Saturday, December 20, 2008

2008 Hellgate 100K Race Report

Last Saturday I completed the Hellgate 100K and in doing so also completed the Virginia Beast Series. This past year has been incredibly rewarding. I have had the opportunity to push myself to and beyond what I thought were my physical limits, to push through psychological barriers, to run beyond painful cramps and sore muscles. I have had the pleasure to experience the true potential of the human body and the amazing conditions that it can endure. I have found the truth in Phiplippians 4:13, the Bible verse that I keep on the Semper Fi website "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me".
99 brave souls stood ready at the head of the Glenwood Horse Trail in Natural Bridge, VA. It was 0001, Saturday morning and after a prayer and a singing of the National Anthem we were off, on what would prove to be a very long and challenging course. It was about 30 degrees at the start, crystal clear skies with a moon as big as it has been in 15 years lighting the way before us. Through the first 4 miles, to aid station 1, the group spread out and everyone settled into their pace. This would have been a fairly uneventful section but for the "creek" (swollen to a small river by the rains of the previous day) at mile 3.8. This "creek" crossing was knee deep for about 20 feet across, I tried to keep the bottoms of my sweatpants dry but with no luck and within 10 minutes they were frozen, as well as my shoes. Oddly enough this had almost zero impact on me during the remainder of the race.
Leaving aid station 1, we started a 4 mile climb up to the Blue Ridge Parkway and aid station 2, Petite's Gap. This section was on a very good dirt road, I was able to run some of the uphill sections and I was also able to turn of my headlamp and run by the light of the moon, once again experiencing the the ability to see beyond the beam of the headlamp and see more of what was around me. Little did I know that by the end of the race I would be less concerned with what was around me very concerned with what was inside of me.
Aid station 2, was at 8 miles and was the first opportunity to meet up with my crew (Mom, Dad, and my youngest daughter, Abby). It was a quick stop, I picked up my camelback for the next 2 long sections and was off, it was 0135. I was supposed to meet the crew at aid station 4 (23.4 miles) but the Blue Ridge Parkway was closed due to icing conditions so the next available crew stop was at aid station 5 (30 miles). The leg to aid station 3, Camping Gap, was 7 miles, the last 2 of which were a climb of 1200 feet. The temperature at Camping Gap was in the low 20's with a 10-15 knot wind. Leg 4 to Headforemost Mountain was the longest leg of the race 9.8 miles and was a great run on an exposed grassy fireroad. This leg required no light and offered great views down into the valley below. I made good time moving into aid station 4 and didn't waste any time moving on toward aid station 5 and the chance to see my crew again. I left Headforemost at about 0500 and started a hard 1.5 mile climb back up the mountain to cross the Blue Ridge Parkway again. Once across the parkway it was all downhill into AS 5, Jennings Creek.
As I rolled into AS 5 I was starting to feel the effects of 6.5 hours of running. I had covered 30.2 miles and the sun was about to come up, I was tired, cold, and had not eaten anything since Camping Gap. My stomach was really giving me fits, I never got sick but just couldn't bring myself to eat anything. For the rest of the day I would subsist on water and a little soda here and there. Leaving Jennings Creek, I started a long climb up a good dirt road and watched the sun rise. A short 2 hours later I got to AS-6 (37.8 miles) and was doing OK. AS-6 to AS-7 was almost all single track on the Glenwood Horse Trail. Leaves and rocks were definitely an issue but the veterans said the leaves were not as bad as the had been in years past, I could have done without them completely. This was a long leg that took us to 46.5 miles and 10.5 hours. They were making hamburgers at the AS but my stomach was having none of that. Onward and Upward to AS-8, Bobblets Gap. After the first 2 mile climb up Purgatory Mountain the rest of the leg was actually a very enjoyable run. This was almost all single track trail along the ridgeline and once again offered some great views of the valley below.
AS-8 to AS-9 was called the "Never ending leg" and boy was it ever. A long 2.5 miles downhill followed by 3 very steep and long uphill climbs covered 7.8 miles and ended at the last aid station (60 miles, 14.2 hours). It was great to see the crew for the last time before the finish. They were doing a great job of keeping me moving, the calorie deficit had taken its toll and I was beat. The last leg is the perfect ending for a David Horton race, 3 mile, 1500 foot climb followed by a 3 mile, 1500 foot decent. I had to dig deep to get up the mountain and oddly enough had to dig even deeper to get down the other side to the finish. I had a burning desire to walk on the downhill section but managed to push through the negative thoughts and keep running all the way back to Camp Bethel and the finish.
It was a great feeling to be met by David Horton at the finish and told that I had officially completed the Beast. 15 hours and 37 minutes to cover 66 miles of beautiful Blue Ridge Mountain trails, why? Hard question, which has many answers. I was told once by another ultra runner that people that run this far must be running from something. She then asked me what I was running from. My answer to her was that I didn't agree that you had to be running from something and that contrary to that I had the feeling that I was running towards something, at that time I didn't know what. I still don't know exactly, but I do know that over the last year I have lost 20 pounds, I have made an effort to see old friends and corresponded with others that I have not been in touch with since college. I have a new sense of how important family is and believe that my extended family has become closer as a result of this endeavor. I have been able, with the incredible generosity of all of you, to contribute to an honorable organization that is taking care of our wounded Marines. And personally I have seen how my Faith strengthen and take my body to physical levels that I would have once thought impossible.
I have run over 2000 miles in the last year, 13 ultramarathons, and completed a 100 mile race, what's next? I'm still working on that, but right now my goal is to run the Western States 100 under 24 hours in June. Your support during this past year has been humbling. We have done a good thing for wounded warriors, something that each and everyone of you should be very proud of. My deepest thanks and gratitude go out to each of you, I would like to give a special thanks to my wonderful family and ultimately thank God for all of the wonderful blessings that He has bestowed upon me. I am a lucky man.
God Bless and Semper Fi,
Michael Huff
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