“The greatest mania of all is passion: and I am a natural slave to passion: the balance between my brain and my soul and my body is as wild and delicate as the skin of a Ming vase.”
― Hunter S. Thompson, The Curse of Lono
These words seemed fitting as I awoke at 4 am in a Honolulu still covered in darkness, getting ready to tackle one of the hardest 100 milers in the world. I have a history with the HURT 100. In 2010 I finished the 100-kilometer race in 6th place. In 2013 I returned to race the full 100 miler and blew up fantastically at the 60-mile mark. Since that race I vowed not to come back until I knew I was ready.
Since then I have driven across the country 5 times, raced in the heat of Nevada and the Hill Country of Texas, and I completed my first 100-miler in the mountains of Utah and Idaho. I spent last winter exploring the island of Madeira off of Portugal where I raced the Madeira Island Ultra Trail. A few weeks later I raced the Barcelona Ultra Trail finishing in the top 25 in both of those races. I felt ready to return to HURT.
Just prior to 6 am I stood waiting for the start, surrounded by others who have taken a chance and decided to follow a dream. On the most simplified level we are those who have a love of moving through nature. There is a broad range of ability at the race, from those who are professionals to those who will need the full 36 hours allowed to cover the next 100 miles and 25,000 feet of climbing and 25,000 feet of descent through a humid jungle.
My plan was to get out with the lead group knowing that if I didn’t I would get caught somewhere in the train of runners on the first climb. I had run the course multiple times in the weeks leading up to the race and I knew what effort I wanted on this first section. It was a bit surreal to look around and see who was in this group of guys—people I had only read about—but I quickly refocused on how I felt along with my splits to the top of each climb and down through to the following aid stations.
The first loop (20 miles) felt relaxed but when I got 5 miles out from completing it I knew that I needed to slow down a bit or else I would be coming in way too fast. My plan was to complete each of the first 3 loops in between 4 and 4 ½ hours. That may not seem fast but each loop has 5,000 ft of climbing and loss so it was important for me to try and find a sustainable range. Dropping out of this race in the past has taught me that this race does not even start until 60 miles in.
I spent most of the day somewhere between 5th and 8th place. My focus remained on the current section of the course I was on and to try to prevent as much drift in pace. I knew once it got dark I would slow down. The HURT course is one of the most technical trails out there and having my sight reduced to the glow of my headlamp would have an impact on both pace and focus. My other goal was to offer up as much encouragement to the other runners out there. One of the greatest aspects of this race is that with the continuous 20-mile loop, you run past everyone multiple times. This gave me not only the chance to see how other friends and runners were doing during the race but also the chance to say something positive about how they were doing.
Ohana (the Hawaiian word for family) is a key aspect of this race. Everyone is facing the same enormous challenge with their given ability. You want everyone to achieve what he or she hopes and dreams they are capable of. It is easy to lose some of that faith once you have been moving for hours on end in the darkness of night. I have found that you can either let it creep in and take over or focus your energy on the positive.
“When one is alone at night in the depths of these woods, the stillness is at once awful and sublime. Every leaf seems to speak.”
– John of the Mountains: The Unpublished Journals
Starting my last loop 80 miles in, I entered what would be the only low point for me during the race. Mentally I was excited: 20 miles out and I could finally feel the finish line. After topping out on the first set of climbs on this loop I felt my energy fade. Up to this point I had felt like someone else was running for me and I was there just to watch the day unfold. At the top of the climb the city lights of Honolulu greeted me in the valley below. When I made the effort to hit the gas for this section there was no response. I immediately knew it was the result of not taking in enough calories in the last few hours and it was finally catching up on me.
If someone asked me what was bothering me at the aid station I would respond my jaw. I was sick of eating, chewing, and trying to take in calories in any form. I have been in this depleted state in racing and training before and ran through my checklist to turn it around. This section cost me at least an hour and a half of additional time and I dropped several positions to runners behind me. None of that really mattered to me though. I was still happy. I knew I was creeping in on a goal of mine since I first started running after college. This slowed pace allowed me the chance to talk to Arvel Shults and Joshua Barringer who were a lap behind me. Without knowing it I allowed Josh to set pace for me through this low patch until I started to come out of it. I made sure to thank him for his pacing duties after the race as he gave me something to focus on other than that low.
The low point passed and I could feel the sunrise approaching. For me the second sunrise during a race has an amazingly positive effect. Darkness is slowly lifted from the forest, birds begin to sing, and my mind and body often find a way to reset at this point. Coming into mile 93 and the last aid station I was greeted by my crew. It was the first time during the race where the look on their faces shifted from concern of how I was feeling to, “you got this, hurry up so we can get some sleep.”
Crossing the last river out of the aid station I immediately saw Nick Kopp coming the other direction. I had noticed Nick gaining on me through the night and he looked really strong with his pacer. A few minutes later I saw Andy Pearson pass the other direction with his pacer. I knew both of these guys were more than capable of catching me over this last 7 miles. Both had pacers to push them to close the distance and they must have noticed me slowing over the last few sections. 93 miles in I felt like it was the first time I was racing. I made a time goal starting the last climb knowing that if I pushed here I could recover on the down to Pahoa flats. Everyone slows down on Pahoa flats, leaving me with the final downhill push to the finish.
I topped out within my time goal for the last climb, knowing that neither guy would put time on me in that section. Starting the descent into Pahoa flats I was greeted by Michael Garrison and his pacer. I had met Michael the weeks before training out on the course and shared some beers with him and a few other local guys. I was happy to see him still focused and moving, knowing from experience that at any point during this race the desire to stop can easily overtake the desire to keep going.
I made my way through the flats and up to and through the pig gates that are in place to keep the wild hogs out of a designated area. My feet were blistered and swollen but none of that mattered at this point. During the descent to the finish I thought about how much I have changed since being out here 2 years ago when I gave up at 60 miles.
Rolling into the finish I was greeting by my crew: my wife, mother, and two close friends who had incorporated helping me run a 100 miles through Hawaii into their vacation plans. I kissed the sign and rang the bell. Someone handed me a chair to sit down and it took me several moments to realize it was a good friend from high school who was out here from Oregon. He and his wife were also on vacation and they had taken a cab to catch my finish. It was a perfect moment and one that I will never forget. I had completed the HURT 100.
It is difficult to explain to others how much this race and the people involved with it become a part of you. There are few, if any, races I know of where when it is over you feel like you are saying goodbye to family. I will continue to be in awe of the amount of time and planning that goes into this event, all to allow me to do something I love. This race gave me the chance to show the ones I love why I put the effort into running these races. It is difficult even a week later to ever consider running this again, however I can already begin to feel the desire building in the back of my head. For me it will take a couple years for it to be there again for this race. Until then I hope to be able to help by pacing/volunteering or even just simply running and racing with Aloha.
Fayettechill Guero Hat
Salomon Advanced Skin Lab Hydro
HokaOneOne Challenger ATR (First 80 Miles)
Brooks Cascadia 11 (Last 20 Miles)
Countless Honey Stinger Gels, Waffles, and bars
Result: 9th Overall, 26:36:53, 100 Miles and 24,935ft climbing