Sunday, December 9, 2007
Hellgate 100k 2007: Leaves, lessons, and authenticity in life!
This is Sophie and I several hours before the start of the run...
(for the record: contrary to some people believing otherwise, the Hellgate 100k is named after Hellgate Creek near Natural Bridge Station, VA where the run starts!)
After finishing up David Horton’s epic Hellgate yesterday afternoon many of us shared stories, ideas and questions with one another while we were hanging out at the finish line. Responding to, “What was your time?” “What’d you think of the leaves?” were easy. The question that stumped me, if only for a second was, “Did you have fun?”
I shook my head and said quietly, “no”. Hellgate 2007 was many things for me yesterday: it was humbling, difficult, joyful, frustrating, celebratory and life affirming, but honestly, not fun. And not being fun is not a bad thing.
Later while talking with my mom on the phone, I came up with the analogy of going to church. (I was raised Catholic and my mom attends every day. She doesn’t describe church as “fun” yet attendance, practicing the rituals, celebrating God and life is an integral part of her life and essential to who she is.) Hellgate 2007 was like that for me-an adventure and interaction with life that helps sustain the core of who I am.
This was my 3rd running of Hellgate. I ran the inaugural in 2003 and again in 2004. My hamstring injury and issues kept me out in ’05 and ’06. I entered again because I could. I think Hellgate is one of the best celebrations of the human spirit that I have experienced. Not only the spirit of the runners but all the generous aid station workers, many whom are Liberty University students who give up their study and social time, and personal comfort in order to help David Horton and the runners. I am drawn to Hellgate because it is tough and different and special (ok, some might say weird-but that’s another comment line all together!) And I like Hellgate because I am forced to stay in the moment the entire time I am out there (except for a few later miles in yesterdays run…). I live so much of my life trying to “get things done” and fit more activities in. I constantly multitask. Yesterday I was incapable of multitasking-I had one thing to do-run the course…so it was sort of a vacation from my normal life. (Even other ultra marathons haven’t demanded the same single-mindedness given to Hellgate this year).
I didn’t train, per say for this race. I’d run 16 ultra’s so far this year with Iron Mountain 50, Triple Lakes 40, Mountain Masochist 50 and most recently JFK 50 in the months preceding Hellgate. Instead of training for it-I rested for it! I ran enough to keep myself “almost sane” during the last few weeks and purposely ran in the cold and dark to remind myself what it like to be in those conditions. As is my usual style I choose a goal for this race. Since I had been feeling good running much of this fall I decided (though I didn’t share my thoughts with more than 3 people) that I wanted to break 13 hours. Ambitious considering the current CR 13:01ish) was set by Krissy Moehl last year and my best time on the course was 13:40ish in 2004. Yet I secretly thought I could do it.
LAST MINUTE DECISIONS
In the days leading up to Hellgate I became distracted. Usually racing doesn’t interfere with my work except when I have to flex a day for race travel. In the days leading up to Hellgate I checked the weather, packed and unpacked, read race reports, checked the weather again. Nerves? Yes! Preoccupied? Yes!
Doug Blackford (who finished Hellgate in ’05 and ‘06) and I drove up together, anticipating we could help keep each other awake and alive during the 3 hour drive home after the race.
During the race check in there was the usual happy reunioning with runners, remembering of horror stories and this year the questions that made their rounds most was: shorts or tights? And to yak trax or screw? (screws in bottom of shoes). There was conflicting weather and road condition reports. In the end, I decided to put some screws in the bottom of my Continental Divides. I’d used yak trax in the past, yet this would be my first time with screws. So, courtesy of Serge Arbona I put 9 screws in the bottom of each shoe. There was some icy conditions on the dirt roads and because since my ’05 hammie injury I have become more aware of the consequences of slipping. What I failed to consider, when putting the screws in, that they would prevent me from slipping on ice-and promote slipping on rocks! Usually technical running-including rocks is strength of mine-by putting screws in my shoes I unknowingly added just another Hellgate challenge!
I attired myself in shorts, tank top, long sleeve shirt, Houdini jacket, warm hat and gloves and mittens and a Petzel headlamp. In my borrowed Nathan Intensity women’s hydration pack (which I tried for the 1st time-courtesy of Bethany Patterson) I carried my extra light, cliff blocks and shots, Nuun tablets and batteries. Little did I know that 4 miles into the run I would remove my jacket, hat and mittens and stuff them into the cool little pack. I was warm!
AT 11:55pm all the runners gathered at the gate (yes the course really does have a gate as an entry way!) We all sung the National Anthem, jumped up and down from the chill and excitement and with relief at 12:01am, scurried away towards our experiences!
The night went quickly for me. It was very dark. My world was the patch of illuminated trail in front of me. Though I chatted briefly with Steven Core and Jeremy Ramsey, I mostly spent night by myself-yet did have several later encounters with fast Jeremy who was running his 2nd ultra and slowed by “pit stop” issues early on… I found that in order to run as efficiently as I would need to hit the 13-hour mark, I had to not be distracted from running. So I ran and ran and ran (except for a tiny bit of walking somewhere around Floyd’s Field). Contrary to what some people say, I find the nighttime part of this course the easiest to run. It is not technical and the inclines are fairly mild…the 2nd half of the course I think is harder to run-with more rocks and leaves and steeper single-track climbs. I came into Jennings Creek at about 5:35am and ate soup, PB&J square while my hydration bladder was filled up. Sarah Johnson walked me out of the aid station, cheering me on as I drank my soup. When I took my 1st running step I realized I hadn’t checked the bladder screw and it wasn’t put on correctly and I soaked myself with half the water from my pack. Oh what a reminder! -I should have checked the bag before I put in on! The same thing happened during a previous Hellgate. I don’t blame the aid station volunteer one single bit-it is up to me to check…but I didn’t. Even though it wasn’t really cold out, I was grateful that the next several miles were uphill and I would warm quickly! The section from Aid Station 5 to 6 sped by. I had brief mini hallucinations of seeing laundry hanging in the trees and many furry kittens in the leaves on the side of the dirt roads and I got to see a beautiful (real) sunrise running along Cove Mountain. I turned my headlamp off. At this point I was running well, feeling positive and anticipating the single track and leaves and rocks.
VERY soon I got my leaves and rocks. This is where I learned screws and rocks don’t mix and after many attempts at running and falling, I succumbed to shuffling through the leaves, making lots of whooshing sounds as I kicked through them. Though I slowed in this section, I still was targeting a 13-hour finish. In the midst of this section I was psyched to see Jeremy looking great as he bounded over the rocks and leaves-he’d come back to life!!! At AS #7 I met my drop bag and David and another very helpful person assisted me changing my shoes, getting tomato soup, switching my pack for a handheld bottle and helping me out of the aid station. David asked me if I knew the current CR (I am sure he knew full well I did!)…I blurted: “13:01 and something”. He yelled, “Can you do this “in 3 hours and 45 minutes?” “I’ll do my best”, was my hurried response.
This next section was physically the hardest for me. After a mile or so in, I tripped and banged my already bruised left knee. It turned red and I got tears. At first I thought I’d really hurt myself-yet after several minutes of experimental limping discovered I was okay-just shaken up and sore. I slowed down a bit more and came through the friendly aid station #8 knowing I had my work cut out to reach my very challenging goal of sub 13:01. So I ran downhill-encumbered some by the knee-but not so much. I kept looking at my watch as I slogged and shuffled and ran and through this endless section. I got bummed because I was taking so long and the trail wouldn’t end. I got disappointed that I wasn’t there (to the aid station) yet. I felt fairly certain if I could reach the last aid station by 11:50am I could reach my goal. Then I thought 11:55. Then I thought-well-maybe by noon. It didn’t happen. Both my body and mind slowed me down. My “tribe members”(voices in my head) were at war during this section. “Oh just give up your goal it is too hard”. “You don’t have enough time” “You do have enough time!” “You are greedy going after a CR!” “You can do this in more time and still have a great day”. By the time I ultimately reached AS #9 it was 12:22ish. I hiked and ran (plodded) up the hill to the parkway as my knee would allow ran the descent-I cried a little on the way down hill-disappointed with my failure to achieve my goal, a little afraid I’d messed up my knee. At this point I knew I was going to be the first female finisher and that I would be in the top 10 overall (I like seeing women represented that way). I was thinking on my way down that I didn’t want to share my disappointment-after all I would have PR, a win and nothing bad (except for a couple lessons) happened out there. I don’t want to seem like a snob. My introspection abruptly stopped with the arrival of David Horton as his truck.
Charging up the hill like the Lone Ranger on Trigger, David, Andrew (the photographer), and another person I didn’t know approached in David’s truck. Andrew was in the back with his camera and David would drive and Andrew yell commands. David would stop short and Andrew be thrown around the back of the truck. Andrew shot many pictures of me. (If any come out as a result of the bouncing around and stop and go driving I’ll be surprised). This went on for the whole decent from the National Forest. With a mile left to go, David looks at his watch and shouts, “let’s see how fast you can run this last mile!”
There is nothing like being provoked by a challenge to make me instantly respond! The little gang told me to drop my gloves, extra clothes and water bottle and get going. So I did. I continued to be entertained with them taking pictures, yet was pretty focused on running hard. I think the last mile took around 7:20. The whole Hellgate took me 13:26:25. I was relieved to be “home.”
The efforts of the last mile served me by helping me wipe away my disappointment and completely drain myself. The best way to describe how I felt was to think of an old stuffed animal that you hugged so much that the stuffing was lumpy and fur matted and eyes scratched up and it was dull with dirt. I felt ratty and worn out and happy and relieved and thrilled seconds later when I learned of Aaron’s (Schwartzbard’s) CR!
After a shower and light meal of veggie soup supplied by Nancy Horton I settled back with my water and Nuun and swapped stories with other runners. I think I fell asleep standing up a couple of times. It was warm enough to sit outside and cheer other runners in. Many people came to the finish line looking like floppy stuffed animals. Bethany Patterson really touched me with her finish. Kerry, Rebbecah, Sophie and myself were sitting in the grass when she came in. She went blind last year due to the cold and had to drop. This year she experiened milder symptoms yet although she had to slow down, she did not stop. She came to the finish line emotional, yet so tough. What an incredible combination. As the 5 of us sat there getting our picture taken, I felt very proud to be associated with these fine, incredible women!
I think I could write pages about the people and emotions I experienced and interacted with yesterday. Hellgate was way more than a race for me this time around. Although not everyone runs together and every runner has their own successes and disappointments there is an element of passion and shared experience and rawness/authenticity of life that I have felt with no other ultra. The experience of fun in all of life is not essential-yet the authentic, genuine living and sharing of life to the core is!
Thank you my friends.