Huffing, puffing at Hana Relay
Photo illustration by Martha Hernandez The Honolulu Advertiser
By Michael Tsai
Advertiser Staff Writer
Our road to Hana was paved (sort of) with good intentions.
We had all agreed: just for fun, no pressure. We would split the 52-mile Hana Relay into six bite-sized pieces, run a little, ride a lot, and share a sunny afternoon with friends, new and old.
But somewhere in the application process, it all went awry. The glitch: One of our fearless leaders wrote "seven hours" in the spot that asked for our expected finish time.
Patsy: "It was George."
George: "It was Patsy."
We attempted the math: Fifty-two miles, seven hours, six of us. That's ...
That's way too fast. Not impossibly fast top teams finish in less than five hours but too fast for the kind of runners we professed to be: the terribly un-serious, un-fast kind.
Patsy: "It was your handwriting, George."
George: "I only wrote what you told me to write, Patsy."
The Hana Relay course runs from Kahului Airport to the Hana Ball Park over a two-lane highway that is legendary for its dips, dives, bumps and for roadside epicureans grinds.
The race, now in its 30th year, was sponsored by Valley Isle Road Runners. About 100 teams competed in eight separate divisions.
At age 33, I was the youngest of our group and the reason I was continually reminded that we weren't eligible to compete in the masters' division. The rest of the team was comprised of pool cleaner and noted paddler Kelly Fey, HMSA manager Russell Goo, mortgage broker George Norcross and his wife, ophthalmologist Tyrie Jenkins, and Patsy Vasquez, a realtor associate and one of Hawai'i's top female runners.
We called ourselves the Hana Hoofers, but, once again, no one wanted to claim responsibility for the name.
Patsy: "That was you, George."
George: "It was not me, Patsy."
Except for George, our sacrificial offering to Hana's gnarliest hills, we had each adhered to a strict program of resistance training: Anytime we felt an urge to train, we resisted.
But lack of preparation didn't make us equal.
"I thought this was going to be a fun run," Russell said. "Then I met Patsy and Kelly and I thought, 'Oh God, they're serious.' "
Of course, the beauty of this quirky relay is that even the serious aren't too serious, as evidenced by some of our dubiously dubbed competitors: the Beer Sponges, the Hipp Replacements, Hanabata Runners and Da 12 Steppers.
Speaking of vans, ours was left to the capable eyes and hands of Rosie Lum, who managed to keep her bearings in increasingly lockerroom-like conditions. By the end of our long day, Rosie had mastered the tenuous art of cliffside parallel parking.
The race started in four heats, slowest to fastest, with teams placed according to their estimated times. We started in the third heat, thanks to our divinely inspired seven-hour estimate.
Patsy went first, blazing through her 2.4-mile leg in 18 minutes. Tyrie went next with a 2.6-mile leg from just-shy of Hana Highway to the Baldwin Park entry road.
"It's the best way to get to Hana," said Tyrie. "You really get an up-close and personal look at the road and the scenery."
By the time we finished our first rotation, we had traveled more than 17 rolling miles to Twin Falls (Ho'olawa) Bridge. Along the way we sighted familiar faces from the local running community as our vans played leapfrog along the roadsides. We road along with our doors locked in the open position, stopping every mile or so to establish ad hoc moral support stations.
The second set of legs brought us to some of the most scenic and most challenging points of the course.
Kelly, who feels more at home in a one-person canoe than a pair of running shoes, showed no sign of struggle as she tore through a steep one-mile section to the top of Hanamanu Hill, finishing her 2.3-mile leg in 20 minutes.
"I didn't know anything about my time," she said later. "I was just happy to make each leg. The next day I could barely walk."
Still, Fey said, running did have its advantages.
"I get a little carsick, so getting into Hana, this was was very enjoyable," she said.
George, who earlier this year hiked to the summit of Kilimanjaro, assumed the toughest leg: a 3.3-mile grueling stretch from Wailua Bay Lookout to Pua'aka'a State Park that ends with more than two miles of very steep, very curvaceous road.
To prepare for this notorious leg, George who says he can count the road races he's done on one hand and still have fingers left over ran five days a week, between six and 12 miles at a time, up hilly Monsarrat and Kilauea avenues.
"I went way faster than I trained," George said. "I was shocked. I didn't think I could go that fast. I killed myself but I was caught up in the moment so I just ran as hard as I could."
Early on, George had set his sights on a woman dressed in red running just ahead of him. With Warren Zevon blasting on his headset, George started the hunt.
"At the beginning I was thinking, 'catch her,' " he said. "Then it was, 'I hope I can keep up with her.' But she just kept getter farther and farther away. Eventually I just started looking around at how pretty everything was."
With the rest of us watching from the comfort of the van, George powered up the final 200 yards and handed the foam relay stick to his wife.
"At that point, my left leg was having a conversation with my right leg, which was whining that it was doing all the work," he said. "I was a little berserk. I was losing it."
For Patsy, a veteran of five Hana Relays, the real pain came from struggling in front of her fellow elite runners.
"I ran slow," she said. "I was really disappointed. The second leg I don't know what happened. I felt horrible. I hadn't trained and I felt pressure from my peers on the side. It killed me."
Not that any of us could relate. Patsy's worst times were faster than most of our best. And it was Patsy who beamed the brightest when she completed her last leg hours before George crossed the finish line at Hana Ball Park.
And what a finish it was: Russell waving his arms like a runway controller. George sprinting, mouth agape, toward the finisher's chute.
"I was trying to be tough," George said. "But it was pretty hard to be tough just then."
Oh, and our time?