By Gary Lukacs
Three day's after running (matter of opinion) my first Hellgate, I finally found the time to consolidate my thoughts. Limping around at work and using the hand rails to help climb the stairs at home should be an indication of the type of event this is.
The event starts off at Camp Bethel which is roomy, warm and a great place to stage a race. Our Race Director David Horton provided some good food and words of wisdom before the event. After a drive to the start, the race began at 12:01 AM. Everything started off well on a cold but moonlit evening. As we were running the first section a female runner tripped over a stick and suddenly fell right in front of me. Somehow I was barely able to jump over her without doing any bodily harm to either of us. The race was going well and I tried to take in some of the beautiful night scenery including observing a couple of shooting stars. Along the way I picked up a couple of rocks in my shoe. When I arrived at the aid station at Jennings Creek, I tried to take off and empty my shoe but suddenly realized my shoelaces and shoes were frozen. Thanks to a nice fire and the help of a stick to pry my shoelace apart, I was finally able to get the shoes off. Things started to fall apart from there, mentally I felt good but physically my right hip was becoming painful. Other runners were passing me with ease and I was having trouble keeping up any kind of reasonable pace. I reached a point with my hip pain growing more intense, that I stopped and had to make a decision to continue or have my very first DNF. After a mental battle, I came to the conclusion that I could withstand the physical pain for several more hours versus living mentally with a Hellgate DNF for the rest of my life. The rest of the race involved a lot more hiking then running and trying to stay ahead of the cutoffs. During the last 10 miles the hip pain became so bad that I finally grabbed a stick to support myself, loaded up on Ibuprofen from an aid station and continued forward. The climb from Day Creek over the mountain was a slow one and the downhill on the other side was not much better. Close to the one mile finish sign, I just threw the stick down and managed to jog my way to the finish line. Initially I was embarrassed and frustrated with my slower than expected time but later I was proud that I was able to finish.
Barely making cutoffs, intense hip pain and the thought of a DNF were all new to me but have made me appreciate this experience even more than my more successful ultras. I will return to Hellgate next year if possible, but now need some time to physically heal. Thanks David for the challenge.