This post is about my 2016 attempt at the HURT 100. I’ve started it four times, and this year I got further than ever before, but I still haven’t finished it. And I think I know why.
This is long. My apologies, but it is a 100-mile race.
About the HURT 100
This trail race through the mountains above Honolulu is unlike any other race I have done. You have to hike, not run, a lot of the trail, thanks to the rocks, roots, and mud, plus a hefty amount (over 24,000′ total) of climbing. Given the difficulty of the terrain, the 36-hour total time limit is actually short, and finishing rates are consistently under 50%. The name is certainly appropriate, though it is actually an acronym for Hawaii Ultra Running Team, the organization that puts on the race.
The course consists of five identical 20-mile loops, each made up of three legs. The first leg starts at the Nature Center, runs up to Pauoa Flats, and down to the Paradise Park aid station (roughly mile 7). The second leg runs back up to Pauoa Flats and down to the Nu’uanu aid station (mile 13). The third leg runs back up to Pauoa Flats and down to the Nature Center aid station (mile 20). Pauoa Flats is the high point of each of the three legs, and actually is pretty flat, but is also covered with ankle-threatening banyan roots and at least some mud.
Besides the final 36-hour cutoff, there are also cutoffs at 29 hours (80 miles), 31:30 (87 miles), and 33:30 (93 miles).
If you don’t finish, they also define a “fun run” of about 67 miles, meaning three full loops plus the first leg of the fourth loop, ending at the Paradise Park aid station. They used to call this the 100K.
Making things a bit easier, and much more pleasant, is that the volunteers are great, with a genuine feeling of family (“ohana”). The race is always held on Martin Luther King weekend in January, with a wonderful banquet and awards ceremony the Monday evening after the race ends (more 100-mile races should have parties!).
My History With HURT
I first ran the HURT 100 in 2011, and ran it again in 2012 and 2013, not finishing it any of those times. In 2014 and 2015 I was injured or recovering and did not start the race, though I volunteered. Add in the fact that the oldest finishers are generally only a few years older than I am now, and the urgency was clear.
For the record, these are my results:
- 2011: 67 miles in just over 29 hours
- 2012: 67 miles in 28:16
- 2013: 67 miles in 29:40, and then continued on to 73 miles in 32:43 total
Preparing for this Year
For pretty much all of 2015, this race was the focus of my training. Despite distractions and the holidays, I got down to my target weight, which was about 20 pounds less than I was for at least one other 100 miler. My 2015 race results reflected both that and my more rigorous training, with Personal Records (PRs) at 50 miles (twice!), 100K, and even a paved half marathon. In early November I ran my first complete 100 miler in three years, mostly to re-wrap my head around the 100-mile distance, but I also came within a couple of minutes of my 100-mile PR. So I was better prepared this year than ever before, but also older.
Here are a few other things I did to prepare:
- I experimented with electrolytes. After listening to Dr. Timothy Noakes, I tried using few or no electrolyte capsules in some races up to 50 miles. For HURT I eventually decided to stick to a more traditional plan, in deference to Hawaii’s much higher heat and humidity.
- I tried a weight vest. It was adjustable up to 20 pounds, and I did a few hikes wearing it. I got it too late to do as much as I would have liked, but given how steep HURT is, and how much of it I would be hiking, it was a good addition.
- I did core work. As usual before 100-mile races, I worked on my core muscles, trying to avoid the issues I had in the Grand Teton 100. Core work is way less fun to me than trail running.
- I did heat training. This is basically spending time in a sauna during the last few weeks before a warm race. I hate heat training even more than core work, but I know it helps.
- I previewed the course. As usual, we got to Honolulu a full week in advance, and I spent some time on the course the prior weekend. It was muddier than I had ever seen it before, and it turns out that the muddiest part (on the Judd Trail, near the Nu’uanu aid station) was one of the few sections I did not get to preview.
- I recruited a dedicated pacer. I had never had one before at HURT. Noé is great, and very experienced.
This was going to be my best chance yet at finishing the race, but the nervousness built as the race approached. My plan was based mostly on the splits of a runner from the prior year, and it called for me to get to the 100K point well over five hours faster than I ever had before. Put another way, that’s almost five minutes per mile faster. Yikes!
Race morning I got up with my alarm at 3:40 am and got ready (sunscreen, lubricant, some calories, etc.). Connie drove me to the start around 5 am, where the was a minor hiccup: a van backed into the front of our rental car as I finished getting my stuff out. The volunteer who was directing parking told me to go run my race, which was good advice. The race started on time at 6 am.
Loop 1 (miles 1-20)
This loop was close to perfect. I was only a minute off my plan at the first aid station, lost a bit of time on the second leg due to the mud pits on the Nu’uanu side, but was back to a minute off by the end of the loop. I did feel like I was having to push a bit harder than I hoped, as gauged by a higher than planned heart rate, but I was still feeling good. I was also ahead of some runners I know are normally better than me, which meant that I was having a good day, they were having bad days, or I was pushing too hard.
Loop 2 (miles 21-40)
The second loop was similar in that I stuck very close to the plan. I did roll my right ankle at one point, and it hurt badly for a few minutes, but worked itself out quickly. Other pains, like a few toes and the bottom of one foot, were also transitory. This isn’t to say that I was pain free through 40 miles, but everything was within a tolerable limit.
Loop 3 (miles 41-60)
At this point, 40 miles into the race, I got my pacer, Noé. Pacers always give me a mental boost, both in spirits and in that they are more alert due to being better rested. He led at first, looking back periodically to wait for me to catch up. The first climb up what the locals call Hogsback seemed slower than I hoped, since sometimes the energy of a pacer can boost your own energy. I ran when I could, mostly, but things were definitely slowing down. I had expected that, but feared this was a bigger dropoff than planned.
Here’s an important point, though I totally missed it at the time: I stopped tracking where we were relative to the plan. Before I got my pacer I checked the plan at least once per leg and was totally on task. Now I had unconsciously ceded responsibility to Noé, only neither of us realized that. And not being consciously on task is likely a big part of why I didn’t finish. I also stopped using Vespa as regularly as I had been (on a three-hour schedule), and I took longer than usual in the aid stations. As I recall Noé did mention that we were getting a bit behind, but I either blew that off or got discouraged, so I was not nearly as present as I had been previously. He and others we saw on the trail or in aid stations remained sure that we could finish, but over time my doubt grew. I didn’t think I could speed up, and I would need to at least a little bit, to make the cutoffs.
As an aside, ceding control and not being present is a pattern in multiple areas of my life and does not serve me well. It won’t be easy to change after being alive for 55 years, but any progress would be good in many ways beyond ultramarathons.
At about mile 53, the climb out of Nu’uanu is interesting in this regard. Noé experimented with having me lead, and he thought I was a bit faster that way, which is consistent with the ownership theory. But as it turns out, I actually fell behind my plan by an additional 16 minutes on that leg, so it’s hard to say if this really helped or hurt.
So by the time we finished loop 3 (mile 60), I was 40 minutes behind schedule and my hopes of finishing were evaporating since that meant I had to start gaining on my plan, to the tune of 31 minutes in 40 miles, or about 45 seconds per mile, which is a lot.
Loop 4 (miles 61-80)
A woman who started that loop about when I did said something about needing two 7.5 hour loops, which seemed impossible to me. When she powered up Hogsback much faster than us, my fear that finishing was beyond my abilities was seemingly confirmed. (I believe that she did not quite finish, making it to 93 miles just after the cutoff there.) The descent to Paradise Park at the end of that leg was especially leisurely and unfocused, being more about the conversation and less about the race. I remember wondering what Noé was thinking, but I never asked, frankly glad to have a break. Looking back at the data, this was by far my worst leg, losing 49 minutes compared to my plan (the next worst leg lost 24 minutes). Despite that we made it to the 100K point before it got light Sunday morning, which was better than my fastest previous time by just under four hours.
The climb out seemed equally casual, and the descent to Nu’uanu was also slow, though in that case it was more about the treacherousness of the slick trail. The final leg to the 80-mile cutoff seemed more focused due to “smelling the barn,” though it was the hottest leg of the race and I ran out of water. In the end we missed the 80-mile cutoff by 1:06:55, and my plan by over two hours.
Loop 5 (miles 81-100)
This is what I did not get to do because I missed the cutoff.
As they say (or I do, anyway), this was “yet another f-ing growth opportunity.” Here are a few things in particular, some reiterating what I said before:
- Stay focused and retain ownership of getting to the finish line. This is critical.
- Expect and even embrace the pain. Other runners were hobbling around the party the next day, and I could walk almost normally, so I probably wasn’t trying as hard as most of them were.
- Train for stepping down from high drop-offs. That hurt a lot in the later miles.
- Stay ahead of any chafing issues. This was most problematic in some sensitive areas starting in loop 4, though in contrast my feet were blister-free.
- Practice with poles. I had some, but hardly practiced with them at all leading up to the race. So while Noé and I considered having me use them on loop 4, I opted not to.
- Get a waist- or chest-level light. Headlamps are very close to your eyes, so they cast shadows that are directly behind obstacles, making the obstacles hard to see. My normal solution is a handheld flashlight, but that precludes using poles.
- Buy enough good flashlights so I can have one in each drop bag. It’s not worth trying to predict where I might need one, or to risk using a bad flashlight in an important race. (And yes, a $50 flashlight is much better than a $5 or $10 one.)
- Have the capacity to carry more water. Running out of water on the last leg I completed is not good.
I can finish this race, even at my advanced age! Ernie Floyd, who is six years older than me, ran the race again this year after being 0-for-4 in the past. He finished, and had well over 90 minutes to spare. Coincidentally, my next attempt will be my 5th try.
Lastly, since getting from where I was this year to where I need to be is more about the mental game than the physical one (though both definitely help!), I bought a book called The Ultra Mindset, by Travis Macy. I knew about the book already, but as it turns out Travis ran HURT for his first time this year. He not only finished, but he tied for 5th. I’m only a little way into the book so far, but I think it’s helping.
If I work hard on all of those things, plus everything I already did for this attempt, I will be able to finish this race!