It seemed like a good idea eleven years ago. A killer race with a midnight start. Unpredictable weather. Wet feet in the opening miles. Ice. Snow. Howling wind. Off camber, leaf-covered and rocky trail. Sections of the course that seem endless. Miles-long climbs. Technical descents. What's not to love--or hate?
I'm a sucker for such things. When David Horton, also known as King DHo, came up with this cockamamie idea, I signed on. Since then, it's been a running battle in the truest sense. Every year, it's been hard. Other years, even harder. And now, I suspect, this year just may be the hardest.
I failed once half-way through. I bailed when I couldn't breath and hands turned blue, and not from the cold. I still regret the decision to quit. But that's another story. This year the race taunts me with a ten-year finisher award. Only a handful of men have nabbed the honor. Now, it's my turn.
But I am not fully confident. I suppose one is not supposed to admit that out loud. But let's look at the facts. I teach and coach. At my desk by 6 a.m. and home (on good days) a dozen hours later hardly allows time to do much of anything but grab a quick meal, lay out clothes for the next day, and fall into bed for a short night's sleep. Saturdays are filled with all-day coaching responsibilities. Scratch the fun weekend group runs of yesteryear that built as much camaraderie as stamina. I manage to run nearly every workout with my team of high school distance runners, but if specificity is key to training, then that can hardly be considered ultra-worthy.
The forecast for this year calls for cold, miserable rain. No. Let me restate that. The forecast calls for temperatures in the 30s with liquid precipitation for at least portions of the race. "Miserable" is what I perceive that combination will be.
The cut-offs for this race are tight, even tighter than my hamstrings may be partway through the race. And I run slow and hike a lot. Though I hate to use the age card, being three years from my sixth decade doesn't exactly keep the accelerator mashed to the floor.
But I HAVE to finish these 66.6 miles. I HAVE to get #10 in the books. Then, and only then, can I erase this ludicrous event from future calenders. I'll be a year older next year and it will certainly not get any easier. It HAS to be this year.
So how am I going to get it done when the odds are stacked against me?
1) Change my attitude from one of pessimism and fear to optimism and anticipation.
2) Call on twenty years of ultra experience to get me through the miles.
3) Remember conquering previous challenges even when the odds were not in my favor.
4) Embrace the fact that wicked weather will make the journey's completion that much sweeter.
5) Run when I should run. Walk when I should walk.
6) 17 or 18 hours is short in the context of a lifetime. Commit to suffer that long if necessary.
7) Keep moving.
8) Know that it doesn't always get worse.
9) Keep my mind alert. Plan my next book (or at least blog post). Solve a few problems.
10) If #9 turns out to be a fail, go brain-dead but keep on going.
Here begins the mental transformation. Stay tuned for the rest of the story, coming to you sometime after the race this Saturday and at a point when cognition is possible once the brain cells are once again viable. . . which could be close to never.
Interested in other Hellgate stories from the last couple of years?
2012 Just One More Day: Journey to Hellgate and Beyond
2011 The dark Side of the Hellgate Moon
2010 Hellgate: Take 8
2009 Hellacious Hellgate
Roanoke Times Interactive Web Story featuring video, interviews and race information