In anything longer than a 50K, I am a back of the packer.  I really donít mind that, as long as I finish the race and I finish under the cutoff time.  (Okay, so maybe thereís a small part of my ego that would rather me finish someplace other than at the back). And since I started running ultras two years ago, Iíve always finished under the cutoff time (including the Massanutten) and I am gradually improving, which gives me some encouragement.  But then there was the 2003 Hellgate run and those darned Horton miles in the section after aid station 8.  I did finish the race, but not under18 hours.  So, I didnít get to leave the race with a finisherís shirt, but it turns out that I left with something much more important. I ran the first twenty miles with some guy from northern Virginia that I met in the van on the ride over.  He waited for me at the finish line, left me his phone number, and before a year had past, we were married.  A marriage made in Hellgate.  So this yearís race had dual importance:  an anniversary run and a chance to do the race right.   This year I had my husband crewing me and I finished with a whole ten minutes to spare (but 50 minutes faster than last year). 

I know other runners will write wonderfully detailed narratives of the course, so Iíll just share some things Iíve learned as a rookie average runner about Hellgate:

First, running in the dark.  I love the midnight starting time and I would much rather start in the dark than end in the dark. (Well, okay, with my 17:50 finish, I did both, but only for a few minutes at the end.)  Although last year it was easy to follow footprints in the snow, it would have been easy to lose the trail under all the leaves this year had it not been for the exceptionally well marked trail.  Whenever I had a doubt, I easily spotted a chem light.

Second, the cold.  It was really cold at night both years, although it was a different kind of cold.  In 2004, it was bitter cold with lots of frozen ground.  This year is was that damp kind of cold.  Everything on me, including my hair, was wet, but at least my shoelaces didnít freeze.  It flurried some at night and rained some during the day. Some people were fine with shorts on the night section, but I was glad I had on pants and I picked up my rain shell at mile 21 to break the wind. The aid station workers and crew members have it much tougher than the runners, though.  At least we get to keep moving to keep warm. 

Third, the time cushion.  I built up a much better time cushion at the start of the race than I had last year and Iím glad I did.  In both years, the sections after aid stations 6 and 8 sucked up a lot of those extra minutes I had stashed.  The section after aid station 6 starts off fine enough.  Some nice downhill, some easy rolling terrain, some not-too-bad uphill.  But then those rocks come into play.  Thereís some more uphill and some really great downhill single track which looks very runnable, except for the fact that several inches of leaves obscure the thousands of rocks underneath.  I lost a half hour of my cushion on that section and was extremely frustrated because I knew about the section after aid station 8.  That section starts off with a very nice, long downhill run on a gravel road, but then ends up on the singletrack that never ends.  Really.  Even though I KNEW not to even bother looking for the aid station, I kept thinking, ďItís got to be right around the next turnĒ.  Itís not.  Itís a couple miles farther than where you expect it to be.  

Finally, the experience itself.  Several times during the run, I began to think all those people who question my sanity because of runs like this might just have some valid points.  Who in their right mind will drive six hours to run all night and all day and actually pay to do it?  That being said, however, it is a great challenge and a unique run not to be missed by anyone who has been accused of not being quite right in the head. 

Thank you David Horton and all your volunteers for a great run. 

Denise Davis