Rumble in the Jungle; the 2014 HURT 100!

They say brevity is the soul of wit. This race report isn’t brief nor is it very witty. It is much like the HURT 100 itself. There is no single moment which stands out above others. It is just a pure and endless grind.

 

The HURT 100 tests every component of your running and mental ability. Runners have 36 hours to finish the race. The race is run on a 20 mile course which is repeated 5 times. Each triangular loop has 5,000ft of climbing and 5000ft of descent for a total of 25,000ft of up and down in 100 miles. There are 3 aid stations for each loop. You are out on your own for at least 2-3 hours between aid stations so supplying for those stretches properly is crucial.

 

My game plan was to be very conservative with my footing. I wasn’t going take chances to gain a little time by risking race ending falls. Any time there were treacherous descents, cliffs, jumbo roots, large rocks (all of which had an oil slick type slipperiness) I would slow down to a walk or if needed get on my butt and slide down. Having your hands free is crucial in this race. I would lower myself off of steep rocks, down slick ascents and pull on trees, rocks and even get on all fours on the steep climbs to get me up the hills.

Hurt 100 terror

At 6am 128 of us lined up at the start line ready to take off into the jungle on a 3 mile 1500ft ascent. It is pitch black. The sun was coming up but in the jungle that doesn’t matter. We wouldn’t see any light under the thick green jungle canopy on the trails until about 7:30am so two headlamps were essential. The look in everyone’s eyes was different than at the start line of others 100s I have done. There wasn’t the same type of excitement; it was more stoic. I think it was the brutal realization that almost none of us would be done in even 24hrs and that we would all be still running our hearts out at the same time tomorrow morning; some of us until 6pm the following evening. The race historically has a 28% finisher rate which is one of the lowest of any ultra distance event. The look in people’s eyes reflected the reality of what was to follow.

 

We took off up the steep incline in the darkness and things felt great. I decided to wear a Gregory backpack with a 32oz Nalgene bottle filled with water to keep things simple. I wanted to keep my hands free and have the space to keep other essentials stuffed in the pack. I was definitely not being light or efficient but I felt comfort was more important than efficiency in this race. There could be points where almost 4hrs could go by until reaching the next aid station and I wanted to be prepared for anything that might happen. The leg to the first aid station called Manoa is 7.3 miles.  Much of it was in the dark and I remember just getting used to the steep and slick terrain and not getting caught up in the fast pace set by the leaders.

 

Nutrition has always been a battle in ultras for me so I decided to go in with a simple plan and eat original old school chocolate Powerbars. My friends said they were surprised Powerbar even made them anymore! I bought a box of 24 for the race and packed 4 for this first loop. Nutrition “plans” in ultras are just that. They are simply plans and are never carried out to fruition. But it is always good to go in with a plan at least in my opinion. My pre-race meal consisted of some oatmeal and and a gooey, sugary apple fritter. I love those things. I also bought a box of 12 chocolate filled croissants which I thought would be good to grab every 20 miles and carry with me back up the trail.

 

The next leg consisted of 5.5 miles and got you to the Nu’uanu Aid Station. All of the aid stations were located at the very bottom of steep mountain descents which meant every time you left an aid station you would double back the same route and climb up a steep mountain. Because of this my strategy was to take in a ton of calories at every aid station; enough calories to almost feel uncomfortable. I knew that I would be power hiking most the climbs coming out of the aid stations which would be a great opportunity to eat and digest food. It is always much harder to eat, digest and maneuver on the downhills. The descent into Nu’uana was one of the steepest on the course. There were points where it was hard to stop your downhill momentum and you had to be very careful not to fall off cliffs which were located on both sides of the trail at some points. On this loop I heard behind me a runner actually fall off a trail down the cliff. It was scary as I heard him yell and heard the sound of him rolling down the cliff which was approximately 60 degrees. Luckily the jungle was thick and his momentum was stopped by some bushes. I had made the mistake of turning my head to see what was going on while my feet were still moving and next thing I knew I was falling down the cliff as well! I caught myself 10ft down though by grabbing onto a thick bamboo tree and with the help of two runners was able to pull myself back up. I noted this incident and reminded myself that focus and caution would be my strategy for the day.

 

The HURT 100 is the type of race where one mistake can cost you everything. Most races don’t have acute game changing atrocities around every corner. HURT has many. Runners break ankles, feet, fall & hit their heads, etc. Any one of these slips could instantly end my race and for many it did. Even Gary Robbins who won this year and set the course record last year has had to drop out in prior years because of a broken ankle. I don’t consider myself an expert trail runner at all and for the entire race I remained a bit cautious and nervous. I didn’t want the HURT 100 to be my first ever race DNF.

Hurt Trail

The next leg after the Nu’uana Aid Station is 7.2 miles and contains the steepest climb of the race. I think it’s about 1300ft in 2 miles and includes some slippery, rocky & rooty terrain. I was lucky enough to catch up on this climb to Heather Anderson & Kevin Douglas; a couple from Washington State. I didn’t even say a word to them but something subconsciously told me this was a good time to settle in and not to pass. I think my intuition told me these two knew what they were doing and best to stick with them. It turned out to definitely be the right decision! I found out in a couple hours after speaking with them that Heather set the self-supported 2650 mile Pacific Crest Trail male & female record last summer completing the trek in 60 days; averaging 44 miles a day. Anyone who knows anything about endurance realizes how beyond phenomenal this record is!  After speaking with more runners throughout the day I realized that the HURT 100 brings out some of the toughest and most diverse endurance athletes in the world. Many of their accomplishments are on another level and go beyond running. I came to the realization I was in a different league at the HURT 100. I am simply a fast runner that has a certain degree of toughness which gets me through but my resume was not in the category of many of the people I met at HURT 100. Heather had never run the HURT 100 before but Kevin was a two time sub 30hr finisher. A runner from Hawaii Mark Speck came up behind us and also joined the train. We all ran a nice steady pace back to Makiki at mile 20.

 

I completed the first 20 miles in 4:45 which is considered a bit fast but I was comfortable with the time. A friend I had recently met in Colorado; Greg Salvesen was about 20 minutes behind me at this point. Connie Durant of Hawaii was crewing for Greg and luckily Connie recognized me and helped me immensely through the first aid station. Out of all things, I was concerned about getting Band-Aids on my nipples and having them stay there! She helped unwrap these ultra stick Band-Aids which would save me from chafing and bleeding throughout the entire day! There is so much to do at Makiki because it’s the main aid station and it was the only place where I had a bag with my specific supplies. Connie helped me sort through everything. I threw 5 chocolate powerbars in my pack, downed a quick chocolate croissant and was on my way! For the entire day I would fill my 32oz Nalgene bottle at every aid station with water and it would be dry by the next aid station. The HURT 100 would be a test for me in that I wanted to see if I could get by with absolutely no sports drink and simply water in a hot and humid race. I also wanted to see if I could do the race without salt pills as both sports drink and salt pills have given me severe nutritional problems/imbalances in past races.

 

I got on the same train again with Heather, Kevin and Mark and we all ran together to mile 27.3 at Manoa. It was about 12:45pm at this point and I was feeling very good. I filled up my Nalgene quickly with water and was off. I ended up going ahead on my own at this point climbing the ascent pretty fast. I did take note that it was getting extremely hot; much hotter even than I envisioned. The humidity was high and even worse there was no wind so we had no cooling effect at all. I descended in Nu’uanu at mile 32.8 still feeling great and made quick turnaround out of the Aid Station back up the mountain. I made a major bonehead move after reaching the top of the mountain. You go through a gate which takes you through to the most runnable section of the course which is about 3 miles of comfortable running. In this race 3 miles of running where you can actually breathe is a gift. I had been running along and for some reason I got spooked; thinking that I had run off course because I hadn’t seen any orange flags for a while. I ended up running back and forth for at least 20 minutes hoping I would run into someone when finally running backwards I ran into Mark Speck who confirmed with me I was on the correct trail and had never been lost. I also fell on my face during this “being lost” portion which miraculously turned out to be my only fall during the entire race! My legs were feeling great and this detour definitely killed some mental momentum I had going. I was pissed and let it get the best of me for a while. I started stupidly running faster than I should have for the next couple miles to “make up time”. I eventually settled down and rolled in to Makiki at mile 40 at 4:10pm for a total of about 10 hours of running so far.

 

Greg’s crew person Connie Durant once again helped me at Makiki. This was a crucial stop because most of the next 20 miles would be run in complete darkness. The jungle darkness is blacker than any other dark you can imagine. It is pitch black and without adequate lighting its game over! Part of the HURT 100 challenge is battling the night which can last from 5pm to 7am the following morning; at total of 14 hours. Basically half of the race is run in pure darkness. This meant I had to carry a handheld light in addition to a headlamp on my head. I also carried 4 extra AAA batteries in case something went wrong. Connie helped to ensure I had all of the essentials. I ran into some nutrition problems at this point. I had gone through about 10 chocolate powerbars and anything sweet looked gross to me. Not gross enough to avoid scarfing down another chocolate croissant which I did before heading out on my third loop. The croissants had a good balance of fat, carbs and some protein and I think all are necessary in these events to keep nutrition in balance but I won’t argue with people that there is probably a healthier option than croissants but I don’t care because I love them!  I ran pretty much alone for the next 7.3 miles. You are allowed to have pacers after 6pm and Hannah Roberts who was a 2 time women’s HURT 100 champion; most recently in 2013 agreed to pace me for 13 miles starting at Manoa at 47.3. Hannah had a ton of energy and I was hitting a nutritional and mental low point as the darkness set in so it made me a little nervous. It was a little intimidating too as Hannah had won HURT twice. Hannah powered up the mountain out of Manoa and I remember slipping and tripping a bit. The speed was definitely outside of my comfort zone but I went with it. I twisted my right knee pretty bad at one point getting it caught inside a rock but told myself to shut up and stop being such a wimp. Nutrition was difficult at this point. The powerbars looked like vomit and I was chomping lightly on saltines for nourishment. We reached the peak and then began the steep descent into Nu’uanu at mile 52.8. We had a long stretch coming up. Hannah was trying to get me to eat but I wasn’t having it. Nutritionally things weren’t going well and no food looked appetizing. The good news was my hydration was stellar. I was peeing normal every hour or two which was a great sign, so at least the water was working! Now if I only could get some calories in my system! It was about 8pm when we started the climb out of Nu’uanu. I was hoping night would bring cooler temps and maybe a breeze. NOPE! The temperatures stayed in the high 70s low 80s. There was no breeze and the humidity was stifling! I am not one who sweats much but I remember being soaked the entire race which meant my backpack was soaked the entire time making it weigh much heavier than it really was. Looking back I would consider not wearing a backpack during this race and try two handheld bottles and a waist pack instead. But having my hands free saved me from going down a cliff and also prevented some other major falls so maybe the backpack in hindsight was a great idea? The only downside was having the backpack felt like I was wearing a wet sweater for the entire race!

 

Hannah got me through the climb and we reached the runnable point where I talked myself into “getting lost” hours earlier. Last year’s HURT 100 winner and course record holder Garry Robbins passed us at this point which meant he was 20 miles ahead of me! Very humbling. I said to Hannah, how cool would it be to run with Gary Robbins? So I stepped it up a bit and got to run at least 3 miles with both of last year’s HURT 100 champions! It was a pretty awesome experience. We were all just flowing. Chatting but absolutely flying, it felt so natural. I had to really focus though in order to keep up with Gary which meant I didn’t go into my pack for any food or water for at least 3 miles. I also had a nasty ankle twist on this stretch. Hannah was behind me and said she saw my left knee bend right and my ankle roll left. I snapped it back but it hurt pretty badly for a while. I was hoping the adrenaline would minimize the damage and tried to forget about it. Gary eventually got away from me on the steep technical downhill and then I crashed mentally. Not eating or drinking and running irresponsibly fast had taken its toll. But I told Hannah that even if I suffer the rest of the race for it, the experience of cruising at a sweet clip in the middle of the night with her and Gary was worth it!

 

I stumbled into Makiki at mile 60 at 10pm beat up and ready to lie down. My good friend Michael Arnstein was there ready to “help” me out. Arnstein had completed the HURT 100 last year and we have run a ton of races and long runs together over the years. We have gotten much joy of watching each other suffer during crazy endurance events and the HURT 100 was his chance to see me crater. So instead of taking solace on me and letting me lay down, he laughed and said I don’t think so buddy; time to get back out there! He stressed the need to eat and had gotten me a massive burrito from my favorite burrito joint in Kailua! (It was a vegetarian burrito as Arnstein despises meat but beggars can’t be choosey). They got me out of there pretty quickly and I planned to eat the burrito on the climb.

 

Hannah actually had coincidentally previously agreed to pace Heather and Kevin who were only a few minutes behind me so for the 4th and some say “death loop of darkness” I would go it all alone.

 

I was happy to chomp down a good portion of the 2lb burrito on the way up the hill which I knew wouldn’t have immediate benefits but after digested would give me energy which would last throughout the race. Towards the top of the hill I started to really struggle. I was getting loopy and starting to lose my mind a bit. Definitely the beginning stages of hypoglycemia although I wasn’t able to recognize it at the time. Mark Speck caught up to me with his pacer. I tried to hold on to their pace but remember not even being able to speak; never mind hold a conversation because I was quickly losing control of my mental capacity.

2014 Hurt 100 Roots-Photo Credit Rob Lahoe

[Photo Credit: Rob Lahoe]

At the top of every climb all the trails converged at a point called Pauoa Flats which was full of massive roots. At this point a woman named Cindy who they call Go Go sat in a chair all day and night and gave out little things like cliff shot blocks and peanut butter crackers etc.! I can’t describe in words how much Cindy helped me get throughout the race. After some of the climbs I would drop next to her on some roots and just lay there. Cindy would give me a little zip lock bag with some treats and send me on my way! I always felt a little better after seeing Cindy.

 

On the descent Mark went ahead and pretty soon Hannah, Kevin and Heather passed me. Hannah looked at me concerned and told me to get my shit together and just get to the next aid station to recoup! I staggered into Manoa at 67.3 an absolute mess. I couldn’t figure it out. I had taken in a ton of calories and hydration was good. Arnstein was there with experienced ultra runner Catra Corbett. She immediately recognized my hypoglycemic state and stressed the need for quick intense sugars. I got in a fetal position on a cot and was really hurting. Arnstein was loving it and made sure to laugh and take video. Catra pulled out a container of glucose tablets. I ate 10 of them like it was candy and also sucked down about 16oz of Coca-Cola. In about 5 minutes I got up but was still staggering. I was in much better shape than 10 minutes previous when I rolled into the aid station though. At 1am I started the lonely climb out of Manoa into the hot, humid, dark abyss. My pace up the hill was atrociously slow but I was moving and that’s what mattered! I kept moving, nibbling on saltines, sipping on a plastic bottle of coke Catra had found and this got me to the Nu’uanu Aid Station at mile 72.8. Arnstein and Catra weren’t at this aid station so I was all alone to figure out what to do. I took in as much Coke as possible, ate some cookies & M & M’s for quick sugar and went back up the mountain. I took a zip lock of M & M’s and cookies in my pack as well. I remember my stomach killing me going up the hill from all the cookies and M & M’s but I remembered at that point I was basically choosing my poison. I could either be loopy and nearly pass out from hypoglycemia or have a pissed off stomach and be alert. I chose to have a pissed off stomach and be alert. My mantra for the race was safety first and I was going to do whatever it took, throw whatever was necessary into my stomach to keep aware and focused. Even if that meant ridiculous amounts of caffeine from the Coke and the assortment of stomach destroying sugars from cookies and M & M’s!

 

On my way up the mountain I saw my friend Brandon Stepanowich from Colorado going the past me in the opposite direction. He was almost 20 miles ahead of me and absolutely killing the race! He would eventually finish in 5th place and it was his first HURT 100 race! Really impressive day for Brandon and that pumped me up a bit.

Hurt Backpack

This loop for me was still brutal. I was all alone. It was pitch black. After about 70 miles the mountains felt twice as steep, the rocks and roots twice as slippery, the descents dangerously treacherous. I reached deep for motivation knowing that if I could get to mile 80 that meant only one more loop and more importantly the sun, which meant light!! I never wanted light so bad!! It was slow going but I rolled into Makiki at mile 80 at 6am, exactly 24 hours after I had started the race! It was still pitch black outside. I had been running in the dark for 12 straight hours at this point.

 

Connie Durant was there and helped me sort through my backpack. She points my crew Arnstein out who was sleeping on the job and passed out on the ground. I walked over and punched him in the side! He woke up and was pumped up! He said dude, mile 80, you got this! My confidence wasn’t close to his at this point. Calories were still a problem. There was still at least 2 hours of darkness. My legs were noticeably not balancing well, very wobbly. Arnstein said it was gross but I pulled out two chocolate croissants and started licking out the chocolate insides. I was still craving intense sugars.

Mile 80 Hurt 100

Arnstein walked me back to the dark trail. He was laughing at how wobbly my legs were. It was tough even walking, yet I had an immediate 1500ft ascent and another 20 miles of madness still ahead. I remember being a little concerned on the ascent. Usually at this point in 100 milers I am hurting but very certain the finish line will come eventually. At this point I was taking nothing for granted and kept very focused on nutrition and grateful for each mile that clicked away.  I staggered the entire way up the mountain and on the descent my friend Greg Salvesen from Colorado and pacer Marcel came flying by me. Greg ran steadily 30 minutes behind me for the entire race and he was turning it on right now. He looked energized and ready to rock. I was moving okay at this point but he was simply running faster and I was unable to keep up with him. It was great to see Greg killing it in his first HURT 100. I stumbled into mile 87.3 at the Manoa aid station at 9am. It was totally light out which was uplifting and Arnstein was there ready to help and also laugh at my misery. I told him I never felt so uncertain about finishing a race even though I was so close. The good news was that the pain was purely physical/muscular at this point. I had gotten my nutrition back to balance with sugar and total calories. My hydration was solid the entire race and continued to be. I was wide awake as for some reason I have the ability to stay awake and alert for extended periods of time, where others do not. The only issue for me at this point was pure muscle fatigue and destruction. I just didn’t have the power to go uphill and the muscle stabilizers to go downhill were nonexistent. Without these stabilizing muscles I was sliding and tripping a lot more. The bottom of my feet felt like chop meat. Every step was very painful. I wore my trusted Asics road DS Training shoes for the entire race. I also wore the same wigwam hiking socks and never took my shoes or socks off even once during the entire race. Incredibly my feet looked great after the race and I only had one very minor blister on the side of my heel. I do think next time I will invest and train with a pair of trail shoes though!

 

Now it was time to tackle the steepest climb of the race out of mile 87.3 at Manoa. It took every bit of energy and pressing of my hands on my quads to get up the hill. Seeing people who would finish hours behind me still trucking along definitely inspired me and I realized everyone must be feeling what I was. And frankly muscular pain is the easiest thing to deal with during endurance events so I couldn’t complain. I had balanced my nutrition and hydration which are the two most critical factors in racing. I feel like I can accomplish anything physically if those two variables are in balance. So I trucked along feeling the midday heat escalate. Every 15 minutes of the climb I would drop on the trail and just lie for 2 minutes from pure exhaustion then get back up and keep going. The two minute breaks were definitely energizing. I ascended and then started the steep descent into Nu’uanu. I remember not being able to stabilize myself on the descent and just destroying what was left of my legs down the hill. I came into mile 92.8 still not 100% confident I would finish the race.

 

Arnstein was there ready to help and I owe him big time. Arnstein is a hard core Fruitarian and despises meat products. The aid station volunteers were frying up some goodness and he had to watch me stuff down huge amounts of greasy sausage and bacon plus cookies and M & M’s and who knows what else I shoved into my mouth. All I knew was that my stomach was back and everything tasted good again so I was going to go with the first thing my instincts told me. Arnstein said he never saw anyone mix so much different garbage together, throw it in their stomach and not explode with vomit.  I took a solid 10-15 minutes at Nu’uana knowing it would be the last stop before the finish line and the next 7.2 miles would be a long lonely stretch. I felt great nutritionally and headed up the mountain. I really pushed hard up this climb. After reaching the peak which was brutally sunny and hot I went into safe mode. I wanted to run as much as possible but also repeated to myself, Do not make any stupid mistakes! Do not make any stupid mistakes! It would be heartbreaking to fight for this long and to break an ankle or take a nasty race ending fall. It would take just a split second of letting your focus and guard down for this to happen so I was determined to focus on every last step.

 

I can’t stress enough how technical the trail and footing was. I was out on the trail for over 30 hours and did not get to see any of the scenery or sites along the trail. Your head had to be focused on the few feet of trail in front of you the ENTIRE time. There were no times where you could relax and look up. This race is about pure 100% focus all of the time which is why proper race nutrition is everything. Your mind has to be awake, alert and operating at 100% of its capacity at all times.

 

The crazy part is that after 30 hours I still had the leg strength to run pretty fast. On anything not technical and runnable I was still capable of running 8 minute miles. The problem was that there were so few of those opportunities. The last 5 miles were choppy but focused. I ran hard at points and hiked very carefully over slippery rocks and other risky locations. I came charging into the finish at 1:26pm, 31 hours and 26 minutes after starting out the previous morning.

 

I finished in 19th place and very happy with how things turned out. Arnstein, Hannah, Connie and many others were there waiting at the finish line. Mark Speck who I had run back and forth with for almost 90 miles finished just 5 minutes later as well. Out of 128 that started, 53 people (41%) finished the race. 41% is very good compared to previous years but finishing times were definitely a bit slower this year which can probably be attributed to hotter than normal temperatures and humidity plus the lack of any breeze.

Oliva-Mark Speck-Hurt 100 Finish Line

This was by far the hardest I ever had to work in a race and the most satisfying finish. I had never experienced foot and knee soreness like I did at this race, although I was amazed with how well I bounced back. After a few days I was able to run again pain free.

HURT 100 Buckle (500x375)

I didn’t go into much detail about the aid stations or the race volunteers but both are by far the best I have seen in the sport. The volunteers treat you like royalty when you come through and every possible food and drink imaginable is offered to you at every aid station. You could do this race with no drop bags, no problem. The entire feel of the race is how most ultras used to be. It was filled with local people who are passionate about the sport and race coming out to help make an absolutely electric event happen. I told everyone I definitely plan on coming back every year but not to race. I want to part of the amazing team of volunteers that make this race happen! If you can make it there it will truly be the most memorable event you will ever run!

 

A quick synopsis on my nutrition. I drank 95% water, maybe 5% coke and 0% sports drink for the entire race. I took a total of 4 salt pills in 31hrs. The first two were simply a test just to see how my stomach would react. The last two were taken in the final 5 miles as a precaution just in case my muscles chose to seize up. I would have had no problem doing the entire race with 0 salt pills.

 

While I am getting more comfortable with hydration I am far from figuring out the perfect blend of calories. This is still a serious work in progress. Although when sugar is dangerously low I feel confident in digging for coke, cookies and glucose tablets!

 

Besides the 13 miles with Hannah I ran almost the entire race alone, including the last 40 miles which alone took almost 15 hours. I highly recommend having a pacer for this race during the last 40 miles even if it’s just for the purpose of safety.

 

I think it’s obvious that without an amazing cast of characters I would not have even made it close to the finish line. Arnstein, even though laughing at my constant suffering provided immeasurable support. Hannah, Connie, Cindy, volunteers, and other runners were an amazing help and inspiration and without all of them the finish line may have remained elusive.

 

The HURT 100 tests every component of running including technical trail ability, climbing, descending, nutrition, heat, humidity, nighttime running etc.!  Arnstein said it best stating, “When you finish the HURT 100 you have definitely earned your PHD in 100 mile racing!” The HURT 100 is the ultimate 100 mile test but you have to really want it and you’re going to have to really earn it!!

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