I got talked into doing this race as part of a 3-person relay by my teammates, Rita and Michael. Sure, the race is pretty much all uphill. Sure, it starts at sea level at 4:30 a.m. and ends at 10,000 ft at the summit of Haleakala. Sure, uphill running’s not my strength.
But who can resist a challenge?
I agreed to come to Maui for this thing (twist my arm), and somehow talked my way into doing the last 12 or so miles. The miles at the highest altitude (I live at sea level). To be fair, Rita and MIchael live at sea level too, so someone had to do it. Besides, when I rode a bike up the crater back in October, I didn’t have too much difficulty in the thin air, so I figured what the hey.
It was a weird weather week in Maui — cool, windy and rainy — and race day was no different. Forecast was for the low 30s F at the summit, with 40 mph winds to make it that much more pleasant. Since Crater Road has a bunch of switchbacks at the top, I was probably looking at a tailwind in one direction and a headwind in the other.
I arranged to meet the team at the very latest at the handoff point less than a mile before the pay gate at Haleakala National Park, altitude about 6700 ft. Before we got up there, though, we found the rest of the team on the lower section of switchbacks that started just after Kula. Rita was on leg 3, and was a few minutes from handing off to Michael, who would then hand off to me for my legs 5 and 6. Rita’s husband George was driving the support vehicle, so I transferred my gear to that car and bade farewell to my wife Jeanne, sending her back down to the relative warmth of Ka’anapali.
Rita got done and handed off to Michael, and she, George and I headed up about 6 miles further to my starting point. I could feel the altitude as I walked up a little hill to take a covert bio break — yep, 6700 ft. is kinda high! Got all fueled up, and Michael came around the last bend within 10 minutes of his predicted time for this point in the race, so we were on track for a sub 6:30 finish as long as I didn’t crumble.
I actually had no idea what kind of pace I could run; I think Michael’s stats sheet put me at around 8:30 pace, which seemed a little ambitious for high altitude and steady uphill, but in the end I would have to go by heart rate and perceived effort level anyway. My one experience in an uphill race, the 2004 Pikes Peak Ascent, had shown a dropoff in heart rate as the elevation got higher. That race was not among my finest moments, but I was hoping this would be different, since it didn’t go nearly as high (PP is over 14,000 ft.) and since the pitch wasn’t nearly as steep (I believe Haleakala averages 6%).
Anyway, I was off and feeling ok, letting my heart rate settle in at about 150 bpm. I started reeling in folks pretty quickly, but a lot of them were solo runners, so it was understandable that I was going by them — they were going for the full 36 miles and were already 24 miles in when I started my leg. The wind wasn’t bad in the beginning, but once I was well into the park and on the switchbacks, the wind came with a fury. Lower down, you go a pretty long way in one direction before hitting a turn and going the other direction, but as you ascend the straight stretches get progressively shorter. At some points, the winds were absolutely howling, and I felt pretty sorry for the poor aid station volunteers that were standing out in the elements. It was getting fairly cold, too.
I passed the sign for 8000 ft less than an hour into the run and was figuring on a time of about 1:40 for my leg, give or take, which would still get us under 6:30. The headwind sections were tough, though, but the tailwind sections were great — I felt like someone was pushing me up the hill. I took full advantage of those moments and let my legs fly. I was still reeling people in.
I passed 9000 ft., and I could start to smell the barn. It came sooner than I thought: the race director made the call to end the race before the top, which was icy and hazardous, so when I saw my teammates at the next aid station, they told me I only had a mile to go instead of 3 miles. The reader might assume I would be disappointed with that news, disappointed with not being able to do “the whole thing,” but actually the reader would be wrong. I was cold and ready to be done, so I picked up the pace and finished with a surge. I crossed the line, and was greeted with a maile, some medals and a blanket.
My time was 1:28:37 for about 10 miles; our team finished in something like 6:18 and won the mixed relay division. Here we are back down near the starting line afterwards:
Here’s what the weather was like at the summit:
As always happens, the day after the event had the most gorgeous weather, at least in the afternoon. All the better to enjoy Maui by!