Wednesday, December 22, 2010

2010 Hellgate 100K

"For we know that the whole creation groans and labors with the birth pangs together until now. Not only that, but we also who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves. Eagerly waiting for the adoption, the redemption of our body. For we were saved in this hope; for why does one still hope for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we eagerly wait for it with perseverance." Romans 8 : 22-25

I don’t know if doing something 3 years in a row makes the event a habit or a ritual but for the third year in row, on the second Saturday in December, at 12:01am, I found myself standing at the beginning of the Glenwood horse trail anticipating the start of the Hellgate 100K. This year there were 126 anxious runners at the start and following the traditional singing of the National Anthem and a prayer we were off on our 66.6 mile “Special” journey of the soul. It was about 22 degrees at the start with clear skies and a good forecast for Saturday, the best weather in the three years I have run this event. The trail was in great condition and the stage was set for a great race.

The Hellgate is unlike any other ultra-event that I have competed in. I have only been doing this for about three years but the group of runners that assemble here for this race are a gritty, determined, and tough bunch. Dr. Horton advertises this as a “Special” race and for me the “special” has been something different each year- the journey down the trail has been different each year but the feeling as I enter Camp Bethel for the last stretch to the finish line has been the same, the feeling of accomplishment.

Coming off of a year of injuries that started after the Bull Run Run in April, included a DNF at 38 miles at Western States and ended with 3 months off to heel a stress fracture in the left tibia, I was unsure how the race would unfold. The first stretch was uneventful, as the heard thinned out and everyone settled into their pace for the night, the stream crossing prior to the first aid station was not even that bad. I was able to run a good portion of the climb up to AS 2, Petite’s Gap and crossed the Blue Ridge Parkway (BRPW) in good shape. Of note, due to some new gates that the park service installed and some icy road conditions, crews were not permitted until AS4, Headforemost at mile 22-24 (depending on whose mileage you trust).

So I started the rugged downhill after crossing the parkway and tended to run fairly cautious and conservative. The trail still had a good 2-3 inches of snow on it but the footing was pretty good and before I knew it I had dropped out on to the dirt road and the long climb up to Camping Gap, AS3. Approaching Camping Gap at about 2:45am I saw that the Liberty University crew had the aid station well stocked and they were energetically and efficiently getting runners fueled up and back on the trail.

The longest stretch of the course was made longer this year due to the relocation of AS4, it measured just over 10 miles and it took a long time to get there. The highlight of this leg was the 2 mile downhill to Overstreet Falls. This is a pretty rugged trail but there was a good 5-6 inches of snow cover that tended to even out rocky sections and allowed for a smooth descent to the road. Last year climbing the road up to the aid station I ran in to a severe bout of sleepiness and was literally sleep walking up the hill, fortunately that did not happen this year and I ran into AS 4 just after 5:00am. I was able to meet up with crew (Mom, Dad, and my oldest daughter, Ashley), drop the camelback that I was carrying and get down the trail to Jennings Creek.

The long, persistent descent in to AS5 is where my lack of downhill training started to materialize as my quads began to scream at me. This was a long leg and I was starting to feel the effects of nearly 7 hours of running. As I ran in to AS5 I met the crew again fueled up, dropped off my headlamp and started the long climb up to Little Cove. The sun began to rise on the climb out of Jennings Creek but the temperature did not. It seemed to even get a little colder in the early part of the morning. I noticed that my pace was starting to drop off and the downhill running was becoming more painful, quads and hips were not feeling good at all.

Knowing the I was starting to fall off of my normal pace was not the motivation that I needed going in to the next leg and by the time I started down the single track portion of this leg I was starting to have serious doubts about continuing on past Bearwallow. As I started the last big climb and headed across “the devil’s trail” I had all but confirmed that I was going to call it day at AS7. I had all sorts of good, rationalized reasons: my legs hurt, my hips hurt, I had finished twice before, and 100 more good reasons. So, as I walk in to Bearwallow I told the crew that I was done, to which they toldl me that they don’t think so. What they said and what they were thinking were two different things, they were thinking “No way pal, you drug us out here in the cold at midnight-you are going to get your butt down that trail, suck it up”. Which is, reluctantly, what I did.

Leaving Bearwallow there is big 2 mile climb and then about 1000 in and out sections of the trail as you traverse the side of the ridgeline. It took a long time for me to slog my way through this section but my attitude had changed from wanting to drop to wanting to get to the finish and be done. So as I came in to Bobblet’s Gap I told the crew that I was physically feeling worse but I was going to push through. There were 14 miles left and I had plenty of time. The next leg of the course is known as the forever section, probably because this is Dr. Horton’s biggest measurement error on the course, under estimating the distance by more than a mile, so his 6.6 miles is really closer to 8.

This leg starts with a 2.5-3 mile downhill on a dirt road and I was moving slow and hurting. Once I got to the single track I knew that I had three big climbs and a final descent into Day Creek. About half way up the first climb I pulled off the trail for an environmental break and noticed that although my urine was clear, there was a nice red tint-blood. I have never had this happen and it concerned me. I had about 4 miles to go so I kept drinking and moved slowly down the trail. Once again the mental demons came out and talked me in to dropping at the last aid station.

As I came in to Day Creek, I told the crew what was happening and that I didn’t want to push the condition, this time they didn’t try as hard to push me on. However, much to my surprise, my daughter Ashley, was dressed in her running gear and ready to escort me the final six miles to Camp Bethel. Fortunately, others did not give up on me as quick as I had given up on me. Adam Casseday had some words with me and basically said “you’ve got 3 hours to go 6 miles, take it slow and get to the finish” – thanks for the push. The other determining factor was that Ashley was willing to run with me (she is not a runner) although I wasn’t really running at that point. It was at this point that I took an internal survey of “why do I race?” I race for the Glory of God and the fact that He allows me to go these distances; I had forgotten that fact and needed some coaxing from a godly man to get me moving. A piece by Ralph Waldo Emerson from his essay entitled “Circles” describes well what was going through my head:

"It is the highest power of divine moments that they abolish our contritions also. I accuse myself of sloth and unprofitableness day by day; but when these waves of God flow into me, I no longer reckon lost time. I no longer poorly compute my possible achievement by what remains to me of the month or the year; for these moments confer a sort of omnipresence and omnipotence which asks nothing of duration, but sees that the energy of the mind is comensurate with the work to be done, without time."

“Don’t wish it were easier, wish you were better” – And Ashley and I started up the “Redemption Road”. I was tired, my legs hurt, and I wanted to be done, so I kept moving. I’m not a big talker on the trail but it was nice to have the support on the final leg. As we crested the ridgeline and crossed the BRPW, I knew we had about 3 miles to the finish-downhill. I started to run and was told by Ashley that I really wasn’t running, it was more like a fast walk-so we picked up the pace a little and before I knew it we had crossed the 1 mile to go marker and had the entrance to Camp Bethel in sight. For the third year in row God gave me the strength and endurance to cross the finish line of the Hellgate 100k, this year He also strengthened me through the assistance of others to which I am eternally grateful.

This race is special, and it’s special to each and every runner for a different reason. Be it a habit or a ritual, I know where I plan to be on the second Saturday of December, 2011. Thanks to Dr. Horton and all of the diehard volunteers and a special thanks to my crew and family and finally to the One whom goes all of the Glory, God.

God Bless and Semper Fi,

Michael Huff

P.S. Don't let anyone tell you that Hellgate won't change you. Just look at the before and after pictures below!


  1. I love the before and after shots. I know I do not see you that often, but it really hit home why I always have trouble recognizing you. You are the master of disguises. Sometimes we have a run when completing the run is not all about us. Not about our physical strength that gets us to that finish line, but yet a strength in our faith. Our Heavenly Father knew just what you needed this year at Hellgate and from the story you have told, they were several people placed in strategic locations to keep you moving forward to the finish. I know this has not been an easy year for you in regards to your running, but I know you finished up the year on a very high note. This year's Hellgate will forever be embedded in your memory as being very special. Congratulations on finishing this run and helping us to realize that there is always a hand on our shoulder helping us along. I wish you and your family a wonderful Christmas as we celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ.

  2. Mike,

    I agree, I don't think it was by chance that I was there at the last aid-station. I'm glad that I was there to help push you on to the finish. . . even though I had no idea it was you behind that beard at first!

    Great race report and I wish you and your family a Merry Christmas!

    In Him,


  3. Congratulations on the race, Mike. I can relate to the rationalizations thing. In my little running (25 or so 10k's plus a half-marathon), I've seen it, as have all runners. One important thing is to involve God in all we do (running, marriage, etc.), and you clearly do that with this race. I don't even want to ask how many times during the race that your imagination went to how warm a blanket and bed would be . . .

  4. WOW!!This is the information which I was looking forward.
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  5. While I'll have more to say later, I did, in fact, drop out of Hellgate 100k.

  6. Nice and informative article. This article helps me. Keep doing this.


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