I'm finding it difficult to conjure up the state of mind necessary to fully convey how I felt running (hobbling)
at Hell(s)gate. My chair is just too soft, the room too warm, my body too sated.
We tromped through a deep stream. Then we climbed a windy road -- the snow packed firm beneath our feet.
The ascent felt effortless. I turned off my headlamp and basked in my own body heat -- trapped and shielded from
the wind by the thin layer of ice on my mitts and shoes. I looked across the valley gently lit by a waning moon.
Below me was a bobbling strand of lights -- flowing uphill.
The snow was deeper. On top of 4 inches of snow was maybe 1 inch of ice.
Those near the front placed their feet on the surface and were suspended there for a fraction of a second
before the ice collapsed through the snow -- jarring the body against its expectations -- sucking all the energy
from every stride. Where the slope of the trail was precipitous, I jammed my feet downward to puncture the ice
and give myself some traction. It only failed to work once and I slammed onto my side sliding downward until I
found myself clutching a seedling.
glow lights ahead of the runners. The leader (Serge Arbona) had apparently decided on left or right, but there was
no sign on the icy road of his tracks or the correct route. So I waited for the marking crew. They arrived but knew
the course no better than I. So we waited for a runner who knew the course.
placed, stride. It was a bit more work this time, however, and judging the traction possible on the road was a
trick given only the beam of light created by two LEDs on my headlamp. On a brief downhill I found out just how
tenuous was my connection to the road surface. I have no recollection of the time between attempted foot plant and looking at the stars. I glanced around and saw my headlamp 15 feet behind me casting a feeble ray of light into the vast darkness of that night. I hopped up and retrieved it before my brain could fully comprehend what I was getting myself in for. Was this mile 15 of a 66-67 mile run?
footing. We had to walk a lot of it. This is the part I find hard to convey: this took a lot -- a lot of time -- a lot of
everything -- to get to the first major aid station at mile 22. Horton was there. You really can't expect him to sympathize. He's pulled off organizing this thing (narrowly). He's survived worse. I acted casual, told him it would be a long day. He agreed. He got me some soup. Has he mellowed since the PCT thing?
crew. Oh well -- I left my halogen lamp on to spot the occasional streamer. We walked the step-crunch uphills. We ran the road uphills. I was grateful for those. That was the closest I came to actual running. The other times I was a semi-crazed victim of a mountain plane-crash, thrashing my way clear to safety, narrowly hanging on to my sanity let alone my upright posture.
day start so I could escape this beam -- the beam of light trapping me like some instrument of alien abduction.
My thoughts were jumbled by this cone of light that extended just far enough to keep me aware of what I was
about to step on -- most of the time.
grilling. It was light. I talked to them. I performed for the digital camcorder someone pointed my way. I am here,
I announced to myself. Talking to people. One helps me with my hydration pack. "Hamburger?" Awesome, I say,
and mean it! "Get going, this is a race" Horton hollers at me. Right, right.
that I am alone again. I get pissy with the ice though. Say a lot of cuss words that I reserve for such moments
alone in the woods. It's a conversation with myself really. He told us this was the easiest section. I'm still walking.
I'm still step-crunching. No more running on step-crunching. My achilles tendon will rupture soon. Pain and
pressure has been building. The step-crunch stretches it more than I can handle. And the knee on the other leg.
Bending it has become a problem. How many hours have I been doing this? I'm too fragile for this -- this ice treading.
Too tall really, and thin. My legs will splinter with the constant pitching from this changing surface: first a thin
flat rock - then a shattered mass of smaller rocks, sharp and cutting. Did that actually cut my toe through my
shoe (yes). I should have screwed my shoes. Yes, that sounds about right. 'Screwed my shoes.'
about the actual distance, or about the young man who finally passes me (Corey). I hope my wife and kids
are there. When I hear my daughter's voice, though, it is all I can do not to cry. I have been worn so thin.
I see my wife but cannot say too much. There is not much left of me. My son and daughter stay in the van
but wave and smile and yell. I wave but cannot say much. I tell my wife that bending my knee has become
a serious problem. Can she find some pain-relievers. Double the dose. I will walk the last part. Suffered too
much. The first place woman (Justine) comes into the aid station. Her eyes still glow, though she has the
reconciled look one gets after many miles on the trail. She leaves.
He has a strong brisk power-walk. Why can't I power up with a bit more spunk? The achilles won't stretch
and the knee won't bend.
winding jeep trail down the other side. I open up my stride to see how the knee handles it. Gradually I
increase the pace and finally I am running again. Carefully, judiciously, but running. I had allowed that I
might take 2 hours for the last 6 miles. But soon I have absorbed the 2+ miles down the mountain and
my body is so grateful to be running again that it will not slow down. The woman is ahead. Then behind.
Then the man is ahead, and there is the finish. He walks. I yell for him not to slow down. I will pass him if
he doesn't pick it up. I pass him and finish. I am not the same person from a little over an hour ago. I am
grateful for that last 6 miles.
he do this? He knows he has us. He knows we are cussing him when we run. But then we finish.
Then we love it. Not two hours before I had planned a life without running. Now I'm planning how to get
in shape for Vermont next summer. That's ultrarunning.