Hellgate and the 2008 BEAST

by Bill Vickery

I just finished reading Richard Michael’s race report. I met Richard over a year ago on Sharp Top. He was hiking down with a couple of his children and I was hiking up with a bunch of mine. At that point he was thinking about running Holiday Lake. I remember walking away thinking, incredible… Richard was still in the middle of his weight loss and if I remember right he had already lost 70 pounds. I had recently written an article for the local paper about running and hiking and asked him if I could do a feature article on him. “No.” He replied. “I am not much into being in the limelight.” Too bad… It would have been a great article – he has an awesome story. My offer still stands, Richard.

About Hellgate… I talked with Neal last night and he was comparing notes with me. I think he just wanted to hear my depth of suffering. Anyways, I finished the Beast series. These happen to be my only races to compare since I am a newbie to the sport. However, I think the last two races were my favorite courses. There was something mysterious and awe inspiring about Hellgate. I had no idea what to expect and it seemed like everyone had a different story. Now, I realize part of the mystery of the race is just that – many people could run the race and tell very different stories. The weather, hills, wet leaves, moonlight, creeks, shadows, bear stumps, and wind all combine to make this a true event.

About ultrarunning… Now that I have finished my first year of ultrarunning, please indulge me a minute of reflection. Most of all I think back on the relationships I have developed with people. Those ultrarunners more experienced than me that saved my hide more than once. When you begin ultrarunning it is hard to know what you are doing. I was new to running. I went to a training run before Holiday Lake and Dr. Horton asked me if I had any technical gear. I said, sincerely, “What’s that?”  He then sent me some gear in the mail. How cool is that?! I remember lying in the parking lot at Grindstone and yielding my spirit to God as I believed I was dying. I remember being so sick after Terrapin that I couldn’t get out of the van. Adam brought me something to drink and it was the most refreshing thing that I have ever drunk. I remember chasing Neal through the woods, sincerely believing I had a chance to beat him – I even passed him as he stopped to water the bushes. Little did I know at the time there was still 10 miles to go and I would never see Neal again as he passed by me at the waterfall while I sat clinging to a tree. I have since given up hope of beating him. I remember my second ultra at Terrapin and I started the race with a can of V8. I foolishly believed I wouldn’t need a water bottle – heck! There were only a few miles between aid stations! Jared just smiled at me as I ran happily by him at the beginning of the race, still waiting to drink my V8. This was the same Jared who had real compassion on me as he passed by me later and stopped to encourage me. I remember going on the training run at Grindstone and at the time I had an inflamed knee. I ran the last half of the 27 mile run with one water bottle. I soon realized how dumb this was as I vainly searched for water. I drank out of a muddy pool. Climbed down a steep bank to fill the bottle. Drank from a curled up leaf. I even offered my empty bottle up to heaven and begged God to fill it. Surely, He could – what about the five loaves and two fishes? I was very dry. Then a mountain biker came by – with jugs of water! My five loaves?! And all the people who were such an encouragement during the races, Chris, Marianna, Rebekah – answering all my pre-race phone calls, Snipes – for his gentle challenge, my wife for waking me up at 5 when I forgot to set the alarm, my kids for sincerely asking me if I won, for David and Clark and their organizing ability, being a part of Donna’s harem – at least for a short while, and many other people too many to mention. Thanks.

Now I sit at Panera, drinking coffee in the warmth. People around me talking and laughing. Do they have any clue that just two days ago a hundred people ran at midnight through the woods?  Do they have any clue while I am hobbling to the next coffee?  This is why when you see a fellow ultra runner out in the real world there is a bond. Mutual suffering. Misery loves company and I am grateful ultrarunning has such great company to be miserable with.