Well, this is Hellgate. I got this elevation chart from someone, I don't remember where but I like it. So whoever made it, good job. Not sure what the yellow dots are on the course though, they don't seem to match up with every aid station.
It's an interesting race and I'm more than happy I came back this year for it. I'm even more happy that this year I trained a little bit for it as opposed to thinking "eh, it's just a 100k." This race is the brain child of course masterminds Dr. David Horton and Clark Zealand. And what an awful disgusting child this thing turned out to be. And while it is a nasty course (in every sense of the word), I loved every second of it...well, almost every second.
This year was the 10th year of the race. And after finishing it for the first time, I humbly take my hat off to the gruesome group of masochists who have finished that race for their 10th finish.
That being said, this year there were also quite a few fast guys expected to do well. Eric Grossman, the previous course record holder was going to be racing and, according to Horton, trying to break 11 hours. Which is unreal for this course. With Eric in the race, along with several local (and not so local speed demons such as Alister Gardner, and Troy Shellhamer) and previous winners and top 3 races like Frank Gonzalez, Darryl Smith and Chris Reed, and Keith Knipling it was going to be a fast year...especially with the unseasonably warm temperatures.
The race starts at 12:01 am on December 8th. And just like I expected, about 15-20 guys bolted from the start. Normally I would've tried to keep up with them, but that day, I just relaxed and wanted to run the way I wanted to run. I just stayed in my own head, didn't count people in front of me, didn't worry about a thing. I just breathed. Because it was dark, my world was a small section of woods. There were no visual distractions. I smelled dead leaves and damp ground. On the :30 minute mark, I smelled apple cinnamon before I took a quick gulp of apple cinnamon Hammer Gel. Before I knew it we had arrived at the first aid station and began the first ~3 mile climb up the gravel road to the second aid station.
A sizable pack ran up ahead and they were charging. I let them go and made myself a part of the 10 ft diameter bubble that I could see. I smelled more dead leaves and the occasional breeze that smelled unseasonably sweet. Another :30 minutes, and more apple cinnamon. I kept running up the first climb not paying attention to anything in particular. Just running and smelling. Up the switchbacks I could glance and see the pack up ahead still 10 or so deep with a few stragglers off the back who maybe had been a little ambitious to try to stay up with Grossman and the others. Behind me there was a long string of LED lights bobbing along, some slower than others: walking. I never let myself feel uncomfortable. I glanced up and saw the millions of stars. I don't get that in Fairfax.
Before I could ask, where's the aid station, I had arrived. I saw my friend, Tara who was crewing for me, switched my gel flask, and hand bottle and kept running. Less than 10 seconds. She had only crewed for one other person, but she was very efficient. From there, I started running down a single track rocky trail. I was in heaven. I quickly caught up to two people as we entered the cloud. The clouds seemed to be caught in the valleys because as we ran down, it got progressively foggier. The visibility was under 15 feet, then again, it wasn't much more than that anyway. I still never let myself get uncomfortable, and never stopped running.
Shortly after the 3rd aid station I came across someone I knew was much faster and thought maybe I should slow down, but didn't feel like I was pushing, so I didn't slow down. I smelled more dead leaves and smelled cold water. I heard the stream/creek running next to the road we were all running up and was happy we didn't have to get our feet wet this year if we didn't have to. My friend Darryl caught up after a quick bathroom break and we had a rather enjoyable time running up the road. I smelled a campfire about 5 minutes before we arrived at the 3rd aid station, Camping gap. Soon after, I left Darryl and kept running. I didn't know what was going on, but I didn't feel like I was putting very much effort into this race so far.
They moved the third aid station up a little bit lengthening the already long section going to Headforemost Mountain. I ate some potatoes with salt at the aid station thinking it would be good to get something besides gel in my stomach, but soon after the aid station, I lost them. No harm no foul, I kept running. I never expected the next aid station to come, I just kept going and kept going, in and out of the clouds. Every now and then a sweet smelling warm breeze would arrive and I'd pull up the sleeves on my Smartwool baselayer and be quite comfortable. Then, I'd descend another mountain, get cool, smell more dead leaves, enter another cloud, pull the sleeves down and still be very comfortable.
Every now and then, I'd take a physical inventory of all my systems. Feet, comfy and issue free like normal, knees, hips, back, shoulders, neck, head, how's my form, how's my heart rate, am I tired, is it time to eat, when's the last time I took a sip of something? Everything checked out, so on I ran.
Headforemost mountain passed, and I caught someone else. While running down a grassy fire road soon after passing my friend Frank, I stopped briefly to irrigate the side of the mountain. I got very confused for a second and forgot whether I was running down or up at the time. So I started running up. It was only a minute or two until Frank came barreling down the trail in normal "Frank the Tank" fashion. "Patrick, what're you doing? Everything okay?" After he assured me he was going the right way, I followed suit and descended into Jennings Creek.
Jennings Creek past, and I turned down warm eggs, sausage, and bacon. I kept running. The climb up to Little Cove mountain last year was quite literally a death march. My vision was blurry, my legs would barely walk, and I was more focused on not passing out so I could just get to the aid station to drop out properly rather than having some random car scrape me off the road or having the next racer drag me up to the top.
Little Cove Mountain came soon after smelling the camp fire and unlike last year, it was dark and I didn't feel like I was going to die; nor did I want to. This was the first time I let Tara and Brian tell me what place I was in. 4th. Grossman and Shellhamer were 15 minutes up, and I didn't honestly think I could catch them, but to know that they were only 15 minutes up at mile 34 or 37 (I'm not sure anyone actually knows) felt pretty good. With fresh batteries I headed into the next rocky section.
About 40 minutes after Little Cove, the sun came up. I was up on a ridge and it was all I could do to not stop and just stare at the scenery and beauty that was unveiling itself minute by minute. I could see the neighboring peaks and ridges but no valleys. They were shrouded in a very inviting-looking pillow of clouds. The sun cast a shadow on the ridges accentuating their steep inclines and the ruggedness to this region of Virginia was undeniable at this point. I missed this last year.
I was taking glances, wishing I had iguana eyes so I could focus on the trail and the scenery at the same time. Then I slammed the ground hard. Oh, it felt magical not to be running even if just for a second. I took a deep breath and thought for a minute if I could just take a quick little nap. Then I remembered it was a race and got up and kept running.
Then came the rocks. I've run on rocks before. These rocks were different; they were sharp and pointy. I've run on sharp and pointy rocks before. But these rocks were different; they weren't attached to the ground and rolled when I stepped on them. I've run on sharp and pointy rocks that rolled when I stepped on them. But these rocks were covered in about a foot and a half of leaves that hid the sharp and pointy rocks that rolled when you stepped on them so even if you knew what you were doing, running this section sober would be no different than going down it blind folded after doing several shots of moonshine. It wasn't a question of if you'd turn an ankle and strain a knee, it was whether or not you'd break an ankle and tear every ligament in your knees. David Horton is a horrible horrible man!
So horrible in fact, I may or may not have been compelled to strangle him when I saw him at the next aid station. Regardless, at Bearwallow gap, I picked up Brian, my pacer and on we went. I was tired now. I hadn't done much walking up to that point but I may have walked a bit more from here on in. I still just tried to run the run-able sections and do my best on the others. The scenery continued to be breathtaking but my frustration grew as I became more tired. Every bend in the trail looked like it could lead to the aid station, at Bobblett's gap and after a long while, we did. I changed my shirt and kept moving. We only had the long section (called the "forever section") into Day Creek and then one more sizable climb, and a long descent into the finish.
The forever section lived up to its name. Though, I think I figured out why. Everything looks the same!! Everything! The only defining characteristic of this part of the race is that it's FOREVER! There's no big defining climb! There's no big defining descent, just constant up, down, up, down! But, alas, during this section Chris Reed caught me. He looked fresh. He sort of hopped along the course like a wild rabbit. It was poetry in motion. I was jealous.
Brian and I rolled into Day Creek and began the final climb. I ran what I could, hiked what I had to, but all in all I think the climb went well. It's somewhere between a 2.5 and a 3 mile climb and we did it in 32 minutes. From there, we ran down. My knee hadn't bothered me all race, but I think we may have been a little excited for the finish and started bombing the descent because my left knee started aching. It stopped as soon as I finished, and hasn't hurt since, so I think I'm in the clear.
We rolled into the finish line and the clock read 11:41:30 and I finished in 5th place. In every other year that time would've been good enough for top three, and a few years good enough for first. But there was some good competition this year.
This is the quaint finish line - Great group of people, great race, great atmosphere. Great day.
Thank you Tara and Brian for your excellent crewing!
Also, if you could say a prayer for Dr. Horton, he has bypass surgery today. Hard to believe someone with his athletic background could need it but he does.