A Perfect 12 Hours……of Misery

(Mike Minch coughs, gags, and stumbles his way through 11 hours of insanity)

I hate Paul Hopwood.  The guy passed me so many times during Saturday’s Twelve Hour Endurance Run that I could have sworn he was hiding in the bushes and letting me stumble by so he could rocket man by me again and again. I would have responded with brute force but he was so damn fast that I never had time to react. The worst were the few times I was trucking up the Hog Back and all of a sudden he shoots on by like I am standing still. David Carlsson wasn’t much better but at least he timed most of his passes when we were going down hill.   I have problems with Gordon, Harald  and Larry as well, but I’m a bit more used to them putting me to shame. Ed Bugarian was out there and he passed me a few times, but Ed is my age and its always great to see him tearing up the trail. There were a lot of other guys who lapped me at least once. And Earnest beat Conan.  It was quite a blow.   My only real excuse, I have a lot of them if you want to email me for the list, was that I was really sick with a chest cold and only showed up because I had laid down the challenge with Earnest and could not bear a no show.    

If you didn’t make it out to the Twelve Hour Endurance Run you missed a great event.  It was a beautiful day with lots of rain in the morning producing humidity at about 110 percent. Then is got hot and more humid as the sun began to shine into Makiki valley and turn it into a sweltering miasma filled jungle.  Center Trail dressed in all her slick sticky glory for the race, with Cross over, down near the bottom of what I call Rooty Run, below the ironwood tree where you can look out toward harbor, managing to produce some great long and muddy troughs that were filled with rotten guava and pig dung.  It was so thick and deep that there was no way you could make it through without coming out of it looking like you’d rolled in it.  And there was that piggy perfume that clung to everyone who made it through. Needless to say it only got worse as we repeated the process in a cycle that, one by one, we would all swear was endless. —except of course for Harald who seems to thrive on this race and has for the last few years insisted on running until the final minute regardless of the effect on the rankings.  Harald’s family showed up and for no reason, other than he looked like a tall grinning swamp creature, his children shied away from him, as if they were wondering what this muddy nasty smelling madman had done with their father. 

But the star of the Twelve Hour is the Hog Back.  And this year she adorned herself with a great set of muddy bumps up at the top of Too Steeps and more muddy slippery track starting where you  pass into The Dark Side and all the way up past Fort Tree that marks the final section to the top.  There were times that one had to check the vegetation to determine if all the foot movement was producing any upward motion at all.  It was wonderfully frustrating and enough to break the will of all but the most insane runners—and needless to say—we always had a good dozen and a half of those slogging around that demented circle.

It is was not so much the mud of Hog Back that highlights her glory, for that was simply adornment for this particular race.   It is her fiery and demanding personality that provokes those special runner’s feelings.  You may love to run with her once, or twice, or even three times, but sooner or later, some where in the midst of that orgasmic climb, you will find yourself screaming for mercy, admitting weakness, and feeling limpness all the way down into your quads and gastrocs–and unfortunately you can not just remedy your weakness with her by dropping a few pills for the embarrassing problem of Endurance Dysfunction. 

Perhaps it is the reality of failure with the Hog Back, or at least the realization of one’s own fragility when understanding comes that she is bound to demand too much of you, that keeps so many away from the Twelve Hour.   With a record number of local entries in this year’s HURT one would have expected the local ultra talent to turn out in force for this rare opportunity to test themselves against the race Mistress.  But then the Twelve Hour commands that one surmount the Hog Back every two miles, where the HURT is so much easier, only providing the paltry heights of Nahuina, Ahuilama,  and Nu’uanu every four miles or so.  Obviously the HURT will be so much easier given these minor climbs interspersed between Hog Back accents. For whatever the reason, a lot of HURT hopefuls chose to pass on this wonderful opportunity to come face to face with the Witch of Makiki. 

What anyone who did do the Twelve Hour can tell you is that having gone up the trail a half dozen, a dozen or even a dozen and a half times, it is unlikely they will get lost even doing it dead tired in the rainy darkness of the third or forth laps of the HURT.  “Get lost,” you might ask.  “How could anyone get lost going up the Hog Back, or down Center Trail for that matter?”    As one mainland racer asked me incredulously last year, “Do you actually go the same way every time?”.   My answer was “Yes, until I find a better way.”  You can go up the hill or do the loop the hard way or you can go up the easier way.  But in order to know the easier way you need to be willing to let her cast her spells over you a dozen times or so in process.  You also need to be willing to face the toll of being completely overcome by that stark bleak feeling of total despair and physical duress that can descend as you hit Too Steep one too many times.  Understanding the price being demanded is essential as you dance for the Mistress—and dance for her you will if you intend to run the HURT.  But it’s a long way down the road and not something the really fit need to consider for at least a few months. 

From my perspective I can only say that I have met demons on that hill.  I have been bewitched and bewildered.  I never knew what a worthless piece of running trash I was until She helped me realize it,  and I found myself whimpering about ‘Just wanting to go home, take a hot shower and talk to my mommy’.   The really frightening aspect of this is that no matter how many times you consummate the climb, no matter how well you keep count of the repetitions or clock times, or how strong you think you are,  the next attempt may leave you limp and babbling incoherently along Roots and Rocks as you stare up Too Steep or into the Dark Side wondering how you will stop the pain and cast off the Witches spell and actually climb on.   Above all the Hog Back demands one’s respect; and this past week end was a perfect opportunity to pay your dues.   

My race started slowly as I was wondering if my lungs would allow me to move at any kind of pace, and my legs were still a bit stiff from the week’s inactivity.  Don and I did a loop together, we ran a bit with Elia and Bozo but were pretty much bringing up the rear, and talking about our experiences over the last six weeks. It was nice to be back on old familiar trails with good friends. 

I was feeling pretty good on the second lap and decided to test my hill climbing skills on the Hog Back.  I made it up in what is a PR for me of just about 15 minutes.  But my tendons were still a bit sticky and I had to walk the downs.  Don caught up and I were talking again by the time we reached center trail.  We started being passed by the leaders as we reached Bamboo’s, and that rocky track I call Samoan Road.  Ed Bugarian’s passage provoked us into a bit of a jog along the Yellow Brick Road  and by the time we reached the bottom of Water Pipes Earnest went shooting by.  Needless to say Conan awoke and ranted to me about staying in the game.   

On the next loop we were joined by Bob McAlester who had his two young dogs along. We all managed a reasonable climb up the Hog Back and took our time along the cross over.  Again it was great to talk with friends and enjoy the incredible beauty of Makiki valley.  Somewhere along the Center Trail I had to leave Don and Bob and attempt a reasonable run, if not for any other reason than Conan was rapping on the inside of my skull and impatient to ‘stay in the game’. 

I finished the third lap in under 50 minutes and went on to do the forth thru eighth in close to negative splits as I edged down toward 45 minutes totals.  But on the eighth I rushed a bit at the turn around and forgot to fill my camel.  I went dry on my way up the Hog Back and was under a caution flag.  But I saw Kat up ahead  of me on Center Trail and pushed to keep up with her as she floated down the trail.  It was another good Lap.  I was seeing 15 laps out there and hoping to stay together.  On the ninth I watered well and headed out.  But the hydration shortfall from the previous lap hit me hard half way up Hog Back.  My feet became heavy and my thoughts slowed and Hopwood went striding by me at a frustratingly rapid pace. I reached down to find the extra reserve that I have been fortunate enough to possess in the past weeks but it was not there.  I looked up the trail, and the rocks of Too Steeps seemed to rise like a vertical wall in front of me. I put aside any hope of maintaining my sub 20 minute Hog Backs and just made a deal with myself that I would try to keep moving.  I made twenty yards, bent over and breathed hard.  I did another twenty and started coughing and gagging.  I took a great swig of goo and another of water.  I did another twenty and had to stop again because I couldn’t seem to see straight.  I knew what was happening, but that didn’t change the fact that it was happening.  It was just that all the tricks and wiggles I have learned came to nothing.  I pushed on hoping to gather some strength.  But there was no doubt about it, I was bewitched and being punished for my overconfidence on the earlier loops.   I stumbled up the trail, making the bench in about 25 minutes.  I sat down sucked a great slug of water and  took another electrolyte. 

The Hill had punished me badly and I knew I would not recover enough to continue at the pace I had been maintaining. 15 was gone, and 14 was becoming remote.  I jogged down Staircases feeling a lethargy that hadn’t been in my legs before I’d started up the Hog Back.  Quite frankly the cold had caught up with me and I knew I was going to be paying a heavy toll for the folly of showing up and running.   I made it through the loop and collapsed on the ice chest under the tarp.  I sat there for twenty minutes talking with John and PJ before I had the strength to go on. 

It was all very very dumb of course.  But the Twelve Hour is an exercise in complete insanity and I was just overcome by the feeling. I downed a second Red Bull and decided to do another lap and see what I could do and make some decision later.   On my way up the Hog Back I realized I could keep a constant pace but could not push.  I settled for that.  I jogged the downs and paced the ups and finished in just under 60.  I figured I could do three that way and chose to continue on with the hope of completing 13.  Eleven went OK, but once again, when I was half way up the Lady, I went limp.  I had no reserves, and given my illness could count on nothing flowing into the tank.  I was caught in one of those terrible whirlpools of downward expectation and ability and knew I was finished when I got to the bottom.

I fought off a few people on the way down Center Trail—I was tired of being lapped—and raced Harald the last hundred yards to the bridge, and I was done at 12.  Thirty miles in 11 hours. 480 race miles in 44 days, which was a bit beyond my original 444 in 44.  I didn’t stick around long, went home, took a hot shower and went to bed.  I am still paying the price for my folly and have miserable cough to prove my stupidity.   But it was the final run in my plan— I just could not let it pass without a solid try. 

I want to thank everyone for their kind words on Saturday.  It is great to be back and it was wonderful to run with friends again.  Your support during my mainland running journey was greatly appreciated.   I was proud to take the HURT shirt to new venues and to represent Hawaii.  Everywhere I went I met kind and thoughtful people who helped me along my way.   But there is only one Hawaii and one Aloha.

Mike Muench