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Archives Home : Features> Archives> The 50th State - Ultrarunning in Hawaii> Run to the Sun: An Ultra Like No Other



by P.J. Salmonsen

The 23rd Run to the Sun took place on March 23, starting at 4:30 a.m. in Kahului, Maui. We had 63 ultrarunners and 10 relay teams on hand for this year’s run. As usual, the start was an informal “Ready, Go!” from director John Salmonson. The race is sponsored by HURT, and the Valley Isle Road Runners (VIRRC), led by Bram Denhaan, who does all of the footwork on Maui. That includes organizing the numerous aid stations and volunteers who deliver the spirit of “aloha” in a very special way. One of those stations was manned by Steve Sobaje and his family. Steve, one of the three founders of the race, won the first race in1977, and set a course record of 4:45 in 1986, a mark that still stands today!

This is a race like no other. In the early pre-dawn hours, nearly at sea level, runners can see the observatories at the top of Haleakala, where the distant finish line is located. From rolling pastures, through a eucalyptus forest, to a sparse moon-like landscape decorated with Silverswords and dramatic rock formations, perhaps a Nene bird will emerge. Every switchback offers a new panoramic scene. It is an emotional moment when the runner can finally see the actual finish line, after rounding the last steep switchback some 50 feet away.

Laura Kelecy adds:
Don't you hate those web sites that reel you in with a challenge you just can't pass up? I'll give Craig Hess the blame (and the credit) for this one. He could have let my husband Tom remain blissfully ignorant of the fact that this race was going to be held during our vacation, when we just happened to be on Maui, right in the neighborhood at race time. But no! He had to send Tom the web site and Tom had to pass it on to me, and I had to open it up and read it. That was all it took. An ultra had been on my list of new things that I want to try, so why not do it up right with an all uphill run in Hawaii! It was a tough one, but very well supported and again, that aloha spirit prevailed.

We ran the first 18 or so miles on flat and rolling hills (miles 12 to 15 included steep hills) through some nice residential areas (that we could actually see when it got light). The roads were not closed to traffic so we had to stay to the left at all times. Tom was kind enough to keep me company through the flats and until it got light. He set a brisk pace at the beginning and I wanted to try to stay with him. He pulled ahead, but I tried to keep him in sight as much as I could, because I didn't want him to have to wait for me too long at the top. I took my cues from him (for pacing and eating/drinking) because I'd never run this far before and didn't know quite what to expect.

It was fun watching him pick off other runners. We talked with some as we met them on the course. Those from sea level were having a hard time breathing as we got up in altitude. Other runners' families and friends would drive by at regular intervals to cheer us on.

As the race went higher, the scenery became a bigger part of the race. We could see the ocean, fields, other islands, and the barrenness of the volcano we were on. Bike tours are a popular activity on this route. People coast down the mountain on bikes. Some of them cheered us on too, and seemed to be having a good time.

With about eight miles to go, my quads and hip flexors got so tight from the constant uphill that I had a real shuffle thing going on. It was difficult to lift my feet. But with this shuffle, I stayed close enough to Tom that he took pity on me (and since he is the caring, wonderful husband that he is) and kept me company until the finish. We alternately walked and jogged the last five miles and crossed the finish line holding hands. It was windy up at the top, but they wrapped us in blankets and gave us hot soup.

All of the awards were handmade. Tom got a pottery medal hung on a cord made from Hawaiian cloth. I got a beautiful pottery bowl with a girl running up a mountain on it. The woman who made it actually gave it to me. We hitched a ride to the picnic where we got a massage, had a shower (outdoors!), pizza, soda, and Oreos. Then we hitched another ride back to get our car. I think one of the best parts of the day was talking with all the wonderful people we met there. It was hard to leave, but we had to fly out that night. We slept pretty contentedly on the plane on the way home!