So dude... This is like, not about any of those real fast runners who I only see glimpses of on their way back down the mountain in their cars--those late morningfinishing clowns with broad smiles on their faces and 'Good Job!' cheers who interupt my pain orgy by causing day dreams of dragging them out of their cars and working them over. No, sorry dude, this is about a few of the grunts that made the slow agonizing effort up mountain with goals of 8:00 or more in mind..
It was dark at the start, but the stars were out there hiding in a few clouds and the light glare of nighttime Kahalui. It was cool, but not chilly and it seemed a bit humid, but that may have been the sleepless night I'd had, or some other minor transgression I had allowed myself the night before.
I couldn't see many people I knew and most of those were just the familiar backs of heads. We'd all hung around the front of the running store before moving to the start and it was there that greetings had been exchanged and we'd laid down final insults and challenges. Earnest Tay asked me if I'd brought the binocs he'd given me the night before. 'Just so you can see me way up high on the crater road' 'That's a good one Earnest,' I'd laughed 'Come on lets head to the Ale House, I'm buying you all you can drink!' Earnest had to think about that one, but in the end he turned me down.
I spent the night at the 'Banana Bungalow' in Wailuku. It was Keg night there, and the beer flowed and the party was hot. I was tempted to go catch the action but instead I lay there listening to some guy named Mikey drop pickup lines on the girls who walked by my window. Seems Mikey was a not to successful street entrepreneur from a west coast big town with a very limited catalogue of lines. It's debatable whether I got any real sleep but in a kind of vicarious way it was a busy social night. In the end I got up early, drank some cold coffee and headed to the start.
When Big John said go, well I took about 10 steps and turned around to see who was behind me and even the spectators had moved away from the start line faster than I was managing. I was alone on the street, and I looked up ahead and the crowd of race stragglers was moving quickly out of sight. A new PR: to the back of the pack in less than a minute.
I had to start a fast walk sooner than I wanted to and just managed to stick at the back for the first half-mile. I wanted to catch Don Fallis, so I could slow him down a bit but I couldn't even see him out in front of me. No Don. He was gone, off running and socializing with the fast lane crowd. I ran alone along the dark street for a while before I spotted Cheryl about 100 yards up. It took me a few minutes but she can not disguise herself, even when she goes incognito without her tiger skin compression shorts. So I concentrated on that aspect and slowly pulled in behind her at that HURT training distance I am so used to. I stayed there for a while listening to the group chatter and listening to my body whine about the fast flat start.
Actually my body was not happy with me. I had not gotten a lot of sleep and I had drunk a few beers at dinner the night before and I had not had any hot coffee, and on and on with complaints to the point where and I finally just turned of the internal crazed radical radio rant show monologue that composes much of my conscious processes during periods of stress and watched the ground pass beneath me.
I finally let Cheryl know I was behind her, and we talked a bit. I mentioned I was looking for Don and she said she thought he was just up ahead. I looked but couldn't see his silhouette in the crowd of runners on ahead of us. We talked intermittently and ran slowly through the back streets of Kahalui. I should have stayed right there with Cheryl and warmed up as it was a nice pace that my body could handle at this point in the race, but I was impatient to find Fallis and slow him down a bit, so when I thought that I saw him up ahead I pulled around Cheryl, wished her a good race and moved on.
I chased Fallis' silhouette all the way out of Kahalui, onto the Hana Highway, and then down the road to Pulehu. I believe I finally caught up with him around that aid station where the road jigs and a cane haul road goes straight on---a confusing place where one year I was 200 yards down the Cane-haul road before I realized I was alone. But this year the cane road was fairly well blocked off with cars and it was easy to find ones way through the intersection. I ran behind Don for a while before pulling up on him an letting him know I was there.
Don was running with Chrissy Ferguson whom I had met just before the race. She is the RD of the Arkansas 100, and that is where Don hails from. They were having a very nice conversation and since I wasn't capable of pleasant at that time of the morning, nor generally talkative during a race, I hung back and drafted Don. I may have said something about the fast pace, or made some off-kilter remark but aside from the initial pleasantries I just hung a few yards back and watched the bumpy road work its way by. Somewhere after an aid station, in between the sour smell of garbage and the warm earthy scent of cattle plop and piss, I felt the 'call' and dropped off to the side of the road. A lot of runners re-passed me and I once again began the quest for Don's silhouette. My right hip was beginning to show wear and at one point I felt it let loose and I almost toppled over. My fast pace was a dangerous gamble.
I found myself drafting a succession of people faster than I as they made their way past the long train of racers. I would lose my 'pacers' on the gentle slopes, and then regain my position on the steeper sections where I could out-stride almost everyone around me. The change in pace allowed me to gain some control over the pain in my right hip. But my priority was catching Don, and all the while I was scanning the forward runners for him, and becoming increasingly frustrated by my inability to catch him. As a result each successive 'pacer' I selected was just a little faster than the previous. This carried me up the road at a much quicker rate than I had anticipated, putting heavy stress on my glutes and piriformis-- which never produces a long term positive gain for me. But 'That damn Fallis!' was up ahead of me somewhere and I intended to catch him.
Finally, perhaps two hours into the race, we hit the real hills where I dropped the jog and started my concrete hill stride. For those of you unfamiliar with Concrete hill, it is a steep telephone access road that leads to the top of Pu'uohia at the top of Tantalus road overlooking Honolulu. The HURT crowd trains regularly on that hill. Where the runners around me were acting like they had just hit a wall my body began to sing. Hills! Ups! Steep Sections that were a joy to behold. I greeted a long string of runners as I marched by them. My ass was sore from the evil treatment of flat roads, and a fast pace, but the hills allowed me to rock my hips, stretching the attachments and ease the tightness and pain that had been developing over the lower 10 miles. In all of that section I had only a hand full of racers come by me, and most of those I re-passed before the carnage of Pulehu and Pulehuiki had run its course.
As I made my way through the mid section aid station where Pulehu intersects a main road and you cross to begin Pulehuiki I met up with the Binoc's man himself, my good buddy Earnest Tay. I greeted him with a mad laugh but was saddened to learn that Earnest was hurting, his ankles not liking the long road run. I was wanting to kick his miserable ass fair and square, to pass him as he fought to keep me at bay. I'd perfected a wide selection of annoying noises and cat calls to torment him with before I administered the executioners stroke of a fast pass. It would have to wait for another race.
"Where the hell is Fallis? I've been chasing him for miles," I exclaimed.
"Don? He's back there," said Earnest pointing back down the road.
"Man, I've been after him for a long time, and now you tell me I missed him? He's not up ahead?" I asked disbelieving I had run by him.
"Yeah man, Don is not up there," said Earnest pointing uphill. "You are strong today." he added, "How come you looking so good?'
"Keg night and plenty ladies at the Banana Bungalow man. Can't go wrong on Keg night," I joked.
Earnest and I talked a bit about the race, and then I felt the need to move on. Not wanting to leave my old pal behind without some kind words I wished him Luck in the race, and comforted him.
"Hey man I didn't bring the Binocs, but don't worry Earnest, you won't get lost. When I get to the top I'll hold up this glow stick. You can just follow its yellow glare all the way to the finish line! See yah!"
My consoling words to Earnest seemed to help him a lot because right away he appeared to be doing better and we pushed past a succession of slower racers as we made our way up the easier sections of Pulehuiki. I looked back a few times and Earnest was sticking to me about 20 yards back. Like Don says, it is always amazing how, if you take the time, a few kind words can lift a fellow runner's spirits. Earnest's spirits were evidently rising even higher because occasionally I could here him yelling "I'm coming Mike. I'm gaining on you! " I felt so good about that that when we hit the really steep sections of Pulehuiki I jogged up the inclines, knowing Earnest would take inspiration from my example. Unfortunately he didn't gain sufficient inspiration and after running a particularly long and steep section I could no longer hear his pleasant chatter. You can only do so much to urge a fellow runner along. Puleuiki was runnable and Earnest just had to accept that.
I was having fun. Perhaps too much fun. The pace I was doing in this section was far faster than I knew I should be doing. But after the ten miles of easy upward slope the hills just felt good. As I rounded a corner I saw my friend David Bonnett, whose father I've known since childhood. David paced me through the critical fourth lap at HURT and we have run a lot together. David had been kicking my ass up and down our training runs on Tantalus and it was a pleasant surprise to run into him on Pulehuiki where the terrain was more like Concrete's than Tantalus. I started howling at David from fifty yards down the hill; long noisy wolf like howls that everybody likes to hear coming up behind them. When I got to within a few paces of David I commenced to breathing really hard. Long gasping kind of breaths, and then I pulled in a step behind him and followed in his footsteps and breathing down his back. It was the kind of thing I had planned for Earnest and didn't want to just waste. Finally David turned around in mock annoyance.
"Oh its you Mike! I should have known." he said shaking his head. "I wondered what kind of an asshole was following me. Should have known it was you," he joked! "You are looking strong today. I was hoping that cold would keep you down, he added with a smile.
I'm feeling fine. I responded. Earnest is just back down the hill. Didn't bring his glasses along but told him I'd light the way for him. He seemed to appreciate that.
"Yeah I bet", said David. I don't know, I'm not feeling to strong, I can not figure out what's wrong, he added.
"I'm drinking loads, and eating all the time." I responded.
"I know, I'm trying that too. I don't think I went out too fast. Maybe it was the run I did on Wednesday. The hills seem steeper than usual."
"Drink more, and watch your electrolytes. It's dry out here today. I'm shriveling up. Drink."
We talked like that, exchanging thoughts on the race, trying to figure out David's situation. We both knew he should be out ahead of me. Then as we hit a particularly steep section it became apparent that I was going to move on. This was a race. No quarter given and none asked. I moved ahead of him a few turns before the killer steep at the top of Pulehuiki.
That last section is about as close to concrete road as a public road can get, and it has got to be one of the steepest roads in Hawaii. I don't think a lot of cars could make it up it, but I took it fast and strong. Perhaps too fast and strong. But I felt good and at that moment I just believed that I could charge on forever. We are often funny like that. Even when we know that something can not happen, that it is impossible, we believe the siren songs of a strong body, the melody sung by short term anaerobic muscle tissues, and march on in spite of our training and knowledge. But it just felt so good I couldn't resist the challenge. At the top I greeted PJ and John, and turned and began coasted along the only down section on the course letting my heart rate drop back past explode level. I reflected on the fact that at the turn John had not said a lot. I knew what he was thinking because it was what I was thinking. As good as I felt, I was doing too much too soon. There was still 20 miles to go in the race. That can be a long way when we are talking about 7000 feet of climb, less oxygen, and colder temperatures.
A mile down the road I took the turn and started up the crater road still riding the adrenalin high of the Pulehuiki steeps. Taking the hill at a good pace I began to gain on the runners ahead of me. I passed Eddie Fan there, and a few other people I knew. It was somewhere along there that I said hello to David Carlson at an aid station. David was having a hard time, but his reason was classical understated; he'd run a low three something Marathon the week before. I saw Carl Wooten, along that stretch I believe and then at about mile 18 or so came into the aid station to find Gordon Lau.
Gordon and I have been running together for years. There was a time when I could occasionally keep him at bay, but in recent years his training has been phenomenal and he runs in a different class. Of all the runners at HURT 2007 Gordon stands out as my personal hero. His seventh place finish was stunning, and taking into account an age handicap he walked all over most of those who finished ahead of him. He has the most steady pace of the runners I can run with, and he almost floats over the trails. I can often take him on the hills but his steadiness almost never fails to overpower me near the end of any run where I manage to gain the lead.
Most everyone is aware that Gordon finds the Run to the Sun difficult. He didn't even want to show up this year, but was urged on by Earnest and Don, and finally gave in. But that doesn't make him any less of a competitor. So running into Gordon at mile 18 was a real surprise. I laughed like a madman, quickly got half a bottle of water while I exchanged greetings with him and chased him out of the aid station sticking close on his heels. I followed him up toward the the hairpin curve that cuts through that first grove of Eucalyptus below the grasslands, then over the cattle crossing and out into the bright sunlight of the lower pastures. When the road got steeper I passed him. But I knew from experience that he would not just go away. I looked up the switchbacks and knew I had to conquer them if I was going to leave Gordon permanently behind. Again I was letting the excitement of the race seep into my pace. I was letting the race run me and not fully running the race. At that point I had my hip pain under control, but only marginally, and despite my constant hydrating and eating, I was beginning to feel the wear of the long run. Alarms were beginning to sound in my system, but I was switching pace and altering my intakes and I felt I had things under control. Anyway it was really fun seeing all my running buddies here at the bottom of the hill, and I was having a good time.
Making the first switch back I looked back to find I was gaining on Gordon. I looked ahead and began to concentrate on the runners ahead of me. I slowly reeled each of them in. One of the fellows I passed was Les Martusko who would come by me time and again along this section. But with few exceptions I overtook the runners I could see, and only rarely did I have anyone come past me. My watch still showed I was making better than 12 minute miles. It was good, but hard work. I was beginning to have to race walk more than jog because of my hip, but it was uphill effort and my high-gear walking stride can match most joggers. But I could tell I was slowing a bit, as a couple of runners I had passed on the lower portion of crater road now rebounded by me.
At one point I looked down over a half dozen switch backs. I could see Earnest far below, then David, and just a bend behind was Gordon. I turned my head up the road and battled the switchbacks up toward that last long windy section of road before the high groves and the curve toward the Park Gate. It was just run 100 paces, stride 100 paces and run 100 all the way to the Ranger Station. The wind had picked up and we had come far enough around the mountain for cool misty clouds to come in on us. My hands were a bit cold and the cold wet wind was playing a number on my lungs, but it was still a nice day. It was just a necessary hard grind to get to my bag at the station and put on some warmer clothing.
Down the Mountain the low clouds were dropping a bit of rain on the cane lands and a rainbow played in the showers. Higher up the sun shone brightly on the pasture lands and groves of Eucalyptus, and on that long upward twistysection before the forest and park gate the winds blew strong and chilly against us--an occasionally misty shower falling from fast moving clouds making the turn into the lee of the mountain, churning angrily and then quickly dissipating in the warm dry updrafts from the lower pastures. I ran with some people I know and even exchanged a few brief conversations, but the pace was taking its toll on me and I don't remember faces let alone names. All that section comes back to me as is a cold hard forced march.
When I made the ranger station, I put on all the warm clothing I had. I figured it was overkill but I was cold and I thought it would be better to run too warm than too cold. Pulling on a pair of nylon pants and a fleece pull-over I was not surprised to see my old buddy Gordon come in. I didn't ask him how he was doing. He was there that was enough to know. I just grabbed my bottle, thanked everyone for their help and moved on as fast as I could.
My decision to wear my nylon pants was not the best. I have carried those pants on every cold run I have ever made. They have been to the Haleakala more times than most tourists. But I have never felt the need to wear them. Running out of the aid station and around the first turn we met the winds head on. The pants billowed out like sails and I my mind filled with images of old fully rigged sailing ships. I wanted to rename myself the Endeavour, or the Prince Le Bo, or some other sailing ship that had churned through Hawaiian waters. But I was warming up and that seemed to help my speed a bit. I kept the stuff on for a few miles as I did the 100 walk, 100 jog, 100 walk cycles almost without thought.
A bit higher is actually seemed to warm up as we moved above the cloud layer. We had moved back into the mountain's lee and all the extra clothing seemed unnecessary. I stopped at one aid station and shed the fleece pullover and the pants and one of the crew there was kind enough to offer to drop it off at the top. I marched on, feeling the altitude from time to time. Drinking what seemed like a great deal of water 15-20 ounces per mile,sucking on my bottle of gue, and eating as much as I could force down. Move, move, move. Ever slower but move. It was hard to gauge my speed as the mile markers were gone. In past years I could at least remember times from one mile to the next. This year I had to rely on the aid stations signs, and do impossible mental math to come up with a pace. Looking at my watch I was beginning to realize that my sub eight hour goal was just about toast. I need to kick ass and I just didn't have the energy to even care that I had to kick ass.
Somewhere below 8000 I came up on an a lady about my age who looked under a bit of stress. It was Carol Laplant who was out to set a record in the 60 an over female age rank. The fact that she was this far out ahead of me was impressive. When I asked her if she ok Carol told me the altitude was getting to her and she felt lightheaded. She asked me for electrolytes. I gave her one and told her to start drinking more water as it was a lot dryer up top then it appeared. I left her in the care of the runner who behind me. Ten minutes later she came running by me evidently rejuvenated and forcing me to dig down deep just to keep her within a hundred yards. No good deed goes unpunished I mused to myself. I chased Carol into the next aid station where I left her as she watered and carboed.
Once again the switchbacks within the park were a mindless grind and I don't remember much other than the increasing fatigue, pain and the slow motion of my limbs as I struggled to make pace. I was running with Tom Sagawa. We leap-froged each other a number of times. His long aid station stops, or occasional lapses in concentration, allowed me to pass, and my increasingly frequent lapses in concentration permitted him to once again gain the lead.
With about three miles left in the race I hear steps behind me. I didn't need to turn to know who it was. Gordon the Relentless was again hot on my hells. I turned back around and pushed harder hoping that I could once again put him behind me. It worked for a while but this time I couldn't shake him. The second time he came up on me I was ready to let him pass. But instead Gordon just said "Lets go Mike, take us in. Run 100, walk 100. Lets go." Having Gordon behind me is always incentive to try harder. I dug deep and picked up the pace as best I could. My hip was twanging occasionally, my lungs were wheezing, I was getting lightheaded, but I had Gordon on my heels and was not about to let his largess go unpunished. I pushed.
So the last two miles it was Sagawa , me and Gordon. I gave it all I had. Gordon would fall behind a bit as I summoned the strength to push, and then as the next wave of fatigue washed over me he would be right back behind me, relentless and constant. Up a head Sagawa was having similar problems. I'd gain on him, and he'd look back, see Me and Gordon and summon strength from deep down and burst ahead of us again. If I had run a smarter race I would have been able to take him at this point. But my games on Pulehuiki had robbed me of finisher's sprint. I could summon neither the energy nor the will to chase him down.
We made the first parking lot, with two tenths of a mile to go, the wind blowing hard and forcing me upright. I grabbed a quick drink at the final aid station and pushed on with Sagawa just twenty yards ahead and Gordon right there with me. I strode hard up that final hill, chasing Sagawa and fleeing Gordon. We made the turn, moving into that final nasty windy cold steep and I looked back and there was Gordon not five yards from me. "Don't worry about me Mike. You got it. Its yours." Said Gordon. I strode on. Sagawa looked back from his lead position a few yards ahead. I just nodded at him silently echoing Gordon's words. I was spent, and just wanted to finish. And that's how we crossed the line. me at 8:13 something. Race over. Not long after our finish Les came across the line and then Carol. Good finishes all for the over-fifty crowd--over 60 for Carol and Les!
....So I didn't break eight hours which was my goal. My 'easy' goal, I might add. But 8:13 was a personal record and I finished 4th in the 50-59 age class, Sagawa taking third and Gordon fifth. I'm proud of that, as that age group has proven to be a tough bunch. The best thing I did over the race was focus on my pain and keep it manageable, and if I would have gone out slower and walked Pulehuiki I think I would have eliminated the pain and been in kick-ass shape to move up the mountain and take a sub eight. That will have to wait until next year when I am a bit younger and stronger!
It was a good fun time. Wonderful aid and support and thanks to all who were there to provide it. A great romp up the Big Bad Beautiful Haleakala! ....mnmuench