The Big Bad Beautiful Haleakala

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

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