Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Crewing at Hellgate

I had no plans to be at Hellgate this year. I guess sooner or later I'll probably run it again but I'm not sure why I would even consider it. Too bad I didn't this year. Turned out to be the best weather in the race's short history, almost making me wish I was entered. Probably a good thing I wasn't because I have been tired and banged up from a hard year and December is suppose to be an easy recovery month for me.
So why was I at Hellgate? Because one of Ultraman's Angels ask me to. Dorothy is a very experienced Ultra runner for almost 8 years now and a strong-willed young lady, but she has never raced further than at Mt. Masochist. Hellgate is a true beast of a race and she was a little bit intimidated and although she could have done it on her own easily in my opinion, she wanted the reassurance of having a familiar face looking out for her. Husband Todd would not be able to make the trip so I was honored when Dorothy asked me to go. Having no prior commitment that weekend, I immediately said yes.
We had an uneventful ride Friday afternoon up to Virginia enjoying the conversation and making plans for the race. We arrived about 5 and spent the evening visiting with many friends while we awaited the 12:01am start. Some last minute preparations and we were off to the start, a long caravan in the night. Any locals that may have been awake had to be wondering where all the traffic was coming from.
As with all Horton races, there was a prayer and the National Anthem and then go!! I returned to my car to head over to AS #2 which comes about 7.5 miles into the race. The first two sections are the shortest in the race. I began following the stream of other support vehicles but soon realized either they didn't know where they were going or not all were headed where I was. I turned around and had no problems getting to the AS.
I waited and took photos of several friends as they emerged from the darkness. Soon Dorothy came into view with a big smile on her face. The weather was great and she was running with Amy Albu (formerly Bath). They were planning to stay together as much as possible. I had them quickly on their way and then I had to try to figure out how and when I would see them again. I knew there was no crew access at AS #3 and Horton announced while I was #2 that the Parkway was closed in the higher elevations due to the snow and ice earlier in the week so there would be no access at 4. There was hope it would be open later so I decided to go ahead and try to find my way over.
You have to drive around your elbow to get to your thumb to reach some of the aid stations, so I was very disappointed after going almost to Bedford and then up to the Peaks of Otter that the Parkway was indeed still closed. I pulled over to try and figure out from the directions how to get to AS 5. I had heard it was going to also be a problem due to the conditions. Thats when one of the radio guys came over to my car and showed me his map. He was trying to be helpful but unfortunately he gave me bad advice. According to him, AS #5 was not accessible and they had in fact moved it to another location and he couldn't tell me how to get there. I was quite disturbed by this news because now I had no way of finding Dorothy. I could only pray for the best for her and hope she would not be too disappointed when she didn't see me the rest of the night with the things she was expecting. ( I would find out in the morning that in fact AS 5 was in it's normal place and accessible)
I decided the only thing to do was to go get some sleep and meet her at AS #7. I knew where it was located and was accessible near the valley. I was able to get some sleep for about 4 hours and was up just after sunrise to get some breakfast and head over to Bear Wallow Gap. I passed the time there talking to Andrew Wilds, the race photographer and then taking pictures of friends as they came through. I was very happy and relieved to see Dorothy and Amy still together and still smiling. I was sure she would be but I was glad that I would be able to perform the function I came for the rest of the day.
By the time I headed over to AS 8 the day had warmed into the 50's and was beautiful. The AS is located under a bridge on the Blue Ridge Parkway, another good spot for some photos. The ladies came in right on schedule and still in good spirits. The next section is one of the longest and hardest. Well, they are all long and hard but after being out on the trail so long it is mentally demanding so I tried to make sure they were prepared for what lay ahead. The toughest thing is that when you come down off the mountain again and think you should be at the AS you still have about 2 more miles to go.
I drove on to the 9th and final AS and quickly changed into my running clothes. By now it was near 60 degrees and I wanted to get in a little workout. I headed up the trail taking it easy and stepping of the trail to let the racers pass. Almost all wanted to know how much further so I tried to be as honest as possible based on my time running. It was almost 45 minutes before I finally saw them. They seemed happy to see me and to know how much longer to go. As we neared the AS, I ran ahead to have things ready for Dorothy. She was fired up and ready to get it finished so after a Nascaresque pit stop she hurried on her way.
I made my way back to the finish to wait and greet other friends that had already finished. I was expecting them about 5:30 but checked outside frequently. I'm glad I did or I would have missed seeing them finish. I didn't even have time to get my camera out. They totally blistered the pace the last 6 miles and cam in about 5:13.
Dorothy did an awesome job and I never doubted she would.

Here are the photos I took.

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