Steven Johnson Sky 2 Summit 2020

Welcome to my Sky to Summit Race report for 2020. My first ultra-marathon, trail 50K, and my longest continuous running session.  It was unbelievably awesome!

This race report covers the race, the course, the day, and my experience. I hope that it helps you get a better idea about the Sky 2 Summit 50K.

Sky 2 Summit Race Overview

The Sky 2 Summit trail race is held every Mid-November in Sky Valley, Ga. Sky Valley is located in the northeast corner of Georgia. In 2020 the 50K was on Saturday, November 14th. They also had a 25K the next day on Sunday, November 15th.

The race is organized by Run Bum Tours. They put on quite a few ultra marathons and trail races, including the Georgia Death Race.

The course is in Sky Valley and goes over Rabun Bald. Twice. Rabun Bald is the second-highest point in Georgia. In addition to running over the peaks are a couple of dramatic waterfalls and amazing views along the way.

Any way you look at it was a fantastic day!

Course Overview

The course is two loops with a connecting trail in the middle.

Sky 2 Summit 2020 Map

Split 1
The Race starts in Sky Valley, first on paved roads then trails. Once on the trails, you head up over Rabun Bald. At the top the course photographer takes your photo. The image at the top of this post. The course then continues down the other side of the mountain to the first aid station about 6.5 miles after the start.

Split 2
Once passing through the first aid station, the course is a 7ish mile loop. The trail descends to the bottom of a several hundred-foot waterfall. About a ½ mile after the bottom of the fall there is a deep water crossing, followed by a water only aid station. After the water only station, you double back and hit this water crossing a second and time. Now it is time to climb back up a different trail to return to the aid station.

Split 3
Once getting fuel and topping of fluids, it is off to Rabun Bald observation tower at the summit, where you can take in the view. After the summit the race proceeds down the other side, which is very steep. It requires solid footing and balance. After a mile or so the grade starts is not as steep and before you know it you arrive at Aid Station 3.

Split 4
After Aid station 3, the course turns into a forest service road for about a mile. Take a hard right and you are back on a trail. In about a quarter or mile or so you arrive at the base of a fantastic waterfall. Take in the views for a minute or so and then you work your way to the top of the waterfall. After a short stretch on a forest service road, it is back on the trail, where you wind across several bridges and streams to the final aid station, Aid Station 4.

Split 5
Now it is time for the last 2ish miles of the race. The course goes through some streets both asphalt and gravel. At this point you are heading downhill to the finish in Sky Valley. At the finish you are met with cheering crowds, a medal, and everlasting glory.

Race Conditions

Right. For the 2020 race, the weather was fantastic. Starting temps around 40 degrees and the high was in the mid-fifties.

The sky was blue, with a few clouds, no chance of rain and maybe a light breeze. Could not ask for a much better day.

Split 1: 6.4 miles – Start to Aid Station 1

Sky 2 Summit 50K Segment 1

At about 6:30 in the morning, the group gathered with masks for the start of the race. In 2020, due to Covid-19, the race started in three waves. After a quick talk about trail markings, course conditions and encouragement the race started, in the dark, everyone with headlamps.

In a 50K fashion, the pace was slow and steady, when we were met with hills the pace dropped to a fast walking pace. I was in the 2nd wave, so all the fast people were well on their way. My wave had a slow, consistent, sustainable pace.

The paved road turned into a trail and then the trail started to climb. This was the first big climb headed to the top of Rabun Bald. The group was pretty much in a line every some people were passing but most were going at the pace of those in front of them.

I took this as a good opportunity to stay slow and keep the heart rate low, it was going to be a long day.

When we reached the top there a good feeling of level ground and excellent views to match. Run Bum Tours had a photographer to capture the moment.

After taking in the view, it was across the top and then down the back side of the mountain to the first aid station. The trail down was leafy, rocky with some roots and low branches. You could run but you still needed to watch your foot placement.

Throughout the entire day the trails and course were super well-marked and very easy to navigate.

I started the day with a long sleeve shirt on top of a short sleeve one. It was somewhere in this section, the day had warmed up and so had i. I took off the long sleeve and my comfort level was great.

Arriving at Aid Station 1 was a great feeling. I was assured that I might be able to complete this even though there was still a long way to go.

At Aid Station 1, the volunteers were super helpful and encouraging. The station was super well stocked with water, Gatorade, pickles, bananas, potatoes, quesadillas, bacon and even avocados. Being Vegan I mainly noticed the vegetables. I am sure there was other stuff, but I focused on the avocados. I think all races should have these.

After getting something to eat, I topped off the flasks in my vest. The one on the left side was a mix with calories, it varied from Tail Wind, Skratch, to Maurten. For this race I just grabbed odds and ends that I had at home.

Now I was off to the second segment which is a 7-mile loop.

Split 2: 7.3 miles – Outer Loop

Sky 2 Summit 50K Segment 2

All right. So after leaving the aid station, we’re heading out to the outer loop. This section of the trail was rockier and headed down a steep steady hill. I could hear and then eventually see a big waterfall on the right side of the trail.

The descent was steep enough to require walking, but shuffling your feet along, keeping your stride short. At the bottom, the trail took a hard left and in ½ mile or so there was a serious water crossing.

The crossing was definitely thigh deep almost to the bottom of the running shorts, shorter people would have had a tougher go of it. There was no question that you were getting your shoes soaked.

After the water crossing, we reached a water only aid station. Here I topped off the flasks and headed on.

From the water only station we doubled back, hitting the water crossing again and reached the intersection where we had turned left. This time it was straight through to get back on the loop.

On the loop the trail wandered up the hill, we were now on the other side of the waterfall climbing to the top. I will mention this segment of the race was cold, damp with lots of running and standing water on the trail. I put my gloves back on just to keep my hands warm, no need to put the long sleeve shirt on.

Once we got back up to the top, the trail took us back to Aid Station 1. This time it was technically Aid Station 2, just our 2nd time to pass it. I stopped here, filled the flasks back up, got some more avocados and bananas, restocked the front pockets with gels and food and prepared for the third segment.

Split 3: 7.1 miles – Over Rabun Bald to Aid Station 3

Sky 2 Summit 50K Segment 3

Now on to the third segment. We start by doubling back on the trail that leads to the aid station. There is a bit of a climb as we head back to the top of Rabun Bald.

It is a pretty big climb, but it wasn’t too bad. It was just kind of uphill, steady, lots of fast walking and just staying consistent.

Somewhere heading up the hill I tripped, hit the ground got up and kept going. I few minutes later I checked my watch only to see that the Styrd power pod on my foot had been knocked off. As they are expensive, if I could find it, the search would be worth the time.

I knew that my watch would pick up the signal so I returned to the area where I fell. The watch picked up the signal but the signal was to strong I had about 30 yard where the pod synced to my watch. The strength of the signal combined with the leaves and not knowing where it fell showed me the answer. It was time to head on without the Stryd pod.

The climb continued, and we reached the true summit of Rabun Bald. Here there was a big observation tower with super steep steps and 360 degree views. It was off to the observation deck to take in the mountains and snap a few pictures.

2020 Sky 2 Summit Top Rabun Bald

They Day and weather was amazing!

2020 Sky 2 Summit Top Rabun Bald

Then it was back down the steps and off to the trail heading down the other side of the mountain. It was a steep trail with big rocks. Many times both hands and feet were required to navigate down. I just wondered how the leaders made it down without falling.

After descending ½ to ¾ of a mile (I think) the trail was not as treacherous. We kept going down and down, eventually, it leveled even more and before you knew it we were at Aid Station 3.

This station was located right where the trail met a forest service road. Again, avocados, bananas water and Gatorade, and most importantly super nice volunteers.

This was the aid station with the drop bags. It was easy to find mine. I grabbed all the nutrition I had packed and threw it into my running vest and headed down the forest service road for the fourth 7ish mile segment.

Split 4: 6.7 miles – Aid Station 3 to Aid Station 4

Sky 2 Summit 50K Segment 4

The fourth segment is just under 7 miles. After leaving Aid Station 3 with new nutrition supplies the course headed down a forest service road.

After the step and technical descent, it was nice to have a wide-open road. The elevation drops for a little while then turns into an easy climb.

After a short bit of climbing, there is a hard right taking you back onto a trail. The trail goes for a half mile or so and then crosses the bottom of a spectacular waterfall. I stopped here for minute or two for pictures and to take in it all in.

Sky 2 Summit Waterfall

Then it was back to the race. The course climbs up the waterfall. It was a steep climb with lots of fast walking. The climb is not too bad, it was a nice section of single-track trail.

Once reaching the top the trail leveled out for a bit and then back onto the forest service road. After a short section of the road, it was left back to a trail.

The trail winds along, crossing several short bridges, spanning small streams. My guess is all of thes small streams combined to create a big stream that turned into the waterfall we saw earlier.

We continue on this trail for another mile or so. It was at this point that I had my one and only fueling problem. I ran out of water. At the previous aid station I drank a bunch of water after just starting out. In hindsight, I should have consumed more fluids at the aid station, then topped off and headed on. It wa not too bad, I just wished I had about another half liter of water on me.

The race continues on making my way to Aid Station 4.

This station was a welcome site, the first task was to water and Gatorade. Again avocados, this time the had avocado wraps. I grabbed a few, filled up the flasks and headed on for the last 2 to 3 miles to the finish.

Split 5: 2.1 miles – Aid Station 4 to Finish

Sky 2 Summit 50K Segment 5

The last segment is just a couple of miles. The course is a combination of dirt roads and asphalt. This selection is nice because it’s almost exclusively downhill. Previously my pace had been 15.5 to 17.5 min/mile, it is not 13 min/mile.

Eventually, we come to Sky Valley and work our way to the finish. I crossed the finish got the finishers medal from Sean the race director and I had my first 50K trail race in the books.

Steven Johnson Sky 2 Summit Finisher Medal

Wrapping it up

It was a fantastic experience. Super organized, trails well marked, excellent volunteers, perfect weather, and spectacular views. If you’re in the area and thinking about it, it is a great race to make your first 50K.

Race Links and Further Reading