Field Notes: Go the Distance with Hawaiian Ultra Running Team
Field Notes explores Honolulu’s vast and varied scenes and subcultures. This month: Hawaiian Ultra Running Team, or HURT.
Runner Candes Meijide Gentry in the Xterra Trail Run. Photo: Courtesy of Xterra/Mike Adrian
What is it?
Running a marathon seems tough enough. Think you could run four in a day and off-road, to boot? Ultramarathon runners twist through mountain switchbacks, up and over hills and along narrow, single-person trails to get in touch with nature, relax their minds and test their bodies’ breaking points.
Who does it?
Picture the kind of person you’d expect to run 100 miles in a day for fun. A Navy SEAL, perhaps, or a spin class instructor who sells motivational fitness videos on the side. The crowds of runners at organized ultramarathon races hardly look the type. The majority of the runners might just be the people in the cubicles next to yours. “A lot of professionals like to run, surprisingly,” says Joseph Gronwald, a 49-year-old financial planner with Merrill Lynch and a veteran 100-mile ultrarunner. “I think you have to have achieved a certain amount of success to have the time to do it.”
From government employees to financial planners to engineers, some of Hawai‘i’s most consistent ultramarathoners go the distance in their careers as well as on the trail.
What does a race look like?
Gronwald hopes to complete the Oct. 15 Peacock Challenge, a 55-mile course with particularly brutal terrain and conditions, a couple of hours ahead of the 16-hour cutoff time. Despite a couple of 100-mile races under his belt, the Peacock Challenge is the only race Gronwald has failed to complete.
“No one wants to run the Peacock 55,” says Gronwald. “Peacock Flats is terrible. It’s steep—really steep. It’s hotter than hell, and the ground is hard-packed. But I have to finish it.”
Due to the nature of the course, aid stations with water and food are sparse compared to other ultramarathons. Marian Yasuda is a 15-year veteran of the ultrarunning world and works as a transportation planner for the City and County of Honolulu. Yasuda will be working one of the aid stations for the Peacock Challenge while she recovers from a 100-mile race from Utah to Idaho earlier in October. “The Peacock race is a tough 55 miles,” says Yasuda. “It’s equivalent, challengewise, to some 100 milers. Some people have trouble with the heat and get blisters.”
“Road racing is very different from ultrarunning in that, unless you’re injured, you’re going to finish,” says Yasuda. “But with ultraracing, sometimes it’s only 50 percent that finish.”
Hypothermia, hallucinations and falling asleep while running make simply completing an ultramarathon a massive accomplishment.
“Rocks start to look like animals, or trees start to look like people,” Yasuda remembers. “But my mind has been clear enough to realize I’m just seeing things.”
The biggest challenge during the race?
Nutrition. Runners have their own methods of getting the calories they need despite finnicky, uncooperative stomachs. Calorie consumption can make or break an ultrarunner. Gronwald eats 4,500 to 5,000 calories a day while training. Yasuda says something that goes down easily one race can be impossible to eat on the next one. Some runners swear by sports goos and gels, but the runners we spoke with say that real food is the way to go, including: Peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwiches, miso soup, hummus wraps, salted potatoes (mashed or boiled), soda, musubi and sweet potatoes. Try a mix of carbohydrates and protein, says runner Marian Yasuda, though an occasional sugar boost can really help.
Marian Yasuda, 56, transportation planner, Pālolo Valley
“We’re not winning money, we’re not winning huge awards, so we do tend to help each other and put ourselves before the race.”
Joseph Gronwald, 49, financial planner, Tantalus
“If you’re competing with anything, it’s yourself. Trail running is the one place I can really relax.”
Sue Lohr, 54, environmental engineer, Kāne‘ohe
“The freedom of just being able to do and go and see and be—that’s more than the competitive side. But if I see a ponytail in front of me, I’ll try for it.”