Hawaii: History, Honeycreepers, and the HURT 100 - Part 2
Two days before the race, we took a trip to Pearl Harbor to visit the USS Arizona Memorial. While Google Maps did a good job of getting us temporarily lost on Honolulu's confusing roads, we still arrived early and only had to wait a half hour for our slot to see the Memorial's movie and take the boat trip to the Memorial itself. I grew up enthralled with my grandfather's stories from his service on the aircraft carrier USS Cowpens in World War II, but I don't think such a background is a prerequisite to get emotional and shed a tear during the moving film presented at the Memorial. Likewise, seeing the wreck of the Arizona itself was a nearly overpowering experience, though somewhat sullied by being herded onto the Memorial like cattle and all-too-quickly being herded back off again. I understand that there are a lot of people that need to be efficiently moved through what is basically a small island, but I would have loved to have more time to process what I was seeing.
With the start of loop 2 of the HURT 100, I finally got to see the climb that we did in the dark on loop 1. The hogsback is a fairly narrow and very steep ridge that is heavily wooded. Copious roots form uneven steps that seem to climb forever, almost like a real stairway to heaven or, at this point, a stairway to hell if hell were skyward. Indeed, I had my first real difficulties in this section and struggled to pass a barefoot (yes, barefoot) elderly lady who was out for a stroll. A runner passes me heading down, returning to the start/finish, saying he'd had enough on loop 2 and that it wasn't his day. Stinging sweat poured into my eyes. My heart rate increased significantly. I had to stop several times to let my body settle. As I neared the top, I felt the extra calories and hydration from the start/finish area finally kick in and my condition improved.
Much of the rest of this section between the Nature Center and Paradise Park was uneventful. As before, I opened up my stride in the last couple of miles to Paradise Park. Unlike before, it suddenly felt unrelentingly hot and, of course, very humid. As I entered the station, they asked immediately what I needed.
"I need to get my body temperature down before I climb back out of here."
Less than five seconds after that request, I had iced towels on my head and my neck as they refilled the water in my running pack. I had a cup of soup and a SPAM/wasabi rice cake. I had a realization that my plan to immediately get in and out of aid stations was not going to work here, as I needed to get my body temperature down before I started climbing back out again. If I didn't, the climb would destroy me. I stayed there as long as it took to feel like I was no longer red-lining, as the volunteers kept replacing the iced towels on my head and neck. It may have been five minutes. It may have been twenty. I really don't know. I was certainly cognizant that time was of the essence and got out as soon as I felt manageable.
The day after my race was an important one: it didn't matter how I felt, I needed to get out and do some kind of activity to get blood flowing in my legs for recovery. It also wasn't fair to my wife to spend a day in Honolulu just lying around and doing nothing. As she slept in, I walked a half mile to McDonald's (I am against going to chain restaurants in general while traveling, but my options that morning were limited) and ate a bunch of stuff with eggs and sausage in it. I walked across the street to Starbucks to get a coffee. I returned to find her awake and ready to do something. We headed to Waikiki (not our kind of place because of the crowds) and walked a bit on the beach. We had lunch at Duke's. I offered to take her hiking to see Manoa Falls and a small part of the HURT course.
"Are you sure you're up for that?"
"I'll bring my hiking poles. I'll be slow, but I'll manage."
We got to the parking area for the hike to Manoa Falls right as the last Paradise Park aid station volunteers were leaving with about two hours of daylight left. The opening part of the hike was relatively flat and easy to traverse, though I'm pretty sure my wife could've visited the falls and returned to the car three or four times in the amount of time it would take me to do it once with the pace I could manage. As the trail steepened to seemingly endless stairways, I struggled mightily to press onward. The extent and locations of my chafing from the race didn't help things. My wife was surprised to see me drenched with sweat. Hikers going the other way saw me struggling along on poles and looked at me in a manner that made me think they felt I had a physical handicap. It made me feel uneasy. Finally, we reached the falls.
To be honest, while Manoa Falls is pretty, I've seen hundreds of falls that are far more spectacular. While the falls are very tall, the volume of water is relatively small. The area, in a way, reminded me of the Chantry Flats area in the San Gabriel Mountains where I live: beautiful and enjoyable if there were nobody around, but the volume of people (many of whom have no respect for other people or natural resources whatsoever) completely ruins the experience of the place. The base of the falls was like a frat party. There were clear markers and signs telling people not to go to the base of the falls, but there were people climbing past those anyway. There were people playing loud music. There was a girl on the rocks primping her hair and taking a selfie. There was trash everywhere. There was no opportunity to photograph the falls itself without a crowd in the photo.
This was not why we were really here. I wanted my wife to see a "real" trail of the sort that forms much of the race course. I also wanted her to see the giant Banyan trees that were somewhere up the trail, not too far, I think. We climbed over the rocks (in my case, very slowly) to get to the trail and started making our way up. Finally, the trees were in sight. It was nice to stay there for a few minutes and fully appreciate them, as I couldn't during the race. We went a bit farther up the trail so she could traverse a steeply-angled root section and get some of the "HURT experience". I stayed and watched. We then slowly made our way back to the car.
I felt much better heading out of Paradise Park than I did going in. My body temperature was down. My stomach was full. I had a bag of ice strapped to my chest to help keep my core temperature down. My biggest issue was that my legs were starting to tire, a lot, and more than I'd typically expect for being 30 miles into a race. I needed to keep up a decent pace on this loop, and I was starting to struggle with doing so. Near the top of climb the race leader (and eventual winner) Mike Arstein, dressed in a sleeveless Rambo shirt, caught up to me. I was nearing mile 30. He was at mile 50. He slowed a bit as I let him pass.
"Man, this is really hard." (or, something to that effect).
"Yeah, I'm pretty sure I've never felt so tired this early in a race before," was my reply.
We wished each other good luck and he continued on.
When I reached the flatter sections at the top of the ridge I needed to run. I had difficulty doing so. My lower back started to hurt. A lot. I hit the steep drop past Bien's Bench. On loop 1 I just ran down it even though there is a rope to assist climbing and descending. This time, I decided to back down with the rope, mostly to try to stretch my back out. It helped, for a little while at least.
As I made my way down the steep descent into Nuuanu, I could feel my quads weakening. This was not a result of any deficit in hydration or calories. My stomach was working well all race and I was eating and drinking like a glutton. My head was completely clear (which would not be the case if I was short on calories or water), and I was still positive about being out there. My legs were simply tired and not functioning as they should, and it was a gradual and seemingly inescapable phenomenon. I leaned more and more on my poles for support, and obstacles on the trail seemed to get larger and larger. I arrived at Nuuanu way beyond any reasonable time to meet the time goals I needed to finish the race. It was theoretically recoverable if this were a situation where I was having a bad patch and I had hope of coming out of the bad patch and speeding up my pace, but this seemed like pure physical deterioration that was likely irreversible. Whether it was because of my training level, being sick at the start, or whatever it was, I did not know. I arrived at Nuuanu feeling like finishing the race was likely impossible, but there was no way I was ending my day without finishing the loop. Taking the easy way out was not an option.
Two days after the race, we drove from Honolulu to Punaluu on the northeast side of the island. This cottage rental and location were much more our style than the crowds and chaos of Waikiki. The cottage was on a quiet stretch of beach with reef snorkeling just a few steps outside and rainforest mountain hiking just behind. We slept on a bed in a glassy, airy room that jutted out toward the ocean. It may have been the neatest sleeping experience of any place we've traveled to, and we travel a lot.
Our first full day at Punaluu began with a breakfast at a locally-owned restaurant nearby. I had the "special", comprised of eggs, sticky rice, and SPAM. We then hiked at Ahupuaa O Kahana State Park. My legs felt a bit better (though I still needed poles to get around), and I really hoped to find one of the native Hawaiian honeycreeper species, something that had eluded me so far. We didn't do much, though, but get lost on the park's not-so-well-maintained trails and eaten alive by mosquitoes.
I went snorkeling as soon as we returned to the cottage while my wife napped on the beach. The variety of fish was phenomenal, especially around the pockets of living coral. There were small and mid-sized colorful ones. There were single giant fish, some as much as two feet long. A school of large (greater than one foot in length) fish swam by quickly and I wondered if they were being chased. I saw nothing. I swam a ways up the coast along the coral line and I saw a large dark mass appear. I swam closer. I later posted about what happened on Facebook.
"OK... I think I just had the most amazing magical wildlife experience in my life a few minutes ago. I swam about a tenth of a mile up the coast (with a snorkel mask and fins on) with a sea turtle! It let me follow it up the coastline, swimming directly 1-3 feet over it in water that was less than five feet. It then surfaced for air right in front of my face and headed toward deep water. If only I had a camera..."
I will never forget that experience. I will also never forget a friend's response to my post:
"Turtle on Turtlebook: I just had the most fucked up human experience!... I was swimming along in like 5 feet of water and this human had one of those scary masks and chased me up the coastline!"
I struggled mightily on the climb out of Nuuanu. I felt fine, but my legs just wouldn't move. I gradually deteriorated to the point I was moving at about an hour per mile pace. I topped out on the ridge at sunset. It was excruciatingly beautiful, and I reminded myself how lucky I was to be here in this moment, despite the self-imposed pain and suffering that had brought me here. As I reentered the forest for the long descent back to the Nature Center it was necessary to turn my headlamp on. As it got darker, I felt a real sense of loneliness as I hobbled along, slowly, struggling to get past the slightest obstacles. As runners passed me, as they do in ultras, not a single one neglected to ask if I was OK and whether I needed anything. My standard reply was that I felt fine, but my legs just couldn't move me fast. "I'm on a casual night stroll."
I reached Manoa Cliffs Trail. The numerous signs warn you of the dangerous drop-offs. I took my time, not really able to see much except for the small circle of rocky, muddy, root-laced trail in my headlamp, the rocks to my right, and a black abyss to the left. The tip of my left pole slipped off the edge of the trail and I fell over, slamming my right knee hard on a root, and catching the root with my hands as the left side of my body hangs off the trail. Adrenaline helped pull me back up. I continued to move slowly along.
I ran into another example of ultra-selflessness: A runner that was at least one loop ahead of me and with his pacer was hunched over, puking on the side of the trail. I could hear his retching well before I saw the headlamps. As I approached to where I could see their forms I saw him puke once more. The puker immediately turned around after emptying his stomach and asked me if everything is OK. I gave the standard reply I had been giving, and would have countered but I had to assume he was fine with this pacer there. I have no idea who it was. I hope he finished.
The remaining miles to Nature Center seemed like the longest in my life as I passed the nine hour mark on this loop. I knew it was over. I had previously proclaimed that I would not drop and would have to be pulled from the course, but that was before considering how the race and its cut-off times were structured: Unlike most non-loop hundred mile races where there are aid station cut-offs generally commensurate with whether you can finish the race on time, this loop course did not have any aid station cut-offs until late in the race, which meant you could continue to keep pointlessly abusing yourself long after you had no chance of succeeding. I had no chance of succeeding. Going beyond loop 2 seemed like a pointless exercise in self-abuse. My biggest concern was going to be explaining it to my wife.
I finally reached the start/finish area at Nature Center. It was fairly quiet. There were a few distraught-looking runners in chairs. My wife was there to greet me, dressed in her running clothes and ready to pace me. I told her I was out. We had some back-and-forth about it. I had some with the race director as well, though he didn't fight too hard as he had to know that finishing when I came in that late would be fairly unprecedented. I got a few calories in me and waddled my way to the car.
Our night ended with me screaming in the shower (the chafing was epic), some frantic searches for a place to get food at that late hour, a drive to Pizza Hut, and a stop for beer. I slept hard.
Our final full day on the island started with a breakfast at Hukilau Cafe. I had more local goodness, but replaced the SPAM with Portuguese sausage. The food was a definite improvement over the previous day.
We visited the Hauula Forest Reserve and hiked the Hauula Loop Trail. There was a lot of climbing and descending but the trail was mostly wide and in excellent condition. My legs had healed a lot by this point and I was able to hike without poles. Slowly. I spent a lot of time looking for birds. Like pretty much everywhere else in Oahu, I was restricted to non-native species. There were no honeycreepers to be found. We enjoyed the hike, though. It got cloudier as the hike went on and it began raining as soon as we returned to the car. It was raining hard when we got back to the cottage, and continued to do so most of the afternoon. This was the first real rain we saw on the entire trip.
We ventured out to James Campbell National Wildlife Refuge in the afternoon despite the downpour. I was hoping to see a flock of Bristle-thighed Curlews that had been reported there the previous day. The refuge was closed to the public, and we were left to viewing things around the perimeter. My "rarity" was restricted to a flock of Bufflehead (ducks) that I photographed, a species requiring additional documentation in eBird. We went back to the room to relax for the evening, electing to have dinner at the "shrimp truck" across the street from our cottage.
We headed back to Honolulu Airport the next morning, the day before the inauguration (entirely unplanned), for our flight home.
I first attempted the 100 mile distance in 2013, completing the Zion 100 in 30:32. Since then, I've DNF'd the Angeles Crest 100 twice because of stomach issues (quitting once with time on the clock, i.e., not forced off the course), and once at mile 75 because of an injury. Two years ago, I ran the Mohican 100 through mile 55 and ended it there, despite everything going OK, because course conditions were going to make a finish tremendously difficult and I didn't want to trash myself physically for the Angeles Crest 100 (which I then DNF'd). For the record, I now recognize what I did at Mohican was a mistake and I would never do it again. My point here, however, is that I thought 100 miles was the distance for me after my Zion finish. It's hard to think that with continued struggles. My future at that distance is unknown. Regardless, I am entered in the Angeles Crest 100 this year and I need the finish.
Training for and completing a race of this distance is incredibly difficult. It is made doubly-so because of the time involved, which conflicts with time spent working, time spent with the family, and time spent doing other recreational things. With my recent career change, I feel it's made even more difficult. I am well aware that many others succeed in this sport with just as many time constraints. It's something I need to figure out. Priorities.
As far as HURT is concerned, I began to understand during the post-race awards dinner the concept of community and family with this race, and that I am a part of that by virtue of having run it, despite the fact I didn't finish it. Indeed, the majority of runners don't finish it. Many return to try again. Will I? Time will tell.