Scott and I made the 10 hour drive down to Hellgate again this year. 2013 was the last time I ran the race; that was the snow/freezing rain year. I felt I could better my time on the course and I love spending time with Dave Horton and the many cool people who show up to run his races.
I am lucky that Scott is such a strong driver. We left very early Friday morning, driving most of the day. After a few stops to stretch, eat, and for Scott to ride his bike; we got to Camp Bethel in time for the bib pickup and dinner. We were happy to visit with some people we had not seen in a long time; Sheryl Maun, Sheryl Wheeler, Zsuzsanna Carlson, Jordan Chang and some friends from home; Jerry Turk, Dan Broom, Sarah and Scott Slater, and Brian and Amy Rusiecki. We even made a new friend, Mike Siudy.
Pre-race meeting was a blast with a lot of references to pooping. “Poop here!” Dave repeated. He wanted to be sure people remembered to use the bathroom before leaving the camp, and not to go at the trailhead where we would be driving to in a couple hours. Scott and I retired to our squeaky bunks to each get some shut eye for an hour and a half. Some people choose to stay up. I can never decide if it’s better to sleep a bit, or not at all.
At 10:50pm everyone was to be in their cars ready. We caravanned to the Hellgate trailhead and waited there in our heated cars for Horton’s beckon. The temperature at that point was about 20 degrees F. When it was 12:01am Horton yelled Hellgate and we were off. I focused on being conservative and got into a groove with the others around me. In his pre-race speech, Horton warned there would be two water crossing before aid station 1 and to not bother trying to stay dry. Really??? This worried me a bit since I have trouble with the cold in my extremities. Well, he was right. There was no way to avoid wet feet, so I embraced the challenge, but slipped on a rock in the process, and dunked my right hand in the water. Luckily I already had chemical heaters inside my mittens, so my hand stayed warm even though the mitten was frozen stiff! We had a huge dirt road and wooded climb after aid station 1. The top was windy and in the single digits. Crew was allowed there. Scott was at the top of the hill. I switched my mitts out, changed into a bigger hydration pack and hurried out of there. I would not be able to see Scott again until aid station 4. I made some great decisions with my attire and was doing well with the cold. I wore a pair of winter fleece tights and a heat reflective jacket from Athleta, a thermal Patagonia top, fleece hat, Darn Tough socks and Outdoor Research mittens. I don’t remember much between aid stations 2 and 3 or even 3 and 4, except a long downhill of switchbacks with a steep dirt road uphill at the end. At aid station 4, I decided to change my top to a thicker thermal. My jacket was working great and my legs felt good. I did add another layer on my hands and a Buff around my neck too. I thought I might change my socks and shoes but quickly realized that my laces were frozen and could not be untied without a lot of work. So, we skipped that. I took in a good amount of food here. It was the coldest part of the night at around 4am. Somewhere around 8 degrees F. Cheese pierogis and veggie broth with white rice were my breakfast. My energy bars were frozen solid. Luckily I was still about to eat them without breaking my teeth.
The next section was a lot of old logging roads that were grassed over, some singletrack and some dirt roads. At one point, I noticed a black and white object on the ground in front of me. I thought it might be a glove someone dropped but then it moved. It was a baby skunk! A jolt of fear pulsed through me but quickly dissipated to admiring its cuteness. The sky was so clear at a couple points, that I turned off my lights and looked up at the stars. They were spectacular! I was very happy with my UltrAspire Lumen 600 waist belt. It’s amazing beam of light made it very easy to see the trail ahead. I wore a headlamp for back up but only turned it on when I wanted to push on the downhill because it added another angle of light. Popping out into aid station 5, I was feeling pretty good. Three years ago, the next section was my hardest. I walked a lot and was passed by many people. I was determined for that not to happen this year. I felt mostly good through lots of climbing and descending to aid station 6 and with the sun shining bright, it was somewhat invigorating. I made it to aid station 7 in a much better state than three years ago. I decided to change my shoes. Since my feet thawed out I noticed a few sore spots on my toes. The laces were still frozen so we had to unthaw them with hot water. That worked great and I had new socks and shoes on in no time. I had less than twenty miles to go, but this part of the course had a lot of side-hilling. The leaves were piled knee high in many places with loose rocks hidden underneath, ready to twist your ankle at every step. The trail kept weaving along the side of the mountain; in and out, in and out; it was maddening. I whimpered many times as I wanted to move faster but couldn’t, either because my legs were tired, or because of the hidden ankle twisters. I was also craving some company but never really found anyone that I was in sync with. There was one gentleman that I would see at every aid station but when there was a hill he would climb away from me. Scott met me at two more aid stations to change my pack and to give me encouragement. When I hit aid station 9, I was told it was about 3 miles up and 3 miles down to the finish. I focused on moving as fast as I could go. Being uphill, this was about a 3 mile per hour hiking pace. I kept pushing. I had been hoping for 15 hours but that time had passed. Now I had the desire to, at the very least, beat my previous time. At the top of the climb I had to cross a road but first had to pause and let a car pass. They gave me a little beep….I am sure that I looked a bit “out of it” and they did not want me to get hit. It was all downhill from there. I turned off my pain receptors and started running. Pushing the pace, I could feel my right big toe throb with every foot strike. Not too long down the trail, I passed the gentleman from Chile, and then Scott showed up on his bike. He cheered for me as the trail turned to dirt road. I passed the gentleman from Japan. I pushed harder to reach Camp Bethel. The time was slipping away. I turned the corner to run up the driveway to the finish, following the ribbons in. I crossed the line on 16:00:29, just shy of getting in under 16 hours but exactly 3 minutes faster than three years ago.
That big toe had the largest blood blister that I have ever had. I think it was due to having a frozen shoe and sock, since I never get blisters. My quads were trashed from pushing so hard on the downhill at the end of the race, but my heart was full—I was elated that I endured the freezing cold and long climbs to finish such an epic race for a second time!
After top 5 woman received their prizes I was awarded first “Old Lady” coming in 8th woman overall. I was given a Patagonia Nano Puff Air vest to wear with pride.