Run to the Sun – Haleakala Summit Run
This post is mostly about my 36 mile run in Maui from Paia Bay to the summit of Haleakala at 10,023 feet. But since over the past five days I’ve done two amazing runs, I want to write about both of them. Each run was about the same distance, but that’s pretty much where the similarity ends.
Backbone Trail – Mulholland to Danielson Ranch
The first run, last Sunday, was another installment in Lukas and my quest to run the entire Backbone Trail in out-and-back segments. This run was the 17 mile stretch from the Mulholland Road crossing to Danielson Ranch and back for a total of about 34 miles. It was going to be the longest run for either of us yet this season, but we really didn’t have much choice. There’s no water between Mulholland and Danielson and we knew we couldn’t do the 25-30 we’d ideally do without refilling along the way.
Looking at the map and profile, this seemed like it would be a relatively “easy” section.
I knew the climb up to Sandstone Peak (at 3,111 feet, the highest point in the Santa Monicas) would be tough – both on the way out (headed west) to Danielson Ranch and on the way back (heading east) – but other than that there didn’t seem to be any really nasty sections.
We started after 7am, which was later than hoped, mostly because it’s a long drive from home to the starting point. Normally, starting at 7 wouldn’t be a big deal, but that day was HOT. And it got hot early. We made it to Sandstone peak at around 9:30, and it must have already been in the 70s. The Backbone Trail doesn’t actually include the last 1/3-or-so climb to the summit, but we took the short detour and went to the top.
There’s not much shade on this section of the trail and as it got hotter and hotter, the heat definitely was getting to me. We made it to Danielson in about 3:15 and took almost 15 minutes to rest, eat, refill our nearly empty bottles and packs and hydrate. I was carrying over 100 ounces of water and I was pretty much dry after 3 hours.
I was still feeling pretty good at the Danielson turn-around. On the way back, you get a 6-7 mile, 2,500 gain climb back to the top of Sandstone Peak and now it was in the 80s. And even though I made it back to the summit in relatively good shape, I was pretty much worthless for the last 10 miles of the run. I walked way too much (I can’t call it “hiking” because I even walked some flats and downhills). Thankfully, somewhere around mile 29 or 30, we found a spigot outside a house and filled up bottles there. I’m not sure what would have happened if we hadn’t been able to refill! The return from Daneilson to Mulholland took nearly 4.5 hours (1:15 longer than the way out). I felt awful – dizzy, overheated, exhausted, weak, etc. – and was nervous about what that meant for my planned longer runs later this summer. On the other hand, it was crazy hot – the thermometer in the car said 88 degrees when we got back. Also, this run was the last piece of an 88 mile/16,500 feet of elevation gain week. My races might be in the heat, but I wouldn’t go into any of them with legs that tired!
“Run to the Sun” – Paia Bay to Haleakala Summit (0 – 10,000 feet)
I’d been planning this run for months. Pretty much ever since I biked to the Haleakala summit last July. It’s 35+ miles all on roads and it’s a constant 5-6% grade (with a few steeper sections) where you just climb, climb, climb and climb. Other than a 1/4 mile “descent” about 9 miles in, there is no break at all. I knew it would be friggin’ tough, but what the hell, I’m tough, right??
I started the run at 6am at Paia Bay, with fingers in the ocean.
Last year, when I rode to the top, the last 12-15 miles were in rain and heavy mist. That wasn’t much fun on the bike and I knew it wouldn’t be fun on my feet either! It was cloudy and misty at the start in Paia through Makawao, but when I looked up towards the summit, I could see some clouds in the sky, but the area around the peak was totally clear.
My goal was to run a conservative, constant pace for as long as I could. I figured I’d have to add in walk breaks at some point, but didn’t know if that would happen around mile 10 or mile 20.
I made it to mile 11 in about 1:45, keeping my average pace at less than 10 min/mile. At this point, I was at about 2,500 feet and running on a nice tree-shaded portion of the route.
At about mile 14, you turn onto Crater Road. There are still a fair number of houses in this area and you have two choices to stop if you need something to drink or eat – the Kula Lodge market or Sunshine Market. Kula Lodge has more choices and is the more “gourmet” option, Sunshine Market is more “homey” feeling and has a grill with all kinds of sandwiches. I chose Sunshine Market (3,500 feet) because all I wanted was a quick cold bottle of water. There are nice shaded benches here, but I didn’t want to take a break yet.
From there it’s about another 10 miles and 3,000 feet of climbing until you get to the entrance for Haleakala National Park. During this stretch, I started to see all the downhill cyclists who got a ride up to the crater to watch the sunrise before coasting down to sea-level. Last year, when I rode up, I got some good looks from the downhill cyclists, this year, I got wide-eyed stares. It was sometime around mile 18 or 20, that I started taking a few, irregular walk breaks. I started to hurt around mile 20, knowing that I still had 16 miles and 5,000 feet of climbing to go was pretty daunting. I sent a tweet around this point questioning the “wisdom” of this run!
At the park entrance you pay a small fee (cyclist/runners/hikers = $5, cars = $10) and begin the final 12 miles of switchbacks to the summit. But first, about a mile after the park entrance, there’s the park Visitor’s Center with bathrooms and water fountains. I took about 10 minutes here to refill water bottles, put on arm sleeves and catch my breath.
The break at the Visitor’s Center hooked me up and I ran well for about 1.5 miles after it, but I generally took those last 12 miles pretty easy. After hurting from mile 20-24, I got a second wind after entering the park and kept moving forward without any doubts. I got into a rhythm where I’d run a half mile or so, then power hike for a couple minutes and just repeated that over and over. Thankfully, the weather up there had stayed pretty much perfect – mostly dry, clouds and sun, some wind and nice temperatures, in the 50s. Every so often, it would feel a little warm or a little chilly, but (especially compared to last year), it kept my body temperature just right!
Running these switchbacks is a little sketchy – there’s not much shoulder and some of the turns are tight. But I just kept a watch on cars from both directions and switched sides of the road regularly depending on where the blind turns were. There weren’t so many cars that it ever felt dangerous. I did get a fair number of nice cheers from people driving by.
I passed 29 miles/8,000 feet around 5:30 into the run and figured there was a chance I could break seven hours. I don’t know if there’s any magic to seven hours, but at that point, it became a pretty big goal. I wasn’t sure if the total distance was 35 or 36 miles and with my 12-13 min/mile pace, that would be a huge difference for breaking seven.
So I just kept trudging along. I got to 32.6 miles/9,000 feet at 6:12. I was still feeling pretty good and keeping up my regular run/walk intervals. In most mountain running there are define terrain signals (steep or technical climbs in particular) that tell you when you should hike and when you should run. But during this climb, since it’s such a steady and run-able grade, there aren’t obvious places to power hike.
When I got to the summit Visitor’s Center (0.7 miles from the actual summit) at 6:47, I knew that sub-7 was a possibility, but would be very close, especially since that last 0.7 miles is pretty steep.
I made it to the top and touched the little visitor’s hut at the peak in 6:57:34.
The sense of accomplishment, plus these views – the pictures don’t even begin to do it justice – made it all worthwhile!
This run was so different from the Backbone run on Sunday – I actually felt great when I finished! I think I did a better job staying on top of calories, electrolytes and hydration. And of course, the heat wasn’t a factor. It was a huge confidence builder for White River 50 in 5 weeks (even if that course is way different than this run – and more like the Backbone run).
Elizabeth was nice enough to spend part of her day driving to the top to pick me up. Running up was one thing, but I never would have survived the run down! On the way down we stopped at the Kula Lodge market where I got some excellent vegan treats (seaweed salad, vegan mocha-coconut tapioca pudding, coconut water and veggie chips). Then, we got back to Paia and the first stop was into the ocean water at Paia Bay where the whole day started.