Tuesday, August 10, 2010

When You Come To A Fork In The Road And Have To Decide Which Way To Go, Go Up

We arrived home from our weekend on Moloka'i last night. What a treat to get to spend a quiet weekend away on a little island in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. I'm getting ahead of myself here, but I have to say... one of the best parts was showing Moana the stars. She has seen stars in books and pictures, but between her 7PM bedtime and the clouds that typically cover our Windward Oahu skies, she doesn't get to see real stars too often. And in my 36 years on this planet I'm not sure I've ever seen stars like what we saw on Sunday night. It was magnificent. We hung out with Moana in the yard at the plantation house we stayed in and sang Twinkle Twinkle Little Star with her while she stared into outer space with her mouth gaped wide open. I'm not sure I've ever felt so small and insignificant as I did that night. It was just amazing.

So Sunday morning we woke up dark and early and drove off to the race start. Did I mention this was an 'Island Style' race? Truly. We arrived about 30 minutes prior to when it was supposed to start (before the race director got there, lol) and wondered if we were in the right place because the only other people at the park were the locals who had camped there the night before. But eventually Sue (race director) arrived and the other runners did too. All three of them. One gal who also works at COH and two of the race directors kids. It was a highly competitive field. Ha!

Before we began Sue spent some time describing the course to me... up up up, water jugs every 1.5 miles where we could stop and fill out bottles if we wanted.... up up up... Her directions were best summed up when she said this, "When You Come To A Fork In The Road And Have To Decide Which Way To Go, Go Up".

She did say that after about 6 miles we would turn left and actually start going down. 3 dips, she said, over the last 2 miles... down and up and down and up and down and up and then you're done. That didn't sound too hard. Except that meant we would reach 3700ft in the first 6 miles. That sounded hard.

I should stop and give you a little background on Sue... Sue grew up in Alaska... competed in the 1992 Olympics in France as a cross country skier... cross trained by mountain running... she must be 6' tall and weighs maybe a buck-twenty. She does this kind of thing all the time (runs straight up mountains like a billy goat) but I think her perception of what is possible for the general population might be a little skewed. Lol.

Ok, back to the race. We climbed over a fence, and started jogging up the rocky dusty trail when she said go.

The four of us jogged quietly together, straight up right from the get go. You couldn't go 'fast' because it was straight uphill. Jesse said it well when she said 'put it in low gear' and go... The others started walking after maybe 15ish minutes... I set an early goal for myself to run the whole thing... no matter how slowly... but you know what? That was a ridiculous goal. I had no clue what I was getting myself into.

You can see me here though... Look carefully! This was early on when I was still determined to 'run'.

After 20+ minutes of up up up, then more up, I was still trying to 'run' but technically I don't think it was actually running because there were times when both my feet were on the ground at the same time and I think that's technically called walking. Then it pitched even steeper and there was just no way to run anymore. So I walked. My heart rate was still solidly in zone 75 even while walking so I rationalized with myself that I was still getting in a good workout.

Thank to Jess who brought a camera with her and took some great photos of the trail... the view from 2300 feet (at mile 3, 50ish minutes in) was stunning.

We entered another ecosystem after that where we were in a forest dodging pinecones... totally quiet up there... I saw a group of 8 spotted venison leaping across the trail. Wow are they beautiful when they run!
I had settled into a jog/walk routine and just kept steadily making my way up the mountain. Saw a couple of the forks in the road that Sue talked about and of course chose the route that kept going up each time.

Finally, I got to the mile 6ish turn where the trail actually flattened out a bit and started heading down. My watch said 1:32 so you can do the math and figure out my pace. Oh how nice to be able to run again! 2 more miles, with some downhill... I figured I'd be done by 1:50, maybe even before! Sweet. But then I saw the trail. Since we were in the clouds by this point, it was misty raining (and kinda cold!) and the trail was clay. Know what happens to clay when it gets wet? Here are a couple of thoughts that went through my mind...

I bet the good folks at Saucony were not envisioning conditions like this when they created these FastTwitch 4's...

I wonder if I should just sit down and slide?

These downhills actually turned out to be the slowest part of my day! It was crazy. I slowly slowly picked my way down... taking teeny tiny little steps and slipping all the time anyway. Then I got to the bottom of the first gulch and was greeted by a huge mud puddle that spanned the width of the trail... These mud puddles were pretty much everywhere in those last few miles. I gingerly stepped through a couple of them... once I found myself grabbing onto tree branches for support as I tried to walk to the side around the deepest puddle. It was hysterical. Well, looking back now it is hysterical. At the time I was pretending to be Moana... what would Moana say? Mud puddle. All done. Slippery wet clay trail. All done. Wishful thinking on my part.

Anyway, eventually I did get to the top. 1:54. Later, when Sue was giving us medals as awards, she told me that I now held the course record, which just completely cracked me up. I'm sure it would be possible to do that course MUCH quicker than I did it on Sunday, especially if it wasn't so wet in the last few miles, but shoot, I'll take the course record and enjoy it while it lasts. Lol. ;) Jesse was actually making up good ground on me as I was picking my way through the mud puddles (next time I shouldn't be such a princess about them I guess) and finished just seconds behind me!

The best part of climbing a mountain is the incredible view from the top, right? We were greeted with this... Isn't it amazing? Welcome to the cloud forest.

We waited for a while at the top for Sue's kids to finish and eventually it did clear up a bit and we got a glimpse of the ocean. This really was quite stunning.

Moana had a blast playing in the field and waiting for us to finish (doesn't she look like she's having fun?) She and Scott got a bumpy ride (up a different trail road) to the top with the race director and her husband.

On our way down (another highlight of the trip!) we stopped in a field and picked thimble berries!
There were tons of big beautiful red berries. Moana LOVED them. I bet she ate 40 of them... picked 'em right off the bushes herself (careful to avoid the thorns!). That's the great thing about hanging with the locals- they know all the secrets of the land.
Sue's husband, Phillip, took Scott mountain biking on Sunday evening and then they had us over for dinner where they grilled ahi that Phillip's friend had caught... Moloka'i Style. Love it! All in all a super fun weekend. Sue says its going to be an annual event, so if you're a billy goat, you might want to pencil this one in your calendar for 2011. See if you can go break my course record. Lol.


Beth said...

That sounds wild Michelle!! And the pictures are absolutely amazing!! Congrats!

The Chapples said...

Wow, what a great race!!!

Anonymous said...

your life is so fun to read about! i don't comment enough, but i love your blog! nice job on the run, love the pics!

cat. said...

what a blast!! your cloud view is the very same one i saw when i went up haleakala. awesome!

jeff is just the billy goat to do that race in the future!

naisqu said...

That view is amazing! Kurt would be in seventh heaven doing that race. I'll cheer, and gladly hitch a ride to the top :).

Megan said...

It's so amazing to me that you guys have THIMBLEBERRIES in hawaii, and I have them here in Michigan's Upper Peninsula. These are sooo not the same kinds of places, but I guess the best places in the world have these kinds of berries, yeah? :)

cherelli said...

tell you what, that trail looks totally cool - especially the mud puddles bit. If I should ever be that way when it's on, I'm totally in (uh, don't worry about your course record, it's TOTALLY safe from me.)

Katie A. said...

What an amazing race! I LOVE trail races, I think that will be my new goal for 2011 - more trail races!
Congrats on the course record, too!!! You earned it!

Regina said...

Wow, wow, wow! What fun and gorgeous pics!

Aimee (I Tri To Be Me) said...

Wow..the pictures are so beautiful! It sounds like a fun, but challenging race! Woohoo for getting the course record! :)