January 25, 2010
HURT'ing In Hawaii, A 100 Mile Tale
Alright, so where to begin, where to end, how to recap it all so that people actually want to read about running 100 damn miles...
Hawaii. I'd never been before. I simply can not wait to go back again! It goes without saying that the place is amazing, but couple that with an incredible racing experience and a wonderful group of individuals associated with the race on all sides, directing, volunteering, and racing, and before the event even began, I knew I'd be longing to return again soon.
Quick background with my 100 mile experience. This was my 3rd 100 miler. In my three attempts at the distance I have now won two races, set two course records, and had one colossal melt down in the sauna that was Western States. HURT was by far the best race I've EVER HAD! I feel like I've finally learned from most of my 'rookie' mistakes and put forth my best possible effort in Hawaii. From training, to tapering, to fueling, things were almost flawless with this one.
I won't go into too great a detail with everything here, but I switched up some strategy on tapering and rolled with two weeks instead of three. This is a personal thing and I've now found what works best for me. My main concern and goal heading into Hawaii was to figure out my 'stomach issues'. Bathroom breaks, number 2's, have always been an issue for me. YES, we're going here already...but it's a part of running and racing so I know you can't be too put off by this side of things, and I'm sure there are plenty of others out there who are struggling with their own stomach distress so I figure it has its place in here.
Quick breakdown, my 1st 100 miler, Stormy x 13 pit stops...my 2nd 100 miler, Western States x 11 pit stops, my 3rd 100 miler HURT x 0 pit stops, YES ZERO, the big goose egg (not literally this time)...and what a 'relief' to finally fix this issue! This alone was a huge contributing factor to my overall success in Hawaii.
What did I do so differently? I ate like a pig on Thursday, not on Friday. I still consumed plenty the day before the race, but I went to bed a wee bit hungry. For a pre-race breaky I've always tried stuffing my face with as much food as possible. For Hawaii I promised myself I'd do the exact opposite. I had but one bowl of cereal. When I filled a second bowl and started to consume I stopped myself mid spoon and simply pushed it aside. It was the best decision and most successful experiment I have yet to complete in my short ultra running 'career'.
The race was celebrating its 10th Anniversary and is widely known to be one of the toughest 100 milers out there. With a cumulative climbing and descending total of nearly 25,000 feet, and almost ALL of it on technical terrain, it was easy to see very early in the race why so many people love to hate this course!
I, on the other hand, saw a course that was perfectly aligned with my strengths as a runner. I possess more power than speed. I run up and down mountains everyday. I LOVE technical terrain and where others see obstacles I consistently see a clear cut route right down the the middle (there's a root pun just waiting to be exposed in there somewhere). No matter how incredibly tough the terrain appears, I somehow naturally and effortlessly find stable footing and rarely have to deviate from my steady pace. Never has this been more evident than my run in Hawaii. You absolutely have to quickly scroll through this photo album to get a feel for what the course actually looks like! (Thanks to Nathan Yanko for these pics)
The course consists of 5 x 20 mile loops, with a few out n back sections during that loop. You have access to three aid stations and on average see one every 90 minutes. The great part about this is that since I was without crew or pacer I was able to fully plan my race from start to finish and pre-package drop bags that I could consistently access. I spent nearly five hours strategizing on Thurs-Fri and absolutely resisted any beach-time until I was confident I had it all dialed!
I had only told four people that I was gunning for Geoff Roes' course record. I e-mailed Geoff himself and threw it in there with a few other questions. Since he did not comment on it specifically I figured he thought I was mostly joking. I also told my girlfriend Tamsin, my running buddy Aaron Heidt, and my Montrail teammate Ryne Melcher. Other than that I knew it would be viewed as a pipe dream and I kept it to myself throughout all of my training and planning.
For those who do not know the name Geoff Roes, he is based out of Alaska and was recently awarded North American Ultra Runner Of The Year. Geoff has run eight 100 mile races. He has won them all. He has set seven course records...one race was run twice meaning he's set a CR on EVERY SINGLE 100m COURSE HE'S RUN!! The guy is a machine and is where most of us find ourselves gauging our own running fitness these days. No one had yet beaten a Roes CR so I was not about to go around barking off about how I felt I had a shot at this. The only thing I knew in advance of the race was that if I ever had a chance at challenging one of his times, it would be on a course like Hawaii. I was also fortunate to be presented with the course in its best condition ever. Apparently 2009 was the best year they had seen, and 2010 was just slightly better again. I've been promised lots and lots of mud and misery should I return again in 2011...just for the record, I love mud and misery and am secretly hoping for a nasty year in my next running of the race!
The First 20
The race started at 6am with the blowing of 'The Conch'
You are then immediately thrown into your biggest climb of the loop. You gain approximately 1500 feet in the first 3 miles alone! I went about power hiking, as did most others. I was a bit shocked to see Darcy Africa running the entire first climb and then to find Tracy Garneau chasing her down. The women lead the entire race heading into the first aid station at 7.3 miles, and at the second aid station at 12.8 miles, myself, Nathan, Tracy, and Darcy all arrived within seconds of each other, while Dan Barger was a minute up on all of us. There was a good group of us up towards the front of the race, and along with Brett Rivers we shared in numerous entertaining conversations.
We started with headlamps and as the sun rose I was more distracted by the spleandor of the area I was running in, rather than the fact that I still had 90 miles of terrain left to cover. The incredibly beautiful terrain consisting of rugged trails littered with banyan roots, contained inside lush forests consisting of banana trees, coffee plants, and stands of bamboo, complete with ridgeline panoramic views, including Pearl Harbor and Waikiki, and all of this upon a backdrop of chiseled jagged rock walls showered in an almost neon green blanket of vegetation. It was truly a little slice of heaven!
Three things were evident to me early on in the race. First off was that I was going to be out-climbed on the course, but certainly not out-descended. After rolling through the first few aid stations two more moments of clarity found me. There was a distinct sense of confidence that overwhelmed me. There were still runners ahead of me at that point, but I did not alter my pace at all. I simply knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that if I ran MY RACE, if I stayed smart, if I paced properly, it was going to be my day. It was an amazing feeling that I worked hard to attain through big mileage training in December. I smiled to myself and actually forgot I was racing for the next few hours. I was too busy loving the run and trying to fully appreciate 'being in the moment' while it was still actually fun!
The final bit of clarity came after hitting my first two drop bags. I had taped all of Geoff's 09 splits to my three main aid bags (and my actual bib number itself) and after 13 miles I found myself six minutes up on CR pace. I was confident that I was pacing well and could mostly mimic it for the next 87 miles. Having constant access to the splits was the perfect fuel to keep me pushing all day long. I knew I had a legitimate shot at a sub 20hr run time.
After 20 miles I hit the start-finish area just a few strides back of who I considered to be the pre-race favorite. Bay area resident and all round great guy Nathan Yanko. We had run the first loop in 3h40m and as we departed together we agreed that we were just going to try to duplicate that again in our second loop.
2nd Verse, Same As The First!
Into the nasty initial climb once again and Nathan, being the stud climber that he is, started pulling away. After a bit of downhill had been thrown into the mix we again found ourselves running together. At about mile 25 Nate pulled off for a pee break...and I figured it as good a time as any to put in a slight push and to officially get the race started!
With there being an out and back section from both aid stations one and two (the course goes Makiki-Manoa-Nuuanu-Makiki-repeat x5), you are never fully able to 'hide' from your competitors, which adds a whole different dynamic to the race. I hit mile 27.3, quickly checked CR splits, grabbed my pre-packaged drop bag and was gone in thirty seconds flat. Knowing I was going to cross paths with Nate again on the way back up what we had just descended I kept a steady pace. I was happy to see that I had gained five full minutes during my push and didn't fully set into my 'power hike' until Nathan and I had crossed paths. Of course I put on my best 'I'm loving this effortless running poker face' as we went our separate ways, me away from aid station 2 and him heading into aid station 2. I will also give a quick HUGE SHOUT OUT to two time 100 mile winner Mike Sweeney for standing in the middle of the forest with his electric guitar and belting out tunes for us all day and night long!!
(or is that an electic ukulele? Either way, great ambiance for a trail run, lol! Thanks Jamie Nott for the pic)
I felt fluid and smooth heading into Nuuanu at mile 33 and was surprised to see that I had added another six minutes to my lead to now have a full eleven over second place.
As I closed out my second loop my split times stayed almost exactly the same!
1h22 / 1h22
59m / 1h01m
1h19m / 1h19m
3h40m / 3h42m
The Heat, The Heat, The Heat
Lap three began at 1:22pm and the mercury had climbed to about 28 degrees / 82F. This does not sound hot at all, but coming from a B.C. winter, albeit mild, this was the hottest weather I'd faced in over four months. I did nothing specific to prepare for this heat and it nearly cost me the race. I'm not a heat guy. Anyone who may have followed me during Western States last summer caught a glimpse of what heat can do to me. I will stand strong to my statement that I did not run myself into the ground at WS, the heat (40+ degrees) beat me into it. I knew that if the heat got the better of me after forty miles in Hawaii I'd undoubtedly face the 'I knew you went out too fast' comments from home...and I dreaded the possibility of that occurring!
I still felt strong heading into Manoa aid station for the third time, at mile 47.3, and was then rewarded with a surprise visit from my friends who had accompanied me to Hawaii, but were there for the beaches n beers more so than to watch a boring 100 mile running event! They announced my number, 85, as I approached and a roar of applause filled the air,
Wow, they must be confusing me for someone else I thought...but I'll take it!
Sure enough as I rounded the corner my friends Amber, Mark, and Omar were yelling and shouting and full of smiles and positive energy! Our time was obviously brief but greatly appreciated and they helped perk me up as I continued on.
From there to Nuuanu at mile 52.8 however, I consciously had to slow my pace and conserve my energy. I knew I still had a few hours of 'peak heat' to deal with and I found myself counting down to the setting sun.
My third lap split was 4h04m, but the sun was now kissing the horizon and I felt rejuvenated heading into the night! 60 miles and 11h30min of running down...only 40 miles left till the finish line!
Bring On The Darkness
I love running at night. Plain and simple it just feels cool to be out running when your primal instincts tell you you should be hiding inside somewhere. It's especially cool while running in a tropical place like Hawaii when the forest can come alive with the sounds of dusk.
As excited as I was for nightfall, I still felt slow while ascending the heinous initial climb away from Makiki. As I crested the trail and began the slight descent that split up the full climb, Nathan caught up to me and passed me like I was standing still! I was absolutely floored and devastated all at once. I knew my lead over him to be somewhere near forty minutes. I knew Nate to be a rock star climber. I felt like I was moving backwards up the 1500 foot climb, but for him to take forty full minutes out of me in just over three miles...none of it made sense, but it was late enough in the race that nothing else made sense either. I'd been running for twelve hours straight, and I wondered if I had anything left in the tank to respond to this challenge.
It was then that Nathan thankfully enlightened me to the reality of the situation. We were on a section of the course that you pass through twice each lap, for a total of ten times. I was approximately 45 minutes up on Nate and we just happened to be passing through the same part of the course, while heading towards different points, at the same time. Once I realized what was actually happening a slight shot of adrenaline woke me up. I wanted to ensure that I hadn't looked too pathetic while he initially passed me and I opened up into our now technical descent and regained the 'lead' from him right before we split trails away from each other. We wished each other luck and as soon as he was out of sight I fell back into my slog of a hike up the final few hundred meters of the massive climb.
Powered on by the sensation that I'd 'survived' the heat of the day, and with ample amounts of adrenaline now pumping through my body I leaned into and destroyed the descent into Manoa. I'd given away some time on the CR pace during the 3rd loop and I knew there would be many people following the live updates at home just waiting for me to crack and fall off pace. In fact the funny thing is that some people actually took to calling the running store I work at in North Van, and telling my co-workers that they had to somehow get a hold of me down in Hawaii, while racing, and tell me to slow the f#%k down! Late in races like this you use whatever bits of information you can to keep yourself motivated and blocking out the onset of pain.
I knew there were naysayers and I was secretly thankful as I dedicated a few minutes of thought to them. I followed that up with thoughts of my girlfriend Tamsin (winner of Mtn Masochist in Nov), and the fact that she's been dealt a shit card that involved contracting a staph infection during a standard knee scope that's sidelined her for the next few months. I wanted nothing more than to share my whole Hawaii experience with her by my side. I also thought of my family at home, as I knew they'd be up all night back in Nfld following along. This brought a smile to my face and it somehow seemed to nullify everything else my body was fighting at that moment in time.
Coming away from both out and back aid stations I had myself enough of a gap that I did not see another runner on the same lap as me. I was feeling almost invincible, right up until I was cruising over the one and only non technical section of the entire twenty mile loop, at which point I somehow managed to roll my bad ankle and strain my foot. It was the exact same injury I'd dealt with after WS and prior to Trans Rockies. I hadn't felt it this bad in months and I actually fought back tears as I attempted to walk it off.
"Not now, not now, not now. Not like this, not like this, not like this!"
I had an MRI on my ankle last summer while this was bothering me and the exact news I was dealt went something like this...
"Your ankle will critically fail on you at some point in time and you will no longer be a runner. Enjoy it while you can." (there is lingering damage from numerous injuries, most over ten years old and before I ever thought I'd actually enjoy running)
I of course chose not to fully believe this diagnosis and had felt like I was back to 100% consistently since early October. Needless to say I was slightly freaked out and just a little bit pissed off at myself that I'd managed to do this on such a tame piece of singletrack. I did manage to keep my body moving though and sure enough within a mile I had mostly forgotten about it. This was primarily because the blisters were starting to set in and I finally felt one pop.
I was on the home stretch of lap four, still on CR pace, and not about to stop and deal with any foot issues now. I know from personal experience that the 'main pain window' lasts about twenty minutes. Ignore, ignore, ignore, and yee shall be fine. Sure enough, right on twenty minutes I knew I would not deal with the specific pain of the blisters again till I was finally finished running 100 miles.
The Bell Lap...
My fourth lap time was 4h15m. Race Director John Salmonson looked at me,
"You know you're on course record pace right" There was of course just a slight scowl behind this as John pays $500 for a course record performance!
"Still twenty miles to go. Anything can happen, but so far so good."
"I like your attitude, now get going!!"
The climb out of Makiki was by then known to me as 'the climb from hell'! I dreaded every single step of it and really started to falter as I tried to conquer it one last time. I was digging as deep as I could but was still left feeling like I was trapped inside a hamster wheel stuck in quicksand.
One step at a time. One foot in front of the other. Left-right-left-right. The death march had been initiated. Was I about to crumble after 80 miles, just like I had at WS? Was this it? Was my race over now? Was Nathan going to pass me like I was standing still for real this time? Did I even care about even finishing this damn race anymore? Do I honestly give a rats ass about some stupid course record? What state am I in? What's my name? WHY AM I STILL RUNNING AFTER 16 STRAIGHT HOURS DAMMIT?
All I wanted to do, was to lay down and go to sleep, and I very nearly did just that! I was convinced that the initial climb had grown throughout the night, either that or someone had re-routed us up something even more torturous than we had endured for the first 80 miles. I was fading fast and with it went my confidence that I was holding pace towards my secondary goal of trying to set a CR. My initial goal was obviously to try to win my first BIG U.S. RACE, and even that goal felt like it might evaporate right before my eyes.
Walking-walking-walking. Walking on nearly flat terrain. Walking the trails I had run through all four laps up until that point. Walking-walking-walking...but never stopping. Like my expedition adventure racing days, RFM, Relentless Forward Motion...ALWAYS!
Eventually I made it to a steep enough downhill that it was easier to run it than walk it. I hit Manoa aid station and immediately tore into my drop bag, CR splits, CR splits, CR splits...
I still found myself eleven minutes in front of where I needed to be. My doubts disappeared, I grabbed my drop bottle and headed towards the 'food table' for the first time all day. Then I heard, in a somewhat military like, yet caring tone of voice,
"DO YOU KNOW YOU ARE ON COURSE RECORD PACE?!!"
"THEN WHY THE HELL ARE YOU STANDING AT MY AID STATION RIGHT NOW!!"
I started in on thanking the volunteers for making the race possible before I was cut off,
"GET THE HELL OUTTA HERE ALREADY!!"
We all laughed out loud, and I started in on the final 13 miles to the finish.
A steady climb followed by a flowing descent into Nuuanu. A time check, now at fourteen minutes. A bottle switch and a steady grunt up and over my last climb of the day.
The elation of knowing that I was going to meet all of my pre-race goals carried me over the final six miles of the course like I was effortlessly flowing through in on a mountain bike. I simultaneously tried to take it all in while pushing as hard as I could to the line.
The wind carried me through my favorite section of the course, the bamboo forest, and with it the bamboo slightly swayed into itself. Whether I was hallucinating or not, it sounded just like a round of applause from the trail itself.
I crossed the finish line in a time of 20h12m to claim the win and a new CR by just 16min...which really amounts to just seconds over a 20hr run!
(Thanks to Betty Wiens for this plus many other pics)
I was completely overwhelmed by what I had just accomplished, having dreamed of the exact scenario on many a rainy miserable trail run through a dark December in B.C. I let loose with hoots, hollars, some jumping around, I hugged and picked up a few people...and I even kissed the RD, John Salmonson right on the lips! He took it all in stride, just like I knew he would, and he then presented me with my favorite new piece of hardware,
Not to mention this sweet new framed pic I was awarded at the banquet,
HUGE CONGRATS to ALL runners who participated in HURT 2010, it truly is a killer course!
(Brett, Nathan, and I. Top three men)
MASSIVE THANKS to the RD's and every single volunteer who helped make this event such a memorable one for not just myself but everyone involved!
HATS OFF to fellow Canadian Tracy Garneau for her stunning 3rd overall finish and women's course record time of 24h06m!
Top three men and women at awards banquet on Monday night...a few hours before I boarded my flight home, sob!
Montrail Mountain Masochists
Princeton Tec Apex + Fuel headlamps
Carbo Pro 1200 Orange x 2 bottles
Thermalytes x 20
Recover Tab's x tons!
Gel x 35
Till next year...pray for mud, so that I can see the 'true course' in all its splendor!
Now, it's time for me to do a lot more of this...
AND IF YOU ACTUALLY MADE IT THIS FAR, thanks for taking the time to read this through!