The lucky year running to Hell's Gate
My first ultra year, 2010, has been a rollercoaster. Itís up then down and then with some luck up again. I started running in Aug 2008, road raced in 2009, qualified for Boston on my first try, and figured that I needed a bigger challenge - ultrarunning. I was overly zealous at my running endeavors - five half marathons (Apr-Sep, 2009), 50k Oct-09, marathon Nov-09, 50m Feb-10, 100m Mar-10. Of course, five months progression from 50k to 100m is insufficient. No one was surprised, when I ended up medial tibal stress syndrome that kept me off running for three months. To keep my endurance, I picked up mountain biking. But within three months, due to reckless riding at a 6-day adventure Kokopelli trail tour, I broke my right shoulder and cracked a few ribs. At least, I was clear to run again, and learned that I can rotate running days with riding days as base training regime.
In late Oct, to my great astonishment my luck struck when I was allowed to run Helgate. I never planned to run the race but figured to fill in the application given that my chances to get in were close to zero. Thus I had less then two months to get ready for a 100k in the VA Blue Ridge Mountains with 13.5K feet of climbing. After my injury, I run VT 100K without any running training just biking endurance. I dropped at 42m because I didn't want to get injured. Then I had this grand idea to run Grindstone 100m, so for two months I spend each weekend hiking / running at Bear Mountain, NY (elevation 1500). As the time progressed, I knew I wasn't ready thus I never entered Grindstone. Between, Sep-Nov 2010, I run two 50m and three 50k Ė all as long training runs for ATY. While I knew that I should be spending hours on the track getting ready for ATY, I couldn't wrap my head to train for 5h+ on 400 meter loop. So I continued hiking / running at Bear Mt which came handy for Hellgate.
Scott and I flew from NYC to VA on Fri, and drove to Camp Bethel. Weíre there just an hour short before the pre-race dinner. In the past, Iíve made the mistake to over eat, so this time I was very conscious of my appetite (didnít want to repeat the mistake at VASS 50m, when I had anchovies-jalapeno pizza for dinner that resulted in over a dozen bio breaks totaling 40+ minutes of lost race time). I knew that Iím not going to have any problems with the lack of sleep, but I still lay down for a bit at the cots in the camp. The race briefing started at 8 pm. I set down with closed eyes, while listening to Dr. Horton about the various aspects of the race. One thing that struck me the most (other then being so scared of this race) was that no woman was man enough to finish the Beast series (and I took a mental note to remember that). My hope was not to disappoint the RD and to prove that it wasnít a mistake to let me run his 100k race on my skimpy ultra resume. At the end of the briefing, there was the prize raffle that I almost missed because I went to the car to get my stuff and get dressed. Hellgate must have been my lucky star because Dr. Horton draw my name and I won a very nice Nano Patagonia jacket (thank you so much! I love it!). Ok, so now I had an excuse, I could drop out of the race because I already had won a jacket. The hours passed very quickly and itís time to get in the cars and head out to the start.
So far I had my luck struck twice Ė first I got in the race, then I won a great raffle prize, and now a third time Ė it was the perfect weather (no surprise that contributed to the highest finishing rate ever in the history of the race) to run a 100K in the VA mountains.
Here, Iím at the start of the race, bib # 113, praying that I finish. It was a beautiful night to run the Blue Ridge Mountain jeep roads and trails. My approach was to run at my pace, hopefully not alone so that I donít get lost and to push at the end. I was a bit overly dressed but I rather be warm if something happens (Iíve been having these nightmares about being stuck and freezing in the woods) then waste energy to warm up if too cold. I started the race in pair of insulated CW-X tights, two long sleeve technical shirts, wind jacket and another running jacket and Inov-8 275. Everyone has given me the same piece of advice about Hellgate Ė have a good light. I had a Petzl MYO XP on my head, and a second one attached to my Go-Lite Rush. In addition, to being overly dressed, I was overly stocked. My pack weighted 4-5 lbs, as I had 80 oz of water / perpetuem, five lara bars (since they donít freeze), five babybel cheese wheels, five stinger chews packs, some cooked spam (in case I was stranded in the woods, I better have some extra calories), extra batteries, two garbage bags (to cross the river at mile 3), map and print out with the AS distance, cut off times, projected pace, some first aid kit and s-caps / Naproxen.
12:01 and we were off. The first three miles were kind of flat with some turns. I started all the way at the back and was the last female. Of course, I got lost within the first 20 min but easily found the way back to the trail. That little detour threw me off a bit, and I was turning every few minutes to see that thereís someone behind me as proof that Iím still on course. Of course, one should not be running forward while looking backwards, because that will result in a face plant. Now I really needed to find someone to run with, not only I got lost in the first few miles, but I managed to bang my knee (the same one I banged at camp on the stump by the parking) when I tripped. By the time we crossed the river (where I did stop and wasted some time to take the garbage bags out and put them on to cross the river) I had caught up with another woman and a guy. I tried to run with them in sight. The first AS was ok, but I didnít stop b/c I had so much in my Go-Lite Rush that I didnít need to restock.
I believe weíre going up some switchbacks and I could see the lights of the front runners up and up the mountain. The sky was awesome with the stars shining (something that I never see in NYC). After the climb to the first AS there was downhill (of course this race is either up or down but nothing flat), with some technical single track trail, and I was able to catch up to two guys. While they were going a bit slower then I would have liked, knowing that I really suck on downhill, I figure to go slow and safe behind them then sprain an ankle or break something passing them and running faster the downhill. Soon, we are going up again. I love uphill, while I donít run them up yet, I speed hike and have passed up a lot of folks at races going up. I left the two guys behind and continued my lonely hike up.
Half way up (I think it was after AS 2), I caught up with Christine Bone who Iíd briefly talked at camp. And we decide to stick together as our paces seem similar. This is the first time in a race when I run with someone but we donít exchange life stories. I believe that both of us wanted to preserve our energy so we didnít chat a lot. We kept it mostly quiet. We worked a system, where I would pull up on the way up and Christine will follow, and then she would run the flats (when I would have taken some more walking breaks) and we would switch leading on the downhill. We get together over Headforemost Mountain 10 min before the cutoff. I still felt great but I figured that I need to shed off one of the shirts as Iíve been on the warm side, and I also had to drop the extra weight of the second headlamp. And restock on some food since I mostly relied on the food at my Go-Lite Rush then the AS food, and refill the water pack. We had passed a few runners on the way up, and we didnít want to spend too much time at the AS. I tried to drink the Red Bull from the drop bag, but it was so cold that I only managed to drink half of it and since I wasnít sleepy at all, I really didnít worry about it. Iíd some soup to warm up. Itís close to 6:35 am when we left the AS beating the first cut-off. From AS4 to A5 is some uphill, but mostly downhill to Jennings Creek. We run at comfy pace the down hills. The sun was up and now weíre able to enjoy the scenery. Donít get me wrong the night running was fun but with so many rocks and roots in the dark, my main focus on the trails was to look down at my feet and not to trip. I only enjoyed looking around when weíre on the jeep roads, because the tripping risk factor was lower, and one had to watch out for icy road sections but no rocks.
Between AS5 and AS6, I took the first two Naproxen, not because I was in that much pain but just as preventive measurement. Thru out the race, I kept track of my food intake eating a lara bar or a cheese wheel on the hike up and sipping up water / perpetuem both hiking up or running down. Given that I was able to catch up with Christine, who was going thru some lows around AS2 due to the lack of food intake, I made a point to remind her to eat, too. Itís really great to have company as I didnít have that many negative thoughts (I was still telling myself thatís ok if we donít meet the cut off because I already had the jacket from the raffle). The highlight between AS5 and AS6 was that the Little Cove Mountain AS was moved up the hill. We weíre running some nice downhill, when the volunteers taking pictures told us that AS6 was near by, and we thought that it will be at the bottom of the hill. However, that wasnít the case. May be I didnít pay attention at the race briefing, but the AS was all the way up the jeep road. I kept looking at my watch and it was 2 miles up the road from the bottom were we saw the volunteers taking pictures. This was the only section that, Christine and I cursed a lot. Boy, what a relive it was to be on top of the hill, and enjoy the AS mini pancakes and soup. There was even a fire, but we knew better to keep moving.
Christine had run from AS 7 to the Finish two weeks ago during the training run, so we both were looking fwd to get to Bearwall Gap into ďknownĒ territory. From AS6 6o AS7 was a bit up and down, but mainly switchbacks, if I recall correctly. I believe that we passed a few guys and two girls on that section. Weíre still going strong and feeling better. There was a section here that it reminded me of a rock garden. I donít think I ever seen that many rocks on a trail for such a long stretch of miles. At one point, hopping over a mid-size rock, I strongly believed that Dr. Horton had it up there on purpose so that runners trip over it. At least, I didnít say his name in vain. What a relief it was to get to AS7 40 min ahead of cut off in great spirits. I was so pleased to have run all this time with Christine and by then we caught up with her training buddy Thom McNulty. The three of us headed out of AS 7 to cover the remaining miles to Camp Bethel. Every now and then we will switch the leading position, but we run together, and caught up three other runners.
Between AS8 and AS9 I took two more Naproxen. This group of six runners was together all the way up to AS9 Day Creek. Some where between we saw Joe Byron collapse due to the lack of energy (he wasnít eating a lot). Christine who has a lot of adventure racing experience asked who had s-caps and I gave him four tablets. She said that he needs to take the s-caps and once he feels a bit better to start eating. We checked that he had full bladder and left food with him. He assured was to run ahead and to ask for his crew at the AS9 to come back and look for him. It was a relief to learn later that he recovered and finished the race. Christine had prepped me that after AS9 is 3 miles up and up and then 3 miles down and down to the finish. Iíd to take a bio break and lost some of the group but was able to catch up and pass most of them by the time we were up. Once on the down hill Christine and Tom pulled a head, and I was just shuffling along. My game plan was to run from a tree to a tree and walk some and then run again, and then repeat. That helped and I passed three other runners on the way down trying to catch up to Christine and Tom. As I was near by the camp building my friend Scott yield up to hurry, and I run 6 min pace for 300 yards to finish at 17:22:55. I just didnít want to be 17:23.
Omg Ė this was the best race ever in 2010! Lessons learned Ė positive (1) was on top of nutrition and water intake, (2) didnít trash my quads mid race running hard downhill, (3) no blisters Ė I think I only get them on flat terrain, (4) planned ahead and had two lights, changed garmin at AS7 so mentally it was easy because I knew how far approximate from AS we were and what we had covered, (5) stuck to the goal which was finish the race. Lessons learned Ė negative (1) need more hill training, mostly to learn to let go on the downhill, (2) over packed carried to much rather then to rely on the AS provided food, (3) increase base mileage if want to improve standings, (4) train in adverse weather conditions to prep for the unpredictable Hellgate weather, because we got lucky this year with awesome weather and no creek crossings.
2011 goal Ė depending on logistics, show Dr. Horton that some women are man enough to finish the Beast. That will require dedication and less race distraction (I shouldnít run races for the heck of them, but should carefully plan ahead). Hopefully this will be my 2011 race schedule Ė Boston and the Beast!