The Gates of Hell
by Jared Hesse
As I approached the (gate of Hell) I had serious doubts about starting. My stomach was bubbling still even after dumping minutes before and less than an hour before that. I kept trying to convince myself that it was just pre-race jitters but I knew it was much more than that. Knowing that my son Tanner had a nasty stomach virus and that I had been frequenting the toilet for the past day I accepted the fact that I had the bug. As we sang the Star Spangled Banner I just smiled in the dark midnight as I thought about how silly I was for starting this race to sunlight. I told my dad who stood beside me how I had been pooping all day and how I couldn't believe he had got me into this mess. He said "I didn't get you into this". I thought about all the preparation and training I had put into this event and how many people had wished me luck. So far my luck was bad.
As we ran away into the moonlit trail I thought about what I was beginning. I began to plan a strategy to deal with what was to come. I would eat solids for the first section and drink as much fluid as I could. Hopefully I could clog up my system with clif bars, snickers, Z bars and other solid food that I could grab from the aid stations. I also knew about how diarhea dehydrates the body and remembered reading the label on the Pedialyte that I had been feeding my son for the past week. As the line of lights bounced through the woods I jumped off the trail just minutes after the start. I turned my light off so that nobody would see me squatting. What a relief that was! I gathered my stuff and turned my light back on and raced to catch up with the pack. As I came up on a few people there was a slow down. The creek that Jeremy and I had just stopped the jeep on the way to the start to check out, was knee high. The runners in front of me finally just jumped in after failing to find a dry path across. I guess it didn't matter anyway since my feet were already wet from a small puddle I didn't quite jump across earlier. Now my feet were cold and wet. HaHa I have to laugh because I recall the conversation me and Jeremy had about starting the race in a different pair of shoes and changing at Petites Gap. That's funny. I remember running up the long gravel road to Aid station 2 alone. I turned my headlight off and realized how bright the full moon was. It was amazing! It actually made me squint to look straight up at it. I had earlier heard that this was the closest the moon had ever been to the earth. WOW! The higher up that mountain I got, the harder the wind blew and the colder I got. I only had a capilene longsleeve shirt on and I was really cold! I ran faster to stay warm. I couldn't wait to get to the top to get my whodini jacket and hand warmers. It was pretty warm at the start so I was fooled into thinking I was dressed warm enough.
I finally saw cars. I was at the top. I looked for Jeremy's dad's jeep. I saw it ahead and ran to it, skipping by the aid station. I just wanted that jacket. I struggled to get the jacket on because it was inside out. HAh! Thanks to my dad helping me get it on I grabbed my Nathan pack and slung it on over top and buckled up. I was off. As I approached the parkway I thought about how much food I had in my pack because I knew it would be a long time until the next aid at camping gap. I thought I was good, but then it hit me. I had forgot my hand warmers!!! I considered turning back, but I just kept running down the rocky trail at a good pace. That section is one of the funnest downhills on the whole course. It requires focus. I wish now that I would have turned back and got those hand warmers because I really suffered until Jennings Creek. I stopped two or three more times to dump before Camping Gap and each time I had to take my mittens off to handle the business. By the time I got the mittens back on my hands were numb. If I just had those hand warmers. Jeff and I ran up the gravel road together. We had our lights off the whole way and conversation made the climb seem shorter than usual.
When I got to Camping Gap I was hurting. I saw Horton and Bethany there and they asked me how I was doing. I told Horton about my dumping issues and that I was raw. He said "Butt Cream! Butt Cream!" I told him my hands were numb too and asked if he had any hand warmers. He told me no but that he would have Butt Cream at Jennings Creek. Well that didn't help my hands warm up any but at least he knew what really mattered.
As I stood at the aid station and they told me they didn't have any soup warmed up yet, I must admit this is when I thought about dropping out. I grabbed some PBJ sandwiches in one hand and frozen vaseline in the other.( An extra hand would have been great at that moment.) Horton followed me up the road and encouraged me to just keep eating and drinking. I knew the toughest section was upon me because the next aid was a long way away. I thought Jennings Creek was the next aid station. When I finally was out of sight I attempted to apply the frozen Vaseline to the chafed area beneath the belt line. That was a different feeling to say the least but I managed to keep my PBJs intact in the other hand. I just kept moving. I kept telling myself that if I just kept drinking and eating I would get through this dumping issue because it couldn't last forever. " Just drink more fluid than I'm losing and I'll deal with it." I tried to run the downhill sections of the grassy road as fast as I could to stay warm but the faster I ran the more difficult it was to hold back the poop. It was during this section that I remember reaching a real low point. Having run this section several times before I thought that I had to get up and over Headforemost Mtn. and down to Jennings Creek to the next aid station. I remember how lonely, cold, windy, and long that grassy road was. My hands were numb in my mittens, my butt was raw, my feet were frozen with ice covering my shoelaces and my bite valve on my Nathan pack kept freezing up. I really went through a panic stage thinking about how if I stopped moving forward I could die. I thought about how far away from aid I was. That was scary. Getting to Overstreet Falls was such a pleasant suprise that I remember tears flooding my eyes as I asked the kind girl at the aid station if they had hot soup. That soup saved me. They had a campfire going and I wanted to jump in it. I couldn't believe I was at an aid station. I thought I had heard somebody earlier say that since the parkway was closed there would be no aid between Camping Gap and Jennings Creek. Thank God I was wrong. I got some more Vaseline and was on my way. I was a new man. Warm hands, warm feet, and a warm spirit.
Headforemost was COLD!!! The wind was whipping up there. I was running pretty good from the top down to Jennings Creek. The Butt Cream was calling me. I knew Horton would be there and Rosy would have breakfast waiting. I really appreciate Christa helping me dig through my bag at the aid station. I finally had my hand warmers !!! I got some eggs and sausage balls from Rosy, a nice scoop of Horton's Butt Cream,a swig of some anti-diarhea medicine Horton told me to drink, and a YOO-HOO from my drop bag. I was off. The sun was starting to rise and so was my attitude. The next dump was a celebration. I could tell that the medicine had worked and my dumping was about to end. That was when my race started.
By the time I got to the Cove Mtn. Aid Station, the sunlight had warmed me up and I felt awake and alive. Stephen Baker filled my Nathan pack with lemon clif drink and I grabbed some chips, cookies, and popped a caffeine pill and washed it down with a shot of mountain dew. From that point to Bearwallow gap was the high point of my race. I was jacked up. I saw Bethany running towards me and I told her I was in "The Zone". I had "Eye of the Tiger" on repeat in my ipod, the cool, brisk wind felt energizing, and I knew that the hardest part of my day was over. Everything was perfect. I thanked God for giving me the strength to fight through that rough night. I felt like it was all down hill from there. My stomach was settled and I could finally run fast down the hills. I let loose on the switchbacks and worked hard through the knee-deep leaves on the flat sections. I remember passing a few people through this section which was even more motivating. I got to Bearwallow Gap in one hour and thirtyfour minutes from Cove Mtn.
I didn't waste any time at Bearwallow. When Horton told me I had an outside shot at top ten, I swallowed some hot chicken noodle soup, grabbed a yoo-hoo and some gels and took off. Horton yelled "You got 20 more miles so keep eating and drinking". This is about when reality began to set in. I felt pretty good until I got to Bobblets Aid Station where the kind lady working there said it was 6.6 miles to the next aid station. I stood there with 3 or 4 other runners and I heard her say we were 12, 13, and 14. I grabbed some food and took off thinking I could maybe catch a couple more guys ahead. I ran that downhill section pretty hard because it was mostly paved. As I turned right off the road into the woods, I remember thinking " This must be the infamous Forever Section". I peeled open a snicker bar and estimated that I had maybe 3 miles left because I figured the downhill road section had to be about 3 miles. WOW was I wrong!!! The Forever Section totally lived up to it's name! This last third of the course was the only part I had never ran in training. I seemed to go up and down, up and down, wondering when this section would ever end. Then I got lost! I stopped and turned around looking for the trail. I was really frustrated talking out loud, maybe somewhat delirious. Then I saw three guys pop out and turn left. I thought "OH NO!". That was the low point of the day. I began to chase them up the hill thinking about how they had caught me. This is when I really BONKED. I began feeling really bad. I had no energy left. I began to feel depleted. I hadn't ate much at all for the last hour. I began feeling sorry for myself. I just slowed down to a walk and began thinking about how I JUST wanted to finish.
Finally I got to the last aid station. I asked how far I had left and the helpers said 6 miles. I was in no hurry to leave that station. I took a few ibuprofen and tried to eat some chips and a potatoe. Yuck! I started walking up the dirt road with some guys who were crewing Jordan Chang. They were cool dudes and their conversation took my mind off the climb for a little while. I chomped on some clifbloks and finally got to the road at the top. I tried to run down the final descent to the finish but I just hurt too bad. You know you are hurting in an ultra when you are walking DOWNhill. As I crossed the "so-called 1 mile mark" I thought about how good it would feel to lay down and just pass out. I walked most of the last mile and saved enough energy to jog to the finish where I was suprised by my wife and kids waiting for me. All I could do was drop to my knees as tears of joy filled my eyes. I kissed my wife and kids and told them how glad I was to see them. If I would have thought they were there I probably would have finished a little sooner.
Hellgate 2008 was my ninth ultra. It was definitely the hardest. Never before had I thought about dropping out of a race. For that brief moment at Camping Gap, I let doubt creep in my head. But something kept me moving forward. I don't know if it was pride; maybe fear of failure; maybe some would call it stupidity. I wouldn't argue with any of those. All I know is the feeling of accomplishment is like nothing else I can remember. Hellgate is now a part of me. I wish I could have done it without the stomach bug, but I know that running ultras is all about being able to deal with whatever discomforts that may come about. For each low point, you can be sure there will be a high. If you can just push through the tough times the body will respond. For me, the real challenge is to channel that energy at the high points and save it for the lows. That "six inches between the ears" is the only thing that stands between you and the goal you set out to reach. I don't know what my next goal will be. After completing 5 out of 6 of the BEAST series events, I must admit I am tempted. Congratulations to all of those who captured the BEAST this year. What an ACCOMPLISHMENT!