Memories of the Hellgate 100k, 2003

Jerry Turk

At one minute past midnight on December 13, 2003 after a short prayer for our safe return, the gates of hell were opened. However, there was no eternal flame to greet the assembled runners, who had stepped from the comfort of their cars; just an icy blast sweeping down from the Virginia hills that were the setting for the inaugural Hellgate 100k Trail Race.

The early section of the course was relatively flat, but this soon changed after the first aid station when the course took us up on fairly easy tracks. In the darkness there was little chat amongst the runners and the bright moonlight meant that flashlights were often not required. We had been warned to expect at least one river crossing before the first aid station. I counted 3, but that is a feature of David Horton’s races, the ‘little surprises’ as he called them at the pre-race briefing. To be fair though, melted snows from a recent storm hadn’t helped this situation.

As the field began to spread out, I ran alone, with an almost overwhelming sense of freedom under the canopy of sparkling stars. The trail snaked up the mountain and an occasional light from other runners could be seen but they were also soon swallowed up by the darkness. Maintaining a constant yet steady pace was the best way to stay warm, with the worst moments being shortly after leaving the aid stations, as even brief stops soon left you chilled. In comparison with the volunteers manning these stops though, us runners had the easy job. Standing around on a freezing mountain for hours on end could not have been fun, but at every one we were greeted with a smile, encouragement and offers of food or to refill drink bottles.

Looking back, much of the race now seems a bit of a blur, the ground in front changed from rock, gravel, grass, or another stream, whilst the elevation constantly changed. In total it was estimated that there was 13,500 feet of elevation gain, but then this event was never claimed to be a pushover! When energy levels dipped, I ate Clif Bars, not easy when they’re frozen but washed down with plenty of water they were wonderfully satisfying. At the aid stations, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches tasted positively gourmet but the ‘best food award’ went to the cooked breakfast provided at aid station 6 and an egg sandwiches to die for! So, with a mantra of ‘constant forward momentum’, I concentrated on the ground passing beneath my feet, acknowledge the hunters looking for bears that had escaped from a nearby zoo and fought off the desire to sleep when the going didn’t demand quite so much attention.

This was my second Lynchburg Ultra and I had been attracted to the event as, the previous one had been so well organized, so I saw this one as another great challenge, especially with the night start. By the end it had certainly fulfilled my expectations and whilst obviously tired, I had enjoyed every step of the way. It could have been an entirely different race if the snowstorm the next day had been 24 hours earlier! In finishing my first 100k I had achieved another running goal and fueled an interest to try a longer distance next year. I would certainly recommend any race in the Lynchburg Series to anyone motivated to take one or more of them on. But most of all I would like to thank the many volunteers who help make these adventures possible.

I just hope one of them remembered to close the ‘gate’ after we’d all gone home!