There is a Seal song which goes, “no we’re never gonna survive unless we get a little crazy.” That is exactly how one makes it through the HURT 100.
In case you are not up on the HURT 100 course, let me break it down for you. It is 5 laps of 20 miles each. Now before you go thinking these laps are 20 mile loops, stop. The course is run WHITE — GREEN — ORANGE, repeat. The course starts at the Nature Center, climbs up Hog’s back, and then descends a portion of trail you run 10 times, in the same direction. The white route continues to climb with a few downshill portions before it gets flat. The flat section is the popular “web of roots” photo associated with HURT. Then you descend down for what seems an eternity, past the Manoa Falls and eventually arrive at the Paradise Park AS. Turn that beat around and go right back up to the web of roots, turning right this time to run an open ridge with a touch of climbing before descending down to something reminiscent of PNW trails. Cross a river on the stones and you have made it to the second AS, Nu’uanu. Turn around and go straight back up to the ridge, the “web of roots” and climb to the first of 2 pig gates. The trail really opens up for some running after the second pig gate then you are at the “10 x section” before descending back into the Nature Center.
I had been preparing for HURT with laser precision. I was one of the few non-Oahu residence with a supreme advantage — I get to train on the North Shore of Vancouver, notorious for its trails to gnarnia. I had been working on both the physical and mental attacks that makes HURT…well…hurt. I felt more confident and comfortable than I have ever been going in to a race. My goals were few: (1) Don’t quit and (2) Finish. Yes, I had some time goals where I knew my abilities should put me but I had heard and read numerous reports that many people do not finish HURT on the first go; now I know why. Thankfully I had received some of the best advice available before entering the lions den (I think it was the final thread keeping me from insanity). Run the course like the days of the week with each meal being at the aid stations. For example, Lap 1 is Monday and you would eat breakfast at Paradise Park AS. Then treat Lap 5 as a victory lap; say your last goodbyes to every tree, stone, root, and pig gate.
Lap 1 // Monday // All Systems Go // 4:40
Everyone piled on the little bridge awaiting the final countdown. I ended up about mid-way back on the bridge with Nicola and Alicia. I knew this section from my scouting a few days prior and that it is steep but short lived. I moved on and crested Hog’s back in 15 minutes. I made my way on past the cliffs and the roots to the descent. Dang. It just kept going. I mentally prepared for a long descent but I was worried how this would feel in a couple laps. When I got to Paradise Park in under 1:30 I knew I need to slow down. I refilled some water grabbed some hand-made granola bars and took off to go back up what I just came down…with taking it easy in the forefront of my mind. The sun was barely up and I was completely wet with sweat. The tape I had put on to help prevent some chaffing was already coming off. HURT holds a family quality in that you see people as you descend then ascend to each AS. You bond with excited high fives and eventually zombied grunts. Lunch
I tried walking slower than I wanted to and when a less steep section appeared I would run. The ridge line was gorgeous. It looked straight down to Waikiki beach. There is a grassy knoll with a bench just before one of the more crazier descents of the course. I could see where a lot of the technicality and rocks would turn against me when they got wet. Thankfully my shoes were giving me more confidence with each footfall. Nearing the river, I thought I was back on the North Shore, surrounded by pine trees some of which were decorated for Christmas. I saw Nicola pass back by who I thought was behind me and we got super pumped. The river crossing is done over about a dozen rocks with ropes set up beside for a handrail. Just one more steep rooted ascent to pop into Nu’uanu. I grabbed some food while the volunteers refilled my water and back out I went.
The ascent out of Nu’uanu came and went really fast and before I knew it I was climbing up the crazy steep “5 minute hill” towards that bench. My clothes and entire being were just drenched. I longed for dry clothes but I knew when I got back to the Nature Centre it wouldn’t matter. In minutes I would be just as soaked again. I rolled up to the pig gate and for the first time heard “that sound” everyone talks about. Again I tried to make sure I was taking it easy but the trail opened to some fun runnable stuff. I met up with some other runner and stayed with them as we made way back to the Nature Center. I was using my watch only to monitor water and calorie intake but I started to calculate how long the last lap was taking. I realized I should be done in about 5:30 hours which was about what I wanted. My new trail buddies corrected me that we would actually be around 4:30. Oh right. My watch was not only still on Vancouver time, but I didn’t “fall back” so I was 3 hours ahead, not 2. I refueled quickly and made way back out for another round. I wanted to take this one a little more chill since I now had time to spare and the heat would be cranking up.
Lap 2 // Tuesday // It’s Over // 5:41
The heat was starting to roll in and the humidity sat heavy. I ran a while with some other runners and before I knew it I was back at Paradise, not too much slower than lap 1. Matt and Alexa were there to help me get replenished. We decided to take my socks and shoes off to see how wet my feet were and I could tell by the look on Matt’s face that it was not good. He made the call that I sit for at least 20 minutes at this aid station and the next before we could fully take care of them back at the Nature Center. I did not want to waste this much time just sitting but I knew he was right. If I did not take the time now, I would not finish later.
My mind started to wear me down on the leg out to Nu’uanu. All the thoughts of having to drop were flooding my mind and I was having problems getting them out. The earbuds on my yurbuds had popped off so I also had no music to drown out my own voice in my head. I finally got to the AS and did as Matt has instructed. I sat there…waiting. I asked for a piece of cardboard or something to fan them and one of the volunteer brought me a towel. After I had dried my feet, she said “I wish there was a way to get your socks dry…oh..I know.” She rolls my socks in the towel and proceeds to wring them out with her bare hands. Oh she was gorgeous too.
I kept trying not to think about an eventual drop out as I made my way back to the Nature Center. The leg went faster than I had remembered and before I knew it I was sitting in the chair surrounded by Matt, Alexa, Gary, Linda, and Lori. Linda had a beautiful blue parrot named Ocean perched on her shoulder eating a cracker. When Matt asked me what I felt like eating I said with wide eyes as I looked up at Ocean, “I want what the bird’s eating.”
With some incredible Matt ingenuity we got my feet drying out. I was torn between which shoes I wanted to switch to. One had great grip but no cushion, the other good stability and cushion but zero grip. I decided with night approaching and things getting wetter that I would go with my trailrocs. This proved to be a big mistake for this course.
Lap 3 // Wednesday // Send the Pain Below // 8:54
The HURT aid stations are dangerous. The food is so delicious and everyone is so helpful. You could stay way longer than intended or eat more than you should. As I started going up Hogsback for the 3rd time I realized I had eaten way too much right before such a big climb and I started getting nauseous. I knew this would go away as soon as the food settled so after running the next downhill section I sat for a little bit.
I was still not able to relax mentally given my feet. They were starting to hurt a little bit and all the nagging thoughts of having to drop kept flooding back. I realized that my feet were getting destroyed by this course in these next-to-no cushion shoes. I saw the girl who had wrung my socks out at Paradise. She brought me food, told me corny jokes, and offered to pace me if her runner dropped. This gave me a little more incentive to keep going.
I passed Alicia on some of the out and backs who had completely revitalized and was moving well. She gave me a big hug and told me to just keep moving. My feet just kept hurting on a deep deep level. I decided here that I would try to finish. Not for any reason other than I never wanted to run this course again. I could either tough out a couple more laps or have to come back and start all over for another 5.
The climb out of Nu’uanu was eventful. I somehow smacked my head on a hanging log, hard. Not a minute later I see Lori, who gave me encouraging words. I found out the next day that she too hit her head on the same log!
Lap 4 // Thursday // Loony Loopy Lost It // 7:37
“Your feet look incredible!” Matt said as he assessed the situation. I responded, “yeah but they are beyond trashed.” Here we go, time to put on those pearls that I cursed so much during Fat Dog for slipping all over the place. I really couldn’t imagine how bad they would be on the HURT course, nor did I want to. I wanted to quit. I was already at the start/finish. It would be so easy to just quit right here, right now. But Matt got me fed, refueled and back out. He wouldn’t let me leave until I smiled. The course starts to blur after a while. The bamboo starts talking to you. The slippery rocks taunt you.
“I bet green gets sad” I said as I climbed up towards the flats. “No, really. Green must be sad because it always has to share the course. White has its own section. Orange does too. But green is always paired off. All it wants is a little….limelight.”
At Nu’uanu, I began doing tired math. Never do tired math because it always ends in incorrect disappointments. I was positive I would not make it back to finish the final lap. Then a little old Hawaiian lady came up to me with a warm scented wet towel. She washed my face and said an endurance blessing over me as my eyes began to tear up. Then she washed me legs and told me I must go. Of course all my friends I told this story to said the same thing…”there was no old Hawaiian lady.”
“I can’t tell them I’m going to quit. But I can’t do this again. I’m going to quit.”
“We’re going to pace you!!” Linda was so excited to get out and run the first leg of my victory lap with me. Then Alexa was going to run the last 2. Great, so there goes my plan to quit.
Lap 5 // Friday // A Little Help from my Friends // 7:00
Linda kept me company, telling me stories from the day, updates on Ocean and pointing out the ginger on the trail that I swear I had smelled but given my mental state was not trusting anything. The company was much needed and unexpected. I don’t think I could have made myself go back around for another lap. Linda helped me say my final goodbyes to each tree, root, and rock we passed. We hopped down in to Paradise and I was back to feeling really good, minus the pain in my feet.
Alexa had not been on the rest of the course. I had already seen it 4 times. I would tell her what was coming up probably ad nauseam, but she played along. It was starting to get hot, really hot. I was moving well but grunting a lot. I apologized a lot to Alexa for the noises I was making. We saw Matt and Linda at Nu’uanu and that girl.
On the way out of Nu’uanu, I made sure to punch the log that both Lori and I had hit our heads on.
I knew there was only a little bit left and I was ready to hear that pig gate slam for the last time. It sounded so so good. I was picking up speed and up ahead I could see that girl who had ended up picking up someone else in dire need of a pacer. I was ready to make the move to pass them when she turned around and looked at me and I tripped and fell hard. Thankfully a big rock kept me from flying off the cliff. I picked myself up and made another, successful attempt. Alexa was thrilled at how well I was moving for the end of the race. I was just happy that I was within an hour of being done. Then we made it to the final descent into the Nature Centre.
This was it. I was actually going to finish a race that only a few hours in I thought I had no chance. I was sad that it did not go as planned but happy beyond belief that I was able to kiss that sign and never have to come run it again.
And that is just the race. Y’all. I don’t think I can put in to words just how incredible the HURT 100 experience is. The Hawaiian word for family is ohana, which is exactly how everyone is treated. While I may have vowed to never run this race again (I’m in good company on that vow, although everyone seems to recant after about 4 years) I want to continue to be a part of HURT for many years to come. This is definitely an event I will not soon forget and am so thankful to have been a part of. In fact, as I write this a week after finishing, there is still some aching going on. :)
Thank you to the RD’s, all the volutneers, Cindy, my amazing friend Audrey and my crew (Matt, Alexa, Linda, and Gary) — I could not have finished without y’alls support.
- Matt is the best crew person out there and I call dibs
- I finally nailed hydration and cooling on a hot course
- Make sure shoes drain or stop sweating so much
- HURT has the best AS food and volunteers
- Draining every ounce of my mental toughness is hard to recover from
Keep moving. Josh.