Saturday, September 6, 2008

Hana Relay

If Nike's Run Hit Remix is "more fun than run" and Disneyland's Half Marathon is the "happiest race on earth", then I am totally at a loss for how to describe the wacky and highly spirited relay that takes place on the infamous 52 mile long road to Hana.

On our pre-dawn ride to Kahului, I meet my teammates, learn that our team is called "Off the Couch" and that our official baton is a TV Remote (an actual IR remote with batteries removed), but this hardly prepares me for the circus-like atmosphere surrounding the start of the race. Unlike many of the participating teams, we are not wearing crazy costumes or riding in a decorated support vehicle. Some guys apparently have no issues with their sexuality as we see everything from running nuns to Super Fairies. The women are no less enthusiastic with instantly recognizable teams like G.I. Janes and Disco Divas. And there are mixed sex teams including a rowdy band of pirates (their truck is decorated like a pirate ship...complete with mast and sails) and a team of rock stars featuring a bald guy wearing a dress that is supposed to be Sinead O'Connor. What have I gotten myself into?

Jorge, our team leader, has run this event before and is indeed a runner (he has run a half marathon in the low 1:30's). Unfortunately, he has not had time to run much this year. Since I am the one with the most training, I have volunteered for the first and thirteenth legs, both of which are recorded by the timing chip...and, since we agree to maintain our team order for the duration of the race, I will also take the seventh. I'll be handing the remote to Mike, Mike to Jorge, Jorge to Paige, Paige to Joe, Joe to Mitch, and Mitch back to me until he crosses the finish line in Hana.

Having arrived only 15 minutes before our start time (the start is staggered based on how long each captain estimates his or her team will take to complete the entire 52 mile course), I have just enough time to put on my bib, strap the official timing chip to my left ankle (which I will hand to Mitch after I complete the thirteenth leg), stretch, make one last pit stop, and pose for a team photo before I must hand my camera to Mitch, grab the baton, and line up for the start of the race. Runners are warned to stay left because the road to Hana is not closed (say what?) and are advised to use good judgment because we will encounter traffic. Some team captains are scolded for bringing two or more support vehicles...with a record 121 teams participating, parking will already be difficult around the hand off zones. For those of you who have not done this drive before, the road to Hana features many narrow sections, blind corners, and one lane bridges. This will be interesting to say the least!

Leg 1:
2.4 Miles - Start at the JUNCTION OF KEOLANI AND AALELE ST. Run East on Aalele St., left onto Old Haleakala Hwy., then straight on Haleakala Hwy. Juct. To Kala Rd. (Which is one-way: Support Vehicles must turn right on Haleakala Hwy., left on Hana Hwy., then park along Hana Hwy. for hand-off.) HAND-OFF POINT IS ON KALA RD. about 150 meters from the Hana hwy. intersection.

When the horn sounds, I sprint to the lead, but then quickly back off (letting a few guys pass me) when I realize my pace is around six minutes per mile. I want to use this flat and short segment to warm up, not burn out! That said, I am not entirely sure how I should pace such an event because, while my total run will be over nine miles, the long breaks in between might provide me with fresh legs or nasty cramps.

As the course turns towards Haleakala, I can see the sun rising through the clouds, rays streaking across the inspiring sight. The early morning temperature is pleasant, so the humidity seems manageable...for now.

I complete the first mile in 6:47.

As the road turns near runway 2 of Kahului International Airport, another runner gets by me. We are on one of those deceptively slight inclines, so I try to keep him within view without pushing too hard. When the road dips towards the first hand off zone, I start reeling him in...but I cannot catch him before handing the baton to Mike.

Though only four teams handed off ahead of us, the staggered start times make it impossible to know our place in overall race even at this early stage. My teammates seem pleased with my effort and my legs are feeling pretty good, so I am pumped when I return to the van.

Leg 7:
3.4 Miles - From TWIN FALLS (HOOLAWA) BRIDGE to EMI BASE YARD IN KAILUA . Rolling hills, then mostly level on winding road.

At this point, everyone on our team has had a turn and everyone is looking pretty good, but our van is really starting to smell. Jorge seems especially fast, but he was seriously winded after his leg. Joe had a bad reaction to the 5 hour energy gel he consumed prior to running, but he was able to keep it down until completing his leg. Though Joe had an especially hot leg under direct sun, things have cooled off since Mitch took the baton. I have been blessed with overcast skies and light winds.

Over two hours have passed since I was out there, so I actually feel quite rested...and I have time to make a pit stop and stretch before Mitch hands me the remote.

The descriptions "rolling hills" and "winding road" apply to most of the road to Hana, but Twin Falls is really where the crazy drive begins. Having trained on the Palos Verdes Peninsula, I do not fear this is not unlike running along Portuguese Bend.

Two miles in, the course starts an uphill climb and I feel my pace drop. Still, I am able to use the incline to pass a couple of people. I am feeling pretty good about not being passed until one guy in particular flies by me...and, no matter how hard I try, I cannot stay with him. His bib color is pink, meaning he is from the last group to start. After a couple of turns, he is no longer within view. I have a feeling he is going to be on the winning team.

I am still climbing as my watch indicates 3.4 miles, so I start worrying when I cannot see the next hand off zone. Fortunately, the road soon levels off, so I am able to pick up my pace and stop thinking about the discrepancy between my GPS watch and the stated length for this leg. By the time I pass the remote to Mike, I am really moving.

Leg 13:
3.3 Miles - From WAILUA BAY LOOKOUT to PUAA KAA STATE PARK. 2.1 miles uphill. A tough leg. Put the guy/gal you don't like on this leg. Bathrooms and water available.

Since my last leg, parking around hand off zones has become nearly impossible. Lots are tiny, road is narrow, shoulders are practically non-existent, turn outs are rare, bridges are barely wide enough for a car plus runner. On the plus side, the views have been spectacular and the tropical vegetation especially lush. With the ride being broken up for these hand offs, the drive to Hana actually does not seem nearly as long as I remember (ironic because we have already been out here for more than four hours and we still have a long way to go).

As I get ready for my next leg, I start looking for a restroom since the description states one would be available. Unfortunately, this stop is merely a scenic overlook with no place to go unless I am willing to risk falling off a cliff (that does not stop one girl from trying). Aggravating the situation, it starts to rain. Another runner mentions this precipitation is not nearly as bad as last year...just minutes before it gets worse. I wait nearly ten minutes in a tropical downpour, the kind with thick and heavy drops (feels like I am standing under a waterfall). The wind is chilling. My hat, clothes, and, even worse, shoes and socks get drenched. Did I mention I really have to go?

Mitch hands me the remote and I am off. This leg starts on an incline...and continues upward endlessly with very few moments of respite. Some sections are quite steep. The rain continues to pour for most of my ascent. I am barely able to enjoy the view. I can hardly concentrate on my breathing and I completely forget how long this leg is. I just keep thinking about the official descriptions "2.1 miles uphill" and "put the guy/gal you don't like on this leg". Before the course flattens, I suffer my first slower than ten minutes mile of the race.

As I reach the top, I am thrilled to see that the course actually starts to descend. With this being my last leg, I start pushing the pace hoping to improve my overall average for this leg. While the rain has stopped, the road remains wet, so I have to be careful not to slip as I lengthen my stride. That said, I no longer need to leave anything in reserve. The faster I finish, the faster I can go...and I really need to now!

When I cross the timing mat and hand off to Mike, I am more relieved than anything...relieved to see an actual restroom just a few steps away!

Back in the van, I hand my timing chip to Mitch. Paige and I actually consider joining him on the anchor leg, so we can cross the finish line together, but, as we continue our ride towards Hana, Mitch reminds me that I have a marathon to run next week. Ditching my soaked shoes and socks for flip flops feels so good. I am so done.

More details about our finish coming soon...

Official photographs

My photographs

Unofficial Personal Results:

Total distance: 9.49 (according to GPS)
Total time: 01:18:21
Average pace: 08:15/Mile

Official Results:
Overall time for team "Off the Couch": 07:14:03
Team pace: 8:21/Mile
Overall place: 60 out of 121
First leg: 17:37 (37th)
Thirteenth leg
: No data (WTF?!?)

1 comment:

Liza on Maui said...

Thank you so much for this post. I just agreed to join a team formed in my son's Taekwondo Dojang - for us to run the Hana Relay - yikes! The most I've run is 5k. Out training starts next week. I am crazy googling Hana Relay to get more info about it and find out other's experiences. This post is surely appreciated :)