9 December 10: Ultraman Day 3 Report

by hillarybiscay

Stage 3, the final day of Ultraman, is comprised of a double marathon on the road from the town of Hawi (known to most as the turnaround for the Hawaii Ironman bike course) back to Kailua-Kona, finishing behind the pier at the Old Airport. 52.4 miles.

It might seem strange, but this was the part of the race that I looked forward to most. I love to run–the longer, the better–and although I had done a few 50-mile ultramarathons in my life, they were on trail, and I had certainly never done one after two big days of work. So I was anxious to see what this would feel like, and really, to have a running celebration of becoming an ultraman!

I was truly excited when I woke up (if you could call it that–I was mostly too jacked up on caffeine/ in too much pain to sleep) at 4 AM on Sunday, and I am pretty sure that the GCM realized I was even more crazy than he had previously accepted. I shoved down some brown rice with soy sauce–same thing I had for dinner and one of the couple remaining items I could stomach–for breakfast plus some coffee, of course, and we headed to the start in the dark.

This final stage starts well and truly in the blackness, as it begins 30 mins earlier than the other two–at 6AM. They started us off and I would bet that Shanna and Amber ran the first couple of miles in the neighborhood of 7-min mile pace. I thought we may have all run about the same pace–and indeed at the end of the day we ended up doing so–so this was a surprise as I did not want to start that quickly. But in my limited ultramarathoning experience, one thing I learned is that I can’t “race” until the last miles. So while I certainly didn’t like watching my main competition run away, I had a sense for about what effort level I should be able to sustain over this distance, and just tried to focus on my own race and settle into a rhythm.

One unique element of the run portion if this event is that pacers are allowed for the last 50 miles. My super-runner, super-friend Dave had actually flown in for the occasion. The guy runs 2:40 marathons whilst dressed head-to-toe as Elvis and paces his friends in ultras for fun, so he was way overqualified for this gig, but I was very appreciative to have him there! He met me about two miles in and we had a nice catch-up chat for about 14 miles; it was good to zone out and take my mind off of where we were and how many miles we had done, and it forced me to stick with my own conversational pace for the first section of the run.

It was also a novelty to run this stretch of road from Hawi to Kwaihae, because I am usually on a bike when I am out there. While this section is a net downhill, there are some rolling hills, and it turns out that they are just as deceptive on the run as they are on the bike. Nearly everyone looked to me like “the one just before Kwaihae“–but it wasn’t.

I became mostly non-verbal right about the time I did start seeing signs of the Kwaihae stores; Dave asked me to weigh in on a personal situation he was describing and I replied with, “My stomach hurts–I can’t talk right now.” Soon thereafter began the search for the missing package of Immodium that we had so diligently procured during our extensive pre-race shop-a-thon. In fact there were three key items that were sorely missed during this run, which we found at home in a shopping bag upon our return to the condo post-race, and they were: Immodium, SportShield (anti-chafe –BodyGlide just does not compare!), and SaltStick (proper salt+electrolyte tablets–again we had with us the inferior alternative, Endurolytes, in this category as well).

Once in Kwaihae, we encountered yet another stretch of the course that I had managed to underestimate: that annoying little hill that takes you up to your right turn onto the Queen K. That sucker always gets me on the bike; I am continually confused at how I can be on the GCM’s wheel when it starts and then by the time I get to the top, he is unclipped and taking photos of the scenery while waiting for me. This might be expected on a long climb, but this one is really not that long! I figured it must be at just the wrong grade–one of those hills that is easier to run than ride.

But I was wrong. This hill seemed like a mountain–never-ending–and in retrospect, it marked the beginning of what I would estimate to be an 18-mile-long crater in the middle of my race. And let me tell you: 18 miles when one is cratering in the middle of an ultramarathon takes a looooooong time. It was a good thing I had my watch-watching ban.

One thing you must bear in mind in order to put the mindtrip of this marathon into perspective is that unlike a normal race, there are no mile markers (just a sign for 10km, half marathon, and marathon) or aid stations–in other words, nothing to break things up or signal progress. Instead, I had landmarks to which I looked forward along the way–each of which signaled various things, like “Kawaihae–about 17 miles done,” “Hapuna Beach–you are still VERY far from home,” “Mauna Lani–this wouldn’t be too far if you were one a bike,” “Waikoloa–oh shoot Waikoloa comes after Mauna Lani–I’m only at Waikoloa?!”

Clearly you can tell by my associations throughout this stretch that my mental state was not so good. I was feeling terrible: my stomach, my energy, my legs–you name it. I can’t be certain whether it was my body giving out on me or whether my body was just following my head. I was entirely unable to take any solid food and was existing solely on PowerBar Endurance–carried in hand by the lovely Dave– and PowerGels. It was an effort to get anything at all down and I am sure I could have done better. All I wanted was Immodium, anti-nausea pills, and a fruit smoothie. Or fresh-squeezed orange juice. Yes I did order these at one point in time. Yes I do realize those were ridiculous requests, but I knew I needed calories and those were the only things I could imagine that sounded palatable by this point.

In case you haven’t noticed (for those who have been there), there aren’t a whole lot of stores along the Queen K. My crew went and bought the Immodium and some kind of orange-juice-from-concentrate, which I took one sip of and promptly tossed on the ground. And although I had never used it before, the Immodium was a lifesaver, and kept my “bathroom” breaks limited to four (there are also no bathrooms along the Queen K, FYI–nor any bushes to duck behind).

Maiki and Ian switched out with Dave a bit during this time for the role of pacer, and ultimately Dave ended up covering about 28 miles with me. I feel bad for how slowly I made him run during some of this! I was intentionally not looking at pace, and instead left the Garmin-wearing to my pacers, but in doing math now after the fact, there were some very slow stretches in there. I just put one foot in front of the other and employed my no-walking rule: even the slowest “run” is faster than the fastest walk (except in the case of crazy-steep hills, and there are none of those on this course).

Again, I got to the point where I didn’t want to have to speak or even motion for what I wanted in terms of fuel or drink. Sometimes I wouldn’t even take what I did want from my crew because I couldn’t be bothered to stick my arm out or break my rhythm to put ice in my hat. But, at some point around mile 35 or so, I realized that pounding gels + Coke + RedBull couldn’t hurt. So that’s what I did, and carried on doing all the way to the finish.

photo credit: Tim Carlson,

I am not sure if it was the caffeine-sugar high, or the distant sight of the Kona Village resort–which I recognized as being “somewhat near town”–that turned things around, but I emerged from the crater somewhere around mile 36. Ian had a pacing stint around here and I started chatting his ear off, while picking up the pace. Soon enough, there were fading runners ahead of me, and I got to start playing Pac-Man, which of course gave me the illusion that I was feeling even better.

To add to the excitement, Chris Lieto and his little son Kaiden joined the fun about mile 37 and started bunny-hoppingĀ  me on the course and cheering me on–Kaiden even ran alongside me for a minute. They lifted my spirits even further and definitely helped me keep the effort honest once this renewed solid pace started the legs really burning.

In spite of the burning, though, the celebration I had envisioned did happen during this time. I had a big, huge, runner’s high and smiled a lot at what I had the privilege of doing at that very moment. I was finally doing this Ultraman thing and it was pretty cool.

Back to landmarks: passing the Energy Lab was a big head-trip. Rationally, I knew that in the scheme of 52.4 miles, it ought to mark “almost there,” but I couldn’t help but think of how long this stretch of highway seems during ironman–every time. I must admit, however, that I was running faster here than I was during this same stretch of the ironman marathon this year.

ALMOST THERE ALMOST THERE…….I replaced those traumatic ironman flashbacks. Then I was soon given a new focus with some information from my crew: “you have to make up four minutes on Shanna between here and the finish in order to finish second overall.” At this point, I had not seen either Shanna or Amber since the first miles of the race, and had no idea how far ahead of me they were. Nor did I know how many miles I had to make up these 3 minutes between this point and the finish–but I estimated at the time this called for about a minute per mile. In retrospect, I think I was about 4 miles from the finish, but in any case, it seemed like a whole lot of time to make up in a small amount of miles.

Nevermind: I was either going to do it or die trying! This was the final smashfest of the year and I was supposed to kiss 201o goodbye with a real bang. I did not want to leave anything in the tank; after all, I came to Ultraman to leave everything on the road.

I didn’t realize I had another gear in me, but I apparently I did: Ian said his Garmin read 7:36 per mile during this stretch (again, when I do the math, those must have been some darn slow miles during my crater) . . . And the dying-animal noises were in full effect. Good thing I practiced those in training because I wasn’t alarmed, although I think my pacers and crew were!

Ian ran me up the final hill to the right-hand downhill turn towards the finish, and Maiki took over for the victory lap. Except it too was marked just by loud grunts. I turned into the Old Airport and saw, much to my dismay, that the finishline was not at the front end of the airport, but midway down the old runway . . . which means that sustaining the level of pain I was putting myself though for another 400 meters or so. From my perspective, the finishline may as well have been another five miles away.

I had not hurt this bad since I had to make a pass at mile 25 to win Ironman Wisconsin two years ago.

But in fact this feeling–being able to push myself to that place–was one of my main accomplishments during this final stage. I finished my double marathon in 7 hours and 55 minutes, having made up 6 minutes on Shanna and thus sneaking into second place overall by 3 minutes.

And while I did not meet my third goal for this race, which was to win, I did achieve my second, which was to break the course record: this means I finished second in the women’s field while recording a time 1 hour and 5 minutes under the 21-year-old course record. Additionally, this was the fastest female debut at the ultraman distance. Of these things I am proud; it was a huge boost to finish the season on this note.

I have to thank my coach Derick Williamson at Durata Training for helping me start to turn things around. I know this is just the tip of the iceberg . . . And then, to all my sponsors: I had been dreaming about Ultraman for six years and it would not have even been feasible to attempt it without your support. Thank you K-Swiss, PowerBar, TYR, ISM, Wilier, Zipp, CycleOps, FSA, and Vega.

(I finished and veered directly towards the closest patch of sand to lie down . . .)

And to my crew, whose job continued on long after the finish, a HUGE THANK YOU:

Amy: FAMILY!! Next best thing to having my mom there . . .

Ian: The tough-love guy– an essential part of the team! Ready and willing to get his hands dirty, too. We could not have done it without you.

Michael: Ever-enthusiastic, always a calming influence, and so helpful to have a medical professional on our team. Especially when I was bleeding from places I shouldn’t have been, it was good to have a doc say “You’ll be fine for a few more hours…”

My CAT: My long-suffering better half. I would say I’m sorry for putting you through this, but you know there is plenty more where this came from . . . So I will just say I love you my Cat!

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