It is 3 A.M., and despite how strong and capable he his, I am a little worried about the man in front of me. He is still smiling, yes, and takes a gulp of Pepsi as he sits and looks around. Then, he meets my eyes and the smile fades.
“This,” he says, “is really hard. This is crazy. I want to be done with this already. I want to be done.”
It’s an understandable desire, since Tim, the man in front of me, has currently run 67 miles. It makes sense that he is ready for this to be over. The problem is, though, that he still has another 33 miles to go before this race is over. He has more than 12-hours of running left, so while he has already done amazing work, he is far from the end.
Still, in his own form of resurrection, Tim gets up and, with the help of his pacer Justin, starts to shuffle off to complete his fourth loop of the race. I am grateful that, after the earlier moment of vulnerability, Tim has gotten up with a smile as he said, “See you soon!”
I’m grateful, because I know that I won’t just see him soon, but I’ll be meeting him in five hours to run the last twenty miles of this race with him. He’s got the hardest job– making it to the end. I’ve taken on the task of doing everything I can to help him get there, and I can already tell it’s going to be quite an adventure.
Tim Griffiths of Three Forks, MT, has been nothing but positive the entire time we’ve known each other, which is about two weeks come race day. He already has a few hundred-milers under his belt, and has an optimistic and realistic mindset about doing what he can and simply focusing on trying to finish. He’d done it before, and he was hopeful he could do it again.
This isn’t just any race, though. Tim is taking on the HURT100, one of the most technically difficult trail races out there. It’s five loops on O‘ahu’s wet, muddy. root-strewn trails, making not only physically hard, but mentally challenging as well. The documentary Rooted captures it really well: it’s a crazy, amazing adventure that tests so many things about an athlete’s capacity and capability to commit to the joy and pain of distance running.
Still, it sounds crazy when you first consider it.
I mean, who would run 100 miles? That sort of distance is ridiculous– a laughable fool’s errand at best, but an overwhelming and dangerous prospect in the eyes of some. A marathon is already a crazy distance. Who would do that nearly four times over?
I can’t claim to, completely, understand why someone would run 100 miles– because I still haven’t done it (yet?). I do, however, stand in awe of the people who do it. This year, after continuing my own running journey, I decided to get a little closer to the action by volunteering and then, at the last minute, offering to pace Tim.
I had learned a few weekend before, though, that this was no normal twenty-mile run. Trail running and road running are more like cousins than siblings. I have cousins, for example, that are six-foot tall basketball players. We share a few similar features, and there’s a lot of love between us, but there are some ways in which we are very different.
Running the HURT100, as I was taught by some awesome folks who joined me on my practice loop, is much less about pace than road running. The course is so technical, there are a whole lot of sections that are much more like scaling a mountain– including climbing over roots and rock faces– than actually running a race. At the end, also, it’s much less about an actual time and more about staying in a good mindset, healthy (lots of racers end up twisting their ankles and having to drop) and moving forward.
So, my job when I meet Tim later that morning, was to help ensure he stayed in good spirits, kept eating and drinking as much as he could, and getting him whatever he needed.
I see Tim again at about 9AM the next morning. He is two hours behind his initial plan, with the fourth lap taking its difficult mental toll. Lots of runners, I both learned in the documentary and Tim told me later, struggle with that fourth loop– it’s well out of sight from the end, takes place in complete darkness, and begins reaching the point when runner’s are no longer simply tired, but sleepy as well.
So, when Tim comes in a little late, his wife and I are a little nervous, but not overly worried that he’s off schedule. His initial plan was ambitious, and we’ve heard he’s still in good spirits. He also still has more than 9 hours to complete the final loop of the race, and as long as he’s able to keep close to his current pace, he should have more than enough time.
When Tim finally runs in to the aid station, the sound of cowbells that congratulate all runners fills the air. He is followed by Justin, head-banded and tutu’d, as they come in. Tim, ever the optimist, waves at me and gives us a big smile. “You’re here!” he exclaims. “You ready?!”
“Hell yeah!” I respond. We know it’s time.
But first, there’s some wounds to tend to. Tim’s crew– lovingly made up of his wife, two kids, mother and step-father– start prepping him for this final lap. Shoes are removed, to discover massive blisters on his feet that need to be lanced and drained for him to go forward. This is as painful as it sounds, and Tim scrunches his face as he drinks Pepsi, coffee, and eats as many peanut butter sandwiches and potato chips (refueling his protein, carbs, and sodium are key at this point) as he can.
He sits dazed for a moment as his crew prepares his body, while he prepares his mind for what’s to come. Then he looks up at me. “You ready for this?” he asks, with a wry smile on his face. “We gotta go. We gotta get moving.”
I nod, putting up a fist for him to bump. “Alright,” I respond, “then let’s do this thing.”
He nods, smiles at his family, and we head off. The sound of his crew’s cheers and cowbells follows us, and we try as hard as we can to suck up its energy as get ready for this final, arduous loop ahead of us.
You have to keep him talking, I think to myself as we climb up the hill.
This is what Tim’s family and pacers have told me as I prepped to help Tim out. He needed to get his mind out of what some runners would call “the dark place.” It was something I knew all too well (heck, I had it yesterday at mile 6)– the mental state you go into when you’re tired or it just feels hard, and the idea of doing this for another minute seems unbearable. Part of my job was to help Tim focus on anything other than how crazy this journey was, and help him find the energy to finish this race strong.
And here’s where my nerves kicked in– I’m not used to talking while I run. This is why I run solo. Running is, so often, where I finally find quiet, that the prospect of having to talk with him is a little daunting.
But, as this site has likely shown, I do love a good story, and I love to hear the stories of other folks. So, without thinking, I start asking Tim every question I can think of. How has the race been so far? How are you feeling? Are you excited to say good-bye to these places?
Tim starts answering, a smile on his, face slowly growing, as he realizes that this, finally is his final loop. “This is crazy!” he hoots. “I have never seen anything like this! How is this a race?!” He starts to laugh. “I can’t wait to be be done with this.”
“I know,” I start to laugh along with him. “So let’s get this done!”
He nods, puts his head down, and starts to get us to work.
The rest of the race passes in a blur of steps– all kinds of steps. Trot-to-jog-almost-running steps. Slow, slogging, hands-on-thighs steps up hills. Careful, climbing over roots-and-rocks steps. The mental aspect of continuously moving the body for hours on end, unable to rest because we have to be constantly vigilant to ensure we don’t get lost or fall, is exhausting.
Still, it is also incredibly joyful– in the fullest sense of the word– to watch Tim work towards this amazing achievement. He breathes deeply through his nose, working his way up the nastier slopes, staying positive as he tells me about how much he loves his wife and kids, how he started bow hunting, what his life in Montana is like.
And through it all, we keep moving.
Eventually, through Tim’s hard work and the grace of God, we make it to the final aid station– Jack-Ass Ginger, on the Nuuanu Pali trail– meaning we only have 8.5 miles to go till the end. About a mile from the aid station, I had asked Tim what he needed– Pepsi, coffee, food. I had fallen at this point, and so my hands are covered in mud.
As soon as we get up there, I start asking his crew and all the nearby volunteers for what he needs. As I do this, though, other folks immediately take over so I can take care of myself. Someone, without my asking, grabs my hands and starts wiping the mud off them. Rebecca, another awesome teacher and runner who is volunteering, hands Tim and I smoothie after smoothie to fuel us to the end. Someone slips a peanut butter and jelly sandwich into my mouth. Everything around us is full of so much love and support. It’s a little overwhelming.
But there’s no time to be overwhelmed. We have to get moving.
Tim is feeling jovial for these final few miles. After a three mile climb, the last five miles is almost completely downhill. The climb is incredibly hard, but knowing that the end is near keeps Tim feeling excited.
Then, though, we get to the final four miles, and Tim is pushing, but I can tell it’s getting hard. He’s feeling it, now, saying that as much as he is determined to get to this finish line– and he is damn determined– he is starting to feel it. While he is still positive, and greeting every one who we meet on the trial and who roots us on, he occasionally intersperses it with moments where he admits that he is in pain. He is cheered on by folks as we pass, and so he is able to keep smiling.
Still, we keep moving.
Finally, we get to the last few miles, and Tim is a little in his head. We’re both working to get him out. “Tim, we have to do this. You can do this.”
“I know,” he replies. “Almost there. Get out of your head,” he tells himself, “We’re almost there.”
“You’re bigger than the pain, Tim. You can do this.”
“No weakness,” he says back, “We have to keep moving. I didn’t get this far to stop.”
Finally, we get him to the last half-mile. I let him know that we’re so close.
He stops and looks back at me. “Still a half mile?” He looks at me confusedly. “That can’t be. I thought it was right there. I can’t go anymore.”
“Yes you can, Tim,” I immediately respond. “You didn’t come 99.5 miles to stop now. Keep moving.”
He nods, and moves from a slow jog to a faster one.
“There we go,” I encourage him. “We’re doing this.”
He starts moving even faster, until the moment he has been waiting for comes. We round a corner, and there are Tim’s family– particularly his children– cheering him on and ready to run the last few feet with him.
And with that, after 34 hours and 37 minutes, Tim has finished. We’ve come back to the end.
Words can’t begin to describe how powerful it was to watch this incredible journey. We never truly know the capability of our own spirits until we meet that moment.
Watching Tim get there, I realized that even though I so often think of running as “my” time, it is so much bigger than that. Running is where we come we come back to our most human, the purest versions of ourselves, without all the things we try to put between us as others.
On the surface, Tim and I may have little in common. In the end, though, he let me join in on his incredible journey. And I could not be more grateful or inspired.