Unbridled Enthusiasm and Trudging Up Hills

 Reflections on Hellgate 2004 by Annette Bednosky

Ahhh…The HELLGATE 100K…December 11, 2004. Start time 12:01am.

Hellgate 100k was a magical adventure again this year. Although the weather and trail conditions and my personal expectations of my performance were vastly different than the inaugural 2003 running…one thing remained the same: It was a fabulously intense experience one in which I was ALIVE and aware of my humanity each moment…I love it because it is such a contrast to the regimented world my profession as a school counselor often presents to me! But during HELLGATE 2004 I was anything but regimented or even very smart…yet overall, I still had a great time!

After a yummy dinner of pasta and conversation many runners gathered in the Heritage Room of Camp Bethel.  The room resembled a child’s playroom with all sorts of runners drops bag items being spread out and organized all over the floor. I was happy to hang out with Bethany (Hunter) Patterson and Amy (Thompson) Bath as we pondered what seemed to be the great question of the evening…shorts or tights? In the end I wound up with shorts.

My excitement and adrenaline started to kick in during that time of community and during the race briefing. At one point when Horton was introducing the 1st place awards he looked at me and mentioned my name. That comment and receiving #11 as my race number had me appropriately self-conscious about performance expectations…

I must admit, I was nervous. Yes, I’d had a very good year and worked hard...at least until the Masochist in October…but since October I’ve been running miles-yet not hard training miles and I was giving myself a couple of months off from the physical and personal stresses of training…I even ran a couple of road 5k’s and a road 13.1 (which I will never do again-especially a week before Hellgate-yet that is another rambling entirely.)

At this time however, I was about to start a race and for the first time all year I felt uncertain whether or not I was prepared. I knew there some excellent competition-especially Bethany Patterson and even though she’d  been concentrating on other parts of life for the last many months and hadn’t raced much, she was here and I expected as tenacious and able as ever! And I knew Sally Brooking from GA was here and Amy B. from Boone was dealing with a recent injury but had improved hugely this year.

I was determined to do my best, to run as hard as I could, and  since I am considering this my “off season” until January 1st,  I really wanted to approach this event being less planned and “anal” as I usually am.  I decided to run hard when I felt like it and back off when I had to. I definitely did not plan or run a smart race…Horton suggested we treat it more like a 100miler because of the progressive terrain and elevation changes. His suggestion was a wise one that I did not heed. Instead, I ran as I pleased for the first 25 miles and felt my indiscretions for the rest of the way!

The darkness part of the course went by like a blur to me-I especially relished the single-track downhills that were ever-so-much fun to navigate with a single beam halogen headlamp (I am fortunate to have discovered the Petzel MYO light to use the bright halogen for fast or technical running and the energy conserving LED for the slower uphills or more predictable dirt roads!) I loved running through the creeks and following the mud prints ahead of me. One of the first human made highlights was coming into the festive holiday illuminated Camping Gap and being cheered on by aid stations volunteers and DH who told me the leaders were about 10 minutes ahead of me. This is the first time I really realized I was moving fast…way too fast for what was good for me. “BUT”, I thought, “What the heck? I am having a great time…let’s see what happens!”

I continued on…lost in concentration of the trail and in out-of context thoughts of Star Wars characters and of anticipating the privilege of running as a Montrail runner in 2005, and of my husband George and our kitty Duncan…And then before I knew it I was in the Promise Land field rollicking downhill toward the dirt road that would lead to the drop bags at Headforemost Mountain. My first of several significant walks happened on the mile long dirt road going up to this aid station. Up until this point I’d mostly ran-except for a step here or there… yet now I was beginning to feel my earlier unbridled enthusiasm and some trudging up the hill became necessary.

After checking in at the aid station, changing out bottles of Hammer gel and eating a few bites of warm soup I was off again headed off into the “unknown!” As I ran along I had lingering memories of last year-the discomfort of the freezing cold at this aid station and my inability to feel my hands when I tried to get into my drop bag…yet this year for me it was quite pleasant and sort of warmish. The aid station workers I knew however were making a sacrifice-they were standing around practically immobile at 4:30am as the chilly rain started to fall. As for me, I continued on the varied terrain and mostly downhill to aid station #5 at Jennings Creek. Last year I’d arrived here at first light…this year while I gulped Conquest and grabbed M&M’s I wondered how far I could get by sunrise?

DH was there encouraging me and cheering me on to go “catch some men!” At this point I was in 9th place…feeling energetic and happy in spirit, yet my legs were feeling the earlier miles and I started mixing power walking in the ascents. As I walked up the next hill again I wondered at the different experiences all of us were having out there. My  world of the last several hours had been very focused and unsocial until this point…I was having fun, yet as usual, not taking the time to enjoy the company or the yummies at the aid stations. I noticed the mist and the stars and the lights down the mountain in the distance...yet my experience was being absorbed through the run, rather than taken in with my senses. I have experienced this on some other ultras and fastpacks, yet I am still at a loss for how to explain it.

The next section was rather uneventful and I turned off my headlamp after getting on the Forest Service road that lead to aid station #6. I knew I was slowing down and for the first time I looked behind me. I was not surprised to see 2 lights coming down the hill in the distance. It was a bit of a relief…with my lack of regular pacing, I knew I was bound to be passed at some point…And soon I would see if those lights belonged to hes or shes.

Cat Phillips among several others encouraged me along through aid station #6. And soon I met a couple of those lights I’d seen coming down the hill. Herman Richards flew by and I got to run for the next many miles with Brian Kistner from SC.

This section around Cove Mountain was exactly as I remembered: eye candy- lovely contouring single-track and deceptively filled with leaf covered rocks. I moved more quickly and self assured through this section while walking or hopping rather than running.

Crossing Bearwallow at 42.5 miles Brian and I stopped to change our socks and grab some calories as we anticipated the climb up and around Purgatory Mountain. Here I really started to slow down and lost sight of Brian. My brain was telling my legs to run…after all this section was far from steep or rocky or rooty…yet my legs were rebelling and insisted on walking breaks more often than I wished….Like I said, I did not race smartly…and I started to scold myself during this section for my earlier lack of self-restraint. Finally upon reaching Bobblets Gap I refilled water bottles grabbed a Balance Bar (I was moving too slowly at this point for the gel diet to help me…I knew my effort level had changed significantly and should be fine with regular food). When asked how I was doing, I simply said, “Slowing down.” One of the kind volunteers pointed out that “Everyone else is too!”

 During a pit stop on the next downhill road section I was passed and tried unsuccessfully to catch the person as he plowed ahead-a glimpse of blue always in the distance. I had my last glimpse of the 2 runners in front of me as I started up the ridge on the never-ending single-track that dumped us out at Day Creek.

I have little to say about this section except that I had to work hard to keep my spirits up to keep from being too frustrated. The trail just went on and on and on and on…and I was frustrated with myself for not remembering from last year and from not running smart earlier. At this point in the run as I came across the little flags stuck in the ground I knew from the pre-race briefing that there was still 2 miles to go until the aid station. For me these were probably the longest and slowest 2 miles of the course. Several hundred feet before the end of the trail, 2 Liberty students smiled and said hi and told me the aid station was just ahead. Thank you guys for the news that lighted my afternoon!

Coming into Day Creek I was relieved to be reminded there was a little over 6 miles left. I knew I still had downhill legs left…so all I had to do now was reach the Parkway! The slow slog up to the Parkway was uneventful until the last switchback when I looked behind me and saw another runner. My adrenaline kicked in…the person was wearing neon and looked too tall to be Bethany…or Amy or Sally…but I couldn’t tell from gait or posture if this was a tall woman or a man…so I hurried…I really didn’t want to be caught or passed by anyone at this point. I have become aware this year of my competitive nature and fellow runners jokingly have hummed the Jaws theme music and told me they see dorsal fins when I get into that mode. I heard the theme music myself loud and clear and hustled down the hill.

The person behind me turned out to be Jerry Turk who was met by his companion Kerry as the FS road joined the Camp Bethel approach road. I’d seen Kerry through the last 13.5 +hours and she was encouraging and cheery as she waited the few seconds as I passed her for Jerry to come into view. Soon Scott B’s “1 mile left” sign was in view and I was psyched and ran hard and all at the same time thought “I don’t want to do this again” all the while planning for next year!

I crossed the finish at 13:50:08 (about an hour and 25 minutes faster than last year). Seconds after finishing someone asked me how I was doing…I am sure I must have been all smiles as I said “great”…It’s funny how seconds after finishing something hard I can all but forget the difficulties and remember the fun.

I will remember the consequences I felt by not running a smart race this day…yet I will also remember the fun and freedom of not using restraint in those early miles. I hope as I continue to run and race I can find a way of bridging the gap between “running free” and “racing smart”.

Thank you to David Horton and Charlie and all the aid station workers and runners for another fine adventure.