Run to the Sun

Race up Haleakalā, on Maui, a 10,000-foot climb, 1999-09-18

I had wanted to do this run for years, but it started early Saturday morning, with packet pickup on Friday afternoon. I always had afternoon classes on O`ahu on Friday afternoon. So I signed up for it the first time it was offered after I retired in the summer of 1999.

I joined with perhaps a dozen runners who chose to start an hour early, at 3:30 a.m., for that extra cushion in beating the Park-Service-imposed 2:30 p.m. finish deadline.

When I first considered applying to the race, I thought the time limit was nine hours, and figured I had about a fifty-fifty chance of success. If I could reach the Park (marathon distance, 26 miles) in six hours, that would leave me three hours for the last 10 miles. But maybe that would be cutting it too close, considering how expensive it would be, race application plus travel (as it turned out, $66 and $205, respectively).

When I reread the form and saw they allowed 10 hours, I became much more confident. Six hours for the marathon would leave me four more for the last 10 miles. Still, an extra hour would give me the option of doing the last 10 miles at two mph, in case I was really in trouble even after splurging fully six hours on a "marathon."

So it had been: up at 2:30, dress and check out of the hotel before 3:00, and off to the start line at Maui Mall. There I deposited my two bags. One contained a couple Advil tablets, a pair of garden gloves that I had picked up at Longs Drugs the day before after an acquaintance at packet pick-up warned me that one's hands could get painfully cold up there, a long-sleeved T-shirt, a tube of sunscreen, and--after I drank half of it on the spot--a half bottle of Gatorade. I had bought that before reading the materials in my packet, which informed me that all 20 aid stations would be stocked with Gatorade (as well as water, coke, vaseline, and toilet paper; stations six through 20 would also have pretzels and either oranges or bananas). This bag would be delivered to aid station #12 at the 26-mile mark.

The other bag, to be sent to the finish, contained mainly clothes, for changing to after a shower at the post-race picnic.

Bob Doleman warned me that a long-sleeve shirt at station #12 might be too little too late; the few miles before that could be cold rain. I took no chances. I threaded the sleeves of my light bicycling raincoat through the handles of the small plastic shopping bag my Gatorade and gloves had been put into on Friday, stuffed the rest of the raincoat into the bag, and put it on my back, tying the sleeves around my neck.

John Salmonson started the early dozen on our way at 3:30. Determined to take it slow, I fell in with the middle of the group, but they were a little too slow after all, and before long I was only behind Bob Doleman and a woman who was running with him, and someone who was already almost out of sight ahead of us. I was worried that he would have our police escort so far ahead that we wouldn't know which way to turn, but we were directed properly.

Once off the highway onto Pulehu Road, it was really dark. I stayed close enough behind Bob and Alice to see them, but whenever I caught up too much, I would throw in a walk break and drop back. The first aid station was set up at 2.5 miles, identified, as all 20 would be, with a big white sign giving station number and distance. Would we have seen it if Bob's wife JoAnn hadn't come by in a car with a friend to help us out there? Of course, the volunteers weren't there yet--it was an hour early.

The second aid station was at 4.5 miles. JoAnn's headlights made the whole road visible as she drove by to get there just ahead of us. Bob didn't start out again immediately, so I pushed on alone. For the next eight or nine miles, I would be in "second place overall."

Venus shone brightly just off to the left. Ahead, under Orion and Canis Major was a vague dark shape with an odd, orange-colored "star" at the top. Haleakalā. The orange light at the top was 10,000 feet higher than Maui Mall, and 36.2 zig-zag miles away. Directly overhead, the Pleiades and the Hyades, as bright as I have seen them in years, and just behind me, Jupiter. But even with all those stars and planets shining on it, I could still barely make out the white line of Pulehu Road. Was it the center line, or the shoulder marking? I was never sure, until an occasional car would come by and I could get reoriented. And when it changed to a dashed line, I would hope that if I ran straight when I came to the end of one dash, it would lead me to the next. Tom Knoll, starting at 4:30 and needing to run in the dark one hour less, lost track of the road and twisted his ankle in a ditch; he would drop out later at about 17 miles.

Now and then I glanced back at the lights of Kahului spread out behind and below.

About the time it started to get light, the road started to climb. Tom had warned me that the steepest part of the race was in this area, but it wasn't even as steep as Tantalus. But after a while, when I thought it was leveling off a bit, no, up again, and yes, I guess it was as bad as Tantalus, but certainly not like Tom had warned of. And then, after a while, Oh, my gosh!

Shortly before, John Salmonson had driven by and told me I was doing fine: I was ahead of where he had been at that time when he had done it last year, and I shouldn't let it bother me when the lead runners from the 4:30 a.m. start passed me in a few minutes.

It was on the steep part that the first three or four of the fast runners passed (I'm sure at least one of them was doing it on a team, probably as the second leg, and could afford speed). I found out that fast runners also walk a bit when faced with that steep a hill, and not that much faster than I do. Nevertheless, pass me they did.

As the hill turned steep, I had occasionally walked backwards, thinking to give my climbing muscles a rest. Apparently not a unique idea: once I turned around to do it again, and one of the guys who had almost caught up with me was walking backwards, too.

The top of that hill must have been about 14 miles into the race, and of all things, we then had to run down the highway for about a half mile to where the Crater Road begins. But that was the last of such indignities. The rest of the way was all uphill.

I had started Boy Scout Pace--50 paces running, 50 paces walking, repeat forever--as soon as the earliest definite upgrade began, and I continued it. I sort of hated to be passed so early by Akabill Molmen and Lisa Hokyo, but I dared only stick to my pace. Well, as long as I could, anyway. I think it was about 22 miles when the flickering cramps began--not far from the 6000 foot altitude marker. One moment, one or the other calf would threaten to lock up, then it would be a hamstring or quadriceps. My right calf looked like it was really going to cramp hard, so I started to put my left foot out front and my right foot behind, and force the heel down, to stretch the calf. Bang! There went the quads! How it hurt! All I could do was hold my leg stiff and hobble on. Finally it would relax and I'd be all right until I started to run again, and the "flickering" would be back, occasionally turning to a real solid stiff-leg-it-awhile cramp. To tell the truth, I didn't hold out any real hope for a finisher's T-shirt any more, once the cramps started.

But I found out that the cramps would always go away after a few minutes (minutes? it must have been fractions of minutes, 20 or 30 seconds--I'm not the type to stand pain for whole minutes at a time). And I discovered that flat-footed squatting for 20 or 30 seconds would stretch out all the crucial muscles without inducing cramps. By the time I got to the 6500-foot sign, I was pretty well back into my Boy Scout Pace, except that during the walk portions I sometimes caught myself counting long deep breaths rather than quick paces.

I was being passed less frequently now, and not being left way behind the passers. Sometimes I could look down the hill and see runners plodding their ways up the lower switchbacks. Morning clouds had developed at this altitude, and there was cool mist, but no rain. Every once in a while I felt like there was a lump between the third and fourth fingers of one or the other hand. Nothing there when I felt the place with my other hand, or looked, but my hands seemed slightly swollen, and it was hard to close them into fists. I wondered if they were secretly cold. Over the remaining miles, the back of my head--top of neck area would feel uncomfortable--putting a hand over it a while seemed to help.

Eventually I came to the park entrance, which turned out not to be aid station #12. But it wasn't much farther, at Park Headquarters. At last! Twenty-six-point-three miles and 7000 feet done and out of the way; 10 miles and 3000 feet to go. It was about 9:30; six hours to do a marathon distance, over an hour slower than ever before, but I had never done one that ended 7000 feet higher than it started, and, most importantly, I was on schedule, with five hours remaining, in spite of the cramps! Now where was my bag? Where was my bag? My gloves? My sunscreen? My Advil? It wasn't the poor volunteer's fault that my bag had gone somewhere else, but after repeated searching she apologized, and I ran on.

The volunteer must have communicated with someone about my missing bag. A mile or two (?) later a woman came down the road in a van, and asked if I (with a bib reading "90" on my shorts) was the person who hadn't found his bag (neatly labeled "90" and "aid station #12"); it had been delivered to the finish where she found it and kindly brought it back to me. She was in the road and couldn't wait while I got what I wanted out of it, so she said she'd pick it up from me on her way back up.

I put on the gloves, and indeed my hands soon returned to normal, and easily clenchable. I couldn't find my little pill tube with the Advil, so I didn't need the Gatorade. My sunscreen tube was about empty; a seam had burst on the bottom and fully protected the inside of the bag and portions of my long-sleeved T-shirt from the ravages of UV. I tried squeezing a little more out on my arms, but with little success. Too bad; I would notice later that I had done a very sloppy job of applying my first coat that morning, and I would be very red, in large patches and small, for a few days.

I might have used the sunscreen-smeared T-shirt had I suspected I was getting burned, but the weather was so nice--warm sun offset by almost chilly breeze--that I continued to run shirtless. Later on it occurred to me that my Advil might have been lost in the fold of the T-shirt (I confess, my legs were a bit achy, but nothing like the pain that has come with marathons since 1987). I found it, sure enough, and took one, washing it down with the remaining ten ounces of Gatorade. Now my bag was a bit lighter, but the woman never came back for it. I ended up carrying it about five miles, until Darla Ropp, who was supporting runner husband Ted, drove by and took pity on me and took it to the finish.

Aid stations the last ten miles were about a mile apart. Somewhere not too far along another runner came by and we chatted. I mentioned my cramps, and he pulled out a bag of "electrolyte tablets" and gave me two. I had also started forcing pretzels down at almost every aid station after my cramps first began, and I was not seriously bothered by them anywhere in the last ten miles.

Station #16 was at the 31.0 mile mark, and I proudly announced that I had just tied my longest run ever (having done 50K in 1991 in preparation for the Honolulu marathon). The next miles continued to be mostly uneventful. A sign at a switchback announced "Summit 2 miles." Nonetheless, it took me awhile to get to aid station #19, two miles from the end of the race. That "2 miles" referred perhaps to a lower parking lot than the one where the finish line was set up.

I was more-or-less keeping up the 50-jog-50-walk routine. I passed one guy who was walking (he had of course passed me somewhere in the previous 20 miles), then he ran by me when I walked. I passed him again on my next jog, and didn't see him again.

The astronomical observatories on the top had frequently been visible from first daylight, depending on how much the mountain humped and what direction one was facing. They started looking really close, but disappeared around a bend for a while in the last mile. When they reappeared, I could see that the road didn't lead directly to them, but turned left and up the hill. Then a park employee directed me onto a road blocked to regular traffic, and I was clearly on the last rise. Turn to the right over the hill, and there to the left was the finish line! I confess I felt some relief, although I wasn't really in any distress, so far as I can recall now. My time was 8:52 (it was about 12:22 p.m.; I had 2:08 to spare), good for first in the 60+ division, although they couldn't know that until the 9:52 point by which time a 4:30 a.m. starter might have done it faster.

I tried stopping to get my bag and some soup and sit down at the final aid station, but instead I had to keep walking to fend off the cramps. I detoured to the lookout points (one on either side of the parking lot) until the cramping went away, and I collected my bags and a Cup-o'-Noodles (there was nothing to eat them with--I had to drink all the broth and then try to gag down the noodles "dry" by pouring/dragging them into my mouth. I guiltily discarded half of them).

It was cold up there. I unpacked my raincoat and put it on, all zipped up and hood over my head, but I was still chilly. I grabbed the first available "shuttle" van down to the picnic, just short of an hour of my arrival at the top. Bob Doleman was about half a mile from the finish when we passed him. He would end up with second place. Tom Knoll had given up because of his twisted ankle, and I don't know if there were any others in our age group.

Story too long? So was the run.

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