by Luis James Escobar
A short drive away from the friendly shops, warm hotels and outdoor restaurants of Waikiki Beach lies the Division of Forestry’s Nature Center, high in the Makiki Heights region on the Hawaiian Island of Oahu. The Nature Center is now the home base for the H.U.R.T. (Hawaiian Ultra Running Team) Trail 100 Mile. The Nature Center serves as the start, the finish and one of the three aid stations in this sometimes cruel, but always beautiful 100-mile course. For me the excitement and anticipation prior to this run were higher than normal. Local runners had been describing monster climbs with more than 23,000 feet of elevation gain and loss, humid tropical rain showers, slick rocks and miles of slippery Banyan tree roots, which cross the muddy trails like wild snakes. (The famed roots of the Rocky Raccoon Trail 100 in Texas are absolutely nothing compared to the terrain of H.U.R.T.) Prior to this no one had ever consecutively completed more than two of the five twenty-mile loops. Many had doubts if the 100-mile distance could even be completed with in the seemingly generous 36-hour time limit. Patience, total focus and a solid game plan would be a must!
The warm 6:00 a.m. start was like a scene from the television show Survivor. A dense tropical rain forest with the sounds of trickling water, frogs and crickets filled the dark, damp air. Twenty-nine wide-eyed and curious ultrarunners were carefully led away from civilization and walked on to a small candle lit footbridge. We were told to gather close to one another, stand quietly and accept a blessing from two native Hawaiian ladies who were dressed in traditional island clothing and praying over us in an ancient Polynesian language. Then small sparkling fireworks were lit, which sprayed silver light and white smoke across the first few yards of the muddy trail. A conch shell was blown and our jungle adventure began. Flashlights in hand, we were off!
Immediately we were confronted the “Hogsback,” a very long, very steep, very rocky, very rooty climb straight to the top. (Western States has Devil’s Thumb, Leadville has Hope Pass, Angeles Crest has Mount Wilson and now H.U.R.T. has the Hogsback.) Because it was at the start and because this race was comprised of five 20-mile loops, we would all become very familiar with this unforgiving, never-ending section of trail. Within the first few moments of the race the head games and strategies had begun to take shape. Almost instantly Alfred (Bogey) Bogenhuber pulled away and took control of the race. To all of our surprise he was pushing the very first hill! Apparently Bogey knew the course and intended to use it to his advantage. At that moment I made the decision to go with him. Maybe I could follow him, maybe I could feed off of his energy, hold on as long as possible, watch and learn from the experienced master. Maybe I could hold on, maybe I would blow up. As I worked my way through the pack I could hear the well intended but doubtful snickers and comments of my fellow runners.
Soon I was with Bogey and soon we are alone. There were no more voices and no more flashlights bouncing behind us; just me…alone…in the dark…in the jungle…with a man who calls himself the Wolfie!
Until now I had never actually met Bogey. Of course I knew who he was; I had seen his picture in the running magazines, I had heard the stories of how he likes to stalk runners all day long only to run them down late in the race. I had seen past race results and I had even read some of his writings. I knew exactly who Bogey was—he was the Wolfie. He is 61 years old and the definition of old school, hard ass, competitive determination. Bogey has become an ultrarunning legend and I was about to find out why.
The next hill was a 1,000-foot climb to the Manoa Cliffs: more rocks, more roots, and more steep single-track jungle trail. Suddenly, at the base of this climb Bogey stopped to fill a water bottle from a natural spring. Was this my chance? Less than an hour into it, Bogey paused and I was forced to make a decision. Should I hang out and wait or risk it all now? Reluctantly, I decided right then and there that I would run the remainder of this first loop as hard as I reasonably could. Maybe I could move away from the pack, maybe I could strike now and leave Bogey slipping in the mud. Yea, right!
Pressing the next series of hills, attacking the downs and running anything that was remotely runable I managed to stumble through the first 20-mile loop in record time of four hours and twenty-three minutes. But as I was leaving the 20-mile aid station, Bogey was arriving. I had given all I had to give, but still less than twelve minutes behind me was the Wolfie! Just like in the famous stories that I had heard, he was now stalking me! I had become his prey. From that moment on and for the remainder of the race I would be consumed with a sense of urgency. There was little that I could do—the man is a professional. Bogey was patient. He watched and waited, he was persistent, ever present, always there. Still leading in the third lap I began to realize this was becoming my race to lose. If I ran smart, conservatively, took care of myself and ran within my own abilities I just might have something left to outrun Bogey in the fifth and final lap. But one small mistake, one wrong move, one sign of weakness, and he would pounce.
This story would not be complete without giving credit to all of the people who supported me during the race. Anyone who has ever completed an ultra will tell you that it is a team effort, it requires the support of several people to get each runner to the finish. My wife Beverly was with me from start to finish. This was her first opportunity to crew a 100-miler and she did a wonderful job. Late at night Nuuanu aid station caption Greg Cuadra, assigned a pacer to me. Nate Lewis is a 17-year-old local high school cross-country runner. Fortunately, Nate was willing and available to run the next seven rainy miles with me. Nate knew the course and helped get me through some very dark and difficult trail.
Big John Salmonson the (race director and Godfather of H.U.R.T.) and his wife PJ were both a great source of inspiration, always positive and supportive. Along with many others John and PJ were in charge of the Nature Center aid station. They did everything possible to get all of us safely through the full 100-mile distance. At 60 miles John introduced me to my new pacer, Ian Golden. Ian is a 24-year-old track athlete from Ithaca New York. Ian is very strong and has plans to run a 100-mile soon. This would be Ian’s first taste of real long distance trail running. He’s a competitor and he quickly understood the situation that we were in. We would spend the next twelve and a half-hours trying to out fox the Wolf.
By this point, the small pack of runners who were minutes behind Bogey had chosen to stop. They decided to take advantage of the 100-km option and drop after the third lap. With less than two laps to go, third place runner akabill was now about two hours back. It was coming clear that this race would end as it had began. In the jungle…alone…with Bogey.
As usual, the hour prior to sunrise was the most challenging. It had been raining off and on through out the night, the trail was a mess and so were we. Ian and I were both pretty scraped up, covered in mud, wet and moving very slowly. I never thought about dropping out (the 100-km option was never really an option) but at this time I was ready to concede. I had accepted the fact that Bogey would soon pass and I would settle for second place. We were at an all-time low and in a real world of hurt—literally
Dawn and the friendly people at the Paradise Park aid-station turn around (88 miles) were a welcome sight. The warmth and sunshine lifted our spirits, and reconfirmed our goal to keep the lead. With twelve miles to go, Bogey was still within minutes. Assuming Bogey would soon attack, I asked Ian to take the lead and push. It was all I could do just to keep my pacer in sight. Slipping and sliding, I have been reduced to a stumbling idiot. The rocks seemed slicker, the hills steeper and the roots even worse than before, but somehow at the final turn around with less than seven miles to go, we had actually gained time on Bogey. Was our plan was paying off?
Catching a glimpse of Bogey at the turnaround he appeared to be tired but still very focused and determined. We knew that there would be no room for error, now was the time to dig deep, hold on and keep it together. Finally, with less than two miles to go and Ian still leading we managed to hold on to our slim lead. Constantly looking over my shoulder we approached the Nature Center for the fifth and final time. Tired, wet and coated in mud, we did it! It took twenty-eight hours and three minutes but it was done, it was finally over and we had managed to stay in front. Bogey is a real warrior and a great competitor, someone I will not soon forget. To share the trail with a runner of his caliber was a tremendous thrill and an invaluable learning experience.
German ultrarunning pioneer and 2000 Grand Slam finisher Hans-Dieter Weisshaar described this 100-mile as “the toughest course I have ever faced.” Upon finishing, even Bogey proclaimed he was giving up the 100-mile distance. Twenty-nine of us started and only eight completed the full 100-mile distance. This course is tough! Congratulations to all of the runners who had the courage to start this incredible event. Thanks to all the volunteers and members of HURT, Vern Char, Mike Garcia, Jeff Huff, Greg Cuadra, akabill, PJ and Big John Salomson. Thanks for sharing your mountains with us.
I have been humbled by this magnificent trail, inspired by these wonderful people and brought to a new level by this determined man. I am proud to say that I had the opportunity to run with Bogey, but I hope that I never have to race the Wolfie again. I will look forward to seeing all of you next year.