Hellgate 2008

By Cathy Gallagher

Hellgate: went down with Audrey, Denise and Kelly Dorey to a much anticipated winter ultra 100 km.
Met a very passionate ultra crowd - really neat to see an organizer that was so obviously respected by all the runners - seemed like he (David Horton) new everyone in the crowd except the "Canucks"! Harper Forbes and his fiancÚ Amy drove down and met us at Camp Bethel.

Race started at 12:01 after a mad scramble to find Denise and Harper (we all had to get separate rides from people appointed to us to start line). Finally found them and we were off. Stayed with Denise and Audrey for a while but their pace was too quick at this point for me and I still am not sure what pace I need to do to maximize in these races so did my own thing. Climbed up a beautiful mountain range - not too steep so ran/walk - the moon was full and beautiful and everyone was starting to spread out. Got through first two aid stations - felt great and loved the food in the TA's - soup, sandwiches etc. Was already starting to see people drop with stomach problems - felt bad for them. The wind came up on the open areas of the mountain but really did not feel that cold and felt great, alone but not scared this time! Aid station three is where my race started to change....I looked up at the moon and saw the most beautiful rainbow around it...I asked racers around me what they thought of it and was quickly told there was no rainbow and that my corneas might be starting to freeze...I quickly dismissed this and proceeded on loving this race but as the sun started to come up I noticed I was in a very deep fog -which again I shared with another passing male or at least wanted to see if he was in the same fog...unfortunately not - he told me it was a beautiful clear day. He gave me his clear shades which helped a tiny bit but I knew what was happening to my eyes was not good. Next aid they gave me some drops and told me two other males had already dropped out with same problem (corneal edema) We were warned about this condition at beginning of race as two Hellgates ago they had a few people who fell victim to it (2005 cold).

I was convinced that my eyes would get better and continued on...I could just barely make out the trail and flagging tape that was hanging from the trees or arrows on the ground. Was told by medic at next aid that my eyes were not getting any better and that I would not do permanent damage but would take a while to get full vision back. Foolishly and stubbornly I insisted on going to and pressed on at a ridiculous slow pace and made it to aid station number 8 around the 80 km mark when I lost complete vision, skidded on a hill and realized I was in trouble and used my whistle and a lot of yelling. Aid station Larry got me back to truck and finally regained vision back after about 5-6 hours.

I have never experienced anything like this in a race and was told there is really no way to prevent it except wearing wrap around shades - but that was not a guarantee for sure. It seems to happen in the colder races. Luck of the draw is what I was told - 6 others had it and 23 people dropped out in total - some to this but many to the elements and stomach problems. I would have taken a "bonk" any day over this as I really felt helpless as to trying to get beyond it. I learned that perhaps I should have stopped sooner but pushed too far - but who was to know they would get worse...anyways Denise and Audrey and Harper did AMAZING - Denise and Audrey took second place and shook up the seedings and blew people away. Harper swore he would never to another ultra but did very well also coming in just before Denise and Audrey! Congrats to them! Kelly Dorey got hypothermia around aid station 4 which was a shame.

I will not forget this experience but will do my research as to why or how I can prevent it in the future in a cold ultra....