GOING TO HELL(GATE)

Ryne Melcher

When I saw the announcement that there would be a 100k race in Virginia in
December it caught my eye.  I wasn't sure if it would work into the racing
plans as JFK was three weeks before but it sure sounded appealing.  A 100k
that started at 12.01 and ran through the beautiful mountains of Southern
Virginia. 

I had done Promise Land in '02 and despite being badly out of shape and
recovering from injury I really enjoyed it.  David Horton put on a top notch
event, one I wouldn't hesitate to go back to.  Clark Zealand, who now lives
up north, has always raved about the events as well and assured me the
course would be tough.

The hills were a little concerning but I was doing some serious hill
training.  In fact, on a 26 mile training run on the Bruce Trail in the
summer with Clark, we did a very hilly loop.  Clark mapped out the most
brutal, technical, hilly loop in the Southern Ontario area.  When all was
said and done his Suunto watch showed that we had climbed 700+ feet in
elevation.  I'm not exactly sure though as I was still light headed from all
the climb.  (This actually is one of the hilliest routes in So. Ontario
too!)

After JFK I decided I would go.  Clark jumped at the idea and was in.  All
we needed was a babysitter for Coleman.  A call to Jenn (my better half) and
after a few minutes of bribery she was game!  The kicker for this trip is
both us had to be back in Canada to work Sunday morning at 8am.  It's about
an 11 hour drive from Waterloo to Camp Bethel.  For some reason this part
scared me more than the race!

We checked into the pre race dinner with Clark's brother Mike who is doing
his longest race.  The spread at dinner was great.  The pre race briefing
didn't do much to reassure me that I would survive this race.  There was an
elevation chart floating around the room that said 14,870 feet of climb,
others saying 13,000+.  At any rate this is more than the 11,930 I read on
the website.  But what am I whining about?  I've trained extensively on this
26 mile route with 700 feet of climb. 

We are now operating on 6 hours of sleep in the last 40 hours and its 2
hours till the start.  Our solution in Nodoz pills we picked up at Walmart.
Although we almost got busted as Clark was required to show ID to prove he
was over 18 before they allowed the transaction to be completed.  We go
through last minute instructions with our crewman Forrest who would be there
for us all night to get what we needed.

The caravan leaving the Camp looked like a modern version of a wagon train
heading west.  Off I-81 we went past Natural Bridge, where the pregnant bear
that escaped should still be, and a few miles down the road to the start of
the Glenwood Horse Trail and the Hellgate 100k.

David kept us shivering in the cold till precisely 12.01am as advertised.
The start was an awesome sight seeing 71 sets of headlamps bobbing up and
down the trail.  The creek crossing early on while cold seemed a little
refreshing. 

Once past the 3.5 mile aid station we were heading up 4 miles to Petites
Gap.  The night was clear and the moon was out in full force.  It provided
some great views of ridges in the distance and close by.  Definitely a great
night to be out running, even if there happened to be a lot of climb.
Clark, Mike and myself ran steady up the climb until the gravel road turned
to slick ice and snow.  You'd think with all the practice we've had up north
on these conditions (we've had snow since October!!) we'd be okay.  Just
past the 7.5 mile station Clark took what seemed to be a harmless wipeout
into some snow.  A few miles later he was limping and feeling a lot of
strain in his hip flexor.  A short time later, just past Camping Gap he
returned to the aid station to retire.  Mike and myself were bummed not to
have him with us but it was the best move for him.  He was there for us
though at the next aid station with Forrest getting us warm soup and drinks
rather than sleeping in the car. 

The section that also covers Promise Land was neat as you could see the
lights of Lynchburg in the distance and Bedford directly below.

The aid station people were absolutely wonderful and deserve a huge thank
you.  They were supportive, cheerful, energetic and just fantastic.  It was
chilly running and I can't imagine how cold they all were standing there in
the dead of night for hours and hours on end.  Around 23 miles Mike and
myself got a second wind (from the Nodoz pill at aid station 4) and started
flying on the downhills and flats.  The steep inclines we brisk walked to
recover drinking Conquest out of our bottles. 

Just past Jennings Creek daybreak started to show over the mountains.  We
were walking up the climb and took time to enjoy the sight of the sun rising
over the mountains.  It's a lot different than when the sun rises over the
400 foot mountain out my backyard!

Rumor had it that the best breakfast joint in town was up ahead at the 34.5
mile station and we surged for some hard earned grub.  The sun was fully up
now and we both felt a little more "awake" than during the night hours.  The
next section was long but did have some nice views and we were still running
very steady.  Just before the 42.5 mile station I really started to feel the
blisters on the bottom of my feet and stepping on rocks was becoming
painful. 

Past the next aid station I started hoping Bethany had put the streamers off
course and into the nearest pub so I could cuddle up beside a nice glass of
scotch and watch CNN or anything really!  Mike and I had a mental barrier
that once we reached the 49.5 mile station we were in the "homestretch" and
we would come back to life.  Eventually it came and we were greeted by Clark
and Forrest and headed off downhill towards the last station.  I think the 4
mile single track section to aid station 9 was measured in Horton miles but
no complaints from me!  My feet were hurting badly and other than that the
legs still felt like they had a little juice.  That juiced got squeezed
quickly when at the 56.1 mile station Clark said "just one more climb guys"
and pointed skyward.  Mike and I maintained our walk pace up the climb and
would run once we hit the Blue Ridge Parkway.  We ran at a decent clip the
3.5 mile downhill section into the Camp.  The 1 mile to go sign was perhaps
the best sign I had seen in my life.  My feet were shot and were burning
from the rapid descent.  My legs still felt like going but the feet wanted
to shuffle.  The legs won. 

Mike and I crossed the line together in 14h15m12s.  A personal worst for
100k by far!  But what I think is my best performance in 100k.  David Horton
presented us with our R.5 Tops after getting in a good laugh at us trying to
stand up and walk after a few brief moments sprawled out on the ground.  Now
only an 11 hour journey home and a 9 hour shift at work!

This was by far the toughest race I have ever done but one of the most
satisfying.  Everything seemed to go off perfectly and David and his race
crew provided the best course, support, aid possible.

Thanks to David for putting on another first class event and to the
volunteers for their countless hours of support.  Congratulations to
everyone on their accomplishment at the inaugural Hellgate 100k, see you all
December 11th for the 2nd edition!

Ryne