Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Rob Lahoe HURT 13 Pacing Report



My pacers report.  Ken Michal’s 5th loop of HURT 100 2013.

Rob Lahoe
I want to preface this report by telling you how I met Ken.  A few years back, I’d injured my knee and couldn’t run the HURT 100, so I decided to become the captain of the Paradise Park aid station.  After a very long day, night, and another day, it was time to start breaking everything down.  We were coming to the cutoff time for that aid station and everyone was ready to clean up and go home.
We were packing up the generator when, from very far down the trail, we heard this very faint screaming and yelling.  At first we were alarmed and thought that maybe someone might be hurt, but quickly realized that these were screams of excitement and happiness.  On and on the yells and screams went.  As they grew closer, the atmosphere around the aid station began to get energized and excited.  I couldn’t believe what I was hearing.  It seemed to go on for at least 10 minutes.  Finally, this colossal man came running in, screaming and blithering and crying. I’ve never seen anyone so excited to finish the HURT 100k.  
Ken at HURT 10: 100k in 31:20:00 (10 minutes to spare!) Photo: Karen Gerasimovich
As a matter of fact, I’ve never seen a more emotional and exciting finish to any race whatsoever.  From that point on, I was a fan of ‘All Day’ Ken.  Just as a side note, I think the 100k was going to be discontinued after that year, but because of Ken’s amazing finish, the RD’s decided to keep that part of the race for a few more years. Ed note: The 100k has officially been discontinued as of HURT 2013.  100k "Fun Run" finishers will no longer receive buckles or official results. 
I wrote to Ken about 6 months before HURT 2013 and told him that I was more than willing to pace him on his 4th and 5th loops if he wanted.  Although enthusiastic about seeing me, he never really gave me a solid ‘yes’.  I also had plans to camp out at the top of Pauoa flats with Cindy Goh throughout the night.  I wanted to keep her company, bring some music and disco lights, and increase the energy a bit.  
Pauoa Flats:  A runnable, flat section of the course! Photo: Rob Lahoe

I told Ken that although I couldn’t start pacing him from that point, (HURT rules say you must pick up your pacer at an aid station) he just had to say the word and I’d pack up and meet him at the next aid station.  He came around in the dead of night and we greeted each other with fist bumps, but nothing was said about needing a pacer.  As always, Ken was smiling and cheerful, so it was hard for me to determine what kind of state he was in.  My biggest worry was that he’d get to the 100k and drop, so when he was on his way down to that aid station I asked him if I’d see him again.  He said something like “there’s no way I’m dropping” and “you’ll have to drag me off this course.”  I took that as a very good sign.
The next time I saw him was at the top of the hill after he passed 100k.  It was about 6:30 in the morning, the sun was coming up, and Cindy and I were about ready to pack up and head down.  I asked Ken as he made the turn towards Nu’uanu “what’s the verdict?  You want me to meet you at Nature Center and head out with you on the last loop?”  He said something humble like, ‘yeah, if you’re not too busy it would be nice.”
So I headed down to Nature Center, got ready, and waited.  A lot of people were talking about Ken at that point because he was starting to get pretty close to the cutoff times.  Looking at his check-in time from Nu’uanu, we predicted Ken would arrive between 10 and 10:15 (cutoff is 11) which would allow for a 7:45 last loop (very doable).  So 10 AM rolls around and I’m double checking my pack and shoes and going over last minute instructions from Ms. CK.  10:05 and everyone at the aid station is craning their necks waiting for Ken.  10:10, 10:15, and every tourist coming off the trail is closely scrutinized (“I think I see him!  Oh wait, never mind, it’s a 4 year old girl” as the entire aid station lets out a small groan)
Mrs. CK Waits Patiently at the Nature Center!  Photo: Sharon Smith
So now its 10:20, then 10:25 and we’re really starting to get worried.  Doing a 7 ½ hour final loop for someone this close to the cutoff times is doable, but I knew we’d feel time pressure.  His 2nd loop was done in around 7 hours, and his 3rd loop was done in about 8 hours.
Finally, at 10:30 Ken comes running into the aid station.  He gets everything he needs from his ‘pit crew’ and we’re off.
videoWhen we started out going up Hogsback I was trying to judge where he was physically.  I’ve done Hogsback hundreds if not thousands of times and I know that on that last loop you’re gonna have to stop at some point to catch your breath.  There’s a point about half way up we call ‘roots and rocks’ where it gets even steeper than usual.  I normally have to stop 3-4 time here to catch my breath on the last loop.  I wanted to see how Ken would handle this area.  When we got there, Ken stopped once for maybe 10 seconds to catch his breath and cough, and then took off again.  I couldn’t believe it.  He was flying up this monster of a hill.  It takes me 20 minutes to climb that hill on fresh legs.  We did it in 25:30.  At that point I was thinking to myself—“he doesn’t even need me!  This’ll be a cake walk at this pace!”  I asked Ken for his wife’s phone number and sent her a text:  “Top of Hogsback in 25:30.  Very determined & running about a 6.5 hour pace.  Ken looks really good!”
We continued on towards the next landmark.  There’s a small stretch of paved road the runners have to cross.  On a 6 hour loop it takes me 1 hour to get to this point.  My next text to Karen:  “Made it to the concrete road in 1:05.  About a 6:15-6:30 pace.”  At this point I was very confident we were going to make it with lots of time—maybe an hour or so—to spare.  I just shut up and tagged along with him because really, he was doing everything on his own.  My next text to Karen was at the pig gate:  “1:43 to make it to the pig gate.  It’s all downhill from here to Paradise!”
We rushed down and through Pauoa Flats, still on my predicted 6:30 hour loop time.  We then started on the dreaded switchbacks down to paradise, and I sent Karen another text:  “Be there in about 30 minutes.”
I’m now kind of dazed out and not really paying attention because I know we’re doing really well and there’s really no need to push Ken.  He seems happy (as usual) and very motivated.  Although Hogsback was tough and there were some other steep areas, I haven’t really noticed any signs of severe pain or fatigue beyond what I’d expect at this point; and he’s keeping his food down.  Really, the only thing that concerns me is that I haven’t seen him pee yet.  I ask him about it and he says he’s been doing well in that department, so I let it go.
Up to this point I’ve been following Ken at his request.  However, the area below the switchbacks is filled with tourists; young, old, and VERY slow.  I tell Ken I’ll take the lead once we get to Manoa Falls and block the tourists for him.  When we get to the falls I want to send another text to let Karen know we’ll be there shortly.  I look at my watch and notice it’s already been 30 minutes since my last text telling her we’d be there in 30 minutes.  We’re now about 10 minutes away, and I can’t figure out where we lost that time.  My best guess is that I was wrong about which switchback we were on when I sent the text.  We must have been much higher on the mountain than I thought.  I’m a little embarrassed about my mistake and feel bad that Karen is probably expecting us right now.  I send her a very short text: “@ Falls.”
Photo: Ken Michal
So now I’m up front dealing with the non-racing public as nicely as possible.  I’m yelling to them when they are 50 meters in front of us “Good Afternoon!  Thank You (for moving out of our way)!  This does the trick most of the time and people get the hint.  Now that I’m in front I can’t see Ken, but I hear a steady chorus of “good luck” and “way to go” from the tourists.  The thing I hear most often though is “I can’t believe you’re still smiling!”  So I take that as a sign that Ken is still doing very well.
When we’re about ¼ mile from Paradise Park I ask Ken what he needs and then sprint ahead to let everyone at the aid station know and prepare.  When he arrives, it seems 15 people are on him--changing his tires, filling his gas tank, and checking his oil.  It was an amazing sight to see.  I can’t believe the amazing job done by the volunteers there.
As I’m putting the cap back on my water pack, Cheryl Loomis comes up to me and gives me a serious look.  She says “you need to get him out of here by 1:30.”  This statement really surprises me, because we’ve just finished this leg in – wait.  I look at my watch and cycle from “timer” to “clock” and realize that it’s already 1:15 PM.  What the hell just happened?  With the speed we’ve been traveling, I thought we’d be out of there by 1 PM!
We’re in and out of the aid station in something like 32.5 seconds and everyone is clapping while I’m desperately trying to figure out what happened to all that time we just had.  We were on a 6:30 hour loop and should be increasing our cushion times between cutoffs.  We just went from a 30 minute cushion at the Nature Centre to a 15 minute cushion at Paradise.  While I was thinking we’d gained 15 minutes, we’d actually LOST 15 minutes.  Yes, I have to admit.  I was really freaking out at this point.
I told Ken to leave nothing left on our climb out of Paradise.  I told him that this was the last climb that needed his full effort.  After this, there was only the final climb—and I knew a combination of adrenaline and a sense of finishing would get him quickly over the last climb.  If he could put all his effort into this climb, the rest should take care of itself.
From this point to Nu’uanu I don’t send Karen any more texts.  To tell you the truth, I’m a little scared to do so.  I really can’t figure out what went wrong on that last leg.  
Almost to the top from Paradise!  Photo: Ken Michal
We kick ass going up Paradise, and again I’m looking at my watch and thinking “this is an amazing pace, we’re making up so much time!”  However, I’m still a bit nervous about the timing, so when we’re going through the switchbacks I started using those little ‘fibs’ I think most pacers use they’re trying to motivate their runner.  I told Ken things like “this is where the locals speed up if they want to drop/intimidate a runner who isn’t familiar with the course because there are only 3 switchbacks left, and the new-to-the-course runner doesn’t know that, so they keep a conservative pace.”  I don’t know if I was very convincing because Ken knows this course pretty well, but it did get him to speed up a little.  When that 3rd switchback came and we still had 3 more to go I acted as surprised as I could and hoped he wasn’t too mad at me.
So we get to the top, rub Biens Bench, and start to make our way down to the last aid station.  From here to the bottom, I’m expecting about a 40 minute run. With the amazing climb we just had, we should get there about 30 minutes before the cutoff.  We head down 5-minute hill (which is 5 minutes of agonizing pain—no matter if you’re going down it or up it), and I remember telling Ken that the rest of it is runnable.  I’ve been a little pushier with him this time because I’m really feeling the cutoff pressure.
We get going down the switchbacks.  At this point I start to worry about Ken a little bit.  He’s not doing well when he has to take a large step down.  The grunts and exclamations of pain are getting louder, more dramatic, and nearer to each other.  Although he’s been in pain the entire time I’ve been with him, I can tell this downhill is really hurting him.  We eventually make it to the halfway point.  I look down at my watch and notice that over 30 minutes have gone by since we passed Biens Bench.
 An “Ah Ha” moment rocks me.  
It’s at this time I realize that Ken is kicking ass climbing these hills.  He’s making up time and cruising through it.  However, it’s his downhill speed that’s slowing us down.  We should be at the bottom of this hill in 10 minutes.  But at this pace, we’ll be there in 30 minutes, getting into the aid station exactly at the 3:30 PM cutoff!
I quickly take my right foot and bury into Kens’ ass.   I tell him the trail math which gets him moving.  I didn’t realize how slow we were going down these hills!  So now we’re pretty much at an all-out sprint heading into Nu’uanu.  
I had originally expected the last half of this hill to take Ken 20 minutes.  That time shot up to 30 minutes based on how long it took us to do the first half.
Once I realized what was happening and told Ken, he did it in 15 minutes.  
Again, the aid station was a blur of activity as 15 people surrounded Ken, gave him a manicure, cut his hair, and served him a prime rib dinner with all the fixings.  I yelled to the volunteers that we needed to leave in exactly 2 1/2 minutes.  I think we left in less than 2.  
"Oh my, look at the time!  As much as I hate to eat and run, Freddy..."  Photo: Sharon and Robert Smith
Our final climb!  
Although we’re almost done, I’m really worried that the last section from Nu’uanu to the Nature Center will be the hardest part for Ken.  If this was a climbing leg I’d be secure in the notion we’d make it on time.  However, this section has the longest downhill of the loop, and Ken isn’t doing well on the downhills.  Almost every step he takes is accompanied by a grunt or a cry of pain.
At the top of Nuuanu!  Photo: Rob Lahoe
But we leave the aid station like mad men.  Ken blows out of the starting gate with the realization that he just finished his last aid station before the finish.   He climbs fast enough to make me huff and puff.  About 10 minutes into the climb I notice we’re catching up to the runner in front of us.  I point this out to Ken (whom I suspect doesn’t care if he passes anyone or not) in the hopes it will get some primal competitive spirit going in his brain, and we slowly but surely reel in the runner.  By the time we get to 5-minute hill, we’re about 10 seconds behind them.
For those not familiar with 5 minute hill, all I can say is that it’s a monster.  You’ve finally finished the switchbacks coming out of Nu’uanu, and you find yourself coming out of a dense forest canopy to a ridge where you can see for miles.  It’s like moving from night to day in 5 seconds.  You make a hard left turn onto a hill that rivals the hardest climb you’ve ever done.  As an initiation to new HURT runners, we make them do this hill in 5 minutes the first time they run a full 20 mile loop from the Nature Center.  It’s basically the last hard climb of the loop, and it’s a doozy.   Many don’t make the 5 minute cutoff their first try.  Ken did it in 7 minutes with 96 or 97 miles under his legs.  I was very impressed.
We made our way through the pig gate, and like magic, all the cries of pain I’d been hearing for the entire loop turned into laughing from this point on.  We were done with the final climb, and it was smooth sailing from here on out.
The only problem was that, while Ken seemed confident about his time, I was not.  I knew how much time we’d lost on the last two down hills, and while those two took us a total of about an hour and a half to finish, we still had another hour and a half of downhill in front of us.  We could not lose more than 15 minutes here.  All I could think about was how we’d taken 30 minutes on a 20 minute downhill from Biens Bench to the midpoint to Nu’uanu.  If we could lose 10 minutes there and 15 minutes on the downhill to Paradise, Ken was definitely not out of the woods yet.  The longest downhill of them all was staring at me, and all I could think about was the cutting knives back at Nature Center aid station that Karen, RD Big John, and Gary Robbins would use on me if I didn’t get Ken back in time.
We had 90 minutes until the 6 PM race closure.  From the top of Hogsback to the finish it takes about 40 minutes, so I told Ken we needed to get to Hogsback in ½ hour to give us a good cushion.  At this point my biggest fear was the final bone jarring descent down Center Trail (aka Pipes).  It would be extraordinarily easy to lose 15-20 minutes there.
Off we went, Ken laughing like a little school girl at each passing landmark, and me sweating bullets.  I did not want to be forever known to the running community as the guy who got ‘All Day’ Ken to the finish line 2 minutes after the cutoff.
It was at this point I kind of felt like one of those old dirty men that you read about.  The only words coming out of my mouth were, ‘yeah!’ and ‘just like that!’ and ‘faster!’  
Although we were moving down the hill, we weren’t going at the speeds I was hoping for.  I checked my watch every 10 seconds.  We made our way down to the final little cardio-pumping hill that takes about 30-45 seconds to climb but gets your heart beating to about 200 beats per minute.  We started down the other side and the runner in front of us came into view once again.  Like I said before—I don’t think Ken is the type of person to actually speed up in order to pass someone, but I nudged him on anyway.  I really hoped his brain was so scattered that he’d think he was back in 4th grade where passing someone in a race actually mattered in some strange way.  About half way down that slope, we passed them with excited cheers between all of us.  We were so close!
Final Stretch!  Look out, Cub Scouts!  Photo: Sharon and Robert Smith
The next landmark we hit was the final road crossing.  From this point on, you can almost smell the Nature Center.  We started across the road, I looked both ways and told Ken it was clear, then looked up to make sure he was on the right path when I noticed he’d increased the distance between us by about 25 meters.  I sprinted to catch up, but Ken was impassioned.  We ran the next part of the course like it was his first.  We didn’t stop for anything including hills, cliffs, ledges, little 6 year old cub scouts, NOTHING.
When we made it to the top of Hogsback, Ken asked me the time.  I had wanted to get there by 5:15 to give us a cushion to finish.  When I looked down at my watch, I read aloud: “5:05.”  We had 55 minutes to do what typically takes about 40 minutes on tired legs.  I quickly sent out my last two texts to Karen:  “Top of Hogsback about 40 minutes out” and then a minute later “Running like it’s his first loop.”
We did very well at the crossover, but I did notice a lessening of the urgency we both had over the last few hours.  
We made the final left turn which leads down to the Nature Center.  This is also the point where you can turn right and climb up to the first road crossing of the loop.  
Couldn't have done it without Rob!!  Photo: Sharon and Robert Smith
Hugs at the finish!  Photo: Sharon and Robert Smith



Ken looked up at the mountain ahead and to the right, smiled, gave his signature laugh, and ran down the hill to his left for an emotional and well deserved HURT 100 mile finish.