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.

Saturday, January 4, 2014

The two directions of Lake Chabot

Note: This is going to be a long post. Really long. Sorry. In my defense, it's covering two races. Still, it's pretty long. Feel free to pretend you've looked at this and go find some adorable cat videos. It's what I would do.

Brazen Racing has a great tradition of putting on races as close to New Year's Eve and New Year's Day as possible. A few years ago this meant races on consecutive days, but this year there was a four day gap between the races.

As an interesting science experiment, if you run the Half Marathon, you get to run it counter-clockwise in one race and clockwise in the other, giving you the chance to work out which direction is easiest. Both directions have the same amount of climbing on the same trails, although the CW direction is about 0.2 miles shorter due to how the race starts.

So, which direction is easier? Almost everyone I asked said that the CW direction (run on New Year's Day) was fastest.

I think they are wrong.

Here is the elevation chart for the New Year's Eve direction (CCW).

The largest chunk of the climbing is a steep bit early in the race. And after mile nine or so, there are no serious climbs left.

On New Year's Day (CW), the climbing is more gradual and spread out. And you have a nasty climb at mile eleven or so.

I walk the uphills and can run the downhills. Going CCW there is more downhill trail than when going CW. Real runners that can run moderate uphills will find the CW direction faster since it has fewer steep miles.

In my case, I was a bit over two minutes faster going CCW than CW, but almost everyone else was faster the other way around. Interestingly, the course records are faster going CCW than CW.

Which means I'm right. I rest my case.

NYE (almost) Race

The NYE race was preceded by the Brazen Streaker Awards Ceremony.

First, it's worth noting that it was quite cold at the start of both of these races. Lots of frost. Some were better prepared than others to deal with it.

A Brazen Streaker is someone that participated, either as a runner or volunteer, in all 24 of their events throughout the year. This is a tough thing to do, and way back in 2010 when Brazen first came up with the idea and had 15 races in the year, they had 3 runners that managed to do this.

In 2011, those same 3 runners plus 14 others managed to participate in all 21 races. In 2012, Brazen added 2 more races, raising the bar higher, and ended up with 24 streakers. For 2013, another race was added, bringing the total to 24. And had a stunning 53 streakers.

I'm pretty sure the only way the number of streakers will go down is if Brazen throws in a race that's geographically challenging - say something in Nebraska. But even that might not be enough.

Photo of all the streakers and an example of the framed set of medals they received; photo by Brazen volunteer.
Photo by Brazen volunteer.
The above photobomb-infested picture shows how solemn this occasion is treated.

Eventually there actually was a race. That's Nek (not his real name) who is in injury recovery mode, using his GoPro to grab shots of the start. (That's his wife Niwhsa (not her real name) that's trying to get him with a karate chop.)

This is the picture Nek took of me taking his picture. (Yes - I've gone nearly 100 feet and have already stopped to take a picture.)

We hit our first aid station (and the end of the pavement) at about mile 1.8. As near as I can tell, The Endorphin Dude's duty at this aid station is to pick up anyone that runs into that a-frame sign.

The actual aid station workers.

After that aid station, we make a right and head up our first real hill. It's fairly gentle and not too long, but is great at getting you warmed up.

At the bottom of that first hill we meet up with the 10K runners (who got to skip that hill) and turn right onto the Bridge of Death.

Runners smile when they get off this thing because they know they just cheated death.
"Sheesh Sirhc, not your real name, could you be a bit more obvious telling us which way to go?"
If you survive the BOD, you are then faced with the race's real climb - a steep slog up Live Oak Trail.

This hill goes on forever. And ever. But it is a bit pretty and there are a few views.

"Hey Aluap, not your real name, any pizza?"
Eventually you get to the top of the hill and to the second aid station at mile 4.3.

The next 5 miles or so are some of the best trails to be found. They are also some of the noisiest as they pass close to a shooting range where the sounds of enthusiastic gunfire serenades you.

Before you know it, you are at the third aid station, mile 9.2. There was a three hour cutoff here, but, amazingly, I was well ahead of it. Now it was time to head back to the lake.

Once you make it back to the lake you are mostly done climbing - just rolling hills are left.

Near mile 12 you end up back on pavement and heading across the dam.

Drannyl (not his real name) didn't have pizza either.
At mile 12.1 we hit the fourth aid station. We are so close to being done now that it's really hard to pause.

And then we are done! 13.4 miles covered.

I'm not sure who took these pictures of our finishes, but I couldn't resist making these GIF animations. Sorry.

Wow - a second Endorphin Dude mention. But Grandkid Second Born and him are great buddies, so this is worth it. Probably.
A fun thing was that, once we were done, the grandkids were ours for the next four days!

NYD Race

Once again, it was very cold at the start.

Once we started though, things warmed up a bit. Needs Cool Name was taking pictures about a half mile out from the start. And making a LOT of enthusiastic noise to try to get us moving.

At about mile 1.3 we were at the first aid station. Shortly after this there was a short stretch of pavement that looked wet, but turned out to be icy. I didn't hear of anyone falling, but it sure looked like it could happen.

Passing Yram, my arch-nemesis. Nice view too!

While approaching the second aid station, I was surprised to see Kcnarf (not his real name) taking pictures!

The picture Kcnarf took of Mrs Notthat.
The picture Kcnarf got of me.

After getting our pictures taken, we arrived at the second aid station, mile 4.2. This was the top of our first real hill and was followed by some downhill.

And the trees. Amazingly though, there was no gunfire to motivate us - apparently the shooting range is closed on New Year's Day. I've done many races through here and cannot remember every hearing silence at this point.

Aluap still at this aid station, and still pizza-free.
At mile 9 we arrived at the third aid station, and the top of that steep dang hill.

It was fun dashing down this hill. Half runners never get to do this except on New Year's Day - 10K runners get to run down it, but not until they have run up it first. This feels like a free pass - like someone left the gate open!

As I approached the bottom of the hill, I saw Ydna (not his real name) busily making sure we turned the correct way. Towards the Bridge of Death.

The Bridge of Death. Heavy sigh. Aicram (not her real name) was directing traffic at the end of the bridge; 10K runners turned right and skipped that last hill, Half runners turned left and started up that last hill. That last hill is kind of amusing when going CCW and hitting it early in the race. Going CW and hitting it at about mile 10 is not nearly as amusing.

It helped that Nad (not his real name) was on the other side of that hill to direct us in the right direction. The cool thing was that that direction was towards the finish line - the less cool thing was that we were back on pavement.

This is a great way to get welcomed into an aid station.
But first, we had the fourth aid station, mile 11.6. I talked to Divad (not his real name, but almost) for a bit then saw that I was about to be passed by Drahcir (not his real name either). I took off and hoped that Divad or that dog might distract Drahcir just long enough for me to rebuild my lead. (They did and I did.)

A fun thing was that at about mile 12.5, Kcnarf was hanging out and taking even more pictures!

And then a tiny bit after that, NCN was able to get these pictures of Mrs Notthat approaching the finish.

This is how Mrs Notthat storms the finish line? That looks more like how I look.
Ah. She was just kidding.
Picture by Treblig (not his real name).
Eventually I finished.

The medals. The left one was for the (almost) NYE run and the right was for the NYD run - the middle was a bonus if you elew around both courses.
This was a blast. Both races were fun, and I came close to 3 hours for both of them, but the second took a couple of minutes longer, even though it was nearly 0.2 miles shorter.

I still think the CCW direction is faster, but I suspect I will get mostly contrary comments.

That's it - move along…

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