Monday, January 17, 2011

The H.U.R.T. 100-Mile Endurance Run

It's hard to even begin to write this post, my "race report" for HURT, because for me, the HURT 100 experience isn't just a race that took up the past couple of days; it's an adventure that started back in August and has only just begun to sink in. At the same time, though, I do want to try to capture something of what it's like to run this race, because it's a truly phenomenal event. So I start this post, knowing in advance that nothing I write can do justice to the experience -- but here goes, for what it's worth...

Near the start line with Sarah, Marian and Cheryl. Photo by Andrea Stout.
The morning of the race, I just wanted to run. After all our training, tapering, packing drop bags, arriving at the start line... Enough with the preparation already, let's get this race underway!
Sarah and Andrea at the start. Everyone is excited, but also more than a little nervous!

Just before the starting-line conch shell is blown. Ready to run! Photo by Andrea Stout.
It was a wonderful feeling - a feeling of relief - when at last the conch shell was blown and we were all able to get moving. I didn't know if I'd finish or not, but I was so ready to run, and very curious to see the trail I'd heard so much about from Sarah and Marian. The climb was steep but in the darkness I didn't notice it much - I was just excited to be moving.
Amazing views of Honolulu after cresting the first big climb. Photo by Robert P. Smith.
Before long, we reached the top of our first big climb, and the view was fantastic. Time to descend into Paradise Park! It was still fairly cool at this point, but a lot more humid than I was used to. I was impressed by how technical the trail was, though - every bit as rooty as advertised! Following Sarah and Marian down the trail, I kept chuckling under my breath, hardly believing these were the trails we'd be doing FIVE times in a ROW! This was definitely going to be a challenge. I must not have been laughing quietly enough, though, since very time I shook my head and giggled, thinking to myself "you must be kidding! This is the trail?!" I could hear Sarah, ahead of me on the trail, laugh too.
The trees along the entire course were phenomenal - certainly very different from what we experience in Colorado! Photo by Robert P. Smith.
The scenery at HURT can't be beat. The trees in particular fascinated me, and were a great distraction from thinking about all the miles I'd be running. Before I knew it, we'd made it to Paradise Park.
The McIntosh-Yasuda Running Team on the first loop, as we headed back up the trail after visiting the Paradise Park Aid Station. A little paranoid about trying to keep moving the whole time, this was the only photo I took during the whole race.

Fish has the best smile. The encouragement of other runners was a very important motivator for me during the race. Photo by Andrea Stout.
The climb out of Paradise Park on the first loop was not bad at all. We passed the time by chatting and greeting other runners, who were also looking and feeling strong and fresh.
Volunteers rock! These ladies made sure we were in and out of Nu'uanu in no time flat. Photo by Andrea Stout.
Before we knew it, we were in and out of Nu'uanu, and headed back to Nature Center. I couldn't believe the first loop had gone by so quickly.
Sarah and Marian, running strong into Nature Center at the end of Loop 1. Photo by Andrea Stout.

Totally manic, coming into Nature Center at the end of Loop 1. Photo by Andrea Stout.
The photo above makes me laugh out loud, because it says everything about what it felt like to finish that first loop. I came into Nature Center humbled by the difficult trail: the steep climbs, the rooty technical nature of the trail, the heat and humidity. But at the same time, at that point I'd seen the entire 20-mile loop, and survived it, and had "only" 80 more miles to go, and that excited me. I replenished my stash of GU and almond-butter sandwiches at Nature Center and headed back onto the trail for Loop 2.
Loop 2, descending toward the Paradise Park aid station. Photo by Andrea Stout.

Loop 2, descending toward the Paradise Park aid station. Photo by Andrea Stout.

Loop 2, Sarah checks out the offerings at Paradise Park. Photo by Andrea Stout.

My muddy feet & legs at Paradise Park, loop 2. I'd get a lot muddier by the time I finished! Photo by Andrea Stout.

My head isn't that pointy, honest! I kept a bag of ice under my hat during daylight hours to stay cool. Photo by Andrea Stout.

Replenished & cooled off, we leave Paradise Park and head toward Nu'uanu on loop 2. Photo by Andrea Stout.
On the climb out of Paradise Park on the second loop, I once again became aware of what a challenge this race would be. Sarah and Marian were powering up the hill with (seeming) ease, and I began to fall behind. It hadn't felt like much of a climb on the first loop, but now I was aware that this was one big hill!
Sarah leads us through a very rooty part of the trail. Photo by Akabill Ultrarunner.

The river crossing as we head toward Nu'uanu. Photo by Andrea Stout.
The breeze along the ridge cooled my skin a bit, and descending the shady switchbacks into Nu'uanu revived me, so that by the time we reached the aid station I was feeling strong again. Could it be that we were already more than halfway through a second loop at HURT?!
At Nu'uanu. Can you tell we were having SO much FUN?! Photo by Andrea Stout.

At Nu'uanu, high on running. Photo by Andrea Stout.

Andrea snaps one more photo of us before the McIntosh/Waddell/Yasuda Running Team leaves Nu'uanu for Nature Center. (That's a really, really big bag of ice under my hat!) Photo by Andrea Stout.

Nature Center or bust! Photo by Andrea Stout.
The climb out of Nu'uanu, back to Nature Center, was steep but I still felt okay. Sarah and Marian - strong climbers both - moved ahead on the uphills, but I'd catch up on the flatter parts and the downhills. I came into Nature Center eager to meet up with my pacer, Sue Lohr, and move into the nighttime part of the run. The heat left me feeling a little wilted, even with ice under my hat, and I hoped to feel good during the night.

It was great to see Sue, and after a quick trip to my Nature Center drop bag to replenish my supplies of GU, sandwiches and S-Caps, we were on our way! It helped that Sue and I didn't know much about each other, because learning about her background, her husband, her twins, and her favorite things to do (including her running - turns out, Sue is a speedy marathoner!) helped distract me from the fatigue that threatened to settle in as the sun went down. We were pretty focused on our conversation when we caught up to Marian and Sarah, making the first big climb of Loop 3, up from Nature Center. Sarah was not feeling well; as soon as she put her headlamp on, she'd started to feel motion sick. She took some ginger and soldiered on, climbing strongly despite feeling awful.

The four of us ran together for a while, to the top of the hill. On the descent into Paradise Park, it was clear that Sarah was still struggling, feeling more and more ill. As the night grew darker and there was less ambient light, it was easy to get nauseated, surrounded as we were by the bouncing light beams of our headlamps. In the weeks and months leading up to the race, we had promised one another that we were all there to run our own races, but it was still heartbreaking to think that the three of us might not be able to run all 100 miles together.

Marian was looking and feeling strong, so she took the lead and moved ahead on the descent into Paradise Park. I wasn't feeling sick or nauseated, but I was tired, and I wasn't all that convinced that I'd be able to finish 100 miles. Sue, Sarah and I ran together for a while, but gradually on the descent Sue and I started to move ahead. We listened for Sarah's footsteps and knew she wasn't far behind us when we met up with Marian on our way into Paradise Park as she was heading back up the hill.

I was starting to feel pretty tired, and it seemed to me I was running far behind the pace I'd planned in order to make the Loop 5 time cutoffs, so I told Marian I was going to rest a bit at Paradise Park and then try to pull off a 100k finish. "I'm slowing down, and I don't think I'm going to make the cutoffs," I told her.
"Well, you look great, and you've got plenty of time," she told me, "all you need to do is keep moving, keep eating and drinking, and you're going to finish this. Just keep moving forward until you cross the finish line, or until someone forces you to stop."

So we did. With Sue's help, I kept moving forward. We met up with Sarah again on our way out of Paradise Park, and while she looked pale, she was moving forward strongly. We made the tough climb up the hill in the dark, talking all the way, trying to just keep moving forward.
Is this me and Sue? Is it some other runner and his or her pacer? It doesn't really matter -- this is what we all looked like on loop 3, negotiating the rooty trails in the dark. Photo by Robert P. Smith.
On the descent into Nu'uanu, I slipped a few times in the dark. It's treacherous going in good conditions; in the dark and in the mud it was an even tougher trail to negotiate. We could hear the music and the laughter of the volunteers at Nu'uanu long before we arrived, and the aid station was an island of light, noise and activity in what seemed like a vast dark jungle. We met up with Marian again on our way into Nu'uanu as she was making her way back up the hill, and she looked amazingly strong after 50+ miles.

On the way back up the hill from Nu'uanu, at every switchback we expected to see Sarah making her way down. With each headlamp in the distance, our hopes would rise, only to realize when the runner was right in front of us that it was someone else. It wasn't until we climbed up to the rooty maze of Center Trail and turned toward Nature Center that we began to worry that Sarah might be seriously ill. And Sarah wasn't the only one; on Loop 3 the ranks started to feel very thin, and the cheery greetings from other runners became less and less frequent as more runners dropped.

At Nature Center, Sue helped me replenish my GU and sandwich supply from my drop bag while I met up with Justin Lottig, my Loop 4 pacer. He'd been following the race online from his house, which was not far from the start/finish site at Nature Center. "Runners are dropping like flies," he said, "Something happened to Tracy Garneau, so she dropped, and so have a lot of the other front-runners." His account corresponded to what Sue and I had noticed: there were a lot fewer runners on the trail than there had been earlier in the day.

The time passed quickly as Justin and I talked. I kept thanking him for coming out to run with me at 2 a.m., and he told me about his twins, just a few months old. "I don't get much sleep anyway," he said, "so I might as well be out running with you!" Talking about work, and family, and running, we got to know each other a bit, and the hours passed quickly. Before I knew it the sun had come up again.
Loop 4, Neal and Marian running strong through the roots. Photo by Robert P. Smith.

Loop 4, Justin and I making our way through the roots. Photo by Robert P. Smith.

Loop 4, running with Justin. Photo by Andrea Stout.
All night long, I couldn't help but wonder how Sarah was doing. I hadn't seen her at all during Loop 4, and Andrea had gone back to Marian and Neal's house to sleep a bit, so I hadn't gotten any updates at aid stations during the night. It was bad enough that Sarah likely had had to drop from the race, but in the middle of the night, deprived of sleep, my mind churned with worry as I hoped my friend was ok.

Justin and I came running into Nature Center at the end of Loop 4 with a strategy of exactly what we'd do to get me in, restocked, and back on the trail as quickly as possible. It looked as though I was going to make all the Loop 5 time cutoffs, but every moment counts in a race like this, so while I had my pack refilled with water, Justin grabbed my baggie of Loop 5 sandwiches, GU and electrolytes from my drop bag, and I prepared to head out for Loop 5.

Then, I had two awesome surprises:
The first happened suddenly, as I was turning to head out on Loop 5, when who should I see but Sue! "Great to see you!" I said, a little confused about why she was there. Was she volunteering at the Nature Center aid station? Or maybe just watching the frontrunners finish?
"Let's go! We've got one more loop to do," she said. "C'm'on!" Sue, bless her, had gone home, showered, slept a bit, and was back to help me finish the final loop. She'd only "signed on" for Loop 3, but here she was, ready to go out for another muddy, rooty, steep 20 miles.
The second surprise happened as we were leaving Nature Center. At the end of the bridge, who should I see but Sarah! It was wonderful to see her, and she looked good. Like Sue, she'd gone home at some point in the night and had showered and changed, but I couldn't help but give her a big hug - sweaty, stinky and muddy though I was - because I was so relieved she was ok. Sue urged me on. "We've got a race to finish! Let's go!"
Starting Loop 5, so happy to see that Sarah was ok. Poor Sarah - I cannot even imagine how totally stinky I was at that point! Photo by Andrea Stout.

Loop 5 was a funny amalgam: optimism and excitement coupled with big-time fatigue. Sue did a great job keeping me moving. She'd say, "Keep your arm swing going!" or after we'd walked for a bit, "Let's try to run some more." I was really, really happy to be so close to finishing, but at the same time I knew I couldn't take anything for granted. Anything can happen in 20 miles!
Loop 5, Marian running into Paradise Park. Photo by Andrea Stout.
After the sun came up again, contact with other runners was one thing that kept me going. There were fewer of us out there, but the runners and pacers formed a strong community on the trail, and even though almost everybody looked tired (you can see from this photo of Marian that she looked awesome the whole time!), whenever our paths crossed, runners made an effort to smile and wave and murmur a few words of encouragement to each other. It was so helpful.
Loop 5, coming into Paradise Park. Photo by Andrea Stout.
Andrea and Sarah met us at Paradise Park, and Sarah ran with us to see how I was doing, reminding me to keep eating and drinking (and having fun!) even though I was tired. She also said she was going to call Christi to let her know I was still going strong. At this point it was starting to occur to me that I might actually finish.
Loop 5, coming into Nu'uanu, Marian still looks SO strong! Photo by Andrea Stout.

Loop 5, returning from Nu'uanu. I was tired but really hopeful at this stage. Photo by Robert P. Smith.

Sue really helped me keep moving forward, especially on Loop 5 when I was feeling tired. Look at that encouraging smile! Photo by Robert P. Smith.
I can't thank Sue enough for all her encouragement on that last loop. I was pretty sore, and talking with her kept my mind off of whatever was hurting at the moment. She also kept me running. Well, maybe "running" isn't the best description of it - I was moving pretty slowly - but when I'd start to walk she'd say, "Ok, let's walk 20 paces, and then run again. You can do it!" Descending to the finish, the trail seemed so much longer than it had the four previous times I'd run down it. Sue kept telling me we were almost there, almost there...
...and then, amazingly, we were!

Marian at the finish line, with Neal, Sarah and Andrea.
Marian looked strong the whole time and finished in 35:05 as 4th female, 22nd overall, and - at age 50 - she cruised past plenty of runners half her age. What an inspiration!

An amazing 100-mile journey ends with a kiss. We wouldn't want it to be easy! Photo by Sarah McIntosh.
I finished in 35:18 as 6th female, 25th overall. 32 of us finished out of 111 who toed the start line.

What an amazing feeling. Photo by Andrea Stout.

At the finish with pacers Justin Lottig and Sue Lohr. I couldn't have done it without their help! Photo by Andrea Stout.

Sharing a moment at the finish. Photo by Andrea Stout.
Adventures like these are truly a team effort and I am lucky to be a part of the best team anywhere.

I could not have even begun to train for - let alone finish - a race like this one without an awesome training partner like Sarah. She encouraged me to sign up for this crazy adventure of a race, trained with me for several months, and offered her support and encouragement all the way to the finish, even though we didn't get to cross the finish line together.

Andrea crewed us through numerous training runs and the race itself, and took most of the photos here that do so much to capture the HURT experience.

Marian shared her hard-won trail wisdom throughout our training, recruited Sue and Justin to pace me, and she & Neal welcomed me very generously into their home the week of the race.

Sue and Justin volunteered to run with a total stranger through the night to help me achieve a personal goal. They kept me going when I was really, really tired and this would not have been nearly as much fun without them.

Fellow runners like Ali, Andrea, Cat, Heather, Kristel, Pete, Victoria, and Bob helped us train, and shared their ultra-running strategies.

The hard work of all the aid-station captains and race volunteers of the HURT 100 -- the HURT ohana -- gives HURT a soul that is uniquely its own, and an atmosphere where everyone is treated like family.

But more than anyone, I owe the biggest thank-you to my partner, Christi, whose loving support made this and so many of my other running adventures possible. Thanks, baby - I owe you big-time for this one!

Thank you, everyone, and see you on the trail!
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