Getting in. The lottery for the 2017 H.U.R.T. was held the day I finished Fat Dog 120 in August. After a fitful night’s sleep, I hobbled over to the lodge, connected to the internet for the first time in a few days and happily discovered that I had not been awarded entry. A week later, the waitlist was released, and I, remembering only the glory of Fat Dog, happily discovered that I sat at #2. A few weeks later, I was in.
Training. I focused on running the Richmond marathon in early November. Then, figuring my meticulously-planned training for Fat Dog seemed to work well, I jotted down the mileage I put in for each of the 10 weeks leading up to Fat Dog, and tried to replicate it leading up to H.U.R.T. I came fairly close. My long runs were VDM at Thanksgiving (~27m), Birthday MGM (50k) and Boyer’s (40m), on which I resisted the peer pressure of Marthon urging me to quit with them at ~32. #mentaltraining
Obligatory setback. 2016 was a great year of running for me. I came within about 10 minutes of it being a perfect year of running, but with about a mile to go on a pancake flat December 31st run, I took a bad spill. I was finishing my run at a decent clip, daydreaming about running the Cherry Blossom 10-miler in April when I caught my foot on an off-kilter concrete block. I went from vertical to horizontal before I knew what happened, landing hard on my right side.
I managed to run with mild discomfort over the course of the next week, but the following weekend, I had to cut a final Rock Creek run in half when I was wheezing in pain less than a mile into the run. Unofficial diagnosis was a bruised rib. I shut myself down for the final week and hoped for the best.
Relaxing in Hawaii.
Here are some things I did in the 2 days before the race:
I did other things, but I either don’t have photographic evidence or they were not worthy of reporting.
The Course. H.U.R.T. has a reputation of being one of the least runnable (but most punnable!) races out there. The race consists of 5 identical 20-mile “loops,” and each loop consists of 3 legs (approximate lengths of ~7.2, 5.5, and 7.3 miles). To oversimplify, the course can be thought of as a “Y” with aid stations at the three points of the “Y” and the start/finish located at the bottom. Leg 1 runs up from the bottom to the central intersection and off to the right. Leg 2 retraces back to the intersection and off to the left arm. Leg 3 retraces back to the intersection and down to the bottom. The end of leg 3 does not match the beginning of leg 1 exactly, but in the other two cases, you’re traveling the same trail in the reverse direction when you leave an aid station.
The aid stations are at low elevations and the central intersection is towards the high point of each leg. So you descend into each aid station and begin with a climb when you leave, and (again oversimplification), each leg is basically one big climb, a little flat, and a big descent.
The trails are very technical. You cross through the Pauoa Flats trail on each and every leg (3 x 5 = 15 crossing). This section has the most dramatic roots (see below), but, it’s short, it’s flat, so it’s really not bad. Much of the rest of the course is covered in rocks and roots. With few exceptions, you’re unable to get into a consistent stride for more than a few minutes.
H.U.R.T. is also known for great aid stations. The volunteers are all fantastic, and–not to take away from the wonderful people–there’s a very logical explanation for the quality of the aid stations: there are only three. So food supplies that might be normally spread out across 10,15+ aid stations are consolidated into three. Honestly, there are almost too many food options. But the people and the food and the atmosphere really do live up to the hype.
Race Plan. I had a large drop bag and the start/finish. For the other two I just had ziplocs with a few small food items, and I made sure to have a headlamp or flashlight at each of the three aid stations. I would carry two handhelds the whole time, except the final loop when I switched to a hydration pack with bladder, mainly so I could collect any headlamps left at the two other aid stations. Keli was there to crew, but I insisted that she actually enjoy Oahu and sleep, so the plan was for her to see me off, go explore for a while, crew all of Loop 3, go to sleep, and then crew Loop 5, running the last leg with me.
Loop 1: The getting-my-bearings-loop. We started in the dark at 6am. After the first ~2 miles of climbing, you reach a short section of paved road, followed by a relatively flat, relatively runnable section. In other races, you might feel excited to open it up a tiny bit. But the heat & humidity, though not totally oppressive, kept my energy levels at bay and helped me stay slow.
The roots also slowed me down, though I did manage to slam my shin into big gnarly ones on two occasions. I also slipped in the one stream crossing, soaking my left foot, which wasn’t the end of the world, but I learned to be more careful. I didn’t spend more than 2-3 minutes in the aid stations and just got my bearings. I believe adrenaline kept my rib pain at bay; it helped to be going slow as well.
Loop Time: 4:28, 24th place.
Loop 2: The hot-but-not-as-bad-as-I-thought loop. After a quick change of socks, I was on my way. About 1.5 miles out, I caught up to the legendary Nikki Kimball. We ran together for the next few miles, which was a treat. We stayed in close proximity the rest of the race–she would lose me on the downs, and I would catch up and pass on the ups. She was planning on having surgery on her leg two weeks later. I was not.
The heat was bad, but not nearly as bad as DC summers, and you’re under cover the vast majority of the time with a breeze helping at times. On leg 2, I took a spill on one of the least technical–obviously–sections of trail. I broke my fall with my handhelds, puncturing one of them. The rib flared up a little bit, but I walked it off and sat down for a few minutes on Bien’s Bench before descending to Nu’uanu. I felt strong when I finished the loop.
Loop Time: 5:07, 16th place.
Loop 3: Darkness falls, crewed loop. Master crew chief Keli had all my gear laid out on a towel, and I pointed to various articles as I rested in a chair. We taped up my punctured water bottle and I was on my way. Keli drove around to meet me at the other aid stations, so I was motivated to finish each leg and less motivated to leave.
In my pre-race research, I had come across several references to trails with “you-could-die-if-you-take-a-wrong-step” precipices. On loops 1 and 2, I pooh poohed these claims. But, when darkness fell on the third loop, and particularly on the descent on Leg 2 into Nu’uanu and the ascent out of there, I was pooh poohing no longer. When you’re sleepy, you’ve got 40+ miles on your legs, it’s dark, and there’s even a tiny bit of moisture on the trails (and we had a dry year), it’s scary.
Keli was at the Nu’uanu aid station but went home to get some sleep. Towards the end of the loop, I could sense my mind slipping a bit. I thought I was on Loop 4 a few times and had to remind myself I was just on Loop 3, which was… disappointing.
Loop Time: 5:50, 13th Place
Loop 4: Blackout Loop. My drop bag at the start/finish was a small duffel bag with all my dry clothes in a trashbag and everything else loose inside. Upon finishing Loop 3, I grabbed my bag, sat down, removed the large trash bag of dry clothes, set it to the side, and took off my shoes and socks. Then I proceeded to frantically search the duffel bag for my change of socks. Ignoring the trashbag beside me, the amazing crewing from earlier, and the general selfishness of running an ultra, I sent a 2:31am text to a sleeping Keli, eloquently asking “Socks?! Where are they??” Just before putting my wet socks back on, I remembered the trash bag, sheepishly sent an apology text, put on my dry socks, and was soon on my way.
This loop was hard. The jungle provides a great deal of protection from the sun during the day, but it makes for a very dark night. On Leg 2, descending to Nu’uanu, I encountered a feral pig snorting and scampering away on the side of the trail. I was not hallucinating. It was scary. I don’t want to talk about it. Karma for my text to Keli, maybe.
I had a sort of secondary crew member on this loop. Codi was crewing his girlfriend, who was just a bit behind me, so he was at all the aid stations when I came through. He swooped in and helped me out at the first aid station and was there to help at the others, which was nice. I think my bib # matched his lacross # in college, which was how we connected–a short-lived Bromance that was much appreciated.
Loop Time: 6:52, 12th Place
Loop 5: Heading Home Loop!
Keli greeted me at the end of Loop 4, helped me through a small pity party, got me changed, and I was off for the final loop. Here’s where the benefit of the loop course comes in. At the end of Fat Dog, I was pretty unsure of what lay ahead, how much more climbing I had to do, how far I had to go to get the next aid station, etc. This was tough on the mind. Here, I had a very good sense of distances and landmarks. (e.g. when I reach this fallen tree I’ve got 4 more switchbacks to the top, this climb takes 10 minutes at an easy pace, etc.).
The last loop is a celebratory loop in ways–this is the last time I have to make this climb, traverse this mud patch, cross this stream, etc. I bid a fond farewell to each aid station as I passed. Keli crewed me at the first aid station and then met me at the second one to run the last leg with me. As we climbed out she was worried that I was keeping the pace slow on her behalf. I assured her this was impossible. I eventually told her to run ahead because I wanted to slow down even more.
Once we’d reached the highest point of Leg 3, I let Keli push me to a much faster pace than I would otherwise have run. We passed the first place female and “sped” towards the finish. A kiss of the sign, a ring of the bell, and I was done!
Loop Time: 6:26, 9th Place.
Here are all my splits for the mathletes. Leg times are measured from time in to one aid station to time in to the next aid station–so Leg 1 times (except loop 1) include the longer break taken prior to beginning that loop. Bold underlined legs required headlamp use for at least a portion of it.
|Leg 1||Leg 2||Leg 3||Loop Time||Total Time|
- I liked this race a lot more than I imagined I would. The loop setup required minimal logistical thought ahead of time. The loops are long enough, the terrain varied enough, and the jungle flora interesting enough that it did not feel boring. Knowing what lay ahead at the end was very helpful psychologically.
- Slow is good. Lack of drama: also good.
- I’m not typically a beach person, but I am after a 100 mile race.