WWHD? What Would Helen Do! These four words became my mantra later in the day at Hellgate, and helped me get my mojo back.
Last year I was having a good race, but was starting to struggle in the second to last section (the infamous “forever” section). Helen Lavin popped up behind me at that point, took the lead, and helped pull me through. She was running very strong, including some of the uphills, and eventually pulled away, going on to win the women’s division.
Before the start this year I was joking with Helen about when she was going to catch me this time. She laughed and indicated that she wasn’t expecting to do as well this year, that she would be further behind me. My training had gone well, and I had hopes of bettering my time from last year, which was a PR for me on this course.
For the first half of the race everything seemed to be going well. I was a little behind my splits from last year, but wasn’t worried. Halfway between AS 5 & 6, just as daylight was beginning to filter in, things started to go down hill though. I’m still not sure why, but I was in a funk, and my paced slowed quite a bit. I didn’t feel like eating anything at AS 6, and just passed through it to start the hardest section of the course.
Being on a long, tough section didn’t help my spirits any, and so the funk just got deeper. I started to throw my own little pity party (it’s my party and I’ll cry if I want to), questioning everything about myself as a runner. Maybe I’m no good at ultras, why am I doing them, blah, blah, blah.
Approaching AS 7 helped a little, as the toughest part of the course was done. Getting some food down there also seemed to help, and so I started the long climb out of that AS to reach the zig-zag part of the course. This section cuts along the side of the mountains, curving in and out (over and over and over again) with some up and down. If you can get yourself moving, it’s possible to get in a good rhythm and make some time up here.
On the big climb up to AS 8, Chris, who was crewing for Helen was walking down, and he indicated that Helen was close by. Sure enough, as I neared the top of the climb, there was Helen just 50 yards behind me. After some good natured jawing, I yelled down to her that she was going to have to run the rest of this hill if she was going to catch me, and I took off running it in to AS 8.
There is a long, rough downhill after this AS until you hit the “forever” section, and I was able to let gravity do it’s job here. After turning back onto the single-track trail, I started thinking about how to get through this section. I thought about how Helen attacked it last year, even though she was hurting. I thought about how Helen wasn’t as prepared this year, but she was still working hard (and was the lead female runner!). If she was struggling, she didn’t let it show. Helen would just smile and keep laughing with that lovely Celtic lilt in her voice.
And so the mantra took shape: WWHD! Every obstacle in this section, every rock, root, or hill was an opportunity to ask what would Helen do here. She would run this hill, she would push this section, she would attack the trail. I completed this section faster than ever before, and approached AS 9 feeling like the runner I wanted to be.
From AS 9 to the finish is simple: 3 miles up, then 3.5 miles down; grind it all the way up, and then hold on to your undies going down. As I passed the 1-mile to go mark, another runner appeared ahead of me. As I got closer, I saw it was David Ruttum, a friend and former Wisconsinite (and winner of this years Old Dominion 100). So we fell in together and covered the last half-mile to the finish line, crossing in 13:48:28. This was a little slower than last year, but covering the last third of the course faster than ever before made for a sweet finish. Thanks Helen, and congrats on another win!
A staple of David Horton’s races is the “Best Blood” award. Over the years he’s seen a lot of blood, but this years HG100 had the distinction of having the “Best Blood Ever”. Dr. George Wortley put together a video of the race, and you can see the award winner near the end of his clip: