First, I want to thank David Horton and Clark Zealand for putting on six great races this year. And, what an outstanding group of volunteers they had at each one. Special thanks for the awesome Hellgate volunteers standing around in frigid temperatures!!
12/11/09 – Off to Camp Bethel in Fincastle, VA for the Hellgate 100k which is the final race in the Beast Series! Some GPS readings have this race at 66.6 miles, so let’s go with that. Fitting huh? Here’s a course profile that I stole from Alisa that I think originated with Keith:
I’ve been more worried about this one than all five of the others; yes, even Grindstone. So much that I somewhat “sacrificed” any chance at a great Mountain Masochist 50 five weeks earlier. I kept “throwing training miles” at Hellgate and paid for it with an awful first half of that race. But, I did a real taper for this one. The Hellgate course is challenging enough before you add in a 12:01 AM start in the middle of December with tight cutoffs. Yeah, it can be very cold in those mountains and the forecast seemed to drop every day we discussed it the preceding week. Looks like we’re flirting with single digits and light wind on top.
I hate being cold. But, no matter how many times I do it, I seem to forget how much cold I can deal with when I’m running. So, of course, I wore all kinds of stuff including a neck warmer and the highly recommended wrap around glasses to avoid “Hellgate Eyes”. People have had their corneas freeze at this thing and being able to see seems beneficial… We all hop in vans/cars and head to the start. 12/12 at 12:01 and we’re off on a typical fire road that we’ve seen in a few of these races. Of course it wasn’t 15 minutes until I needed to lose the neck warmer. That means pulling off the mittens, messing with the iPod (I’ve learned I like the iPod for night sections.), pulling off the hat, and trying to get everything back on while running. It’s about this time Kam, Jaime and I settle into the race. We all ran early miles together at Grindstone and MMTR as well.
The water crossing! It’s unavoidable at around 3 miles. This one’s knee deep and there are people attempting to put on trash bags over their legs. We just blast right through it. There had been a lot of snow then rain the previous week. Just the one big water crossing that everybody talks about? Nope, I think I counted 9. However, my wet feet were never an issue the entire race. Gotta love Drymax Trail Socks! We pop through the aid station then head up a dirt/gravel road…and up…and up…and see about 100 lights above and below me. I really don’t remember a whole lot of detail about the early night sections of the race which is unusual; I do remember lots of climbing, and sections of icy road. I just kept trying to make sure I’d eat near frozen gels and chews, and stay hydrated. Just keep moving and spend very little time at any of the aid stations. I did have to put the hydration pack hose under my jacket to keep it from freezing. I also remember my running pants smacking me in the lower legs because they’d freeze almost instantly after the water crossings.
At Camping Gap (AS – 3) I left Kam (Jaime took off a bit earlier.) and kept on going up. Ah, this is what I’ve been looking forward to! We’re now on a piece of the Promise Land 50k+ course which is race #3 in the series. That’s my favorite type of course with lots of climbing and a nice mix of trails including “cruisey” grassy fire roads and single track. This was a fire road section. The first mile or two was gently downhill and covered in a few inches of snow. It was awesome!! I ran a whole bunch of this section until I got to some tricky single track and more climbing. Eventually we’re back on gravel road heading up to Headforemost (AS – 4) and the highest point on the course. Near the top I look to the left and see the lights of Lynchburg and a sliver of the moon. It’s beautiful! There’s a lot of activity at this AS and it’s cold! I had my drop bag waiting with a fully chared iPod, but I didn’t feel like dealing with it. I had stashed the 1st iPod since the cold killed the battery extra fast. I just wanted off this mountain, avoided the bonfire and wasted no time getting out of there.
Down, down, down and soon the Sun started coming up! There’s a mix of nice, grassy fire roads and some tough single track. Eventually I’d pop out at Jennings Creek (AS – 5). This is the breakfast aid station. They offered me all kinds of stuff including sausage and quiche. Sounds awesome, but I avoid that, grab a handful of silver dollar pancakes and head off…and up…and up…and up. This gravel road seems to go on forever! Then down, down, down on a mix of fire roads, technical trail, I don’t remember…ha! Just keep moving and eventually I arrive at Little Cove Mountain (AS – 6) which, I think, was a group of energetic Horton students.
Off I go and things now start to turn ugly. This section is just awful. The single-track is anything but level and there are rocks, and rocks, and rocks. And, lots of hidden rocks under leaves. This is SLOW! Now I’m asking myself why in the world did I register for Massanutten, the “King” of rocky races?! Sophie snapped the next three pics while finishing her 5th Hellgate and her 1st sub 15! Now how do you expect me to run on this, which is appropriately named “The Devil Trail”?
Not only were the trails just awful in this section, I was just in a bad place in this part of the race. Not a good combo huh? But, it’s a long Ultra, this happens, and it will get better! So, just keep moving. Hey, there’s Mark! We run for a bit together and get to yet another water crossing. He rock hops. Me, I’m heading right through it and it’s almost knee deep. Why? My ankles had really started bothering me and I learned a quick remedy earlier this year. Just get ’em cold and wet and it’s like an instant fix. It helped. Eventually, after forever, we arrive at the 2nd big aid station, Bearwallow Gap (AS – 7). I was really looking forward to this. I need to change things up and get out of this funk. The drop bag! Do you remember what my “go to” is later in the race to help get me going? Yep, Nesquik! Please don’t be frozen! Ah, chugged it and had yet another brain freeze. That was at least the 3rd time this race as the water at the aid stations was slushy. I also got rid of the hat and mittens, and grabbed the iPod, stashed another Nesquik and some gels in the pack, and said bye to Clark for the 3rd time as he was hopping aid stations. Let’s go!
As horrible as that section was, the next was the complete opposite. A lot of people don’t like this section, but it’s my favorite. There are some steep climbs on single track. Steep as in heels not touching the ground, thinking about pushing on your quads steep. However, nothing out here compares to the Grindstone climbs, so it’s a non-issue. Once they’re done you are so rewarded with this:
…and this looking to your right:
But, there was one bit of an issue. I was flying down one of those cruisy sections above and what seemed almost instantly I’m off the trail. Rebekah was about 50 yards in front of me. Here’s her “recap”: “We were heading to Bobblets and all of a sudden I heard a crash behind me. When I turned around he had fallen all the way off the trail and was rolling down the mt. He grabbed a tree and stopped himself.” She yelled, I yell back, “I’m good!”, pull myself back up, took off, catch back up to her and laugh about it. I learned she had a bad fall on the ice earlier. We played the back-n-forth game the rest of the race. But, what tripped me? I actually caught a toe three more times in this section while going fast and never really saw anything. The only real explanation are the evil trail gnomes! 🙂
After several of those sections, we’re dumped out on another road and head up to Bobblets Gap where I see the awesome aid station captain “Mr. Kilt Man”. He gave me a nice “warning” before making sure I got everything I need. He said this next section is long, and it feels long. Uh oh! I head down another chewed up gravel/dirt road. Tangents? Not! This is one where you have to dance back and forth to find the more runnable side. It’s tough to get a steady pace. Eventually it smooths out and I’m still going down. “Long and feels long” huh? I know how this works. That couple+ miles was pretty easy so this means I’m going to pay big time. Now it’s up some steep switchbacks, lots of twisting, turning, up/down single track, some of it rocky, some not. This goes on forever. Later I find out this section has a nickname, the “Forever Section”. Yep!
Finally we reach the last aid station and I head up the very long climb with Rebekah and one of Horton’s students that joined her. Did I mention it’s long? But, we’ve now covered over 60 miles and the end isn’t far! I just want to be done, so I turn on the iPod and take off not far from the top. Then it’s all down to the end. In previous races this year the legs struggled with even the easiest downhills late race. This time I was able to just let ’em fly. Well, at least it felt that way on legs that had just covered 63 miles. I didn’t need my quads any more after this, so I ran the whole last few as hard as I could. Then, I make the last turn into camp, just a little more to go, then cross the finish with the clock at 17:05! Horton opens the door and announces to a room full of people that I had just finished the Beast! Then, he hands me this 15 or so lb monster:
Yep, almost a year’s worth of work was now complete! Soon they’ll send us a customized plate for the front. He also handed me a nifty Hellgate finishers half zip and a long sleeve, collared Beast Series Finisher’s shirt. Patagoinia of course. Very nice stuff!
I’m not sure there’s anything like Hellgate. Horton simply calls it “special”. It must be because how can something so brutally difficult be so amazing at the same time? Again, thanks to everybody associated with the Beast and congrats to my new “Beast” friends from this year. I’m sure I will continue to see many of you at future races. Also, thanks to all of those that supported me throughout this adventure…