Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Crazy enough for Hellgate

I watched one of those animated videos the other day that brought about some momentary clarity on a day when I was heading out for a run, but trying to decide if a rest day for a cranky knee was a better choice. It was the injured Ironman one, where the chick in the sauna is talking about her training (through 6 stress fractures) to a regular guy, who just keeps asking "why?" and sees the apparent absurdity in her endeavors.  I've paused to question the sanity of what we ultrarunners do many times recently as I get ready for a race that I've always considered just beyond the brink of sanity--one that I never wanted to run because it was just a little too nuts. And, it's been during the training for this race that I've paused on a few occasions to question why.  Even through my moment of clarity when I knew deep down that rest was a smart option, I opted for a run, also knowing that the smart option would leave me stir crazy for the rest of the day, having the day off of work and plenty of time to run and a weekly mileage total I hoped to hit.


One of those "we're nuts" moments was on a recent night summit to Larch Mountain via Angels Rest.  I proposed the idea of a Friday night run at our Tuesday night trail run, and you know you're surrounded by a bunch of crazies when the 4 guys behind you immediately agree to join in on the fun.  We left from the Bridal Veil parking lot at about 7:30 in a steady rain. Normal people are home on the couch or bellied up to the bar, but my friends and I were opting to run up into what likely would be a snowstorm on top of Larch Mountain covering 23 miles and 7500 feet of climb. We did find snow, but managed to summit even with a foot of powder on top.  We finished sometime after midnight, found some late night grub, and made it home and in bed by 3 a.m.  There were more than a few occasions on that run when we admitted to ourselves, "This isn't normal."  99.XXX percent of the population isn't running up a mountain in the rain/snow to get in night miles in extreme conditions.  But it was one of those runs that was 100% memorable--I won't soon forget that group or that particular run. The Gorge is beautiful by day, but also pretty damn amazing at night in the snow.

The view on top of Larch.  Me, Yassine, Shane and Aaron (Jason is taking the photo).  The snow up top  was a good 12" deep. 
Another of those "possibly nuts" moments was on a 30 mile solo night run in Forest Park two days later.  I wanted to hit my first 100 mile training week, and wanted to get in more night running so opted to wait to start my run until 3:30, to guarantee that at least a few hours of it would be in the dark.  And even though I realize that running alone on trails in the dark is not what many consider the wisest of options, it's one of my favorite times to run, and I'd guess the chance of real danger is fairly slim.  Yes, you could run into a freak in the woods with an ax, but I like to think that I could outrun most ax-toting freaks (and in Portland you can run into freaks just about anywhere). And just when I'm thinking that it's not the brightest of ideas, I run into my running buddy, Rick, also out running alone through the woods at night.  There's comfort in knowing that I'm not the only wack-job out there (and that hopefully, the other wack-jobs out there are just friends out getting in miles).

And I guess that's the appeal of Hellgate.  The same wackos head back year after year. It can't be so bad if the same people inflict it upon themselves repeatedly.

Hellgate calls itself a 100K, although everyone except Horton, seem willing to admit that it's actually 66 miles.  Starting at midnight (or rather 12:01 a.m. on Saturday) in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia the second Friday of December, it almost guarantees to be a suffer-fest and a race where no 100K PR will ever be set.  Rather, times are likely to be several hours slower than any other 100K you'll ever run.  The factors that attribute to this include those extra 4+ miles, the weather, and a tough, technical course that includes somewhere around 14,000 feet of climb. Started in 2003, the years get referred to as "the ice year," "the cold year (or frozen corneas) year," the "leaf year,"  etc.  Yet while everyone loves to complain about Hellgate, those who complain flock to the event year after year. Limited to about 150 runners, the event has a cult following.  To celebrate my 5 year anniversary as an ultrarunner, I'm finally just crazy enough to see for myself what it is about Hellgate that causes everyone to complain so, yet return to the source of the agony, again and again.  Whether I'm tough enough to endure Hellgate is a question yet to be answered.  Oregon has made me a bit soft, I'm afraid.

Here's hoping that Hellgate is not a white-out year....


12 comments:

Olga said...

Way to celebrate your 5th year, Amy! Nothing better than that (or the night runs with a bunch of crazies). Go kill it!

ultrarunnergirl said...

Embrace the crazy. It certainly makes life so much more interesting.
I realized a few years ago (just before I ran my first ultra) that all of my most memorable fun times involved dancing in the pouring rain at an outdoor concert.
Night runs, rain runs, holy-sh*t-we-nearly-froze runs -- the epic ones are what makes us feel ALIVE, and what we'll remember when we're in our rocking chairs.

Casseday said...

Good luck Amy. I think the VA mountains miss you. Enjoy!

Rooster said...

The ultra crowd is all crazy but i am sure in the most wonderful way...at least that's what I tell myself. I think I would be more scared in the Pearl District duriing the day than forest park at night.

I am excited for your race. I think you are going to have a wonderful day!

Rick Gray said...

Welcome to your first Hellgate. You will not be dissapointed and I know you are up for the challenge. As this will be my 7th Hellgate, I have to agree that Hellgate does have an amazing following. I will only see you at the start as you will finish hours in front of me, but you are in for a treat. By the way, when you run through Hellgate Creek, don't look to your right to see the bridge!

Sophie Speidel said...

Who you calling a wack job?!!!

Yes, it us true, we can't get enough of Hellgate. However, the weather 7 days out is calling for rain and 40s. I told myself and my hubz a few years ago that I would DNS the race in those conditions. We'll see. You sound like you are ready for the cold and rain! Hope to see you there :-)

@Rick...what bridge?!!!!!

amy said...

Sophie, you are a wack job and that's why I love you!

Embrace the crazy! Thanks, Kir. I think that will become my Hellgate mantra.

And thanks, all!

Neal Gorman said...

You may be softer ; ) but you're still tough enough for Hellgate. If it's any consolation, the weather throughout the fall has been really nice- very mild- around these parts. Most days are dry and sunny with warm temps. Hopefully it will hold another week! See you then.

Rick Gray said...

Sophie, I have seen it in the past. It is about 30 yards up stream. I use to hear stories in the early years that Horton would dnf you if you used the bridge. Maybe it is gone now. Probably destroyed by Horton!

Racingtales - Alison Gittelman said...

Well, congrats! Looks like it was a good decision after all!

Olga said...

Rumor is you got the course record!!!

Hostpph said...

that video is quite absurd. It is pretty impressive that someone is thinking to do that kind of work out with an injury like that.