Hellgate 100K, 2011
Many people talked about how ‘special’ this race was… after awhile I already knew that I wanted to run it. The course sounded so challenging and scenic! After listening to Robert talk about his experiences there and going over some race reports from previous years, I was sold.
I knew I would have to train seriously for this one, not just because it was a 100k but more so because of some of the other aspects that make it so different than other races. Like the 12:01 am start- that throws ya off a bit! Of course you are up pretty much the whole day beforehand since you are at the camp, and there are other people there too, and practically everyone is talking about the race or previous ones or training and the energy around the place is electric!
The drive down was slightly cramped but a lot of fun. Temps were in the 40’s as Robert fired up his van, and then Cassie and Sean, Brad, Jodie and I piled in and headed east to Virginia. The drive took us about 14.5 hrs…we took turns driving and the time went by as we sailed through Illinois…Ohio…Indiana…Kentucky…West Virginia…ah, hello Virginia and your awesome mountains!
I had trained some with Robert for this race, and was glad that I did because many times our conversation would drift to Hellgate and I would learn a little more….I was a bit nervous and coming off of a dnf at Glacial I was pretty determined to get through this one, come hell or high water! And yes, both came.
The weather was perfect down there, we arrived to Camp Bethel and Robert kind of gave us the rundown of the place. Neat out buildings, with all kinds of landscaping around utilizing the creeks and natural spring fed pond to create scenic little waterfalls and guided little streams under decorative bridges…The main building where we stayed was simple and wide open inside the main part of it with rooms along the sides for sleeping which contained bunks. Showers were right there, and access to a fridge and micro (and yes, coffee makers!)
Friday morning Robert took us up the final section of the race which was a good climb up the side of the mountain. Took us about 45 minutes to walk it, Brad, Jodie and I took a little longer as we were taking pics. It was nice to get out in the woods and exercise a little, felt great!
After we returned to the camp Horton arrived. He was just as I remembered in the video that Jim Blanchard borrowed me where Horton runs the PCT from Mexico to Canada…full of energy, mind going a million miles an hour, always moving…nice to meet him. Brad and Robert went along with him to finish marking the trail and to help out doing whatever else needed doing.
More and more people began arriving as the day wore on, leading to many exciting conversations and a growing feeling of anticipation for the race. Cassie wound up sick the night before the race. She had flu like systems, and it made her so miserable that she had to drop from the race.
As the race drew nearer it was getting harder to find stuff to do…having the start at midnight really threw you off. I found myself pacing, then sitting, then pacing. It was mental torture! Should have brought a book…at least the dinner broke things up. The pre race dinner was set up home cooking style in a large room where everyone got to sit at these round tables. There was like 6 or so to a table, and they had pasta dishes and salad. I sat with Paul, the RD from the Ozark race and some others that had done Hellgate before and so dinner conversation was all about races, Hellgate, and of course poison oak.
Horton held a pre race meeting to discuss the race, and introduced some key helpers in the race (such as Robert!) so you started to get a feel for the history…he would call out the number of finishes and then those who had them would have to stand up. He would also make small talk of past mistakes people had made, and then make them stand up to…it was all good fun.
When it was time to go Jodie drove us (and Joe from Michigan) to the start. The full moon was already rising, which was wonderful to have running through the night!
Some gal sang the Canadian Anthem, and then we all sang the American National Anthem followed by a prayer led by Horton. And then it was go time.
This race has A LOT of climbing. Miles of climbs. It was wonderful having the moonlight because we could shut our headlamps off while walking up the gravel roads. Gave the eyes a nice break! I remember by mile 15 my hamstrings were already starting to get sore, and I was thinking man this is going to be a long day lol! It was awesome to be up close to the top of a mountain and then look back down the switchbacks and see all the headlights bobbing their way up…just surreal.
We came to the first creek-not so bad. I heard someone say “this is the creek before the creek” and I thought oh, it must get worse. They had had a lot of rain down there so there were plenty of spots where water was running across the trail that had made its way down the mountain. In fact there were spots where the water was coming right out of the mountain! Very cool. Until you were running in it and your feet were soaked ha-ha
When we came to the creek Horton had mentioned it was up to about my knees, rushing along pretty good. I was about half way across when I saw the photographer sitting on the bank in the dark and that was quite a startle! Made my way across and squished up the other side; long climb to dry out and then some more single track. There was a single track section in here that had a ton of leaves and I found out soon enough that the Altra Instincts have less than desirable traction on such surfaces. I was sliding all over the place through there, once I almost slid right off the trail and down the mountainside so mental note for next time!
Seeing Jodie at the aid stations was a good boost. She crewed for everyone in our group, and found her way from aid station to aid station all night. It is always nice having someone you know helping out there! Plus I always got to ask how everyone else was doing, since I was last in our group coming through after Brad got ahead of me. I still cannot believe he decided to go ahead with the race with no training for 2 months and rocked it! WTF?!
Throughout the race I talked with a few people who were finishing up the Beast Series…had one guy (SNIPER) who pointed out Telluride Mountain as we were climbing up a mountain beside it. Always cool to talk with local runners too, who fill ya in on all the history of the trail and ‘what those guys are doing with the dogs’ that kept passing me while they were going up the trail in their hunting trucks. The aid stations were great, manned by students from Horton’s classes. They were encouraging and as helpful as they could be. At aid station 4 I heard of people dropping already. All I could think about was my dnf at Glacial. Seriously, it haunted me every time I thought about how hard things were getting or how much this or that is starting to hurt or how much farther can this climb possibly go on? I mean the mountain is only so tall right? Ha-ha There was no way I was not finishing this race….
Through aid station 6 I felt ok, which was around 30-40 miles. Soon after this however I started to get bad inflammation in my feet and ankles, and things were kind of at a real low. I struggled through the next section, running with Drew, a guy from Richmond who I got to know pretty well while running the next few hours. At aid station 7 I knew I needed something. I argued with myself about taking Ibuprophen for a few hours...as I look at it as a crutch. Finally I just made the decision that nothing else is going to take the inflammation down, nothing in your pack, nothing in your supplements, nothing else you got on ya. I asked Jodie to see if she could find me some at aid station 8. She did, and after briefly talking with the medic there he said it was ok since I was hydrating well and had no cramping issues. After taking it and about 3 miles or so down the trail, I could almost feel the swelling go down and I was back in business! Still hurt but at least I wasn’t hobbling along! The rest of the race was pretty smooth sailing…there are sections of this race where you swear it’s just been forever, and then there are sections that are so scenic that I wanted them to last forever. The view of the mountains was just awe inspiring, and reminds me why we trail runners do what we do! At night the lights from the cities in the valleys was amazing, the sun coming up was such a welcome sight, the brilliantly green moss on the rocks and some tree bases was neat to see- so much tied into this race. I can see why everyone calls it a special event...Climbing the last hill, you already have a smile (at least I did, I believe the guy behind me was cursing) as you know the end is in reach. I remember getting to the point where I realized that I was going to finish, in less than 17 hours. Talk about ecstatic! My Garmin watch helped me to get through the longer parts since the mileage was always longer than what the course said or the people at the aid stations would say. It lasted until mile 64- the last hill. I couldn’t believe it when the ‘low battery’ alarm went off! “Stay with me!” I said aloud, this is it! Then it faded to a dull blank screen… Alas, technology will never have the guts that ultra runners do…crossing that finish line and shaking Horton’s hand was a real treat to my memory. I am so glad that I was able to be a part of Hellgate 2011, and now I understand why Robert keeps on coming back to this one.