Hey guys,
 
Well, the third running of the Hellgate 100K is behind me, and I'm still a little glassy-eyed and very sore.  This was a great year for me.  I can say with all honesty that the 2005 Hellgate was a race in which I ran harder and stronger than ever before.  That's a good feeling, and makes the soreness worth it. 
 
I knew going in that I was going to try to improve upon my time from the previous two years.  I had the opportunity, thanks to Dr. Horton, to train on the first and last third of the course in the weeks prior to the event.  This really helped a lot.  I find I have the confidence to run as hard as I really can when I know what is coming.  If I don't know what is ahead, I run more cautiously.  Maybe we are all like that?  I had Horton's splits from when he ran the course just prior to 2003 in 14:40.  So that was my goal from the onset.  That would be an hour better than my best so far (2003, 15:40).  So I memorized and carried with me the splits, and some mental notes about each section: when to take advantage of the good trail, when to float over the rocks, when to bomb the hills, etc.   I was healthy (I had a bad cold heading into the previous two Hellgates), pretty well trained, and ready to go.  But with the weather we had the night before, I was not sure what would happen. 
 
I started out fast for some reason.  I had previously talked to my great running friend Mike Day, and we both wanted to run what we called the "Horton splits."  But the prayer and National Anthem (which we all sang together) got me amp'd up, and I took off hard from the start (Sorry, Mike).  The first section is probably the most runnable and easiest on the course.  I ran this hard, but concentrated on staying aerobic.  I reached the first aid station right on track.  After a short stop to fix my leaking hydration pack, I ran and powerwalked up the long hill towards Petites and AS 2.  I was by myself for a while heading up that hill, and pushed it hard when I felt I could.  The road was very slippery, and made me worry a little about what was to come.  I reached AS2 about 15 minutes ahead of schedule, but I felt great, and did not think I was over extending, so why not?!?  The trail heads into the woods just after AS2, and I knew (from my training run) that I could run the first bit hard.  So I did.  Pretty soon after that, it became apparent that the snow/ice was going to make things a little difficult.
 
The course was either snow or ice covered 99.9% of the way.  I wore my beefiest trail shoes, with some sheet-metal screws in the outsole.  That gave me really good traction (and more important, confidence) in the early stages.  The snow was a couple inches deep, with a crust of ice on top.  If you were lucky, the ice would give away just enough for your foot to sink in and find traction.  The other options were to sink all the way through (taking extra energy, throwing off your stride), or not to sink in at all, in which case you slipped and slided along. 
 
I caught up with Cat Phillips before AS 3 (around 3am I guess).  We struggled with some nasty icy/snowy trail for a while, then reached the long road to Camping Gap and chatted for a while as we powerwalked up the hill.  She was the first woman at the time, and I figured she was more motivated to run hard than me, so I might as well keep up with her.  That served me well, and I hope it helped Cat too.  Talking and running passes the time well.  Before long it was breakfast time.  I reached the breakfast aid station about an hour ahead of "Horton splits," but again, I felt pretty good.  Andy Earl (AS volunteer and great young ultrarunner) informed me that I was in 6th place.  I could not believe it.  But that was all the motivation I needed.  I threw the last bit of my egg and sausage sandwich in the campfire and took off to catch Cat.  It was obvious to me that I was way faster than previous years, because the sun still had not come up by this point in the race.  But Cat and I powerwalked the hills (she a little faster than I) and pressed on.  In the next section (heading toward Bearwallow Gap, mile 42.5) we caught up with another runner.  I don't get the chance to be competitive very often, so I told Cat I would give her a $1 if she helped me catch him.  We did catch him (and I haven't paid up yet), but in that section we were also caught by Justine Morrison.  Now Cat was in 2nd place, and I once again let her pull me along.  That worked until mile 42.5.  I was over an hour ahead of Horton splits by now, and I think Cat was having some problems, and I was feeling strong, so I wished her luck and pressed on, knowing that I could stay somewhere in the top ten unless I really fell apart. 
 
I spent the rest of the run entirely by myself.  I tend to run hard when I am alone, so I took advantage of the good trail heading to Bobblets Gap and gave it all I had.  I knew there was a 2+ mile dowhhill after Bobblets, and I looked forward to running that hard.  But little did I know that the sheet-metal screws had worked their way out of my shoes, so this was a hard, slippery 2+ miles.  I was relieved to reach the trail, knowing I had about 10 miles to go -- all of it familiar to me.
 
That's pretty much how my race went.  In the end, I was around 13:48 -- 2 hours quicker than last year, and a new PR on a very tough course.  Hellgate is a crazy run.  I've seen lots of people finish ultras, but for some reason they tend to look worse when they finish Hellgate.  But what's even funnier is that some of them even come back for more.  I know I will.
 
Run hard and happy,
Neal