2017 Mauna to Mauna Report: A Week of Striving & Slogging Over Hawaii’s Harsh Hills

Celebrating at the finish of the 155-mile, six-stage Mauna to Mauna Ultra with my tentmates: Danny of Wales, Ian of Quebec, Melanie of Florida, Christopher of Wales, Christopher of the UK, and Cecile of France. The flower leis I’m wearing came from an old friend who lives in Kona and met me at the finish with them.

I didn’t mean for a full month to pass before I blogged about the May 14 – 20 Mauna to Mauna Ultra stage race, but it took that long to carve out the time and head space to piece the week’s stories together, and to obtain the event’s professional photos. Strangely, I didn’t want to think much about the Mauna to Mauna; I just wanted to recover from it and transition to summer life with my kids in Colorado.

Have you ever returned home from a long, tiring trip, dumped your luggage in the entranceway, and let it sit there for far too long because you didn’t want to unpack? I kind of felt like that. I’m finally getting around to unpacking last month’s stage-race experience along with everything else.

A lot of people already heard an audio version of this race report, because UltraRunnerPodcast.com host Eric Schranz interviewed me the day after I got back. You can listen to that episode here. My son Kyle listened to it as we drove together from California to Colorado, and he said things like, “Geez, Mom, did you have any fun? Why did you do that?” (My 16-year-old son is rarely that interested in my running or in my point of view.) Others had similar reactions to the podcast—one said, “That sounded so crazy and tough, not the kind of week in Hawaii I’d want to spend!” I subsequently joked that the URP interview functioned as a kind of trauma therapy, during which I processed the challenge and stress of that inaugural six-stage, 155-mile race, which featured over 22,000 feet of vertical gain through extreme weather and highly variable, unpredictable terrain.

This pretty much captures how I slogged through drenching rain, deep puddles and rocky footing in the first three stages while carrying a saturated 20lb. pack, until we transitioned to the dryer side of the island …

… one foot in front of the other. (This photo and others, unless otherwise noted, are from the Mauna to Mauna Ultra’s event photographers.)

It felt GREAT to reach camp at the end of each stage! This was Stage 3, when I ran through howling winds and rain with that cheap poncho flapping loudly. But that thin plastic layer really helped me retain body heat.

So to set the record straight and to balance out that earlier report, let me say up front, yes, I did have fun at times!

First and foremost, I had fun talking and sharing gallows humor with the other 71 participants, who hailed from 20 different countries and had mind-blowing stories to tell about their global travels and prior ultra experiences. I reveled in the spa-like experience of soaking my achy body in the warm, clear ocean water of the beach where we camped the final three nights.

The blissful beach where the event set up camp for the final three nights (Spencer Beach Park near Waimea, north of Kona) …

… and our beachside tents where we dried out our stuff.

I experienced a strange kind of enjoyment and fascination hanging out in the medical tent and getting to know the outdoorsy, accomplished doctors who chose to spend a week of “vacation” working this event and treating runners’ ravaged feet and chafed skin. I loved being at the finish line to witness and cheer when other exhausted participants finally made it to camp.

At the Stage 5 finish cheering the arrival of Chris and Chris (second and third from left), who struggled from heat and injury. Also pictured are my tentmates Danny and Ian.

And, although it hurt and stressed me out, I had “fun” or rather the thrill of truly competing. I haven’t raced and pushed that hard since the 2016 Western States 100 (see report), but that was different because it was a single-stage ultra, and I was racing to beat a certain time on the clock. Here, I got caught up in the challenge of trying to beat or at least keep in sight Sharon Gayter, an extremely accomplished ultrarunner from the UK with whom I leapfrogged in the 2012 Grand to Grand Ultra. (She ultimately won the 2012 Grand to Grand, and I slipped to third.)

Sharon Gayter, tough as nails, finishing Stage 2. She ultimately placed 2nd female and 12th overall.

This time, I paced off Sharon for the first four stages, until I struggled and she gapped me at nighttime in the long stage (details below), so she ultimately came in 2nd with a cumulative time of 37:52, and I was 1 hour and 11 minutes behind her. Neither of us could come close to the impressive Sylvia Ravaglia, who finished 1st woman and 8th overall in a cumulative time of 34:32, four-and-a-half hours ahead of me; a very experienced ultrarunner and triathlete, Sylvia is a Big Island local who trained on the Mauna to Mauna’s terrain and consequently was highly adapted for the event, although this was her first self-supported stage race. She’s really good! See full results here.

Then, after Stage 4, I unexpectedly found myself fighting off a challenge from a mid-packer who surged from behind midweek and came on strong, Mirjam Barrueto, a Canadian living in Switzerland.

Mirjam and me racing together through the high heat, tall grass and lava rock of Stage 5 with Mauna Kea in the background. I’m in the green shirt behind her, struggling to keep up.

I don’t know why I felt so passionate about fighting for this third-place podium spot, but I did—and I’m glad and proud I did. It would have been so much easier and perhaps more enjoyable not to care, to simply get from the start to finish of each stage and pay less attention to my time and my spot relative to others. But I got caught up in the race. For this, I thank Sharon and Mirjam, along with a handful of other women and men with whom I frequently shared the trail because we ran a similar pace.

At camp, both Sharon and Mirjam (like all the participants I met) proved friendly and gracious; only good vibes existed between us. This, perhaps, is my fondest memory of the Mauna to Mauna Ultra: the experience of the oxymoronic “friendly competition” in the best, truest sense. At times, on the course, it felt to me alternately like we were stalking each other or pushing/pulling each other along.

At camp, I appreciated discovering a warm, wise side to Sharon that I hadn’t gotten to know five years earlier at the Grand to Grand Ultra. As we passed idle hours at camp with nothing to do but talk, since we all unplugged from technology, she and I chatted like two weary travelers hanging out at a pub. Mirjam, meanwhile, won me over with her cheeky personality. After Stage 5, she wagged her finger at me and teased, “I wanted to make you work!” I wanted to hug her and say, “Yes, thank you!” (but instead, I just laughed).

Hanging out at camp involved good conversations and time-consuming foot care. This sunny camp, where we stayed for the second half of the week, was much preferable to the rain-soaked, mud-bog camps of the first three stages.

Many friends followed daily updates I wrote during the race from camp (where we had a communal laptop to share for outgoing email), which I emailed to my sister, and she posted them on my Facebook page. This report mainly features those daily diary entries, along with some additional notes. For context, see earlier posts on my training, and my food and gear, for this event. (Note: I updated the food/gear list post-event to annotate what I would have done differently and what worked well.)

My Mauna to Mauna Stage Race Diary

Stage 1: 26.7 miles, 3560 feet of gain

I’m writing Sunday afternoon at Camp 2, located somewhere outside of Hilo in a grove of tall, vine-covered banyan and some kind of towering, leafy eucalyptus. I finished stage 1 in 5:39, 2nd F and 13 overall (there are 72 starters, 44 of whom did the Grand to Grand Ultra in one of the past four years) just before another torrential downpour hit. I was lucky to be the first one in our tent so I could strip off my soaking-wet clothes and change; the runners who arrive at camp hours later will have less time to recover and dry out. Not that any of us will dry out, however; everything is soaking wet! Inside the tent is cozy and dry enough; but, this tent is on lava rock so there’s nowhere smooth to lie out—unlike last night, Camp 1, which was amazing and cushy, on private property at the Volcano Winery on a big open lawn, near the Volcano Park. (We got to drive to see the Kilauea Volcano glowing and erupting last night after dinner – wow!)

But about stage 1: I’ll make this quick since I’m on a 15 min time limit using the camp’s laptop.

The starting line of the Mauna to Mauna Ultra. I’m standing in the middle, in a green shirt, next to my friend Melanie Papatestas, who has a rainbow coming out of her head. RDs Colin and Tess Geddes are squatting in front wearing neon yellow jackets.

Start: lovely, scenic, upbeat mood, rain and rainbows. I had the treat of two Bay Area runner friends, whom I met thru SF Team RWB at a trail running clinic I gave last year, show up to cheer me on and take pics, which was very uplifting. My throat tightened with emotion seeing all the country flags and such a collection of runners from around the globe, knowing we are participating in the first event of its kind in Hawaii.

One gear fail: At the start, everyone pulled out their backpack covers to keep their packs dry in the downpours. Everyone else’s pack cover is tight fighting and trim. I pulled out mine—for the first time, bad move not trying it out ahead of time! It was the backpack cover my daughter got for her big pack and never used. Turns out it’s green and giant, like a shower cap big enough to cover an elephant’s ass. I put it on my pack, and it made me look like a turtle with a huge turtle shell. I did not want to look like a turtle in the starting line photos! So I said screw it and put it away; everything in my pack is in plastic compression sacs and will stay dry. Now I can use the turtle shell pack cover to put my sleeping bag on in the damp tent, thankfully.

First stretch: along the waterfront and up through a lovely farm called OK Farms. We climbed through a plantation—very scenic. But very humid. I felt good. Lower back started to chafe from pack so I lubed up at the first check point. Did the classic Sarah move of running out of the checkpoint in the wrong direction, realizing my error after about 50 meters and turning around. Short technical section in here was very rooty, muddy, lots of tangled vines and fallen tree trunks to climb over; but for the most part, the early and middle parts of the stage were quite runnable (but “runnable” is hard with a 20lb pack!).

Me with Susan Riggio during Stage 1

Middle stretch: through Hilo. As Colin the RD said, “the biggest risk today is the traffic”—we had to run on the shoulder of a highway with a lot of cars very close—a bit stressful! Plus, the sun came out and reflected off the asphalt, making it hot and humid.

Last stretch—tough! We went off road through knee-high and sometimes armpit-tall grass, thorny brush, ankle-deep swamp—this tall grass felt relentless. Parts were scenic with vines and some wild orchids; but, sadly, lots of locals use this back track as a place to dump used mattresses, old TVs and other household debris, so at times we ran past trash. I rolled my left ankle twice and fell head first onto both hands with about 3 miles to the finish, because the footing was so booby-trapped and difficult to navigate. I recovered (nice soft landing thanks to all the tall grass) and my ankle is OK.

Happy to finish the marathon-length Stage 1 in a time of 5:39, 2nd F and 12th overall for the stage. That’s a slow marathon time, but the pack weight, humidity, terrain and rain slowed us all down.

My 15-minute time limit is up for using this computer, so I need to get off. Thanks for everyone reading this! I feel fatigued but OK; my feet are a pruney mess, but so are everyone else’s.

Stage 2: 19.1 miles, 3592 feet of gain

Update from Stage 2—19 miles—wow, this is tough and WET! Finished 2nd F again quite a ways back from Sylvia who definitely is good on this island terrain.

We woke up in the tent to downpours; everything, everyone is wet. Several competitors bemoaned soaked sleeping bags (mine is OK, just damp). Our tent is funky but cozy. I made a decision I’m going to be wet and not worry about it; hence, I did not fuss with a poncho, or fresh socks or anything, because I knew it would be futile. Sure enough, 20 meters from the start line, we ran through a calf-high puddle.

Soaking wet from dressing in the prior day’s wet running clothes, we waited to start Stage 2 while the rain came down heavily. I’m on the left in the green shirt.

Participants take off at the start of Stage 2, about to encounter calf- to thigh-high puddles.

You would not believe the swampy puddles we ran through. Seriously, at least 50 calf- to thigh-high puddles, full of chocolate-brown water so we couldn’t see the wobbly rocks or mud underfoot. It was pretty hilarious actually. I realized early on that two things would be awful: falling in the puddle and submerging my pack, and/or having the sucky mud suck my shoe off in one of the puddles. I concentrated on having neither of those things happen, and I did pretty well. The first half of the route ended up being like an interval workout with 30-second strides: surge and run as best you can, then ford a puddle for another 30 seconds. I tried to do the best I could with the puddles by taking big, long steps. This part of the route was much more scenic than yesterday’s route; we slogged and jogged under a jungle of fern and trees. And, it rained.

Three main things got stuck in my head during this stretch: two songs that were played at camp in the morning, CCR’s song with the line “Gotta Run Through the Jungle” and, God help me, Hall and Oates “You’re making my dreams come true”—I could not get that out of my head. I also kept repeating the little kids’ book, “We’re Going On a Bear Hunt” with the line, “we can’t go over it, we can’t go around it—oh no, we have to go through it!”

We went up, up, up and after about 10 miles, the course popped out above the rainforest to a lunar-like lava field. We had many tough but starkly beautiful (and rainy!) miles over lava rock very reminiscent of Rocky Mountain alpine talus fields. I was grateful for my experience of going over Oscar’s Pass in Hardrock, or over Imogene, because it’s similar footing—endless swath of loose rock varying in size from golfball to softball, very difficult to do any running on. I just concentrated on doing the best I could and not rolling my ankle.

We followed a rough trail through lots and lots of this type of lava.

I made it to camp in just under 5 hours and focused on staying warm and getting into dry clothes. Some people will struggle with the cold. I am grateful I have not gotten chilled (yet)! Overall I am in good spirits. A significant number of complainers are focused on how miserable the weather is, and how our packs are heavier because they’re saturated. To which I inwardly am reminded of a great line that David Roche had in a Trail Runner article: “Excuses are like genitals—everyone has them, but you shouldn’t go around showing them off.” I have no real complaints other than packing a musket big time LOL (David Sedaris fans and my husband Morgan will know what I’m talking about).

Gotta go, time is up! I’m having a blast and an adventure!

Stage 3: 28 miles, 3005 feet of gain

We are back at the same camp for the second night on Tuesday, facing the 48-mile long stage with 11,000 ft elevation gain tomorrow. Today, we did 28 miles in a big loop, finishing at the same camp we started. It took me about 6:20 and I finished second female but just barely. I’m not gonna sugarcoat it: it was TOUGH and I struggled.

On Stage 3, we ran many miles through and next to the softer-looking lava flow from 1984’s eruption on Mauna Loa.

The route went straight up 3200 ft from 5000 ft to 8200 ft in elevation—in driving rain and extremely strong winds. Imagine going up Mt Diablo but at elevation, with a loaded backpack, in rain, on terrain that was busted-up lava rock—and on limited calories. Honestly, it was harder than I imagined, and I was running low on energy. I definitely could have used more calories; I didn’t anticipate my body needing more fuel in the cold weather and altitude. But I got through it.

After we ran to a high point on Mauna Loa, we ran down this paved road through strong winds and downpours.

The second half of the route was downhill on a paved road; then the final 7.5 miles were stressful insofar as we ran next to a highway, but we were not allowed to run on the pavement (or if caught, we’d face a one-hour time penalty); we had to run on the rough, uneven lava shoulder, into a driving headwind and rain. I put on my poncho for warmth and kept my head down, and ran as best I could, taking walking intervals but trying to steadily run. My main recollection is not only how tiring it was, but also, how deafening loud—the sound of the wind, and the flapping sound of my poncho. I kept repeating the Hardrock motto, “wild and tough”!

I’m still in second place among women (no chance I’ll catch local Sylvia, who mentioned that she trains on the long-stage route all the time)—she is very well adapted and very strong. I have stopped caring whether I will hold onto second place; I am in survival mode. The thought of 11,000 ft of vert, at altitude going over 9,000 ft in elevation, is daunting; I have to concentrate on taking care of my body, rationing calories, not getting too cold, and not falling.

My spirits are lifted by my tentmates—Danny from Wales, with whom I shared a tent at G2G in 2014, and he’s got a wicked dry humor; Christopher, also from Wales; another guy also named Christopher from the UK who’s in the British Navy and says this experience feels like a military exercise; Cécile from France who is a writer covering the sport like I do, but for European publications; Ian from Quebec (so he and Cécile talking French is rekindling my high school French); and Melanie—wonderful Melanie from Florida, with whom I shared a tent at G2G in 2012, and now she is hiking determinedly and maintaining an incredibly tough, matter-of-fact attitude. When I remind myself of my rule, “no pity parties,” I think of Melanie and how she will be on the route so much longer, and she doesn’t complain. I’m also happy whenever I see my Facebook friend Derrick Lytle from Utah on the course, who’s here photographing the event; he’s really nice, and I appreciate having someone cheer from me.

A photo of me with my tentmates (not pictured: Cecile). I used safety pins to hang up and try to air out my running clothes after every stage. (Photo by Payge McMahon)

All the volunteers are incredibly supportive and have such a hard job, especially the camp crew who have to drive tent stakes into lava rock! This is a soggy but stoic group, and gallows humor reigns. OK, time is up, I have to get off the computer now. I will be on the long stage well into the nighttime, Wednesday into Thursday early morning; it is “only” 48 miles but will feel like a 100-miler because of the cumulative fatigue on my legs from stages 1 – 3 and the altitude. Let’s do this!

Stage 4 (the long stage): 48 miles, 10,975 feet of gain

This morning (Thursday) I am at a beachside camp north of Kona, having arrived around 3 a.m. following the 48-mile long stage. After a swim in the ocean and shower—what a luxury, being able to use the shower on the beach!—I am feeling better in spite of very beaten-up muscles and a painfully infected toe.

I don’t know when Stage 4 results will be posted, but I have good news/bad news. Good news: an unforgettable 15+ hours and one of the hardest things I’ve ever done, maybe THE most challenging. Bad news, I slipped way down in the rankings, though I don’t know how much yet.

For the long stage, I started in the 11 a.m. start wave with the 14 top men and 3 top women (me being one of them; Sylvia and Sharon the others). In hindsight, oh how I wish I had not raced so hard in the first three stages, so I would have entered the long stage in 4th or lower place and thus had the regular 8 a.m. start, because I really could have used those extra three hours of daylight!

I found it very challenging to wait around all morning until our wave could start at 11 a.m. I felt hungry and tired before we even started—not a good sign!

Here I am waiting for Stage 4’s 48-mile route to start at 11 a.m. with the small group of frontrunners (most of the participants started at 8 a.m.). I looked as excited and energetic as I felt.

In spite of feeling less than energized for a long, hard stage, I diligently stuck to my dynamic stretching routine at the start, which did help make me feel better.

To cut to the chase: I did well and pushed hard to the summit of 9000+ ft, on the lunar landscape above treeline on the R1 jeep road up Mauna Kea; but, I suffered mightily on the way down and slowed way, way down after dark. The 48 miles out and back were extremely tough, like San Juan Mountain tough—the terrain was similar to a jeep road above Telluride, like Imogene Pass, with chunks of loose rock and high altitude. The overall elevation gain was approx. 11,000 feet (whatever 3345 meters translates to) on a very “spiky” course, constant up and down. And oh, how I wished I had brought my trekking poles! I didn’t need them in the first three stages, but I paid for it yesterday and would have done so much better with poles.

This is a shot of me hiking up one of the earlier miles of Stage 4.

But the real problem: shortage of calories. With my elevated heartrate in the altitude, and pushing hard, plus the cold—at nighttime, the temp dipped to the mid-30s with wind and mist—I was burning calories like a furnace but had a very limited supply. After dark, about 9.5 hours into it, I did the math about how far I had to go and how long it would take me, at least 4 to 5 hours; I realized I only had one Honey Stinger waffle (160 cals), one recovery drink mix (about 200), one hot chocolate packet (100), and half a leftover ProBar (about 160 cals), and that was it for the remainder of the night. My stomach was growling as I ran. Consequently, I got quite lightheaded and had to hike to keep from passing out. Of course, Jackson Browne’s “Running On Empty” got stuck in my head.

It took me just under 7 hours to get up to the summit, but over 8 hours to get back down, and I finished in 15:19. I have no idea how that compares to the other competitors, but Sylvia and Sharon were hours ahead. But, I wasn’t alone in suffering—there was major carnage on the course as people suffered from the altitude, flirted with hypothermia, rolled ankles, and fell asleep for long naps at checkpoints.

But this does have a happy ending! I had one of those moments—like the Tim Olson-on-a-discarded-matress-midway-thru-Hardrock moments—when you are totally liberated from competitive pressure because you care only about finishing, and you commit not to quit, and that is at the heart of ultrarunning. That, and the friendships you make.

With 10.5 miles to go, at the penultimate checkpoint, I hooked up with two Aussies—a young woman named Ruby who’s 26 and a doctor in training, and an older man named Peter. We made a pact to stick together and share each other’s light (good thing, because mine was dim). Ruby—who started in the 8 a.m. wave, so she finished in 18:19 with me—motored along and was the best pacer for me; she really got me moving again. My entire being focused on not losing Ruby and Peter. The three of us passed the final hours together, swapping stories (actually, I was still too out of breath and lightheaded to talk, so I would ask a question and listen to them answer), “running” i.e. shuffling as best we could. The starry sky looked magnificent, and after midnight, the moon rose. Experiencing that camaraderie at the end, and digging as deep as I could, made it worthwhile. But my god, that was a hard course.

Tomorrow is the last regular stage—29 miles, mostly downhill (ouch! I don’t know how my feet and quads will handle that) and then on Saturday we have a short “sprint” of 5 miles to finish at the host hotel. I have been offline all week so I haven’t seen any messages, but I greatly appreciate my sister sharing this and people following along, if you’re reading this. We have cell coverage here at the beach but we incur a big penalty if we turn our phones on and send anything out. I treasure this break from technology and the way everyone is sitting around talking. And, it’s sunny! We finally feel we’re in Hawaii, after a week of such unusually heavy rain and cloud coverage near Hilo and Mauna Loa. Now we have the ocean and birdsong.

Stage 5 (29.1 miles with 515 feet of gain and 6233 feet of descent); and Stage 6 (5 miles, 590 feet of gain)

I started Stage 5 on Friday very worn out and sore from the 48-mile long stage, though having all Thursday to recover helped, although I was so hungry all day. (Thursday was a non-run day because back-of-pack participants had all day Thursday to finish the long stage.)

Getting ready to race the final two stages.

Stage 5 on Friday was 29 miles, downhill, which sounded relatively manageable—and for the first 11 miles it was blissfully gentle, on spongy grass on the shoulder of the road from Mauna Kea to Waimea. I had a little more than 30 minutes total time ahead of Mirjam (from Switzerland but lives in Canada); she had dominated the long stage and was running so well! Having raced hard to stay close to Sharon for the first three stages, then falling behind and in survivor mode in the Stage 4 long stage, I was holding onto 3rd place with a not-too-comfortable margin.

We ran many hot miles through this grassy, rocky pastureland in Stage 5.

Mirjam and I ran together for the first part of Stage 5. But then, the day’s route completely changed, and not for the better! We had to go cross-country (i.e. no trail) 7-plus miles through open ranch land, which consisted of lava rock and thorny brush, and the brush obscured the pink flags. I slowed way down, and meanwhile the temp heated up uncomfortably.

Mirjam showed her prowess on technical terrain (helped by poles—I had pole envy!) and steadily went ahead of me, while I concentrated on navigating the rough terrain. For much of the way we followed a barbed-wire fence line, and several times I stumbled and automatically reached for the fence, then quickly stopped myself from grabbing the barbed wire. It was ugly.

Struggling from heat and fatigue in Stage 5.

But the real problem was that I started to experience signs of heat exhaustion as I ran out of water about 3 miles from the next checkpoint—prickly skin, parched mouth, throbbing head and disorientation. I would get to a pink flag and have to pause and look around to find the next one, at one point getting off course and wandering around aimlessly. Needless to say, I lost a lot of time.

When I finally reached the checkpoint about 5 miles from the finish, I told the volunteers that they really needed to add a water drop or else runners could have heat stroke (they later added a water drop between checkpoints). I was in rough shape, barely able to run, but water, salt and my last VFuel gel helped.

The rest of the course was less than scenic, to say the least. We had to run by a construction site with beeping heavy equipment, and then we popped onto the Hapuna Golf Course track—truly surreal to run a golf cart path, at one point leapfrogging with a golf cart! One man pleasantly asked, “You running a marathon?” to which I screeched like a cat in heat, “No, 155 miles!” Worst part was, I missed a sharp turn to transition from the golf course to the highway, so I ran further on the golf cart track—losing a couple of minutes—before realizing my mistake and backtracking.

Then, with about 3 miles left, we runners crossed the busy highway (with the help of course marshal), and I lost another 1 – 2 minutes waiting for a break in traffic. Finally I was on the home stretch toward camp—but it sucked, and I was in a wicked mood! Heat radiated off the asphalt as cars zoomed by, and the heat must’ve been in the high 90s. Finally, I made it to camp and went straight to the beach to dive into the ocean.

Thank god I survived Stage 5—but my lead over Mirjam had shrunk to 7 minutes. In the past days, we had traversed 150 miles over nearly 39 hours, and the final ranking would come down to a 5-mile sprint. Argh, I didn’t really want to go through the suffering of racing hard, but I knew I had to really race on the final stage to keep third place. Mirjam seemed stronger and fresher than I was. I could barely walk due to a wound on my toe and cramped quads. (Did I mention I was hungry?) OK, enough whining!

So this morning (Saturday, May 20, the final stage of the Mauna to Mauna) dawned, the beautiful birdsong waking us up around 5:30a.m., and just like on Wednesday’s long stage, runners in the late start wave had to wait for what felt like forever until starting in the 11 a.m. wave. The slowest started at 9; midpackers at 10; front runners at 11. We hung around patiently, dumping any unnecessary items out of our packs to make them as light as possible, finishing up our last bits of food, and getting psyched for a fast-paced finish.

By 11 a.m., it was quite toasty out. We faced “only” 5 miles, but when you have to race on beaten-up quads and feet, with only a 7-minute cushion, 5 miles feels very stressful! Finally we started. My spirits were lifted by the truly friendly camaraderie I had with Mirjam and everyone else—we were racing, but all in good spirits, bringing out the best in each of us.

The route went straight up from the beach on asphalt to the highway. Mirjam kicked ass, hauling up the hill, while I tried to make my non-responsive legs find a gear. Oh, this was gonna be ugly! She and Sylvia immediately got ahead of me by at least 30 seconds, and then when we got to the main highway intersection (the “T” where you go straight to Waimea or right to Kona), I lost another 30 seconds waiting for a break in traffic. I was totally stressed out and overheating!

I ran as hard as I could down that highway, barely keeping Mirjam in sight, until about three-quarters of a mile down the asphalt we jumped through the bushes and cut through to the f***ing golf course. God help me, we had a very sizable hill to climb. I lost site of Mirjam; it was bizarre, skirting putting greens and puzzled golfers while my legs went all higgledy-piggledy from quad cramping.

I was on the verge of giving up, feeling my 7-minute cushion evaporate like sweat, but I kept going. “It’s not over til it’s over,” “go down fighting” etc … clichés like that went through my head. At last we entered the hotel road with a nice, soft grassy shoulder. I let it all loose and ran absolutely as hard as I could until I finally heard the finish line cowbells.

I felt overjoyed to be finishing. Best of all, I spotted my best friend from high school and college, Leah Daniel, at the finish line with her daughter to cheer me on, and to give me two homemade leis! When I saw her cheering for me, I felt overcome by emotion.

I couldn’t contain my emotion and tears as I approached the finish line.

I fell into her arms and literally burst into tears, with big heaving sobs—I haven’t cried like that at a finish line since Miwok 2014—it was just such a pressure cooker and hurt so much in those last 5 miles, and all week long, that I had to let my feelings out.

Just what I needed: an old friend at the finish line to comfort me.

When I crossed the finish line, my watch read 49 minutes and change. I thought—I hoped, but wasn’t certain—that I finished this stage about 5 minutes behind Mirjam, meaning my cumulative time for the whole race was still about 2 minutes ahead of her. If I ended up keeping third place, I worked really hard for it! But if she got it, she totally deserved it—she’s an amazing runner and saved her energy for the end of the week.

A few hours later, I got the official news: I had hung onto the podium spot, finishing 3rd female and 14th overall, in a cumulative time of 39:03:36, just 2 minutes and 11 seconds ahead of Mirjam. If I had let the fatigue, heat or cramping get to me in that final 5-mile sprint, I would have lost it. I can’t recall a time when I worked so hard physically to achieve something when my body and mind argued with me to ease up.

We all reveled in the finish line celebration and gave hearty thanks to the RDs Tess and Colin Geddes, and to the army of volunteers who made the event possible.

I got choked up with emotion again when RD Colin Geddes congratulated me and presented me with the finisher’s buckle.

Colin and Tess presenting me with my finisher’s buckle at the finish line.

At the celebration banquet on Saturday night, Tess and Colin presented award winners with tiki trophies, and Colin gave a heartfelt apology that the race course route wasn’t what they had intended. The story behind this story is that the race organizers had to make several difficult logistical changes to the route and the campsites in just a couple of weeks before the start, due to permits falling through and one campsite becoming unusable. As a result, the 155-mile route became a series of disconnected segments on the island, with more shuttling of runners to different locations, and more roadside running, than anyone wanted. It wasn’t the point-to-point Mauna Loa to Mauna Kea route that the RDs originally envisioned. But, given the eleventh-hour challenges that cropped up—along with rainfall that was worse than anyone predicted—the race organizers and volunteers deserve a great deal of praise for carrying out the event as successfully as they did.

Race directors Tess and Colin Geddes presenting me with the women’s 3rd place award at the Saturday night banquet.

Endnotes

I sincerely thank Colin and Tess Geddes, and all the volunteers and medical staff, for their tireless work before and during the inaugural Mauna to Mauna Ultra (check out the event’s website and its sister event, the Grand to Grand Ultra, for more info). I hope Hawaiian locals will welcome this race in future years, and allow for an improved course route.

I am indebted to my husband Morgan for his love and enthusiastic support of my training and our travel for this event; to my sister, Martha Lavender, for supporting me by updating my social media platforms during the week I was racing; and to my friend Leah Daniel for being on the Big Island to make my week there and the finish-line experience even more special.

Many thanks to my sponsor Ultimate Direction for supplying my pack and other gear; and to my sponsor VFuel for their gels and drink mix.

I also recommend the host hotel where Morgan and I stayed before the race, and where all the participants stayed at the end: the Hapuna Beach Prince Hotel.

If you’re interested in learning more about stage racing in general, and about the Grand to Grand Ultra or Mauna to Mauna Ultra in particular, then read the archives in this category on my blog.

Finally, I’m pleased and gratified that I raised over $2200 for Free to Run while training for the Mauna to Mauna Ultra. Many thanks to the 40 donors who supported my fundraising campaign (please click through to learn about it and consider making a donation!).

Thanks for reading this far! I’m now in Colorado for the summer and shifting to mountain running. I’ll blog more regularly now that I’ve recovered from the Mauna to Mauna.

Please check out my updated page about media and events related to my new bookThe Trail Runner’s Companion. 

Happy times: Me with Morgan, a day before the race started, showing off the touristy shirts we bought (mine from the local running store, his from the local brewery).

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4 Responses to 2017 Mauna to Mauna Report: A Week of Striving & Slogging Over Hawaii’s Harsh Hills

  1. Erica Lindeman June 14, 2017 at 7:58 pm #

    Congratulations on a good run! Truly, you have lived on the saying “No pain, no gain”.

  2. Jay Kay June 30, 2017 at 2:06 pm #

    “No, 155 miles!” haha that made me chuckle 🙂
    Jay Kay recently posted..Adidas Climacool Cheap Spikeless Golf Shoes [Review]My Profile

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