you don’t need an excuse to run off to hawaii.
you just need an opportunity.
and if that opportunity includes a frenetic, euphoria-fueled 13-mile trail race while you’re there, the first bank of karma will be contacting you shortly ~ you’re way overdrawn.
the xterra gunstock trails half marathon (laie, oahu) is a tough, rambling trek through dusty, arid ranch land, steamy tropical jungle, and rutted back country livestock terrain. runners are reminded to yield to cattle and horses on the trail, and of the high probability they’ll need to high-step piles o’ poop along the way.
my friends, mike and rich, and i drove in darkness from waikiki to gunstock ranch, arriving just as light appeared over the water to the east. as shadows retreated across the hillsides, a few hundred runners milled about the parking lot and the starting area, putting on sunscreen, loosening up, shaking off whatever they did to themselves the night before.
just before race time, a scratchy rendition of the national anthem started up on the PA. all eyes turned to the lone rider in western gear, galloping in wide circles beyond the nearby fenceline, trailing an american flag. if a scene from an old-west rodeo seems non sequitur on a pacific island (and it does), somehow the moment was still poignant. the music faded, the horse reared up, and everyone cheered.
not long after, an actual starting gun went off, and runners surged onto the course. the first couple miles loop around exposed, hot, ranch-y terrain before heading into a welcome canopy of trees. early on, the hills were not terribly steep or long, but the heat and humidity significantly increased the degree of difficulty. aid stations throughout the course handed out water and gatorade by the buckets; gels were consumed by the fist-full.
by mile 5 or so the hills got more serious, narrow single track turned into rocky chutes, and high grass kept us from getting a clear look at where our feet were going. i didn’t see anyone roll an ankle or buckle a knee here, but if it didn’t happen many times over it’s because trail runners are just lucky that way. or something.
just when you started to think, “okay, this is not going to end well,” the trail spits you out onto a stretch of comparatively wide, semi-civilized asphalt. it’s here, if your legs are still sound, that you can get into a faster rhythm and make up time lost meditating on your proprioception.
soon, back into the trees, you’re slogging through mud, thanking whomever you thank at such times for the mist that’s miraculously falling and finding its way onto your face. you sail down a steep hill and into a shady tunnel of overhanging branches. underfoot is the softest bed of mulch-y stuff you’ve run on maybe ever, then you’re right back onto hardpan and pavement to the turnaround point.
back you go to the base of the steep hill you just descended, thinking, “don’t tell me i have to climb back up this #&%^* hill.” turns out, you don’t ~ instead you take a hard right turn and…at this point my memory gets a little hazy. miles 9 and 10 wind their way back into the jungle and through the steep rocky stuff. in the midst of it, at about mile 11, i rolled my ankle far enough to expect a squshy-tearing sensation that involves much pain and a long rehab. it didn’t happen. for some reason, the ankle just rolled right back, and I chugged on, grateful.
my friend rich was not quite so fortunate, in that several minutes later he faceplanted at almost the same milepost. I didn’t see it happen, but he said something about the trail going up, then straight down, with rocks on the other side. his foot caught on one of those rocks and then the bridge of his nose impacted the ground. his knee and both elbows also were macerated, meaning he didn’t absorb the full force of the fall with his face. still, there was blood and an impressive layer of head-to-toe dirt. after a brief self-diagnostic, (“nothing broken, not puking, let’s go”) he got up and kept going. his non-serious injuries won him a nice parting gift at the finish line, so there’s that.
the rest of the race was uneventful, mishap-wise. it felt good to be submerged in the effort and the dirt and the heat and the place. and while i was pretty well spent the last couple miles, i remember thinking, “i really don’t want this to end.” because it was hawaii and running with good friends and the clock is always ticking and how many opportunities in a lifetime can there be for such things?
i didn’t want it to end, but i kept running…so it ended anyway.
afterward there was swimming and outdoor showers in the warm waters of sharks cove, then abundant mexican food and beer in haleiwa, north of laie. we celebrated the race and being together for the first time in a long time. and we appreciated the opportunity, because who knows if it’ll come again.
many thanks to the xterragunstock trails race team (natalie, angel, kevin and greg) who did a great job again this year. the course was just nasty enough, the volunteers were enthusiastic, and the new tech t-shirts will be a long-lasting reminder of an extraordinary event. mahalo.
2nd (M, 50-54)