12:01 am December 11th, we busted down the dirt road leading to aid station 1. The "road" was just a typical Jeep road that you might find on the outskirts of Leadville, but there were some definite differences to that; more scattered rocks (larger rocks) and a lot of leaves and overgrowth with scattered roots. I started out nice and easy, slipping right in a group of about 15 or so within 10 seconds of the lead. Here, I made sort of a conscious decision that there was absolutely no reason to be ahead of Karl Meltzer so I slowed when he slowed and pretty well stayed in his shadow through the first aid station (~5 miles).
From here we started a series of climbs as a good chunk of the 13,500' of gain is in the first 22 miles or so. I ran side by side with Jason from PA and we passed the time while keeping in touch with Karl and some of the top locals. Some time into the climb, Jason stepped off for a bio break and I kept at it, running somewhat with the guys but never really with anyone. It seemed like we had been climbing forever, but the grade was manageable (5-7% maybe?) and I was running strong and not breathing hard.
Somewhere just before or after aid two I was running right behind Karl for a long time, absolutely hammering the downs, slipping and sliding all over the place in the soft snow and leaves and pushing hard on the ups. This section (I think, my memory is a bit off during the night section) was awesome! Running on a really narrow trail in and out of the mountain side through the snow, it was what I had signed up for. We stayed like this and dropped a few of the other runners with us, including some guy who went out way too hard, and I was starting to think to myself, "what am I doing here? Scott said I should have only one goal: FINISH." Then I'd think, "I can run 50 miles in 10 hrs without a problem, if I get there, I can walk in under the limit even if I completely blow up." That's kind of when I went in the first phase of "race mode." All this meant was that I was going to try for a top 10 slot, figuring I'd need about 13:30:xx to get there based on previous results.
On my way up to aid 3 on the big climb, I found myself running with super nice Chris Reed from Team Inov-8 (must be a requirement to run for them) and we were motoring when we passed Karl, but just figured he wasn't feeling good and we'd see him later (I was right). After we passed aid 3 I kept moving, running with Chris for a few miles, then he'd drop back and I'd go out front now in 2nd place and just keep at it. Chris would come back to pass me in the middle of that section on the climb, then when I stopped to take a dump (rather precariously off the side of a cliff) I was passed by Karl and Keith Knipling. Here, 22 miles in my legs started to feel a bit worked and I had the "oh shit" moment, thinking I could have started to kill my legs only 1/3rd of the way through the race. Immediately I started to take my foot off the gas, walked for a minute or two for close to the first time and made sure to eat a few extra gels and 2 endurolytes.
I was caught and passed by Ryan from NY in this section leading to Headforemost Mtn, but I caught back up and ran with him into the aid 4 where I made a quicker stop and was out before him, I just tried to put a gap on him and shortly I saw more lamps in the distance, I spent the next downhill section trying to catch those lights, and I passed Karl taking a dump about a mile from aid 5 and caught Keith at the aid station, coming out there is a very shallow 3 mile climb and this is where I made the decision to go for it, it was roughly 50K into the race and I was feeling good again, actually not just good, but great. I absolutely HAMMERED the climb, running 8's or somewhere close and put a big gap on Karl and Keith, and I continued to run my ass off through aid 6 where Horton was ready to motivate.
Dr. Horton really knows what to say to get you moving or keep you going, it was odd but he got under my skin at this station and the next two as well. I think he said something like, "Scott wasn't lying about you Mexican't, you can do it boy!" I took off, just moving near the edge of too hard and I began to internalize everything that was happening around me. Nothing moved, I was living in a world where the only things that existed were me, the 15 feet of trail in front of me, and 2 guys ahead of me. I'd say over and over, you're feeling good, keep going, there is no reason to slow down, no reason to walk, it doesn't hurt that bad. It felt like I was in a trance almost, sort of weird. Blowing through the rolling terrain here was nice, and I really thought I might catch Chris, but he must have been moving too.
At aid 7 Horton yells at me, "4 minutes off Chris and 29 down to Jeremy, you know Scott came out here and WON his race, come on BOY GO!" I tear off out of there like a man on an effing mission, determined that I'd catch Chris. As fast as I could go, I couldn't ever get an eye on him, and I was starting to get scared because I realized Horton never said anything about who was chasing me and I thought Karl might well be turning on the jets and looking to go for the win. Shortly thereafter I fell hard and smoked my left knee on a rock. Needless to say, I was terrified, at this point, I had run in 3rd place for so long that losing it would have been a huge blow mentally. Then the mental struggle of sleep deprivation hit me and I was just totally zoning out through aid 8 at Bobbet's Gap. From here to the last aid station is known as the "forever section" and damn it is tough. It's not that it's hard terrain, it's really not, but it is frustrating, you kind of know you need to be heading "left" but the trail keeps swinging back uphill to the right, and you start cursing out loud. All I knew is that I had to keep moving, and I slowed down a lot here in this section, constantly looking over my shoulder expecting to see Karl.
There were 3 short climbs and short descents with leaves covering every inch of the trail, some places knee deep and I was just so over it when I realized I had started descending for the 3rd time which meant I was on my way to the final aid. When I got there, they still hadn't set up yet, but they had gatorade at ready so I topped that in my bottle not wanting to eat another gel. Here on in is 2.6 mile climb and 3.5 mile descent and I ran my as much as I possibly could up the climb which is not that bad, but I was just exhausted, but more sleepy than sore. When I reached the top and realized I still couldn't see behind me I knew that I had 3rd in the bag and I just cruised down the hill around the corner and in through the finish line. When I crossed the line I kissed the ground and gave thanks to Horton for the great race he put on.
My finishing time was 12:05:18, 9th fastest time ever on the course, and I won my age group (0-29 with the 2nd fastest age group time ever). I ended up beating two of my ultrarunning idols, Karl Meltzer and David Goggins (whose article in RW opened my eyes to ultras just over 2 years ago). I am just stoked right now, I worked really hard for that result and I'm damned proud. Part of the spoils included a $150 Patagonia Jacket with the Hellgate logo embroidered in it. I can't thank Horton and the race staff enough for putting on a great race. The course was marked impeccably, and the aid workers were awesome. I'd definitely recommend this race to anyone, just be prepared to run...