I spained my ankle on Dec. 4. I won a 50K on Dec. 5. I actually
rested most of the week before Hellgate. As the race started, I felt
great, until about 2:00 am. It felt as if the steam from my breath took
all my energy as it floated towards the stars. I slowed down. I
could not seem to follow the trails in the dark. I slowed down some more.
I got frustrated. I wanted to quit. I wanted to go home.
I got to aid station 4. I felt a bit better, but I forgot to put on my dry shirt (dumb!). I shivered/walked/ran on my way to aid station 5. I crossed over the road next to the truck with the generator. The trail took a turn to the left, and for some reason I kept going straight. And for some other reason, I thought parts of the course were marked with white blazes. I am not sure if the white blazes I followed were actually blazes or just very well placed splashes of moss? I followed this path up, through a field, up some more, and only stopped because the trail ended. Perhaps I had missed a turn? I turned around and started running; 20 or so minutes later I discovered where the orange streamers led me down a different path.
Bad turned to worse. I started thinking more about quitting and how quickly I could get home. I became more and more frustrated. I hated my shoes; I hated my socks; I hated my accelerade; and I hated myself for putting my body through this torture. I even hated the Clif Bar I tried to eat as I trudged down the way to aid station 5. The despair was almost tangible as I asked at the aid station "If I drop out now, can I get somebody to take me back to Camp Bethel?" I was not running the race I wanted. I did not want to gut through the remaining miles. I did not want to prove anything to anybody.
If a very nice way, the people at the aid station basically said no. Now, don't get me wrong. They did not say they could not help me. They did not ignore my plight. They just basically said "Keep going to the next aid station and see how you feel." I have tried to remember their exact words, but I can't. In retrospect, I believe they did the right thing. Their words were probably very encouraging, but I can't remember them exactly.
But I do remember the shock. I walked from the aid station thinking "They said NO? They can't make me go on." Well, I guess the anger stirred up other biological responses. I detoured into the woods. I emerged still in shock. Then I started running. I attacked the climbs and cruised the flats and downhills. I started passing runners (1,2,3,4,5 .... 16,17). My spirits soared. I cruised through aid station 6. I worked my way to aid station 7.
At aid station 7, I gulped down a very cold and refreshing bottle of Mountain Dew, picked up a Clif Bar, and kept going. I almost worked through my ultra depression. I began the process of winding around insanely familar trails (each turn and switch seemed to look almost the same). I kept telling myself "You have not missed a turn, just keep going." I was running downhill, glanced down at the rocks tumbling beneath my feet, and looked up just in time to blink before I ran headfirst into a tree that had fallen across the trail. I ended up flat on my back with back spots in front of my eyes. I felt my head and wiped the blood off the tennis ball sized knot that had started to rise under my hat. I had wanted to take off both my hat and my headlamp at aid station 7, but I forgot to do it. The hat saved me from a severe gash; the headlamp took the brunt of the impact. I imagine that without the headlamp, I would have been knocked unconscious.
Needless to say, I was a bit disoriented. I missed another turn, ran five or so minutes on a trail with lots of downed trees, climbed across a gargantuan, moss covered rock slide, and then stopped. I did not know what to do. My mind just couldn't process the information. I turned around, climbed across the rockslide again, and found my missed turn. I felt so stupid.
My ultra depression did not return. However, it was replaced by the beginnings of blisters, a renewed hatred of the Hardrock shoes I was wearing, and an almost listless floating. I wandered through aid station 8. I then started a very silly routine. I counted to 10 while walking. Then I would run for a count of 10. Each turn I increased the count by 5. I only increased the walking counts to 30. Eventually, I was running for a count of 150 and walking for a count of 30. Then I got to infinitely long horse trail. I inwardly pleaded with Fate to please not take up again. I sound forgot about my pleadings as the pain of my blisters blurred out any other thoughts.
After what seemed like days, I made it to aid station 9. I knew I was almost finished. I started to climb. I noticed how much this part of course looked like a trail I used to run when I lived in Tennessee. The resemblance was uncanny. I could not get over the resemblance. Suddenly, I was at the top. Going down was hell. My Hardrocks had become rock magnets, snagging on every rock. Every stumble brought screams from the blisters. I was sure that I had worn holes all the way to the bone. I then saw the road.
I plodded along. I made my way into Camp Bethel.
I had finished. David greeted me with kind words of how it is tougher to finish on a bad day than running well. I knew he was trying so hard to be encouraging to an ultrarunner who had endured his worse day ever on the trails. All I wanted was my shirt, my blanket, and my car. I wanted to get away from that experience as quickly. I hope I was not rude.
It is now two days later. I am glad I finished. I am glad that the people at aid station 5 "encouraged" me to keep going. I imagine that I would have not been able to write anything about Hellgate had I actually dropped out. I may not run another ultra for a while. But that is always subject to change.