Tuesday, January 26, 2010

HURT 100 Pacer Perspective

The overall impression I was left with was this is a well organized, low key race on some of the most technical trails I've ever seen.  There are factors, other than the gnarly trails that make this a tough 100 miler and one would the time of year.  It's tough to get in proper shape for a race that takes place in early January, especially if you happen to live in a northern climate.  Which really speaks volumes about the current and last 3 record holders all being from cold winter climates (both men and women).  Also the heat and humidity factor is tough on northern dwellers.  80 degrees isn't exactly blistering, but it is if your body is used to sub 30 degree temps.  
The mental energy required to complete a repeating loop course is also hard, especially a loop with roughly 5,000' vertical gain each.  And finally, if this course were wet it would be more like running the gauntlet than running a trail.  This year it was dry and had been for a few weeks leading up to the race (thanks to the El Nino - take note and in the future schedule accordingly).  There were a few sections that were slightly damp from the humidity or nearby running water and they were flat out treacherous.  I don't believe there is a rubber compound on this planet that could get a grip on the slick clay and rock I encountered in those small sections.  If the whole course was wet it would no doubt test anyone's mental and physical limits.

-Soapbox alert-
As I said before anyone completing 100 miles on this course deserves respect, which is also why I believe they should do away with the 100k.  I mean no disrespect to those that have finished the 100k, but in my opinion it somehow cheapens the 100 miler. I can't think of another 100 miler that allows you to drop at some point and record a finish.  It would be different if you could sign up for the 100k, but that is not an option.  On that note I would like to make a plea to race organizers running multiple events on the same day; please plan for separate starts.  For example, if you are running a 50k and 25k start them separately.  Even though many ultra runners will claim their placing doesn't matter to them, to most it does, and not knowing who your competition is can be extremely frustrating.  Before you go thinking that I don't understand how difficult it can be to organize a race, I do.  Each year I organize a cycling race with no fewer than 12 categories based on ability and age.  Every competitor knows his or her competition straight from the start, it's only fair.  I'm curious, does anyone feel strongly one way or another?
-End Soapbox-

If you would like the long version of my experience with the race keep reading.

As I had previously written, it was my intention to go to Oahu and run 5 loops of the HURT 100 course but my knee had other ideas.  Instead I had a much easier task in pacing Greg around a single 20 mile loop.

When I arrived at the Nature Center (Start/Finish) in the morning the lead runners were just finishing the first loop.  Gary Robbins was leading the way with Nathan Yanko close behind.  I took a quick trip up the trail to get an idea of what it looked like and only made it a little over a mile before Greg came flying down the descent.  

He was looking good and got in and out the aid station very quickly.  Marge and I drove around to the next aid station where I did the same thing heading up the trail to check the terrain and my knee.  This section in and out of Paradise is very rocky and technical. In general very difficult to find a rhythm on, as is much of the course.  I stopped at the trickle of a waterfall and chatted with a local photographer for a bit before Greg appeared charging down the rocky, day hiker, infested trail.  Once again he was quickly in and out of the aid station and keeping a great pace. By this time it was reaching the hottest part of the day and it was hard not to break a sweat just standing there let alone running.

I left the race to spend time with the family but kept track of Greg throughout the day by checking in with Marge occasionally.  I was happy to hear he was continuing to turn steady splits even in the heat of the day.  Earlier in that day Erik and I had decided that I would pace the final loop while Erik would take the 4th.  Since we were staying in such close proximity to the Nature Center I went up to check on Greg before the start of his 4th loop and chat with Erik for a couple of minutes.  When I saw Greg come in to the aid station I could see the toll of 60 technical miles in his eyes.  Not a look of despair, or loss, but a look known as the hundred mile stare.  The look that indicates "I'm finishing this damn thing, time is the only variable".  He took maybe a minute or two longer in the aid station than he did earlier in the day, then he left with Erik to tackle another loop.  That's when I left to get a few hours of guilty sleep.

A couple of hours passed before I was back at the Nature Center waiting for Greg as the clock read 3am.  I didn't have to hang around too long as Greg appeared at around 3:30am.  Again we had a fairly quick exchange as Erik passed Greg off to me.  Erik came up with a brilliant plan to meet us at the next aid station in order to assess how my knee was holding up and guarantee Greg some company to the finish in case I couldn't go on.  The climb leaving the Nature Center is long and steady.  Greg mentioned to me that he thought this was the hardest climb on the course so we just kept a consistent pace the whole way up.  This was my first time pacing Greg or even seeing him at this point in a 100 miler so I didn't really know what to expect from him.  I was happy to find that he was still fighting and keeping a strong pace, so I continued to push.  That is until we reached the ridge.

How anyone runs through the labyrinth of roots on the top of the ridge during the day or night is beyond me.  It's like a giant venus flytrap built to eat ankles.  Really it was the most twisted sections of trail I have ever navigated.  Right up there with Virginius Pass except it was flat.  At any rate I joked with Greg that while my 100 mile race resume isn't growing at the rate I expected, my pacing resume is quite impressive at this point and that's when it dawned on me to turn my light around.  At night I run with two headlamps, one on my head and one around my waist, nothing new there.  But what I did was point my waist light behind me so that it lit up my feet and Greg could see where I was stepping.  Not really an earth shattering discovery, but at 4am in the jungle it felt significant, plus Greg told me it helped (probably to make me feel like I accomplished something).

I wish I had more to tell about motivating Greg to such a fast finish, but really he was doing it all on his own and I was just along for the ride.  Among other things, I was super jealous of his ability to keep eating gels throughout, even at mile 97.  Even though I was a little down about not being able to run the race myself, pacing my good friend certainly helped in making up for it.  Thanks Greg and congratulations on an outstanding performance.  Another notch in the belt...


FastED said...

I don't agree with the 100k option. you know as well as I do when you're tired it's easy to give yourself an out. And this way you get the satisfaction of a finish. But the goal was 100 myles. I'd be interested to know how my people set out to do the 100K. My guess is one or two people, the rest settled for 100K.

Erik said...

From comments heard at some of the HURT aid stations this year, I'll disagree with FastED. Definitely more than one or two set out with no intention of fisnshing the 100 mile. Their only goal was 100K. (Which to 99.9% out there, is extremely impressive, especially on the terrain being covered.) However, they signed up for 100 miles. At the risk of upsetting a few folks, I'd guess that they were mainly locals who hadn't invested quite as much vacation and monetary effort to make it to the start line.
I will agree with FastED that it would be much easier to drop a 100 knowing that you still got an unofficial "official" finish in the 100K option, and that is something I don't necessarily agree with. Even though Greg had no intention of dropping, he still told me that it had definitely crossed his mind. I'm starting to ramble.
So....my two cents, for what it's worth. Which aint much.