HellGate – One Year Later

By Marianna Inslee

 Last year Hellgate was run under a full moon at perigee, this year we ran by the waning moon.   Last year we could run the overnight road sections by the light of the moon, this year we had to keep our head lamps shining bright.  This year the waning moon was a spectacular orange/red color and often times we could just see it poking up above the mountains.  With out significant light from the waning moon or light pollution from city lights, the star constellations were incredible.  You could see  both the little and big dipper, Aries, Orion, Cetus, Pieces etc….But I did not dare look too long as it made me a bit motion sickness. 

Last year I was running not only my first Hellgate, but I was running to complete the final race of the Beast series.  This year I got knocked out of the Beast series when I was too sick to make Terrapin Mountain, thus I was running purely for the joy and challenge. 

Last year, after running and training for the fall Beast series races, Grindstone and Mountain Masochist, I would say I was fit, but exhausted.  I found the effects of the Beast series to be cumulative.  This year, after taking a two month forced break from running due to an injury, I would say I was well rested, but a bit light in my training.  My training since September included, one 50K, three road marathons, one trail marathon, Mountain Masochist 50, and one 73 mile week that included back-to-back-to-back 21/10/21 mile road runs.  While I felt I had the miles under my belt, what was yet to be determined if training almost exclusively on flat roads would transfer to running a trail race with 13,000 ft of cumulative elevation gain on some of the most difficult technical trails and in a race I find to be extremely mental.   

One of the many challenges of Hellgate is the mid-night start and the weather conditions.  I’ve never had an issue with sleep, or lack there of.  In fact, as far as I am concerned, sleep is over rated.  While I say this, I did find it interesting that I did start to see some rather strange and weird things that were not there.  Just one of those things you notice, realize it is not real, and just move on toward the finish line.   

I am not sure how to compare the temperatures between 2008 and 2009.  On the one hand, I think the temperatures were overall warmer than last year.  But at the same time, it seemed the temperatures kept fluctuating.  At times I was warm and sweating, and at other times I would hit a pocket of cold and just freeze, both my hands, my feet, my core, and apparently my water bottle.  In fact, my water bottle froze solid 4 different times.  The first time it froze was on the way to AS 4.  The volunteers were great and I left the aid station thinking my bottle was thawed, but just a little ways down the trail, I realized it was still frozen, and made the hard but correct decision to head back to AS4.  Now, part of running is making it fun, thus as I re-entered AS 4 I told Clark, “My nipple is frozen!’, he looked at me strange and said, “Sounds like a personal problem.”.  I then said, “My WATER BOTTLE nipple is frozen”, smiled and basically dropped the top in the fire.  After that I entered the next three aid stations telling all that “my nipple was frozen!!, My Water Bottle nipple!”.  Great fun!  I hope great fun for those all around me and certainly great for me mentally.   

Oh, as we found out at AS 7, the best and fastest way to thaw out a water bottle top, pour hot coffee in the top and suck it out from below.  I do not know the name of that aid station volunteer, but he was brilliant!  Thank you so very much!!! 

Also fun for me on this race was my bib number.  My number was 123, thus I would enter the aid stations calling out, “Hello, it is as easy as 1, 2, 3!!!”  As I say, mental, mental, mental, you have to find some way to make it fun. 

At the 2008 running of Grindstone, I had a craving for pancakes, but gosh darn it, there were no pancakes.  Last year at Hellgate they had eggs and sausage, very yummy, but again no pancakes!!  This year at Hellgate, YAHOOO!!!!!  There were pancakes!!!  Not only were there pancakes, but they were wrapped around maple flavored sausages.  Oh my goodness, best ever running food.  For a moment there I thought I had died and gone to heaven.  Then I stumbled, fell on my face and realized I was still in Hellgate, but yum yum Pancakes! 

For me, the 2009 running of Hellgate was one of my best ever runs.  I felt fantastic for the whole race.  Now that is not to say my legs did not hurt, that my feet froze, that at times I was hating portions, just that it was an incredible race, and so much better than the 2008 running. 

I think the key to Hellgate  is you have to believe in yourself, in your running, in your mental toughness, in your desire to be part of such a “special” race…if you don’t believe,  then you should not even start.  Hellgate has no room for doubt.  Regardless if you finished or had to make the hard decision to stop, Hellgate makes you stronger, tougher and only increases your desire for more. 

David Horton, and all the aid station volunteers as well as all others that made such a race possible, thank you for another memorable moment in my life.