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It’s hurting again …

I have a strange relationship with the HURT. It’s consistently been one of the most painful and hard to finish races for me – where even with a “normal” run I do >32 hours (in comparison, I got really sick at Wasatch and did horrible and finished in 30:48 …). The course eats your feet, beats them with bamboo poles, cooks you, sticks knifes in your quads and leaves you spent and aching long after you’ve kissed the finish sign. That’s when conditions are good … and they go bad quite easily, just add a bit of rain … Still, the worse the conditions are, the better I seem to be doing … maybe because I’m too stupid to give up. I just forget quitting. Or so I figure. Nevertheless I love this race – it’s an incredibly beautiful course unlike anything else I’ve seen, a very small and fun community of runners, regulars and crazy newbies, extremely well organized by people who know what they’re doing but still have a ton of fun along the way.

This year I went back to get my 500 mile jacket – the last year said jacket is given out. Jeff Huff sent all the potential candidates an e-mail saying we’d have to finish so he wouldn’t be stuck with leftovers. It was also the first hundred since I started seeing Jill, and I was nervous. Most of my recent training history focused on running in snow and cold temperatures, postholing, snowshoeing or snowbiking. Not exactly HURT training … Indeed even my heat training consisted of just about 5 visits to the sauna. I honestly had doubts if I still had what it took – both training wise as well as mentally – to finish this thing. Having been credited with 462 miles, I would get the jacket after only 67 miles … and I could just have a nice vacation with Jill. What WAS the point of doing this race yet again? But at least Jill was going to pace me for 20 miles, and that was something to look forward to – and although I knew Jill would be fully supportive if I were to quit, she was really looking forward to spending time on the trail and see me finish this. Although she’s been at HURT before – ironically I was there that same year as well, but we both were in a different life back then – she had never seen the course …

So Jill and I met at the Honolulu Airport – the strangest thing to meet at an Airport in a far away place when you already live far away.  Hotel, race meeting, catching up with more friends than I ever meet in the bay area at once, grocery shopping … Friday was uneventful, we had some grocery store sushi and random food for dinner, and despite my being rather nervous we managed to go to bed early. It had rained all week, but the people who marked the course said the trails weren’t muddy. They were right … but that was only one third of the story, as I would find out the next day.

We got up at 4am on race morning, groggy and tired despite a good amount of sleep, went to the race start and waited. I got in the far back of the start line, Jill gave me a good luck kiss and off we went. I caught up to Monica Scholtz and started telling her about TDG, how I met Jill and so on, which was a great way to spend the time while slowly making our way up Hogsback. The trail was not muddy, but seemed still slippery, which isn’t totally unusual since HURT often gets somewhat slick in the night, with dew settling on the rocks and roots. I pulled away and started overtaking people until I caught up with Alex, my long-time HURT buddy. During that first section two things became apparent to me: I was slow. And the rocks on the trail were slippery (and there are a lot of rocks)! And I don’t mean a little bit slippery. I mean you walk slowly and still can’t find any traction kind of slippery. The rocks were covered with a thin film of slimy lubricant which made everything seem rather treacherous.  In addition, it felt like a sauna – incredibly humid at 92%, making even the seemingly moderate temperatures hard to bear. I started sweating profusely within the first 20 minutes, prompting me to consume large amounts of nuun. In the end I was probably still over-hydrated, but the night usually rectifies issues like that for me.

The first loop was hard – much harder than I remembered any first loop being. And slow – with ~5:20, far beyond my usual pace. I felt tired and worn down when I got back to Nature Center, where I met Jill for the first time since the race start. “I don’t know how far I’ll get. I’m tired. It’s really slick and slippery.” I told Jill. She smiled and said “Just see how far you get.”. She’s been helping my mom trying to sign me up for TDG again – the entry opened at 9am that morning. I couldn’t believe I was having them do this, given my performance it seemed just so outlandish. I didn’t feel like earting much during the whole race, and my calories were split about evenly between sodas and candy – not exactly a solid nutritional foundation for a hundred, but I’ve long given up battling my stubborn digestive system …

The second loop felt actually much better than the first – the shock of the bad conditions had subsided and was replaced by acceptance – still the day did nothing to alleviate the slickness of the course, it just made things a lot warmer. I finished the second loop after about 11:20, which was acceptable, though I had already started to do the math in my head about if I could finish. And I was worried about Jill, because the trail conditions were quite dangerous. After the second loop, the RD John told me he had a pacer if I wanted, a 16-year aspiring ultrarunner, and I simply could not say no. The third loop started at dawn, and I reached the Paradise aid station in the dark. At HURT, the night slows you down but reveals the strangest views of a little bubble of jungle lit up by your lamp, waterfalls and cliffs just at the edge of your lights, and views of night-time Honolulu creating a very strange contrast. I was tired and contemplated dropping and my chances to finish, but at the same time I was looking forward to getting Jill out here, feeling excitement like a little kid about to show his best friend his cool secret treehouse. My pacer turned out to be a very cool kid, quiet but genuinely enjoying being on the trails. He wants to run HURT 100 next year, and I told him some of my war stories and gave him some fatherly ultra-advice. I am sure he can do really well on the course.

When I got to the end of the third loop I was very happy to finally hook up with Jill, but at the same time I was also rather baked. Loop 4 is usually my slowest loop, tedious, the advanced tiredness making me tentative and slow in the dark, but also filled with cool night views, and usually a killer sunrise. I still couldn’t eat much but got down some soup, my stomach was growling emptily and angrily at me. I fought some minor nausea but overall I was lucky since everything seemed to be holding together well enough. Doing the loop with Jill was very exciting, and I proudly showed off the awesome course features to her, looking particularly forward to present the incredible manoa flats root nightmare and the rope sections on the descent to jackass ginger. Jill seemed duly impressed – then on the final leg of the loop the sun came up and revealed the incredibly lush and steep mountain scenery. Despite all my times running HURT there were a lot of new beautiful features I discovered, probably because I paid much more attention to finding good photo opportunities for Jill! We talked about her running the first part of loop 5 with me as well, which, to my delight, she agreed to. Toward the end of loop 4 it became apparent that I had been moving very slowly – the loop would be an 8.5 hour loop, getting us to the beginning of loop 5 with just 10 1/2 hours until the cut-off – certainly doable but by means of extrapolation very disconcerting, keeping me quiet and worried.

I significantly picked up the pace on loop 5 – both because it was light as well as because I was very scared. We did the first section faster than I expected, and I was optimistic. To my surprise, I passed Alex on the downhill – he has foot issues and seemed a bit down – and he just said “Beat got the Jesus fire. Happens every time.”. Fueled by such spiritual energy I was determined to make good time. Despite the prospect of time-based DNF diminishing, the urgency from my worry stayed high, and I pushed forward. I overtook a handful of people who were probably having some faith issues or so and thus being depleted and tired. On the last section, my feet started hurting like crazy – probably some vitamin I that wore off – but I decided to simply ignore it and go on. Some of the final downhill was fairly treacherous anyways, and I did not feel like putting Susitna at risk to gain a few minutes. The whole last loop I played a game in my head – the “I never have to see this trail again [in this direction]” game. And with my 500 mile jacket secured, I really didn’t. I ended up doing a ~7 hour loop, which was a pleasant surprise.

When I ran into the finish I found Jill waiting for me with a big kiss and hug, all smiles and cheerful – she had ended up being the perfect crew person and pacer for me, and she had added hugely to my HURT experience. To my great surprise I found I was – with a finishing time of 33:31 – only the 13th finisher, despite being so far back in the pack. The finisher rate ended up being about 28% – due to a few falls, a broken ankle and people just being exhausted from the heat. Alex came in just a few minutes behind me, recovered from his foot issues. As usual, the pain would linger, but I was very well distracted, and the following day Jill and I went for a power-hike/run from our hotel to Diamond Head. I got my 500 mile jacket, and all was good. I really didn’t have to go back. I was part of the 500 mile club now! Until I saw that Monica was alone in the 1000-mile club. Hmmmmm …

If you want to see pictures, head over to see Jill’s posts about the race here and here.

2 comments to It’s hurting again …

  • Danni

    Awesome job Beat. You are a machine!

  • Lilo Jegerlehner

    “… Until I saw that Monica was alone in the 1000-mile club. Hmmmmm …”
    Das ist doch genau das richtige Zundhoelzchen fuer so einen Verrueckten wie Dich … 🙂 Was sagte der Gyaekologe anlaesslich Deiner Geburt, als er Dich in die Hoehe hob: “Wenn das kein Kranzturner wird…” — Kranzturner nicht, aber Ultrarunner! Congratulations!