‘Aole Makou E Ho’ohikiwale Kela

That translates to: “We wouldn’t want it to be too easy…” — the HURT club motto.

When I first read about the HURT 100, I put it on my TODO list along with Hardrock — I felt I wasn’t ready or prepared to tackle what was considered a couple of the hardest 100 mile races in the world. Then I happened to be chatting with Larry Raemakers just before the start of the AC100 of all time and places, when we got to talking about HURT, and somehow, he convinced me at that time to do it in 2006. Well, my application went in not too long afterwards — oh boy, now what did I get myself into?

I had a hard time believing that Oahu, especially when the course was only a few miles from Honolulu, could have any challenging trails, but that was me thinking that without ever having been outside of the city. The entire route consisted of about 25,000 ft of elevation gain, which if you do the simple math, works out to 5,000 ft every 20 mile loop. Hmmm…that sounds like a lot of climbing, not to mention an equal amount of downhills.

The blog entry said a few days before the race, that the trails have been the driest it’s been in a long time, and that they were predicting if it stays that way, there would be some fast times and higher finishing rates. There were already fast runners entered, and the course record, plus the untouched magical sub-24 hour times would definitely be challenged. Karl Meltzer, Mike Sweeney (current course record holder), Peter Bakwin on the men’s side, and you had Bev Anderson-Abbs, Stephanie Ehret (2003 winner), Monica Scholtz (current course record holder), and Darcy Africa on the women’s.

The weather when I arrived was great, then driving to the pre-race meeting, it started to rain. I thought it would quickly pass, but it came down pretty hard the entire time we were there, and found out later that it was like that all day out in the mountains, even though it was perfectly dry near the coast. I was wondering if it would be like that on race day, and how bad the trails were. I guess I would soon find out.

At the pre-race, I said hello to Bev and Alan, who I first met last year at the Coastal Challenge in Costa Rica. I felt confident that as long as Bev didn’t have a bad day, that the current course record would be history. We spoke briefly about a race they were putting together in Oregon in July, as the rain continued coming down. A few words from Greg and John about the race and course, then we were done — back to town for dinner, and hopefully a good night’s rest. I got a room at the Hawaii Prince Resort at the northern end of Waikiki, just blocks from Ala Moana — considered one of the nicest 5 star hotels in the area. Thanks to Priceline, I only ended up paying just over $100 for a room that normally was over double that. After having dinner at a nice Italian restaruant, I went back to my room to get ready for the race.

The good thing (or was it really?) about the HURT 100 was that it’s a multi-loop course with only 3 aid stations, so I didn’t have to worry about preparing a lot of drop-bags. Also, one of the convincing factors that made me want to do that race was that they had local Hawaiian food at the aid stations, such as Spam musubi, California rolls, and Kalua pork sandwiches — such a nice addition to the usual M&Ms and bananas. So because of that, I had a much easier time trying to figure out what to put in my bags — basically extra shoes and a long sleeve at the Nature Center (start/finish), socks and shirt and a couple cans of Starbucks Double Shot in all of them. My other gear included a 50oz bladder in my Gregory Swift (which wasn’t enough during the longer legs during the day), Petzl Myo XP, Surefire handheld, and a Patagonia Houdini.

I set my alarm for 4am, but woke up at about 3:45 anyway. First thing I did was look outside my hotel window to see how the weather was — it was absolutely gorgeous with the full moon lighting up the early morning sky. I was hoping it would be clear in the mountains too, and it did turn out to be that way — it rained very little the entire weekend, but the course had already sustained enough damage from the previous day. According to the locals though, the trails were in relatively good condition — boy, I couldn’t even imagine how it could be when it’s bad.

I got to the race, and parked pretty close to the start — it was the usual routine consisting of runner checkin, last-minute bathroom trips and drop-bag preparation, and the nervous and anxious chatter. The course was basically made up of three out-and-back legs down to the aid stations, all added together, forming a 20 mile loop. The first leg goes out to Paradise Parking lot near Manoa Falls — marked by white ribbon; the second leg goes from there to Nuuanu (AKA Jackass Ginger) — green ribbon; and finally, from Jackass Ginger back to the Nature Center — indicated by orange ribbon. Looking at the course map, there were many sections where we would be traversing multiple times, depending on which part of the loop we were running — I hoped I wouldn’t get lost or confused, especially at night. The race started at 6am, and officially ends at 6pm the following day — 36 hours to complete 100 miles, which works out to about a 21 min/mi pace. That should be plenty of time to finish a 100 miles right. But it wasn’t just any 100 miles — it was the HURT 100.

We gathered on the bridge next to the Nature Center a few minutes before the start. I saw some familiar faces, and heard familiar names — Karl Meltzer, Mike Sweeney, Jeff Huff, Catra Corbett, Luis Escobar, Bev and Alan. Then a few words from the RD, a Hawaiian prayer, and the sounding of the conch shell. We were off.

First up was Hogsback (AKA Roots and Rocks — see photo below) — so much for the gradual introduction to the technicality of the course, as we were almost immediately met with a trail littered with Banyan roots that we’d have to navigate through many sections of the course. I would find out later that that wasn’t as bad as some of the other parts — all of which we would be going through at least 5 times, and sometimes twice that for the out-and-back portions. Fun!

Of course I was going out way too fast, getting caught up in the usual rush of the beginning of a race. I backed off a little bit, letting others pass me, then fell into a comfortable groove. There’s a long way to go, and no sense blowing the whole race in the first hour by being stupid.

Near the top of the climb was one of the few asphalt sections, but it was very short, and extremely scenic — allowing you to see down to the valley to the left, and out towards the Pacific and the city to the right. We picked up the trail about a few hundred feet down to the left, and started a fast, but short descent — the first time I was able to actually run.

We eventually got to our first intersection of the course — Paradise Parking (white ribbon) to the left, and the Nature Center (orange) to the right, so I knew that I would be back there on the return leg. Another short downhill, then suddenly the trail disappeared, and in its place was a jumbled matrix of roots — significantly worse than what we encountered earlier up Hogsback. If you’re lucky, there’s a wide enough patch of dirt in between to step in, or you may be able to step on top of it at the right angle and pressure so as to not slip, and if we got really lucky, we would find a few feet of a relatively clear path on the edges of the trails for a short-lived detour. For me, I was pretty much reduced to a slow walk, or a fast tip-toe, because I found that trying to run was just not possible.

As I was navigating through the root maze, staring at the ground and my feet, I suddenly heard a voice offering gel and electrolyte caps. I knew we were nowhere near the Paradise Parking so that was one of the surprise aid stations that was mentioned before the race. That turned out to be a very good location to have one, since it was the only section of the course where all three legs converge, so we would go through there 3 times per loop.

I politely declined her offers, thanked her, and continued down to the aid station — wondering how much longer the roots continued, and was very anxious to start running. After a short uphill, we were at the top, which I remembered as a small clearing surrounded by bamboo. From that point, it was mostly downhill to the aid station, the first long downhill of the course — consisting of a series of switchbacks until we neared the falls. About that time, the lead runners were returning, heading towards the next aid station. I believe James Kerby was leading the rest of the fast pack — Bev and Alan were shortly behind, then Karl Meltzer. Darcy and Robert Africa and Mike Sweeney (former record holder) were also right up front.

Near the bottom of the switchbacks, we began to hear the sound of water. After we traversed around some boulders, we popped out to see a gorgeous waterfall — Manoa Falls. We then took a right turn parallel to the stream towards the parking lot, crossed a couple bridges, then eventually the trail exited onto a short asphalt section that led us to the first aid station.

I dropped off my headlamp that I kept there as a backup, and put away my handheld that would be staying in my pack. Then I scanned the food table and saw a stack of Spam musubi — jackpot! I ate a couple, filled my bladder, then off I went. I felt good, but who wouldn’t, only a few miles into the race.

Now it was back up to the falls following the green ribbon, to the top of the hill to where Cindy and her makeshift aid station was, then down to Jackass Ginger. The climb up wasn’t bad, as I looked for the bamboo that signaled that I was near the top. A few switchbacks down, there was a large tree that had fallen across the trail that we had to maneuver around (or under).

There was Cindy again, offering gel and electrolytes, so I knew we had to turn right to head down to the next aid station. After making my way through the roots, I hit some clear singletrack where I was able to run — I was on Nuuanu Trail. Eventually, I would climb to the top of a ridge, with spectacular views on either side. Descending on the other side, it was very steep, loose, and slippery — as I partially slid my way down, I thought to myself how difficult that would be coming through there later on at night. Luckily, that was a short stretch, and I soon got on runnable trails after making a right turn near the bottom.

That section was much steeper than the previous downhill into Paradise. Also, there were a couple areas where there was a rope that we used to get across — slippery and narrow steps across some boulders. After several switchbacks, we reached the Judd Trail intersection, signaling that we’re almost near the bottom, and thus, very close to the aid station. We would take that trail, which was parallel to the stream, going up and down some rolling hills, then eventually coming out to the water crossing. We were told that we’d be getting wet going into and out of that aid station, but realized that the water level was low enough that the man-made footbridge made of rocks and pieces of wood was adequate to keep our feet dry.

Once on the other side, it was a short climb up to the aid station, which was manned by Greg Cuadra and his cross-country team. I didn’t do much other than fill my bladder, but grabbed a hotdog before I left, eating it as I began the trek out of Nuuanu, and eventually back to the Nature Center.

I’m certain that this section was the steepest stretch of the course, but luckily it was relatively short (about 2 miles), it took me about 45 minutes to get to the top. Once at the top, it was a nice run over singletrack, contouring all the way back to Cindy, then the final stretch back to the Nature Center. I stumbled through the roots, then up to the intersection of Manoa Cliff Trail, making sure that the ribbons stayed orange.

I liked this section — it was a fast narrow singletrack, that wound its way above the canyon below, getting glimpses of the city and ocean off in the distance. I was feeling good, gaining momentum, enjoying being able to run — and run fast. Then I came up to a bridge, full speed, placed my left foot solidly on the surface, but it came out from underneath me, and I landed hard on my hip, almost knocking the wind out of me.

I did the usual post tumble self-assessment — first, was to immediately look behind to see if anyone saw me fall. Nope — no one behind me. Then second, making sure that my clothes weren’t dirty. Nope — I was still clean. Finally, making sure that I wasn’t hurt. Nope — nothing major, but I could tell that I’d have a bruise where I landed. I walked a few feet, then I was quickly back to running. Interestingly enough, that was the last time I fell in the race — the most non-technical section of the trail.

I finished the first loop at 11:15am, taking 5 hours and 15 minutes — ok, so if I do that 5 times, then that works out to about 26 hours, which would’ve been good enough to win last year’s HURT. Right!

I started the second loop up Hogsback with Catra, then I passed her after we crossed the street. Coming out of Paradise, I ran with Lisa from S Africa and Bob Murphy. Going into Jackass was the last time Lisa and I would run together.

Second loop completed in 6:01. 3 more loops to go! It took 11 hours to run 40 miles…yikes! I was still feeling good though, but knew the hardest part of the race was still ahead.

On the climb out of the third loop out of Jackass, I saw Catra heading down, and she introduced me to Daren Sefcik, who I ended up running the rest of the third loop, plus the entire fourth one as well. He was a HURT veteran, so thought it’d be a good idea to stick with someone who knew what he was doing. Usually, I don’t get to run with anyone, since it’s hard to keep the same pace with others, so it was nice, and we complemented each other’s running strengths — he was a strong climber, and I would pull ahead on the downhills. Along the way, we would pass Akos Konya, who I didn’t know at the time, but Daren mentioned that he excels in track races, which explained his comment, which went something like, “how do you guys run on this stuff?”

As we were finishing up our third loop, I kept thinking about what Larry mentioned to me when I asked him for advice after I signed up — “make sure you start the fourth loop by 1:30”. Daren and I were pretty beat up by that time, and weren’t in no hurry to leave the aid station, but I knew the clock was ticking. It was exactly 1:30 when I looked at my watch, then a slight panic started to set in. Will I finish? Do I even bother? Should I just do the 100k? I saw Lisa sitting in a chair — she was done for the day, but looked happy. The clock continued to tick…we needed to get going, but at the same time, I knew that Daren knew what he was doing — he wasn’t rushing, so I felt more comfortable. Nevertheless, I told him that I was going to start the loop, and left the aid station while he was still there — I knew he’d catch me going up Hogsback, and he did about half way to the top.

We ran together through the night, and fed off each other — he would pull me out of my low spots, and I’d try to do the same for him in return. Most of the time, we didn’t speak, but our presence kept our minds focused enough to keep moving. Catra was still behind us somewhere, but in good spirits as usual. We both agreed at one point that as long as we stayed in front of her, that we would be able to make the cutoff since she was a 5 time finisher, and knew the race well.

It was this loop when we saw Karl on his way to the finish, and setting the new course record — 22:16, the first time 24 hours has been broken. On the women’s side, Bev went on to set a new course record as well — finishing in a time of 27:28.

Once the sun came up, I got my usual second-wind, but knew it would be quite a while until we would be done, but was hoping that our last loop wouldn’t take as long. We got down to the nature center around 10am, taking 8:23 for loop 4 — that turned out to be my slowest one. What this also meant was that I had to do the last one faster than both the third and fourth loop — about 8 hours to make the 6pm 36 hour cutoff. I started to feel the pressure. Could I do it the last 20 miles that fast?

Daren picked up a pacer here — a local runner he had just met that day, and her name was Kim. They immediately took off back up Hogsback for the last time, and I tried to make sure I kept them in sight as much as possible, since I tend to start slacking off without someone pushing/pulling me. A few times during the last lap, I lost site of them, but somehow managed to keep them only minutes ahead of me — usually, they were leaving the aid station, as I was coming in. Then I believe after we left Jackass Ginger for the last time, I didn’t see them for the rest of the race. At that point, I was feeling the pressure — I thought for sure that I wouldn’t make the cutoff, because I had forgotten how long it would take to get from the last aid station back to the finish, and kept doing the math in my head as to how fast I needed to go. A couple times, I started to panic, since there was nothing wrong with me (other than being fatigued), so I just needed to stay in front of the clock. Catra was still behind me, and thought I would be ok as long as she didn’t pass me like she usually does near the end.

Even though I had done four loops, I could not remember how the last section went, and kept thinking I was nearing the finish, but I wasn’t. Then along a long straight section after coming off the hill, a hiker mentioned I was only a couple miles out, but I knew not to pay attention to estimates like that, so I kept pushing as hard as I could.

As I got to the last section just before the Nature Center, I started to recognize the trails, and finally knew that I would make it before the cutoff — the first time since the start of the race when I knew I could do it. I ended up doing the fifth loop in 7:11 — my third fastest loop, with my total time being 35:05.

I saw Daren, and congratulated him — he definitely helped me through the toughest part of the race, and probably may not have finished without his help. I wondered how many were still out there besides Catra, as the clock continued to tick away close to 6pm — the end of the race. Akos eventually made it through a few minutes later, and the last runner, Kathy D’Onofrio completed the race with only 15 minutes to spare. Unfortunately, Catra did not finish officially, but did complete the course in 37:45 — good for her to not give up. Out of 86 starters, only 23 finished the 100 miler — a 27% finishing rate.

After I received my buckle, I happened to bump into John Salmonson, who commented that not too many people own that buckle. I nodded, and commented to him about what a sick individual one must be to come up with such a difficult course full of roots, rocks, mud, etc and to make people run a hundred miles of it. After a brief pause, we both said to each other, “see you next year.”

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