7 Years of Hellgate!
by Jeffrey Garstecki
At the time when I finished my first Hellgate 100K in 2003, I really didn't realize how fortunate I was to participate in the first running of this special event. I also had no thought at the time that I would be trying to keep a streak going with this event. I am not sure how many finishes really constitute a streak but after finishing my seventh Hellgate I now feel like this now qualifies as one. Keeping a streak going on a race like Hellgate is definitely not like keeping one going in a local road race where if you just show up it is very likely you will finish regardless of your physical fitness. As anyone who has ever run Hellgate knows, this race is one of the most difficult ultras in the east. The combination of distance (62 to 66 miles depending upon who you believe), weather (anything from ideal conditions to snow/ice and 10 degree temps), terrain (21,000 feet of elevation change on rugged trails), and midnight start time make showing up and finishing this race anything but guaranteed. This race is definitely not kind to those that are not physically and more importantly mentally prepared. I came very close to dropping out in 2005 due to dehydration and hypothermia and last year I contemplated dropping out because I simply didn't want to be there (if I had a physical excuse to drop out I probably wouldn't be writing this now - thankfully I didn't). So how did it go this year? This year was probably one of my best Hellgate experiences even though I fretted beforehand about not having a crew (every other year I had one and it helped greatly), not being in real trail ultrarunning shape (am in good road marathon shape after qualifying for Boston in October but haven't run an ultra since April), and being very tired from long intense hours at work over the last few weeks. Once the race started those worries left my mind and I just concentrated on the task at hand and reaching the finishing line. One of the things that keep me coming back every year is the joy I get from running the long technical downhill sections at night. It feels fast but at the same time almost effortless. These are also the sections that allow me make up time on other runners (only for many of them to pass me on the uphill sections - I am working on that weakness) and enable me to be more competitive compared to the less technical races. This year was no different; it felt great to fly down the singletrack! Surprisingly enough the uphills didn't feel bad and by the time I reached the Bearwallow Aid station at mile 42, I was feeling great and about 10 minutes ahead of my best time to that point. I now had another goal besides finishing which was to get a PR. Even with that goal I decided to treat myself with a five-minute break at the aid station. I stood beside the nice warm fire and downed soup and a pastry...it was excellent...five minutes goes so fast! Leaving the aid station I felt good and powered up the long climb, but as in any ultra fortunes can change quickly. At the top of the climb my energy level dropped like a rock and I slowed greatly over the next five miles to the Bobblets Gap aid station. I managed to lose my 10-minute PR time advantage plus another 5 minutes! I tried to fuel-up but nothing was sitting right with me but soup and gels, and I only had two gels left to last me three hours. Over the next 14 miles I rationed my gels and took soup when available. I managed to get most of my energy back to finish in 14 hours 18 minutes and 36 seconds. This was about 6 minutes off my best time but I was ecstatic anyway. I was happy and proud to have gone seven-for-seven and to have been so close to my fastest time (a side note: this actually was my 4th fastest time, I have three previous finishes within 21 seconds of each other - not a bad consistency out of 14 hours!). Given my results, the worries that I had the day before really weren't a big factor during the race, the marathon training managed to pull me through, I faired well without a crew (but special thanks goes to Tammy Gray who helped me out while she was crewing for Rick and friends), and I think the intensity at my work was good "training" for the loss of the night's sleep (luckily I had a good sleep the night before). The story really doesn't end here, I got a very pleasant surprise later on, when Dave Horton, the race director, called me up to receive the top masters award! I guess there was an advantage of me turning 40 this year! I've only ever gotten one other award at a Horton race and that was at the 2006 Hellgate when I managed a top ten finish, so I will be proudly wearing the nice wool Patagonia jersey I received. I hung around for the next few hours socializing and watching the other runners finish. I only see most of them this one time a year so it is great to get caught up. Not much more to say (good for you reading this), except looking forward to number eight!