The Book of HURT is essentially a welcome guide for the hundred miler on Oahu. In it contains specific mention of wild pigs, leptospirosis infected streams, serpentine roots, shoe stealing mud, and exposed cliffs. The course consists of five 20 mile loops with 24,500 ft of total gain and 24,500 ft of total loss, all between 300 ft and 1,900 ft above sea level. This is the elevation profile:
I arrived 5 days before the race to acclimate to the area and take in some sights with my folks. After all, we were in Hawaii! Properly tapering during in the days leading up to the race was one of the more difficult parts of the trip. I left many trails unexplored in the Ko'olau Range but they'll have to wait for another trip!
Race day morning, the alarm went off at 3:30 am. After the standard banana and peanut butter, my parents and I made the 20 minute drive to the start at the Hawaii Nature Center. Whether it was the early hour or the heavy thoughts of impending suffering, I found the surrounding mood very subdued. Looking around through the darkness, folks stared at the ground introspectively in a half awake, half asleep meditative state. Yet as time ticked closer to 6 am, you could feel energy (and nerves) slowly grow. After a rendition of the National Anthem, a traditional Hawaiian song, and a blow from the conch shell, the race was on!
Pre-race with dad
Waiting for the conch
My race plan was largely undefined. I wasn't really concerned about position on the first lap, at least not until I saw the entire course and knew what I was up against. Based largely off of arbitrary reasoning, a 22-25 hour finishing time seemed attainable. This would equate to a 13:20-15:00 min/mile. Simple enough right???
Right from the get go is Hogsback, the first of 3 gnarly climbs on the loop. It's a rooty but dry climb sans switchbacks that travels along a ridge about 25 ft across. Like many sections of the course, it's a lot of fun the first couple times around! After cresting the climb and cruising over some rollers, I eventually settled in behind 2 runners. They turned out to be a fellow Coloradoan, Benjamin Dunn, and Tracy Garneau, the current women's course record holder. Happy with the company and how we were moving collectively, I hung with the group continuing to follow white flagging until the first aid station. I came into Paradise Park in 9th place after 7.3 miles and 85 minutes into the race with an 11:38min/mile average. It was way too early to feel anything but great at this point!
Because of the humidity and time between aid stations, I decided to race with the Ultimate Direction Krupicka pack. In it I could stuff a bottle, salt pills, Justin Nut butters, and a shirt/headlamp/camera/whatever else I needed. Because there would potentially be several hours between aid, I also held a UD Jurek bottle. Most of the time I'm a bottles over vest guy but the vest/bottle combo allowed me to keep one hand free for the occasional rock scrambling. The vest never got too bouncy and I could alternate holding the bottle in each hand to stave off fatigue. It's a system I'd definitely use again.
"Down goes Frazier!"
After the Paradise Park aid station, the course doubled back on itself along as we now climbed out of Manoa Valley. Following green flagging this time, I got to cheer on friends Mike Olivia and Candice Burt. Near the top of the climb at Pauoa Flats was one of the gnarliest root section of the courses. Here, runners take a hard right heading to Nu'uanu Ridge and Aid station #2. The terrain here evolved from muddy/rooty to grassy allowing you to finally look up for a brief period of time and take in city lights of Honolulu down below.
While it was a nice respite, the gentler terrain didn't last long. The course dropped down a couple of short but incredibly steep pitches and continued further down 13 switchbacks. After a river crossing, I arrived at the Nu'uanu aid station still feeling good. At least until the aid station captain reprimanded me for not having empty bottles. I topped them off and told her I would try to do better next time! The temperature at the pre-dawn start was in the upper 60s and was supposed to top out in the mid 80's. With all the canopy cover, I never felt like I was baking in the sun. The primary issue was the humidity and stagnant air that prevented perspiration from evaporating to join the rest of the water cycle. For the next 20-36 hours, we may as well have been running in the sauna at the YMCA.
"Drink your water!"
Bidding adieu to Nu'anu, I made the climb out and began following orange flags to complete loop 1. After reaching the high point of the course, I followed the trail through a couple pig gates, and soon realized I hadn't seen any flags in a while. Mistakes this early in a race are easily minimized so I decided to back track. I came across another runner, Gabe, who wasn't sure but thought this was the way. Stubborn, I kept re-tracing steps until I came across another runner, Alex, who was confident this was indeed the route. Alex lived in the area so this was all the convincing I needed.
We picked up Gabe and the three of us ran together for quite some time. Gabe had a Wasatch 100 under his belt and Alex, who lacked any hundreds to his name, was back after dropping from HURT in 2012. On one of the downhill stretches around mile 18, my right ankle inverted on some awkward footing and I sprained my ankle. After a brief yelp, I was able keep running without too much compensation as long as I dialed the pace back a bit. Back at the Nature Center, marking the completion of the first loop, I informed my parents of the situation. They were fortunately able to pick up an ankle brace for me when I saw them again 7 miles later. Loop 1 was in the books. 3:58 (11:54 min/mile) 9th place.
Off with the shirt, on with the ankle brace!
As enjoyable and easy as the first loop felt, the second loop was marked by periods of utter despair. It was still early in the race and so my anguish wasn't physical in nature. The ankle was feeling better now and the pain was completely gone after a couple hours. so that wasn't a factor either. It seems I'd run into more of a mental block. After the first lap, I realized I couldn't claim naivety anymore. There would be no more mystery to the course. No more "I wonder what's around that bend." Instead, it was "I'm going to climb, then descend, then climb back up, then descend, then climb back up, and descend, and so on...for 80 more miles! Running 100 miles is crazy. Running 80 more miles on the terrain I just covered was stupid!
Terrific photo by Angel King
I realized I needed a new focus, a shift in mental energy. There had to be a way and to give my knowledge of the course some positive spin. With the split from my first lap, I wondered if I could keep subsequent trips within 15 minutes on the preceding loop. Some trail math always helps pass the time and I figured after my first 20 miles, this would put me at a 22:30 finish. Now, occupied with smaller, more immediate goal, I was able to finish lap 2 in 4:12. Mission accomplished.
Now on lap 3, I was now feeling considerably better and found myself working with Alex. At least in this stage of the race, I was leading the power hiking and Alex was taking over on the technical downhills. We sustained this pattern for a while and caught a couple of rabbits who were now struggling. There was still a lot of race left, but sitting 5th and 6th felt good. The Trail N2's were cushioned me enough from the relentless terrain and precluded any need for a tire change. As we approached 60 miles and the end of lap 3, darkness was settling and headlamps were turned on. Still holding a decent pace, Lap 3 was completed in 4:40.
During the race, I had an outstanding crew in my parents but had failed to pin down a pacer. Luckily, I was able to reap the benefits of Matthew, Alex's pacer, and the three of us set out for the final 40 miles. Now in the darkness, it soon became evident that the technicality of the trail had worsened. Maybe it was the more limited field of vision and an increased reliance on proprioception, but it felt like the entire course was now shellacked in a couple coasts of vaseline. Not long after this realization came another tweak to my right ankle. Feeling a bit of swelling now, I slowed just a bit. Another one of those and my race might be over.
The ankle responded as before and the pain eventually subsided. In the darkness of the 4th lap, I found Matthew's presence incredibly helpful. At this point in the race, Alex was doing more leading, and on a number of occassions as we ran along, we'd hear, "SON OF A" and a crash from behind. Matthew would quickly assure us he was OK and catch up. His joy in running with us through the night was palpable. He'd greet every runner we came across with "beautiful night for a run!" This lightheartedness kept us moving and was exactly what I needed. Just before Nu'uanu at mile 70, we crossed paths with Jason in 3rd place who informed us Yassine was just ahead.
This lit a bit of a fire beneath us and though no obvious push was made, the energy of the group elevated just a bit. We saw Yassine ahead and passed just before Nu'uanu. He made a more efficient stop at the aid station and left before us. But, no longer were we just passing the miles in the dark alone now. There was a new game to be played!
As we pursued patiently, I realized that Alex and I were no longer running in synch. He was continuing to feel strong now while I was struggling just to hold things together. When you're running for so long, you have to recognize when to hold back and when to surge. He'd run a smart race so far and now was the time to make a move. Alex took off and I was inspired to keep pushing on, hoping for a second wind in the final lap. Just before the long descent to the Nature Center, I caught up with Yassine and his pacer for a little bit. Yassine's a very talented guy and it gave me a boost to be able to run with him for a bit. About 5 hours, 15 minutes for lap 4. Maybe that second wind will come after all!
12:07 am and the start of the final lap. I was now in 5th place with Yassine not far behind. Now, I had my sights set on a sub 24 hour finish. This would give me a generous 5 hours 52 minutes to cover 20 miles. Seemed simple enough, but on the final climb up Hogsback, I realized I was getting pretty tired. My eyes began to cross as the hiking was lulling me to sleep. Though I became more alert on the runnable downhill grades, it didn't take long before Yassine passed, convincingly.
I've never run for more than 20 hours and I've never had stomach issues during a 100 mile race. Both of these things are no longer true. My nutrition was largely Mocha EFS liquid shots and an assortment of Justin's Nut Butters which have treated me well in the past. For the most part, my appetite remained intact throughout the race, and despite all the climbing, there were no issues with cramping.
But somewhere along the descent in to Paradise my gut decided it was time to exorcise some demons. I apologize to the trees that were involved in what you are about to read. With insufficient warning to assume a proper squatting position, projectile diarrhea spewed from my hind end. And, inaccurately thinking the deed was done, this happened 2 or 3 times in the course of a hundred yards. Bamboo leaves make really poor toilet paper so I made the difficult decision of sacrificing my underwear...and carrying it 3 miles to the next aid station! But before I got there, I'd take a spill, fling and subsequently lose my water bottle down a jungly cliff, and break off a piece of my flashlight. This was now becoming a fiasco!
"I'm gonna need some new underwear!"
Once making it to Paradise, I located the Porta Jon for another bowel evacuation. I also decided to ditch the pack and go with 2 handhelds. With my slower pace, I was now acutely aware of some pretty severe chaffing between my thighs and on my chest and back. Apparently on application of Body Glide was not sufficient for this day. While fumbling around at the aid station, I learned that Jason, who had been running in the top 3 most of the day, would be dropping with an injury. It served as a sobering reminder to try to finish this thing in one piece.
Now, onto Nu'uanu, I noticed I was remarkably less bloated and feeling better about life. Though Gary Robbins was finishing up about now, I kept tabs on those on front. When I saw him, Alex was 5 minutes back on 2nd place with Yassine sitting comfortably in 4th. A 5th place finish would be my highest placing in a hundred miler and I wanted to hold onto that until the end. Throughout the race, I was under the impression that I had at least an hour gap on anyone coming from behind. But the awareness of my declining pace over the last 20 solo miles made me a bit paranoid that someone soon would be closing in.
Mom, crew chief extraordinaire!
Seeing my parents at this last aid station was a huge boost. They had met me at nearly each of the 15 aid stations and had been flawless with giving me what I needed to keep moving. In only their second go at this sort of thing, they have become quite proficient! During this final stop, I again paid my respects to the Porta Jon. Borderline incontinence was devastating to already faltering splits and I realized there was only 1 hour and 45 minutes remaining in order to achieve a sub 24 finish. Yet in trying to put together a strong push to the end, I found that the mind was willing but the body was weak. Or maybe both were weak. In any case, running now was extremely difficult to come by. Even on the level sections, I deemed the roots to be too treacherous to do anything faster than walk.
Nevertheless, when the terrain allowed and I was finally able to string together some quality running stretches, I realized I felt pretty good for having been on my feet for so long. If a sub 24 hour finish wasn't possible, finishing in the dark before 7 am would still be awesome! Now, with less than 2 miles to the finish, I could smell the barn. I was feeling really good! And just after passing a couple on their 4th lap, my bowels rebelled again. With what must have been an inexplicable move in their eyes, I stepped aside to wave them by so I could handle my business. Another super soaker of poo shot into the tree trunks behind me. In my commando state, I was fortunate enough to find some marginally adequate leaves this time. I realized at this point that my stomach was no longer processing the liquid shots. Input was identical to output. But I also discovered there was no blood in my stool. And now, accustomed to these intestinal inconveniences, all I could think was "MAN LIFE IS GOOD!" From here on out, there would be no last minute heroics. I just wanted to be done... and find a legitimate bathroom!
After 24 hours and 21 minutes, I crossed the finish line, rang the gong and kissed the sign! Looking around as folks gathered in various states of health and consciousness, I let out and exasperated "huh." Not a "So this is it?" huh. It was a "So This is it!" huh! My parents celebrated with me and I was adorned with a lei that Alex's friend, Kim, had thoughtfully picked up. The end of the race was nothing special from an outsider's perspective. Just a patch of grass at the Nature Center, a place I had been 5 times before in the last 24 hours. It was a finish without neon lights of Leadville or the grandiose stadium of Western States. And while the race itself may not garner a ton of hype, the community vibe and Aloha Spirit are what truly make it special. It has been the most difficult race I've done so far, but then again, 'Aole Makou E Ho'ohikiwale Kela.
The finish line!
Alex (3rd!) and I
With another race in the books, I find myself again humbled and inspired by the stories surrounding the people who do these things. My experience, though not perfect or easy, was more importantly incredibly meaningful and rewarding. These silly races teach me a lot about gratitude and I owe a big thank you to the race organizers (John and PJ Salmonson, Jeff Huff, and Stan Jenson) aid station volunteers, fellow runners, pacers, crew, and everyone involved. Aloha!