>Wow. What a day. Well, days. I am going to try to recap my race before I forget any of the details and while the pain is still fresh in my legs. Saturday morning started early – a 4am wakeup and we were out the door 45 minutes later heading to the Nature Center. Things were bustling there as the 106ish runners were getting ready to set out for a long couple of days. We gathered on the bridge for the ceremonial start with the blowing of the conch shell; I knew that like with most ultras, it would pay to start towards the front and not get caught behind the trail of people as you got onto course.
The first segment of the Y-shaped, 20 mile, loop that is run 5 times is 7.3 miles long. You climb for the first 4.5ish, then a trip through Pauoa Flats (your first of 3 for the loop) and finally descending through switchbacks and a rocky trail for the final couple miles. It was dark still through the entire first climb and much of the descent into Paradise Park, and I felt smooth and strong. I knew I was sitting in about 5th-ish place for the women and that’s right about where I wanted to be. One thing was clear though – it was humid. I came down to the first aid station and was soaked already. Something else I noticed that set this race apart from others was how little people were talking out on the trail. You were always working – whether it be pushing up the climbs, navigating your footing on the roots, or managing a rocky and slippery descent – and this left little time and energy for chatter. That just goes to show how tough the course is – usually ultra runners love to chat!
Dave, part of my super crew for the day, had ridden his bike there (cars were not allowed on this trip though) so it was nice to see a familiar face. Still early though, I made a quick turnaround and headed back up the trail 2.5 miles to Pauoa Flats before turning towards Nuuanu and the Jackass Ginger aid station. After the climb up is a steep descent filled with obstacles. As if the roots, rocks, and switchbacks weren’t tough enough, this section had 3 areas with steep slippery rocks that had ropes attached that you used to help swing yourself down them. Then, just before the aid station, was the stream crossing. It was flowing pretty strong this year and the rope used to help yourself across was definitely needed! Here I was able to see Ryan Schmidt for the first time, and he did a wonderful job for the first time out of many today getting me in and out quickly. As I headed out and made the steep ascent, the thought was definitely in the back of my mind “man this climb is really hard the first time….how can I do it 4 more times?” From Jackass Ginger you follow the orange streamers back through Pauoa flats, then to home base at the nature center. This section actually has a few miles where you can run fairly smoothly, and I felt strongs as I ended the first loop in just under 5 hours.
Lap 2: Starting Lap 2 I was in 20th place overall, and still 5th or 6th place for female. The descent into Paradise Park was a little trickier this time and now it wasn’t just the roots, rocks and mud to watch out for – it’s also a popular hiking spot so there were groups of hiker everywhere! There were a lot of questions from them that I did my best to answer as I ran through. As I made the climb towards Jackass Ginger I also noticed how intense the sun was that day. The ridgeline at the top had several exposed parts and I felt the heat. Tracy Garneau was about an hour ahead of me as I descended here, looking strong. She is a joy to see out on the course as her speed comes so naturally and she always has a smile on. At the Jackass Ginger aid station I filled up my sports bra with ice to try to stay cool on the ascent. I was also still eating pizza fairly well, and was dabbling with Ensure here as well. All this kept me feeling pretty good as I headed back to the nature center.
|Coming in to Paradise Park, Loop 2.|
|Refueling at Paradise Park, Loop 3|
Lap 4: Coming in from lap 4 I told my number to the runner-checker-inners and was greeted with a “Hey Alyssa, guess what? You’re now the leader.” Oh man, please don’t tell me that I said half jokingly. It turns out, Amy had also had some bad fate on the rocks out there and was dropping for injury. Part of my hesitation to be excited about this news stemmed from the fact that I knew I wasn’t feeling great. I was dreading the climbs to come, and my back hurt a lot from carrying my Nathan pack all day. My feet were also in really bad shape at this point. We got one of the medical guys to come over and he cleaned my blisters and taped up my feet as best he could. At this point my crew was literally pulling me up out of the chair so I didn’t have to bend my back. Dave and I made our way up the next climb, and things got steadily worse for me. By the time we passed Paoua Flats, I hit one of the switchbacks, found a nice little rock, and told Dave I needed to sit for a minute. As I sat with my head down, I looked at him and said “I don’t know about this. I just don’t know.” He said not to worry, we were on the descent now and in 45 miuntes we’d be at Paradise park getting calories back in me. At this point I realized I had to get down there one way or another, so slowly but surely I crept my way down. When I sat in the chair I knew something was wrong. I tried several times to stand up, all to no avail as I couldn’t really straighten with my back hurting. As I sat for probably 10 minutes Dave was rubbing my back and I was trying to eat anything I could to regain my energy. Before long Hannah, the next female, entered the aid station looking strong. I was almost relieved to have her pass me – as bad as I felt I don’t think the added pressure of leading was doing me any good. And not only that, but I finally remembered to ask if the Ravens won, and I found out they didn’t. Thanks Flacco, as if my darkest hour wasn’t already bad enough.
I looked up at my crew and just said once again “I really don’t know if I can go on.” Ryan immediately gave me my phone, and I called Francesca to see what her thoughts were. After getting her up to speed on things, she said a couple things. One, that I had plenty of time, and I was doing so well there was no reason to drop. Two, she suggested taking advil for my back. She went through the remaining checklist – stomach, salt, peeing, etc and as she asked about things I realized more and more that things *were* okay, I just needed to fix my back. Gill then got on the phone and said the remainder of what Frannie didn’t: essentially, get on with it! He said that as long as my stomach was holding up, I had plenty of time to walk in the last 33 miles if it came to that. He reminded me that the HURT is one of those races where nothing else matters but getting to the finish – no matter how you do it. “Take some advil, stand up, and start walkinng!”
So….I did. And, it turns out that tough love was exactly what I needed. As Dave and I continued on up the climb I regained my energy, the advil kicked in, and I was feeling good again. As I came into Jackass Ginger and looked at Ryan I could see the relief in his face as I told him I felt better! He was super excited and so was Andrew, who would be my pacer for the next 15 or so miles. This section did get off to a bit of a bumpy start though as I made it about 20 feet down the trail, puked, and had to go back up to the chair to sit down. After a few more minutes I got my stomach settled enough to at least get on with the climb ahead, and we headed out. Things were still going fairly smoothly but my feet were really taking a beating, and the last couple miles which include a lot of pounding downhill over wet slippery rocks was painfully slow. But, we made it!
Lap 5: At this point I was about an hour behind Hannah, but also about an hour ahead of any female behind me. I felt fairly comfortable in my position, and knew that it was a matter of staying smart and not falling, continuing to fuel, and just counting down from 20. It was also exciting because as I got through each section this time, I was able to say goodbye to it forever! Also nice was that within an hour or so I would be seeing daylight again! 24 hours after I started the race, I headed out for my last loop. The sun rose as we made the first climb, and with gimpses of daylight I immedietly felt better. Andrew’s time as my pacer grew to an end, and I entered Paradise Park one final time. I was able to eat some bacon, and was in generally good spirits and we all knew at this point, barring no catasrophe’s I would likely be the 2nd female. I was in such a good mood I even pulled out my war paint and gave myself football-player-esque pink lines under my eyes with zinc. Ryan was now suited up to bring me in the last 12.5 miles, so we set out for Jackass Ginger.
|Getting ready to head out on my last 12.5 miles!|
Things generally went smoothly here, I was still able to move pretty well though I did have to stop a couple times, mostly to take my feet out of their shoes and rub them out so I could continue to run at all. As I sat at Jackass Ginger I couldn’t believe that I was on my way to the finish. I also couldn’t believe how far the finish was, even if it was only 7.3 miles away. I fueled up for my last climb and it wasn’t easy, but I did it. Ryan and I kept commenting on how few people we were seeing out on the course. Now there wasn’t even a woman in sight behind me. I was passed by one last guy as I made the final descent. My feet were so torn up at this point my running was painfully slow. But I was counting down the minutes, and before I knew it, the finish line was in view. I finished up in 31:06, kissed the famous HURT sign, and finally was able to sit without having to think about getting up again any time soon.
In the end, only 32 people finished out of 111 starters (28%!). 40 people completed the 100K option. Finishing the HURT was a huge milestone for me. To finish at all would be an accomplishment, but to finish 2nd, and within the top 10 overall, was the icing on the cake. It feels good to have my training pay off.
I have to give a special shout to my amazing crew that earned my belt buckle just as much as I did. A race crew is the definition of selfless. For 36 hours straight, I was the priority. They think about themselves just enough to make sure they are sleeping and fueling enough to get through their duties, but not once did they ever complain or even make jokes about how tough their job was. 31 hours is a long, long time. At every aid station they had all of my stuff ready to be switched out, asked all the right questions, and picked me up when I was at those low points. And not to mention the texts to keep my mom in the loop and the twitter updates for my friends! I truly could not have done it without them, and I will be forever grateful for all their work before, during, and after the race!
I am looking forward to the banquet tomorrow night to rehash some of the stories. I have bruising on my quads from the pounding of the downhills, and from the looks of it I will be losing a few toenails. However, one thing is for sure: it HURTs so good!
**I wrote this at 2am last night and have since been recalling all the other things I left out – including the funny parts. Stay tuned, those will be coming soon!**