Monday, December 11, 2006

The Gates of Hell are Open Day and Night

Here is my report from this weekends Hellgate 100K

Here are a few photos I took from the race this weekend: Hellgate pictures.
I would have taken more but I was a little pressed for time during the run and although there were many gorgeous views, they were mostly blocked by trees. As usual David Horton and his crew put on a top notch event.
Even with perfect weather this would be a very difficult run. I would not advise anyone to enter unless they are in very good shape or a very gifted runner. This is not the event for novices to dip their toes into ultrarunning. I have run almost 40 ultra's in the past 4 years and I am in my best shape ever and I only made the cut-off by 10 minutes. Looking over the results from the previous years I saw many runners that normally finish well ahead of me struggling to finish within the last hour so I knew I shouldn't run until this year.

The title quote is attributed to a Roman Poet ,Virgil and was the slogan on the race t-shirt this year and was very appropriate for the 12:01 am start Saturday morning. Ever since David Horton was possessed to direct the Hellgate 100K it seems the race has been cursed with harsh weather conditions and this year would be no exception. Fortunately there would be no snow and ice or rain, just bone-chilling cold and wind. The race has taken on an almost mythical reputation in the few years of it's existence and this year the event filled weeks in advance as runners, myself included could not resist the chance to see if we were up to the unique challenge that is Hellgate.
" Horton is a man of God with a spirit kind and true,
But the Devil whispered in his ear, saying here's somethng you should do.

You've directed a lot of races, some runners say you're the best.
Are you willing to take on just one more
That will really put them to the test?

Have it start just after midnight on my private little trail.
It's just outside of Natural Bridge where you enter the GATES OF HELL!!! "

It is an odd feeling to be gearing up to go run a difficult race when normal people are heading off to the comfort of a warm bed but there I was with 95 other souls. And strangely enough some of them knew exactly what they were getting into. I had been watching the weather forecast all week and each time I checked, the predicted low temperatures kept dropping. Now we would be looking at a starting temperature in the valleys in the teens with probably single digits up along the ridgelines. Many were asking what others were planning on wearing. My advice was to wear everything you brought. It is cold and you could die out there. Ok, I can hear my friends living in the North and Midwestern states snickering now. I know it gets colder there and this is normal for you. I don't want to hear it. There is a reason why I stay in the South and I would appreciate it if you would keep your Arctic air up there where it belongs.

Finally it was 11Pm and time to shuttle to the start near Natural Bridge. I hitched a ride with fellow MTC members Dean and Sylvana. Dean would be running and Sylvana was going to go to sleep. I think she was the smartest one in the truck. Did I mention it was cold? We waited until the last minute to leave the warm truck and walk over to the start. After a teeth chattering version of the National Anthem were started off into the darkness ithrough the Gates of Hell. Everyone has there own vision of what Hell must be like and I wondered if this would be the night I would see my version come true. Why is this race so hard? Why do people of much better ability than me find it so hard to make the cut-offs and finish this thing? Most 100 milers have a higher finishing rate than this with 68% finishing in 2004 being the highest yet.
 The first two sections did nothing to help me understand why. I was runinng along with Jay Finkle and Dean soon after the start and found it to be mostly runnable until we encountered the first obstacle, a freezing creek crossing. A poor soul in front of me slipped and fell , totally submerging himself in the icy water. I didn't recognize him in the darkness but found out at the end that it was Bob (no relation) Anderson. I was luckier and made it across with no problem . Bob and his wife Kari are two very nice people and I would see Kari at all the crew checkpoints cheering me on as she waited for him. There wasn't much of a breeze yet and with the faster pace I was warming up so I removed my jacket and tied it around my waist.

The next section was also fairly easy . It was all uphill on a gravel road but a lot of it was not too steep and I decided to run a lot of it. I'm glad I did because I would need every minute of cushion I could use later in the race. It was a crystal clear night and the stars were shining brightly along with about a 3/4 moon to light the way. I took advantage of the brightness and easy footing and turned off my lights and enjoyed the climb with my moonshadow for company. I was climbing stronger than Jay and Dean and left them behind a little but they caught up to me at the aid station at the top. I had decided not to run with any hydration in this one. I don't need much fluid when it's cold and I didn't want to carry a freezing water bottle . I also don't like wearing anything on my back so I stopped long enough to down two cups of conquest and then off into the night again..

The next section began to reveal a little bit off the difficulties to come. We hit the first true section of single-track and the climbs and descents became steeper but the footing was still pretty good over most of this part. I was not too happy to catch up and pass Martha Wright somewhere along here. She is usually a lot faster than me so I thought she must not be having a good run. I was guessing it was due to her not having too much experience in the dark that was slowing her down and so I hoped she could make it under the cut-offs until the sun would rise in the morning. After awhile we were back on a dirt road and a climb up to aid station three. As I left the aid station I was getting very cold. The wind was picking up and the temperature continued to drop so I put my jacket back on after about 1/2 mile. They don't give awards to the one that finishes with the least clothes on. I reached into my pocket to put my gloves on and realized I had lost one. I didn't want to take the time to go back to the aid station to retrieve it and besides, I hadn't been wearing them anyway I found it better to just pull my sleeves over my hands and let the body heat help to keep them warm.
The trek to the 4th aid station would use a section of the Promise Land 50K course, just in reverse direction than it is run in the Spring. I was enjoying this section a lot. It is mostly on a wide grassy road along the side of Onion Mountain with views of the lights of Bedford off in the distant valley. I was feeling great and moving along at a good pace. After a while though I was ready to see the end of this section and the beginning of the trail down to Overstreet Falls. This section seemed to last forever just like it does in the Spring and I was eager to make the first cut-off at the top of Headforemost Mt and I knew I still had a long way to go. I finally made it to the trail. At Promise Land I can usually fly down the hill to the gravel road but it was much more difficult to run among the rocks in this section in the dark. I also was having a lot of pain in my right knee so I was having to be much more careful than I normally would have been. I finally reached the end of the single-track and emerged onto the gravel road to begin the climb to the aid station four.
As I began climbing I noticed a dull roar through my ear warmers. It sounded a bit like a faraway jet flying over but it never changed. I decided it must be a couple of generators the volunteers were using at the aid staiton. Then with about 1/2 mile to go to the top I realized I was hearing the sound of a steady blast of arctic wind pouring over the top of the mountain.

" The Devil smiled as they ran off into the darkness and the cold,
because he knew that they would suffer and soon he would claim their souls.

But David had outsmarted the Devil, as the course brought them to their knees,
You could hear their cries echoing over the hills, praying God want you help me please!!!! "

Just before reaching the summit I began to feel the full force of the wind in my face.I went from being just very cold to painfully cold in moments. As bad as it felt I could only think how special were the volunteers there spending their night just to help a bunch of idiots . They had a fire going and I sat for about 3 minutes while I drank a cup of tomato soup and let my face thaw out. It was tempting to stay but I jumped up and quickly headed out as I had long way to go. I was happy to be about 45 minutes ahead of the cut-off as I headed down the otherside. Soon I was out of the wind and began to slowly feel better again eager to see the sun began to rise and hopefully bring a warmer day.
I normally have a period somewhere between 20 and 30 miles in an ultra that I go through a bad spell. It just isn't usaully 6:00 in the morning when I reach that point. The good thing was the sun was finally starting to shine it's light behind the mountains and I was nearing aid station 5 where I could get some breakfast. A wonderful lady was cooking eggs and sausage so I grabbed a sandwich and ate it while I walked up the next climb. Soon I was feeling good again and still making good time against the cut-offs. And then things really got strange. Through all the dark night I had hardly stumbled as I ran over the twisty , rocky trails. I thought now that it was daylight I would really be able to pick up the pace and run with more confidence. Boy was I wrong. I soon discovered that Hell is a thick blanket of dead leaves hiding the trail from mortal eyes. They were so thick in some sections that my feet were completely buried. There was no way to see what I might be stepping on. All I knew was that every other step there was a rock, stick or hole under there. I fell 3 times, nearly fell a dozen more and stumbled and slipped more times than I could ever count. It was so frustrating to feel good and ready to run but I could only struggle along and watch as my time cushion slowly disappeared.

I was so happy to finally make it into aid station seven at Bearwallow Gap around 42 miles. Ha!! Maybe 45 or more. The Horton miles were adding up. I still had about a 40 minute cushion but I wouldn't be able to afford too many long slow sections like the last one. I sat just long enough to change my shoes and socks. I had been feeling right foot starting to blister and I wanted to avoid the problem I had the last 30 miles at Leadville. I'm really glad I took the time because I had no problem after changing and the blisters never developed. Sometimes I really do learn something from past experiences.

The next two sections were once again very frustrating. At times there was good footing and a chance to run well but then more leaves and more climbs . Since this was my first time running here I had no idea when i would be near the end of a section and I was afraid I was losing too much time. I would have been very upset to work so hard and go through so much pain only to find myself missing the official finisher cut-off.

At Last ! Aid station 9. Just 6.3 miles to go. A young man named Paul that I had met while working an aid station at Holliday Lake two years ago was working here. I had him grab me a couple of cups of Coke and Conquest while I slammed down two gels. I told him I had to hurry up and get out of there. My cushion was down to 15 minutes. I could only hope that this last section was accurately measured and runnable like I had read in the course description. The first 3 miles were a steady uphill climb on a dirt road. I was moving along OK but not nearly as strong as earlier in the day. I normally don't bother looking up on these long climbs My philosophy is that I will get to the top when I get there. Wishing and searching will not make me get there any faster. But now I was straining to look ahead and hope to see the summit. Barb Isom came powerwalking by me on a mission to finish and then I finally saw her stop and look back. I knew she was at the top where we would cross the Blue Ridge Parkway and then it would be all down hill to the finish. I checked the time and breathed a sigh of relief. I finally knew I would make it. Vickie Kendall passed me as we started down and caught up to Barb. My knee was hurting and it was taking me a while to get back into a good running rhythm. After a while though I found my stride and the knee pain eased off as it loosened up and I soon repassed the ladies. I had hoped to finish before dark but it was not to be. I was very glad I was prepared and had my little Fenix LP 2 flashlight in my pocket. It is small , lightweight and very bright and enabled me to continue to run strong and confidently to the end.

 Martha was waiting to see the last runners finish even though her race had ended much earlier. She ran in the last hundred yards with me where as always David Horton was there to give a hug and congratulations. I immediately walked into the lodge and was greeted warmly by a large group of friends and fellow runners. Anita Finkle and Sylvana Smith both were waiting on me bringing me chili and coffee and a chair to sit in while I thawed out my severe case of ultrabrain. To top it off, Quatro had a birthday cake there for Vickie, Sophie, Tonya and me as we all shared a birthday within a week of the race.

Thanks David for another grand adventure

"Run Hellgate
The climbing never ends
Run Hellgate
It's punishment for your sins
Run Hellgate
But don't be looking back
Run Hellgate
The Devil is in your tracks

Joey Anderson

No comments: