Thursday, December 15, 2011

Hellgate 2011

My apologies for the lengthy post, but I wanted to include everybody and an additional  perspective (pacer & crew) rather than just a racer's report.

So quickly the scoop: Hellgate is another David Horton race but a special one. It has 66.6mi, 13800ft of elevation gain, a very tough course, unpredictable weather and it starts at 12:01am. Applicants are being deemed eligible by the RD.

Here the reports (in order of finishing times)

Mike Stadnisky’s Race Report:
Hellgate eyes are corneal e’
Run run run run run run run run run
Camping gap just before three,
Fun fun fun fun fun fun fun fun fun

Handhelds, synthetic apparel
Br br br br br br br br br
Devil Trail Mr Hyde Forest Road Jekyll,
Fur fur fur fur fur fur fur further

See the blaze and lights below us
Run run run run run run run run run
Foreever section try not to cuss
Fun fun fun fun fun fun fun fun fun

Bearwallow burger thing of pleasure,
Br br br br br br br br br
More than 62 by any measure,
Fur fur fur fur fur fur fur further

Shed your headlamp and your glasses,
Fa la la la la, la la la la.
Runners skinny with no @$$es,
Fa la la la la, la la la la.

Every CAT finished, now together
Run run run run run run run run run
No such thing as bad weather,
Done done done done done done done done done!

Entering the finish chute

Fo-real Report:   Ultrarunning is a team sport.

…was my conclusion upon finishing Hellgate 100K this weekend.  With preparation provided by the Skinny B runs; mentorship beforehand and first three hours pacing from Sophie; tireless support from Jamie, Drew, and Bob at the Aid Stations; critical pacing from 42.5 mi on from Drew; and finally, the sense of immense accomplishment that every CAT member finished the race. 

Getting down to brass tacks, I ran the first three hours easy with Sophie until I began moving a little quicker from 3a-5a following Camping Gap AS.  I felt pretty good coming into Headforemost AS, and executed a complete top layer and bottle change.  I hit my first real low minutes later, and in the quiet of the climb out of Headforemost came close to quitting – inexplicably, minutes later I blasted through the wall like a wrecking ball (Thank God and caffeine) and blasted into Jennings Creek AS and the race with myself was on.  The cheers from Bob and Drew here seriously lifted my spirits and with them the sun came up.  By Little Cove Mountain I realized that I wasn’t going to hit solid food until Bearwallow (BUMMER) but definitely provided the incentive to RUN. 

I hit Little Cove on or near my seed place (28th) at this point, and made a pact with myself to be careful on the Devil Trail and keep keep keep keep moving.  I rallied out of that aid station and rocked the next section of the course, and was pure focus coming into 42.5 miles where I knew I could finally get some real solid food (the expression on my face in one of Bob’s photos scares me with the intensity I’ve got).  Horton and I exchanged some banter about the course, and Drew and I headed out of there in a hurry (with hot meat in my hand and and ginger ale in my handheld!).

There are not enough expletives in the English language to describe how I felt about the "forever section," though I used every single one as Drew and I joked, talked, and then shut up power-hiked, running the downhills and flats where I could (I can still move?).  We hiked 3 miles up and ran the 3 miles downhill to the finish line at around 2p, during which I was nauseous from the pain in my ankles.  Luckily, I had nothing to vomit so I just told myself "KEEP RUNNING."  I shed my top layer so Drew and I could both brandish our CAT shirts because it was definitely time to REP MY CITY.
Horty tells Mike he should've run a bit harder to break 14 hours.
I finished in 14:03, 20th overall/2nd age group, and I was pretty emotional when I finally sat down – tears for each thought as I realized I completed my first 100K at Hellgate, thought about the hours of training with CAT + B’s, overwhelmed with the tremendous support throughout the race, and disoriented since I have found a new place in my head with new limits to push.
 Will I be back next year for it? 
It’s tempting.


Christian:
The last race of the season, a tough 66.6 mi through the mountains around Natural Bridge, VA , basically Hellgate was a trip. I must admit I was a little under-prepared, even though there are many race reports and excellent course descriptions out there I didn't educate myself much before (Sorry Horty, I'll usually do better.). It turns out the race itself is a very VERY good teacher. I enjoyed it a lot, it was painful but very rewarding.

Creek crossing at mile 3 or so
I felt a little off and not quite in the mood for a race but figured it's hanging out with friends in the mountains, so its gotta be fun. I did nurse a knee-injury (?!) from MMTR and inflamed my right foot (the ball, must have hit a rock wrong or something) with RICE and didn't put in much training mileage (20, 20, 30 mi per week) and no real long run. But I managed to get in some strength work and elliptical, which helped a lot I think.

It was kind of interesting as I didn't exactly know where I was during the race and if I had worse terrain ahead of me or not. I started at the end of the pack and a few hours later got my first lesson without realizing it. Of course when you start at midnight you are kind of tired already, so I figured I'll take gels and Perpetuem Solids with caffeine the first couple of hours. I realized that there was chance of crashing but thought it can't be that bad. Well it can be, I crashed after a couple of hours and got super tired.
Sleep-walking to Aid Station 4, mile 21
While walking the climbs I closed my eyes and imagined  how nice a warm bed would be.. - then a white bright light! a flash! A FLASH?? ..of a photographer at 3am in the morning on a steep climb woke me. I thought that's odd and went on, awake.

I kept going and got to chat with a couple of people: two were just talking about DNF's and "..that it's at all not that bad ... and if you don't feel like it just quit..." - that planted an idea in my head that I kept contemplating for the next hour or so but argued that I really wanted that finisher shirt (and don't disappoint myself nor the other CAT's who gave tireless support during the whole adventure), and it would mean I really have to come back next year to finish (which now of course I want to come back in 2012 regardless of the finish).

We had full moon that night which made it possible to run a lot without headlamp and that was amazingly beautiful. Wow! My knee and leg held up the entire race which was great and a good motivation boost. The balls of my feet were starting to hurt with every step. Walking made it feel less irritating, so I did that a lot. Every once in a while I found somebody that I could run with and made it a goal to keep up. Man, some of those downhills are really nice and fast. Love it! A motivation boost.

By the time of daylight I felt much better and the excitement of the race carried me. I was hoping to catch up to Sophie and even Mike which gave me goals to work for. I got passed by a guy (Gary) that I believed had a fun time blasting downhills at night and decided that I wouldn't loose him out of my sight. Then some kind of switch turned: "Accept the pain and stop suffering" became my mantra for the remainder of the race. In other words, don't think about the pain - just run. We kept a steady pace and ran as much as we could, even the Devil trail. I felt elevated by passing people and hearing from the CAT-Crew that I made up time. I heard that I was just 5min behind Sophie and so Gary and I decided to put it up a notch and a little while later passed her.Gary pulled me quite a bit and I am not sure if I had run that much in the end. In fact I stopped running in the forever section and let him go. The rest of the race I ran-walked and gave all I had on the last downhill to the finish. I was surprised to see my final time and just finishing 30mins after Mike. I was relieved to make it to the finish. A 100k was a new distance for me so finishing it was emotional and made me hungry for more. 

It was amazing to have Jamie (my wife) at every aid station for crewing and moral support as well as Bob and Drew who did a flawless job in getting me quickly through. Often times you just think about when you hit the next aid station rather than what you want to get at an aid station. Those guys always knew what I wanted and when I wanted. Perfect!

Lessons learned:
- Avoid caffeine overdose at beginning of a race
- Accept the pain and stop suffering
- Having friends at aid stations crewing you is crucial!
- Make little goals and work for it. 


Sophie: http://shiningsultra.blogspot.com/2011/12/time-falls-away-at-hellgate-100k.html
 

Marc:

Receiving my 5th time Hellgate finisher award and Beast award.  To the left is Clark Zealand and to the right is the legend Dr. David Horton, each direct 3 races in the Beast Series.

I just wanted to say a quick thank you to all CAT members, especially Drew, Mike, Joey, Christian, Nick, Bob, Sophie and the husbands and wives of these great individuals.
Without all of you guys and the rest of the CAT group I don’t think I would have finished The Beast Series this year. 
CAT in general has made training so much easier, more enjoyable and the miles seem to fly by on the long runs.  The support from this group is amazing in such a short period of time!
I am excited for the new year, new trails and some hard training.  I have new goals for this year, but most of all I can’t wait to get back on the trails with all of you and have fun!!!!!

As for Hellgate, things went so so.  I was making pretty good time through aid station 5 then I slowed quite a bit.  Nothing really horrible just felt tired and run down.  I had been sick for the two weeks prior which may have had something to do with it but I was hoping to run faster.  The goal was sub 15 hours, and once I knew that was out of reach I just slowed down and enjoyed the day.  Still managed to get in right at 16 hours though.  The weather was perfect, I would say in the 20’s when we started at Midnight and maybe 45 during the day.  Rivers were full and flowing with all the rain we got.  All and all a pretty mild Hellgate, as far as Hellgate standards go.  Don’t get me wrong, cold or hot, snow or rain, the course is still one of the toughest around!



Jenny:

http://jendenichols.blogspot.com/2011/12/my-first-100k-hellgate-2011.html

Bob (Crew report):

Drew and I went out to Hellgate to crew, and Drew would pace Mike in from mile 42.  I had a foot procedure done the day before and I wasn't even certain about making it out there, so I didn't want to commit to any specific crewing duties and then not show.  We decided to skip the first part of the race to get some sleep, and Drew picked me up at some ungodly hour so we could be at Jennings Creek just after 6am.  The race started at 12:01am.

The first trick of crewing is to finding the aid stations.  They are often deep in the woods on back roads, even forest service roads.  They had directions for crew to follow the whole race, but we weren't coming from the previous aid station.  I found each of them on Google Maps before the race and drew myself a map and a turn sheet for all of them.  I would not rely on GPS as sometimes roads aren't even marked.  As long as you're on the right road, you'll see other cars and the lights from the aid station if it's still dark.  We had an estimated time for our first runner to appear, and estimated times for each section.  We also had the bib number for each of our runners, so we could check to see if they had already been through, or in case they dropped.

So we settled in for the wait.  Always dress for warmth because you will be waiting there for awhile.  A chair is a good thing too, especially if it's a drop bag station where you runner might need to sit down to change socks.  Christian's wife Jamie showed up, as she had been following him all race, so there was someone else to pass the time with.

Mike came in not long after we got there, looking very strong.  This was the "breakfast" aid station so we made sure he knew what was available and where, and refilled his water, and got him back on the course as quickly as possible.  Same with Sophie, who was running watch-free, and her first words were "I don't want to know the time!"  Christian came in next, looking a bit more tired, so we kept him in the aid station a bit longer trying to push food (fuel) on him.  Next was Jenny, who had JJ crewing for her, so I just gave her a few words of encouragement and stayed on the side to see if there was anything I could help with.  Then Marc ambled in.  I think he had been sick during the week and wasn't full strength, so he was just going for a finish and not too worried about time. 

The 5 of them were within 45 minutes of each other, so it was great that we got to see them all, and all were in good to great shape.  We moved on to the next aid station, Little Cove Mountain.  This was a narrow road that we had to turn around on, so Drew parked further down the road to make sure we could get out easily.  Mike was again first in our group, a bit worn from the climb.  We reminded him that this was the last section he'd have to do alone.  Sophie looked as strong as ever, and Christian seemed to perk up a bit now that the sun was up.  We got their headlamps since they wouldn't need them anymore.  We started walking to the car since Drew had to make certain to be at the next aid station to pace Mike, and as we got there we saw both Jenny and Marc cresting the hill, holding steady.

Bearwallow Gap was a drop bag aid station, so we found their bags so we wouldn't waste time on a search when they came in.  Both Mike and Sophie wanted burgers from the aid station grill, so about 15 minutes before they were due in we had them get them ready.  We started recognizing other runners and the order they were coming in, which helped us know when ours were due, if all was going well.  Mike was fired up as he came in, and he and Drew took off.  Runners took just a bit more time at this one to make sure they got what they needed from their bags and made any clothing changes as it was getting a bit warmer, but not much.  Still, I was impressed at the focus as they got in and out efficiently.  Nobody was dragging in, so our job was to expedite them through.

Off to Bobblets Gap.  The field was spreading out, so we had to hurry.  They were checking in runners at each aid station, and as we got there I saw Mike had already been through.  I was sad about this for a minute until I realized it was A Good Thing as it meant he was zipping along, moving up from 28th to 23rd.  Besides, he had Drew with him to help out, and they knew we might not make it in time.  I was glad we made it in time for Sophie though, as I had another bottle that she was counting on.  Christian was starting to close the gap and looked solid.  Jenny was struggling a bit but another friend called her husband as she came in so she got a pick up talking to him.  JJ offered to pace her in, and she took it.  Marc came in next, no worse than before.

The last aid station was way around a mountain and we knew we couldn't see everyone, and didn't want to miss the finish, so we skipped it.

The Hellgate finish line was odd.  There was a roped chute, a chalk line, and a clock, and absolutely no one there.  Everyone was inside the building 10 yards beyond, even the time keepers.  When someone came in, Horton would pop out and greet them.  We set up chairs outside and sat and watched and rang the cowbell for each runner.  I felt bad for one guy when Horton missed him, and he just stood there, and asked us if anyone was taking times, or what the deal was.  It's nice that everyone else stays warm inside, but the finish is a let down when you are used to people cheering you in.

We figured Mike had an outside shot at 14 hours, and he breezed in at 14:02.  We expected Sophie next, but recognized the guy Christian came into Bobblets with, and he said the two of them blasted the next section.  Sure enough, Christian was next.  He got stronger as the race went on.  Sophie was not too far behind, very happy with a big PR.  Runners had been trickling in every 2-5 minutes, then there was a huge gap of around 30-45 minutes.  Finally a couple more came in, then Marc.  We asked where he had passed Jenny, and he said "Huh?"  Uh-oh.  Another spectator said she saw Jenny at the last aid station so we knew she hadn't dropped.  After a few more anxious minutes, she came in, all smiles.  She had missed a turn and probably 15-20 minutes where Marc and a couple others passed her, but figured it out and got back on course.

All in all, a fun day.  It's a nice perspective to watch the race.  It's interesting to see how runners are doing at various points, and it's just amazing to see them sometimes getting stronger as they get deeper into a race.  I was really impressed that nobody seemed to get too low out there.  It may have been different at points between the aid stations, and that's a view that pacing can give you.  It's really not that hard of work to crew, you just need to be prepared, and immediately switch from down time to full speed to get your runner through.  And no runner wants to hear how cold or tired you are or any problems you had getting there, so you really have to keep in mind it's all about them.  CREW stands for Crabby Runner, Endless Waiting, but we were fortunate not to have any cranky runners that day.


Andrew (Crew & Pacer report):


Crew report:

My alarm went off at 3:07 a.m. and shortly thereafter, I was parked at the Dripping Rock pull off on the Blue Ridge Parkway. The full moon illuminated a dusting of freshly fallen snow on exposed rock, and cast silhouettes from scraggy trees which faded into the dark of the forest.

I stood outside of my car, feeling the cold, and looked at the AT crossing the parkway. It was a beautiful night. A wave of jealousy came over me as I thought of my friends and 100+ other runners currently traversing the Hellgate 100k course.

I was snapped out of my day dream by a headlamp appearing through the trees, weaving up and down, flittering in and out as its wearer passed behind trees. Bob made his way down to the parkway, his shoulders hoisting bags full of food, blankets, and extra clothing. We piled in the car and the headlights of the car parted the early morning darkness as we made our way towards Jennings River Road.

We had planned on beginning to crew for our fellow CATs at aid station 5, Jennings Creek, at mile 30 (Horton mile 27). Our intentions seemed reasonable when we first calculated the estimated time of arrival for the CAT frontrunners. However, Hellgate maven Sophie informed us our estimated times were too late and that we would need to arrive at least 50 minutes earlier if we wanted to catch our runners. Having already made the decision to start crewing at aid station 5, we rolled back our alarm clocks to begin our morning 50 minutes earlier.  Therein lies an important lesson- if Sophie has a recommendation or opinion counter to your own regarding anything ultra related…she’s probably right! No more than 10 minutes after we arrived, our first CAT runner came descending off the mountain into Jennings Creek aid station.

I’d recently read that CREW was an acronym for Crabby Runner Endless Waiting. With its 12:01 a.m. start time, wet course and long stretches between aid stations, I figured today of all days, this acronym would prove accurate. However, Jennings Creek set the tone for the remaining aid stations I would be present at- mentally and physically strong runners, focused on the task at hand and eager to continue on with their races.

I won’t get overly verbose in the specifics of my day; instead, I want to quickly dispel the CREW acronym I was expecting to encounter:

Crabby Runner-First, plain and simple, no crabby CATs were encountered. I attribute this to well trained/prepared runners. The training specificity of opportunities available to CATs helped create familiarity with conditions they were going to encounter on the course. Joining up with the group to tackle training runs with endless climbs and descents on the Priest and Three Ridges as well as running through the dark on the rocky leaf-strewn trails of OHill prepared runners for what they were going to encounter during Hellgate. Further, utilizing the knowledge of Hellgate veterans Sophie and Marc, everyone knew what to expect going into the event.

Endless Waiting- If I had crewed at this event last year, the waiting may have been noticeable. However, through CAT, I have had the opportunity to meet many other runners in the Charlottesville area, as well as a huge network of runners throughout Virginia by participating in VHTRC events. When I go to events now, running or crewing, I am amazed at the number of runners I know by name. Instead of waiting on a lone runner to make it to the aid station, I am constantly checking on the needs of other runners I know as they come through the aid station. If anything, we struggled with not having enough time at each aid station!

If you haven’t crewed, you’re missing out on an integral slice of the ultra pie. Many of us rely heavily on our crews during a race. It’s good to turn the tables and see what your crew experiences while you’re out there running. As runners, we often have the same approach to our crew as we do to utilities like water or electricity- they’re simply there when we want them to be!  Of course there are behind the scenes logistics! See Bob’s take for more info on that.
Pacer report:
I joined up with Mike as he came through Bearwallow aid station, mile 46 (Horton mile 42.5).



Some of the highlights of our 20 miles together:



Along the beautiful traverse from Bearwallow to Bobblets Gap, we reached consensus about how great the course was and how funny it was that people let Horton play mind games with them.  We also disagreed about the benefit of answering certain calls of nature during a race (It's totally worth it!).



The first climb of the Forever section needs a hug after the verbal lashing Mike gave it (but it totally deserved it).



Somewhere in the forever section-

Mike: Audible Grunt

Me: Is that a grunt of pain or satisfaction?

Mike: (long reflective pause) I don’t know



On the last climb of the race leaving Day Creek aid station, French runner Olivier passes us in a serious power hike. I prod Mike to keep him in our sights so we can catch him on the descent. Mike’s response, “Dude’s got UTMB thighs, I’m cool letting him go!”



Climbing and descending the final section I pushed Mike pretty hard. He dug deep and stayed by my side, eager to close out the race.



Mike made my job easy. He never needed me to spur him on or reminders to take an s-cap or a sip of ginger ale. I got him to take some extra calories in a few times, but that was about it. For a debut 100k, Mike was really strong, running almost all of the climbs up to the Forever section and hitting the descents hard despite his ankle having taken a beating earlier in the race.



I had an absolute blast pacing. I hope to be back next year and cover the beginning 46 miles, plus the last 20!


Drew