66.6 miles – 13,500ft elevation gain
12:01am, December 11th 2011
Virginia’s Blue Ridge Mountains
You may have noticed a lack of recent race reports. This is due to the 5 months it took for a bad case of IT Band syndrome to heal up after my debut 100-miler back in June. Not knowing how long it would take the ITB to heal, but knowing that Hellgate fills quickly, I sent in my application and thankfully secured my slot. Then came the day when I was back to 100% and ready to start training… with Hellgate only 2 months away.
Normally giving myself 6+ months for an event like this, the next 2 months became an n=1 experiment on how much fitness could be gained in an extremely short period of time. I made some bold jumps in mileage but paid careful attention to the body so as not to overdo it. All seemed well and I was able to peak out at 60 miles/week for 3 weeks, along with some fairly regular Crossfit for strength and flexibility. Not perfect, but not too shabby given the circumstances.
Race day came and at 12:01am on a cold December night we headed out into the darkness of the snowy Virginia mountains for 66 miles of “fun”. The field was stacked with names like Karl Meltzer, Jeremy Ramsey, David Goggins, Keith Knipling, Chris Reed, Aaron Schwartzbard and many others who have put me to shame on more than one occasion. I knew from the get-go that a top 10 finish was out of the picture, which is quite unfortunate given the sweet Patagonia swag at Horton races, particularly this one, but nonetheless I had a daunting task ahead of me.
Rather than recounting details of the course, I’ll defer to Aaron and Keith‘s wonderfully detailed course descriptions. All you really need to know, though, is that 100k =62.2miles. Hellgate 100k = 66.6miles with 13,500ft elevation gain. We start at midnight, purposefully cross through streams when bridges are accessible, and there have been multiple accounts of runners suffering from corneal edema (i.e. temporarily losing their vision due to a freezing of the fluid buildup in their eyes). In other words, this race is awesome and right up my alley (totally serious).
The first 25 miles or so were rather uneventful. It was cold, the stream crossings were low so my feet remained dry early on (though the couple inches of snow quickly changed that), and I started off at a fairly fast pace since I was feeling good. I was in 6th place for a little while, but I knew that since I was racing with little training that this would soon fade. It was still nice while it lasted, knowing that I was racing one of the toughest 100k’s out there and ahead of Karl Meltzer and David Goggins.
Around mile 25 I started getting a sharp pain in the distal medial section of my quad, down near the knee and possibly my MCL. I considered dropping before things got worse, but after DNF’ing at Masochist one month prior (nothing physical, just tough to race when dealing with the loss of a friend/mentor) and having not started Hellgate last year due to not being healthy, I knew that I had to give it everything I had and get that DNF monster off my back. Onward…
My pace slowed significantly due to this pain and I started getting passed, first by runners I knew couldn’t be far behind (Jason Lantz, Jordan Chang, Harland Peele), but then by guys I had never seen before. I was now in a new group of runners that I don’t generally see in races. There is no faking it at Hellgate; you get put you in your place. As the pain worsened, so did the temptation to drop. It seemed like the smart thing to do, after all. Arriving at aid station #6 (mile 37ish) just after dawn, I whole-heartedly attempted to drop. Another 8 hours of running did not seem tangible given my current fitness and new potential injury. Unfortunately, my buddy Jaime was running the show and he would have none of it. “You can drop, but not at my aid station. Besides, we don’t even have any chairs. Keep going.” Crap. Onward…
After a long 8 mile stretch to the next aid station, the pain wasn’t getting any worse but I realized I had completed 2/3 of the race and I had invested a significant amount of time and miles to get where I was. A finish was now tangible, and although it would hurt and I’d possibly be worsening my new quad/knee pain, the pros outweighed the cons. Onward!
After a relentless 8 mile climb to the next aid station, I caught up with Jack Kurisky, a good VHTRC friend who always happens to be there when I need that extra encouragement to push myself, and we ran together for the remainder of the race. It was rough, and at many points I encouraged him to go on since he was clearly holding back to run with me, but like the dedicated friend he is, he stayed with me and kept me moving. During the “forever section” (it honestly feels like it lasts forever), Mario Raymond came flying by like a bat out of hell. I honestly have no idea how he consistently does this, but it’s not the first time he’s come blazing past me late in a race. I tried to keep up with him for all of 30 seconds then quickly realized that was a stupid move.
At the last aid station, Jack and I passed Goggins who was heading back to his car. Shawn, my borrowed crew from Mario, informed me that Goggins had twisted his ankle just prior to making his way in and he needed to do some adjusting before moving on. Bummer, but I now had a legitimate chance at being able to say I beat Goggins, someone who is known for being one of the toughest ultrarunners out there. Yes, he was injured and not performing at his best, but neither was I so it’s a legitimate claim.
With 3 miles of climbing and 3 miles of descent to the finish, Jack and I kicked it into high gear, constantly looking over our shoulders so as not get passed. As we crested the mountain, we realized a sub-14 hour finish would be possible if we were able to maintain 7:30’s to the finish. Possible? Yes. Probable? No. Still, we tried…
We pushed hard and maintained closed to 7:30’s, but with one mile to go I realized I had miscalculated the mileage and sub-14 was out of the picture. We entered Camp Bethel and veered our way to the back. The finish line came in sight, and as we got closer a few folks made their way out into the cold to cheer us on. We crossed the finish line together, finishing in 14:03:41 and tied for 20th place.
Many thanks to Jack, for sticking by my side and pushing me to run when I wanted to stop; Horton, for putting on such a phenomenal race that I will surely be back for next year (adequately trained, too); Mario, for letting me borrow his crew-man Shawn; Shawn, for driving our butts to and from the race and crewing for multiple runners at once; Keith, for providing all the helpful advice needed to prepare for my first Hellgate and for taking this awesome picture of Best Blood; and Jaime, for not letting me quit at his aid station despite my best efforts. I finally got that DNF monster off my back, and after a few weeks of recovery I’ll be back for a solid 2011.
My first Hellgate… mission accomplished.