Saturday, December 17, 2016

Hellgate 100k 2016 - Cold enough to freeze...


December 10

Darin before the start
For the past four years, my son, Nathan has been my crew.  Four years ago, he had help from my wife, Martha, but the last three years, he was the crew for me at this all important, special race the second Saturday in December.  This year marks another transition for my crew at this race as my daughter, Amy inherited the crew responsibilities.  She is being assisted by her boyfriend, Ben.  I think this is his first introduction to the world of an ultramarathon for Ben.

We flew up from Huntsville, Alabama yesterday morning.  The only issue was whether my plane would start on a cold Friday morning, but I reduced that risk by getting my plane put in a heated hangar the night before.  Arriving in Roanoke, we ate lunch at Firehouse Subs and then drove to Camp Bethel.  As it was still early in the afternoon, Ben and Amy went for a run, and I took a catnap.  Afterwards, we hung out, catching up with old friends, which included Rick and Tammi Gray.

Dinner was good as it has been the last several years.  I had one slice of Lasagna, some spaghetti with red sauce, salad, and a couple of rolls.  After dinner, the race briefing was exciting and entertaining, even though Horton decided not to have any door prizes this year as he is saving them all for the Holiday Lake 50k in February.  I then finish getting ready, and we drive to the start around 8:45pm.  This year it is cold.  The temperature is about 25 degrees at the start and because of this there are no college students lingering around outside making a ruckus like they did last year.  Thus, my crew and I are able to catch a good 1.5-hour nap before the start.  I am dressed warmly, wearing two pairs of tights, two long sleeve shirts, running jacket, and hat and gloves.

Mile 3.5      46:39 (13:20 avg./mile) FSR 35


Right after the start
I begin cautiously just trying to get through this first section unscathed.  The air feels very cold, but overall I feel very comfortable.  At the creek crossing, I quickly get across and head towards to the first aid station.  It has only water, but they don’t have any cups.  I still have plenty of water in my Camelbak, so I click my watch and move on to the next section.  This is my slowest time ever on this first section.  This is significant as I have 13 years of history to compare.  However, I am only a minute slower so I am not concerned much although I didn’t think I was going this slowly.

Mile 7.5      1:01:57 (15:29 avg./mile) Petites Gap

I focus on running when it makes sense on this completely uphill section.  Laura Drake and Rick Gray come by me about halfway up the hill.  As we climb higher, the temperature noticeably drops.  If it was 25 down low, I suspect it is below 20 up higher.  Ben and Amy are ready and waiting for me when I make it to Petites Gap.  My shoe laces are frozen solid, so I just pry off my wet, frozen shoes, peel off my socks, dry off my feet, and then put on dry socks and shoes.  This takes a couple of minutes, but it always seems worth it.  My time is decent on this section, so I am now in good shape at 1:48 overall.  I drink over half of a pint of chocolate milk and take a bagel with me for the trail.

Mile 13.1    1:40:31 (17:57 avg./mile) Camping Gap

The first part of this section is technical, rocky downhill, and I pass a couple of runners as I carry a good pace.  Then the course rolls up and down across two small stream crossings, which I navigate without getting my feet wet.  When the single track trail dumps back onto a dirt road, my watch says 45 minutes.  This motivates me as I should be about halfway to the next aid station.  The course now climbs for about three miles.  Unfortunately, I don’t think I make as good of time on the climb as I have in the past.  This puts me leaving Camping Gap at 3:29.  This is not my slowest to this point, but I only have two years slower.  I eat a few burnt grilled cheese sandwich quarters, drink a cup of soup, and then head out for the longest section of the race.  Did I mention that it hasn’t gotten any warmer out here?

Mile 21.9    2:35:13 (17:38 avg./mile) Headforemost Mountain

The grassy road section proceeds well for me.  I maintain my place with the few runners around me.  After many miles on the grassy road, a few people pass me, but then I pass them back on a slight uphill knowing that we are turning off onto single track very soon.  The single track is technical and rocky, but I do well with it.  I manage to keep the runners behind me, and then on the rocky downhill to Overstreet Falls, I pass another runner or two.  I feel like I really went through this tough section well.  Now, a quick hike up to Headforemost Mountain will get me through the first third of the race.  A few years ago, this aid station was moved a half mile to Floyd’s Field, but I still mark my split where the old aid station was.  As we make this final climb up to the highest point on the course, the temperature is feeling even colder.  And, the wind at this elevation is stiff.  As I crest the top of the hill and begin to run towards the aid station, it is bitterly cold.  The low for the race will be recorded at 8 degrees!  (This doesn’t count any wind chill, so it is well below zero with the wind chill.)  My hands start to go numb, and by the time I eat a cup of soup and some quesadilla quarters, my hands are completely numb.  These aid station workers are displaying true dedication and support.  My time is okay, but not good.  There again are only two years slower than this time.  However, my overall time of 6:04 is still almost 30 minutes ahead of the cut-off.

Mile 27.6    1:45:01 (18:25 avg./mile) Jennings Creek

Eating breakfast at Jennings Creek
Notice the frost on the hat
With numb hands, I have no choice but to run down the hill, hoping that there are warmer temperatures down below and that the running will get the blood flowing.  My hands go from numb to painful before eventually thawing out completely in about 30 minutes.  Meanwhile, my Camelbak drinking hose froze up somewhere going into or out of the last aid station.  So, I have no water, but with the extreme cold this is not too much of a concern at this point.  This occurs about the same time as daylight begins to flood the course.  I stay consistent and try to make good time going down the hill on this section.  AJ (Alan Johnson) catches up to me about a mile before the aid station, and we run into the aid station together.  I am glad to be done with the night section, and I am ready to make up some time on the cut-offs.  My cumulative time at this point is 7:49, which is my second slowest ever to this point.  At the aid station, I tell Amy to make sure to thaw out my Camelbak as she hands me the next one.  Then she becomes concerned that the hose on this new one may be frozen as well.  I test it and am able to suck water through it, so it is okay for now.  With the sun up, I decide to take off my running jacket and proceed without it.

Mile 34.5    1:49:16 (15:50 avg./mile) Little Cove Mountain

I head out of Jennings Creek motivated to start making better time.  I quickly pass a runner on the first climb, and then catch up with Greg Loomis.  I have known Greg for many years, but have not had the pleasure until now to run with him during a race.  We start talking and the course passes by quickly.  At some point, we are joined by AJ.  The three of us make decent time on this section.  Greg asks me about cut-offs, and I tell him we are doing okay.  We should finish this section in less than 1:50, which will put us at Little Cove before 9:40, and then I can nail the section into Bearwallow in less than 2:20, which will give us over 30 minutes on the hard cut-off of 12:30 at that point.  Meanwhile, I am not drinking from my Camelbak often enough, and the hose freezes up again!  I think I only got one or two sips since Jennings Creek before this happens.  Along the way to Little Cove Mountain we pass Robert Wehner, who is dropping out with a bad back. Unfortunately, my crew is not allowed to come to this aid station so I am stuck with my useless Camelbak unless the hose thaws out from the sun and warmer temperatures.  At the aid station, I drink a few cups of water and eat several grilled cheese sandwich quarters.  My time leaving here is 9:38, which puts me in good shape.

Mile 42.5    2:18:09 (17:16 avg./mile) Bearwallow Gap


Coming into Bearwallow Gap
AJ and I leave Little Cove Mountain together while Greg spends a little more time at the aid station.  I tell AJ that the key on this section is running as much of the grassy road as possible.  I push the pace as we pass a few runners on the first part of this section.  Soon after the grassy road section turns back into single track, Greg catches back up with us.  I am feeling good and running quickly, but I am getting thirsty and hungry.  Without any water, I don’t eat my Access Bar, nor do I take another salt tablet.  Even with the cold, I am still sweating some, and I have only taken one salt tablet so far.  As we make our way through the downhill portion before the devil trail, a couple of other runners join the train.  We get to the left turn up the hill to the devil trail, and my watch read only 1:25 since Little Cove.  This is awesome as it is 45 minutes or so from here to Bearwallow.  I lead the train through the rocks and leaves on the devil trail, and then make it across the stream for the 13th of 14 times without getting my feet wet.  We roll into the aid station in 2:09, and then I spend some time taking off a pair of tights, eating a grilled ham and cheese that Amy and Ben have made, and generally refilling the fluids in my parched body with chocolate milk and Conquest.  The time is now 11:56, and I have 34 minutes on the cut-off.  My time for this last section was solid, very close to the median over the years.  So, now I have another thawed out Camelbak.  Let’s hope it stays that way!

Mile 49.5    2:02:08 (17:27 avg./mile) Bobblets Gap

My belly is full of food and fluids as the three of us (AJ, Greg, and I) leave Bearwallow.  We make good time on the initial climb and then start the ins and outs section with the scenic views and steep drop offs.  At this point, Greg decides he is ready to run a little faster, and he leaves me and AJ behind.  AJ and I stick together through the leaves and single track.  On the steep, but short, downhill section to a dirt road that will lead us to the aid station, something gets tweaked in my right ankle and my Achilles tendon decides to flare up.  It is quite painful as we power hike into the aid station.  Ben and Amy are again ready and waiting with a full serving of Ramen soup for me.  I sit and relax a little making sure to eat most all of the Ramen.  AJ decides to leave before me, and I tell him I will try to catch back up.  I decide to drink some Coke to hopefully placate my Achilles.  With my body very sensitive to caffeine, the Coke has the desired effect.  My time is slower than desired, but I had to let me body rebound from not getting any water for so long.  At 13:58, I have over four hours to finish before the final cut-off.

Mile 56.1    2:07:23 (19:18 avg./mile) Day Creek

Eating Ramen at Bobblets Gap
I start slowly running down the dirt road leaving Bobblets Gap and discover an amazing thing—the road has been graded smooth!  This dirt road was terrible before with deep ruts and large rocks.  Now, it is smooth and fast.  I make it down this 2.5 mile section in 27 minutes!  I pass four different people, two of which are Todd Brown and Amanda Tichacek from the Chicago area.  My Achilles still hurts, but it isn’t too bad running downhill.  I then start the single track “forever” section with the goal of getting to Day Creek in about two hours.  I never catch AJ or Greg.  I get repassed by the four people who I passed on the dirt road, and then others come by as well.  I just need to hold things steady.  Larry Huffman is one of these runners who get past me as I count the stream crossings—13 in all on this section.  I am thrilled with my time of just over two hours when I near the final aid station.  This is my fastest on this section since 2008!  It is 16:06, and Amy is going to pace me for the final section trusting that Ben will be able to navigate back to Camp Bethel alone.  I ask Amy to take a headlamp just in case, but I don’t think we will need it.  I drink several ounces of Coke and take a bagel for the climb.

Mile 62.4    1:22:48 (13:09 avg./mile) FINISH

The last (and only time) that Amy paced me on this section I blitzed it in 1:04.  Of course that was six years ago when I was only 41 years old and before ACL surgery.  This time, Amy and I enjoy the late afternoon setting a brisk, but reasonable pace.  Actually, I am working as hard as ever, and Amy looks like she is out on an afternoon stroll.  We make it to the top and cross the Blue Ridge Parkway for the final time in less than 46 minutes.  Not terrible, but quite a bit slower than 2010 when I did it in 35 minutes.  We haven’t caught any other runners yet, but at least no one has caught us either.  Then as we begin the run down the hill, we see Todd and Amanda up ahead.  I pick up the knees a little and shift into the next gear as we blast past them.  The sun has set, but twilight is still enough to let us see the few rocks and ruts on this grassy road section.  Then we make it to the gate, which is about 1.5 miles from the finish.  We make the 2.5 miles down the hill to the one mile to go mark in 28:22—not terrible.  Shortly thereafter, we see three more runners.  I kick it into the highest gear I have left as I pass Larry Huffman and Laura Drake.  I also pass another runner before crossing the finish line with my watch reading 17:29:05.  This is my fastest finish post ACL surgery—a new PR of sorts.

Tentative Finishing Time      17:29:39 (according to the current results)

96th out of 140 starters (111 finishers under 18 hours)

video


At the start, I had a few goals.  1) Finish my 14th straight Hellgate, thus preserving my status of one of only five runners to have finished all 14 editions.  2) Finish in the top 100.  I hadn’t done that since before ACL surgery in 2012.  3) Finish under 17 hours.  Something I hadn’t done since 2010.  Well I consider it a success to have accomplished 2 out of 3.  Now, I am hurting from my fast last few quick miles.  I clocked 8:32 for the last mile.  I sit at the finish in pain, but with satisfaction that I have overcome the extreme cold and a course that is tough even in good weather.

Dr. Horton tells me that I need to train harder next year.  Of course, he has told me this the last few years.  One issue I have is that I no longer have easy access to Priest and Three Ridges.  Monte Sano and Wade Mountain in Huntsville are decent, but not the same.

My next race I am signed up for is the Mountain Mist 50k on January 28, although I might run the Red Eye 50k on January 1.  Until then,

Never stop running,
Darin

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Cumberland Trail 50k - Hills, Repeat Hills


October 1

When I ran this race last year, it rained the whole time.  It wasn’t too uncomfortable though with temperatures in the mid-50s, and I enjoyed the course and the challenge so much that I decided to return again this year.  This year I was pleasantly greeted with beautiful, dry weather.  The ride to the start was more comfortable also this year compared to last year since we were transported in two 15-passenger vans as there were a total of only 20 runners.  Last year we got to ride a school bus on the winding roads.  The thought in my head at the start was that I had an excellent chance to finish in the top 20!

Mile 7         1:35:46 Lick Creek Mountain

The first climb is a real beast.  I probably pushed too hard climbing up the first mountain, but I came here to get a good workout in so push hard on the first climb I did.  My goal for this year’s race is to finish faster than last year’s time, which was 8:41.  At this first aid station, I grab a couple of sandwich quarters and head out for the lollipop loop, which will bring me back to this aid station.

Mile 10       44:35 Lick Creek Mountain

This little lollipop loop looks easy on paper, and it even starts off easy enough.  But, then when the stick portion is over, the steep, short hills begin.  The hills are so steep that it is nearly impossible to run up or down them.  This is why my pace is no faster than it is.  When I get to the aid station, the course sweepers are just heading out on the loop.  I hope I don’t see those guys again today.

Mile 13       45:00 Norma Road

Leaving the last aid station, John Storey passes me as we are going down the hill.  When the trail flattens out some, I pass him back and then we end up running together for several miles.  At this aid station, we chat a little with the volunteers before grabbing more sandwich quarters and pressing on.

Mile 18       1:35:56 Lower Elk Field

John and I stay together for most of the climb leaving the Norma Road aid station.  We are joined during the climb by two other runners—Ryan Moran and Steve Fort.  After we get mostly to the top of the climb, I attempt to throw a few surges in to see if I can leave these three guys behind.  After about a mile of this effort, I decide I need to slow down and all three of these guys end up passing me.  Shortly thereafter, while I am trying to cross the Elk Field, I roll my right ankle rather severely.  I am still laying on the ground, when the next runner passes me.  He does stop to ensure I am okay.  I hobble into the aid station, hoping (knowing from experience) that the ankle pain will deaden out in a while.  For now, it really hurts!

Mile 24.5    2:12:59 Carroll Road

When I leave the Lower Elk Field aid station, I am passed by two runners who are husband and wife—Richard and Donna Cunningham.  It is a fleeting idea in my head to try and stay with them as my ankle is still killing me.  After a couple of miles the ankle does settle down, but by this point I have resigned myself to just getting to the finish without further damage.

Mile 31.5    2:07:03 FINISH – Cove Lake

These mileage estimates are exactly that—estimates.  I carefully descend the final hill and then put in a good mile or two of running for the final section to the finish line.  I have seen no other runners since the Cunninghams passed me over 12 miles ago.  I love this race for the hill workout, the low turnout (although a few more runners would be good), and the beautiful scenery.  The part I dislike is the final stretch which seems to take forever to get under the interstate that one can hear for miles.

Official Finishing Time          9:01:17

17th out of 20 entrants

At the finish I grab a couple of slices of pizza and chat with John Storey for a little bit.  He had a good run in from where he left me as he finished in 8:14.  I am happy with my race even though I didn’t run as fast as I wanted.  Now it is time to rehab the ankle and see if I can fit in another race before Hellgate on December 10.  My adult ice hockey season starts in a week, and that should help get the ankle back in shape.  Until next time…

Never stop running,
Darin

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Indiana Trail 100 2016 - Anyone have an ark?


April 29

My airplane is in the shop again this spring, so I am driving from Huntsville, Alabama to Goshen, Indiana.  I drove a few hours after work last night and stopped near Cave, Kentucky.  The night was restful, but the room did not carry the Penguins’ playoff hockey game, so I listened to it off iHeart radio from my iPad.

This morning, I drove the rest of the way to Land O’ Lakes state park where the race will be.  I get my race packet and take in the area around the start/finish area.  There is a fairly large parking lot, but with 400 runners combined in the 50 miler and 100 miler, I am sure this parking lot will be full well before the 6:00am start.  Furthermore, since I do not have a crew, I need to get a parking space that will not be too far from the edge of the lot where the course passes before reaching the start/finish line.  This race consists of six 16.7 mile loops.  I decide that getting back here before 5:00am will be the best idea.

David Snipes arrives later that afternoon to pick up his packet.  He flew to this race from Virginia and is staying in a hotel near Fort Wayne.  Then I travel the 45 minutes to Goshen arriving at my cousin, Andrea’s place.  For dinner, her brother Chris and his family join us all, and it is a nice reunion as I haven’t seen them in almost two years.  I manage to get to bed slightly after 9:00pm, setting my alarm for 3:15am.

April 30

I get up at 3:07am before my alarm goes off.  I got some sleep, but not as much as I would have liked.  I get ready and make the 45 minute drive back to Land O’ Lakes state park around 4:25am.  David Snipes arrives about 10 minutes later.  We are each parked three rows away from the side of the parking lot where the course passes.  I feel good and ready.  My training has gone well, and I am healthy.  The one concern is the weather.  The temperature at the start is around 45 degrees.  There is some cloud cover, but the horizon is showing the coming dawn.  I have two technical shirts on—one long and one short, a buff, shorts, and my Camelbak.

Mile 4.3      44:45 (10:24 avg./mile) School House

Snipes and I start the race together, although with no plan to stick together.  The course is rolling hills around many lakes.  This first section is almost all a grassy trail.  I make great time, and everything is going well.  The sunrise is spectacular with mostly cloudy skies, but the sun does peak through as it rises.  I grab a couple of PB&J sandwich quarters at this aid station and keep moving forward.

Mile 9.0      49:31 (10:32 avg./mile) Youth Campground

Leaving the last aid station, I push ahead a little from David.  With the 50 miler starting the same time as us 100 milers, the field is sorting itself out.  The fast 50 milers are way ahead, but the mid and back packers are crammed together with most of us mid-pack 100 miler runners.  Most of this section was more grassy trail, but some of it was dirt.  The course as this point is in great condition.  At this aid station, I grab a few grilled cheese quarters.  As I am leaving the aid station, Snipes is coming into the aid station.  This will be the last time I see him in the race.

Mile 14.0    1:03:23 (12:41 avg./mile) School House

This course utilizes the same location for two of its aid stations.  They are separate aid stations, but on either side of a road in the park.  I am settling in for the long haul.  This section was mostly dirt trail with quite a bit of it being tight single track.  My pace was a little slower, but I think this is mostly due to the terrain as opposed to me lowering my effort.  There are some short steep ascents and descents on this part as well.  At this aid station, I grab a quesadilla quarter and a little bit of chocolate before heading towards the finish of the first loop.

Mile 16.7    33:52 (12:33 avg./mile) Sand Beach (start/finish)

This section starts with a nice, steep climb.  None of these climbs are bad as they are at most only 150-200 feet in elevation change, but little of the course is flat.  This is mostly a good thing as this encourages me to power hike the uphills and run the downhills.  Having said that, the last almost half mile into Sand Beach is pretty flat.  I feel good on finishing this first lap.  It isn’t raining yet, and I feel pretty good.  I pull a folding chair from my car and sit down while I eat a ham and cheese sandwich, washing it down with a pint of chocolate milk.  The temperature at this point is around 47 degrees.  My time for this first lap is 3:11.  My ultimate goal would be 24 hours, but my main goal is just to finish under the 30 hour cut-off.  So, with one out of six laps completed, I am in good shape.

Mile 21.0    49:37 (11:32 avg./mile) School House

This second time through, and my pace on this section only slows down slightly.  This is good, but I wonder how well I will be able to maintain.  For now, I am very satisfied with my times.  I grab two more PB&J sandwich quarters and press on, maintaining forward progress.

Mile 25.7    1:03:30 (13:31 avg./mile) Youth Campground

I am doing okay, but my pace slows.  However, I have my eye on the goal, which is to finish.  If I can get under 24 hours that will be awesome, but I won’t be disappointed if I am slower.  During this section, I begin to feel a couple of drops of rain.  I was hoping that I might get 2-3 laps done before the rain started, but it is not to be.  Hopefully, the course will hold up well.  At this aid station, I get some more food and make my first sitting restroom break.  The temperature is still in the high 40s, and so far, I am very comfortable in terms of staying warm.

Mile 30.7    1:13:26 (14:41 avg./mile) School House

Pace slows down a little more, but if I can keep my pace faster than 15 minutes per mile then I will do very well.  The technical portions of this section are definitely harder than the other sections.  The rain continues to fall.  It is a light rain so far, and the course is holding up well.  I get a half of a hamburger to eat at this aid station and indulge in some more chocolate.

Mile 33.4    39:12 (14:31 avg./mile) Sand Beach (start/finish)

I continue to make forward progress as the rain picks up a little.  I am still warm enough with just the two shirts and a buff.  The dirt is now turning into mud, but so far it is only a little slick—not much to worry me.  I stopped by my car at the end of this section lap and grab a blueberry muffin to eat.  I was it down with a little more chocolate milk along with some Conquest.  My cumulative time at this point is 6:57.  It is early afternoon, but the skies are dark with the complete cloud cover.

Mile 37.7    1:03:15 (14:43 avg./mile) School House

The nice thing is that my pace has stabilized right about where I need it to be.  The bad thing is that the rain continues to fall—sometimes moderately and sometimes lightly—but always it is falling.  This section isn’t too bad as the grassy trail sections are holding up well so far.  At this aid station, I eat some potato chips and a cup of soup.  The temperature remains in the high 40s.  I am cool when it is raining moderately, but comfortable when it is only raining lightly.

Mile 42.4    1:09:59 (14:53 avg./mile) Youth Campground

The course is not officially falling apart in my view.  The mud is getting deeper, and I see several people with mud on their backsides where they have slipped and fallen.  I jokingly accuse them of sliding down hills intentionally to gain an advantage.  My pace continues to be solid, and if the rain would just let up, I would be much more optimistic about my chances.  At this aid station, I get some more soup along with a grilled cheese sandwich quarter.

Mile 47.4    1:31:48 (18:22 avg./mile) School House

The course is now a quagmire!  We are slip sliding all over the place while trying to make forward progress and stay upright.  I am still running down the hills, but it is a much more cautious evolution on each one.  The uphills are slower as each step includes a slide of a foot or so.  The important thing at this point is to stay mentally into the race and keeping making forward progress.  I eat some more quesadilla quarters at this aid station and do not spend any more time than necessary in the aid station as I don’t want to get comfortable not having the rain falling on me.  Each one of these aid stations has large tents to protect the awesome volunteers.

Mile 50.1    49:27 (18:19 avg./mile) Sand Beach (start/finish)

I spend the majority of this section, psyching myself up to get this section done so I can get started on the second half of the race.  I do not want any thoughts of quitting after 50 miles to enter my head, and I hope that by starting the fourth lap, I will be over the hump and onto my 10th 100-mile finish.  This is my 17th 100-mile race that I have started.  My finishing record stands at 9 finishes and 7 DNFs.  Some think that DNF stands for did not finish, but it also stands for do nothing fatal.  A lot of things can go wrong over the course of 100 miles, and the weather is just one of these things.  My pace is slower than I would like it, but with the extremely muddy conditions, I don’t think I can do much about it.  Back at my car, I decide it is time for a jacket.  I strip off my two shirts, put a long sleeve dry shirt on, and then put my Patagonia Houdini jacket on.  I also trade the buff in for a wool watch cap.  My thinking is that I need to stay warm as this is going to take me a while longer.  It is only 5:30pm, but I also strap on my headlamp as it will most assuredly be dark before I make it through the next lap.  I see Snipes and the guy that was going to pace him at the start/finish area.  He dropped after two laps with no desire to battle the mud.  His pacer shows no inclination to pace me, which I am fine with.  At this point, I don’t think I could ask anyone to come with me and endure the rain, mud, and water.  These conditions are just plain nasty.  My time for the halfway point of the race stands at 11:31.  While I am still technically under 24 hour pace, I think it is very unrealistic.

Mile 54.4    1:05:43 (15:17 avg./mile) School House

That being said, with warm clothes on and more food in my belly, I feel pretty good.  And, this section is holding up the best as most of it is grassy trail.  Since I am feeling good, I decide to push the pace slightly to see if I still have a shot at a sub-24.  The rain continues to alternate between moderate and light.  When I get to the aid station, I am slightly disappointed my split wasn’t faster.  So, I resign myself to not getting a sub-24, but I am steeled to the fact I am going to battle through this crap and get my 10th finish.  I eat more potato chips and another cup of soup at this aid station.  These volunteers are truly awesome.  Each aid station has more runners in it—runners trying to warm up or ready to drop out of the race.

Mile 59.1    1:30:58 (19:21 avg./mile) Youth Campground

With a sub-24 hour finish out of my mind, I focus on steady, forward progress.  I also try to think about anything except throwing in the towel on this mud fest.  There are definitely fewer runners out here now.  Most of the 50 milers have either dropped or have finished.  Probably about half of the 100 milers have dropped.  I roll into this aid station just as darkness is fully descending on Northern Indiana.  The course continues to get worse.  There is mud and water in many places that is ankle deep or deeper.  I have done nothing with my feet yet as they seem to be fine (for the most part) and doing anything would be rather pointless.  As I enter this aid station, I decide adding another long sleeve shirt would be prudent.  I get my drop bag and after removing my jacket and wet shirt that I will put two dry long sleeve shirts on under my wet jacket.  I continue to eat and drink plenty.

Mile 64.1    1:53:21 (22:40 avg./mile) School House

The decision to change into more dry shirts was a good one, and maybe the weather will let up its relentless rain at some point soon.  This cannot happen too soon.  Unfortunately, it will not be during this section.  I battle through the mucky, muddy, slippery course.  The goal has been reduced to the bare essential—forward progress—hopefully staying upright.  Leaving the aid station, I turned on my headlamp.  It is working well, shining through the rain drops.  At some point along here, the leader of the race passes me for the second time.  He is now on his sixth and final lap.  I get to the aid station, and it is very crowded.  There is a lady sitting on a chair that is dropping out, and there is another runner that is unresponsive sitting on another chair.  The aid station workers are starting to call for a paramedic, when this unresponsive runner comes back.  I grab some food and my first Coke as it is time to get some caffeine in my system for the cold, wet night.

Mile 66.8    58:13 (21:34 avg./mile) Sand Beach (start/finish)

Leaving the school house aid station, I manage the steep climb immediately afterwards, and then the rain, which has been light to moderate most of the day, unleashes in a torrent for about 30+ minutes.  The trail is now a flowing stream of mud and water.  I am splashing along in places that are mid-calf deep.  My formerly warm body is now soaked to the bone.  With a rain like this, any jacket wouldn’t stand a chance, and mine is thin and light.  I try to pick up the pace to keep warm, but as I get closer to the start/finish line, I am not only soaked to the bone, but now chilled to the bone as well.  My shivering is nearly constant.  About a half mile out, I take inventory in my head of what dry clothing I have left in my car.  I think I have one more long-sleeve shirt and another light jacket, but that is it.  In the theme of doing nothing fatal, I decide that I will end my race at this point.  I turn in my timing chip at the start/finish line and begin the process of cleaning myself up.  It has been 17 hours since the start and is now 11:00pm.

Snipes was waiting in his car in the parking lot, having cleaned himself up hours ago.  We talk as I get my stuff and head to the showers.  It is just one of those days not conducive for us to finish a 100-miler.  The mud on my feet and in my shoes is caked on the skin and inside of the shoe.  The water in the showers is lukewarm.  It takes me about 45 minutes to get reasonably clean.  I am shivering the whole time and do not stop until I am back in my car with the heater warming me up.  I climb into bed around 1:00am.  Almost 22 hours after I left it.

This is my only planned 100-mile race this year.  I have no other long races planned until the fall.  I am not sure when my next one will be.  Until then…

Never stop running,
Darin

Saturday, December 26, 2015

Hellgate 100k 2015 - As hot as hell!

December 12

Another year has passed, and I am another year older.  Seasons change.  Our lives change.  Many things change.  However, for the past 12 years I have always been at Camp Bethel the day before the second Saturday in December.  Since December 13, 2003, the Hellgate 100k has been as consistent as the sun coming up in the east.  And, five guys have managed to be here running this race every year.  For some reason, we all have managed to finish every one of these 12 years.  This year is the 13th year.  Aaron Schwartzbard, Jerry Turk, Jeff Garstecki, Ryan Henry, and I are streakers.  We don’t know how to live our lives in December without a finish at Hellgate.

I left my house this morning, drove to the airport, and flew my plane to Atlanta to pick-up my son, Nathan, who just finished the fall semester of his junior year at Georgia Tech.  He will be my faithful crew for another year.  We eat lunch at the 57th Aero Squadron and then fly onto Roanoke.  We load all of our gear into a little Kia Forte and drive the familiar route to Camp Bethel, arriving around 4:30pm.


Waiting for the start
It is a nice homecoming every year.  The race director, David Horton, greets every runner warmly and can even remember most veterans’ names.  He still makes us put on name tags and indicate how many finishes we have at Hellgate.  I talk with several other runners including Aaron, Jeff, and Justin who I don’t think I have seen since Leadville in 2011.  Nathan and I eat dinner with Bob Anderson and his wife as well as Bob and Janice.  Mr. Anderson is 68 years old and attempting to be the oldest finisher at Hellgate.  Janice will be one of the sweepers—people who come along after the last runner picking up streamers marking the course and making sure that no one gets left out in the woods.


The big story this year is how warm it will get tomorrow.  I have already decided that I am going to start the race in a short sleeve shirt.  The only question is when I will take it off?  The temperature is in the mid-50s at the start, and I am cool, but not cold.  We sing the national anthem and then we are off for our grand adventure at one minute past midnight!

Mile 3.5      44:23 (12:41 avg./mile) FSR 35

This past week, my left knee flared up and was somewhat painful and stiff this week.  It has slowly gotten better through the week, but is still bothering me now.  I am running rather cautiously when around two miles into the race I roll my right ankle.  This is not too much of a concern as I do this often, and there is an added benefit that my right ankle will hurt worse than my left knee for the rest of the day.  It always feels like I am getting left behind as the faster runners pull away, and I become a back of the packer at Hellgate.  There are no slow runners that get into Hellgate anymore, and this year is no exception.  Three miles into the race, I attempt to rock hop across the creek, but slip and get my feet wet anyway.  At the aid station, I drink a cup of water and turn to start up the hill.

Mile 7.5      1:01:21 (15:20 avg./mile) Petites Gap

The run/walk goes well up to Petites Gap.  There are more than a dozen runners behind me, but I need to stop and change my shoes.  This takes a couple of minutes, and a few more runners slip by me while I am doing this.  My left knee has warmed up nicely, but I am still concerned about it.  I drink about half of a pint of chocolate milk, and then take a bagel with me to eat on the way.

Mile 13.1    1:40:53 (18:01 avg./mile) Camping Gap

I take the initial downhill from Petites Gap slowly with caution.  My right ankle is a concern, and I am not sure about my left knee yet.  I manage, though, to make it through the initial rock garden.  There are a couple of runners near me at this point who are trying to finish the Beast series.  This is their last race, but also their first time at Hellgate.  They might have finished Grindstone, but Hellgate offers its own unique challenges.  One of these challenges is keeping my feet dry on two more creek crossings on this section after changing into dry shoes and socks at Petites Gap.  The last three miles of this section contain one of the toughest climbs in the race.  We follow a dirt road all the way to the gap.  When the aid station finally appears, I am relieved and take a peek at my watch.  This is not my fastest time on this section, but I guess it will have to do.  There is no time to waste; however, getting some food at this point is essential.  Crews cannot get to this remote aid station, so I feast on pb&j sandwich quarters and some potato chips.

Mile 21.9    2:32:26 (17:19 avg./mile) Headforemost Mountain

Leaving Camping Gap, I am in the company of a couple of other guys.  After a mile or so, they leave me behind, and I am left to stay focused on making steady forward progress by myself.  The first half of this section is an old grassy road.  It is rolling and mostly nice, but there are potholes where the possibility exists to turn an ankle.  I am also trying not to get passed by any more runners!  There is one runner behind me that I can see every time I glance back.  Fortunately, they don’t catch me before we turn off of the grassy road and onto a challenging single track trail.  I get a little boost from the change in scenery and manage to slip past two other runners who missed a turn.  They quickly catch back up, but it gives me a chance to talk with someone a little bit.  I am also telling them where we are and how much further we have before we drop down to Overstreet Falls to start another climb up a dirt road to the aid station.  I eat more sandwich quarters, refill my Camelbak, and drink a small cup of Coke.  It is about 6:05am when I leave this aid station.  I am 35 minutes ahead of the cut-off at this point.

Mile 27.6    1:42:41 (18:01 avg./mile) Jennings Creek

Early in this section, I get into a really nice rhythm.  I pass a couple of runners and have another close behind me.  I am making really good time, I think.  At some point, there is an old guy hiking back towards us.  It is still before dawn when I see him, and it seems very odd that someone would be out here just for a hike at this hour.  When the trail becomes more technical, a few runners slip past me.  I just cannot bomb down technical downhills like I used to several years ago.  Regardless, I am still feeling good when I roll into the aid station.  Nathan is here with an egg, bacon, and cheese grilled sandwich.  It tastes absolutely wonderful!  While I am sitting there, a race official mentions that there are only six more runners yet to come into this aid station.  I am sitting in 136th place at this point.  Only three runners have dropped out so far.  Nathan says the temperature is already 60 degrees.  I decide to leave the shirt on for now.

Mile 34.5    1:48:27 (15:43 avg./mile) Little Cove Mountain

Running an ultra is running until you are exhausted and then continuing.  The body makes some weak attempts at trying to tell you it is tired, but ultra-veterans have learned how to ignore the less serious signs.  I leave Jennings Creek and start looking for the proper tree to duck behind in the woods in order to relieve the pressure building in my lower backside.  About 10 minutes out, I find a place that will work.  My effort is not as rewarding as last year, but it is still effective.  After taking care of business, I power on up the hill, and then start bombing down the other side.  I pass several runners while on a dirt road, and then entering a single track trail again, I pass one guy and then two ladies.  I am moving well and making good time.  After passing the ladies, I catch a toe and take a slide, but bounce back up quickly without skipping a beat.  When the course dumps back out onto a road, I see a guy in front of me that looks like he might be slowing down.  It is big Mike.  He says he is having a rough day, sweating profusely, and unable to keep food down.  It is definitely warming up, but I am feeling good, so I push on ahead towards the aid station.  At the aid station, I eat three grilled cheese sandwich quarters and drink more water.  I refill my Camelbak again as I have been sucking down the water.

Mile 42.5    2:22:16 (17:47 avg./mile) Bearwallow Gap

In addition to drinking copious amounts of water I have been taking an S-Cap every hour or so.  It is now blazing hot climbing well into the 70s.  I pass a few more runners before deciding that I need to back off of the pace since it is so warm.  I was running so well and was hitting the pace that I wanted.  However, I know that the most important thing now is not to blow up.  I have a comfortable margin on the cut-off times, so I will throttle back a little.  I watch as several runners that I had previously passed, come back by me.  I hope that my wise pace will pay dividends and I will see them again.  When I get to the aid station, the air is still and heavy and hot.  I sit down and eat a grilled ham and cheese that Nathan has perfectly cooked.  I wash it down with an ample amount of Conquest.  I leave the shirt behind as I leave to start the final third of the race.  I have almost a 45-minute cushion on the cut-off.

Mile 49.5    2:04:45 (17:49 avg./mile) Bobblets Gap

As I leave Bearwallow Gap, my stomach is full—mostly of Conquest.  I am also very warm, even shirtless.  I hope that there will be a breeze as I climb higher.  My climb is very warm.  I am suffering and in need of some cooling of some type.  When I near the top of the climb, I decide to lie down beside the trail on a patch of moss.  I lay there for a couple of minutes and when I hear another runner approaching, I get up and start moving again.  The two minutes was just long enough to let my stomach get ahead and my body to cool off slightly.  I am also newly motivated to stay ahead of the runner behind me.  She stays close, but then we pass another runner, and my pace begins to quicken.  I definitely don’t make great time on this section, but I am moving forward fast enough.  When I finally get down to the dirt road, I walk the mile uphill into the aid station.  Nathan is ready with a nice cup of Ramen.  He finds some ice, and I am able to gobble most of it down.  I drink a little chocolate milk and a little Conquest before heading out.  It is almost 2pm so I have over four hours to make it to the finish.

Mile 56.1    2:12:42 (20:06 avg./mile) Day Creek

I run well down the dirt road from Bobblets Gap.  The dirt road section is 2.5 miles, and I cover it in 31 minutes—my fastest in a number of years.  When the course transitions back to a single-track trail, I catch up to a runner and his pacer who are taking a break.  They decide to tag along with me, and it is nice to break things up with a little conversation.  An interesting question the pacer asks me is what year of Hellgate was my favorite?  That is a very good question and a tough choice.  I have fond memories of every year because each was different with its own challenges.  They stay with me for most of this section, and I am in good shape entering the aid station.  This is another section that I didn’t cover as quickly as I would have liked, but it will have to do.  My stomach is slightly queasy from the heat and all of the drinking I have had to do.  I drink a little Coke and stuff some potato chips in my ever so dry mouth.  Nathan offers me a bagel, but I decline.

Mile 62.4    1:24:09 (13:21 avg./mile) FINISH

The other runner and his pacer are with me for most of the climb.  Again I don’t set any land speed records, but I make it to the top in about 45 minutes.  Now, I have over an hour to get to Camp Bethel.  I am ready to run, but it soon becomes obvious that the other runner who has been with me for the past two sections is ready to run faster than me.  He and his pacer quickly leave me behind, but all of us are passing several other runners as we make our way downhill into the quickly approaching darkness.  I pass a couple of people and then the group of four runners who have been together all day—I think they are related somehow.  My pace is quick enough, and as I make the turn into Camp Bethel for the 13th time, I am glad to be here!

Official Finishing Time          17:34:03

119th out of 145 starters (131 finishers under 18 hours)

I had a nice second half in this race.  My stomach queasiness will continue past midnight—nothing terribly wrong, I just don’t feel like eating at all.  Nathan and I order a pizza in our hotel room, and I don’t even touch it until after midnight when I eat one cold slice.  The next morning, I feel much better and eat some eggs, a biscuit, and gravy.

The most interesting part of this year’s race is that my left knee was a great concern for me before the race.  I couldn’t use full range of motion, and it was tender to walk up or down steps.  After the race, it doesn’t bother me at all, and I again have full range of motion.  This is directly in line with my 20 mile rule.  If something bothers you that you think you might want to see a doctor about, run 20 miles and then and only then if that same issue is the thing that hurts the most then maybe you should see a doctor.  However, in all of my experiences something else hurts worse or the original issue has gone away entirely.

My next race is going to be the Mountain Mist 50k on January 23.  Until then,

Never stop running,
Darin