and not pace in trail running. Chasing splits is a focus on the latter.

7) Ski slopes suck the life and the pace right out of you. Up the slopes and down the butt slide destroys momentum. Since I’ve been running there have been 3 alternate courses through Timberline. The butt slide is my least favorite but it is the course. Timberline added another 10 minutes to my time according to my mile 33 mathematic abilities. Maybe not. Who knows.

8) Your ailments are directly proportionate to your effort. If you’re struggling in any area of your run you’re going to hard. It’s all about the effort.

9) I have the post Highland blues for at least a week once the race is done.

10) It’s the best weekend of the year. Even if Christmas or my birthday landed on a Saturday Highlands Sky weekend would still be my favorite.

11) Give me one race for the rest of my life and I’ll take Highlands Sky. It’s a big world out there filled with a ton of races that I’ve never run or even heard of but I’m still picking Highlands.

By the numbers: 41 miles in 7:59:47. My second best time and six minutes better than previous times on this same version of the course; 11:48 average pace; 4411 calories burned; average heart rate of 154 or 80% of max. With that max heart rate I think I had some excess capacity and maybe could have pushed harder and run faster. I admit that I’m afraid of blowing up and have never really bonked. But, because I’m not a contender a few spots don’t mean much to me. Enjoying the day and race means a lot to me.

Another big thank you to Dan, Adam and the volunteers who give up a ton of time and effort so we can run.

From the lodge Friday evening.  Liney the ham.

From the lodge Friday evening. Liney the ham.

  1. dad posted the following on June 23, 2014 at 7:22 am.

    great matt always enjoy your race reports get insites and things i don’t get even though i am there with you. looking forward to next years race

  2. Craig Burns posted the following on June 23, 2014 at 6:08 pm.

    Nice report, great advice and even greater looking family.

    And, bless you for including a bible verse on your calendar,

    Keep pressing on,


Leave a reply