2005, the "snow year", we ran on sheets of ice and over 6" of powder, and I finished in 15:56. In 2006, the "Leaf Year" we got to see the trail that was hidden from the snow...and there were leaves, piles and piles of them. I ran a bit faster, in 15:16. In 2007, the "Warm Year" I raced Rebekah Trittipoe for the last 6 miles and second place (my highest finish) in 15:36. In 2008 we had a full moon and excellent weather, and I just missed my goal with a 15:03. Finally, in 2009, I came rested and determined to break the barrier I had set before me and did just that in 14:58, but it took everything I had.
After that race, I took a break from running the 2010 event. I wanted to jump off the intense cycle of focusing on time and splits and instead be part of the event in another, more relaxed way. I drove down on race morning to help my friend Stephanie Wilson achieve her goal of finishing, which she did in strong fashion in 17:01. I took photos, ran the last six miles, and hung out at the finish helping runners get food and showers. I loved being on the other side, but I missed being "out there," and knew that in 2011 I would be back.
My CAT friends Jen Nichols, Mike Stadnisky, and Christian Dalhausen were entered in the 2011 race and their energy and enthusiasm about the event got me fired up. There is nothing like being a Hellgate newbie, and I had a blast training with them, answering questions about the race, the trail, and what to wear and eat. I knew the special adventure that awaited them, and it was so much fun to be part of their preparation---perhaps that is the teacher and coach in me. We decided to start together, to run easy to Camping Gap (mile 13, about 3 hours in), and then go our separate ways if needed. Most importantly, I decided to not look at my watch for the entire race, and to just run on feel (aka "perceived effort"). This would be a huge challenge for me, as my watch has always been an integral part of my racing plan---I needed to know my splits so I could adjust accordingly...or so I thought.
The day before the race, I went into Ragged Mountain Running Shop for my ritualistic, pre-race purchase of Hammergel and Clif Bloks and Shots. Mark Lorenzoni, RMRS's owner, an esteemed marathon coach and my good friend, was there to talk up my race plan, and when I told him that I was ignoring the watch, he looked at me and smiled, "perceived effort, all the way." After years of racing with a plan I was happy to have no race plan at all, just to run by feel, eat a ton, and enjoy the night and day on my favorite trails in my favorite race, under a full moon...bliss! And bliss it was.
After we sang "Oh, Canada" and "The Star Spangled Banner" we were off at 12:01 am. Jen, Mike and I maneuvered through the pack with Christian not far behind, and soon we were climbing together up to AS 2, Petites Gap. The moon was out, there was no wind, and the long climb up the mountain warmed us up. In and out of the aid station, we bombed down the single track of the Terrapin Mountain course and soon were climbing up to Camping Gap. Jenny had fallen behind a train of runners, and Mike was pulling me up the mountain. We turned off the lights and enjoyed the moonlight. It felt easy. I wondered what time it was and then told myself to let it go, and we ran down the Promise Land section where Mike pulled away and I was alone.
|Sunrise over Headforemost Mountain, mile 25|
Horty greeted me with a shout,"Fourth Woman!" and I was in and out in a flash. Bob had a delicious burger waiting as well as a full bottle of Perp, and then I was off. No more checking of splits, no more looking at the watch...just run! And run I did, as well as think about why I had been able to run the first 40 in such a fast time. I believe it was a combination of Masochist fitness, trail knowledge, nutrition (I ate and drank almost 4,000 calories for the 66 miles), and most importantly, letting go. Letting go of pressure, of time, of stress, of the past...and being fully present. Letting go.
The rest of the race went by in a blur. I was thrilled beyond belief that I would be able to run in the solid 14s for the first time in my Hellgate career. Alyssa Godesky passed me on the last climb looking really strong, and I wished her well as we hoofed it up and over the parkway for the final downhill. The sun was higher in the sky than it had ever been before on this downhill, and I took it all in as I approached Camp Bethel and the finish: 14:41, fifth woman, and a 17-minute PR. But who's counting? Not me.
This is a retrospective I made of Hellgate in photographs and video, from 2005-2008. Take a look. You might recognize West Coasters, elites, VHTRC buddies, and long, lost friends. I watch this every year as I get ready for the race, as it reminds me of why I love it so: the people, the trail, and the adventure. And the music says it all.
Thank you, David Horton, and all the Hellgate volunteers who make this event possible and so very special.
"Let it slide
let your troubles fall behind you
let it shine 'til you feel it all around you
and I don't mind
if it's me you need to turn to
we'll get by
it's the heart that really matters in the end..."
-Rob Thomas, "Little Wonders" .