Laney Baris writes:

“It was a dark and stormy night; the rain fell in torrents...” might be the opening of an 1830 novel or the start of Hellgate. We stood at the gate in the cold rain, awaiting 12:01 am. I was bundled in Gore Tex from head to foot, wondering at other runners in shorts and thin raincoats. After we all sang the national anthem, Dr. Horton released us out onto the course. A long, mostly gradual climb began up Headforemost Mountain. We splashed through knee deep, freezing creeks, running up and down slippery rocks and leaves. The fog surrounded us, obscuring the trail. To make matters worse, all the sugar that I consumed in the car on the way up to the start caused a crash of epic proportions. I literally went blind and became horribly dizzy. I could only see a little just in front of my feet. The trail appeared to be descending into a hole and then climbing out. I nearly ran off a cliff at least ten times. I tried eating some candy bars, but that seemed to worsen the problem. Finally, I reached an aid station where I ate a grilled cheese sandwich (thank you, cold, wet, kind volunteer) and could suddenly see again. The dizziness dissipated.

By then, dawn was struggling to break through the clouds. I began to panic... I had to be at Jennings Creek aid station by 8:06 am. So I ran, as hard as I could and as desperate as possible. I made the time cut by seconds. Panic receding, I met my crew who shoved food in me and Ritz crackers in my pack. I wouldn’t see Jeff again until Bearwallow Gap, about 17 miles further on. I pushed myself through the Devil Trail, rolling rocks hidden by copious slippery leaves. I fought tears, knowing I was close to cut off again. Shoving the doubts deep, I fought with all I had. I crossed a road and heard Jeff yelling at me. Jeff, it can’t be... “you’ve got seven minutes”, he yelled, “and a half mile.” Ok, I thought, ok. Run! Well, shamble, stumble, trip my way in. Three minutes to spare, thanks to Jeff. Eat, rip off the Gore Tex, soak up some sun... no, it really did get sunny. Then, back on trail in less than five minutes, grateful to Jeff for his NASCAR style crewing.

Up and down and up and down and up and down, well, you get the idea, to Bobblet’s Gap, my favorite aid station. The nicest people in the world volunteer there. They fed me pirogies and let me wash them down with Coke. Kicked me out, admonishing me to run the next long downhill. I took their sound advice running hard until I hit the Forever Trail. It really is forever... I met some cool guys from PA. We discussed chafing and the course (why are there so many rocks?) and runs we’d done in the past. Finally, the last aid station, Day Creek. Jeff hugged me and sent me off with more pirogies from the volunteers, no time for anything else. About six miles to go with very little time for a sub eighteen hour finish... digging deep, I climbed up and up the Jeep road to the parkway.

 Finally, time to run downhill to the finish... 66.6 miles (including the Horton miles). The run might have looked like a shuffle, but I gave it the last of my mental fortitude. I couldn’t look at my watch; enough to know that the clock was ticking too quickly. I thought, I know I can finish, it might not be before 6:01 pm, but I will finish as strong as I can. That, at least, I could do. Jeff met me on the road into Camp Bethel with a mile to go. He didn’t say much, no need, he was there, the sound of his footsteps matching my sloppy gait speaking volumes. The lights of Camp Bethel within reach... I could see the chute. Horton waiting for me, the last, no longer lost soul on the course. I was wrapped up in a Horton embrace, with him telling me that I fought hard and congratulating me. Those words meant so much. Mentally exhausted, I hugged Jeff, thanking him profusely. I staggered off to the bathroom where I finally stopped fighting. Tears streamed down my face... I wanted so badly to finish under 18 hours... I thought of my friends who believed in me... Dr. Horton who had let me in the race... my ride n’ tie friends who volunteered to sweep in the terrible weather... and I felt: gratitude. I hope to return again for another Hellgate... to be continued.