The Time is Now

The Hellgate 100K is finally here. Tonight at 12:01am (yes, AM) I’ll be racing off into the night in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia, with 144 fellow headlamp-donned runners that somehow thought it would be a good idea too. Most of the course will follow the Glenwood Horse Trail, covering 66.6 miles and 13,000ft of elevation gain before arriving at the finish line at Camp Bethel.

True to how I’ve felt for most of this season, Hellgate has been looming, but it has not been at the forefront of my mind. I’ve gone through the motions of training, but most of the time when I’m not running it’s “out of sight, out of mind”. I’ll feel fine for days or weeks at a time, then a wave of grief will hit me out of nowhere and put me in a funk. I have hopes and dreams for what my education and career could look like moving forward, but the steps to get there while potentially facing rejection all along the way are really putting my anxiety at peak levels. What I’d really like is a plan and to know what to expect, but for now I just have to wait, which is killing me. Since all I can do is think, I’m pretty much planning out my next moves based on the variety of outcomes, as if my life were a giant chess match. That way even if one thing doesn’t work out, I’ll already have plans B, C, and D ready to go in my back pocket. Now, is that prudent and productive, or a waste of energy in trying to be the one in control?

One thing I really like about running is how measurable it is. It doesn’t require having to convince someone else that I can do it (well, other than the portion of the Hellgate application where you have to write why you think you can finish the race). The end result doesn’t come down to whether I’m deemed worthy by someone else, or how well I can talk myself up. How well I prepare for and execute my race is up to me. Numbers don’t always tell the whole story, but they’re objective all the same.

Objectively speaking, I am ready for this race. I always tell the athletes I coach to “look at the facts” when they’re feeling self-doubt ahead of a big race. So here are the facts: even with all of the personal ups and downs, I’ve had a solid, consistent season of training that culminated with a big weekend of running a good portion of the Hellgate course itself. The best part was how good I felt during, and how quickly I recovered from three back-to-back long runs. The next weekend, I ran a personal best on the rolling 3.5 mile Fairmount Loop in Portland during a workout. On a group trail run the next day, some friends commented on how zippy I was and that I seemed very ready. A few days ago, I threw in a few quick tempo miles along the Charles River in Boston–6:18, 6:12, 5:49–and felt like I was floating. Now, raw speed won’t determine how well I’m going to run over one hundred kilometers, but it indicates to me that I’m in tip top shape, which is a great feeling.


What matters most to me going into this race is running smart, having fun, and finishing the thing. It’s going to be hard, and if it’s anything like my first experience, there will probably be painful moments and tears will likely be shed. Hopefully some of those will be happy tears at the finish line, like in the photo above. A lot can happen over 66.6 miles and I’m ready to see how it all unfolds.

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In other news, you may have noticed I changed my last name back to my maiden name, Derstine (rhymes with pine). It’s going to take some getting used to, but for me it’s one more marker of moving forward, remembering where I came from, beginning a new chapter, and all of that good stuff. ‘Til next week! ~Mercury

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