Hellgate 2019: Nastygate   by Dr. David Horton—17th Year

We have had Icegate, Watergate, Sissygate, and this year we had Nastygate.  Nastygate was suggested by Dr. John Anderson of Crozet VA.  Weather was predicted to be around freezing with rain.   We had rain from the start (and many hours before) at 12:01 AM till around 10 AM.  Sometime it was light rain, sometime it was heavy, but it was CONSTANT with temps around freezing.  I suspect runners changed clothing more than they ever have.  I am SHOCKED that 128 out of 142 runners finished!!  There were over 180 runners applied and the race committee selected 150 with 142 starting.  Thirty-one ladies started and 24 finished.  In the men’s field, 118 males started and 111 finished.  What is up with that LADIES?

In this very SPECIAL race that has been held for 17 straight years on the EXACT same course, five runners, Aaron Schwartzbard, Jerry Turk, Jeff Garstecki, Ryan Henry, and Darin Dunham, have started every year and continued their streak in 2019. How long will they or can they keep it up?

The Hellgate 100K is a point to point race that is a Western States 100 qualifying race.  Many runners want to run this race because of that and because of the very challenging courses with over 13,000 feet of elevation gain.  It goes back and forth across the Blue Ridge Parkway four times. That is good and bad.  It makes for a challenging course. With the race being in December, we frequently have bad weather. This year and last year the Parkway was closed. 

Another major draw of the race is the awards.  All sub 18-hour finishers received the screened Patagonia jackets, while the top finishers and age group winners received a Patagonia puffy hoody.  Finishers also received a specially designed pair of Hellgate socks made by DryMax.  For many of the yearly Hellgate runners, the ONLY socks they normally wear are from this race. 

Hellgate was the last race in the six-race Beast Series.  Eleven males and three females finished the Beast Series with Sarah Hodder and Shane Midkiff winning the men’s and women’s titles.  There were three 50K’s in the spring with a 100 miler, a 50 miler, and Hellgate in the fall, a tough year of running.

The MOST competitive race in the Virginia area is the Hellgate 100K.  The men’s and women’s field was very deep with many runners thinking that they had a shot at winning.  I THOUGHT the men’s winner would be either Mike Owens and Travis Zipfel from Ohio, or Crozet’s Michael Dubova.  I was WRONG.  In the ladies field, I thought Kelly MacDonald of Sackets Harbor NY (second lady last year) would win… I was CORRECT.  In 2018, we had 7 men finish under 12 hours and 5 ladies under 14 hours.  With the predicted rain, I thought times would be slower this year and for MOST runners they were.

The race really does not start (competitively) until between AS 3 and 4, Camping Gap and Floyd’s Field.   This is a TOUGH 10 mile segment between 2 - 4 AM for most runners.  Because the Parkway was closed this year, the aid station was moved back to Overstreet Falls, about 2 miles sooner.  Dubova checked into Overstreet falls at 3:30 AM with Jack Kuenzle (Virginia Beach, VA) and Zipfel 2 minutes back and Mike McMonagle (Salt Lake City, UT) 5 minutes back of Dubova. 

Things started getting interesting between Jennings Creek AS 5 and Little Cove Mt. AS 6.  The roads started getting very icy and I had two crew vehicles slide off the road and were unable to make it to the Little Cove Mt AS.  I hastily arranged another crew to take over that AS.  When Dubova got to Little Cove Mt, he was FREEZING, unable to talk coherently. He stayed in the AS crew’s vehicle over one hour warming before getting back out and finishing in 14th place.

McMonagle took the lead and Cole Crosby (Princeton, NJ) was in second place 30 minutes behind the leader, with Kuenzle another 5 minutes back.  McMonagle’s lead grew to 40 minutes at the next AS and 50 minutes at the last AS.  McMonagle finished in a fine time of 11:06:35.   Second place went to Jack Kuenzle, who slipped by Crosby in the last miles to take 2nd place in a time of 12:10:26.   Crosby took 3rd place in a time of 12:11:40.  Zipfel took 4th place in 12:17:41.  Chris Roberts (Kirkwood, MO) took 5th place in 12:30:18.

McMonagle’s time is the 8th fastest time EVER on the course.  He later told me he came to the race with the goal of breaking Ryan Paavola’s course record of 10:45:49.  He won by over one hour and I think might have got very close to the course record on a dry course.  Look out guys in 2020!! Chris Roberts, Jordan Chang, and John Anderson all ran the race in 2018. Their average time was an HOUR slower this year??

There were two ladies who were running their first ultra, Rachel Spaulding (Lynchburg,) VA and Liz Anjos (Portland, OR).  At AS 4, mile 22.4, Spaulding checked in at 4:17 AM.  MacDonald and Anjos checked in at 4:25 AM.   At 42.5 miles, Spaulding checked in at 9:27 AM with MacDonald 5 minutes back and Anjos another 4 minutes back.  By Boblett’s Gap (49.5 miles), MacDonald had passed Spaulding and checked in at 11:00 AM, Spaulding at 11:01 and Anjos at 11:06.  The 4th place runner was Bethany Patterson (Richmond VA) checking in a distant 11:30 AM.

MacDonald continued to run strong checking into the last AS Day Creek, mile 56 at 12:44 PM.  Spaulding checked in at 12:59 with both Anjos and Patterson checking in at 1:01 PM.  MacDonald took the victory finishing in 14:00:40.  Patterson continued to close the gap finishing in 2nd, less than 5 minutes back in a time of 14:05:15.  Spaulding took 3rd in 14:16:30 and Anjos took 4th in 14:18:48.   What an ultra debut for Spaulding and Anjos.  No telling what the 2020 Hellgate will hold for these two ladies!!

On a side note, Jeremy Peterson (Lynchburg, VA) had run Hellgate before and wanted to do something special, the DOUBLE Hellgate.  On Friday morning just after midnight, Jeremy started at the Hellgate Trailhead and ran back to Camp Bethel, the finish, completing the 1st Hellgate in 17:19.  He slept for a few hours and on Saturday morning at 12:01 AM, he started with all the other runners and completed the course in 17:43.  Others had tried but Jeremy was the first to succeed in doing a DOUBLE Hellgate.  Great job, Jeremy.

This MOST SPECIAL race will hold the 18th edition on Dec. 12, 2020.  Hope to see SOME of you there.