Update: Rachel Spaulding reflects on record-setting performance at Hellgate

Blacksburg’s Rachel Spaulding punctuated an impressive year of racing with a record-setting performance at the 2021 Hellgate 100K. Rachel finished in 11:59:06 – breaking the women’s course record by eight minutes and becoming the first woman to break 12 hours on the challenging 66-mile course. She finished more than 94 minutes ahead of the second place female and ninth overall.

Rachel Spaulding pushes to the finish line in order to finish Hellgate 2021 in under 12 hours. Photo by Jay Proffitt.

Rachel offered these thoughts on winning this year’s Hellgate after finishing as runner-up in 2020 and third in 2019.

You went into the race with the goal of winning. Was sub-12 hours a goal? I like to go into a race with more than one goal. I tend to set an A, B, and C goal. So many things can happen in an ultra and it helps me keep everything in perspective. So my ‘A’ goal was to break 12 hours but I knew it was going to take an extreme effort. I had the course record in mind as well and spent a lot of time looking at the splits that would get me there. My other goals consisted of running a smart race and having a strong second half, which I did not do in 2019 or 2020. 

What was the most challenging section of the race? Weather plays a consistent challenge with this race. This year the weather was odd. It was cold and windy, and rained early on. Then it got very warm and humid. The fog made it very difficult in the night as well. I struggled early on in the race which I am not used to. It was mile 12 until almost 27 where I was in a funk. This section has a little bit of everything and it is easy to over work early on. It was very foggy and I felt uncomfortable; I almost started to let go of my goals early on in the race. I had to use a lot of mental strength to remind myself that it is a long race and I will eventually feel better. After some problem solving at aid station 5 I began to feel better physically and mentally I was in a good spot. The second half of the course is also very challenging in general, getting more technical and a lot of climbing on tired legs. The last 20 miles really has you second guessing your definition of fun and your sanity.

Now that you’ve accomplished this goal — what’s next? I would like to say that after breaking 12 hours my brain will stop obsessing over Hellgate, but that is not the case :-). I think long term there is more to give to this race, although I am confident that there was nothing left to give this year! I spent a lot of time and energy focusing on this race so I am going to use December to recharge. I will be at Black Canyons 100K in February and probably Promise Land 50K in April. I want to do another 100 miler in 2022 so I am still deciding which one. The next few months my main goal is to continue to work on speed and translate that into fast trail running. I also want to keep learning how to race smart and fast; the best way to do that is to put myself in competitive situations. I am so excited to continue growing in this sport!

Other Blacksburg finishers at Hellgate 2021 included: Jordan Chang (3rd place overall in 11:21:49), Rachel Corrigan (14:00:43), Fletcher Meadema (14:52:23), Billy Evans (15:48:45), and Ty Stephenson (16:15:41). Full results here.

Originally published Oct. 22, 2021

‘Some people would probably say I am obsessed with the sport … they are probably right.

Rachel Spaulding approaches Sunset Field on the Blue Ridge Parkway during the 2021 Promise Land 50K.

Rachel Spaulding has had an impressive run of ultra finishes this year –1st at Terrapin Mountain 50K, 2nd at Promise Land 50K, 1st at the Old Dominion 100 miler, and 10th at the Broken Arrow Skyrace in Lake Tahoe. 

And she’s not done yet. 

Next month, Rachel, age 26, will run the Mountain Masochist 50K as part of the training for her next goal race: Hellgate 100K in Fincastle, an ultra created and directed by David Horton, the man she credits with getting her hooked on the sport.

Rachel was a competitive swimmer growing up and that’s the sport she pursued at York College. She began running after a disappointing freshman swim season that, she says, “left me a little broken.”

“My college swim coach introduced me to distance running and we began to ‘fan girl’ over the sport and the people in it. I read Scott Jurek’s Eat and Run book and decided I could do anything … sometimes I am a little naïve. I did my first marathon in the summer of 2015, two months after running a half marathon.” 

“It wasn’t until I moved to Virginia in 2018 and met David Horton that I got sucked into the ultra-scene,” said Rachel, a Blacksburg resident who coaches cross country and swimming in the Roanoke Valley. “Somehow minutes after meeting him I was signing up for a 50 miler [2019 Iron Mountain, which she won] and asking him to run Hellgate 100K. I am assuming I am not the only person a victim of this!”

Spaulding is preparing to go into this year’s Hellgate — a race known for its midnight start and unpredictable weather — with the same mindset she had at last year’s race. She considers her finish in 2020, second woman and top 10 overall, her proudest race moment.

“This was the first race of my life, running or swimming, where I started the race knowing I was going to run well. That was a big mindset change for me, instead of worrying about what other people are going to do, or who was faster than me. I led the race for over 50 miles and focused on myself. Although I didn’t win, I wasn’t afraid to try and that was really cool for me looking back!”

Rachel admits that she can become extremely focused on her running — and her high-volume, high-intensity training plan definitely works for her.

“Some people would probably say I am obsessed with the sport… they are probably right. But there isn’t a better feeling than pushing your body to the limit, and then finding a new limit.”

Get to know Rachel Spaulding

Rachel won the Old Dominion 100 Miler in her debut at that distance.

Hometown: Born in Jamestown, New York/raised in York, PA/bopped around Virginia a little and currently live in Blacksburg.

What brought you to the NRV? My fiancé, Logan Lemcke 😊 I was previously living in Roanoke for work.

Occupation: High school cross country coach at Roanoke Catholic, assistant swim coach at Hollins. I also coach runners on the side.

Running background? I dabbled in cross country and track in middle school and high school, but I wasn’t very good; my focus was swimming. 

Why do you run now? I run now because it creates the best feeling in the world, and it continues to change my life. It brought me peace about ending a 16-year swimming career, it helped me learn to be more present and less anxious about things in life I can’t control, and it also introduced me to the love of my life. 

Most satisfying running accomplishment? The most satisfying running accomplishment was Old Dominion 100 Miler in June. It was my eighth ultra and my first 100 miler. I GOT to do my favorite thing all day long! For me it was a race where everything came together well. From increasing my miles in training for the event, managing any lows during the race, and finishing strong. I also got engaged at the end of the race!

Congrats on winning the Old Dominion 100! What were the biggest lessons you learned? Thanks, it was an amazing day! Biggest thing I learned was that in a race that long you will have mental highs and you will have lows. When a low comes you must ride it out because there’s another high around the corner if you allow it. Mindset and attitude are everything when running a 100 miler. Biggest challenge was the heat and humidity. The race is the first weekend in June, so no one is very acclimated to the heat at this point. The race is also very exposed in sections. During this challenge I focused on what I could control to help with the heat, which was mostly my fueling and staying on top of that.

What’s a typical training week? I train at a high volume because it works for me, but also because I love running. It is rare that I can’t get myself out the door, and if that does happen, I take off because I probably need rest.

I typically train 6 days a week. Depending on what I am training for, I sometimes do a double 1-2 days a week (specifically during 100-miler training). I am training about 12-15 hours regularly, usually in the trails/mountains. I also have added speed workouts 1-2 times a week. I also do strength sessions and yoga two times a week. I credit this to staying injury free and being able to run so much.

Last race? Broken Arrow 48K (9,000 ft of gain) Skyrace in Lake Tahoe.

Next race? Mountain Masochist 50K in November if training and recovery go as planned, but my focus is Hellgate 100K in December.

Hardest race? Broken Arrow 48 FOR SURE!

Favorite workout? Long hill repeats! This summer I found a trail called Sarver that connects to the AT. It’s about a 1.20 mile climb with 1,350 feet of gain. I like to go up and down it a few times to work on strength.

Favorite places to run? Such a tough question! Anywhere out in the mountains that has a lot of climbing! I like to start out near Apple Orchard Falls or Day Creek Trail a lot. Any time I get to spend on the Appalachian Trail is also a good time to me.

Advice for new runners? Ask a lot of questions to people who have been doing this sport! I know it is intimidating but the running community is very friendly and accepting, especially in this area. A lot of what I have learned and used in my training is an idea I got from someone else. 

If you aren’t running you are probably … ?  Talking about running, coaching runners, or planning my next run. I also enjoy cooking, practicing yoga, and reading (usually about running).

Any running superstitions or rituals? This question made me laugh. I wouldn’t say I believe in superstitions, but there are things I like to do that I can control before I run or race. I think it comes from thriving off routine and knowing what works best for me. Some examples are eating the same breakfast before runs/races, same pre-run stretching routine, and same taper practices. If it works, why mess with it!

Favorite gear? I like any shorts that have pockets and my Aftershokz headphones for solo training days.

Suggestion for growing our running community? I think it would be great to link up more with local running stores and have trail running opportunities for beginners. I think introducing youth into trail running is also a good idea

Favorite pre-run fuel? Waffles or fruit

Favorite post-run recovery/reward meal? I don’t really have a reward meal but after a race I allow myself to spend a few days eating whatever the body craves. It is usually sweets!

Fact that many people don’t know about you? I seem social and outgoing, but I am a very introverted person. A running environment helps make me extroverted at times.

Running goals for the next few years? Mostly just to keep pushing myself to a new level and see what I am capable of, while still loving this sport. I also want to help grow the sport of trail and ultra-running and introduce it to younger people.

You might also like these stories:

105 racers started the Looking Glass 50 miler. Just 63 finished. Emily Hutchins was 1 of them.

Grit, determination (and lots of soda) fuel Brett Sherfy to Western States finish

Hokie Half champ credits hill training and positive thoughts for strong finish

Skip Slocum: From occasional 5K to 50K in one year

Jordan Chang shares his passion for running and community.

Danny Rau: ‘Running is a cruel mistress’

Jenn Fleming’s comeback story continues with win at Holiday Lake 50K

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