Revisiting Past DNFs: HURT 100
By Amy Sproston
Looking around at the clean shoes and eager faces at the start line of the HURT 100 is a little discouraging, knowing despite how chipper we all seemed at 5:55 a.m. that, very likely, fewer than half of us would cross the line to kiss the sign, and those of us who did would no longer have beach-ready feet. HURT is hard to finish, but that’s what the RDs want per the sign that you kiss upon finishing and what’s imprinted on the finishers’ buckle, “’Aole makou e ho’ohikiwale kela,” Hawaiian for, “We wouldn’t want it to be easy.”
The HURT sign at the finish. Photo: me.
This year the finishing percentage almost reached 50% (60 finishers out of 121 starters), the highest finishing rate ever (average is closer to 40%). During the first and second loop we joked on course about it being “HURT Light” although that joking stopped by the third lap. Even in a dry year, which this was, the tedious technical repetitiveness of HURT makes it a mental challenge to keep heading out loop after loop. Compare HURT’s finishing rate to other races considered to be the toughest 100s, like Hardrock (with very different qualifying standards, so hard to compare), which often boasts a finishing rate over 70%. Besides the trail itself, a number of factors contribute to why HURT’s finishing rate is so low:
1. The weather in Hawaii in January (heat and humidity vs. snow and cold back home). 80 degrees with 80% humidity feels really warm if coming from real winter.
2. A January 100 is tough to prepare for—lots of your running buddies are taking a down season. Throw in the holidays and travel, and there are a lot of distractions, along with the shortest, coldest days of the year to train.
3. The lure of the beach, and the simple fact that loop courses close to an urban area and the beach are relatively easy to drop from—drop and you could be ocean-side with drink in hand in 20 minutes vs. drop at the wrong spot at Bighorn and receive an offer to hike out with the aid station crew and horses the following day.
4. The loop. Every time you leave an aid station you have to head up one of three climbs, which after the second or third loop, you have memorized and might dread. And each aid station can be driven to so it’s likely your crew is there with a car. It’s a really easy race to drop from, although the aid station volunteers will try to persuade you otherwise.
Honolulu. The course is somewhere in those mountains in the background, dangerously close to the beach or your hotel. Photo: me.
I DNF’ed HURT in 2011 after 60 miles. Looking back it’s easy to second guess my decision, but at the time, it was what I thought I needed to do. The year prior I’d torn half-way through my posterior tibial tendon, and it became increasingly painful on loop 3; continuing on it seemed to not be in the long-term best interest of my ankle or 2011 season. Linda and I headed to Maui after HURT and the rest of that Hawaii trip was not as much fun as it could have been, as I dwelt upon my DNF; DNF’s really can suck the fun out of destination races. I went back to Hawaii later that year for my cousin’s wedding, and one rainy November morning ran the course from Paradise Park (AS 1) to Nu’uana (AS 2) and back. I swore after that muddy, slippery run that I would never run HURT again. Why needlessly suffer? Each year though, in January, as friends entered and succeeded at HURT, I had a little twinge of feeling like I was missing out. So, this past summer when I was home sick in bed (and still dealing with a torn hamstring tendon attachment after Comrades), I saw Denise post somewhere on social media about throwing her name in for HURT, and within minutes did the same. FOMO at its finest.
The HURT trails on a rainy day in 2011. We lucked out this year. I think this is also part of the section leading into Paradise Park that has now been graveled over. I've had nightmares about this section. Photo: me
Training and the Build-up
I often complain that my training isn’t ideal, but the lead-up to HURT was especially not ideal. The World 100K broke me. I’d face-planted in the Seattle airport en route to Doha and my knee ballooned up such that it looked like I had an alien coming out of my kneecap. The alien child disappeared before the race start, but my knee was left bruised and swollen. Hard to believe, but running 100K on the hardest surface imaginable with a ton of fluid on your knee is likely going to cause some lingering problems. Immediately following the race in Doha I couldn’t bend my knee without some painful medial clicking.
My knee about an hour before go-time in Doha after a lot of ice and ace-bandaging. Something's still not quite right in there.
The clicking led to an MRI to make sure it wasn’t a meniscus tear (it’s not), and various other visits to a variety of specialists (PT, acupuncture, body work, sorcery) to figure out the issue. The World 100K was on Nov 21, and trying to deal with an issue didn’t allow much time to get in decent 100-mile training mileage, and my mileage leading into Worlds was never very high as I was still building from my hamstring injury this summer. I hit 70 miles just once in training for Worlds; my mileage was closer to 50 most weeks.
The knee clicking never really went away (turns out it’s not really knee, but likely some tendon attachments, hamstring or adductor of some sort), but the pain eventually did, so after a 3-week “recovery” from Worlds was able to get in a good 3-week training block ending on Jan 3 in time for a 2-week taper. My longest run was 25 miles, and I had 3 runs over 20 miles. I finally bought a plane ticket a couple weeks out when it seemed like I could extend and lift my left leg enough to clear rocks and roots. My HURT build-up post-worlds looked something like this:
Nov 21: World 100K, left knee was wonky and painfully clicking immediately following.
Week ending 7 weeks out: 0 miles, save an MRI, PT and body work sessions.
Week ending 6 weeks out: more PT visits, and the equivalent of maybe 15 miles on elliptical/treadmill hiking.
Week ending 5 weeks out: 30 miles uphill hiking on treadmill (15% grade @ ~14:30 pace—I hike with a purpose when on the treadmill and they are medium-hard effort workouts; a couple of botched runs, culminating in a fall on the good kneecap on trails Sunday because I couldn’t lift my left knee high enough to clear obstacles) for about 45 miles total. The run on Sunday left me curled in a sobbing heap in the middle of the trail, but my friend Darla offered the sage advice as I lay there sobbing on the frozen trail, “You know, things can turn around quickly.” It was on this run that I decided to pull the plug on HURT, and later Darla’s words convinced me to hold out a little longer. Things did seem to suddenly turn around, and I picked up the mileage the next 3 weeks.
Week ending 4 weeks out: 67 miles, long run at Smith Rock on trail with ups and downs; slightly more hopeful, some hill work and more uphill hiking.
Running in scenic IL over the holidays. I actually think farmland is pretty, it's just not great HURT training.
Week ending 3 weeks out: 75 miles, much of this home over the holidays, which means flat runs on country roads in rural Illinois. I also included in this mileage the “workout” I did on Sunday en route home from Illinois, where I had a few hour lay-over in Atlanta and tried to walk every step of the Atlanta airport. Atlanta is a big airport and I didn’t quite make it (because I back-tracked to grab Chipotle). I ended up with blisters (I switched into running shoes mid-walk) and some back chafing from the over-weight carry-on I was lugging around. Oh, the things we do…
Week ending 2 weeks out: 82 miles, most of which were on uneven snow, which really worked all those little connectors. I ended up with very few miles on technical trails, but the snow was a good substitute for tiring out those little things that get tired on HURT trails. I kept doing some uphill treadmill hiking with one or two sessions each week of 60-90 minutes at 15% under 15:00 pace. One 26 miler on uneven packed snow on Jan 1, and 22 miles of long hill repeats on Jan 3.
The weather wasn't HURT-like, but a week of running on uneven snow was great for working all those little stabilizing muscles.
Last 2 weeks: 2 week taper with a 13 mile run the Saturday before at the MadAss, a speed session, and a hill session.
Sauna training throughout. I had also sauna trained for Worlds, so was in good “sauna” shape. I’m a firm believer in spending quality time in the sauna before a hot race. I like to spend about 50 minutes (I escape every 15-20 minutes to shower off and refill water) in a ~180 degree sauna 5-6 days/week. This is a major time suck.
Prior to the race, I looked up my 2011 splits as a frame of reference. They were 4:24, 4:54, 6:05. My thought was to go out a bit slower this year, knowing that getting through laps 4 and 5 would be the hardest. My goals had little to do with place this year. Yes, I’m always hoping to be competitive, and deep down I wanted to win and run a decent time, but I also wanted my “competitors” to succeed. At HURT is there is a general sense of camaraderie in terms of trying to keep everyone advancing forward to kiss the sign, and you really sense it at the pre-race meeting, and aid stations throughout. All ultras have that at some level, but it does feel stronger at HURT to me. The RDs and volunteers genuinely care if you succeed and will go out of their way help you make it happen. My only real goal this year was to kiss that damn sign, and check HURT off the list of past failures. The women’s field was stacked, but I wasn’t concerned about how it would all shake out. After DNF’ing at HURT before, finishing was primary; “racing” was secondary, and in a field of friends, I really just wanted us all to reach our goals.
Me and Little D enjoying some Hawaii sun in our matching Julbo shades on a shake-out run on the Pillbox trail. Photo: John Odle.
I got to Hawaii on Monday and enjoyed a few days on the North Shore. I was working, so didn’t have much time to explore, but it was a nice way to get used to the weather, have a change in working environment, and to have that up-late-packing/early-morning-flight experience several days out from the race. As much as I travel, I still suck at packing. Wednesday, I moved from the North Shore down to Kailua for a fun day with Denise and crew before picking up my crew of Jason and Mikio on Thursday and Friday and a move to Kaneohe. I’ve stayed in Waikiki before, and, in general, avoiding Waikiki was the key to seeing a side of Oahu I really liked. It was fun to see a lot of friends at the pre-race meeting; the women’s field was a strong one, but more importantly filled with friends and the out-and-back nature of the course ensured the opportunity to cheer on friends in passing throughout.
My friend, Yukari, who I met at Hasetsune Cup in Japan. She wound up 5th, and another Japanese runner 3rd.
Onto the Race:
The first loop felt easy; the climbs weren’t nearly as steep as my memory of them, and I didn’t feel like I was working too hard. On the first climb, I quickly found myself in the lead, kind of what I had told myself not to do, but I felt in control. About half-way down the first descent a female voice greeted me from behind, and assumed it was Kerrie, but then asked (hard to turn around on these trails without a face-plant) and wasn’t surprised to hear it was Nicola, instead. After a couple minutes, she passed, and floated down the technical trail like I was standing still, with Jamil Coury. This continued for the first 2 laps, where I would pass Nicola and Jamil climbing out of the aid stations, and they would scamper past going down. In my head I’m a decent downhill runner, and not so strong on uphills, but Nicola schooled me on the downs, and I felt strong going up. I think my inability to descend technical downhills quickly probably saved my quads from earlier destruction.
Coming into Nu'uana with Jamil Coury right behind me during the first loop. Jamil got ahead of me in loop 2 or 3, but then we passed him taking a nap on the trail somewhere during the night. Photo: Mikio.
I came through lap 1 in 4:04, which was a lot faster than I had planned and caused a little alarm, although I felt good. I was still eating and drinking well, so kept moving well through lap 2, and hooked up with Sam for the second half of this lap. Nicola was still close, although catching me closer to the bottoms of the climbs. Sam was really the only person, besides my pacer, that I spent any significant amount of time with so it was nice to have someone to talk to for the last half of lap 2. He did remark that he was a ways ahead of his goal pace, as was I, and would likely suffer later (sorry, Sam). My only fall came in lap 2 coming into the Nu’uana aid station, and although I face planted, I didn’t hit anything very hard. My biggest fear, after the fall before Worlds and on the other knee in December, was falling on my knee caps. I still have what feel like Mike and Ikes floating around in there and I didn’t think my bursae could handle it.
The classic HURT root shot. What I refer to as the "root tangle up top". This photo I took in 2011, but it hasn't changed; maybe a few more roots. When dry, this section is not horrible. When wet, the roots are slick as snot and not so much fun. You pass through this section what feels like 50 times.
There is a lot more to HURT than those classic HURT shots of the root tangles up top, but because of the course design, every section you love or hate, you pass 5-10 times. The first time I ran HURT I think I expected it to be 100% covered in roots, so it seemed less technical than I’d feared. This time, it seemed less steep, but more technical than my memory of it. And the steps. There were more than a few occasions when I thanked my parents for giving me tall genes, because there are parts of the course where being 5’2″ would be a disadvantage as there are metal-edged steps, which would be waist-high if you were less tall.
Finishing loop 2 with Mikio ready to help out. My crew was on top of it all day. Photo: Jason.
Loop 3 was fairly uneventful. Nicola and I started out Loop 3 close together, but I had 15 minutes or so on her by Paradise Park, and then coming out of Nu’uana AS I didn’t see another female until I’d been out of the aid station for 45+ minutes, and it wasn’t Nicola. I was bummed to later hear she’d dropped, and also bummed to stop seeing some other friends on this loop. That’s one of the discouraging parts of HURT–when you stop seeing your friends in passing, and knowing what that means. At some point, I decided I needed a pick-me-up and I turned on my music to try to motivate the pace until I’d have someone to sing to me (Jason had promised to sing me Taylor Swift songs), and I made it in under 5 hours, so was slowing, but the wheels were still attached.
The wheels came off in the 4th and 5th loops. Picking up Jason was a boost, but as it turns out, I don’t know enough Taylor Swift songs to even recognize them, and I made the mistake at Paradise Park AS on the 4th lap to down a ton of liquid calories at once (a combo of miso soup, sprite, and coconut water). I’d been feeling slightly nauseous for several miles, and the past hour of calories (which weren’t much) all came back up on the way out of the aid station. After that point I might have consumed 300 calories in the last 33 miles/11 hours. 30 calories an hour isn’t going to get you very far especially when you’re in an already-depleted state. I went in feeling a couple pounds heavy, so perhaps I burned off that extra winter fat during those hours. During loop 5 I got super sleepy and told Jason I needed to listen to music to motivate. I was so tired, that I didn’t even notice my shuffle was on repeat and played one MGMT song for over an hour. Jason did, though.
Loop 5 is all about the "last time." Like, in this case, "the 10th and last time I have to cross this darn river." Photo: Mikio.
And the last time I have to go downhill, even mildly. Here, a few minutes from the finish, and descending very delicately. Photo: Mikio.
The last 2 loops were a calorie-deficient slog, and I felt bad for Jason, but at long last, and well after daylight, we made it up the final climb, and one final painful descent into the Nature Center. My quads were trashed by the last loop, but held up surprisingly well for the lack of long runs and downhill pounding in training. I was decently uphill trained after so much treadmill hiking, but not necessarily the other way around. I could tell my heels were getting trashed, too, but viewing the damage mid-race does little good. Jason tried to motivate me with time goals, but I was cringing with every step, and not that motivate-able. I finished in 26:22, which is a time I’m happy with, and ranks 5th on the all-time list. I do kick myself a bit after-the-fact for having the last 2 laps turn into such a slow slog. I went into the last loop with a 3+ hour lead and I was moving slowly enough that I was worried Alicia would catch me. Luckily the race ended at 100 miles, because she gained a ton of ground on me in the last lap and finished 2nd in 28:10. I’m a little horrified by my splits (4:04, 4:27, 5:00, 6:05, 6:46). Oddly, I more or less stayed in 8th place overall throughout those last 2 laps: Alicia and Eric Purpus were flying on loop 5, but overall, most of the rest of us were crawling. Sometimes it’s just about getting done, regardless of whether it’s pretty. But now I want sub-25!
Finally, kissing that sign. Photo: Jason.
Top 3 M and F finishers with our ukuleles. Best awards ever. Photo: Bob McAllaster.
Things that worked for me:
Jason keeps the FB and twitter followers up-to-date on the Oregon contingent. Photo by Mikio.
1. My crew was awesome. I can tend to look a bit serious/focused during races (I’m smiling inside, really), and I may have forgotten to acknowledge their outfits during the race (I expected nothing less, especially because Jason had been looking for a grass skirt since landing, and had Jason not been in a grass skirt, I would have been surprised). Mikio and Jason were the best crew one could ask for (not to insult past crews, of course…), and I hope to return the favor someday. A huge thanks to Mikio and Jason for their super support. They were also a hit on the interwebs and twittersphere with their photos and live reporting.
Can you believe I failed to comment on their attire until after the race? Bad runner! Photo from Jason.
2. A&D Ointment—the preventative diaper rash ointment (not the curative stuff—the preventative—A&D makes both). THIS STUFF IS AMAZING. And cheap. And available everywhere. I had zero chafing between my legs, which has never happened in a 100. A hundred mile issue solved. TRY IT!
3. The Montrail Bajada II—(or soon to be) released. I’m lucky to wear the men’s sample size (9) so have been wearing this shoe for several months. The foam is a little cushier than previous Bajada models, and the tongue is now gusseted and has lace loops on 2 sides to keep it in place (in the original model it would often slide to the side). Previous models also had some blowout issues (I never had issues with this) and the upper has been completely revamped, and is “sleeker”. I love this shoe. Full disclosure: I did end up with bad heel blisters. But, this all happened after mile 60. I had zero issues the first 60 miles, and also never once took my shoes off the entire 100 miles. I double knotted them at the start and didn’t untie them until I crossed the finish. I stopped eating/drinking the last 40 miles because of nausea; blisters are linked to hydration issues in my experience. So, I don’t blame my heels issues on the shoes (or socks), but on the combo of trench foot that developed from being constantly wet for 100 miles (sweating heavily) and then dehydration.
The Bajada II's were great for HURT and are my current favorite shoes.
4. Injinji —see above under shoes about heel blisters; I blame this on hydration issues. So, my heels weren’t pretty, but my toes and pedicure were still beach-ready.
5. Clif Recovery drink. I used this for a bulk of my calories during much of the first 3 laps, which was not necessarily intended, but it tasted good. I think what I need to work on is getting more solid food in the first half of a 100 so that there’s something inside me. At some point it just seems that my stomach is just too empty. I don’t know if there’s anything to this but when I did start to get sick, there was almost nothing to throw up. I did focus on real foods in the first lap (was trying to get down PB&Js), but when it’s hot, I struggle. Every race I say I need to work on this, so at some point, I need to follow through as nausea starting around mile 60 is the death of me in almost every 100 I’ve run. The Clif Recovery drink was still going down OK in sips, and I should have been more diligent in getting a bottle down between aid stations.
The roots are still there all night, they just get harder to see. I got very sleepy and very trippy during this part. A bright light helped me manage to stay awake and never quite fall despite about 50 toe clips. Photo: Jason.
6. Lights: The only thing I put some time into planning out pre-HURT was my lighting plan. My plan worked out well (I borrowed lights and switched them out every aid station), with some user error thrown in. For HURT you want the brightest thing out there, and want it on high, so be prepared to switch it out every couple of hours, which means every aid station at HURT at night (unless you’re still running 4:30 laps–I wasn’t). My one failure in this regard was that I’d never even turned on one of the lights, and didn’t know how to work it. Of the lights I tried out (I had an arsenal), the Petzl NAO was the brightest. I still prefer the Petzl Tikka RXP, in general, because it’s super bright, lasts much longer, and is less weight, but on HURT trails, it pays to have a NAO, but take a few extra NAO batteries and switch them frequently. Because you spend so much time staring intently at the rooty trails all day and night, my eyes got really tired, and the brighter the light, the more awake I stayed.
7. Sauna training: HURT was hot and I was soaked by mile 2, but the heat never really bothered me, besides maybe not helping on the nutrition front. I spent a lot of quality time in the sauna (and also used an ice bandana, which helped both with cooling and possibly the trench foot issues).
8. Uphill hiking on the treadmill: Even though there are lots of long climbs around Bend, I really like uphill hiking on the treadmill. Walking at 15% grade at a quick pace–I often do 14:38 (4.1 mph) or 14:17 (4.2 mph) pace–for 4 – 6 miles is a great way to get ready to hike uphill quickly in races. When I go out on long runs, I never end up hiking much (I use a mix of running/hiking), and doing a dedicated hiking workout on the treadmill is a great way to practice hiking quickly for an extended period. I often get into an ultra, and find myself hiking and think, “Why don’t I practice this?” I hiked more for HURT than I have for any other race, in part because I couldn’t run in early December because of my clicking knee, but could still hike on the treadmill.
I said I wanted to check HURT off the list and get my finish and never go back, but I can’t say that there isn’t already a part of me that wants to end up in Hawaii next January and work on a more evenly split race. If I don’t end up racing next year, I may just learn enough on the ukulele to provide some on-course entertainment during the late night hours, hanging out somewhere up in the root tangle on top playing dueling ukuleles.
Beautiful ukulele! Or, just a way to sneak in a photo of Sam, who is also quite pretty.
As always, thanks to my amazing sponsors: Montrail, Mountain Hardwear, Injinji, Clif Bar, Julbo, and Nuun for the support!
Written by Amy Sproston