By Rayna Matsuno
Previous trips to Hawaii have consisted of indulging in only three things: quality time with my 'ohana ("family"), the beach, and food. Having recently added ultrarunning to my list of hobbies, I decided it would be lots of fun to join the Hawaii Ultrarunning Team (H.U.R.T.) on one of their Saturday training runs. I made contact with two members of its members, Don Fallis and Bob McAllister, and mentioned my interest in running with the group. Both were very welcoming and friendly, and I could feel the spirit of aloha -- until Bob indicated plans to run one loop of the H.U.R.T. 100, a 5-loop course starting at the Hawaii Nature Center in Makiki.
This is the race Matt Estes dropped out of after three loops, too spent to attempt a final leg of 2.5 miles to complete the H.U.R.T. 100k (an option runners have if they decide not to run the entire 100 miles). Yes, the very same Matt Estes who won VHTRC's Massanutten 100 this past May. I knew running just one loop would be a huge challenge, but I also wanted to know first-hand why this course is so tough.
Unfortunately, Don was out of town the weekend I visited but Bob made sure I found my way to the meeting point (thanks for letting me call you at 5:50 on a Saturday morning, Bob). As we all gathered, Bob made a funny expression -- I wasn't the only VHTRCer there. Coincidentally, Alex Papadopoulos was visiting on business. Alex and I hadn't met until that point, so it was an even bigger surprise to see a fellow club member nearly 5,000 miles from home. A few other runners joined us as we walked toward the trailhead.
Alex finished both the H.U.R.T. 100k and Massunutten 100 this year, so I immediately bombarded him with questions. His basic response: the Massunutten Trail is more runnable than the H.U.R.T. trail. Yikes! Why? What makes H.U.R.T. so impossible? Are there rocks out here too? Does the heat and humidity play a major role in the low finishing rate (about 20% according to Bob) for the H.U.R.T 100 or is the course itself an overwhelming factor? I had read that one year a guy fell nearly 30 feet off of a ridge, saved from serious injury by his gaiter, which snagged on a branch on the way down. I was thankful to have experienced runners familiar with the course by my side.
My feelings were a conglomeration of excitement, apprehension, and curiosity. None of those emotions helped me make it through that one loop, but my company did! As we headed up the first climb, I struggled to keep up with Bob, Alex, and Arthur, who had recently joined H.U.R.T. and had a developing interest in ultras. Alex entertained everyone with countless anecdotes and his non-running aspirations. He enthusiastically mentioned getting to meet Dean Karnazes when he was in Virginia for a book signing and run on the C&O Canal -- more than once. (Yes, he was excited about it.)
Bob epitomized the hospitality that is the pride of Hawaii. He made sure to stop our group on occasion so we could take in the scenery -- from Manoa Falls, to a distant Pali Lookout. (We even got a few stories with each point of interest!) And -- he had homemade chex mix waiting for us at the halfway point. It hit the spot! As we noshed on the goodies and succumbed to the mosquitoes, Bob showed me a Gu flask filled with Perpetuem powder. The powder dispensed easily, and I realized I wouldn't need those vials and funnels at my next race -- not to mention the time it would save. That alone was worth my flight out to Hawaii.
Soon we were on our way back up the mountain, through the bamboo forest and over the fractal-like roots sprawling across the trail. Oh, and there are rocks! Bob joked that I wasn't getting much running done, but everything was so breathtaking; it was OK to just hike for the day -- actually, I had no choice but to hike. As I navigated the trail, I thought to myself, How on earth would one do this safely in the dark? And if it rains? (January, when H.U.R.T. 100 is held, is the rainy season.) Then Bob mentioned wild pigs. Wild pigs. But he did mention that strawberry guavas also grew along parts of the trail. Really? Wild pigs?
Nearly six hours after we started, we completed our one loop. We all sat around for a while, and I thought: 6 hours x 5 loops = 30 hours. With a 36-hour cutoff, my pace would cut things close, if I made it at all. Given that time of year, one can expect to run 12 hours in the dark, which would certainly slow a runner down in addition to his/her fatigue. I have never been on a trail that doesn't humble me. Heck, sometimes the road humbles me -- like that time my toe caught a groove in the asphalt (I'm not really proud of this). The H.U.R.T. trail was no different. But if Bob was a representative of the H.U.R.T. club, then anyone who comes out to run their race will be welcomed like family and, despite the challenges of the trail, bask in the spirit of aloha that is the essence of Hawaii.