Posted: February 17, 2011 in Uncategorized

Below is my Hellgate Race Report from Dec ’09 – I thought it would be appropriate to share because

We never know where the trail can take us…

It was cold wintery evening in December of 2003 when my life would be unimaginably transformed forever.  Sometimes, I think it was for the better but there are times that I believe that this change could be my ultimate demise.  Somehow, on that particular evening, it was no coincidence that I found a race report by Cat Phillips in my unassuming hands.  I remember reading it late at night after my kids had fallen asleep.  Cat wrote about her first 100k.  This wasn’t just “any 100k.”  Cat ran and won the Hellgate 100k+.  This race is estimated at 66.6 miles with thousands of feet in elevation change.  Another special feature is that it starts at 12:01 AM in the middle of December in the heart of the Blue Ridge Mountains.  Most often, there is ice and snow with which to contend, frozen rivers to cross, and big climbs to endure.  I couldn’t imagine such a feat. I read and reread the race report in complete wonder and amazement.   I placed it on my nightstand and turned out the light.  I closed my eyes and by morning I was a new version of the old me.  What is it about a little bit of black ink (mere ant droppings) on a page that can make such an enormous difference in someone’s life?  It is insane how something so seemingly small can impact us so much. 

 Two months later, without even running a marathon, I completed my first ultra (Holiday Lake 50k+).  I remember thinking “How did Cat run a 50k x 2 and on mountainous terrain?”  It was unfathomable.  Soon after, I was pregnant with our third child and took a rest from running to focus on my family and my job.  Fast-forward two years and I was ready to lace up the trail shoes again.  I began to run more and more and out of the blue I decided to enter the 2007 Lynchburg Ultra Series (LUS).  I met my goal and finished the LUS that year even though I was without any stellar performances.  The fact that I finished was a huge accomplishment for me. 

 In 2008, things got even more extreme as my “purest” spirit morphed itself into a creature of the wild.  The competitive juices began to flow as I bettered my performances, won a couple races, and attempted my first 100 miler.  It was at this time that I fell from atop my pedestal into the darkest abyss for a runner – a.k.a. injury.  Shamefully, I admit that it was a blessing in disguise because I needed this slap in the face without question.  It forced me to reevaluate my life, my passion, my goals, and my work and put them into perspective.  I had to ask myself some tough questions which brought me back to my roots.  We all need to be rooted in something pure, something good, and something right.    

Very quickly, I learned to be grateful for the simple ability to run on trails.  After healing, I can honestly say that I never take another trail outing for granted.  Every single run, without exception, I get down on my knees in the middle of the trail, vulnerable and emotional, to thank the Lord for allowing me the privilege of being there doing what I love to do.  The trail is my sanctuary.

That brings this story to Hellgate 2009 –

Six years after reading Cat’s race report, I found myself at the start line of Hellgate 2009.  It was midnight and it all felt surreal.  I couldn’t believe that I was actually there doing what I always felt was unimaginable considering my ability, proneness to injury, and dislike of the cold.  Likewise, God was not holding anything back.  He was testing me further with temperatures surely to plunge below fifteen degrees.  Five hours of this weather is one thing but fourteen hours is another (or at least that was my goal).

I trained hard for Hellgate.  I was meticulous and methodical in my training for the weeks leading up to the race.  I was running hundred mile weeks back to back without injury which was a first for me.  Additionally, I took every waking moment to think about and organize my gear for the race.  I had several bins separating my gear:  mittens and hats, food, liquids, medical needs; bottles, jackets, extra clothes, lights, batteries, and more.  I labeled food baggies for each aid station.  I printed out crew directions and things that I might want at each aid station.  You name it and I planned it.  The planning may have helped calm my nerves but it did absolutely nothing for my performance.  By an hour into the race nothing was in the correct bin and nothing that I thought I would want was desirable.  I realized that all I would need until the finish was a water bottle and some gels…nothing else.  I definitely learned an important lesson:  Don’t over think it and stick to the basics.    

Through all the pain, fatigue and negative thoughts – I marveled at the dark trails illuminated by everyone’s headlamps and the chem. lights creating a beautifully choreographed array of dancing lights through the mountains. More than anything:  There were the unexpected moments that really spoke to me out there.  Many times it was a beautiful trail or a captivating scene.  But for me, as an independent and solitary being by nature, I was surprised by how others would help to fuel me.  I was overwhelmed by how much I would truly appreciate everyone’s help, support, generosity and the sacrifices they were making.  

The truth is that it is these unassuming things that are what impress upon me the most:  a helping hand, a smile, a nice gesture, a race report, running alone on a dark trail in the middle of the night with the stars as bright as they can be; the silhouette of a gorgeous mountain only visible because of the florescent sunrise looming in the background, and yes – running 2.5 minutes under my goal of fourteen hours.  Most of all – the small act of merely being there in the company of extraordinary talent and tenacious spirits is that for which I am most grateful. 

I arrived at the one mile mark with less than nine minutes to go if I wanted to break 14 hours.  My mind said “you can do that – easy – no problem!”  However, I didn’t know if my body was playing a trick on me.  Was I going as fast I felt?  After 66 miles of moving at a relatively slow pace, any pace seems fast.  Only the clock would tell.  I rounded the bend coming into the camp. I could hear the cheers but I could not see anyone.  “Where is the finish?  Do I have to go all the way to the backside of the camp?  Are you serious?  Where are you?  Where’s the clock?”  I was grunting and staggering the whole way.  Why?  Why were those little digits so critical in how I would feel about my performance?  What is it about a little bit of black ink on a page that can make that big of a difference in my perspective on things?  This brings me back to the original point “It is insane how something so seemingly small can impact us so much.”  They are just numbers.  I arrived at the finish line in 13 hours and 57 minutes.  I did it and those little digits did make all the difference in how I would look at this race and my performance. 

Finally, I have come to the realization that nothing that is easy is worth anything.  Likewise, nothing that is worth anything is ever easy.  There are several common threads that bind ultrarunners but the core of who we are is seeking a life full of passion, enjoying God’s playground and challenging ourselves to do more than we think to be possible.  At Hellgate 2009, I did more than I thought I could.  I obtained a feat that seemed unimaginable six years earlier.  Although I reached my objective, I simultaneously realized that I am not nearly as tough as I would like to think I am.  I have a tremendous amount to learn and a lot of progress to make.  I wonder where this trail will take me six years from now. 

 (or six days from now!)……Spain!

  1. Good luck Jenny. Have fun, run fast, and enjoy it (as much as possible). I’ll be following along and praying for you.

    – Adam

  2. Time is closing in. But you will make like a glow worm…and shine!

    I am so excited for you. You will be on my mind and in my thoughts and prayers the whole time. I commit to pray for strength, and wisdom, and fortitude.

    Blessings, Jenny.


  3. Rick Gray says:

    Time is close. I know you are excited and scared to death at the same time. You will shine in the days to come. Our Lord will protect you and guide you down that path. Tammy and I will praying for you during your adventure. Your faith will see you through this. The coming days will not be easy, but your reward and the fruits of your labor will be so worth it. Tammy and I love you greatly. Rick

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