|Darin before the start|
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
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.
|Right after the start|
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
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
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!
|Coming into Bearwallow Gap|
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|
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)
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
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