To borrow from what Karen composed in her head as we started the race:
Midnight is the time in a 100 miler where I can no longer digest food.
Midnight is the time in a 100 miler where I begin to fall asleep on the trail.
Midnight is the time in a 100 miler when I have to stop and empty my bladder every 15 minutes.
Midnight is the time in a 100 miler when I tell myself "I am never, under any circumstances going to do another one of these again".
Midnight is the time in a 100 miler when I no longer enjoy conversing with other runners and just retreat to my own little world of self-pity.
Midnight is when Hellgate begins.
I purposely didnt read the race reports posted on the website; I knew if I did, I would psyche myself out, thinking that I was in over my head doing this race. I convinced Karen (Sandt) to run it with me, and was happy to hear that Hunt (Bartine) would be there too, as well as a few of our other non-local running buddies. Karen and I left at 10am on Friday morning; 6 hours and 6 pee stops later, we made it to Virginia by 3:30. Slept a few hours and picked up our numbers, said hi to a few familiar faces. Neal (Jamison) signed my bookwhich was a highlight for me. Dinner at Camp Bethel was great! Stuffed shells, cookies, fruit, salad; we were warned by Gary (Knipling) not to eat too much though! Another hour of snoozing and much time spent contemplating with others our attire for the start, and we headed off for the start. At 12:01, Horton gave the go ahead, and we took off! I ran rather conservatively with Karen. She hates downhills and I detest uphills, so we shuffled along into the night. My light wasnt too bright, so I tried to stay near others. Im deathly afraid of the dark, so I kept close to someone at all times. Around mile 8 Karen was taking it really easy on the downhillsand rightfully sothey were crazily steep and rocky as hell! But I just kept thinking if we dont go a little faster, were never going to make the cutoff times (which were pretty challenging to make I think). So I ran faster, hoping it would keep her going. I didnt see her after that.
I kept up with Mike (Mason) a new resident of Alexandria VA. We chatted a bit, and I apologized to him for following so close, but explained my fears of the dark. He said he was happy to have company. From mile 8 on we became pacing partners. He took over when I was feeling low, and I led when he wasnt feeling so good. The start of the course, a 2-3 mile climb is very reminiscent of the Tussey Mountainback-50 miler in Boalsburg PA. I loved it, and ran most of it. Around 5am we were walking a few hills, and my eyelids were closing fast. Luckily we came into an aid station, refueled, had some warmth by the fire and headed off again. The sun finally rose around 7 enough to turn our headlamps off. Each aid station seemed further than the next. I think this course is a big LIE! It says 6 miles to next aid stationits really 7 or 8. Mike and I kept up, running the downhills and rocky sections, and walking fast uphillsthis guys a fast uphill walker!!! We were at mile 21.5 (first cutoff) with 2 hours to spare before the cutoff time. We planned then to do each 20-mile section in 5 hours; that would give us a 15-hour finish time. After the sun came upthe views were spectacular! Deep valleys and scattered farms, cloud shadows on the ridges, beautiful fog in some spotsthis is what ultrarunning is all about! We didnt see any bears, or deer, or any other animals; and I was really planning to from all the stories we heard! I was happy to evade an encounter however! Mile 42.5 was cutoff 2 and we reached it 2 hours before the cutoff time, just on schedule. We probably spent the longest time at this aid station, changing clothes, refueling lots, and chatting with David Horton who informed me that I was probably 4th or 5th female at this point. That gave me something to work towards.
I ate M and Ms, and cheez-its at every aid station, and some biscotti and granola bars in between. They had conquest and water, which I mixed; and my stomach has never been so happy during a race beforeusually it gets really upset and cranky. We had now 5 hrs left to do the last 20 miles. Supposedly this was the easiest section of the course. Some parts were easy, others um….for lack of a better term, were excruciating! Especially the terrain from mile 48-56. This was definitely HELL! Uphill, downhill, rock here and there, switchbacks like you wouldnt believe. By mile 56 my quads were SCREAMINGthey never do that. When we reached the final aid station before the finish, Mike got a glimmer in his eyes and said were going to do this in under 15 hours. I was a little skeptical, so I just said Ill see you at the finish. But he wasnt going to leave me this far into the race, so he walked ahead, while I did the Shiley shuffle and he waited for a minute until I finished the last portion of the 2.8 uphill climb before we began our 3 mile descentand quite a descent it was! I passed a woman around mile 54, so now I was fourth. On the descent, Mike ran really really fastsprint pace!! Then I saw another woman in the near distance; with 1.5 miles to goI passed her (this was a moral dilemmaI was thinking, gezus, shes led for 60 miles, and now youre going to go and pass her?? Is that really fair??). I justified by noting that I had plenty of energy left to eek out a fast mile, and if she did too, then great, but if she didnt then Id see her later at the finish. Evidently she didnt, because I looked back and she was nowhere to be seen. As I rounded the corner and saw the Camp in the near distance, my heart skipped a bit. It never felt so good to see a finish line. Mike finished a minute or two ahead of me, and I following close on his heels pulled off a 14:50an improbable time unless I had someone like Mike to keep on pushing me the whole race. Ive never felt such a sense of accomplishment as I did after this run. I gave Karen a hug, and thanked David Horton (the race director) for putting on such a great (albeit hellish) race.
I share Karens sentiments about DNFing and really considering her running career. I know what it means to DNF. Ive done it 3 times myselfand it is NOT a good feeling. But sometimes your body and/or your mind just arent ready. Youre not a failureyoure simply humanalthough sometimes we defy it quite well. Karens an incredible runner and an incredible friend. If I didnt meet her through Genie, I wouldnt be doing these crazy things! And by crazy I mean GREAT J ! Karen is one of my inspirations. Shes the best pacer and crew Ive ever had, and shes an incredible runner herself.
So, if you ever contemplate Hellgate, I have a few suggestions; 1. Dont read the race reports (Im going to read them now), 2. Train for this race like youre going into a 100 miler, 3. If youre scared of the dark, make sure you latch onto someone real quick, and 4. Finishing even a few miles of this race is an impressive feet, so even if you cant make it the whole 100k, youve accomplished something great.
After my personal masseuse (my boyfriend) gave me a massage last night, I felt I could eek out 2 miles this morning; it was pretty painful, but I think it worked out the knots. Another 5 is in order for tomorrow with my regular Tuesday morning running partner, and a reali.e. I have to pay for itone hour massage, which I think is well deserved!
If youre going through hell…keep goingWinston Churchill (printed on the front of this years race t-shirts).