Let me tell you about this ridiculous 16-mile race I ran in Maui last week.
And when I say ridiculous, I’m talking no bathrooms, no cheering spectators, no water stations, and no water. Totally unsupported. No water?! Now that’s just mean.
Jax and I wake up at 4:30am on Thanksgiving morning, I scurry into my race gear and down a quick breakfast of peanut butter and toast, and we are out the door within 30 minutes. We drive the hour trek it takes to get to the race site, and then we spend the next 45 minutes circling two-lane roads crisscrossing the mountain in search of this mysterious locale. As 7:00am nears, it is becoming less and less likely that I will be running a Turkey Trot this year; I have pretty much accepted that I’m not going to arrive on time, and then, just in the nick of time, we stumble across Rice Park.
As we are standing at the starting line, which is really more of a starting area than a line per say, the race director describes the course as such: You’ll take a sharp right out of here onto Kula Highway. After roughly 8 miles, you’ll see five trees and turn right onto Haleakala Highway, where you will proceed to run 7 miles straight up a mountain. One hill. No relief. Just up. At the crest, you will enjoy a 2-mile downhill stretch, and you will want nothing more than for this race to be over. Follow Haleakala until it intersects with Kula, then loop around back to the park. Oh, and the course isn’t marked, so I hope you remembered that. Ready, set, GO. And just like that, before I have a chance to get out of my jacket, we’re off.
And I am terrified. Nobody said anything about a 7 mile uphill climb when I signed up for this thing! Perhaps I should have considered the terrain before committing to a race that includes a volcano in its topography.
My first 8 miles are excellent. Jax comes by and relieves me of my jacket, and I am running strong. I use the rolling hills to my advantage, lengthening my stride on the downhills and using the momentum to plow up the other side. I enjoy the beauty around me, and I thrive off the encouraging honks and yells from the passing cars. I smile and wave my way down the highway and thank God for the opportunity, the health, and the ability to be running a race in Hawaii. As directed, I turn at the five trees, and what looms before me nearly knocks me off my feet.
They weren’t kidding about that hill. I don’t stand a chance. I push my body forward but soon have to stop and walk. I am thirsty. As if on cue, my knight in shining armor drives up in his bright red jeep with water bottles in tow. I drink deeply, and I am beyond thankful. I didn’t realize this at the time, but Jax actually bought water for all the runners, and in between stopping to offer support to me, he drove around the mountain hydrating anyone in need. He was the MVP of the day, and there is absolutely no way we could have finished that race without him.
So, I’m intermittently running/walking up this hill, and it is brutal. It is so steep, I sometimes feel that I’m running in place. I run until my legs and lungs burn, then I walk for some relief. Even the walking is difficult. I can’t see anybody ahead of me or behind me as we spread out under the weight of this challenge. It is just me and this mountain, my heavy breathing, and the spectacular view. I climb 1,500 feet in elevation over these 7 miles, and it is a test of my emotional and physical endurance in a way I don’t think I have previously encountered, not even during the marathon. Jax drives by frequently to check on me, quench my thirst, encourage me, walk with me for stretches, and assure me I’m still on the right path and that I don’t have too much further to go.
Somehow, miraculously, I reach the top of this monster and notice the road begins curving in the other direction, and I fly down the remaining two miles. My feet hurt with every pound to the asphalt, but I can’t stop. If I do, I don’t think I’ll have the strength to resume; I’ll probably just lay on the side of the road and wait for somebody to come find me. So I run and run and run with all my might, and I’m greeted at the finish line with a bouquet of flowers from my honey. I’m done and it’s over, and I can hardly fathom what just happened.
We peel the top of our jeep and drive off into the afternoon sun with a perfect rainbow marking our path, and it is the most picturesque thing you’ve ever seen.
Here’s the funniest part of it all: the winner of the race was determined not by who crossed the finish line first, but by who guessed their time most accurately. Prior to the run, we were each asked to predict how long our run would take. I was planning on saying 2.5 hours, because that’s typically about how long it takes me to run 16 miles. The guy in front of me, however, guessed his time to be 3 hours, and that caused me to reconsider my initial plan. It would be silly of me to think that I can run the race faster than this athletic-looking fellow, so I offer 3 hours for my time as well.
Turns out I ran the race in 2:59:58, two seconds off of my prediction, which makes me the winner of the whole thing. How hysterical is that?!? So yeah, you’re looking at the reining champion of the Valley Isle Road Runners’ Turkey Trot.