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.
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!
It was an immense relief when at last the conch shell was blown and we could get moving. I didn't know if I'd finish or not, but I was SO ready to run, and 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 starting what I knew would be, one way or another, an unforgettable experience.
Before long, we crested the first big climb, and the view was fantastic. Time to descend into Paradise Park! It was still fairly cool, 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! I must not have been laughing quietly enough, though, since every 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 scenery at HURT is indescribably beautiful, exactly what comes to mind with the phrase "Hawaiian jungle." 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 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. The out & back stretches along the course facilitate runners keeping each other's spirits up.
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.
The photo above makes me laugh out loud, because it says everything about how it felt 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, by then 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.
On the climb out of Paradise Park on the second loop, I regained awareness 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 the steep grade strained my legs.
The breeze along the ridge had cooled my skin a bit, and descending the shady switchbacks into Nu'uanu revived me further, 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?!
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. 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. But on the descent into Paradise Park, it was clear that Sarah was struggling, feeling more and more ill. In any race, as the night grows darker and there is less ambient light to help the human brain orient itself in space, it is easy to get nauseated. It has nothing to do with one's training level or fitness; the most accomplished runners have been felled at one time or another by motion sickness in this way. The darkness of the Hawaiian jungle is particularly profound, and surrounded as we all were by the bouncing light beams of our headlamps, it's amazing all of us didn't throw up over the edge of the trail.
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. So 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 tired, and it seemed to me I was running slower than 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 just 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."
Did I actually look good? Did I actually have plenty of time? I don't know... but Marian had me convinced. So 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 seemed to be moving stronger than last time we'd seen her. We made the tough climb up the hill in the dark, talking all the way, trying to just keep moving forward.
On the descent into Nu'uanu, I slipped a few times in the dark. It's treacherous going even in good conditions; in the dark and slippery 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. 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, as 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.
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. I was poised to make all the loop 5 time cutoffs, but we could leave nothing to chance, and every moment counts in a 100-miler, so while I refilled my pack with water, Justin grabbed my baggie of Loop 5 sandwiches, GU and electrolytes from my drop bag.
Then, I had two awesome surprises:
The first happened as I was turning to head out on loop 5, when who should I see but Sue Lohr, my awesome pacer from loop 3. "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 urged. "C'm'on!"
Sue, bless her, had gone home, showered, slept a bit, and was back to help me finish the race. 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! She looked good. Like Sue, she'd gone home 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!"
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!
After the sun came up again, contact with other runners and conversation with Sue kept me going. There were fewer of us out there, but the runners and pacers formed a strong community on the trail. Even though almost everybody looked tired, 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.
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.
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!
I finished in 35:18 as 6th female, 25th runner overall. 32 of us finished out of 111 who toed the start line. Meanwhile, thirteen minutes ahead of me, Marian looked strong the whole time and finished in 35:05 as 4th female, 22nd overall, and - at age 50 - faster than plenty of runners half her age. What an inspiration!
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!