The HURT100 (aka The Hawaiian Ultra Running Team’s Trail 100-Mile Endurance Run) is a race for extremely experienced ultra-runners only. And even the most-experienced ultra-runners can be, and often are, beaten by this incredibly tough race.
Lucja Leonard (aka Running Dutchie) has done some of the most extreme trail races in the world, but for her HURT100 was on a whole other level. She shares her experiences in this honest article.
Motivation to enter
A year ago I witnessed my husband, Dion, tackle, suffer and ultimately complete the HURT100. In the days after this accomplishment he said to me, ‘I don’t think you could finish this race’. Of course talk like that is like waving a red flag at a bull so in August 2018 I entered the lottery and was drawn in the ballot to run the Hawaiian Ultra Running Team 100-mile race.
HURT100 is a 5-lap course of 20 miles and 1,500m/4,900 feet gain and loss per lap. It’s a series of out and backs in a T-bone style route with 99% of the route run on muddy, treacherous, tree-rooted, rocky jungle trails in mid-20-degree temperatures and 80% humidity.
It’s dubbed as one of the toughest hundred milers out there due to the terrain and conditions. Resulting in a yearly 50-70% DNF rate mainly from either stomach or hydration issues due to the humidity, or feet issues from the onset of trench foot. If this doesn’t get you, the tight 36-hour cutoff is the final factor.
In 2018 I’d crewed Dion for the first four laps. He’d had a strong four laps and was in 12th position overall, but the fifth lap took us just over 9.5 hours as his legs started to cramp up and seize up at every climb and every descent.
The lap for me was fun! I was enjoying a very relaxed pace of the 20-mile loop in the Hawaiian sun with the man I love going into the finish, so perhaps this filled me with a false sense of doability. Combined with completing my first hundred, the iconic Leadville 100 in August, followed by taking on ‘The Beast’ that was Oman by UTMB, I felt I was in a good place to become one of the few who finish HURT100.
I’d had a pretty good lead up to the race, recovered well from Oman and was feeling fit, strong and motivated to go. The flight to Hawaii is long; two changeovers and at least 18 hours in the air isn’t ideal, but I arrived with three days to acclimatise. I managed to pick up a cold from the flight, waking up on Thursday with a sore throat – not enough to cause me to worry, but it was in the back of my mind.
Self-catered before the race meant I could keep my nutrition on track. I stood at the start line at 6am on Saturday morning ready and raring to go. I stuck with my friend, Cheryl, who was back for her third attempt to finish, up the first climb. As the sun came up we separated and I enjoyed getting a bit of a run on the slightly runnable sections. Dion wasn’t able to meet me during the first lap due to timing rules, but the checkpoint crew are so amazing I didn’t need him.
The checkpoints are the best I’ve experienced in a race. The volunteers are super-attentive and, due to the layout of the race, you visit each one five times and get to know the people there. With a huge array of drinks and food on an ever-changing menu, along with ice towels for your neck, they are worth their weight in gold. I focused on drinking my energy drinks between checkpoints and eating a little something along the way before a good fill up at each checkpoint.
Lap 1 was going good. I felt strong, grateful for the unrelenting rain showers that kept me cooler, though provided more mud and humidity. At 5h 45m I was excitedly back at the start/finish where I was due to see Dion and get an ice-cold bottle of coconut water from him, only to find out he’d been sent to the next checkpoint as they’d taken down a wrong number and told him I’d already been through. Disappointed, but not crushed, I soldiered out of there to tackle Lap 2.
Steadily drinking and keeping my energy levels up, focusing on walking the hills and getting a little run on any of the flattish or downhill sections, I was pleased to reach the next checkpoint in high spirits. A quick turnaround and I’m back out, crossing back past Cheryl on the climb. We’re both positive, give each other a special high-five greeting, spurring each other on.
The climb out starts out okay, but now in the heat of the day the humidity, unbeknownst to me, is starting to take its toll on my body. I start to feel nauseous and reach the next checkpoint looking a bit green under the gills. Dion tries to fill me with everything possible to get me back on track. Armed with a watermelon and grape snack, he sends me out with strict instructions to just keep sipping my energy drinks and keep moving.
The climb out of the checkpoint is unrelenting. I stumble down and try and steady my heaving stomach and spinning head. I try to drink a little and bring my heart rate back down to no avail. I attempt to eat the watermelon, but then it comes: I start dry heaving and vomit it back up. I try to swallow a paracetamol as this sometimes helps when I’m overheated, but this too won’t stay down. The spinning and nausea stops enough to get up and I keep moving. The key in this race is to keep moving as time is always ticking.
I complete Lap 2 in 7 hours. With a 36-hour cutoff, any laps 7 hours and over and you’re in the danger zone, especially with no real time buffer. I was a lot slower than I’d wanted but I was there and, although behind schedule, not impossible especially with Dion joining me for Lap 3.
The third lap begins… and ends
Armed with Dion and headtorches that light up the jungle, we climb back out. Slow and steady up the climb, trying to retain a low heart rate and keep the nausea at bay.
We get through the next checkpoint and the climb out starts okay again with renewed fuel in the body, but it’s not long before my pace drops again in an attempt to keep my heart rate down. As soon as it rises, I feel ridiculously nauseous so this is imperative, but the clock is ticking. Finally reaching the next checkpoint, my tank is empty and I’m moving forward on sheer will rather than anything else at this stage.
Dion tells me we need to move and we need to get up this climb quicker as we are chasing the clock. I actually manage to get moving again with a steady hike up. We reach the top and get through the pig gates, but suddenly the nausea is back with vengeance this time. I sit on the side of the trail and try to drink some warm coconut water – it doesn’t help.
I try a salt tablet, but as soon as it hits my throat I’m vomiting. I suck on a hard sweet to get rid of the vomit taste, but it’s all I can stomach. Any sip of water or energy drink after this comes back up and I’m just getting slower and slower. Even at this slow pace we pass a couple of people that are in an even worse state than me. This race just ruins people!
It feels like forever and it is. 8 hours of forever and Lap 3 is finished. And so am I. I can’t keep anything down, I’m devoid of energy and even if I leave for Lap 4, I’d need to do this in 8 hours and then only have 7 hours to do Lap 5. Do the math. It doesn’t add up.
I can’t even cry; I want to cry. I want to scream and shout at the world because I wasn’t able to finish. But all I can do is sit and stare, caked in mud, sweat and a good dose of humble pie. HURT you’ve beaten me, with good reason, but you were too much for me. This time.
This is an edited version of Lucja’s blog. Read her full review and experience over on her website: https://runningdutchie.org/2019/01/27/we-wouldnt-want-it-to-be-easy-would-we/