Saturday, December 20, 2014

Hellgate 2014: Smackdown

I'm back! I took a break from blogging in 2014 but with the post below, I am officially making good on one resolution for 2015, which is to get back to writing. Since I've posted about Hellgate every year, it made sense to start with Hellgate 2014.

After running Hellgate 100k eight times with an average time of 15:07, and a PR on my 50th birthday in 2012 of 14:33, I was under the (false) impression that my ninth Hellgate would be a no-brainer. I *thought* that since the weather was basically perfect with lows in the 30s, highs in the 50s, and clear skies, that all I had to do was show up and run. I *thought* that since my training had been going really well and that I had been feeling rested and recovered from Masochist, all I had to do was show up and run. And I *thought* that since this was my 12th year of ultrarunning and I had figured out my nutrition years ago, all I had to do get the idea. But here's the thing about ultrarunning in general and Hellgate in particular: hubris will smack you down every time. Gary Knipling and I had a conversation about hubris at the Barkley as we watched some friends suffer its consequences. And I thought of Gary once again as it occurred to me at mile 40 that I was in the grip of a huge, epic bonk: hubris had reared its ugly head and Hellgate smacked me down for good measure.

What happened? Well, I was cruising along feeling fine around mile 15 along a gorgeous stretch of horse trail known as the "Promise Land" section with Keith Knipling and defending women's champ Kathleen Cusick. "Hmmmm...I must be running pretty well if I'm running near these people." (Lesson 1: Don't get too cocky. They were just having a rough patch and finished in 14:15). 

The headlamp that I had borrowed for Hellgate was blinking a warning that it was time to switch out the battery, even though it was only 4 hours into the race. (Lesson 2: For the love of God, don't mess with what works! Why I decided to try a shiny trendy headlamp and no handheld instead of the trusty Petzl MYO XP and a very bright handheld is beyond me!). 

I spent a lot of energy trying to navigate the technical sections in the dark, and when I came into mile 25 aid station, I was so preoccupied with fixing the lighting situation that I neglected to leave with my Perpetuem powder as planned as well as extra Clif Bloks. (Lesson 3: don't mess with your nutrition! Get it dialed in and stick to it like glue).

As a result, I started to lose energy descending into Jennings Creek at mile 29, and despite eating lots of eggs on the ascent to Little Cove, I continued the makings of an epic bonk because I was without all my other nutrition (Lesson 4: MANAGE YOUR RACE. This is probably the most important rule of ultrarunning. When things start to unravel, figure it out, change it up. Instead of eating whatever they had at the next aid station, I just took photos of the sunrise). 

I knew I was in for a long day when I reached mile 40 aid station at Bearwallow Gap and they didn't have the hamburgers they had made in years past; I had to settle for a pancake. Not the end of the world, but when I mixed my Perp powder from my drop bag into the water from the aid station, it tasted like soap. Ugh. (Lesson 5: see Lesson 4). Needless to say, I didn't drink a drop for the next 2 hours.

 The last 15 miles I spent refueling and chatting at the aid stations, taking photos, texting my son ( who was en route from Australia throughout the entire race, so I was a wee bit distracted to say the least), and death marching to the finish. Despite my low energy and bad attitude, I also enjoyed periods of gratitude and joy as I remembered the many friends with whom I had had the pleasure of running with in 2014 and in past years at Hellgate. And the final three miles always make me smile: a sweet downhill, the sun shining in my face, the prospect of good food and friends at the finish line, and another Hellgate finish. What could be better?

What will Hellgate #10 bring? One thing I know for certain: hubris will not be invited.