Thursday, January 18, 2007

HURT 2007 Race Report

The H.U.R.T. is a hundred-mile foot race in Hawaii. The course is a 20 mile loop that winds its way up and down steep jungle mountainsides. Each competitor does 5 loops for a total of 100 miles and evelvation change of about 25,000 feet. The elevation profile looks like an EKG graph. Since the race is so hard, the organizers award a 100 kilometer (62 miles) finish time for those that go beyond 62 miles but don’t quite make the 100 miles.

I arrived in Hawaii on Monday and acclimatized to the surroundings and pre-ran the course. On Saturday, race morning, my rental car took the first parking spot. It was still dark. The air was dense with fresh rain, the ground moist. It even smelled like the jungle. Since the field was only about 100 people, it was cool to stand on the starting line next to the superstars of ultra running.

On the first downhill, I stepped on a loose rock and turned my left ankle. I thought, oh no, I sprained my ankle on the first downhill of the first lap. But I had no swelling—amazing. I was more careful about where I put my feet. I cruised through the course, which winds its way up and down steep jungle mountain-sides and through lush guava and mango trees. I remember finishing the first lap feeling like I was just warming up.

I started the second lap with a lot of energy, but then, it could of been that Red Bull I took at the aid station. (Wow, those things are amazing.) I felt strong on the climbs, invincible and confident, but I held back the urge to speed up. I thought, "sooner or later I'll catch those people that passed me."

I settled into a steady pace and was just gliding along when I hit my head on a downed tree that hung over the trail. I had seen the tree coming at me, but I guess I didn't duck low enough. I hit my head so hard that I saw stars and flashes of light. But I had no bruise—I guess I'm just hard-headed. Despite this, I finished the second lap at about 6:00 p.m., Saturday, right on schedule.

As I started the third lap, It was nightfall, and due to inadequate lighting I slowed way down. The thick jungle canopy blocks out any moonlight and makes the vine infested and tree root covered ground pitch black. As I was picking my way down a tricky long descent, the sky just opened up. The rain Teflon coated the rocks and roots with mud, so I slipped and tripped my way down the dark, steep descent.

I fell—ten times. Each fall took a little more of my confidence away, changing me from a triumphant general into a dejected foot soldier. Each step I took became more and more deliberate and tentative. Where I had been charging forward victoriously, I started retreating in defeat. My doubts started shouting at me, and I listened to them.

"You should stop now," said my inner traitor. "You could be home resting in a comfortable bed."

The winds blew and beat the bamboo branches against each other as if to clap to my demise. As I shivered in the wind, my inner traitor went on, “You should have prepared better.”

The rain pounded away at me. I was hopeless, believing that things were going to get worse. “You should just give up now, you can always do it next year,” my inner traitor whispered.

I struggled on, and, worn down by that inner voice, I switched my goal from finishing the whole 100 miles to the 100 km, which would still earn me a finisher's buckle.

Stricken with sleep deprivation, I dragged my tired body over the dark jungle floor. I wanted so much to just lie down and sleep on the muddy trail. I wobbled, stumbled, and swung from side to side. I walked along, dozing off and waking up, surprised that I was in a new place.

The night wore on painfully, it seemed forever. I kept moving forward, thinking of all the people back home who were praying for me. I didn’t want to let them down. I knew God wanted me to finish, and that gave me motivation to keep going.

By almost 6:00 a.m., I finished the final loop. At least I would have a 100 km finisher's buckle and an official time. No DNF (Did Not Finish) next to my name. Next year, it will be different.