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....