Thursday, February 7, 2019


So there I was. Standing at the finish of another 100 miler. Panting, grasping for air. Hands on knees. Mumbling semi-incoherently. Overcome with emotion. Pretty typical, right?

Well, not exactly. Those emotions, they weren't your standard feelings of elation, pride in your accomplishment, gratefulness that you don't have to take another step. No. I was overwhelmed with a sense of intense shame. How did it come to this?

I'll spare you the intense details and cut right to the chase. But, for those interested in wasting an hour of your life, feel free to jump ahead so you can start from the beginning, and then retrace your steps to finish the thrilling tale of a guy that ran a race.

Anyways, back to that whole cutting right to the chase thing ...

I embarked upon my final lap at the HURT 100. I had secured 5th place and was fairly confident no one behind me was in striking distance. So I set out to enjoy myself and the peacefulness of the pitch-black jungle on the outskirts of Honolulu. My 24 hour goal, sadly, had slipped away, but I was confident I'd finish before sunrise / 25 hours, so I intentionally took it easy.

Halfway down the descent to the first Aid Station of the loop (the Pirate hangout, Pirate Cove, Manoa, whatever other name it goes by), I overtook 4th place. He was hobble-walking. It was his first 100 miler and he said his legs felt shot. But he was upbeat and excited to walk it in for the finish. Kudos! I knew the top 3 runners had been battling it out all day and they were far ahead of me, so it seemed like 4th place was my destiny. Not too shabby!

This has nothing to do with the race, but check out this view from my hotel room. Not pictured: primates in the zoo making adorable sounds.

After exiting the Aid Station and heading back the way I came, I bumped into fellow DC area runner Keith Knipling. As this happened, a Japanese runner with poles came screaming down the descent. I was a bit confused because I didn't remember lapping him and he seemed to be rather reckless for a person only on their 4th lap. I made mention to Keith of how I just slipped into 4th, overtaking the shirtless 5th place guy with the jell-o legs who also just ran by us. Keith, completely confused, said "No, I'm pretty sure that was Tomo. He's really good." And so it was confirmed, Japanese pole guy, AKA Tomo, AKA Tomokazu Ihara, was hunting me down and my 4th place position was in jeopardy. He was maybe 10 minutes behind with 14 sloppy, muddy, rooty, dark miles to go. And he looked strong. Like, really strong. My reaction: I can't compete with that, so yeah, I'm fine with 5th! And I casually worked my way along to the next Aid Station, patiently awaiting the inevitable.

I made it up the next climb and back down to the very, very, very sloppy 10-15 minutes of riverbank running before the Jackass Ginger (or Nu'uanu) Aid Station. Miraculously, I hadn't been passed yet. So I exited my final Aid Station of the day and kicked it into overdrive, busting my ass to slog back through the muck as quickly as possible and climb back up the hill I had just come down. I had my eyes peeled. 5 minutes ticked by, then 10. At 13 minutes without running into Tomo -- which would've amounted to a roughly 26 minute gap -- I was frustratingly confused. Not a moment later, I look back and there he is, right on my tail, levitating over the mud with his poles. We must've unknowingly crossed paths at the creek beside the Aid Station. We exchanged pleasantries for a moment and then he shot off like a rocket up the final climb. I, on the other hand, admitted defeat and resumed a more casual pace. 5th place. Good enough for me! Let's enjoy it!

When I climbed up to the ridge, I sat down on a bench, gazed up at the full moon, looked out over the lights of Honolulu, and took it all in. Perfect running bliss!

About 10 minutes later, and just before the final descent began, I finally lapped 12 time finisher and fellow DC area runner Alex Papadopoulos. I slowed to chat for a few minutes when he let me know "Tomo is 12 minutes up on you". For reasons that will become apparent momentarily, I now question the accuracy of that statement. It was nice to catch up with him and spend a few minutes sharing his home turf.

Not relevant to the race either, but look at that bright moon!

With my legs feeling rather sprightly after 23 hours and 40 minutes, I decided I was going to cap off this wonderful race with a no-holds-barred death-defying descent and utterly destroy my quads, because, well, why the heck not! I had no illusions of recapturing 4th place, I just really like hard downhill running at the end of a race. I recklessly flew down the muddy, rooty, rocky, often winding, and pitch black trail. I was having the time of my life. Towards the end, the skin on my feet felt like it was being shredded by the impact forces on the rocks. I didn't dare distract myself by trying to drink from my water bottle. I was risking death to simply blink my eyes. My breathing was uncontrolled and erratic. It was the fastest I'd run all day. I had no higher gear, this was as fast as my legs could possibly carry me.

I careened into the Nature Center at full speed, crossed the small bridge that signified the start of the race, hit the few feet of pavement before a final hairpin turn on a handicap ramp that led to the finish and … WAIT … WHAT THE HELL IS THAT? A headlamp. A runner. The uncanny likeness of the runner that had passed me less than 2 hours ago. 4th Place turned his head, then seemed to try and pick up speed. Literally 2 seconds later we were both at the hairpin turn of the handicap ramp. 4th Place tried making the turn a split second before me. I lost control on the concrete trying to reach for the hand rail and make the turn myself. The full force of my body going at top speed collided with 4th Place, sending him reeling in the opposite direction he wanted to go, and me, the beneficiary of the madness, bounced perfectly into position. Overwhelmed with adrenaline, I secured my footing and shot down to the finish. I quickly kissed the sign, rung the bell, and turned around to watch the other runner jog in.

The scene of the crime.

Instantaneously, I was overcome with shame. It just felt so incredibly wrong. A volunteer awkwardly handed me the finisher hat and belt buckle and stared at me with confusion as I kept mumble-panting.

I ran into him. It was an accident. Oh my god, what did I just do? Is he okay? Why did I keep running?

I literally felt like throwing up. The volunteer and my wife, from their vantage point at the finish, were completely unable to see what had just transpired and couldn't understand my incoherent rambling. Another volunteer had been manning the Ultrasignup tracking app at the bottom of the handicap ramp, and had the benefit of seeing half the story through an obscuring hedgerow. He came over to talk to me. There was pantomiming of Tomo being pushed out of the way, hands flung up in the air. Words were thrown out, like unsportsmanlike. Dizzy, exhausted, confused, on the verge of throwing up, and coming off the craziest adrenaline spike I've ever experienced, I tried to make sense of it all. And I could not shake the shame.

I went over to Tomo, grief-stricken, and apologized. He shrugged and said it was no big deal. You were going faster. I wouldn't have been able to catch you anyways. Did he really believe that? Was he just saying that to make me feel better? I have no idea. But I just felt worse and worse.

I tried to compose myself. My head was swimming: unsportsmanlike, impeded, accident, my fault, unsportsmanlike. Do I hand in my buckle? Do I request to be disqualified? How did this even happen? I don't even like the notion of "racing" in ultras! After 24 hours of running, do I deserve to be disqualified for a panic-stricken, adrenaline-laced, piss-poor judgement clusterfuck of a finish? What would happen in a 1500m race? Yup, DQ.

Take a break from this sad story and check out this panorama of the beach from Lost!

I went over to the RD, John Salmonson. I tried to explain myself. I pled my case to have our places switched. All the while, I felt the shame continuing to wash over me -- you just asked to have places swapped?! You should be DQ'd! Turn in your buckle! How are you going to be able to look yourself in the mirror?!

I lost control. I ran into him. I impeded another runner. I impeded him! He deserves 4th place, not me.

John's response was quasi-apathetic. "I didn't see everything. It doesn't sound pretty. I know Tomo, he's a friend, he's not going to care." THIS ISN'T ABOUT CARING, THIS IS ABOUT JUSTICE! More half-explanations, more urging, more attempts to hold back a flow of tears. Eventually, he pulled up the Ultrasignup tracking app, looked at Tomo's finishing time, then went over to my time and rolled it back to exactly 1 second after Tomo's. And then, "There. Done." Which sounded more like, "Fine, anything to get you to stop harassing me!"

I walked over to Tomo, let him know again how sorry I was, and that I had our finishing places switched. Then I hung my head and walked over to my wife so she could take care of her husband, who instead of being elated with a strong showing in difficult conditions at another big 100 mile race, had transformed into an angsty, moody adolescent.

This view from my pre-race dinner reminds me of a simpler time, a time before hulking out and tackling a fellow runner.

The guilt, the shame, the disappointment. It stuck with me. I was in paradise and borderline depressed. The next day, a buddy texted me and let me know I'd made the pages of iRunFar and that they were seeking an explanation to the 1second difference between 4th and 5th place. I composed myself as best as I could, did my best impersonation of a PR Manager, and crafted an explanation. Most unexpectedly, it was quickly followed with praise, support, and various other attaboys. I pretended to be a linebacker at the finish line of one of the most difficult 100 mile races in the world, and now I was being applauded for my actions -- well, not my actions, but you know, rather, my attempt to save face and accept responsibility. Either way, it felt, and still feels, very odd.

Even now, weeks later, I can't help but feel the slightest twinges of those same painful emotions when I look at my hard-earned buckle. It's my 9th one. Some, I look at and beam with pride. Others, an ambivalent shoulder shrug. Not this one. Not my first HURT buckle. It has a unique story. And with it come emotions that will be forever burned into my memory. Emotions I'm still coming to terms with.

Many thanks to my wife for sitting around at a race aid station for 16 hours on her vacation, to the grandmas for looking after our kids, to my fellow VHTRC runners for their companionship, to the volunteers and all the other runners I bumped into over the course of my 24 hours and 21 minutes of jungle fun, and most especially to Tomokazu Ihara for his grace and civility (and for not tackling me in return).

While I do take 100% responsibility for the entire finish line fiasco, I'll just say it right now: that finish was stupid. Here's what it looks like on Google Maps (red line), complete with proposed "alternate routes":

That hairpin turn is stupid.

Granted, this isn't a World Majors Marathon or something. And there's only like a maximum of 70 people that even finish the race each year, across a span of 14 or so hours, so the odds of a tight finish are absurdly small. But still. Why is there a glorified finishing chute with a hairpin turn?!

P.P.S.: Check out Paul Encarnacion's video to get a feel for the Hawaii gnar!

Oh, what's that, you wanted to waste away even more of your time?! Well then, here you go!

The Full Story

I signed up for the HURT 100 kind of on a whim. The race had intrigued me since I started running. Steep, muddy, technical, rooty, slow. Sign me up! But flying 5000 miles for a race seemed like a bit of a financial extravagance, not to mention the complications that arise when you've got 2 young kids.

The quirky lottery selection process is based upon accumulating kukui nuts (points) that increase your chances, but let's be honest, it's probably just you are selected to run at the pleasure of the race committee. I made the mistake of name-dropping local DC runner / RD and bajillion time HURT finisher, Alex Papadopoulos, in my lottery application. And next thing I know, my wife and I are planning a luxurious kid-free Hawaiian vacation!:

Chris: Hey honey, wanna go to Hawaii?
Kristin: Uhh, duh!
Chris: … to crew me in another 100 mile race?
Kristin: Damn it, Chris! I didn't sign up for this crap when I agreed to marry you!

I found out I made it through the lottery in August, where I was midway through a disastrous training block, culminating in a rather pathetic showing at Grindstone. With the amount of time and money this race/trip was going to eat up, I didn't want to half-ass it. I ended up putting together the best 3 months of training of my entire life. Over 40 hours per month while averaging over 60,000' of climbing per month. I even threw in a couple of weeks where I climbed Everest (>29,029' in 7 days). Speed was nowhere to be found, but my legs were strong, and ready to tackle whatever Hawaii threw my way.

Prerace fireworks, just for me!

Lap 1

Lap 1 of 5 went off without a hitch. A group of about 10 guys jumped out front and tore ass up the initial 0.7mi 20% grade climb, and I quickly found myself in the gap between the frontrunner/morons group and everyone else. 20 minutes in, the only sign that anyone was in front of me was the unmistakably sad click-click sound of a scared little runner extending their poles (it was Mike Wardian!). Much of the first climb up Hogsback was rather tame, though steep, and I spent much of it hiking to keep my energy in check. After some rolling, rocky, windy running, and some more climbing, I reached the Pauoa Flats … a couple hundred yards of flat ground absolutely covered with roots. My legs were fresh and the obstacles didn't seem to daunting. Reader, file this away in your memory, okay!

Running down to the first aid station at Mile 7 brought about my real introduction to the HURT course -- perfectly runnable stretches for like 300' and then roots, and uneven dirt steps held together with slick bamboo or wood or metal, and 3-10' rocky "step-downs", and random boggy sections of trail, and literally climbing across a field of tangled roots that formed a trail with a 45-degree camber. Oh, and you're doing this in a friggin cloud so it's damp and humid and slick. After a couple miles of this insanity, I was greeted by a beautiful waterfall. I spent a moment oohing-and-aahing at it before cannonballing down the steep, rocky trail to the Pirate Aid Station (Manoa).

 … and then I turned around and retraced my steps all the way back up, ducking and weaving my way through 120 of my fellow runners. One of them, oddly, was Wardian who'd apparently made a wrong turn already (how? HOW?!) and lost an impressive 40 minutes before the first aid station! Epic!

I ate acia bowls on my vacation. Yummy!

After a couple miles of retracing my steps, I hung a right and worked my way along a ridge to what would become my favorite stretch of the entire course: a meandering, runnable segment that leads to a high point overlooking Waikiki before painfully plunging straight friggin down. It's so steep in places that some benevolent soul tried digging out marginally useful steps in the dirt to help control your descent (and handholds for the subsequent ascent?). You're literally staring off the edge of a steep ridge, falling down the trail, using a couple of random trees on the side of the trail to brace you.

Then came a perfectly runnable, but steep, downhill to the 2nd Aid Station at Mile 13 -- Jackass Ginger (Nu'uanu), and back up the way I came. On the climb back up, I passed Alex and mentioned how groomed the trails seemed. He said a lot of time was spent rehabbing this section ahead of the race, and it showed. They had been smooth, runnable, not at all technical. Runner, file this away in your memory, okay!

I careened down to the main Aid Station to complete my first lap in just under 4 hours, arriving at the tail end of the Top 10. Race conditions seemed pretty good and I cautiously believed I could score my ambitious A-Goal of a 22:30 finish -- an ambitious goal I'd put together after much research on prior top race times.

Lap 2

I slowly hiked my way back up the rooty, steep Hogsback climb, this time finding a relatively root-free path on the far left edge and following that most of the way. The hill was dry and I kicked up enough dirt that I regretted not having something to cover my mouth. But it had me guessing that today might not get all that muddy, further reinforcing my faith in a 22:30 finish. By the time I reached Puaoa Flats, I was singing a different tune. The flat, rooty stretch of trail was coated in mud. The ground was an array of boot-sucking mud pits. The roots, mud-slickened booby traps. I walked nearly the whole stretch, going one mile an hour pace, maybe two.

And things only got worse heading back down to the Pirate Aid Station. After navigating 2 miles of muddy, technical trail, I popped out to the beautiful waterfall and was greeted by an endless sea of tourists. The foot traffic, combined with the water flying off the waterfall, the moisture in the air, and the rocky ground, turned this section of the course into a muddy slip-n-slide. I weaved through the day adventurers -- bros in friggin flip-flops, women in friggin white jeans and heels, friggin purse dogs yip-yapping and darting left and right, and even friggin babies with pacifiers and soggy diapers stumbling around the muddy rocks. I frequently came to a complete stop to get around people. It was … so weird. And slow … so effing slow. And when I got down to the Aid Station, guess what I got to do next?! That's right, turn around and work my way back through that mass of humanity!

Flowers in Hawaii are pretty!

… And then back through the muddy flats. But the run down to Jackass Ginger was going to be awesome -- that groomed, runnable descent!  Only, nope! The trail had slickened, and the bottom portions were mucky as hell. Oh, and there were also tourists down here, too. Damn it! Damn it! Damn it! Another tap of an aid station and back the way I came, into the depths of muddy despair. Along my climb back up, I ran into Alex again and instead of talking about how well groomed the trails were, I got this: "The course hasn't looked this messy in a decade."

I finally strolled back into the main aid station a full 30 minutes slower than my first lap, despite feeling like I had worked harder. I met up with my wife and let her know to throw out the timesheets -- I'd still try for sub-24, but who knows.

Oh, and it was 2:30pm and it was 80 degrees out. My heat training seemed like it was taking hold, but I was surprisingly not interested in eating any candy bars, sushi, sandwiches, or even having a frappuccino. The heat had me only wanting easily digestible gels, blocks, and simple liquids. Lap 3 was gonna be not only about surviving the mud, but also making sure my calorie intake didn't nosedive. Another thing to deal with, hooray!

Lap 3

Lap 3 was pretty simple. Take the previous 2 laps, make them muddier and slower and that pretty much covers it!

I moved along at a snail's pace, stuck in a low gear. It frustrated me at first, but the heat and humidity wasn't bothering me and it was clear that my legs could handle the steep climbs and descents, so I just accepted the course for what it was and enjoyed myself. HURT had become more of an adventure run than a race.

At some point in the lap, I was finally able to pass Paul Terranova. He'd been minutes ahead of me for nearly 30 miles. Every aid station I'd come in as he was coming out, and I'd make some sarcastic remark about how he needed to slow down, or that I was gonna pass him and poach his pacer, Nick Pedatella, whom I'd ran with a bit at both Grindstone and Hellgate. Mind you, I'd never met Paul before, so I'm guessing he just kept thinking to himself who the hell is this annoying little kid?!

As I came out of the 2nd Aid Station, I realized sunset was approaching, so I tried booking it to get to the top of the ridge overlooking Waikiki. And lucky for me, I got up there right in time. I stopped to watch the sun set for a bit. It's not every day you get to perch yourself on a ridge top to see a sunset over a beautiful ocean-side city in the middle of a race! Definitely a moment I'll never forget.

There are a lot of yard birds roaming around Oahu.

And then, another moment I'll never forget. As I methodically made my way down to the main aid station to complete Lap 3 in the dark, I came to a road crossing and a race volunteer. He let me know "there's a runner just ahead of you without a headlamp, but I can't help." I found this all very confusing. 1) the race starts in the dark and there's only 11 hours of daylight before the sun sets, so why the hell is there a runner out here without a headlamp? 2) Why can't the volunteer help, isn't that what volunteers do?

I couldn't recall if the volunteer even had a light of his own … but why wouldn't he … he's volunteering at a race and it's dark out. Weird. So weird. I was running with a back-up light (a Petzl Bindi) since I was so close to the main aid station, where I'd soon dig out my legit headlamp. I could easily make out the profile of a person slowly staggering / weaving along the pitch-black trail. I told her she was going to take my back-up headlamp and that she needed to get my main one out of my pack. For about 6 hours, she tried and failed to unzip my pack, so I had to rip it off myself and get my lamp out. Then onward I went.

When I got back to the main Aid Station, it had cooled down enough that I was in the mood for some frappuccino and various solids. I checked my watch and saw it'd taken nearly 5 hours to complete Lap 3 -- another lap, another 30minute slowdown. I was bleeding time due to the race conditions, but I was still making up ground, having recently moved into 6th place. So I calmly took my time and prepared mentally for the overnight hours … and then I took even more time to hit up a porta-potty … I got to poop mid-race using a bon-a-fide toilet. Mud be damned, this was an amazing day! It's the little things!


Lap 4

I spotted Paul and Nick in the Aid Station as I started Lap 4. I was in no rush to climb Hogsback so they caught up to me rather quickly. We hiked and ran along together for maybe 2 miles. When the trail flattened out I seemed to be opening my stride up more than Paul, so I took off into the night to finish my race alone.

Lap 4 saw the course conditions continue to deteriorate. But there was one bright spot: no more tourists to dodge! I greatly enjoyed this lap, just cruising along in the dark by myself. Aside from the litany of technical hazards whose complications only increased in the dead of night, it was a peaceful, stress-free bit of running. Well, except for some folks' lights. I'm not sure what the deal is, but there's apparently a new trend in trail running that includes strapping a row of 10,000lumen light bulbs to your waist/chest. I saw entirely too many runners with these odd contraptions, and as a result, I and dozens of other fellow runners are now legally blind from the damage they've caused to our retinas. Every time I encountered one of these over-illuminated weirdos, I'd freak out, avert my eyes, nearly fall off the edge of a trail into the abyss below, and after miraculously surviving each encounter I would promptly wish bodily harm upon them and their entire family as I stumbled down the trail with half my vision obscured by colorful halos that approximated the temporary searing of your eyeballs you experience after getting absolutely drunk and on a dare attempt to stare at the sun for 60 seconds straight (yes, in this hypothetical scenario I am black-out drunk and it's midday … your point?).

Lap 4 clocked in at roughly 5:30 -- yup, another lap, another 30minute slowdown! My big toe had been sticking to my insole, leading me to think I had a burst blister of some kind, so I swapped out my socks, yet kept the same mud-caked LonePeak4.0s. I found no blister so it must've just been mud-saturated socks. I didn't need to change them out, but I wasn't fighting tooth-and-nail for every second, so whatever.  Another frappuccino and I was off!

I got to see a lunar eclipse, and I didn't even have to stay up late!