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Saturday, June 16, 2007 -- Canaan Valley State Park
& Monongahela National Forest, Davis, WV
Highlands Sky 40 Mile Trail Run (iPO Event Id#: 7833)

2007: [Photos] [Details] [Coverage] [Overall Results] [Results by Class]

Read more 2007 race reports from WVMTR: Frank Colella and Heather Griffith

Coverage: [2003] [2004] [2005] [2006]

East Coast Runners Flock to Highland Sky

Story and photos by JR Petsko

Highlands Sky photo by JR Petsko
Highlands Sky photo by JR Petsko
The alarm went off. It was 4:30 a.m. The darkness outside looked foreboding and my half-shut eyes practically stuck together. With a fresh set of clothes I held my pasty lids open long enough to find the lodge parking lot where runners were gathering to warm up. A thought crossed my mind, "Are these folks *%$#@ crazy? Coffee, where's the coffee?" After a few sips of some much needed java the caffeine kicked in enough to remind me what I was here for, to cover the 5th annual Highland Sky 40-mile Trail Run.

Hosted by Canaan Valley Resort and Conference Center and the West Virginia Mountain State Trail Runners, this event is a point-to-point course. Traversing through the Dolly Sods and Canaan Valley it includes some of the most rugged and beautiful terrain in West Virginia. Windswept plains ranging from 2500 to 4700 feet in elevation make up the Dolly Sods area. Terrain varies from woodland paths, to rock and boulder, upland bogs, through northern hardwoods at lower elevations, to Red Spruce and heath barrens above 4000 feet.

Lew McGrath photo by JR Petsko
Lew McGrath photo by JR Petsko
Before the sun came up runners from all over the east coast boarded buses for the short trip to the starting area. Upon arrival, racers began to warm their muscles for the eight to twelve hour journey that lie before them. At five to six 140 runners lined the starting line. Some may have had more than a few butterflies in their stomachs, aware of test they were about to put their bodies to. Those feelings would fade over the miles. At 6:00 a.m. the race was underway. Loud cheers were heard from the crowd, a pack of early risers mostly friends and family of the 140 pack that disappeared into the early morning dawn.

After a brief chat with the starting line crowd of onlookers, it was my turn to head up the mountain. On my way up about ten to twelve miles into the course I found a beautiful stream crossing. Not long after I set up a group of three runners made their way towards my camera lens. The threesome included Bradley Mongold of Morgantown, WV, Dennis Bauer, and Brian Schmidt of Leesburg, VA. The three men kept a very quick pace. Five minutes or so later two more runners climbed up the trail in hot pursuit of the leaders.

Highlands Sky photo by JR Petsko
Highlands Sky photo by JR Petsko
PF Potvin and Lew McGrath of Morgantown, WV looked to be showing little signs of wear and still in striking distance of the leaders. Justine Morrison of Washington, DC was the first female to make it to the water crossing. Morrison was holding a comfortable lead on Sophie Speidel and Amy Leigh Brown, but with 30-miles left to go anything could happen. Over time everyone past by me most looking very strong and ready to tackle the rest

Six or seven miles into another section of the course, close to aid station #3, the course made a steep turn up the mountain side testing runners of all abilities. The pecking order among racers wasn't changing a great deal except for Mongold, the leader of the Ultra crew. He was starting to pull away, a little off the front creating a large gap in the field. After the steep climb aid station 3 was a welcome site to everyone.

Next stop, a clearing about 5 miles from the finish. Sitting by the trail waiting for the leader and/or leaders to come out of the forest into the field, I wondered if Mongold would be the face I would see first. And it was.

Dennis photo by JR Petsko
Dennis photo by JR Petsko
Bradley Mongold literally flew down the trail in a sprint. It was pretty clear that he knew the end was near. He looked uncatchable at this point in the race. How he's able to muster so much speed after running 35 miles I will never know.

Mongold would go on to take the overall win it a fantastic time of 6:27:58, bettering his time in 2006 by nearly fifteen minutes. Dennis Bauer and Brian Schmidt crossed the line together in 7:06:56 and 7:06:57 in second and third. PF Potvin took home fourth place honors by finishing in 7:13:55 with Lew McGrath taking fifth in 7:17:35.

For the females, Justine Morrison improved her 2006 second place to win the women's overall this year with a time of 7:31:06. Sophie Speidel put in a great race taking second crossing the finish line in 8:30:22. Amy Leigh Brown took home third in 9:03:23. Cynthia Sanchas finished fourth in 9:07:35 and Melissa Simmens rounded out the top five in 9:20:29.

For the Record : Just being a part of this event is something in itself. I tip my hat, or visor rather, to all the participants who finished or even just attempted to run in the event. Thanks to Dan and all his staff for putting on such a great run. I hope to be back next year and see you all again, and to all of you who hung out around the campfire the night before the race, it was nice talking to you.