By Anita Walker

The Hellgate 100K started at midnight on December 13,
2003 near Natural Bridge, VA.  Before heading out to
Camp Bethel, the finish area and location of packet
pick-up and other prerace activities, Jay Finkle and I
went to his office Christmas party for a couple of
hours.  When we mentioned that we had to leave the
party early to go to the run some of his coworkers
warned us that two bears had escaped from the zoo at
Natural Bridge that day.  The male was shot and
killed, the pregnant female was shot and injured and
still on the loose.  The latest weather reports called
for sleet, freezing rain, and/or snow starting
sometime Saturday afternoon, when we would probably be
in the last few miles of the run.  So the midnight
start, cold weather, rough trails, and 100K distance
were not the only challenges we faced!

When we arrived at Camp Bethel we were immediately
greeted by David Horton, the race director, and many
of our friends.  Gary Knipling gave me some blue beads
to match my blue jacket and gloves.  I wore them
during the run and still had a blue stain on my neck
two showers later.

Jay, Mike Day, and I had planned to start out running
together.  We were all intimidated by the idea of
running alone in the dark and bitter cold on an
unfamiliar course.  The first several miles went by
smoothly.  It was a cold, clear, beautiful night.  The
stars and moon were bright, the silhouettes of the
mountains all around were impressive, and Jay and I
even saw a shooting star!  There was enough snow on
the ground to make everything brighter, and with our
headlamps on we were able to see the trail clearly.
Mike, Jay, and I talked some but mostly we just
enjoyed the beautiful night and the companionship.  We
passed Mike Dobies on some of the downhills but he
usually passed us back on the uphills.  We met Les
from Minnesota who has run Leadville and who directs a
race in Hawaii where he has another house.

About 3-4 miles into the run we hit the first major
stream crossing.  We had heard that there was no good
way around it so we just plowed through.  There were
more stream crossings to come and they were all quite
refreshing.  I had plenty of layers on so as long as I
was moving I stayed warm enough.

After a few miles my Camelbak tube froze and I could
not get any water out of it.  I eventually discovered
that only the small tube into the mouthpiece was
frozen shut and that I could get water through the
tube if I took the mouthpiece off first.  Sometimes I
had to chew a little on the ice crystals forming at
the end but the water tasted good--kind of like a
slushy.

Somewhere in these early miles I had my first two
falls.  The first one was on a grassy snowy downhill
so I just laughed and bounced right back up.  The
second one was also on a grassy snowy downhill but
most of the impact was on my knee which was already
starting to ache before I fell.  I got up more slowly
that time but once I started moving again I was fine.

At some point in these early miles we also got a
little bit lost.  We headed straight down a steep
muddy creekbed for a few hundred meters until we saw
flashlights coming back towards us.  It was Sam Rabon
and another guy and they said there were no course
markings further down the hill.  We looked up the hill
and saw a whole group of runners with lights going
across the creekbed, so we headed back up that way and
immediately saw the course markers going that way.

Shortly before the 22 mile aid station there was water
flowing across a small concrete bridge over a creek at
a low point in the road.  The runners ahead of us
yelled out a warning but we were already splashing
through the water before we saw it (it was still
dark).  On the far side of the flowing water was a
solid sheet of ice.  I was in front so I warned Jay
and Mike about the ice.  I was hoping that no other
runners would slide on that ice and go into the cold
creek!

When we reached the 22 mile aid station Mike Day told
us that he was going to drop.  He had just done the
Javelina Jundred mile run last month, along with
several other tough runs recently, and was feeling the
nagging tiredness and aches and pains.  This was the
first drop bag aid station and the sun was starting to
rise.  Jay and I dropped off our headlamps and changed
into dry shoes and socks.  I had to slip my wet shoes
off since the laces were frozen and I could not untie
them.  The dry shoes and socks felt wonderful although
I doubted they would stay that way for long.

After this aid station there was a section of dirt
road that was covered with ice.  Jay and I were
walking carefully but I found myself on a very
slippery section and froze.  While I was standing
still and trying to figure out which direction to go
next my feet slipped out from under me and I fell hard
on my tailbone.  While I was trying to figure out how
hurt I was and how to get up without slipping again
Jay came back and scooped me up and set me on my feet.
I'm surprised he didn't slip too since he was
standing on the ice patch where I had slipped.  I
figured I would have a shot at "best bruise" if there
were an award for that.  But that would probably
require photographic evidence and I was not willing to
provide that.  :) 

Shortly after this aid station we caught up with Amber
Marshall and then Mike Dobies.  Jay and Mike Dobies
pulled ahead while Amber and I ran and talked.  This
was one of the most enjoyable sections of the run for
me and I thought we were picking up the pace.  Jay
later told me that he thought we slowed down in this
section.  Somewhere between the 27 mile aid station
and the 34 mile aid station Jay noted that we had been
running for over 9 hours but that he wasn't sure if we
were at the halfway point yet.  Since the overall
cutoff time was 18 hours I started to worry and picked
up the pace.

At the 34 mile aid station they were serving "real
breakfast"--sausage and eggs, etc.  I was hungry but
when I looked at the food I realized I couldn't handle
something that heavy right then.  Amber and Mike
Dobies stayed a little longer to eat but Jay and I
moved ahead. 

The next aid station was the cutoff aid station at 42
miles.  We had to reach it by 12:30 or we would be
pulled from the race.  We had almost 3 hours to get
there and were told that it was 9 miles away.  So we
figured we would try to speed up and build a "buffer"
on the cutoff time.  We started out on a section with
a lot of gradual downhill and were moving pretty
quickly.  I thought we could get to the next aid
station 30-60 minutes before the cutoff.  That turned
out to be the longest 9 miles of my life.  The trails
became rockier and hillier and they twisted and turned
all over the place.  To add to the challenge, Jay's
eyes were getting blurry and he was having trouble
seeing, so I was leading the way.  I could see a
visible cloud over one of his eyes and the other one
was gradually starting to cloud over too.  (Jay's eye
doctor later told him that this was the result of his
eyes getting too dry.)  In addition, both of our
Camelbaks were completely empty by the time we were
halfway through this section.  Every time we came
around a curve I expected to see the next aid station.
I was starting to get worried about making the cutoff
at all.  12:30 was coming very quickly on my watch and
I knew that was probably a couple of minutes off the
official race time and I wasn't sure in which
direction.  Finally, at about 12:25 by my watch, we
saw the aid station ahead and I said, "Hallelujah!"

Jay told me that he was going to drop since he could
not see well enough to safely continue.  I
halfheartedly offered to drop with him but he told me
to go on.  While the wonderful aid station workers
quickly filled my Camelbak with water I went to my
drop bag to retrieve my headlamp since I knew I would
be finishing after dark.  I wanted to change my shoes
and socks again but I didn't want to waste any time.
I knew there was no way I would make the 18 hour
cutoff to the finish line but I decided I would finish
anyway.  I could forgive myself for not making the
cutoff if I knew I had genuinely given my best effort,
but I would second guess every "wasted" minute if I
missed 18 hours by just a few minutes.  Five and a
half hours for 20 miles sounds generous, but these
were notoriously long "Horton miles" and I had gone
just about all-out to cover the 9 miles between the
previous two aid stations in 2 hours and 50 minutes.

I was exhausted and discouraged and I felt guilty for
leaving Jay behind to fend for himself when he
couldn't see, and there was still a long way to go.
This was probably the lowest point for me.  I decided
to just focus on getting to the next aid station,
which was 7 miles away.  I wanted to try to get there
in under 2 hours although there was nothing I could do
about the distance or time except move along as
quickly as I could.  Somewhere along this section I
saw Marty Lindemann.  I don't remember if I caught up
with her or if she caught up with me.  We ran closely
together for a few minutes but both of us were too
tired to talk much.  Marty pulled ahead and I thought
I'd seen the last of her.  But then I saw her a few
minutes later running toward me!  I was confused--was
she hurt or out of water?  Did I look as bad as I felt
and was she coming back to check on me?  She asked if
I had turned around and I replied that although I was
exhausted and delirious I was pretty sure I had not
turned around.  So Marty turned around and went in the
direction I was going and soon figured out that she
had gotten turned around and that we were now going in
the right direction.  She was smiling and moving along
real well and pulled ahead again.

We arrived at the next aid station earlier than either
of us expected.  Camille Rabon was there and she told
us the next section was 7 miles and that it was all
downhill.  She lied.  It did start off downhill but
there were plenty of uphills and rough rocky trails
and twists and turns too.  I passed Marty and Tom
Corris and another guy in this section.

At last I reached the final aid station.  Bethany
Hunter gave me a cup of Conquest and asked if I needed
anything else.  I looked at my watch and told her I
needed faster legs and asked if I could borrow hers.
I asked how far it was to the finish and she told me
it was 2.8 miles uphill and then 3.2 miles downhill to
the finish.  I mentally added a few tenths to account
for the Horton miles.   I had about 1 1/2 hours to get
to the finish before the 18 hour cutoff and I knew it
would be getting dark soon.  I decided to try to get
to the top of the hill in less than 45 minutes and
then maybe I could do the downhill portion in the dark
in 45 minutes and just break 18 hours.  I started out
running for a few hundred yards before the uphill
portion began.  It was a smooth dirt road but it was a
constant uphill up a mountain.  I was going all-out to
power walk up this hill as fast as I could.  I was
breathing much harder than I usually do even when I am
running.  After 35 minutes the hill flattened out.  I
figured there was more uphill to come since there was
no way I could have been moving that quickly.  I saw a
vehicle parked on the road and the man in the vehicle
told me it was all downhill from here!

It was getting dark and I did not know what the
terrain was like from here in, but I thought I might
have a chance to break 18 hours after all!   I was
still pushing hard even though I was going downhill.
I was afraid to slow down.  I didn't want to slack off
and end up missing the cutoff by a minute or two.  I
wanted to cry and feel sorry for myself for hurting so
much but I didn't have the energy or time to waste.  I
turned my headlamp on and continued down the hill in
the dark, trying to move quickly while avoiding
tripping and falling.  I eventually reached a paved
road and the "1 mile to go" sign.  I knew now that I
was going to break 18 hours if I didn't get lost.  The
course was well-marked but it was dark and I was
deliriously tired.  So I concentrated hard on
following the glowsticks and finally saw the finish
line!

I finished in 17 hours, 46 minutes.  That was the
hardest I have ever had to race to make a cutoff time.
The Hellgate 100K took everything I had and then
some.  After I finished, Scott Brockmeier noted that I
had a dazed look in my eyes.  I saw what he meant
later when I looked in a mirror.  I am proud of myself
for finishing under the cutoff, but even more proud
that I truly pushed myself and gave it all I had in a
difficult ultramarathon.