Sunday, December 19, 2010

1033 Minutes at the 2010 Hellgate 100K

Saturday 11 December 2010

1033 Minutes at the Hellgate 100K Race

Event website:

            This is one average runner's tale at Dr. David Horton's epic trail race through a significant section of the Blue Ridge Mountains in the Jefferson National Forest in western Virginia. This event started at1201AM in the dark woodline at Hellgate Creek in Natural Bridge Station, and traveled all of 66.6 miles to the finish line at Camp Bethel in Bethel. Every racer had an 18 hour time limit equating to a 6PM deadline. It took me 17 hours, 13 minutes, and 14 seconds to reach that end-zone.

           It’s difficult to use the term “epic” in relation to any ultra-marathon under one hundred miles. The sport is growing so rapidly that there are over eighty 100-mile trail races held annually in the United States. However, the online World English Dictionary defines epic thus: “an episode in the lives of men (and women in this instance) in which heroic deeds are performed or attempted; a long narrative or larger-than-life saga.” The Hellgate 100K certainly rises to that definition in every aspect of the event, starting with legendary Race Director Dr. David Horton, the point-to-point trail course that includes 13,500 feet of climb and descent back and forth over the Blue Ridge Mountains, and group of some of the best long-distance runners in the country who came to challenge themselves against this venue. Karl Meltzer was on hand, as was David Goggins, Andrew Thompson, Rebekah Trittipoe, Keith Knipling, Kerry Owens, and Aaron Schwartzbard, to name just a few.

TOP THREE MALES                         TOP THREE FEMALES

Name                          Age- Time       Name                              Age-Time

JEREMY RAMSEY  34-11:24:20     HELEN LAVIN              33- 4:05:24 
                                                               (22nd overall)

CHRIS REED            38- 11:48:50    SHERYL WHEELER     47-15:18:15
                                                               (41ST overall)

PATRICK GARCIA  25- 12:02:18    ZSUZANNA CARLSON 37-15:27:41
                                                               (47th overall)


66.6 or 62.5    mileage published as overall distance of event; the
                         bumper sticker claims 66.6
126     Runners started the race at 12:01 AM
111     Official number of finishers; largest amount and
           percentage (88%) in 8 year history of event
96       Male finishers- 86%;   15 Female finishers-13.5%
24       Approximate temperature at start of race at midnight
28       Approximate temperature at 1200PM
13,500       Total elevation in feet climbed and descended
                  according to event website 
9         Total number of aid stations
10       Largest mileage total between aid stations
4         Smallest distance in miles between aid stations
7         About the average mileage between aid stations
64       Age of Bob Anderson, oldest finisher, in 16:56:46
53       Age Rebekah Trittipoe, oldest female finisher, in 15:40:31
21       Age of Robert Rives, youngest male finisher, in 16:06:25
33       Age of Helen Lavin, youngest female finisher, and overall
           female winner, in 14:05:24
34       Number of male finishers between 40-49, the largest group
31       Number of male finishers between 30-39
18       Number of male finishers between 20-29
9         Number of male finishers from 50-59
3         Number of finishers from 60-69(64)
7         Number of female finishers from 30-39
7         Number of female finishers from 40-49
1         Number of female finishers 50 and older
0         Number of female finishers under 30, an odd statistic
19       Number of States represented 2 Countries represented;
           USA and Canada
2,636    longest miles by Google distance traveled by any runner;
               Dave Goggins, San Diego, CA
6          Number of runners who have completed all 8 runnings
             of the Hellgate 100K: Darin Dunham, Jeffrey Garstecki,
             Ryan Henry, Dan Lehmann, Aaron Schartzbard, Jerry Turk


14       Hellgate was my 14th marathon or ultra-marathon event in 2010
32       Total number of marathon or ultra-marathon events completed
1194   Number of consecutive streak days run since 12 DEC 2007
           through 11 DEC 2010
21       Number of days from last major event (JFK 50; 20 NOV)
7         Major Event since Labor day
17:13:14     Hellgate finish time (1033:14)
2         2nd attempt at Hellgate (2007) 1st finish
91       My overall finish place of the 111 finishers
81       My overall finish place among all males
11       Females finished ahead of me
36       My finishing place of males 40-64;
           5 of 9 males from 50-59 finished ahead of me;
           all three 60-64 aged males finished ahead of me
43       My finishing place among all runners 40 and older
3         Where I finished among the 3 active duty military participants:
           Dave Goggins- US Navy, 14:48:33; Mosi Smith-USMC, 15:50:43;
           me-Army, 17:13:14
4         Blisters
2         Toenails lost
0         I ran “solo” without any crew
47.79    The mileage on my Forerunner 305 when it died shortly
             after Bearwallow Gap
15:32    My average overall pace per mile for the duration of the event


           The following graphics are available on the event website under the multimedia story link and were published in a Roanoke newspaper story in 2007. I think these also give the best overall perspective of the course and event of any that I have seen online:
            The route of the course including the start, the nine aid stations, and the finish at Camp Bethel. Hellgate starts in Rockbridge County and finishes in Botetourt County, and crosses over the Blue Ridge range four times.

            This graphic gives the best idea of the challenging vertical aspects of the course of any depiction I’ve seen of the course. It’s fair to say that Hellgate racers are almost always moving either uphill or downhill for the duration of the race. This scale also lends credence to Dr. Horton’s point during his pre-race brief that any runner that gets through the first third of this race and clears Aid Station 4 at Headforemost Mountain, has the hardest third of the course behind them.


              Team Horton Logistics runs a smoothly calibrated event at Hellgate. Camp Bethel doubles as the staging area and the finish line. Runners and their crew can sleep for free in the bunkhouse as early as the Thursday night prior to the event and into the morning on post-race Sunday in an open bay format replete with bunk beds. Even though I finished work early Friday afternoon, I burned between 75-90 minutes just escaping the gravitational pull of the beltway in Arlington, VA. This lengthy departure resulted in a loss of any planned, pre-race knap time as I walked into the bulk house right about the point where Dr. Horton started holding forth with his pre-race brief. We discussed everything from the race route, the weather, finisher prizes, crew directions, and matched every runner needing a ride to the starting line with an identified vehicle and crew member. Dr. Horton also gave every race director the opportunity to mention his or her race, and asked Karl Meltzer to describe how he was literally chased by a moose at the Bighorn 100 into the aid state at the 50-mile turn-around point a year ago in June 2009. I did not take that opportunity to mention that I ran almost directly into a black bear that must have weighed between 150-180s pounds, last June up road at the Old Dominion 100. Dr. Horton identified Andrew Thompson, the current record holder for the fastest recorded through-hike on the Appalachian Trail. He also identified Dave Goggins and mentioned how successfully he’s pursued ultra-running and Mr. Goggins’ immediate response was “everyone” could reach most of the goals he has. I met several people who subscribe to the Ultra-List including Julian Jameson, down from Massachusetts, and Mosi Smith from Annapolis, both of whom I have traded email with periodically over the past 12 to 24 months but had never met in person prior to Friday evening.

            The remaining three hours prior to the start of the race were filled with preparations and travel to Hellgate Creek. Racers were allowed one drop bag that would be at Aid Station 4 when they arrived and the bag would then be jumped forward to Aid Station 7. The weather was as good as it possibly could have been for an event that started at midnight on the second Saturday of December in the Blue Ridge Mountains. That did not alleviate racers, especially solo races as I always am, from hoping for the best and planning for the worst in terms of stuffing everything you might possibly need into your little drop bag. I had extra Injinji socks, a back-up pair of running shoes in case mine got socked. An extra headlamp and batteries, extra Clif-shot blocks and trail mix, heavier gloves than the lightweights I wore, an extra polypro cap and neck-up. I made sure I took a long, hard look at the Finish Line chute leading right up to the Camp Bethel bunk house before we all departed for the starting line.

             It was 24 degrees at the start of the event but it was a very clear night. I made the final decision to run in shorts and inserted my sweat pants into my drop bag as well. I ran in a lightweight, lined nylon jacket and my short-sleeve Arrowhead t-shirt I’ve worn in penance at almost every event this year. I wore shorts, shoe-top length Injini socks, and my Asolo trail shoes that have at least 1000 miles on them at this point. I had my Nathan Hydration pack with 70 ounces of water, my Sony Walkman, a standard Petzl headlamp, 3 extra AAA batteries, my cell phone, my Olympus camera, and twelve S-Caps and Ibuprofen each, two packs of Clif-shot blocks in a zip-lock and some home-made trail mix. I also had a miniature zip-lock bag full of coffee beans to munch on when the going was sure to get rough at 0400.

             Dr. Horton took attendance one more time; we turned our drop bags over to Charlie and his logistics team van and moved into the woods to the trail head. We had a benediction, sang the National Anthem and then started off at 12:01AM into the long dark trip over Headforemost Mountain. We were 7 hours from daylight. My plan was pretty simple in that I had mentally broken the event into the three major sections; Start to Aid Station 4 at Headforemost Mountain; Headforemost to Aid Station 7 at Bear Wallow Gap, and then from Bear Wallow into the Finish line.
            Dr. Horton and the group singing the National Anthem at the Start


            Section I. Start to Aid Station 4 at Headforemost Mountain. I was very confident that I was going to successful complete Hellgate coming into the event based on all the racing and training that I’ve done over the course of 2010, thirteen other races with the latest a personal best 50-miler at the JFK 50 three weeks prior. Regardless of these facts, the first third of the Hellgate course filled me with a lot of trepidation as I had failed to make it through Headforemost Aid Station three years earlier in my only other attempt at this event. That was the first time I had ever failed in any endurance event in any format, and I had set my sites on redeeming myself at Hellgate from that point forward. So, there was some basic apprehension as I started the race at the very back of the pack at 1201, but there was mostly a sense of relief that I’d finally gotten back to Hellgate and I was much more ready for the event this time than I was three years ago.

          Running in winter conditions is a little more challenging than any other time of year for the obvious reasons. You never want to be over-dressed as you’re guaranteed to start sweating and over-heating shortly after warming up. It is hard to find the right balance, and the right balance always leads to being really cold at the starting line as I was. Once the race was underway, I warmed up quickly and felt very confident that even though I was traveling “light” in terms of uniform, I had the right gear on. The first four miles were mostly all wide or narrow single-track trail with a little up and down grade. The runners all settled in at their own pace and the headlamps all started to space out.

          Trail running at night is always a singularly interesting experience and Hellgate was no exception. Even running with an evenly spaced group of 125 other participants, my perceptions were packed in by the limits of my headlamp. The woods just closed in as I was tightly focused on the trail in front of me rather than on the runners just ahead. Somewhere just over the two-and-a-half mile point we could see the occasional suburb light through the woods off to the east; I could continually and progressively hear at least one dog barking, also to the east even after clearing the 1st aid station at 4 miles. You’d cover a half mile of trail; one dog’s barking would fade out back to the east behind you to be replaced by another off ahead of you to the southeast. We eventually flowed downhill through some switchbacks to the first creek-crossing right at 3.5 miles. That crossing was a non-event that almost turned into a big event as my last big leap nearly resulted into a slip into a deeper pool; risk was rewarded as I adjusted in mid-slip and landed awkwardly on the trail on the far side. I was still smugly relieved with myself for making it across without wet feet as I cruised through Aid Station 1.

           The race really started climbing shortly out of Aid Station 1 and followed firebreak road right through and eventually beyond Petites Gap at around the 10 mile point in the route. It was nice traveling on the dirt road and the runners started separating themselves even more as the ongoing incline steepened, leveled off and steeped again for the first couple miles of the section. After a while, I spent time moving with my headlamp off. The dirt road surface was in excellent shape and it was a clear night. Running without the headlamp actually lent a wider perspective to the event; the sky was completely clear overhead and it was interesting to watch the runner’s headlamps 100 yards ahead shape the road to those lamps’ minimum distance as the road disappeared in front of those beams as well. With my light off it was also easy to see runners’ headlamps way up ahead of us climbing the firebreak as it swooped its way along the shoulder of the ridgeline; headlamps always climbing upwards in little single-file groups of two, three, or four.
           On the climb to AS 2 at Petite's Gap

           Somewhere just past mile 6 or 7, the road really started climbing in earnest to the point where running became more limited for me than power-hiking as hard as I could up the road. The road had doubled back in a tight U-turn and then in a hard climb up to the left. Now, I could see headlamps well above and well below me as well. This made me think of the scene from Butch Cassiday and the Sundance Kid where they’re being pursued through the wilderness at night by a posse with a lantern and Butch keeps asking “Who are those guys?” The headlamps cresting the ridge well ahead made me wonder how anyone could move that far that fast over that kind of dark terrain; the lights coming up behind kept seemed like they were gaining (and they were in a lot of cases) and I wondered who belonged to those lights. I do know Kerry Owens cruised past me at some point on the way to Station 2. She has the same type of running motion that I observed for a while running in a group with Monica Scholz at an event early last summer; very economical and fluid. She seemed like she was hardly exerting effort or even really moving but I couldn’t keep up with her or catch up to her again.

           The Petites Gap aid station was situated on the uphill slope on a turn and I could hear it before I even started seeing the lights. AS 2 was manned by several stalwart Liberty University students as all the aid stations were. My Forerunner 305 told me I had covered over 10 miles although most published course depictions say AS 2 is between 9 and 9.5 miles into the race. I was happy with the realization that my Garmin was telling me I was already making up some of the difference in the Horton miles on the course. It was around 0140 in the morning. After burning my tongue on some excellent chicken soup, I grabbed a slice of peanut butter and jelly and headed out. I was pretty cold leaving AS 2 as I crossed over the Blue Ridge Parkway and entered a significant section of single track trail. The steep, 1200 foot climb into Petite had forced me to walk large sections of the route, exposed to some chilly breeze. While I was the right uniform to run in 25 degree temperatures, I was in the wrong clothes to hike on an open dirt road, albeit hiking as fast as I could. I would continue to fight with this winter reality for the duration of the race.

          I started warming up again at an easy lope on the single track. The trail was tricky; there was an inch or two of snow on top of a thick bed of leaves covering up all the little trail hazards. I moved carefully through this section but as fast as I could. The trail flowed into a wider, more open, grassy trail that was almost a road after some switchbacks and descents. I lost track of time and space for a while as I forced myself to quit looking at my Garmin and thinking so hard about the distances between aid stations. It was dark. Eventually the grassy road spilled back out onto a hardened dirt rood and I followed that uphill for a little over 2.5 miles, maybe closer to 3, into AS 3 at Camping Gap. I knew that I was moving slowly; it was already after 0320 when I hit the aid station. I don’t do my best trail work from 0300-0600 either, but I was feeling pretty good as I drank a couple cups of coke, ate some peanut butter and jelly and reflected on the odd fact that the only time I ever eat PB&J is during ultras. I headed out for AS 4, the longest section of the course between stations.

           I struggled through a large segment of the route on the way to Headforemost. The lack of sleep really started catching up to me around 0400AM; several runners passed me as I traversed a lot of almost-treacherous up and then downhill single track loaded with switchbacks. I picked up my pace to stay close to the last group of three that came past me, stepped on a log buried in the snow with my uphill foot, went down in the snow and immediately woke up for a while. There was a lot of very runnable downhill grassy road in this section as well between the 18 to 20 mile point according Garmin. That could not have come at a better point for me as I was pretty tired when I got to it. A curious thing happened just about 0500. I started “waking up” just about at the same time I do every day. Granted, it was without the benefit of a decent night’s sleep and I’d been moving all night, but my biological clock just started to slowly activate. I decided that was as good a time as any to fire up my Walkman, and it became a whole new race for the next twenty miles.

            We re-entered a short section of single trail and followed a bunch of switchbacks downhill again. This trail spilled out into a dirt road on the shoulder of a U-turn that headed uphill to the south. This was the point where Team Horton usually set up Headforemost AS 4 because I remembered calling Hellgate an event at that exact point 3 years ago. I made the turn and kept climbing among the group of three or four other runners I’d been running adjacent to for the last couple of miles. It was just after 0540 when I trotted into AS 4; my Forerunner told me I’d covered over 24 miles thus far in the race. I pulled another block of Clif-Shots out of my drop bag, but made no other adjustments other than to fill my water blivet and determined that I needed to be drinking a lot more water between stations. This was my longest aid station stop of the entire day, about 5 minutes, except for another solid 5 minutes at AS 7 later on. I had some more soup that Scott and a couple of the other Liberty students were advertising along with some more coke. I extracted some route info from one of my current racing peers; I never caught his name (as awful as that sounds) but would continue to see him throughout the rest of the day’s race. I was pleased to hear that the AS 4 to 5 section was mostly downhill, and headed on my way.

           Section II. Headforemost Mountain to Bear Wallow Gap. This 21 mile third of the race was my favorite part of the course. Things went very well on the downhill towards Aid Station 5. The route entered a longer section of single track immediately out of Aid Station 4, and it was mostly downhill interspersed with some short up-hills here and there, but nothing dramatically long. A great thing happened while I was on this section; the sun started coming up. Slowly, gradually, the level of ambient light slowly increased and darkness transitioned to that early morning, gray daybreak. The trail was pretty technical with heavy leaves and some snow hiding a lot of rocks, but I turned my headlamp off for good around 0630 with some interesting results. There were a couple of lights following me down through the myriad of switchbacks about a ¼ mile back and a couple ahead of me. All I could see of those entities at those distances were the lamp. I picked up the pace, because, I was feeling a pretty solid surge in energy. As it turns out, I’m pretty sure I’m solar powered. About two minutes after picking up the pace I was moving pretty rapidly downhill when I caught a branch pretty solidly with my back foot and went down pretty hard into a forward face-plant. I suffered no ill effects in what was my last and worse fall of the entire race, and laughed at myself a little, but still didn’t pull my light back out. I was moving downhill pretty well, notwithstanding the tumble, and ended up passing a couple guys before the single track flowing into a wide, double-track grassy road for the final switches and last 2 miles or so into Aid Station 5 at Jennings Creek. As I remember it, it seems like there were more females than males when I rolled into AS 5. The sun was fully aloft now and I felt great considering my Forerunner reported that I’d already moved 30 miles, but my overall pace had been pretty slow so I felt like I had a lot of energy left as I started the climb out of Jennings Creek to AS 6 on Little Cove Mountain.
             On the Climb to Aid Station 6

            I caught up with Carrie Gallagher from Middletown, CT, on the climb and we chatted for a while before I resumed trotting uphill. As it turned out, a lot of the participants I met at Hellgate were from the Northeast. I had met Julian Jamison, caught a ride to the start with Ryan O’Dell, and his crew chief, Jill, from Liverpool New York. Now I had met Carrie, who lives 20 minutes from my parents. The race results show a lot of other New Englanders as well. Carrie would eventually pass me again somewhere around AS 6 and finish under 16 hours. The seven miles to Little Cove stretched through two long climbs up a long firebreak dirt road that seemed to keep winding up and to the left while it provided dramatic panoramas of the Blue Ridge behind us to the east. Several vehicles passed me coming downhill after their occupants had provided some crew support, I assumed, at AS 6. After cresting the ridge and loping slowly through some downhill, I continued to follow the road uphill for a seemingly long way before I finally rounded several more turns and loped into Little Cove aid station. Garmin said 37 miles. A couple of young ladies passed out snacks and drinks, and warned us to stock up because the next 8 miles into Bear Wallow were really long and hard. I took their advice and ate some more soup and sandwich stuff as I was already working through a stick point; several runners passed me going into or leaving Little Cove.
            Northeast from below Little Cove

           I took the opportunity while I was still spanning along the shoulder at the top of the ridgeline to call Lisa at home and report my progress and let her know I was fine. That was the length of my cell phone use during the race, and it’s hard to justify carrying it in that regard, but you just never know when you need commo. The girls in AS 7 were good to their word as was Dr. Horton’s race brief. It was a long eight miles from Little Cove to Bear Wallow. I eventually got to Aid Station 7 at Bear Wallow Gap in a pretty worn out state at approximately 1130 AM with a lot of good running behind me. There was nothing about the eight mile traverse between Cove and Bear Wallow that was particularly difficult in a singular regard; there was a lot of gradual uphill firebreak, followed by a long, long section of steep downhill switchbacks with a lot of hidden rocks and thick leaves that terminated in a creek crossing and another long climb out of that valley that eventually surrendered to the aid station entry. Really, this would have been very runnable terrain if I had driven up to Little Cove Mountain and taken my dogs for a run.

              On some nice single-track trail to Bear Wallow Gap 

          Bear Wallow was open, breezy and cold; I ate more soap and surrendered to the urge to pull my sweatpants out of my drop back and wear them for the duration of the race. I also pulled my neck-up out and my heavier polypro cap. My Garmin reported that I had already covered 45.5 miles of the event as opposed to the 42 advertised for the race. My optimistic thought was that I had already covered most of the embedded Horton miles and certainly had no more than twenty-one miles to the finish with six and a half hours to complete the event.
            Another Vista from the Trail to Bear Wallow
            Section III. Bear Wallow Gap to the Camp Bethel Finish Line. This was the toughest section for me, although I think it was tougher from a mental than purely physical perspective. I was definitely physically worn out, and the trail out of Bear Wallow went steadily uphill until, eventually, that beautiful single track trail followed the crest of the Blue Ridge for a few kilometers .

            The battery in my Garmin finally quit after 47.75 miles and over 12 hours of continuous operation. I am conflicted to have to report that losing the locational information provided by my Garmin left me almost, but not quite, as emotional distraught as Tom Hanks in “Castaway” when he lost Wilson at sea. I forged bravely ahead through my self-pity, following the two guys up ahead of me as we traversed along the high shoulder of the Blue Ridge on a wide, wide trail. I ran the down hills, and most of the flat, and walked all the uphills as hard as I could. We followed the long, sweeping contours of the ridgeline for miles as we kept moving slowly towards Bobblets Gap AS 8. I had to adjust tactics and gauge my progress against time versus satellite GPS information and that was a dramatic change. I had hoped and pushed to make AS 8 by 1330 hours but finally rolled in around 1345 after following long switchbacks down of the ridgeline, across a creek bed and then climbing for another mile. Aid Station 8 was anchored right against the Blue Ridge parkway and manned by the intrepid Liberty University students. Information signs and the guys in the station told me I had 13 miles to the finish and seven to the final aid station.
            More Single-Track; Headed for Bobblet's Gap

           The first two and a half to three miles out of AS 8 were good as the volunteers’ words; a long downhill traverse that followed the shoulder of the ridgeline and continually winded downhill. I ran down as much of the gravel road as I could in the largest sections I was able until more sore feet would force me to walk for a few feet. Runners were moving slowly ahead of me and I passed a couple of folks that were walking. Kimani Long and I continued to switch positions as we had been prior to Bear Wallow Gap, and would do so for the remainder of the race. I meant to ask him if he thought his poles were making a difference. They must have been or I assume he would have turned them over to his wife who was crewing him. I found out later that Kiwami was in the final stages of completing the Horton Beast series when he crossed the finish line, and that’s one impressive accomplishment as the hardest three of the events are the final three, Grindstone 100, Mountain Masochist 50 and Hellgate.
            Back-View of the Firebreak Towards Bobblet's Gap an Hour Back

            The route left the gravel road for more of that splendid single track after I ran downhill for about thirty-five minutes. I spent most of the next eighty to ninety minutes pushing along a series of short up and downhill switchbacks, constantly in trepidation that the course would shoot straight up over the ridgeline crest several hundred feet above us. That didn’t prove to be the case and around 340 PM I was trotting down a spur away from the ridge when the trail emptied onto a wide grassy trail. It flattened out and I kept moving at a trot around a couple of turns when a good-looking young kid popped around the turn running towards me; he reported I was less than half a mile from the aid station.

            I was drinking Sprite and eyeballing the final ridge directly up and to the west of the Day Creek Aid Station, when Christine Bone asked me if I was excited to have just one more climb left. She and Bruce Tweedie were just about to push out of the station. The young Liberty worker had just pointed out the gap atop the ridge and said three miles to there, and three miles down and you’re done. I admitted that I was going to be a lot more excited in about 45:00 when I finally crested the ridgeline; Christine laughed and she and Bruce got moving. I was relieved though. The traverse from station eight to nine had been long and I was afraid that I was fighting time and might not have enough of that asset left to make the 1800 time line. That was no longer the case. I had a 10K left, albeit it 3 miles of really heavy climbing. I grabbed some twizzlers and followed Christine and Bruce out of the station grimly determined to see if I could beat a 17 hour finish.

              Christine and Bruce moved away up towards Blackhorse Gap, and I steadily lost ground to them as the dirt road continued to climb and zig zag back in forth in long, curving swaths up the ridgeline. The road kept climbing and I kept going. I was moving slowly, and while I had regretted donning my sweat pants six minutes out of Bear Wallow as I sweated my way through section seven to eight and then to nine, the climb to Blackhorse Gap was long and slow and things were cooling off. By the time I crested the Blue Ridge and crossed over parkway for the final time, I had my neck-up on, my cap on tightly and my hands were in my pockets. It was 1645, and starting to turn dark.

              There was a guy sitting in a sedan when I crossed the asphalt and started towards the final downhill. I asked maybe the dumbest question I asked all day: “Do you need my number?” He replied “No, you seem to have it put right where I can see it” as he checked me off on his list. I kept moving while I laughed at myself. I plugged my “yurbuds” ear phones back in as I had stopped listening to my Walkman about three hours prior. It was time to start my final kick, if there is such a thing for a back-of-the-packer trying to beat a 17 hour finish at Hellgate. I pulled up my favorite running rip Robert J. Martinez had put together for me eighteen months prior and fired up some classic rock started running downhill.

             The final stretch from AS 9 to Camp Bethel was definitely all of 6.3 miles. My feet hurt with every stride as I had blisters on both heels from all the up and down hill of the previous seventeen hours. I kept rolling because the downhill gears were still all working. I passed three or four people as I moved at about my standard, calibrated 8:30 pace. The firebreak turned abruptly downhill and to the right on three occasions and then would follow a long gentle traverse along the ridgeline back to the west and towards Camp Bethel. After about a solid two to two and a quarter miles the firebreak spilled onto a gravel road, and then in another half mile onto the asphalt road leading downhill to the left turn into Camp Bethel. It was almost dark as I turned up the driveway and ran the quarter mile to the finish line, amazed that the last 3 miles only took me twenty-five minutes when the previous twenty miles seemed to go on forever. Dr. Horton greeted me at the Finish Line as he does with every finisher, with some very positive words I was grateful to hear. Every finisher received a really nice long sleeve shirt identifying him or her as a 2010 Hellgate 100K. I think I wore mine for a week straight except while asleep on Wednesday.
           Best View on the Course: Finish Line


             Hellgate is very challenging and identified several gaps in my training. As I sat in a semi-daze chatting with several finishers and their crew-mates, no less than three runners reported that they had completed the Grindstone 100 in October and thought Hellgate was harder. I don’t have a viable comparison for that until at least next October and my thought on that is 100 miles is 100 miles versus 66. But the vying point from all three was that there was a much more intense concentration of climbing and descending versus the extra 34 miles of the course at Grindstone. And that’s a viable point. There is just a lot of climbing in Hellgate right off the bat and it forces you to start thinking in terms of surviving and reaching the finish line as opposed to trying to produce a very strong personal performance that puts you at risk of completing the event. I felt that I expended at least twice the effort that I had to reasonably complete a 50 mile event three weeks prior. Maybe more than twice the effort.

             My lessons learned were the same ones I’ve learned the hard way at several events this year. I’m not doing enough intense hill workouts in my weekly training and I have to drink a lot more water on the course. Large sections of Hellgate are run-able, as a lot of the steeper sections are on firebreak roads. Trail running at night must be part of the training program too, with as much reverse cycle training as a runner’s schedule allows if he or she wants to run strongly in this event. I promised myself I would do a better job of running without GPS information but I also already went out and picked up a really small plug-in USB charger I’ll have in my next long event. I also figured out that if I’m going to get better at this sport, it’s time for me to start crewing better runners than me at the earliest opportunity as well as spending time volunteering in aid stations. This will give me the chance to support an event as I should be doing anyway, and give me the opportunity to check out what the elite runners do and how they function as they progress through a race. Lastly, I have doing a lot of all-around TRX as part of my PT program and that made a large, positive difference in the entire event; that needs to increase.

Tim Hardy
Arlington, VA
19 DEC 2010


  1. Tim, thanks for such an awesome write-up!

    BTW -- I use one of those battery operated chargers to keep my Garmin going: it only works with the lithium batteries (lesson learned the hard way)


  2. Tim,

    Great race report and congrats on the finish. I too suffered through the last third of the race but was able to persevere to the finish. Sorry I didn't get a chance to meet you at Camp Bethel, maybe next year.

    Semper Fi,
    Michael Huff