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.