Friday, January 24, 2014

Getting the HURT experience

HURT is an acronym that stands for Hawaiian Ultra Running Team. It’s a group of runners that mostly live on Oahu, which has quite a few fun trails. One night, 14 years ago while drinking too many poi-based umbrella drinks,* they thought up a really good prank; “Let’s put on a 100 mile race that requires climbing Mt Tantalus 15 times!” They all got a good laugh out of that for a bit, but then, a few drinks later, this really did sound a bit like fun.

So the HURT 100 was born.

It’s not a very normal race.

The course is shaped like a pregnant "T" sort of. We were told often that it was challenging to get lost, and I think that's mostly correct. The only bit that I think caused issues is that bit across the belly - you have runners going the same direction but some are headed out (and take a right) and some are headed back (and take a left). If you are not paying attention, it's possible to just follow the runner ahead of you and end up doing some bonus mileage. (I had one guy in the middle of the night tell me that's exactly what he did, and it ended up adding several miles to his race, which is not a good idea for a 100 mile race.)

The elevation chart for one lap looks frightening enough; string together five of those (each lap is 20 miles) and it starts looking a bit horrifying. Note that there is essentially no flat - you are either climbing or descending. To make it worse, much of the trail is so technical that few can actually run those descents; one runner I talked to estimated that about 10% to 20% of the course can actually be run, with the rest being a hike.

Mrs Notthat and I decided that we needed a vacation, so we headed out to Oahu for a couple of weeks, with the weekend devoted to helping out the many Bay Area runners that were entered in the race as well as an official volunteer stint at the first aid station (which is also the start/finish line).

We shared a loft thing with Aynwat and Ecarg (not their real names) that was 1.1 miles from the start/finish line. That was sweet!

Aynwat practicing her trail sleeping skills.
The Friday before the race was the pre-race briefing.

John the RD explaining the rules, which mostly consist of "don't get mistaken for a wild pig."
It was here that we met up with most of the Bay Area people.

This is about half of the Bay Area contingent.

The race started the next morning at 6AM in the dark. We walked down to see it then headed back to the house since the runners wouldn't be returning for several hours.

There were a bunch of "motivational" signs like this around the start/finish area.
At about 11AM we headed back since that's when we figured most of the Bay Area runners would start heading through. We ended up missing Eca (not his real name) since he was busy flying around the course.

We did manage to see Yval getting Rock Star treatment from Yllek (not their real names).

Ydna, not his real name, checking football scores. Or something like that.
Ultra Sports Live was on hand to provide a live webcast from each of the aid stations. (They have a number of videos from the race on their website that are all pretty entertaining.)

One of the main reasons we were here was that Mr All Day wouldn't shut up about how great this race is. (He was right, it really is great, but I'm not going to tell him that and risk swelling his head any more than it currently is.)

NASCAR pit crews have nothing on ultra pit crews.
Some runners had large crews that would meet them at each aid station and cater to their every need. Aynwat officially had Ecarg, but any of the Bay Area runners could count on all of us to pitch in for any runner that needed anything.

Once all the runners had come through we headed back to the house to get some rest. Mrs Notthat and I worked the 10PM to 4AM shift. This shift sounds challenging, but it was actually pretty cool. One reason was that it was, well, pretty cool since we didn't have to fight the sun. Another was that it was during this shift that the race winner came in.

The food at the aid station was amazing - there were half a dozen kinds of soup and many other great things to eat. It was like a Las Vegas buffet, but with good food.

Starting at 5PM or when you start your fourth lap, you are allowed to have a runner pace you. This can be most useful at night when you are tired and could miss a ribbon or are getting sleepy and could use someone to talk to you.

The Endorphin Dude was supposed to pace Eca's fourth lap, but he ended up pacing Sirhc on his third instead, since Sirhc was in need of his help. This would have left Eca without a pacer, except another Bay Area person, Yesac (not his real name either) offered to pace him for a lap. This kind of thing happened all night - often people that didn't know each other would hook up to run a lap together.

After a bit, Sirhc came in. Without The Endorphin Dude. Sirhc couldn't be bothered with sitting in a proper chair, and instead sat on the concrete. He was looking rough but was determined to head out on his fourth lap. (About 18 miles into his third lap he suddenly started feeling a bit spunky, and with TED's blessing, sprinted off.) TED showed up safely a few minutes later.

A great moment was when Gary Robbins, the men's race winner, came in. The rule is that you have to kiss the sign (I'm sure they use great care to keep it sanitized), and, new for this year, ring that bell. Gary broke the ringer.

Aynwat's plan had been to finish her third lap at about 2AM, leaving her 14 hours to run her last two laps. Unfortunately, she came in a bit later than that, but still had an outside chance of beating the first cutoff (she had to head out for her fifth lap by 11AM). The good news was that she would now have a pacer, with Ecarg heading out with her.

Howard Cosell from Ultra Sports Live interviewing the men's winner.
Eventually 4AM came around and Mrs Notthat and I headed to bed. The plan was that Mrs and I would team-pace Aynwat on her fifth lap (taking turns for each of the sections), and being rested would be a good idea.

After sleeping for a few hours, I checked Aynwat's status and realized that she was not going to make it to the 11AM cutoff. So I drove up to the third aid station, Nuuanu, and met them there. They had realized the same thing when they reached the second aid station, Paradise Park.

The HURT people have this thing called a "Fun Run." If you get three laps done and then manage to get to the second aid station, ending up with 67.3 miles, you can say you finished the Fun Run. There is nothing official about this, but it is a badge of honor to at least get that done.

So a lot of runners, when they realize they are going to miss the cutoff, stop at that point and call it a race. (That aid station has a pirate theme, and apparently they make you walk the plank into a kiddie pool.)

Aynwat chose not to stop there, and instead, wanted to finish her fourth lap and get to 80 miles. This is why she is beyond awesome! Her and Ecarg slowed down a bit and took time to enjoy the trails. I gave my camera to Ecarg so that she could capture some shots from that last bit of the course. Following are some of the shots she got.

Much of the course had trails that looked like this. (Note that blue ribbons were used to indicate trails not to take.)
In a few places, there were ropes to help you. Those rocks were very slippery.

Places like this are jaw-dropping.
Most of the time you are under heavy tree cover, but once in a while a view appears out of nowhere.
A rare runnable part that had serious consequences if you happened to stumble.
Can't let your focus drift or you will end up on the ground.
124 runners started this year's race. 53 finished the five laps in 36 hours or less. 21 qualified for "Fun Run" status. These are about typical numbers. This year was considered a dry year, which generally means more finishers and faster times, but it was also an exceptionally hot and humid year, with little to no breezes to help cool you off.

From the Bay Are runners, two managed to finish the 100 miles: Eca and Yval.

Runners invariably kissed the upper-left corner of the sign. Probably because it was easiest.  I think I will avoid that part of the sign if it ever comes up for me.
Eca was the first of our group to finish.

Eca, his pacers, and his wife.

Then Yval came in.

Yval and her pacer.
Eca, Yval, and the belt buckle.
And that's about it.

This is a fairly low-key event for having such a gnarly reputation. There is a lottery to get in, and the cost of a trip to Hawaii if you make it. The trails will beat you up something fierce - I was in awe of how it tore down many ridiculously tough runners that I knew.

If you are a fast runner, that won't mean much. For this, you need to be well trained on hiking up hills at a consistent rate. You need to be able to not blow yourself up trying to go too fast over terrain that is wildly unsuitable for going fast. (The course record is about 19:30 or so; not very quick for a standard 100 mile race, but very quick for this one.)

We'll see how it goes, but I wouldn't mind being back next year and perhaps pace for a lap or two. Maybe crew a bit and possibly get in a volunteer stint as well (we got a nice shirt for doing that).

The one thing that keeps nagging at the back of my head though is how horrific this course would be if it rained. (That has happened before, and, while they wouldn't use the word "horrific" to describe it, "very challenging" would seem an understatement.)

That's it - move along…

* I doubt there really is such a thing as a poi-based umbrella drink. I'd try it though if there was. I think.

PS: You can see more of my pictures here, here, here, here, and here.


notthatlucas said...

I forgot to mention another thing about entering this race - there is no prerequisite race finish; you don't have to have already run a 100M or even a 50M race before you can enter this race.

They do weight the lottery system based on kukui nuts that they give (or take away) from you, based on previous HURT finishes, volunteering at HURT, volunteering at other races, and generally being a perky person.

It's fun to think that I could throw my hat in and take my chances in the lottery. But I'm not quite that nuts. Yet.

mary ann said...

fascinating - thanks for such a thorough report and it was so great of you two to voolunteer

John Nguyen said...

I enjoyed this report! It is a race I want to "run" someday. I ran my first ultra with Myles, so I was hoping to see him finish, but such is the nature of long ultras - you never know what you're gonna get. A fun run finish is still very admirable!

Grace Lindo said...

Loved the race report! Wish I could've gotten a photo of Aynwat sprawled out on the ground taking a 2 minute nap (snoring very loudly I might add). At the start of the 4th lap, she was looking like a zombie runner. Though we knew we would miss the cutoff and she was soooo done, Aynwat still found it in her to complete another full lap just so I could experience the fun and torture for myself. That's what makes Aynwat more than just a great ultra runner, but an awesome friend.

Grace Lindo said...

By the way, I couldn't have gotten through crewing as efficiently as we did without the help of Mrs. Notthat. She was an awesome partner and made crewing all the more fun! Thanks to the both of you for all that you did for the bay area team.

Tawnya Dozier said...

Nicely written. You guys were awesome crew! Next year do you wanna go 20 miles with me?!

Lia said...

This was a great read! The race itself sounds terrifying, but it's so great that Bay Area runners were so well represented AND supported!