Hellgate 2007 Race Report
First and foremost, I must recognize my wife, Rajika (Raj) and kids – Zia and Eshan. Without their support, I never would have been able to complete Hellgate.
I first heard the name Hellgate at the pre-race dinner for MMTR 2006. During the pre-race meeting, David said something like “Don’t even ask about entry into Hellgate this year, it’s filled”. Later I heard him refer to the runner’s of this race as a different breed compared to MMTR runners. I knew then and there that I would need to do Hellgate. I trained hard and ran 5 ultras, 2 road marathons, and several other trail races during the year and signed up for Hellgate as soon as registration opened.
My last race before Hellgate was the Masochist and after a couple of days, my body felt well. I put in two hard weeks of training shortly after MMTR. For three consecutive weekends, I did long runs ranging from 21 to 35 miles and finished the last weekend up with a 35 miler on Saturday, followed by a 20 miler on Sunday. For most of my long runs I included lots of climbing. I felt prepared.
Hellgate for me started on our way from Camp Bethel to the start. My son had been fighting a cold and got sick in our car numerous times, and lets just say – we threw away a couple of articles of clothing we didn’t want to take back to Allentown, PA. When we got to the parking lot, I quickly got out and asked if anyone was traveling back to 81 South so that Raj could follow someone out. Crystal and friends were driving back to 81 South. Now, I knew my family would be able to get back to the hotel. Thank you Crystal and company – this put my mind at ease.
A couple of minutes later, we were all at the gate ready to start. There was total high energy at the starting line – it was like a nightclub without the booze and music. I got to see new friends that I had made at MMTR 2007 and friends from races back in PA. A little past 12 AM, David announced “Good morning runners!” At 12:01, we were off! The excitement continued from the start of this leg, about 2.5 miles in, we heard someone yelling – “look for the trail off to the left; someone has pulled some markers down”. We got closer and realized it was David running and trying to set back up markers that had been pulled down. Going off course was one of my main concerns about Hellgate. My concerns were unfounded. David and crew did an absolutely incredible job marking the course. To me, it is almost unimaginable how much effort and man-hours it took to mark this point-to-point course. The chemsticks were super cool to see at night in the woods.
After AS1, we started to climb. This is the section that runners were warned about being possibly icy. I had put a bunch of sheet metal screws in my Inov8 315’s and decided during the pre-race meeting to take several out. I think in the end, I had 12 in each shoe. The shoes worked well on the slippery ice and snow sections, on the cinder roads, and on the grassy roads. The shoes did not work well when I stepped on rocks that were larger than my foot. The screws just slid right across the rock, making for slow going during the leafy, rocky sections on the course. I realize now that I am going to have to try some of the removable options for traction – like the yak traks.
The race went on. I enjoyed running in the night and meeting people. In hindsight, the 1st third of the course was pretty challenging for me. I couldn’t believe it took me 4 hours to go a little over 20 miles to get to aid station 4 – and this station was a mile lower than it was supposed to be. At all of the aid stations, the volunteers were just awesome – thank you so much for all of your effort and help – it was greatly appreciated.
Other runners seemed to be skeptical when I told the bear story (and they have a right to be, because they know as I do, that the mind and eyes can play tricks on you during long runs). However, in between AS4 and AS5 I am fairly certain I saw a bear. While on a trail section after peaking Headforemost Mountain, I thought I saw some lights to the left of the trail. I got excited because I thought they were lights from AS5. I looked over again and I saw 2 lights spaced about a foot apart back about 30-40 feet into the woods. I continued to run and look – these lights followed me. I believe that these lights were the reflection from my headlamp on 2 bear eyeballs! This happens back in PA, when I run through a park that is a home to a fox. The fox gazes at me, his eyes reflect my headlamp’s light and then he scurries off. This thing did not scurry off! I kept running and looked back occasionally to see if I was being followed.
Going to AS5 was neat! There were lots of volunteers making lots of noise cheering runners on. This was the breakfast aid station and boy, they had the appetizer waiting for us on a bridge several yards before the aid station – a ripe deer carcass! How appetizing, I had a smile on my face running into AS5 – this is Hellgate.
AS5 to AS6 was the longest, loneliest section of the race for me. Running in the dark was getting old and I wanted the sun to rise. It was also on this section that I realized that the aid stations were spaced further apart than in any other race I had done before. I knew this fact on paper, but the reality of it did not hit me until I was running. When I got to AS6, I decided to try some solid food – chicken soup and salted potatoes – man, they were good. I had planned to use only Hammer Perpetuem and Hammer gels, but my plans had to change with no drop bag at AS4. This turned out to be good, because the soup and potatoes worked really well. In fact, I got a jump start on my 2008 goal – move to solid foods for long ultras.
AS6 to AS7 was leafy, rocky, and nasty. At AS7, I received some help and very encouraging words from David – this meant a lot, thanks David. From AS7 to AS8 the “mountain swooping” took place. I had read about this in the excellent, detailed description Aaron had written. I was in a really good place during this portion of the run and I actually enjoyed the swooping. This section was hypnotic and beautiful to me – like a good dream that keeps reoccurring.
AS8 to AS9 was long, like everyone had said and AS9 to the finish was tough because of the monster hill. During this last section, I thought a lot about my family and how great it was going to be to see them. Shortly, after I passed through the entrance of Camp Bethel, I saw them at the playground! I waived and had a mile-wide grin on my face. Zia and I ran in to the finish line together.
Hellgate was a great adventure for me. I had an excellent race and things really came together for me. I attribute a lot of this to my training that took place during the fall. I was able to get in my long runs and stay relatively injury free. I had an overwhelming amount of support from my family – Raj, Zia, Eshan and my friends. Thanks to Dr. David Horton for putting on Hellgate. I am glad there are race directors like David who can meet our fanatic needs.