Last week and Hellgate 100k+ crew report
Last week I actually felt like I did some relatively noteworthy training. It had been a frustratingly inconsistent and boring stretch. To finally run more days than I didn’t and to feel sore and not injured was definitely a good feeling.
Tue – 4 miles easy
Wed – 4 miles easier
Thu – 12 miles with some hills on the treadmill
Fri – nada
Sat – 13 miles total, crewed for David Ploskonka at the Hellgate 100k, 7 and 6 mile sections I’ll talk about later
Sun – 18 miles at Umstead on the Company Mill trail
Total for week – 51 miles
As mentioned above, Friday/Saturday I crewed for David at the Hellgate 100k which took place in the mountains of Virginia (about a three hour drive for me from Durham). I had heard about David Horton’s races and wanted to experience it for myself, from a non-participant standpoint first. The cool thing about Hellgate is that it starts at 12:01 am on Saturday morning so everybody (racers, crews, and volunteers) is totally exhausted pretty much the whole time. Add to that the fact that the 100k is actually closer to 66 miles, with roughly 13,000′ of elevation gain and this is a monster of a race.
I drove straight from work Friday night, arriving at Camp Bethel around 7pm, just in time for a lasagna dinner. I met Hope, who I would be crewing with, and Henry, who is another Baltimore area runner. The three of them had driven down in Henry’s truck which would be our crew vehicle for the weekend. I ate too much, as usual, and then we went to the lodge for the pre-race briefing. Dr. Horton is hilarious. This was unlike any pre-race atmosphere or meeting I’d ever been to. There were so many runners there who I recognized from being a creepy internet race results/blog stalker. It was neat to see them in person, and later to see them running.
After the briefing we had an awkward break where nothing was planned. Mostly we were just waiting until 10:50 when we’d drive over to where the race would start. We laid around by the fireplace, joking a bit. Eventually we got our clothes on and made our way to the truck. The drive over was quite amusing, there was lots of joking about Hope and I abandoning our crew duties in favor of the Monster Maze in Natural Bridge. There was Henry’s Starbucks cappucino/chocolate Boost concoction that looked very much like diarrhea. The mood was quite light considering what lay ahead. I think that was a good thing though, no need for the runners to get too focused and stressed about the task at hand, I know I appreciated the joking that took place before Stone Cat.
The race started exactly at 12:01 am and after seeing them off, Hope and I made our way back to the truck and followed the caravan of crew vehicles to aid station 2, the first time we could meet David. We hung around talking to the volunteers and being pretty happy that it wasn’t much much colder. We didn’t have to wait too long after getting there, he came through in 15th place and looking good. And as he was off, so were we. The gap between AS 2 and AS 4 (the next time we could see him) was considerable and that was really our only opportunity to try to get some sleep. I might have dozed off for about an hour total while waiting this time, that would be the only sleep I got during the entire adventure. AS 4 was definitely the coldest spot for me, but I was given the job of holding a potato chip bag full of grilled cheese sandwiches by the fire so I kept pretty warm. David came through a few spots further back but still looking good.
The rest of the race followed a similar pattern. We’d drive to the next aid station along some back roads in the dark, I would consume chocolate, or a Boost shake, or some trail mix, mostly anything with some caffeine. Then we’d sit in the truck for a bit to keep warm, get out and wait a little bit for David to come through, give him some fresh gels and whatever else he needed and then see him off, rinse, repeat. The sun started to come up while we were at AS 6, which was at the top of a pretty long climb. A frontrunner or two dropped out when they got up here for various reasons. Horton made Hope (who is a singer) sing a duet of Oh Holy Night with one of his students who was working an aid station. We did not see a lunar eclipse, which may have been one of the only downers of the whole weekend.
After that we got to AS 7 and it was here that I would start to pace David to AS 8. I went to the bathroom, put on my Pure Grits, and just waited around for him to come through. Now that the sun was back out, I was feeling a little fresher than I had been overnight. When David came in, we jogged over to the aid table with him, I grabbed a Hammer gel for myself, and we were off. The first part of the section was a fairly significant climb to the top of a ridge. On our way up we caught a guy who had come in a few minutes ahead of David and looked like he was really struggling. Any stretch that was downhill or flattish we ran and at one point were cruising at a pretty good clip for an extended period of time. We hiked up the last stretch to the 8th AS where I passed David off to Hope, got back in the truck and drove by myself to the last AS. When I got there, things were significantly less crowded than the earlier spots. The race had been going on for nearly half a day at this point and the field was definitely stretched out (and exhausted I’m sure). I was actually caught a little by surprise when David and Hope came through, running very strong and up a few places from earlier in the race. In fact, David was now in the top 10 for men and 12th overall! The last section featured a long three miles up up up to the Blue Ridge Parkway and then down down down to the finish back at Camp Bethel. We were hiking very swiftly up the first part of the section and once again quickly caught up to another racer who had left the aid station a few minutes earlier. When we got to the top, David mentioned that we would just ease into the descent gradually. I said ok. Maybe it was my fault as pacer or maybe it was just gravity but we eased into things for about 30 seconds and after that it felt like we were absolutely bombing downhill. Towards the end of the section, as we got off the trail and onto a gravel road, I’m pretty sure we were running close to 6:00 flat. And he had already run nearly 65 miles at this point! Amazing. Horton was there to greet him at the finish, just over 13 hours after he started.
It didn’t hit me how exhausted I was until much later. After all, I hadn’t just run 66 miles in the mountains on no sleep. I knew David was an incredible runner already, but to see firsthand on such a difficult course that had some bad history for him, that was so inspirational. I was honored and thrilled to have played my small role in getting him to the finish line. From a more self-centered standpoint, I got exactly what I wanted out of crewing Hellgate — some experience on the other side of an ultra (which I will happily put in the karma bank), an exciting adventure in the mountains, and it reinvigorated my passion and desire for running, and specifically running these long distances and crazy races. I’m finally feeling unbroken and uninjured and the fire is burning again. The rest of December is going to be pretty awesome and next year is going to be even better.
Til next time, RUN HAPPY everyone!