2008 Hellgate 100K:  A 100K That Feels Like a 100 Miler

By David Horton

Sophie Speidel  was asking everyone at the pre-race meal to describe in one word what Hellgate is to them.    The one word that I think that describes Hellgate is SPECIAL.  It is special in many ways:  a 12:01 AM start, running a long race in the middle of December, starting a run when you should normally be going to bed, freezing your corneas, a tough 18 hour time limit, only 9 aid stations, almost always VERY cold weather,  trails covered in leaves, and running miles in the dark by yourself.    If all of this sounds challenging, it is.   I congratulate each runner as they finish and I see the relief of finishing and stopping.   I then hear that deep breath of relief and reward, there is nothing like that moment after you finish a challenging event.   Never does pain and discomfort feel so good as that moment after finishing.   This is the feeling that every runner seems to experience as they finish Hellgate.   If you look on our website (extremeultrarunning.com ) you will see that every year of the race there are MANY race reports.   Why, because finishing Hellgate in any time is a terrific accomplishment.   There are other special races in the U.S.,  Barkley,  Hardrock 100 Miler, Western States 100, MMTR 50 Miler, White River 50 Miler, Hellgate is in that same category.    If you donít believe me come and see the runners at the finish of Hellgate or ask any runner who has finished it and you will find out that is true.

Every year at Hellgate is special but this year was very special as it was the final of the Beast Series, a series of six races directed by Clark Zealand and me.   The first 3 races in the Beast were in the spring and 50Kís or less and the last three were the Grindstone 100, MMTR 50 Miler and Hellgate 100K, three tough fall races.   Sixteen men and three ladies had completed the first  5 races and were committed on finishing the last one.

Two previous winners were entered in the menís field:  Aaron Schwartzbard (Reston, VA) and Sean Andrish (Leesburg, VA).    Clark Zealand was trying again to see what level of fitness he had regained.  Jeremy Ramsey (Lynchburg, VA) had been running well, placing third at the MMTR 50 Miler in November.   Harland Peele (Leesburg, VA , Keith Knipling (Washington, DC ), and Don Padfield (Nashville, TN) were in 1st, 2nd, and 3rd place overall in the Beast Series.

The womenís field was headed up by Donna Utakis ( Amherst, MA ) and Rebecca Phalen (Charlottesville, VA).    Four ladies from Canada, Cathy Gallagher, Audrey Kelly, Denise Rispolie, and Kelly Dorey.   Later, these ladies became a factor in the race.

From the start, Sean Andrish took the lead and was blasting the field away.  By Petites Gap ( 7.5 miles ) Sean had a 4 minute lead on everyone.   This lead grew to 16 minutes by Headforemost Mountain.   Because the Parkway was closed, we had to move the aid station down to Overstreet Falls, about one mile sooner in the course.   Jeremy Ramsey and Harland Peelle checked in together 16 minutes behind Sean.

By the Jennings Creek, Ramsey had cut Seanís lead to 5 minutes with Peelle another 7 minutes back.   This is the breakfast aid station manned ably by Neal ( Rosie ) Bryant and Reid ( Muffy ) Lanham.  They had sausage, bacon, eggs, and a quiche ready for the runners to eat and many ate these foods.

By A.S. 6 (Little Cove Mountainó34.5 miles  Ramsey had closed it to 3 minutes with Peelle dropping way off the pace.  At this point it appeared to be a two man race, Andrish and Ramsey.  While waiting at the lunch aid station, Bearwallow Gap ( 42.5 miles ), we were anxiously awaiting to see who the first one to appear would be.  Dan Laslie volunteers his time and money to cook the runnerís hot dogs, hamburgers, and soup.   Many runners ate some of each item.  In long races, real food tastes so good.

Running out of the woods first was Jeremy Ramsey!  I asked him when he had passed Andrish, and he said he had not.  Sean had got lost and ran an extra two miles coming into this station 39 minutes behind Ramsey and calling it quits.   Peelle was 28 minutes behind at this point.  The victory appeared to be Ramseyís at this point.  Ramsey was never threatened thereafter winning his first ultra in 11:41:46.   Jeremy was thrilled to win his first ultra at a big race like Hellgate against very good competition.   He had finished third at Promise Land 50K and MMTR 50 Miler this year.   Now that he has won one, what will the future bring for him??

Peelle continued to maintain a comfortable pace in, taking second in 12:21:02, 40 minutes behind Ramsey.  Don Padfield redeemed his DNF from 2007 by running a strong 12:22:49, less than two minutes behind Peelle.  Keith Knipling took third place in 13:03:10 with 2007 champion Aaron Schwartzbard taking  5th place in 13:13:36.

I thought the ladies race was between Donna Utakis (Amherst, MA) and Rebecca Phalen (Charlottesville, VA).   One half of that was right.  Phalen had stomach problems and had to drop out fairly early.  This seems to be a common problem for many runners.  Utakis took the early lead but was joined by two adventure racers from Toronto, Canada, Audrey Kelly and Denise Rispolie.  All three checked into AS 4 (Headforemost Mountainó21.9 miles) at 4:36 A.M. 

Utakis took a six minute lead by the next aid station and 10 minutes, down to 4 minutes at AS 7 ( Bearwallow Gapó42.5 miles ).  From there in Utakis pulled away taking the victory in 14:22:03.  Kelley and Rispolie stayed together taking second place in 14:38:22.  

The masterís title was taken by Jack Kurisky ( Burke, VA ) in 13:34:27 and Donna Utakis.  Grand Masters titles went to Jerry Turk (Guilford, CT) in 13:33:42 and Rebekah Trittipoe (Bedford, VA) in 17:14:05.  The super masterís title went to Bob Anderson (Woodbridge, VA)  in 17:41:45. 

Six runners were going for the Eagle Award (5 time finishers).  All six of the following runners started and finished Hellgate:  Robert Wehner, Michael Stratton, Rebekah Trittipoe, David Snipes, Jay Finkle, and Wes Fenton.    These runners earned this trophy.  One award that no one wanted to win was Best Blood awarded to Donna Utakis with a very nasty and bloody knee.

A problem that had plagued runners in previous Hellgate races was frozen corneas and fuzzy vision.   This seems to be related to dry eyes caused by windy and cold conditions.   Our medical director ( George Wortley ) had a new ointment  that he used on several runners.   It seemed to help some.  What really seems to help is wrap around glasses.   Any runners who enter Hellgate in the future should consider this.   It also seems to be more of a problem for women, why, I have no idea.