Think of those old NFL films with the music. It was a frigid, cloudy day on the field of the Frozen Tun----. O.K. really.
Leaving Wisconsin with a foot of snow and temperatures in the teens, I figured I’d be ready for any weather Hellgate would have to offer. This being my forth trip to Hellgate, every year the weather has been different. Snow and ice the first year, frigid cold the next, and then the third year, just about perfect, even the stream crossings were low enough to cross without getting wet.
Now for this year. With rain from Kentucky all the way to Camp Bethel, the race headquarters in Virginia, it seemed like it was going to be a cold wet one. No worries, I brought just about all the running gear that I have expecting anything.
After a restless Thursday night Friday comes along and it turns into a long wait around until we leave for the start at 11pm with a race start of 12:01 a.m. We were able to fill the day trading stories with runners filing in throughout the day and helping David Horton mark the last 3 mile stretch of the course to the finish.
Friday night came with the pre-race dinner and meeting afterward. One of the things that makes this race different than others is getting to the start. The course is a point to point and because we can’t keep cars at the start all day, everyone needs to find a ride from the people that are there but not doing the race. Kind of interesting to watch, first getting people to drive paired up with people doing the race. Almost forgot to raise my to get a ride because I was to busy watching this whole thing.
Info given out, ride taken care of, it was time to get my gear together, lie down in a bunk and relax for the race. (Camp Bethel offers rooms with bunk beds in them if we wanted to stay, which is where we stayed for the weekend). Time get up and finish getting ready to go. Getting ready was like getting ready for a WWE cage match. Ankle support and duct tape on the left ankle, knee strap on the right knee, Vaseline in unmentionable areas, gloves, hat, etc.
The convoy to the start is something fun to watch as well. 100 racers carpooling to the same race. 34 degrees at race start, definitely shorts weather.
12:01a.m. and the race begins. Into the darkness we go with headlights on. The first 3 miles are fairly casual but because of the rain we brought with us the stream crossings were deep and moving. The biggest of the streams being calf high. Mighty chilly on bare legs. Through the woods onto some Jeep roads. These road sections can be 1 to 3 miles, sometimes up sometimes down and because the full moon was the biggest and brightest it’s been in years (so they say) we were able to do these sections without the use of lights, which was pretty cool. And cool it got the higher we went. Probably in the 20s and colder, which made me wish I had used a different clothing selection. Ever try to use a tree and you can’t move your fingers because there frozen?
The first couple of aid stations were kind just a quick walk through, water only. The dark hours went well. Was climbing well and was with a group or close to someone the whole time. Was even with some of the same people in the same areas as last year. Kinda weird. Thankfully the trail isn’t real technical, and that let me check out some of the city lights and the bright night sky in the higher areas. Daylight comes and it’s at the same aid station as last year. Weird again. Resupply and off we go. Up, up, up, cold, cold, freezing, some single track, and down, down, down we go again. Some of the course gets technical with rocks, leaves, leaves on top of rocks, and more water.
Everything was going well until aid station 7 (52ish miles). Maybe from the cold but the legs didn’t want to move much any more. Was still able to eat without stomach issues, just no legs. The section between aid 8 and 9 is called the Never Ending section, with good reason. They say its 6 miles, must be Horton miles. Took forever to get through it. Long grinds up with painful downs, some big rocky areas thrown in.
Finally to aid station 9 and the last one before the finish. Another 6ish miles, 3 mile up with a long 3 miles down into Camp Bethel. As much as I wanted to run those last 3 miles the legs just weren’t doing it. Had 4-5 people pass me in that last part. Less than a mile to go and I look back to see if anyone else is coming up on me. Damn, 2 guys coming in the distance.
With one last effort not to get past I pick up the pace and get to the finish with Horton coming out yelling and screaming, egging me on to the line. I really like that guy. Finally, I’m done, 16 hrs 54 mins. I find Robert and talk about his 14:34:04 finish. He didn’t have any major issues and was happy with his 21st overall finish. He even got a nice trophy for his 5 completed Hellgates. Congratulations all around.
Time to find a chair before I attempt to clean up and get some food. It’s not long before I’m falling asleep eating a sandwich. Not even going to worry about packing up. I’m going to bed.