Thursday, December 20, 2012

Through the Gates of Hell: Hellgate “100K”!

Pre Race
I almost didn’t apply to Hellgate due to the fact that the race fell right in the middle of finals week, but eventually the internal battle was won by my love of the trails and adventure over desire for academic perfection. I was a little surprised that I had actually gotten into Hellgate on top of that, since I knew the RD would "hand select" all racers and that many would be getting turned down as he tried to keep the event a small one. However, finals week had not allowed me to prepare as much as I would have liked for Hellgate..I hadn’t studied the course or read any race reports since the week I found out I had been accepted into the race. But I did take opt to cut out some of my usual late night study time for as much extra sleep as the week would allow. 

 Alan and I drove to my parent’s house, halfway to the race to meet my dad and my aunt to ride the rest of the way down with them. I was a bit cautious about what I was eating that day since I couldn’t really be sure what would sit well and what could turn into a night full of disaster.  I woke up a bit late for my 9am final exam and practical exam though and only had time for a banana and granola bar. I ate a bagel with some almond butter when I got out before hitting the road. At my parent’s house I stretched my legs out and took the pupps for a short jaunt around the backyard and for lunch had some baked potatoes and veggies (squash, zucchini, green beans). I had some nerves on top of being very well tapered and the combination did not leave me with much of an appetite, so I really had to make myself eat all day.  I tried to sleep a little in the car, but mostly just studied for the two finals I had on Monday and Tuesday after the race. We had a relatively smooth ride down to the race and arrived shortly after 6pm. Ian, my old and dedicated friend from JMU Triathlon club, came from JMU to meet us for the pre race dinner.

The dinner was pretty good. Lasagna (meat and vegetarian), spaghetti, salad and bread. I played it safe with my lactose intolerance and stuck with the spaghetti, but decided to live life on the edge a little and even tried a few bites of the vegetarian lasagna, loaded with cheese. It was pretty delicious. After dinner, Horton pointed me out, called me aside. He commented on my youthful age for participation in this event and asked what I had done to get into the race, since he didn’t let just “anyone” in. I was a bit taken back, but he didn’t revoke my race acceptance so I was happy about that. I will admit that it did ignite a little flame in me to upset his pre race seedings and predictions (I was number 13 for the women).

Then it was off to the lodge for Horton’s pre race meeting for about an hour and a half, which is probably the longest pre race meeting I have ever experienced, and was really more like a raffle bonanza. Horton had named this year’s Hellgate the new “Sissygate” because the temperatures would be so mile…around 45 tonight with highs reaching almost 70 with sunshine tomorrow. I was actually pretty disappointed with the temperatures, as I love running in the cold and tend to do pretty well in it and was hoping for a bit more of a chill (minus the famous “Hellgate eyes” of frozen corneas). The excitement in this room packed full of racers and crews was pretty cool and I got to talk to some of the Beast series runners. I asked if Hellgate was their favorite race of the series and they practically laughed in my face. Actually, they said they wouldn’t even consider doing this race if it wasn’t in the series and the last standing in the way between them and the prized Beast Bear trophy. “Worse than Grindestone 100 mile?!” 


Welp, this night could be interesting. After the meeting, we took all our stuff back to the room where we had dinner to lay out my things. I had made a spreadsheet with a play by play of everything I would want at every aid station (AS). This was a first for me, but I did this partially to keep my dad sane with the hectic craze and confusion of the night that would surely come, and partially to assure myself that I had a plan, that they would be ready, and to make sure I kept the caloric intake flowing. Ian was planning to pace me for two of the sections, AS7-AS9, and I thought I would be running the last segment alone until Ducky called me right before my prerace nap and gave me the best surprise ever--she would be there the next afternoon at AS9 to pace me the last 6 miles up and over the last mountain to the finish. I was very excited I would get to see her and this gave me something else to look forward to. 

I attempted a short 30 minute nap in the car before the start of the race, but really wasn’t able to fall asleep. Still, it was good to close my eyes for a bit and relax. I “woke up” half an hour later and did everything I normally do in my prerace routine. I went to the bathroom to get dressed, put in my contacts. I made my strong cup of coffee and banana and bagel with almond butter.Then, at 10:50pm, we left with the caravan led by Horton to the starting line. I was packed snugly in the between Alan and Dave Ploskonka, who joined our carpool, on the ride there. I had my strong cup of Starbucks coffee in hand, and I had been looking forward to this moment for the past 2 weeks of coffee deprivation so I couldn’t be happier. 

The night was disappointingly warm for me, with even more heat to come with the daylight. I wore my favorite Saucony shorts, a light longsleeved DRC tech T, and a hydration pack (of which was really a game time decision to take with me as recommended to me by Dr. Horton himself, since I never use these in training).

Start -> AS1 (3.5 Horton miles)

Approaching 12:01am at the starting line.
I knew it would be a good day from the minute I started running. I started in the back of the pack with Alan and near my dad and aunt. The race started after the National anthem at 12:01AM sharp, and I realized that my starting position was probably somewhat of a mistake since I was having to skirt up the edge of the path to pass a lot of runners. The pace felt completely effortless, and I had to try to not get carried away. I felt like this was the best I had felt running in a really long time, but also considered it could be the strong fresh coffee pumping through my veins and didn’t know how long it would last. The first section was supposedly the easiest of the race, completely flat and net downhill. There were a couple small but significant hills in this section though that I had overlooked in the copious amount of time I spent studying the course (HAH do I ever?!!), but I just took them easy and stayed relaxed. The much anticipated river crossing was non existent this year though; we came to a stream and I just skipped over some big boulders to keep my feet dry.

At first I didn’t notice much because I was running with the pack, but after a few miles the pack thinned out and I realized I couldn’t see the trail. My headlamp and the small flashlight together were just not bright enough and when we got on rocky single track at the end of this section, I was practically stumbling through the trail. If I were night running on a trail at home I am sure these two lights would have been sufficient, but here the blackness of the night just swallowed up any light before it could reach the rocks and leaves beneath my feet. I knew I had a long night ahead of me with worse sections of trail and needed to find my dad at AS2 asap to switch out to the brighter headlamp.

AS1->AS2 (7.5 Horton miles)

I may have taken a cup of water to go, but otherwise didn’t stop at AS1. There was no crew access here and they only had water. It was nice to check off one of 9 AS for the journey, but other than that I didn’t need anything. I was informed that I was the 7th woman.  And so began a long treck up the mountain on the gravel road. I ran most of the first part of the climb. The grade seemed low enough that running was still efficient. I met a couple guys on my climb up, chatted for a little. And we all marveled at how amazingly beautiful it was out here at night. The trees were parted from the road so you had a view of the clear blackish blue night sky and thousands of stars. The moon was close to crescent and together with the brightness of the stars they seemed to light up the road. My lights were sufficient for this road part with the moon and star light, and I even turned them off briefly a few times and just ran in the dark. And the view was every bit as beautiful as it was described to be…we began a long twisting road type switch back climb up to the top of the mountain, and looking ahead there were tiny little bobbing lights winding up the mountain and looking down, another winding string of tiny lights. I took it all in with the thrill and satisfaction of knowing that I was a part of something special.

AS2-AS3 (13.1 Horton miles)

Panicked head lamp exchange!
When I ran into AS2, I think I was 4th woman, but really I was probably tied for 4th with Sophie Speidel and another woman but I had just run ahead of them to find my crew. I saw my aunt when coming into the AS, but didn’t see my dad when I first ran in as I scanned the other crews on the side of the road. I was still a bit panicked about my headlamp switch and must have sounded it as everyone cheered me on and all I could say in response was “Where’s my dad?!!”  But there he was at the AS table, probably getting me something I had listed on my spreadsheet. He was wearing the “big nerd” headlamp (as my traildawg friend Henry, who had loaned me all his light gear for the race had termed it). The headlamp itself wasn’t too big, just very bright running off its external battery pack of 4 AAs. I stowed this away in my hydration pack (another perk to wearing this for this race) and was off again, this time able to see much better.

The climb continued to grow longer. Some of the steeper sections I hiked up. Sometimes, when I found myself growing tired of constant running up a hill, I hiked. I was very conscious to start snacking early. I had actually started in the first couple of miles on some Cliff block shots and was going between these and pretzels for the first couple of sections. Near the last miles or so of the climb, I passed Sophie again, a woman whose race reports I had read and who also happened to consistently finish around my goal finishing time at sub 15 hours. Perfect. I knew I was where I wanted to be in the race right now. She and I went back and forth a couple of times on the climb before we started running together and conversing. Yes, you learn a lot each time you run this race, she said, and this would be her 6th time running Hellgate. I secretly hoped I would still be able to attain my goal time coming in as a rookie! She also wisely advised me to stock up at AS3, where there was no crew access, because the next section would be a long one.

AS3->AS4 (21.9 Horton miles)

I had no idea if “long one” meant long as in lots of rocks and climbing that would take a long amount of time, or long as in a “Horton long” 8 miles which was really more like 11 miles. Either way, I stopped to fill up my hydration pack, grabbed a couple of PB&J squares from the AS and was on my way. I was a little surprised and excited about how well my stomach was taking nutrition tonight. I had read about how nutrition intake is something that people often struggle with in Hellgate because the stomach shuts down at night as it is used to doing during sleep. Well, maybe all my late night study stress eating in grad school was finally paying off! 

The next section has a lot of grassy rolling hills. Although the running was pretty easy, I have to say it wasn’t one of my favorite sections. It did feel incredibly long and for the most part, non eventful. I was playing tag back and forth with Sophie and another woman on this section, stopping once to use the woods, but eventually I pulled ahead and held my lead. 

AS4->AS5 (27.9 Horton miles)

About 5 hours into the race and I was at AS4, the aid station claimed to have the highest drop out rate in Hellgate history. I was glad to be finished with the last section and understood why it was. I didn’t really feel sleepy, but just felt like I was ready for it to be daylight. That was a long night of running at around 5 hours, and it wasn’t even over yet. Going into that aid station, I wanted Red Bull, new batteries for my handheld light, as the trail was again getting hard to see, and to change shoes from my hybrid Salomons to my heavier treaded ones for the next more technical section. I also decided to take my iPod on this section, which may have been one of the best decisions of the race. I never run with music so thought it would be distracting and even scary at night, but I had read reports of people who did use music who claimed that it opened up a whole new world for them after they did. 
Too fast for the photo :-)

  Coming out of the aid station, I took a few minutes to going up a short hill to hike while I ate, drank and fumbled with my iPod and headlamp wires. It turned out to be well worth it. A couple of guys passed me running up the hill and one of them encouraged me to come along, as the leading women were not too far ahead. Once I got to the top of the hill I collected myself and then took off down the other side of the hill with Blink 182 in one ear of my headphone. Those reports were right. The music really did open up a whole new world. The running seemed effortless once again as I flew down the hill. Plus my feet which had been turning a bit achy before, now felt light and fresh again in my new shoes.

It didn’t take me long to catch up to the guys who had just passed me and blow by them. As they cheered me on. Am I running too fast?? Well, it’s over 5 hours into the race, it feels good. I don’t know how long this is going to last so I’m going to go with it. I think this is something that only experience can teach in ultra running. That fine line between going with something when you feel good and unknowingly pushing yourself too hard and blowing up later. Sometimes when I have a high point and start running fast, I question my pace. But I have learned that when these moments come and everything feels right, you take advantage of it for as long as you can. And this was one of those moments. Sophie was my sub 15 hour pacer; I knew she'd run a smart race and if I stuck with her I would make it under my goal time. Right now I was putting a gap on her and probably running well under pace for that time, which was a gamble. But something in me felt right about taking the risk.

It wasn’t long before I caught up to and flew past two other women, now putting me in 2nd place. I heard them yell "Go girl!" or something along those lines as I passed, at the same time I imagined they were also thinking See yah at mile 50, yah Hellgate newb!  

 Most of this section was downhill, but the grade wasn’t uncomfortably steep and (to my surprise) not too rocky. I was just having a blast, pummeling down hills, leaping over rocks, passing packs of guys. I wasn’t expecting Hellgate to be this much fun and I was having the time of my life! The only tricky part was sometimes it wasn’t obvious where the trail turned, so a couple of times it turned and I didn’t see it, so ended up running into the middle of the woods. But I could always trace my way back to the other headlamps, whom I had usually just passed so it was somewhat embarrassing, but at least getting seriously lost wasn’t really an issue. At one point I passed a group of guys down one of the hills and I didn’t realize I had passed Dave until he came right up behind me and blew by me again a minute later. I was pretty surprised to be seeing him and was excited to see someone I knew, but knew he could not be having a good race if I was seeing him. But he zoomed off ahead at a blistering pace and I didn’t see him again until he came back up a hill, thinking we were lost and questioning the markings. The panic was short-lived though, and another runner soon came from behind and affirmed we were on the right path. Then he took off again and  I wouldn’t see Dave again till a few hours later.

AS5->AS6 (34.8 Horton miles)

At AS5 my aunt told me that the leading woman was 8 minutes ahead of me. I was climbing another road climb when daylight slowly began to settle in. I seemed to have timed my race perfectly and was on the top of a mountain ridge overlooking the entire landscape as the sun rose. At this point I was running by myself and everything just seemed so beautiful and peaceful. I thought about how the early risers were just waking up and rolling out of their warm beds, getting ready to put on a pot of Saturday morning coffee and make pancakes. I took in the fact that I had just run all night, admired it for a minute, appreciated that neither my legs nor my mind felt tired. I considered how lucky I was to have a body and mind that enabled me to be out here in this world on top of this mountain. I knew that there was absolutely no place else I would rather be than in this place at this moment.

Then I let it go. I was going to look at this as a new day. It was 7 hours into the race but my run had just begun.
The next section at the day break was also fun. I eventually turned off onto some single track and it was more downhill running! And then for some unknown reason, the next part of this section was an emotional one for me. The amygdala, the area of the brain highly involved in the regulation of emotional experiences, is intricately and actively connected to areas of the higher centers brain that control and sense human movement, and to the areas of the brain taking in all the information from the world around us…sight, sound, smell, sensation. The amygdala then, in turn, triggers a physical emotional response to these experiences. I turned my music back on and it took me back to my brother’s room in our old house, where my cousins, brother and I would have our jam sessions to old school Blink. I considered where I was in my life then and where I am now, and again, everything just felt right. I was surprised to suddenly find water in my eyes. I imagined that it my amygdala had taken over and I knew this was the physical response to my happiness in this moment. Whatever the reason, my legs were flying still faster down the mountain and skipping over rocks with a kind of grace I never knew I had. 

I came to the end of the single track and then came another long climb. I was back on a gravel road and knew I was getting close to the AS because cars were driving up and down the road and cheering me on so I knew it was the crews of other runners. But that climb took a bit longer than anticipated probably because I was so used to the effortless speed of flying downhills that this uphill powerhike grunt was no longer fun. When I finally got to the top where my dedicated crew awaited me, with anything I could possibly want spread out on a blanket, I did feel relieved. I ripped off my headlamp, something I had been looking forward to doing for the past few hours, and downed some more Red Bull and started munching on a bagel. 

AS6->AS7 (42.8 Horton miles)

I went through a few highs and lows on this section. The first part I was in a bit of a low point. Even though I had been feeling really good on the last section overall, that last climb coming into the AS had been tough. That compounded with the update that the leading woman had put an additional 5 minutes on me on this section probably dampered my spirits. I was just starting to feel tired and my mind was beginning to contemplate just how far I had left to go. But I tried to come out of it and also considered the fact that although somewhat tired, my quads were still holding up pretty well and I was still running strong and painfree. I think this is where I noticed the training benefit from the downhill training I had a couple weeks ago on the steep steep Maryland heights trail. At UROC my legs had felt 100 time worse long before this time! So I guess that perked up my spirits a bit. I turned on my iPod again, switching over to some New Found Glory, and all was well in the world again. I came to some downhill rocky sections and started cruising again, feeling good. The field was pretty thinned out at this point so I had been running by myself for quite a while, now only occasionally passing single runners. I was looking forward to the company of running with Ian at the next AS.
I was going up a rocky switchback climb and jumped when I came around a switch and saw Dave lying in the middle of the trail. Uh oh. I stopped, asked if he was ok, if he needed anything. He mumbled something about hypoglycemia and I was going to give him some food I could dig up out of my pack when I saw he had a small pile of gels on the ground next to him that he was sucking down. I told him I would get someone to come back for him at the next AS and felt bad leaving him there. I reasoned that there really wasn’t much else I could do though, so continued on.

AS7->AS8 (49.8 Horton miles)
About 30 minutes later I arrived at AS7, the place where I would meet up with Ian and the moment I had been looking forward to for quite some time. Approaching the AS I kept glancing at my watch, watching the time creep closer and closer to 9:30am, the time I had told Ian to meet me. I was determined to make it there on time. Sure enough, I ran in at 9:30am to the minute. My crew continued to be amazing as always, had everything I could possibly need spread out on a blanket right infront of me. I told my dad that I didn’t need to refill my pack when he tried, as I thought I had enough water in it. Horton was also waiting at this aid station to greet me. He said something about who knew the random young girl from Delaware would be 2nd place in the race right now. It made me just a little bit happy to know that I was upsetting his pre race predictions and surpassing his expectations of my #13 seed :- Meanwhile, first place chick was cruising and had gapped me further, on a good section. I realized that it wouldn’t be realistic to catch her unless she blew up, but I didn’t let this put a damper on my spirits. 
It's lunch time at the Team Jackie sleeping bag blanket buffet!

 The first thing Ian and I had to do was take on a big climb. I didn’t mind this climb so much though, now that I was in good company. This was good, because the next part of the race would be my least favorite of the day, by far. I had read about this section aka the “swoop” section. Basically, you are on a single track trail that “swoops” sideways and up and down into and out of the sides of the mountains. It’s not really like any other trail I have run. Perhaps the only good part of this section was the spectacular views you had looking off the edge of the cliff you were running  along at the end of the occasional swoop. 

I hated the swoops. The trail was pretty smooth, which is maybe why people report liking this section, but the constant swooping didn’t allow me to get into any kind of rhythm. Up and down and in and out and, Ahh, look out for that cliff! The small up swoops were a significant uphill, but not so steep that I could justify hiking them, although I will admit that I did resort to hiking a couple of them. Plus I could always see guys just ahead of me, and everytime it seemed like I was going to catch them, SWOOP, bam, they were out of sight. Only to come back into sight right before the next SWOOP. Ughhh. I felt like I wasn’t making any progress and felt slightly nauseated. On top of not having a particularly good time on this section, I was beginning to get a headache and I couldn’t determine if it was from dehydration or lack of sleep. I glanced at my watch and saw that it was 10:30AM and tried not to think about just how long I had been awake. Better keep drinking. I took a long swig from my pack and ccchhhhrrrrrr. Empty. Uh oh. 

So for the next 40 minutes or so, I didn’t take in any water or food. I knew this could potentially break my race, but I really had no choice. Ian distracted me a bit, and we did some reminiscing about the good old JMU days. We finally came off the swoop trail and began climbing again up a gravel road. A guy with a camera came running down towards us and took a picture of me, right before he asked me why I was walking up the hill when the AS was a quarter mile away?! Thank goodness. It was an otherwise runnable hill, had my head not been pounding and the heat of the day setting in with no shade from the trees. So we started running. And running. And running. “Quarter mile my a$#” I said 10 minutes later when we still weren’t at the top.

AS8->AS9 (56.4 Horton miles)

Right about now is the time I start wishing it were the Hellgate 50 Mile, not the Hellgate 100K. Finally we came to the AS, probably a mile at least up hill from our photographer sighting. Horton quarter miles are tough. I knew I desperately needed to rehydrate and refuel if I wanted to make it out of this race alive. I started chugging water and shoved some pretzels in my mouth from the aid station, at the same time as a half of a bagel that my dad had given me. Coke was my drink of choice now, as I had been craving it in my thirst on the last part of the last section. I took a few minutes to refuel and regroup at this section because I desperately needed to. I knew the next section, the “Forever” section, was the longest of the race and I was mentally prepared to take it. 

The section started out going 3 miles down a mountain on gravel road. And that’s where I really felt my legs. I suspected all the fun times in the race were now over and I prepared myself to enter the tunnel of pain. My legs were sore and my feet were tired and achy and now the downhill road was bringing out the worst of everything. Not to mention I was starting to feel more nauseous. Three miles straight downhill felt like a very long time of running. Some Hellgate veterans actually claim this segment to be “free miles,” because you can pick off the miles probably faster than you have been able to for the entire race. However, I thought these miles were a bit painful for me to consider anything coming for free. And maybe this is where stubbornness can be a good quality to have in ultra running. I estimated that I was probably running just sub 8 minute pace and I was determined to keep up my pace and not slow down, and certainly not walk any part of this.

I was ecstatic to see the course markings for the turn off back onto single track. I have read about a lot of people missing this turn because they were moving so fast down the hill, but trust me, I had had my eyes peeling anticipating that turn for at least 20 minutes! Of course I took the opportunity for a much needed power hike up the first hill segment. I took in some more fluids and took a gel now that my nausea had subsided. I collected myself again and felt ready to go. “Bring on the Forever section!”
This was actually a pretty good section for me. I was expecting it to be long, so no surprises there. Not time to think about seeing an AS for a while. There were a few good steep climbs on the trail, so steep that I had to resort to using Fowlers sign (pushing down through my legs with my hands like a fat kid) to get up the damn things. But honestly, I didn’t mind these short steep climbs. Plus, every time we hit another vertical challenge I would just scream “Bring it on Horton! I OWN THIS MOUNTAIN!” like a maniac. Ian would just laugh at my insanity. For some reason, yelling at Horton throughout various portions of this segment just made everything much more enjoyable.

We started out hiking up most climbs and continued to barrel down the descents at a swift pace. But after a couple more miles I was feeling good running again, and so gave up the power hike completely, and just ran up and down everything and anything, even if it seemed like hiking might be more efficient. I was in a groove and near the end and wasn’t going to let hills slow me down! I had been getting a bit clumsy over the past couple of sections, but this time, instead of muttering obscenities every time I caught my foot and stumbled over a rock, now I would trip and stumble and continue on without even acknowledging anything had happened. Ian laughed at me for this too. There were some long periods of time when neither of us said anything and he could tell I was in my zone, but it felt good to just be running in the presence of someone else. 

And it’s always the best feeling in the world when the AS comes 20 minutes before you are expecting it! The forever section wasn’t so forever after all! And best of all, I could hear Ducky’s voice coming out of the woods. Yahhhhooooooo!!! I reached AS9 in good spirits.

Happy to reach the final aid station!
AS9-Finish: (62.7 Horton miles)

I’m pretty sure showing up to pace someone through the end of a long ultra must be like showing up to the raging party completely sober. I have no idea what was running through Ducky’s mind over the course of this section, but I am sure it was somewhere along the lines of this girl has gone batshit crazy. The first half of this section was probably my worst section of the race while the last half probably the best. 

I don’t really remember at all what I wanted or grabbed at AS9. I had been thinking about this finishing segment ever since laying eyes on the elevation profile of it months ago, and part of me was terrified. Three miles straight up, 3 miles straight down. The climb was going to be a long one, but I was perhaps most dreading what I knew would be a very painful “rocky” descent as described in so many previous race reports. 

So no sooner had I realized I had arrived at the last AS, I had begun my long hiking trek up the mountain. I had thought that I would be relieved to have the running broken up by this long hiking “break” at this point in the race, but I was in such a groove before hitting the AS on the forever section, that all I really wanted to do was to keep running and finish the dang thing. I actually did attempt to run what I considered shallower maybe runnable grades, but it was short-lived and I realized I was pretty much wasting my energy. So hiking it was. It was a really really long hike. Definitely the longest amount of hiking I have ever done in any race. And it definitely wasn’t a “break.” It was actually pretty damn hard to keep up that power hike. Ducky of course was some good company. I didn’t want her to see me struggling now when this was the first time she had seem me all day, and actually in months. My respiratory rate was rather high at this point and so conversation wasn’t flowing smoothly on my end, but Ducky kept my spirits up. At one point I remember she asked me what my strategy was for climbing something like this. In my head I laughed, but all I could say was “Just get up this *%$!ing thing.” I must have been such joyful company. But sure enough, I could tell my biomechanics were beginning to break down and everything started to hurt. Sure my legs were tired and my feet kind of hurt, per the ushe, but now my low back was aching, my SI’s (sacroiliac joints) were screaming at me, and I was aware of the tension in the back of my neck as holding my head up to look upwards up the mountain actually took a good effort. I don’t remember what Ducky was saying but I know it made me feel somewhat better in my misery.

You can really tell I am loving this climb.
I tried not to look at my watch going up that climb, because I knew from reading the previous reports, that this climb was going to take at least 45 minutes. I pushed myself but things hurt and I was running low.  I took a gel and some water trying to hold on to whatever energy I could, after which I wanted to vomit (but suppressed and continued on). I must not have been doing too horribly though, or at least relatively, because I passed a couple of guys going up that RB. But all I could think about was how in the hell am I going to run when I get to the top of this thing??? I felt completely exhausted and totally out of rhythm. Why can’t the end of the race be in the midle of this mountain, at the REAL 100K distance?? Then those annoying words came through my head from someplace within my neglected right brain…If it were easy everyone would do it. That’s right. Damn it.

We finally made it to the top of the mountain, pretty much dead on for my expected 45 minutes. Some guy perched in a lawn chair at the top asked if I wanted water and I might have grunted some kind of “no” response (Man, what great people watching THAT must have been all day) And I didn’t think I would be physically able to, but I started to run. I was determined to end this race with some dignity. And sure enough, everything that really hurt going up the climb screamed in rebellion. This was going to be a looonnnggggg 3 mile descent. 

Then for the first time in a while, I looked at my watch. 13:26. I hadn’t really realized exactly how much under my goal time I was. Then I started thinking about the finish, with my dad and aunt and Ian waiting for me. I came to the realization right then that this whole race was crazy. Stupid and crazy, just like every other one of my long endurance feats I thrive for. And I love it. And then it became clear to me how much my family really must love me to travel to Virginia to drive a car through the desolate mountains through all hours of the night with all my crap, to catch a glimpse of me for a fraction of a minute maybe every couple of hours only to get me everything I decide I want, then cheer for me again as I run away. They support me not because they think I’ll win, but because they would support me in everything I do that makes me happy, even when it’s running through the woods in the middle of the night for 14 hours. And I knew I would do anything to make them proud. They have never been into this stuff and say they could never do it, but I knew there was a part of them with me. No, there was a part of them, quite literally, in me and in the strength of my mind and body that was still pushing on. And there went my overactive amygdala once again as I felt the water welling up in my eyes.

I came out of my deep thoughts and, suddenly, I realized there was no pain anymore. It was a strange feeling, not exactly like running on fresh legs because my legs didn’t feel good, they were just completely numb. I really couldn’t feel them. Part of my left brain wanted to hold up, stop, do some testing, figure out if this could be real, but my right brain was not having it. And for once, it must have taken over. In a matter of seconds I had cut loose the tethers that I now felt like were wrapped around my legs, opened up my stride and started dive bombing down that damn mountain.“I’M FLYINNNNNNNGGGGG!!!” I screamed at the top of my lungs. "ARRRRRGGGGHHHHHHHH!!!!!!” I spread my arms and took it all in. Then opened up faster and let my legs soar. It felt like the closest thing to complete euphoria I have ever felt. The trees around me were whizzing by faster and faster. And when I didn’t think it was possible for me to move any faster, I went faster still. “WWWAAAAAHHHHOOOOOOOO!!!!!” I screamed louder, laughing, half crying, flying, helicoptering my arms down the mountain.

 And with every ridiculous scream, Ducky would reply with an identically ridiculous “ARRRRGGGGHHH” or “YEAAAAAAHHHHHHH YAAHHHOOOO WE’RE FLYINNNNGGGG!!!” It was just like we were two crazy JMU Tri kids again, doing our traditional finals week midnight run through the quad and the libraries, minus the Halloween costumes. Either way, we must have been quite the spectacle for any runner we may have passed, but honestly I don’t remember if we even did. 

We flew over some orange spray paint on the gravel road and I almost didn’t even get to read the big number “1” painted below the orange line. “One mile to go!” Ducky chirped. I glanced at my watch. High minute on 13:46. Three miles my sweet bippy, Horton!

“Do you think we can make it in under 14 minutes to break 14 hours??” I gasped. I didn’t need to ask the question because of course I knew the answer. I just wanted to hear it out loud.

“Hell yeaaahh!”
And I surged harder, still flying, searching for the end, digging deeper. I couldn’t look at my watch again. I didn’t want to know how close or how far. But the end was finally becoming real. And then I saw it—Camp Bethel! We were still screaming. The downhill finally began to level out and I immediately felt the speed in my legs dwindle, and I had to laugh in my head at my gravity assisted pace for the last 20 minutes, but kept pushing on. So, yes, I guess it was a long 3 mile descent, but because it was really 4 miles!

I crossed the orange spray painted finish line of the 66.6 mile "100K" with a clumsy little celebratory finishing jump kick over the line in 13:53, making my last mile at sub 7 minute pace, and a finish time of an hour under what I had previously considered an ambitious goal time. I came in 2nd woman after Kristen Eddy, a Hellgate veteran with many years of ultrarunning experience on me, who finished in about 50 minutes before me at what must have been a blistering pace. Sophie came in about 40 minutes behind me with a new Hellgate PR for herself. I was 26th place out of the 139 starters with all boys included. On the guy's side, three of them broke the old CR, Alister Gardner now having it with a time of 10:52 (ok, so he beat me by less than 3 hours!) Holy smokes, that is fast. Alan finished in around 17:35, giving us both good finishes for our first Hortion 100Ks. I told him I thought his trekking poles weighed him down LOL :-)

I was a bit out of it right after crossing the finish line but must have hugged my aunt, my dad and my pacers Ian and Ducky. And of course, I got my Horton hug that comes with a Hellgate finish. Indeed it was a very happy moment and I was taking in the glory of it all. And, of course, there was that instant amnesia of all the pain and suffering of the day within seconds after crossing the finish line. Such amnesia that I might be crazy enough to do it all again someday. Of course I am going to have to convince my crew again... ;-)
My amazing and dedicated Team Jackie crew.

Forever grateful to Ducky and Ian, greatest teammates a girl could ask for.
Horton hands over my Hellgate winter parka for top 10 (NOT to be confused with top 13. Heheh ;-) )

Post Race:

Somewhat surprisingly, Hellgate turned out to be a pretty good decision afterall. I can certainly call it the best race of my year, in terms of how I felt during the race and post race satisfaction. I was not overly satisfied with my results from my previous and only two 100Ks, both run this year (Bandera and UROC) so this was a great end to the season. And to be honest, although the conditions were mild, I did not think that the technicality portion of this race was nearly as bad as what it has been described in the plethora of race report literature out there. Yes, the amount of mountains and climbing kicked my ass at times, but I only had to slow to walk a couple of very short segments because of rockiness and technicality, and even those were not for more than 15-20 seconds. I definitely could be stronger with my climbing skills, which hopefully will come when I move out of Delaware and get some terrain back in my life, but the Hellgate course was truly awesome and I loved it all (minus the stupid swoops)! You have to work hard on the climbs, but you can make up a lot of time on the descents. Plus, dive bombing down that last mountain to the finish was just plain fun.

And, despite the extreme disturbance in my circadian rhythms and my sleep schedule not being  back to normal for a week, I was able to ace those last two finals (maybe because I was able to stay up all night studying!) just 36 hours after the finish of Hellgate to contribute to a straight line of solid A’s for a semester of PT school at UDPT, which is not too shabby (although I must admit that 4 out of 5 of my courses were on neuro, of which I read for pleasure in my “spare time” :-) ).   

And perhaps even more surprisingly, my legs felt pretty freakin good afterwards. I mean yea I was walking like a cowgirl the day after, but nowhere near anything like the rodeo queen I was after UROC. By Monday I was taking stairs like a champ (up AND down), did some swimming and the day after that I went cycling on a 30+ mile road ride. I intentionally have withheld from doing a ton of running since then, to give my body some peace after this season’s beating and have since been supplementing with some good cross training…swimming, cycling, yoga, resistance training. And, I believe I have found the newest and greatest form of cross training to promote gains in core strength, balance and flexibility in my off season. So get a laundry load of this- Extreme Ironing! 

Aside from the fact that this sport actually exists, it looks awesome. Plus I am tired of looking so disheveled after my ultra events. I may just need to start the Extreme ULTRA Ironing movement. And next MD heights training run, don't be surprised if I come back with a well-starched singlet :-)
(And hopefully someday I can make it to THIS level!!!!).

1 comment:

  1. Jackie! Welcome to the Hellgate Family. It was so fun to run with you. Congrats on your SOLID Hellgate debut, and I hope our paths cross again soon! Happy 2013!