Have you ever played the game where you pick the five people you would want to have dinner with in heaven?   Usually people pick spiritual leaders like Gandhi or expired great celebrities or musicians like Miles Davis. Now imagine you could make that dinner happen if you went through Hell to get there.  You had to first suffer before you reaped the rewards. This is how I would describe David Horton’s Hellgate 100K.  Due to my current affinity for ultras, 3 of my current 5 would be David Horton, Karl Meltzer, and David Goggins: three amazing ultrarunners that have tested their mettle with extreme races and adventures.  However, to meet these 3 guys in one room I would have to run this diabolical race. 

 If you notice on my Facebook wall, I have a quote to live by from Dr. Horton (He is a professor at Liberty University and has a Doctorate in Exercise Science), "Find the level of intolerance you can tolerate and stay there."  I’m not sure if the good Doctor was speaking scientifically based on principles of kinesiology and anatomy and physiology when he said that statement, or alternatively said it when opining on his passion of ultrarunning offering how he accomplished great feats like the speed record on the Pacific Crest Trail spanning from Mexico to Canada. (See Coverage Here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ejs09vhj1x4)


Dr. Horton created the Hellgate race and an exclusive, challenging series of ultramarathons 50k-100 miles long in the Western part of the State of Virginia.  The series has gained national attention and major ultrarunners like David Goggins put Horton races on their calendar.  Goggins is known as a hardcore ultrarunner who does not like running but tolerates the pain and suffering to raise money for charity, and to push himself to the limit.  See how intense David is here:


 Karl is the King of 100 milers.  He has won more 100s than anyone.  Most recently, he ran the Pony Express Trail and set a speed record running 50+ miles per day.  I was always motivated by Karl as he is a regular guy eating bacon, drinking beer, and hanging out with his friends.  His casual but tough style in my opinion characterized what it is to be a true ultrarunner: helpful to people around yourself but always setting BHAGS for yourself: big, hairy, audacious goals:


 The race was well documented on line by veteran runners Aaron Schwartzbard and Keith Knipling.  Here is Keith’s coverage of the trail sections:  http://keith-knipling.com/?p=19.

All I needed to see was the elevation profile:

 I also saw pictures of people with their noses split open from falling into rocks and individuals with frozen corneas from the wind and cold weather.  The race starts at 12:01am in December in the mountains of Virginia.

 For me, the race was a blend of two races I have seen in the State of Virginia: Bull Run up closer to Northern Virginia due to the long rolling hills and Grindstone 100 due to the intense long, unforgiving climbs.  For me the climbs are very tough as I train in Alexandria, VA, and my go-to Hill is 350 feet in a neighborhood. These hills are thousands of feet with a crazy elevation grade.

The other thing runners need to know about the race is the factor of Horton Miles.  You think you have 6-7 miles between aid stations and it comes up 8.5 miles….this causes you to miss expectations and burn through water, and become increasingly demoralized when timing and expectations don’t align with reality when the water and food isn’t where you hoped it would be. 

Anyway, I am not going to cover the course report as Keith’s coverage linked above is way better than anything I could create.  I can answer the question- was it worth it???  Absolutely.  The two values ultrarunning instills in you are fortitude and redemption.  You need to have inner mental strength to deal with the hours of running and demanding courses.  I say redemption because the act of running these races strips you down to a natural state unrelated to present day materialistic and often arbitrary societal demands.  I would like to think every mile I run on a trail I offset one day’s commute on 495 in Washington, DC.  So this race in particular leaves you walking away stripped down but feeling strong.  Meeting David Horton, David Goggins, and Karl Meltzer was the universe’s way of rewarding myself and dozens of other runners that step up to a challenge like this race and train for it.  They all are truly impressive and inspiritational individuals that lead by example.  

The quote on the race t-shirt says it all and applies to everything in life:

 “Sometimes I want to say I give up, I quit. But you can’t! You’ve got to live. You wouldn’t die. You’d suffer more.”- David Horton running the Pacific Crest Trail in 2005.

James Brennan