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Thursday, January 24, 2008

HURT 100 (pt2): Horrors & Heroes

Enough about me and my stupidity! Here’s the rest of the story:

First of all, in the western continental US you might, in the desert, run across a cattle skull. The shape is familiar: the narrow oval face bone with the two long curved horns at top. That’s the shape of the HURT course. The bottom (mouth) is the start finish; you go up the left side of the skull, cross over the top of the head to the right horn and down to the tip to the Paradise Point aid station. Then across the horns and down the left horn to Jackass Ginger. And back up the horn, across the top of the head, down the right side of the face and back to the start. I don’t think the RD’s planned this visual metaphor when they designed the course but I’m sure it contributes to the course’s feng shui.

At the starting line the RD’s told us that the conditions were among the best ever. At the finish they said they were probably the worst conditions ever. The winner’s time was about 7 hours off the course record. My time, despite all my mistakes, was only about two hours short of third place. The RD’s didn’t lie. After about 8 brief harmless showers we had a deluge Saturday evening at about 7:30.

Before the deluge we had the normal obstacles. This is, by far, the most treacherous course I’ve ever raced on. The spiny roots are as slick as vaseline and are so intertwined that you really can’t avoid stepping on them. When you do you may go sliding. The rocks aren’t any better- “like snot on a doorknob” my Outward Bound instructor used to say. There are numerous 3-to-5’ rocky ledges that runners have to climb up or down all over the course and perilous drop-offs.

Then the deluge turned the sticky mud into sloshy shoe-sucking mud and there was no good place to go to avoid the roots and rocks. I fell three times, slicing my shin open on the last; did about a dozen three-point landings and slid rapidly and unexpectedly to the front, side or backwards at least a dozen times. My friend Cindy Goh fell and broke a rib or two. After the third loop every runner was solid mud from their soles to their knees- I didn’t even know my shin was cut until I washed off the mud after the race.

And it was warm and humid. Not hot, I don’t think it ever got above 80, but I felt like I was on the edge of heat exhaustion at the finish and was sticky warm all night long.

But it wasn’t all bad! I had a blast the first three loops. After that the only thing that kept me going, when the thought of another 7+ hour loop out here was almost more than I could emotionally and physically bear, was the realization that if I didn’t finish all my suffering would be wasted. Manoa Falls, a sheer 250’ drop is amazing, and we got to see it ten times. The ridges had great views of Honolulu and the ocean, day and night, and fuzzy round white mice came out to share the trails with us at night. No pig or mongoose sightings though.

And the aid stations were phenomenal. All three were great, but Jackass Ginger (Nuuanu) was the best aid station of all time. Normally I’m not too picky about aid stations, but in a hundred-miler I really appreciate good service. At JG, as you entered the area they cheered for you by name, asked for your bottles, directed you to a chair (if you wanted it, I did), brought you your drop bag, told you what was on the menu and took care of any needs or desires you had, then sent you on your way. Every runner’s dream aid station: thanks!

And the people were great: RD’s Huff, Samuelson and Samuelson; volunteers and runners. Monica Scholz was full of encouragement, as was women’s winner Suzanne Bon and her pacer Kelly. I saw a lot of Luis Escobar, Jeffery Rogers, Catra, Beat Jegerlehner, Cindy Goh and others on the 20 mile loop which really consists of only about 14 miles of trail (including out and backs) and I was probably the least cheerful person out there. I owe you all some aloha spirit at our next 100 together!

The post-race buffet of crab, shrimp, prime rib, whole roast pig, and –best of all- slabs of raw ahi; was fun with 150 or so HURT folks and lots of er, unique, entertainment.

Finally: the other reason I did as well as I did, in spite of myself. Having committed myself to the race; paying my entry fee; lining up hotels, rental car and flights; I prayed a lot in the months and weeks prior to the race that I wouldn’t get injured, sick or have some other crisis that would put an end to my race before it began. Eight days before the race I sneezed. I do that a lot but this one created instant sharp back pain all the way across my lower back. A trip to the chiropractor and masseuse helped and it got gradually better as race day approached.

In the first two loops of the race I was well aware of all that could go wrong: I had a back spasm that bothered me for about six hours; I could have fallen and gotten hurt at any time; my stomach could have turned on me; various past injuries in my toe, ankle, shins, groin, ITB, etc could have reappeared or I could have developed entirely new ones easily enough. I was fully and constantly conscious of the fact that my ability to continue for the next leg of the race was fully dependent on the grace of God to keep my body functioning. I never felt like He owed it to me; but I was aware that it was out of my control and in His hands every minute, every mile.

And this was the metaphor I took away: for every day is like this. Every breath, every new dawn is by the grace of God. Every step I take, literally and metaphorically, I owe to Him and receive from Him on an as-needed basis: My food, my air, my water, my resistance to disease, my avoidance of injury, the well-being of loved ones. Lots of people blame God when anything goes wrong, as if He owes them provision and protection but they owe Him nothing. He owes me nothing, but gives me much every day and I owe everything to Him. It’s easy to forget that on a day-to-day basis. Because of HURT it will be easier not to.


Anonymous said...

Hey Mark,
Good article on HURT. Well, you will have to start saving to come back. I know that I will be back for the 6th time next year. It is just the trails that beckons me. I am still hurting but otherwise in good spirits. Happy trails and hope to see you soon.
Go-go aka Cindy Goh

davidhaddon said...

Now, now Mark. Don't you go and become a glutton for punishment.