Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Peacock 100K ~ How I limped through a difficult 100km mountain trail race!

Training at Kealia trail
The morning of Peacock 100K promised to be a spectacular day. I awoke at 0330 to have a relaxed breakfast and drove the 45 minutes to Dillingham airfield located at Mokuleia on the north west corner of Oahu. I felt really good about the very difficult race that I was about to embark on. I had done my training with the guidance of coach Bill Wenner and the many, many hours I had spent up on the Peacock trails mostly by myself to condition myself for this mountain trail race rated "very difficult" over single track rugged trails, dirt jeep tracks and some paved sections. Some of the single track trails had sheer drop offs and the accumulated elevation gain was approximately 19,000ft, as well as 19,000ft of accumulated descent.

Kealia trail

The camaraderie at the start of the race was palpable,Stevo drove there to see me off and meet my awesome pacer Robert, who had agreed to accompany me back up the mountain after loop1. There was an option to quit after loop1 and be recognised as having completed an ultra marathon, but this was not part of my game plan, I had come here to run "Peacock 100km". The weather out at Mokuleia was absolutely perfect, with not a cloud in the sky and because this area is fairly undeveloped with minimal light pollution, the sky was illuminated by a trillion stars. I felt amped and the race started at 0600.

I had joked beforehand about the fact that I needed some serious "Jedi mind tricks" to complete the race and that I hoped that "The Force" was with me....little did I know that this was most definitely going to be the case. Ten minutes into the race whilst clambering up the initial steep and rocky Kealia Trail a runner brushed past me to overtake causing me to sidestep at which point my foot hit a rock and I went flying face first onto the rocks. I broke my fall with my right hand which caused a bloody gash and hit my right shin on the rocks but the worst damage I felt was the searing pain in my left upper hamstring which was excruciating. I shouted out a loud expletive but the other runner was either oblivious or in too much of a hurry to stop, so I got up, dusted myself off, wiped my bloody hand on my running clothes and had to make my first decision of the day as to whether to continue or not. It only took me a couple of seconds, other runners were coming up behind me and someone retrieved my sunglasses which had fallen on the trail. I decided to continue. I had heard before that if you encountered pain on a run for any reason, it was okay to continue as long as the pain did not get worse and I decided to follow this ideology. This had just been the most unfortunate accident but I was going to test the leg out and see if it could hold up.

As I continued I knew that whatever I had thought this race was going to be before the start was going to change. I basically could not run at all initially but kept marching up the next very steep section to the best of my ability. Once I reached the undulating jeep tracks at about 2000ft, I started to try to run and managed to develope a kind of loping limp of a shuffle type run but could not lift up my left foot very high and each time my foot hit a rock it jarred the injury and sent another searing shot of pain through my hamstring. As I went along however the injury itself did not appear to be worsening, I was still able to propel myself in a forward motion, so I made my second decision to keep going. I met some wonderful runners along the way who where fantastic company along the different sections of the trail and all the volunteers at the aide stations were absolutely awesome, without them I certainly could not have finished the race in the same way.

Some of the mind boggling eye candy up on the mountain

I can only imagine what a sight I must have been limping down the steep "Long Road" section covered in dirt and bruises from my fall and obviously not going at my normal pace in my normal stride. Aside from the hamstring, my system felt good and strong and I had been really consistent in my electrolyte replacement/hydration/calorie intake and felt otherwise pretty good. The paved and horribly steep Long road was a test in itself of every ones endurance. It plummeted down from a dizzy height along a hot, black, badly paved road to sea level at which point we had to turn around and go back up it.....at midday...the first time around.....there was to be a second repeat of this on loop 2 which would thankfully be in the dark and cooler.
'Long Road' going down

I completed loop 1 in approximately 9 hours which was fairly good going considering my circumstances and my pacer Robert was waiting to accompany me back up the Kealia switchbacks and onto Are's Loop which was also up, up and more up. Everyone at the base camp was awesome and so supportive. Cheryl gave me a cup of noodle soup which at that moment was the best thing I had ever tasted in my life. I had a moment of feeling overwhelmed as I knew that my decision to continue on to Loop2 would mean that I would have another 10 hours at least in 'the house of pain', but I quickly gathered myself together and embarked on the steep trek back up the mountain. It was awful trying to heave myself up the rocks and could only do it with my right leg. The heaving capabilities of my left leg were gone.
Second time up Kealia trail

I had a mental celebration after getting up Kealia and then Robert and I proceed onto Are's loop (named after a runner who died there after an unfortunate orienteering accident). This trail is also incredibly beautiful with the most awesome scenic vistas of the north shore coastline. It was slow going as the course was steep and I had to do all the work with my right leg again, but once at the top, another mini victory and I could start my limping style run again.Initially Robert was only going to pace me to this point but he volunteered to do the more challenging ridge section with me  which I was very grateful for.I knew how fast I needed to go to make the different landmark milestones in time and could tell that this was taking a lot longer than normal but we kept going. It was great having the company and not being all alone on the trails as dusk broke and darkness began to descend. This is where being in the moment is very helpful, I was in awe of my surroundings and at how fortunate I was to be able to be experiencing this spectacular mountain top in perfect weather at night with a clear sky, again a trillion stars and a very bright new moon which hung over the Pacific Ocean illuminating the inky blackness of the water so far below us. The trail would dip down into the darkened shroud of a lush tropical rain forest and then have us rise above the crest of the hill to be on top of the world, again to descend and be swallowed up by the the trees. I found a peacock feather and stuck it in my braid and the scene of the "ENTS" from "Lord of the Rings" came to mind, as it felt like the trees were alive and watching us. I kept shining my flashlight into the boughs of the trees to see if we were being accompanied my my aumakua, the Pueo (Hawaiian Owl).

We made it over the steep and narrow single track Makua valley lookout trail and back onto the jeep tracks where I was to continue by myself. I thanked Robert at the aide station and said goodbye at which point he said that he was going to pace me for the entire 32mile (50+km) loop. He said that he could not abandon me knowing that I was struggling so much and in such discomfort and although he had never  even run a marathon in his life before, he continued on with me. Mahalo nui loa Robert, you have no idea how much I appreciate this.
So far I had made all the aide stations before the cutoffs. There had been some discrepancy about how late the station at the bottom of Long Road would be kept open, the Peacock manual had said 11pm, but earlier on my first loop they had said 1030 pm. Thanks to Rob L ,Cheryl and the volunteers at Long rd,they ensured us that it would remain open until 11pm. We got there at 1040pm and turned around for the march of death back up Long Rd. This took an hour of very precious remaining time after which my injury just screamed "NO" every time I tried to run. I also kept hitting my left foot against rocks embedded in the track which wasn't helpful. I realized going along these last six miles that I probably wasn't going to make the cutoff, but I was so glad that I hadn't been taken off the course and that I would at least be able to complete the 100 kilometres that I had set out to accomplish. As we went through the densely forested trails we saw a pair of Pueos sitting in the bough of a tree, watching us as we traversed along in the pitch dark with our headlamps. I knew that they would be there and felt strangely comforted by this fact.
At the final aide station we knew I wasn't going to make it and Rob L who was one of the race organizers reminded me that a cutoff time is an artificial number that is made up and that I mustn't worry about it because I was going to complete the race in my own time. This definitely made me feel better. We made it to the picnic table at the start of the Kealia trail descent around 2 am which was the official race cutoff and I went back down the rugged and very technical trail at a snails pace to avoid further injury. In addition to this I had developed two huge blisters, one on each of the balls of my feet which hurt like crazy going down the sharp rocks.
We reached the bottom and were welcomed by fellow HURT members and Gordon (race director) gave me a "Peacock 100K" sun visor which was very nice. Benita packed a bag of ice for my hamstring.
I could not have done this as pleasantly as I did without Robert's fantastic pacing and the camaraderie and encouragement I got along the way from fellow runners was very much appreciated and helped to spur me on, as well as a few phone calls I made to Stevo, Bill and Sian who all sent messages out so that my friends and family could see how I was doing. All of you ROCK big time and I am one of the luckiest humans alive to know you all. I. would also like to especially send out a huge thank you to the race organizers and volunteers who did a phenomenal job of hosting a spectacular event, also to my friends that encouraged me and helped me through my training and my family who had me MIA for many hours at a time whilst I was out there training. I have never regarded myself as an athlete but rather as a person who likes to "live deep and suck out the marrow of life" and the reason why I do these races is not to try and place but rather to dig deep,push through my boundaries and discover those parts about the human spirit that are not normally tapped into and find out what's there. I certainly achieved these goals and learned a lot about myself and others. To be honest I did experience a feeling of disappointment at having not made the cutoff but due to the overwhelming show of  support and the awesome messages I received afterwards I can only say that I am grateful and stoked at having completed one the hardest 100k races out there.
My goal was to find my inner Peacock...and I did for sure!
The story has a happy ending, as I was acknowledged as a finisher (unofficial).


  1. My dearest Heather, Your example of inner-strength, courage and resilience is awe-inspiring. I congratulate you on your amazing accomplishment, finding your inner Peacock, as well as completing the trail run. Thank you very much for sharing this experience. I miss our talks, my friend. Take good care and continue to LIVE! :)

    With Aloha,


  2. Heather dearest - Both chilling and uplifting. Are you sure the runner who muscled you off the track isn't a JHB taxi driver? Love & hugs, Kai

  3. You're simply unbelievable! To have gotten injured at the start & having completed 100K is nothing short of tremendous! HEATHER = TOUGH AS NAILS. On the flip side, you're very sweet to talk story with ^_^ Congratulations, Heather!

  4. Heather I so admire your guts and determiation! You are an absolute inspiration. The most wonderful thing to me is how much you THRIVE on the challenge. You certainly are sucking the marrow out of the bones of life...Brilliant!

    I just have one weeny concern, we only have one body, and it has to last our whole lives long... Please don't push yourself to the extent that you get a pemanent injury, and have to stop this wonderful adventure sport. It would break your heart... Sometimes it takes more strength of character to pull our of a race than to finish it!

  5. Thanks so much Baas Jack and Madam Brattex.You are right, and I am taking some serious "time-out" to allow my injury to heal now.

    1. Good girl:) "Time out" to do some more Tango and horse riding! xxx

  6. Running, espescially ultras and marathon running teaches you so much about life, the universe and everything and about yourself without fail...