2007 Hellgate 100K

The Tradition Continues

By David Horton


Five years signifies that you are getting somewhere or you are establishing a tradition or something significant.   This was the 5th year of the Hellgate 100K.   In five short years, it has established a tradition of one very tough and challenging race.   In the four previous years we had ice one year, snow one year, and two VERY cold years.   Could we expect a good weather year?   The weather has been very dry and warm in the east this fall.   Prior to Hellgate, we had no bad weather, cold, ice or snow.   On Wednesday Lynchburg received a lot of flurries, but no accumulation.   (Personally, I was a little disappointed.)

On Thursday morning I went up into the mountains to mark some more of the course.    What had been snow flurries with no accumulation in Lynchburg turned out to be 3 inches of snow and ice in the higher elevations.   Some of the roads were hard packed ice/snow mixture.   I quickly got the word out to the runners to start thinking about yaktraks and screws for shoes.  This year, Hellgate might still live up to its reputation.

Hellgate is a very special race in that all the activities are at the finish of the race at Camp Bethel, which is near Roanoke, Virginia.   Runners are driven to the starting line at 11:00 p.m. for a 12:01 a.m. start and then to run back to the finish in this point-to-point event.    Hellgate is a graduate level event in that there is over 13,000 feet of climbing and an equal amount of descent with about 7 hours of night running for everyone.   There are only 9 aid stations with two places (21.9 and 42.5 miles) that runners can have a drop bag.   Planning is critical.   A 100K should be 62.2 miles, but three different folks have measured this course at just over 66 miles.  Oh well, would you have expected anything different . . . a few extra Horton miles thrown in for good measure.

This year the race filled up in about three weeks.  Even with that, I had a drawing to allow a few more runners into the event.  If we had open registration and let everyone in that wanted in, we would probably have started over 150 runners.   The field will still be limited to somewhere around 100 runners in 2008.

You can tell the success of a race by the number of runners who return to run it every year.    This year, there had 9 runners who have completed all five years of Hellgate.  Each one of these runners were awarded a beautiful Eagle trophy for their accomplishment.   Those runners are Aaron Schwartzbard, Jerry Turk, Jeff Garstecki, Neal Jamison, Ryan Henry, Paul Ralyea, Kevin Bligan, Dan Leahmann, and Darrin Dunham.    Next year, there will be 7 runners going for the five-year Eagle trophy.  

The Lynchburg Ultra Series (LUS) is made up of the Holiday Lake 50K, Promise Land 50K and the MMTR 50 Miler.  The Horton Slam is the LUS plus Hellgate.   Sixteen males and two females completed the Horton Slam this year.   This is the most ever to finish all four local ultras in one year.   The winner of the Horton Slam was Chris Reed (Allentown, PA) with Jeremy Ramsey (Lynchburg, VA) in second place.    Both of these runners are relatively new to ultrarunning.   Rebekah Trittipoe (Bedford, VA) and Dorothy Hunter (Cary, NC) were the female finishers.

The menís field looked to be very strong.   Aaron Schwartzbard (Reston, VA) had finished Hellgate in second place twice.  He had also run three very fast marathons in the fall of 2007.   Serge Arbona (Baltimore, MD ) won Hellgate in the ice year of 2004, (what I still consider the most outstanding performance on the course).  Keith Knipling (Verona, VA) had also won many races in 2007.   Montrail runner Sean Meissner (Bend, OR) was our token west coast runner.  Michael Schuster (Ashburn, VA) had been escaping the shadow of Sean Andrish and Courtney Campbell and was making a name for himself.  Don Padfield (Newport News, VA) had told me earlier this year that he planned on winning the 2007 Hellgate.  Padfield had been training like a madman to make that goal a reality.

The womenís race looked to be Annette Bednoskyís ( Jefferson, NC ) race to win or lose.  Bethany Patterson (Richmond, VA) hoped to keep within striking distance.

The lady who had received the most pre-race publicity was Rebekah Trittipoe.   She is a three- time finisher of Hellgate and a previous winner of the MMTR 50 Miler.   Tracy Boyer, of the Roanoke Times, had contacted Trittipoe and wanted to run a story about her preparing, training, and running the race.   Please check out http://extremeultrarunning.com (in the Hellgate section) for the link to the story and see the coverage they gave Trittipoe and the entire race.   In all the races we have ever had locally, we have never received the excellent coverage they gave us.  We can only hope this will continue with any future events.

Padfield and Knipling took the pace out very fast and were even ahead of Eric Grossmanís record pace through aid station 2 (7.5 miles).   With the snow and the ice on the Parkway, the Park Service had closed the Parkway in three different places.   One of which was Headforemost Mountain, the location of our 4th aid station.  This was also the location of the first drop bags.  We moved the aid station back about one mile to Overstreet Falls.  We could not get the drop bags in by van, and the van was also the method by which dropouts could get a ride back to the finish at Camp Bethel.  A few runners dropped out there, but not many.

Prior to this year, the highest finishing percentage was under 60 percent.  This year, over 78 percent of the runners finished.  I think much of it was due to the runners not seeing the van (and using it as an easy out) at the Headforemost aid station. 

Schwartzbard checked into aid station 4 at 3:35 a.m., this was about 21 miles into the race.  Padfield was 4 minutes back, with Arbona another 5 minutes back.  Meisner and Schuster were 19 minutes behind Schwartzbard.

Schwartzbard gradually increased his lead the rest of the day to take his first victory at Hellgate in 11:28, 25 minutes slower than Grossmanís course record.  Arbona took 2nd in 12:14 with Knipling 3rd in 12:26.   Chris Reed (Allentown, PA), the winner of the LUS, slipped into 4th place with a time of 12:47.  Meissner took 5th in 12:53, with Schuster finishing 6th in 13:05.  

As expected, Bednosky took the lead from the start in the womenís division.  The only question was how many men would beat her and if she would get Krissy Moehlís course record from 2006.  I thought she had a chance for the record, but she came up short running a very fine time of 13:26:25, finishing in 9th place overall.   Patterson ran in second for a long time in the early stages of the race.  One of the problems that plagued her and many other runners in 2006 was frozen eyeballs and fuzzy vision.   She wore some clear glasses but still had the same problem this year.  Sophie Spiedel (Charlottesville, VA) took over Pattersonís place and maintained her pace and finished 2nd in 15:34.  Trittipoe closed to within two minutes of Spiedel by the last aid station and finished 3rd in 15:40, with Kerry Owens (Washington, DC) only 28 seconds behind Trittipoe finishing in 4th place.  Patterson finished 5th coming in at 15:45.

Arbona and Bednosky were the winning masters runners.     Scott Mills (Oceanside, CA) and Rebekah Trittipoe were the winning grand masters.    Doug Blackford (Todd, NC) was the winning super masters runner.

There were challenges in the 2007 race, the snow and ice, the Parkway being closed in three places, chemical lights being torn down near the first aid station, and one incident with citations given by the Park Service for inappropriate behavior.    All in all, the end result was great with our highest finishing percentage ever.

What will December 13, 2008 (Hellgate 100K) bring??   Bad or cold weather in some form or other for sure.  With the institution of the Beast Series for 2008, the LUS will still be in effect but not the Horton Slam.   After the finish of the 2008 Hellgate 100K, the finishers of the six-race Beast Series will receive the BEAST AWARD.  How many will receive the award??   Only a very few deserving souls!