As some of you may know, our Founder, Coach JJ, took on one of the toughest 100 mile races about two weeks ago. After letting the experience sink in, he sat down to share a few of the most powerful moments. Below is JJ’s ‘race recap’ and was originally posted on LinkedIn here: JJ’s Race Recap
THE HURT 100 was everything and more than I expected. Incredible views. Awesome people. Challenging trails. Oh, and a few things I was not prepared for like: A Ballistic Missile Threat. Downhills that not only crushed your quads, hamstrings, toes (not to mention rolling your ankles about 80 times – per loop), and your soul, but it also challenged my mental and spiritual capacity to gain any confidence with the few “truly” run-able sections. Although I remained in great spirits throughout the entire race, with very little lows (until the very end), there were several rookie mistakes (and some unfortunate physical injuries) I was unable to overcome to complete the entire 100 mile race. Although, I did push my body, mind, and spirit to complete the Fun Run. There is still some unfinished business for me at Tantalus.
I am in the middle of this kinda head on collision of emotional awareness. Pain, Love, Shame, and Gratitude are all about to slam into each other at a 4-way stop. And that is ok.
My (relatively brief) Race Recap:
The Start: The legend Luis Escobar led us into the beast with an incredible prayer that is now part of every run, training, and race I do from this day forward. He said:
Earth is my Body.
Water is my Blood.
Air is my Breath.
Fire is my Spirit.
Loop 1 – Minus the 38 minute Ballistic Missile Threat delay we had at Paradise, everything else went as planned. Didn’t come out to hot. Maintained great hydration and started fueling early. Unfortunately I would find out very soon that my fuel choice during training (Stinger Wafers) were just NOT going to work on this day. Also, with that delay it put me almost 40 minutes later into the day which meant getting to the night sooner then I had planned for my race. Not to mention the emotional stress of thinking (as little as it may seem) that Hawaii was yet again under attack and (at least for a few moments) that I may never get to see my kids or family again. I will admit, it messed with my mind a bit. But, we pushed on and I got to Nature Center pretty close to on target.
Loop 2 – This 20 miles would be the beginning of the end (and I didn’t even know it at the time). I had partnered up with a local runner on the way from Nuuanu to Makkiki (Liza thank you again for everything – we will be back next year and finish this beast) and we charged Hogs Back with a strong and steady climb. At some point I noticed I was alone, and turned back to check on my compadre. Dealing with some stomach issues she said to go on ahead so off I went. Heading into Manoa I can remember clearly slipping somewhere on the downhill and tweaking my knee badly (which we would later learn to be a meniscus tear and MCL sprain – surgery still TBD). I remember thinking “uh oh, this can’t be good”. But I pushed on to Paradise where I would once again get to see my entire family and crew (no one is aloud to be at Paradise for the first loop except volunteers). Coming into the aid station I felt really good. I was not eating much during my legs between aide stations (nothing sounded good and I really was not hungry) but would fuel up quite a bit at the aide stations. This (I believe) would cost me and become rookie mistake #1. Side note: these people are AMAZING. They feed you, get you water, and push you back on the course as soon as possible. You can tell they truly want every runner to ring that bell. They treated all of us as if we were Elite Athletes (and for the record, anyone who runs this race can call themselves exactly that – and Elite Athlete). Also, my knee was hurting pretty good, but I just tried to put that in a box and lock it away for Sunday afternoon when I planned to finish the entire 100 miles. Got out of the aide station quickly and heading back up the endless switchbacks toward Nuuanu. Personal opinion – The climb in and out of Paradise is the toughest of the entire course. Although Nuuanu is pretty steep and technical, it felt like forever to get in and out of Manoa. During this climb I had another slip on the same leg expect it went the opposite direction. By now the pain was kicking into high gear. But muscled through it and made my way back to leg 5 (Nuuanu) and met my team who once again ROCKED it and had everything I needed to get me in and out in under 5 minutes, including my headlamp as unfortunately it would be needed mid leg to get me back to complete Loop 2. This is where I ran into trouble. About a 1/3 of the way out, darkness had set in, my headlight started blinking and there was no spare in my pack. Oh crap. Then all of a sudden it went out and I was in pitch black. PS – when they say it gets incredibly dark inside the trail – they are not lying. It was creepy and peaceful all at the same time. I fumbled through my pack and realized I had a rechargeable battery pack that also had a small “flashlight” which I used to fumble my way back to Nature Center. I also found an “Aux Mode” which put off minimal light from my headlamp until it finally completely died. But I finally made it, now about and hour + later then my race plan. This is where I would pick up my pacer and Coach to run the full night loop (in hind sight should had been my last loop based on my physical condition).
Loop 3 – The end is near. As we headed out toward Manoa, spirits were pretty high. I had coach with me and he was helping make up a little time. It was great to have someone to talk to and we started the dreadful count back as to what we needed to do to be able to reach the cut-off in time. Arriving in Paradise, we fueled quickly and headed back onto Nuuanu. Now knowing what we had to do to make the cutoff. It was starting to get close. Rookie mistake #2 is approaching. As we began to climb Judd Trail my light went out again. SOB. However, this time I was prepared. I had a spare battery. All is good right? Wrong! As I was trying to switch out the batteries, I pulled the entire wiring harness out of the lamp itself and we were dead in the water. No light. Except once again, my back up battery flashlight. This time, no Aux Mode. And you cannot be aided by your pacer on the course, only at designated aide stations. So……off we went into the darkness at literally a snails pace. Knee was throbbing. Hopes starting to diminish (at this point of even finishing 3 loops). This was my lowest point (and trust me, when you hear about loop 4 it will be hard to believe this was the lowest point of my journey). We finally reached the Nuuanu Aide Station and I think the look on my face said it all. There was an awesome team that lent us there back up headlamp and as we did some final calculations – it would require me to have a negative split on this leg to get me close (and I mean VERY close) to making the cut off for loop 5. We went for it. Much slower at this point. But we charged the climb out and as we reached the top of Judd Trail Coach Blue said the most beautiful thing I could have ever herd at that point. He said “Well JJ, regardless of the outcome you are a F’ing Ultra Marathoner. Do you realize you have run a 50K, 50 miler, 24 hours race, and about to complete a 100+k…and we are gonna push to get that 100 miles. Either way you are an Ultra Marathoner”. I literally stopped on the trail, mid climb, and responded with these simple words “We are going for the Fun Run”. After some back and forth about how if we could just push and get into Nature Center by 5:30am we still had a shot…etc…etc…etc…I realized at that moment that my journey was to complete the 100+k Fun Run. At the present moment I was at peace with it. Honestly, I truly wasn’t sure I could physically even finish the loop, let alone go on for another 7 miles to complete the Fun Run (what was once recognized as a 100k completion – just a few years back). My knee was swollen. My feet were on fire. I had no appetite during the climbs. I just didn’t know how I was gonna make it back to Nature Center. So we slowed WAY down. There were several times where I lost Coach, all I could see was his headlamp. Shame and embarrassment was starting to creep in BIG TIME. How could I have done better? Maybe we could have taped my kneed back together at Paradise? Maybe if I would have just eaten more between legs? Why didn’t I have 2 lamps (not just multiple back up batteries)? It was all starting to hit me. And my pace being so slow. It was all just coming to an end. We finally made it back to complete loop 3 and I sat down (for really the first time of the entire race) and to be blunt…I just did NOT want to get back up. After all, I was an ex 5k runner with no experience in Ultra’s. No marathon experience. Not even a 10k. I had just run 60 miles on the worlds toughest technical course (about 98k). I completed my first 50k, 50 miler, and 24 hour endurance race. I didn’t need to prove anything else to anyone else. Except myself. My memory is a little foggy here, but I believe Luke (my dear friend and co-founder of depression2extinction.org) was all geared up and ready to roll. I think I stood up and sat back down several times. Made a shoe change and then changed back. Honestly, I was stalling. It was a solid 30+ minutes. I had nothing left. My tank was empty. My body was wrecked. My soul was crushed. However, my spirit was saying over and over in my head (I think this was God talking to me) – get up and finish these last 7 miles. I believe in you. You can do this. And then it happened. I stood up. I ate some mash potato balls (OMG – the best thing ever). I drank another Pepsi. And then honestly the next thing I remember is one foot was moving in front of the other and we were heading out of Nature Center to begin loop 4. I (think) I remember saying to John on the way out – “heading out to finish my Fun Run John, this is one hell of a course”. And we were off.
Loop 4 – Spirit over ability. As we climbed Hogs Back (I think one of the only times I was completely coherent during this final leg) I remember feeling literally every root, rock, pebble, grain of sand pounding my entire body. I kept chanting (in my mind) Relentless Forward Progress…Just go another 200 feet”. We finally reached the only part of the race, the road taking us to Manoa Trail, and I tried everything I could to run. Nothing. This is about the time I basically blacked out. Very few memories until we reached what I like to call the endless switchbacks to Paradise. At one point I think (Luke could confirm) I heard Luke say something like “You got this JJ, you’re crushing it” and my response was something like “Crushing what, my soul. I’m not crushing shit”. That (I believe) was the nastiest I ever got during the entire race. As we got closer to Manoa Falls, we could hear running water and I knew we were close. But were we? What had taken me about 45 minutes in loops 1&2 would take another 3 hours to complete. Day hikers started filling the trails. We were truly close a this point. And then I saw my sons just as we reached the bridge to take us into Paradise. My eyes started filling with tears. I tried to muster up a few shuffle steps to mimic what was once “running”. Nada. We crossed the gate and started heading down to my final resting place, at least for this race and journey, and as I approached the pearly gates (of what truly felt like heaven at that present moment) my son said “look down Dad.” They had written “Go Dad. D2E” in chalk on the road into the aide station. I started hearing clapping and yelling from the amazing volunteers. I finally was able to get a little shuffle going and as I crossed into the Pirates Cove, I found my team, collapsed into a chair, and burst into tears. Not so much of sadness (at least not at that moment). More of “it was over”. My crew and volunteers scurried around as if I was the leader to get me iced down, feet in buckets of ice, food, drink, etc. These people – well, as I have said many times, they are truly amazing. I must have sat there in that chair for an hour. Feet on fire. Knee feeling like someone was stabbing me with a knife. Dazed and confused. And as all this was happening, the only thing I could think of was “when does the application open for the HURT 2019 lottery…I have some unfinished business on this mountain.”
I am officially an Ultra Marathoner. This race didn’t define me. But it has become a part of me. I told Coach Blue and Luke – next year we come back to finish what we started. And then I will be done “racing” this course and will turn to helping others reach there finish line, whatever that journey is for them. I don’t need 5 completions. 7 attempts. One finish is enough for me. This year my journey was to become an Ultra Marathoner and complete the Fun Run. Next year my journey will be to complete this race, ring that bell, and kiss (ok maybe high five – I am a germ freak) that sign. From that point on, I will dedicate my time to being part of this amazing Ohana and help others reach their goals.
I think sometimes the hardest part about our journey, is to accept it for what it is, our journey for that present moment. My journey was to become and Ultra Marathoner and bring awareness to the STIGMA of depression and anxiety disorders, and face my own demons in the process. It was a hell of a race and one of the most spiritual and connecting events of my entire life.
Thank you HURT! Ya’ll are incredible ambassadors for the greatest and timeless sport in the world. Running. Ok, maybe some walking, crawling, and crying too. See you next year!
PS – I could not have done this without my amazing crew: Heather Jackson, Blue Benadum, and Luke Frazier. And my family: Mama Marie Jackson, Official Pink Hat Club Member Papa Roger Jackson (one of many inside jokes of my 2018 HURT Journey). Amanda. Andrew. William. Annabelle. Cathy McQueen (aka – Gramacita). Ron McQueen (aka – Pa). And of course my Aunt Sis. Last but not least thank you to all those who pledged to support d2e. Y’all are helping us bring the STIGMA of depression 2 extinction…One Mile…One Conversation…One Human Connection at a time.
Aloha and Mahalo. – Coach JJ
Watch JJ’s LIVE recap on Into the Roar: