Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Run to the Sun - 2009 (letter to my family and friends)

Run to the Sun : 14th March 2009 I ran to the sun, but when I got there, there was no sun only driving winds, pelting rain and icy temperatures....I'm back on O'ahu after my brutal experience with a mountain and the extreme forces of nature. This 36mile/58km race started in the town of Wailuku in Maui at 04:30 am. The stars were out, the moon was bright and all 175 runners were optimistic that we were in for a great day. A mile into the race the heavens sent a heavy downpour of rain and so we started thoroughly wet...the next 13 miles were absolutely fabulous and my pace was perfect and the pack of runners were jovial. At about the half marathon I hit the notoriously steep Pulehuiki stretch which most people can't run up, but that was still ok (you gain about 2000ft of elevation over the coarse of a mile and a half). This obviously was not going to be a fast race and I just knew that as long as I got through the gates of the Haleakala National park (at the 26 mile/42km mark) before 8 hours had elapsed then I wouldn't be kicked off the mountain. I was doing well, it was 6 hours when I got there and my drop off bag was waiting for me which contained a thin long-sleeved running shirt, gloves and a sun hat (I hadn't worn a hat up until then because we had to use headlamps during the dark hours of the race, but this was a mistake because I could feel my face getting burnt once daylight appeared).I wasn't feeling cold, but the volunteers were bundled up in warm clothing and forced me to put on my shirt because they said they could see that I was in fact cold because I had goosebumps and I was wearing a flimsy running outfit (shorts and a tank top). I think by this stage we had already run up approximately 7000ft-8000ft of the mountain and we were told that the finish line had been moved to 34miles/54.7 km because there was a high wind advisory on the summit and they could not set up their equipment due to wind gusts that had even knocked over the portable toilets. Onwards and upwards I went and it became colder and the wind got stronger with every step, I sometimes struggled to just stay upright and almost got knocked off my feet a few times. The wind brought with it icy rain that drove straight into my eyeballs, so I had to keep my head down a lot of the way. A few times paramedics drove by and asked the runners if they were ok. I told them I was getting severely cold and wondered whether they just had a plastic rubbish bag that I could wear as a raincoat, but they didn't and fortunately shoved 2 chemical hotpacks down the front and back of my running top. I could feel the sweat on the back of my legs freezing and had lost the ability to use my hands and could barely change the position of my arms, they had frozen into place. When I had 2-3 miles to go my friends drove past (coming down from the finish) and suggested that I might consider abandoning the race and get into the warm car with them and go down the mountain, but I declined the suggestion. They gave me some extra fleece tops to put on, but I couldn't even dress myself and my friend had to get out of the car and dress me like a child. Onwards and upwards, I had navy blue lips and was chattering uncontrollably and roaring like a lion to try to stay warm and egg myself on. With one mile to go, I was forced into a warm van for 10 minutes at a volunteer station to warm up, and he told me to stay there as the paramedics were on their way, at which point I thanked him very much for his help and jumped out of the car because I was so close to the finish and didn't want to be prevented from completing the race.Finally the end...my time approximately 8:41 (cut off was 10 hours). I crossed the finish line, was met with 2 warm blankets and lifted up into a heated van. It took about 10 minutes for me to stop shaking from extreme hypothermia. The medics had to feed me a hot chocolate drink because I couldn't hold a cup due to shaking. The amazing thing was that once I heated up, I felt absolutely fine.This was a defining race. I had to dig deep and call upon my inner strength and fortitude like no other time in my life. Would I do it again? YES !!The organizers said that they've never held the race under such extreme conditions before. I'm now warm at home and about to have a hot jacuzzi bath ...I was told that you can put on weight during this race because it's so well catered for, but I lost 4 pounds in one day... In retrospect it was AWESOME!


  1. dear heather . hi this is Neepa from bombay. i am so impressed with your training for kalahari, u have great spirit. your run to the sun article was amazing, it keeps my enthusiasm for the comrades training to go on. go for it, you got what it takes!

  2. Aloha Neepa. Fantastic hearing from you!! I'll be following you during your Comrades race and wish you everything of the best.Enjoy the journey...it's the best race I have ever done (Comrades)and I hope to do it again one day.

  3. Dear Heather i finally read the harrowing tale of Run to the Sun. I was laughing out loud and gasping throughout. I hear your voice and can feel and taste your experience through such wonderful description. I look forward to reading more as your journey continues......it is incredibly exciting!

    1. Thank you Suzy, the start to many extreme adventures!