Although I race frequently, this is my first written race report. Like every race I run, I lost to lots of people. These are races afterall, so here are my results:
HURT 100 — 30:24; lost to 16 people, 124 starters; 53 finishers (43%)
Loop 1 — 5:08, 45th
Loop 2 — 5:26, 32nd
Loop 3 — 6:29, 23rd
Loop 4 — 7:20, 21st
Loop 5 — 6:01, 17th
Rocky Raccoon 100 — 19:33; lost to 32 people; 486 starters; 279 finishers (57%)
Loop 1 — 3:30
Loop 2 — 3:42
Loop 3 — 3:59
Loop 4 — 4:17
Loop 5 — 4:04
Those who know me know that my approach to races is to always say, “Yes.” I’m guaranteed to lose, so I don’t care about being undertrained or overtrained or whatever. I prefer to just commit. The worst that can happen is that you meet some cool people, DNF, and have a self-pity party — a healthy reminder to yourself that you aren’t so special. As 2013 wound down, I had eight 100 milers under my belt, yet never once contemplated dropping during a race. I did DNF at mile 25 of a marathon, but that’s another story. Generally, I think a lot of people DNF for non-legit reasons or because they make silly mistakes that cost them their race. I was looking for a new challenge. All I knew about the HURT 100 was that it is supposed to be one of these “hard 100 milers”. The Rocky Raccoon 100 was a short two weeks after HURT. What’s the worst that could happen? Haikus, that’s what.
Hiking, not running.
No rain. No mud. Psh, easy.
Oof! Ze legs, zey HURT.
I got accepted into HURT my second year entering the lottery. Their selection process is a complete mystery, but my speculation is that there are spots secured for the repeat offenders — similar to the good old boys of Hardrock — and that perhaps my recent success at a small race with little competition in Massachusetts contributed to my being selected. Who knows. After I got in, I did a little research about the race. The race is loopy and repetitive, composed of five 20 mile loops with many out-and-back spurs in the mountains that overlook the Honolulu skyline and the Pacific ocean. It’s hot, humid, ‘technical’ (roots, rocks), has an elevation profile resembling an electrocardiogram, has a 34% finish rate on average, and rain would make HURT an altogether different kind of race. Race conditions this year were fantastic, which just means that it didn’t rain.
The HURT 100 start was quite different from what one finds at one of the “good first 100 milers,” which have a substantial rookie demographic. HURT runners aren’t the giddy, naïve college freshman bragging to their peers about their hopes, dreams, and credentials. They don’t talk about double majoring in business and economics along with simultaneously being pre-med and pre-law. No, HURT runners are grounded and humble. HURT runners want to shoot the breeze with you starting on that first of 15 stupid ~1500 foot climbs. HURT runners are some of the most social folks I’ve met at races and are what makes the ultra community awesome.
If I had to describe my HURT crew in one hyphenated word, they were the bomb-diggity. Along with my Boulder Banditos buddy, Marcel Casado, my crew consisted of my new friends and local ultrarunners Connie Durant and her daughter, Alex Durant. Connie and Alex opened their home in Waikiki to me and they are both amazing people that you just want to be around all of the time. After Loop 1, I knew I could count on my crew for the whole race and more than one onlooker joked that I was getting special treatment over all the other runners. In addition to a stellar crew, the aid stations at HURT are second to none that I’ve ever seen. I hear that the Hardrock aid stations might be on par, but I’ll believe it when I see it.
Some people really knock loop courses. What I like about loops is that you know exactly what you’re in for after the first go-around. My plan was to take it super easy on Loop 1 and to be attentive to (1) My feet — changing socks and reapplying BodyGlide at least every 20 miles, even though this takes some time. (2) My nutrition — drinking constantly, a salt pill every 30 minutes (I sweat a lot) and eating at least as often. (3) Avoiding chaffing — full wardrobe change, lube up the nipples and groin with no shame. This boring kind of stuff is 100 milers 101 and I long ago learned the hard way that it’s always best to take a few minutes at an aid station to address these issues before they become disasters.
Once the race kicked off, I immediately realized that HURT would be a hiking event rather than a running event. I “ran” the first 60 miles or so because, well, you have to. I was super consistent and spent this time trying to come up with witty things to say to the aid station volunteers:
“I can’t believe I forgot to put on deodorant this morning.”
“The RD did a great job with the sound system out there. It almost feels like the real jungle!”
“I could have watched 10 movies by now.”
“I can still win this thing, right?”
“If The Beatles song Hello, Goodbye was in Hawaiian, it would be Aloha, Aloha.”
Passing time is never an issue for me in 100 milers. I turn my brain off, but maintain tunnel vision for keeping on top of the essentials.
I picked up my rockstar pacer, Alex Durant, at mile 57-ish right before it got dark. Alex is super bubbly and I definitely perked up, her personality keeping me going all night. My main plan for the night was to not take a digger, so we moved carefully but swiftly and the middle miles just flew by. This was pure fun with a new friend. At mile 75-ish, I did something terrible in the woods and felt like a new man. Rolling into the completion of my penultimate loop, daylight began to break and I still had some serious legs left in me. I picked up Marcel, my pacer who came out all the way from Colorado to support me, and we turned it on for the final loop. It felt great to know that this would be the last time I’d see those trails. At some point, I caught my buddy and RMR compatriot, Mike Oliva, and we pounded out a downhill section together. This last loop felt like a victory lap and seeing my crew captain, Connie Durant, with a big smile and big hugs — even I wouldn’t want to touch the sweaty nastiness that was me at this point in the race — was so awesome.
Before long, I was finished with the thing. I felt great and was not terribly physically or mentally fatigued. I wondered how I came out of the HURT wreckage more-or-less unscathed. Reflecting a bit, I think my 100 miler experience really helped me here. This wasn’t an easy race, but it was a very easy race to screw up. I took the time to address little problems and made a point of being consistent. I think that from here on I might begin taking more chances to run a fast race rather than a comfortable race.
The Morning After
I woke up the morning after finishing the HURT 100 to a text from my friend, Wendy Drake. Instead of the typical messages of congratulations I sometimes get after 100 milers, this message was about our friend, Marcy Servita, who was apparently very sick. Wendy insisted that she and Marcy needed to Skype with me right away. I hopped on Skype and Marcy asked me all about the race. After I finished reliving the last day or two, Marcy dropped the bomb that she had stage IV pancreatic cancer that metastasized to a good chunk of her liver. None of this meant much to me right away. I wasn’t entirely sure where in the gut-region the pancreas is even located. After the Skype session, I Wikipedia-ed “pancreatic cancer” and stopped reading after the first few sentences.
Marcy Servita had what I consider to be the most impressive 100 mile finish that I’ve witnessed so far. I’m not saying this to be nice because she’s sick now. I was there — it was absurd. Marcy ran the Headlands 100 in Marin County, California just last September during the same weekend as the Colorado flooding. I crewed her for the first 50 miles and paced her for the second 50. She dropped me around mile 90 on a long uphill climb and I had to give it everything I had to catch her. Marcy had been in a leap frogging friendly competition with another woman all race long and passed her for good at mile 99. Turns out Marcy threw down that performance while having stage IV pancreatic cancer. Whatever your excuse is for not pulling the trigger on a 100 miler, it’s completely unacceptable.
Marcy showed me the Colorado trail for the first time. She introduced me to the Indian Peaks Wilderness, which was so awesome that I repeated our run — without the getting lost part in the very beginning — the following weekend. I first stepped foot on the Maroon Bells Four-Pass loop with Marcy. Marcy has been my partner in crime in many races, one of which was the inaugural and exaugural circus that was the Slickrock 50 miler in Moab, Utah. Far and away, this was the worst race I’ve ever done, which made it that much more epic to share and joke about endlessly with Marcy. Just a few weeks ago Marcy and I were sharing stupid running adventures together and now she has stupid pancreatic cancer. Fuck that. I want my friend back right now.
Rocky Raccoon 100
Things don’t feel the same
Old gang together again
Marcy legs last loop
The Rocky Raccoon 100 (RR100) was my 100 miler debut two years earlier and was about to be my tenth 100, only two weeks after HURT. My aunt, Karen Spencer, was there to crew me, this being the fourth time she crewed me at a 100 miler. Nobody knows my system like Karen does and she always makes it clear that quitting will not be an option. Joining the fun were my cousins, Erica and Nicole Spencer. My parents, Jackie and Doug Salvesen, made a surprise appearance the morning of the race, coming all the way from Massachusetts. Luckily, I was informed of their arrival the night before — they didn’t want to show up at the start line and make me think that I was already hallucinating at mile 0 of 100. The majority of my crew from my first 100 miler had now returned for my tenth. The old gang was back together! The neat thing about 100 milers is that, while they can be done solo in theory, it’s so much easier and more enjoyable if you have a solid crew. Besides, these races are a great excuse to visit people you otherwise would not see very often.
Unlike HURT, the RR100 is a “good first 100 miler” and attracts a lot of virgins, which I think is awesome. Everything about the RR100 is objectively easier than HURT. It’s hot and humid but less-so, the trails are smooth, the elevation profile is more like a deeply concerning electrocardiogram that prompts immediate defibrillation, and the finishing rate is 67% on average, which is twice that of HURT. RR100 is a five-loop course with frequent aid stations — I ran the whole thing with a single hand-held bottle — and is a fantastic course for crews to easily access their runner often.
We left the hotel in Huntsville — the city that leads the nation in executions — nearly an hour before the start and drove the 15 minutes to the Huntsville State Park, passing a statue of Sam Houston the size of the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man. We arrived at the start line three minutes before the gun went off. Obviously, this is not advisable, but we were stuck waiting in a long line of cars as the park rangers collected a fee from every single person who entered the park. We knew this was going to happen, but did not anticipate it was going to take over 30 minutes. It was somewhat thrilling to squirm my way into the starting mob with just enough time to tie my shoes.
When the race kicked off, I quickly found my Colorado running buddy, Jeff Friedman, with whom I’d run with on and off for the first 40 miles. We were both struck by these huge egos all around us, mostly first-timers in fantasy land about meeting some unrealistic goal. Jeff and I speculated a lot about this. Perhaps RR100 being the official USATF 100 miler drew a more competitive crowd. It turned out that I would eventually lap many of these big talkers as they were reduced to a frustrating walk by mile 60. Usually, I support optimism and refrain from criticizing, but this was so clearly a bunch of hot air and on a much larger scale than I’m used to hearing in the first few hours of a 100 miler. Who did these people think they were? Coming into Loop 1, I vented to my crew about these silly people going out way too fast. My dad gave me the one-word warning, “Karma”. He’s right. We should all play nice. I’ve made mistakes and paid for them dearly with much of the race still left to go. Sometimes the hard way is the only way to really learn.
After Loop 1 (mile 20), my legs felt like they had been chewed up, swallowed, regurgitated, spit out, and fed to a baby bird. I clearly had a good deal of residual HURT. But! Everything else felt great, so all in all things were going quite well. My plan was nothing new. Take the time to address little issues, the most pertinent for me being: (1) Feet — changing socks and coating the feet in BodyGlide at least every 20 miles, and (2) Chaffing — lather up the crotch, bum crack, and inner thighs with BodyGlide just as often. And of course, remain super focused on hydration and nutrition, and just plod along consistently.
Loops 2 and 3 went by without much hoopla. Regrettably, I had that awful song, Milkshake, stuck in my head for most of this stretch. I only know the chorus, so this was some serious torture. My quads and hamstrings still had that familiar feeling of being detached from my femurs, but nothing was getting worse than it was at mile 20. No problem, this just meant that I had to suck it up a little earlier than usual. I was glad for the clouds, which meant my inevitable sunburn would be far less severe than normal. I was also convinced that I would not be lapped twice by the winners, which I realize is a small triumph, but a victory in my book nonetheless.
At mile 60 and the start of Loop 4, I picked up my cousin, Nicole, for a quick 3 mile stretch. I picked up Erica around mile 63 and she assured me that the last time she ran was the last time she paced me at one of these races. I led the way with Erica right behind me. Despite having done a terrible thing in the woods earlier in the race, I was rather gassy — my apologies, Erica. I did a lot of simple math out loud, which Erica kindly put up with, and thought I might actually have a chance at a sub-20 hour finish. I decided to just maintain what I was doing and see if this was still a possibility come the final loop. We said our goodbyes at mile 72-ish and I was pacer-less from there on out.
Night was setting in and I was craving some hot soup. The problem is that I’m vegetarian — I was born that way. To my disappointment, I found the aid stations by this time to be disorganized and without hot food options for vegetarians. I’ve done all of Joe Prusaitis’s ultras and he consistently puts on quality events. Therefore, I consider this a minor hiccough to an otherwise well-executed race. That said, the RR100 this year had a very different feel from two years ago. It just wasn’t how I remembered it. I suspect this is because the RR100 was my first 100 miler and there is some nostalgia there that is tough to match.
Coming into the aid station at mile 77, a switch flipped. I suddenly got super competitive with both myself and other racers. If I could maintain what I was doing, I could really finish this thing in under 20 hours, which had been my super secret A-goal all along. Frankly, I was a bit of a jerk to my crew at this one point because I felt so unjustifiably rushed to make this arbitrary goal. In the moment, nothing felt as urgent as getting in and out as quickly as possible. Upon leaving the aid station, I realized what a silly prick I had been and apologized profusely when I saw my crew again at mile 80. Now we were all on the same page and I embarked on Loop 5, feeling more energetic than I had felt the entire race.
I thought a lot about Marcy on this last loop and imagined running hard with her as my ghost pacer. I thought about Marcy and I reliving that awesome experience we shared in the last miles of her epic 100 miler, where everything that was funny when you’re 10 years old becomes funny again. Then I thought, “My milkshake brings all the boys to the yard.” It was a weird internal struggle. My crew was rooting for me so hard on this last loop, which made it feel so easy. And then it was over.
We went back to the hotel right after I finished. I took a shower, which revealed to me exactly where I had chaffed, and I slept for seven hours. We woke up to freezing cold rain outside and went back to Huntsville State Park to pick up an age group award I unknowingly won and witness the very emotional finishes of those who worked the hardest.
Merely comparing my HURT 100 and RR100 finish times shows how much diversity there is in 100 mile events. I do think that most anyone could run a 100 miler without training much differently than they would for a 50 miler, but they’re afraid to pull the trigger for whatever reason. Perhaps people are afraid they’ll be slow or they feel intimidated. You know what? Take the Marcy approach and go for it. Down a few beers at at the Southern Sun during Stout Month, go home, and just register for a 100 miler. Try to set yourself up for failure and stack the odds not in your favor. Chances are, you’ll surprise yourself. People who take that approach to life are the ones I tend to want to befriend.
Now that the HURT 100 + RR100 are done and I’ve had some time to reflect, none of it feels all that impressive or special. It turns out there is a whole community of frequent 100 mile racers. These folks are under the radar. They aren’t fast, they don’t have sponsors, they never win, and they don’t blog. These unsung heros of ultrarunning just get it done one after the other and contribute hugely to the sport by bringing their gusto from race to race. I’d like to see this community of frequent 100 mile runners grow big time.
I love the community aspect of ultrarunning — ultra for me is what I imagine church is probably like for religious folks. In what other sport does one compete directly with the elites? Even though the top runners will utterly destroy you in a 100 miler, it remains an environment where everyone is rooting for everyone, which is unusual and very special. My 2014 racing plans are to run a 100 miler each month. Given enough time off of work and the necessary funds, I would love to take on a project to see how many 100 milers I could run in a calendar year. But, running isn’t everything, so this will have to wait for now.