Flashback -- 2011
My first year at HURT, 2011, was memorable for a lot of reasons. I paced Alyssa Godesky, who became a cool new friend I wound up sharing both adventures and advice with. In preparation for the race I made my first visit to the bench at the top of the Nuuanu trail honoring the life of Kent Bien, Rod’s dad, and an early role model, the first Navy Seal I ever knew. It rained a bunch last year and the course was a mudfest so the course was memorable for how wet and slippery it was.
This year, my 2nd trip back specifically for HURT weekend, was a little different. For a second time, I booked the trip before I knew who (if anyone) I might wind up pacing. This time the pacing plan started out as Iso Yucra, who changed up his schedule fairly early on which bounced me over to Keith Kirby. The week of the race, Keith had to DNS because of work, which landed me on Andi Ramer’s team by means of my Hillary connection.
There are many parallels between Andi and Alyssa, so it is quite fitting that my 2 HURT’s were spent with them. Both are women of incredible toughness and resolve. Both have a multisport background and spend hours on their bikes and in the water in addition to running. And the fun part is that both are simultaneously cute (am I allowed to say “hot”?) and yet completely down to earth. One fond memory from this weekend is hearing Andi recount how she had her shorts around her ankles with a tube of Vaseline in one hand and her other hand attending to the details of desperately needed lubrication when Hannah, another female runner, chanced upon her. Apparently Hannah busted out laughing so hard that she fell over and stayed prone for a while. This could just as easily have been Alyssa and I know neither woman would feel any shame for that type of exposure even if it had been another male runner who caught them in the act.
Simultaneous to this weekend’s events at HURT, the Avalon 50 (my first ultra) and the US Olympic marathon trials all shared the same spotlight. Back in October I got to witness Lisa Thomas grab her 2:45 qualifier for the trials, so there was a lot of satisfaction for me knowing she was out there soaking up the race of a lifetime while I would be HURT’ing my way through the trails thousands of miles away.
Thinking back through my pacing experiences over the past few years, I’ve escorted 6 dudes (Tim, Rod, Mike, Jeff, Scott and a guy named Fred) and I’ve accompanied 9 women (Stephanie, Sarah, Joey, Hillary, Alyssa, Lisa, Jessica, Rachel and Andi) along with a few impromptu pickups at various events. I find it fascinatingly lucky that I’m on a streak of pacing women lately, not only from the obvious aesthetic advantages, but also because the dimensions of the female brain truly amaze me and sharing precious moments with a women tends to have a greater on-the-surface emotional impact than it does with my guy friends.
I flew to Oahu on Friday, as a late arrival, but without any real need to attend meetings it seemed like the right day to fly. I took the bus from the airport (#20 with a transfer to #5) and arrived home about 3 hours after my flight landed. I didn’t mind it that much, and it was nice to grab a bite at Ala Moana between busses, but I can’t say that it was an efficient use of my time. I finished off the day with a 6pm class at Yoga Hawaii and found my way to Whole Foods, singing the parking lot song the whole way. As I parked, I noticed the signs in the nearby window indicating the future home of Core Power Yoga Honolulu and I smiled thinking what a nice addition that will be once it opens. I paid my $80 for 6 things, including my signature $20 salad, some PB&C Puffins, and a $5 Kombucha. I spoke to Andi over the phone, but since I had come down with the flu on Thursday I decided to stay away from all of the runners, it seemed like the right thing to do anyway and I’m not one to enjoy any of the pre-race hype.
Back at the house I unpacked a pc I had brought to upgrade the machine in the attic and into the same suitcase I packed up the remainder of my father’s train set from when he was a boy, to be put on display at my house along with the rest of the set from my previous trips. I dismantled the old attic pc, a $200 Dell 400SC, complete with Pentium 4 processor windows XP and 4 256MB DDR chips. It was time to say goodbye to that, it had served its purpose valiantly, but it was now 3 generations old and ready to be put out to pasture. I make a point of doing a little bit of upgrade work every time I come home in order to keep my dad’s systems up to snuff because he isn’t the type to take care of that for himself. I think the prior addition was a gigabit network switch and before that a whole bunch of new network drops. Next up it will probably be time to build him an i5 or i7 machine. Ah, but I digress…
I woke up on race day and watched the sun rise from bed, which is one of the really cool reasons to sleep up there. Of course Andi had started her journey at 6am, but since I was sick I really didn’t want to get in her face until it would be too late for her to feel any negative effects from the exposure. The attic bedroom is really more of a playroom, but has a surprising amount of stuff in it for how tiny the door is. The door from the 2nd floor to the attic is very narrow, the stairs are less than 3 feet wide, and at the top they turn 90 degrees and a 4’ tall opening leads into the room.
Getting the queen sized futon up there roughly 10 years earlier was a feat I admire even today. First I pulled it up in a plastic bag until it got stuck at the topmost bend, an oversized burrito and an opening which was barely wide enough to fit it square on, but which only had about 3’ of depth to make a 90 degree bend. As I pulled from above, the plastic started to tear so I knew I had to rethink my plan. I wound up started to freak out a bit about being trapped so I decided to crawl over the rolled up futon, with barely enough space to fit my head and wiggle like a snake on my belly. Then I had to figure out how to fold forward over the back of the futon, without pulling it down the remainder of the stairs on top of me, so holding onto the flimsy handrail and placing my hands on the step and my feet on the walls for balance. Somehow I flipped myself right-side up and then, facing down the stairs, used my quads for leverage to push the futon burrito through the opening bit by bit. The leverage from pushing seemed to exceed the pulling leverage, perhaps because as I got halfway I had access to the bended portion and I could work both inside and outside sections of the bend.
The frame of that futon was something I built out of 1x3’s at the Carlsbad house. I used screws, put it all together, sanded it all smooth, and then labeled each piece with a sharpie. Then I disassembled everything, packed up all the boards and brackets in a bundle, and shipped the futon and disassembled frame with a boat based shipping company in LA. The frame managed to make the turn OK since the boards were so thin, and then with a cordless drill and some matching of labeled joints, the assembly went fairly smooth. The end result is a queen sized bed in the attic which makes sleeping up there pleasant as well as fun, with a beautiful view of Diamond Head (the best view in the house) and of Waikiki, oceans and mountains. There is a wonderful breeze with the window open, although with the window closed it does heat up during the day. And with the network drop and wifi, it’s a fun room to linger in as the morning progresses. The only reason to leave is to start the trek to the kitchen, down two flights of stairs and across half the house.
A Day of Indulgence
I decided since my pacing was set for lap 5 that I should get an early workout in, so I threw on my swim shorts, added on run shorts and swim goggles, and headed up to Paradise Park to check in on the progress. I got there a bit after 8, after most of the peeps had gone through on their first lap, and made sure everyone was progressing nicely. I didn’t really want to see Andi or anyone else from SD at that point for fear of getting someone sick. I continued down the valley and off to the Ala Wai canal and eventually to Ala Moana Beach Park for my first (and so far only) swim of 2012. I actually really enjoyed my swim, a stead 40 minuter for 2k in the saltwater protected space of one of the best free swimming spots in the world. I cruised home and ate more of my whole foods gatherings from the previous night, then shuttled back to the yoga studio for the noon class since my wanderings had missed the 10:00 vinyasa.
The noon class was my first experience attempting the first half of the Ashtanga primary series. I relished the challenge as I felt remotely ready to try and I also thought that exposing myself for my maiden voyage to Ashtanga at a studio where nobody would know me or remember me was a nice safe spot to do so. I also felt that if there were any sort of “softness” to an Ashtanga teacher, it would be found in Hawaii, at a half-primary series class. I really can’t do the last 1/3 of the primary series, it’s a lot of lotus and it requires some hip flexibility that is just a long way away for me. Being perfectly honest, I really can’t do any of the primary series, but I think that’s part of the appeal, a sport where reaching some basic level of competence in the “primary” series could require a decade or two of dedication. Ekam, Trini, all of the fun counting mesmerized me and I got lost in the rhythm of voice and breath, of trying to do things that I can only just barely do, with grace that I don’t have, and with an ease which betrays the effort I invest. It was a wonderful experience, a great way to lose my Ashtanga virginity, and certainly a landmark on my yogic journey. Another quick trip to Whole Foods for a few extras and I bumped into Clare Conners with her sister Christiana (not sure I’m spelling that right) and a friend. It was great catching up with Clare and reliving some of our moments post-high school when we found the time time to get together, one specific night in Brooklyn when Clare lived with the founder of Victoria’s Secret.
Oh yeah, but there’s a race going on, right? And wasn’t I feeling guilty for being so leisurely with my Saturday (ok, I did get a 3 hour run/swim in, but still, shouldn’t I be doing my yoga final from November or writing up my college alumni interviews or at least doing my tax prep?) Well, the “island style” attitude got the better of me after hanging with Clare and I decided to go see my first movie of the year, so I popped into “The Girl with The Dragon Tattoo”. Having read the last 2 books of the series and seen all 3 Sweedish movies, I had high expectations, and I have to say I really enjoyed the American adaption. It doesn’t take away any of my adoration for Naomi Rapace and the realism of Sweedish words with English subtitles, but I’m just a sucker for Hollywood and especially for Lisbeth Salander, no matter how “soft” she is presented. What an inspiring character, someone who has no concern taking James Bond as her sidekick, seducing him in her own way, and tossing him aside when he no longer satisfies her.
Oh yeah, there’s a race going on. But it’s an ultra and it’s HURT so it’ll be going on for a while.
After the movie and another $20 salad, I wandered off to Nuuanu and the Jack Ass Ginger aid station to meet up with Andi’s husband, Don, and say hi. This was Andi’s 3rd loop, and she could have taken a pacer since it was dark already, but she decided to complete 3 full loops on her own, then take Don through the night and have me for the victory lap. Everything seemed great, I got to rub shoulders with Rod and see a few peeps. Then I headed off to bed while Don left to get ready to pace/crew and I got a nice night’s sleep. I woke up a few times, waiting for that Nuuanu time check to show on the website before leaving the house, and arriving about an hour early without eating breakfast, my first and only real oops of the day.
The thing about HURT is that it’s a long day. Towards the end, it’s normal to take 7 hours per lap. So, the 8 gu’s I brought with me weren’t enough. I should have taken a full spread of breakfast but I got all stressed and I ran from the house to the nature center so I stood around for an hour waiting and getting hungry. The rule is that pacers can eat from the aid stations, but I felt like I shouldn’t be taking food until I’ve at least run one leg of the loop. Andi showed up and got re-lubricated, re-packed, and ready to rock. I didn’t have to do a thing, Don had it all dialed in despite his all night pacing efforts. We headed out for our last lap, ironic how day 2 of a race should have felt like the tail end for Andi, but yet leaving the nature center, approaching a 7 hour journey on trail, seemed very much like the beginning of my HURT experience for me.
The first trip up from the nature center is predominantly uphill and allowed us to get right down to talking. I got the cliff notes on Andi, her family, her marriage to Don (who she has known her whole life and has been married to for 15ish years now) and her racing history. We talked about Hoodoo, Furnace Creek, Rocky Racoon, Ultraman, and San Diego 100. We talked about Hillary, about running, and about bikes, both training and racing. We talked about work, why and how we make the sacrifices we make to do what we really love, and how different and at times disconnected we feel from the corporate world. And before we knew it, we were descending towards Paradise Park, aid station #1 on her fifth HURT loop, my first.
Paradise Park Aid station, named “Manoa” as it sits at the end of Manoa valley, at the access point to the Manoa Falls trailhead, was themed as Pirates for some reason. Regardless of the goofiness of that decision, they had a great spread and I wolfed down some breakfast eggs in a flour tortilla and felt better with something in my stomach. I got a bit of feedback from the volunteer who filled my pack who reminded me that I need to be drinking water too, as I hadn’t done much of that while I was busy flapping my gums. Andi, however, seemed to be doing just fine, except for a few fairly normal lubrication issues. The thing with Hawaii is that the humidity forces a high sweat rate which means after a while you start to chafe as the salts in your sweat start causing friction. Rinsing with water works, but once the damage has been done, lubricant like bodyglide or Vaseline becomes the primary treatment, but it’s hard to apply with all of the moisture and sweat, particularly when we’re talking about the sensitive parts of the body. I think this is just part of the sport, the expected pain and suffering that accompanies 100 mile racing. It is definitely nice to not worry about eyeballs freezing up or frostbite and windchill factors, so a bit of chafing seems like a reasonable price to pay. Many runners actually wear full tights for this reason, the ankles stay clean of mud that way and the thighs presumably are protected. For me, with my anatomy, tights tend to be the worst option, and a long short is preferable, although in Hawaii I can sometimes get by with short shorts if I keep everything flushed since the sweat keeps everything slippery.
Oh yeah, there’s a race going on, right?
The funniest thing about HURT is that it doesn’t feel much like a race to me. Maybe it’s John, the race director, who is so darn chill that he could be mistaken for a random dude in a chair with a laptop if you didn’t know who he is. The whole thing is so mellow, it starts with a conch shell and it ends with the runner kissing a sign saying “we wouldn’t want this to be easy” in Hawaiian and English. In the meantime, all of the participants and competitors seem to be so mellow that they don’t really give much of an impression of the competitiveness that drives them to attempt a finish, or attempt a win or top 5 or sub 30 hour race. I watched as Jason, the winner in 22 hours, cruised through Jack Ass Ginger on his 4th lap, with an 8 oz bottle of water and a headlamp and a few gu’s. Apparently he has trained his body to subsist on next to nothing somehow, I don’t know how, and it works for him. It’s pretty difficult for me to fathom how he can run as fast as I did at States, on a course that is an order of magnitude slower.
Oh yeah, back to Andi, right? So, the trip from Manoa to Nuuanu is the shortest section, but not particularly fast. We stop at Kent’s bench for a little break, Andi does some stretching and some eating, and we descend to Nuuanu. We wind up talking a bit less, the initial burst of energy of me as the new pacer has subsided as I hit the midpoint of my 7 hour journey. Andi is still moving very well, and we approach Nuuanu with the intent of making up some time on Rosie, the woman about 10-20 minutes ahead of Andi.
Now for some reason, the final aid station at Nuuanu, next to some locals smooking pot at the Jack Ass Ginger swimming hole, seems to do more harm than good. Don handled the final exchange really well, and we even got Andi some PB pretzels while I stuffed my face again and coked up a little bit too (actually I think it was pepsi.) As we leave and cross the stream, which is way lower than last year, I slip in and get both feet soaked. Oh well, only 7.3 miles to go, no big deal. Then, about 3 minutes later, as we pass Jack Ass Ginger, moments after saying “just make sure I stay upright” Andi slips and falls between two large rocks. I laugh a bit at the silliness of it all then help her find her way back upright, probably putting too much pressure on her armpit but trying to do my best to support her weight so she can save her legs for propulsion. The climb takes a fair bit of time, and it seems to zap Andi’s strength. She has a minor pity party at the top, on Kent’s bench, releasing some of the emotion of a long journey now at the 30 hour mark. I can relate to some of the feelings, but realistically, my longest race is only 22 hours, barely more than 2/3 of where she’s at. I am somewhat confused and unprepared at how to deal with this flurry of emotion with 4 miles to go. She doesn’t really stop for too long, so there isn’t much I need to do as far as “help” is concerned. She is moving just fine, not fast enough to catch Rosie, but not slow enough to worry about the cutoff. I could probably have pushed her here but it seemed cruel to attempt to do so. We just kind of settle in and I let her get away with some of the pity and tears hoping that the emotional relief will become a positive. I focus on all of the “this is the last time you’ll…” but its not sinking in much. When we get across the road, I think things smooth out a bit and as we start the final descent there is a bit more spring in her step. We shuffle through the rocks towards the nature center, with Andi hoping we might crack 34 hours, but eventually realizing we’ll be a couple of minutes over.
The finish line brings back the tears of emotion, coupled with her southern accent and diminutive stature, which just make her seem so completely extra adorable to me. Into the arms of Don she flies, he says with smooth and complete confidence, “I’m so proud of you” which is just the right mix of words at just the right time. You can tell in her face that this finish means a lot, that it means more than I can understand. Perhaps because my father’s house is now so close to these trails, because I run portions of them almost every time I’m home, maybe I don’t understand what it means to anyone else because I’m so self absorbed in what they mean to me. For me, on a hot day, the trail system is a chance to escape the sun, to not need sunscreen, to maybe even skip on water and just bomb my way up and down, or to cruise it with water and soak in the beautiful views and picturesque trail in the middle of a lush green forest of bamboo, banyon, kukui and guava. For me, the trails are an escape from the world, accessible only a few short minutes from my father’s driveway, a chance to be alone with myself, or together with a close friend or two. I have many wonderful memories on those trails and I hope to have many more throughout the rest of my life. I’d really like to visit them more often.
Back to the Real World
I leave Andi and Don, crank out some paced miles back to the house and hop in the shower to make dinner at Buzz’s at 6pm. There wasn’t a lot of extra time. For some strange reason, it’s just the 3 of us at dinner instead of the expected 5, Dr. Hellreich and his wife, Miriam, are no shows which is a first for them in the 30 years of friendship. Gerri, my father’s girlfriend, eats quietly and patiently, plays the cards she usually does in the game of trying to capture my father’s attention away from the plastic blonde accompanying the blue haired man with the big wallet at the table next to us. We go back to the house for pecan pie, my dad flips on the Roku I told him to get and falls asleep to some strange grade C movie which is thankfully not a science fiction thriller this time which makes it bearable for 2-3 minutes before I head off to check on my athletes schedules and spec out the next week.
Monday morning starts leisurely, some discussion with Hillary about how awesome Andi is, some reviewing of the Olympic Trials results, and my typical travel-morning pancake cooking routine. This time I used too many eggs and the ‘cakes come out like my signature bricks, but at least my improved cooking skills do not turn out hockey pucks. I take off for a 90 minute run around Diamond Head, shower, pack, leaving a few items for the next load of laundry, and it’s back off to the mainland. As I watched out the window during the early part of the flight I saw the most amazing sky, orange on the horizon and purple beneath the clouds.
I contemplate HURT 2013 for myself. I also continue to contemplate moving home for good. I have a hard time believing I would be a colossal failure despite the obvious deficiencies in job opportunities for database developers on Oahu. I think my father’s biggest apprehension is that I wouldn’t be able to scrape enough pennies together to afford living in Hawaii. You hear that from everyone, but the irony is that all of these people giving me this advice have survived and some even thrived (in an objective sense) in the environment. Sure it’s not easy. Finishing a 100 mile run isn’t easy. Life is most certainly not easy.