Friday, January 25, 2013

A new way to HURT

Me, Brian, Miss Sonja.
Instead of a boring weekend recap, I decided to ask Miss Sonja a few questions about her first exposure to ultra racing at the 2013 HURT 100.  The following is a view of HURT through her eyes.

1. You recently paced Brian Recore at HURT, covering just shy of 26 miles on trail both overnight and the next day.  This was your first ultra experience.  What did you know going into the race.  Describe your expectations and your preconceptions.  

This was my first experience with an ultramarathon, and actually my first race experience. For those who don’t know, the HURT 100 course is 5 twenty mile laps of the same trail. Each lap is divided into 3 sections. Each section connects the 3 aid stations, which are in valleys. So each section starts with a climb out of the valley up to a ridge and a descent into a the valley and aid station.

I really didn’t know anything about this kind of event except what I picked up when we were crewing Brian for the first 50 miles of the race. Since I’d been sick and never run more than 10-12 miles, I thought I’d do one section at night and another in the morning to give Dave a break, depending on how I felt.

I really liked the casual small-event atmosphere. People were usually friendly and it felt low key. Once I got over feeling like I was not nearly bad ass enough to hang with these people, I had a great time. I showed up to switch with Dave and pace Brian at 11:30pm, which was about an hour before they showed up. So I schmoozed with the other crazy ultra runners who weren’t running and were volunteering or pacing, and cheered the runners coming out of the jungle in the middle of the night.

Every runner seemed to be handling it differently. Some were laughing, some were exhausted, some had their game face on, some were just going with the flow. A few just stared mechanically, downed some food and water and took off again. I set off with Brian up the trail after midnight, hoping that I wouldn’t totally blow it.

Brian at the finish
Brian was great. He pointed out the rough parts of the trail, where the rocks were slippery, or there was mud or roots. He was probably laughing at me because I couldn’t get over how cool it was to be going up this mountain through the forest. Blue and orange glow sticks hanging from tree branches marked switchbacks, low lying branches, or tricky parts of the path. The forks in the trail were marked with a bunch of tiny blinking lights in the trees. I felt like I was in Avatar, or some weird alien place. Every once in a while we’d cross paths with another runner or two, you could see the light from their headlamp bobbing in the distance. I learned to be nice to people and shield my headlamp, but I probably blinded a few people in the beginning when I was just staring around at everything like an idiot.

Pauoa Flats
We got to this place where the trail is laced by a network of roots, you can see a bunch of HURT 1000 pics from that part of the trail. You had to step carefully through the roots and trying to avoid the mud, and make sure you picked up your feet to avoid tripping, all in the pitch black and us just with our headlamps, me following Brian. The bamboo forests were something else too, spooky. Brian said it’s really nice to have a pacer coming through those. It’s totally quiet except for the bamboo rising up dense and dry on either side of you, creaking, snapping and knocking in the wind. Then there’s the descent near Manoa falls, with lots of slippery rocks to worry about. And there were a couple times where you could easily just put one foot wrong and you’d fall off the side of the trail. That’s it for you. At least if you have a pacer there’s someone to know where you went missing. Coming into the Paradise Park aid station was pretty awesome, the trail there is wide and paved just at the end, and they had lined either side of the trail with lanterns in paper bags. It was nice to see lights after a few hours in the forest.

2. You had seen the trails only once before, how did race day compare to this training day?  Were you adequately prepared for the terrain?

I didn’t really feel prepared but we thought I might not have to run much since more people were probably going to help out. But they ended up not being able to help so it was just Dave and I pacing Brian. We ran part of the course back in December and I’d been doing more trail hill runs in San Diego. I learned that I’m a decent climber. And a fast walker so I could take breaks from jogging and just walk for a bit. I hadn’t run for 2 weeks since I just had the worst flu I’ve had in years, so aside from still being a bit sick, my legs were fresh. I think that helped.

Easa's feasting pre-race

3. Were there any big surprises?  Anything unusual or unexpected?

The biggest surprise was how much I enjoyed it. Getting up at 11pm to go run through the jungle doesn’t seem like an awesome idea, but it wasn’t that bad. Getting up again at 11am the next day after 5h on the chilly trail the night before, only a couple hours sleep, a hacking cough and headache started to seem a little dumb, but once I arrived at the aid station, I was ready to get back out there. Plus, Brian had already run 85 miles, how the hell could I complain?

Post race dinner with Ray Sanchez

4. What was your favorite aid station and why? 

This buckle is a reward for 34 hours of movement.
They were all different. I really liked the Paradise Park aid station. They had a cute pirate theme, there were colored Christmas lights up and the lanterns lining the trail. The volunteers there were also really on top of it, getting stuff for the runners and making sure everyone was taken care of. I was pretty impressed. The Nature Center aid station was neat too, they had a lot of glow sticks and the lights on the bridge were hooked up to a motion detector so when a runner came down the trail they got brighter. Nu’uanu aid station was the smallest, but it was kind of fun because you had to cross the creek by jumping over the rocks—a little crazy at night—and for some reason they had a skeleton floating in the creek on a little inner tube. Whatever, I love it.

5. What did you notice about the other competitors?  Did anyone stand out to you? 

The other runners were all supportive of each other. Instead of saying hi, everyone we passed said things like “You got it” or “you’re doing great” which seems nice and encouraging but starts to feel like when people say “how are you doing” without really expecting an answer, kind of fake. But who cares? Better to be positive and encouraging. So I started saying my own little rah-rah stuff to the runners. Especially in the middle of the night. Cause yeah, you are doing pretty damn amazing, you’re still running through the jungle in the middle of the night. That’s freaking awesome. And by the next day, people were almost done with their 100 miles, so everyone really was totally rocking it.

6. How has your perception of distance changed as a result of this event. Do you feel any different about the numbers 26, 50 or 100 now? 

It’s hard to tell since this event is so unlike the shorter distance events or a road event. The trail is very steep at times and there’s a lot of it that’s almost un-runnable, unless you’re a freak, which I’ve heard there are guys that run it. It’s also muddy, rocky, and slippery. Parts of the trail are latticed with tree roots or rocks and you really have to pick up your feet and pay attention. There’s no opportunity to go on autopilot. It’s gotta be tough for the people who are out there all day and night.

Pre-race, circa 5:45 am

7. What methods were effective while pacing Brian.  Did you try anything which did not seem to help?

Brian is an experienced ultra runner and also had done the HURT 100 course before so I just followed his lead. I mostly tried to stay positive, chat when he was talkative and quiet when he was in his own zone. There were times when he was hurting and tired, I just stayed behind him and kept moving. I think he just liked having someone else around. When he stepped up the pace we kinda got a little goofy and I shouted encouragement or just that it was amazing to be running around all day and night, how gorgeous it all was and that he was doing awesome. Cause he was.

Manoa Aid Station
8. Did you pee on the trail and if so was this at all difficult being a girl? 

We actually talked about how your pee can turn brown from running all day and dehydration. He stopped to pee a couple times and I just went on ahead and waited for him to catch up or in the middle of the night I shouted that I had to pee too. He asked me if I checked for brown pee and I said I was more worried about his ass and did he check his pee? But it was night so neither of us knew.

9. What went through your head as you approached each aid station? 

I’m hungry, or yay I get to take a shower. I’m so glad I don’t have to keep going like Brian. I was also worried that Brian was getting bored with me and whether he’d prefer Dave but Brian seemed happy either way. It was pretty awesome to pace the last two sections of the race. We were counting down the miles and guessing cause both of our GPS watches were out of batteries. Brian found some more steam and pounded out the last couple miles with me hooting and hollering behind him. It was pretty awesome to follow him to the finish, even though I barely did anything, just to share in that was fabulous.

10. You had a number of conversations with Brian throughout the night and during the day.  Were there any that were particularly amusing or entertaining that you'd care to share with the vast readership of Irrelevance?

[[Editor's note, apparently not]]

11. Do you feel any increased understanding of the mindset behind someone who competes in 100 mile races?  Or does it seem just as looney as it might have before?

It’s totally nuts! But I guess I see more of why people do it. It’s the whole question of how far can I push myself? What are my real limits? I’ve found out I can go further than I thought I could go, so the next question is, how much further can I go? And how much faster? But I’m not one of those people who really likes to push myself to the extreme. And I like sleeping. So I don’t think ultras are for me. But I certainly enjoyed pacing this course. You get some of the fun with less of the mindnumbing hours and insane mileage. This course is also more in line with my idea of fun. It’s in Hawaii, so its absolutely beautiful, I remember pointing out some crazy flowers and trees. The views were gorgeous, and the technical trail keeps your mind busy. I’m not sure I’d like pacing a hot sweaty road marathon as much.

12. What did you like best about pacing? 

All the fun, none of the pain. Maybe just a little.

13. Which shoes did you wear and how did they treat your feet?

Adidas Boston 3. They were great. They’re not trail shoes and they’re nice and light, but they have a stiff enough sole to protect from rocks. I had no problems with my feet. Even though I shattered my navicular bone a few years ago and was told I might never run again. I thought that might to bother me or the screws would start to make my foot ache but it wasn’t too bad.

Nu'uanu Aid Station
Jackass Ginger

14. Would you do anything different if you pace the same race again? 

I would have been more prepared. I wasn’t expecting to race at all since I had been so sick and I wasn’t sure Brian and Dave would even need me to help out. So I didn’t bring warmer clothes for running at night (I would have brought a long sleeved shirt and a t shirt), it was a little breezy on the ridges at the top of the climbs, and being sick made me colder. But it was still Hawaii and cold here is not too bad.

The view from Tantalus
I would have been generally more ready to race, I probably would have enjoyed having a pack to stash my cellphone and maybe a bit more water. This isn’t a good trail to carry water in hand since so much of the climbs and descents are technical, you need your hands, I just put the water bottle between my teeth, plus there were a couple times Brian almost went over the cliff in the dark. Running downhill you also need your arms for balance and a bottle is annoying. Having hands free would have been beneficial. But with aid stations every 5-7 miles and relatively cool weather, you don’t need to pack much.

15. You ran a lot more than planned, why did you choose to continue for extra sections?
Banyan tree (aka banging tree)

We thought we’d have more pacing help but I also felt like I could handle it, and I wanted to see what I could do. Pretty much I was enjoying the experience. When I woke up from 2 h sleep after my first sections, I was coughing up all sorts of fun stuff and I felt awful and I was all ready to tell Dave and Brian that I’d crew at the aid stations but as far as running was concerned, they boys were on their own. Then after I had coffee, I started to feel a little bit better. I thought, I’m in Hawaii, I might as well be out there enjoying it, so I decided to do a couple more sections and give Dave a break. Plus, Brian seemed like he didn’t need much other than a little company and I was pretty sure I could hang. Had we been running more, I would have had a harder time I think. But on those steep climbs and descents, I found I felt pretty good. Also, if Brian could do 100 miles, worrying about 5 or 12 seemed stupid in comparison.

16. There are a number of spectacular views along the course, any that you remember specifically? 

Post race
The night views were the coolest. There was one view on the second leg at night, I think it was 3 in the morning, and the moon was over the city of Honolulu. I’d been pacing Brian already for a few hours through the jungle and bamboo and whatever, and we come to the top of this ridge and have these amazing views of Honolulu or Pearl Harbor. How many people get to see that? It felt pretty special.

17. You were sick going into this and sick after.  Did you notice feeling sick during?  Did you think about that? 

There were some times when I felt pretty awful. I probably shouldn’t have run, but the only thing I was concerned about was keeping up with Brian and keeping him happy. This wasn’t about me. I felt bad that I was coughing a lot, and then right at the end I couldn’t stop sneezing, I think something just got to me. But at least that was only the last mile or 2.

18. How do you explain your experience to friends or family members who don't run more than 10 miles at a time?

This wasn’t really running. It was more hiking up and down some pretty crazy terrain and running where the trail was good. We did less running at night because the visibility wasn’t great. But there were some times when Brian totally turned it on during the downhill and I was pretty impressed that he could find that kind of speed after all that he’d already done. This course is really hard on your knees, hips and back. Brian predicts that I’ll get into this distance stuff, we’ll see.


  1. Dave, Sexy Joanna did a number on you too, eh. fickle, but some kind of magic, that girl.

  2. "Woe is Jo" was her popular nickname due to her dramas and self-sufferings "my doctor said mine was the worst case of ________ she had ever seen." A rare siren hwo crushes but probably adds just as much to the lives of her admirers as she takes. Davy, you got much closer so the rest of us are both envious and relieved, to Xtremes. Hope she found peace and a good guy.