It was a frigid eight below as I continued my trek up the mountain. My headlamp reflecting a white blur as blinding snow was coming in hard and rocking sideways. I’d been hiking straight uphill for over an hour and still had not reached the halfway point. Each step made harder as a I broke trail in a foot of snow, further hampered by my heavy pack. I crested the top just prior to daybreak, hopes running high that maybe today would be the one.
It didn’t take long until daybreak threatened to light up the mountains and illuminate the elusive elk I’d been chasing all month. However, as darkness began to fade, it was obvious that I wouldn’t be glassing up elk anytime soon as the snow was still falling hard and visibility was a mere 100 yards.
I was pondering my next move when I started to shiver uncontrollably. Although adrenaline from elk hunting can sometimes cause me to shake, I knew most of this shiver was early onset hypothermia. In my hurried approach to reach the top and the extra effort from the deep snow, I failed to respect the cardinal rule and broke a sweat on the way in. Now subzero temperatures were freezing sweat on my skin and I was getting in a bad way fast.
Luckily, I was prepared. I swapped my wet shirt for a dry one and donned an extra jacket before descending in the trees to start a fire. It worked, and in no time, I was feeling much better. Sitting on a log, I soaked up the fires warmth and waited out the storm.
Around noon, the snow finally stopped and gave way to a beautiful sun-filled sky. I wasted no time and hightailed it back to my perch on the mountain top and almost immediately spied a group of elk. They were heading towards an open hillside about a mile across the canyon from me. Game on!
I took off running, or more accurately slipping and sliding through the trees in a controlled fall all the way down to the bottom of the very steep canyon. I was moving fast and tried to block out the fact that no matter what happened, I’d have to claw my way back up this beast later today. For now, that didn’t matter at all. I was a man on a mission and had to make it to that hillside before the elk did. I jumped the frozen creek at the bottom and started my ascent, being mindful to pace and not break a sweat as I already spent my insurance policy.
One post hole step at a time my excitement climbed as I neared the opening. Staying hidden in the trees, I carefully combed the area with my binoculars but failed to spot a single hide, only spotting fresh tracks in the snow. It appeared I was too slow, they already made it through the clearing and were likely now in the next basin over. I think I was already on plan G or H at that point, so I figured I might as well keep hiking in further.
I ended up following those tracks another 2 miles until I reluctantly decided that I better give in and turn around. I was deep in that wilderness, alone as usual, and the snow had returned with vengeance. Once the decision was made I turned an about face, put one foot in front of the other and started the long retreat to my truck. My stomach growled, my face was frozen, and I was exhausted. Despite all this, I managed to maintain a little smirk all the way out as I was in my ‘special place’ pushing through limits and loving every minute.
I wasn’t having any luck stocking the freezer, but I was gaining incredible endurance and fitness in addition to sharpening my mental edge. I knew these attributes would ultimately provide me with the best possible chance at success on this hunt. I was also hoping they would help carry me to a finish in my upcoming HURT 100–mile ultramarathon in Hawaii.
Living in the frozen paradise of Montana forced me to be creative in developing my training for a long distance run through the Hawaiian jungle in January. This hunt was the headliner of my plan. For the past several years I’ve reaped the benefits of my early spring/summer ultra training during hunting season and I figured why not reverse course? Instead of training to hunt, why not hunt to train? If my plan went perfectly, I’d also collect some amazing wild protein that could be used as my fuel.
This may have sounded like a great idea, but this hunt was beating me down. As November neared the end, I decided that I was going to quit. This traditional muzzleloader hunt was just too hard, too extreme. I wimped out and threw in the towel. After hiking off the mountain, I drove home and went back to work, even though I had the day off. While back, Lori, one of my colleagues, asked to see a picture of my bull. When I told her I was unsuccessful and had no plans to return, she shook her head in disbelief. She knew my larger plans and mumbled something like “hmmm, I never knew you to be a quitter” and left. This was the first time I’ve ever heard my name associated with the word quitter and I didn’t like it, not one bit.
I stewed on that all day and by the afternoon I talked myself into giving it another go. I still had one more day left in the hunt and decided to throw it all out there one last time. Almost instantly upon reaching that decision, all my negative thoughts transformed into positive visions of success, my tired legs miraculously felt fresh and I was excited and ready to tackle another marathon hunt.
I wasn’t a quitter. In fact, I didn’t even sleep that night, opting instead to leave in the middle of the night so I could hike under moonlight to the exact place I watched a bull in my binos a few days prior, way back. I guess you could say when the morning finally arrived that, well, ‘I got lucky’. I was simply in the right place at the right time😊. After giving many thanks and experiencing an awesome and grueling pack out (Thanks Kascht man!) this training block was now complete!
My next training block also capitalized on another non-running sport, downhill skiing. My family loves to ski, so every weekend in December, and every day of Christmas break, we would be shredding at Bridger Bowl. Only now, I’d also follow with a run on tired legs. As my training peaked I even expand this to include daily doubles. Skiing all day Saturday, then running 20 miles at night, go to bed exhausted for a few before running another 20 in the predawn, before skiing all day again on Sunday. It was punishing, and kind of fun. Just as my body was adapting it was January and time to taper.
One week prior to the race, I left the tundra of Montana and landed on the tropical paradise of Hawaii with my wife (Melissa), both kids (Madison and Mason), my mom (Darlene) and step father (Kit). It was beautiful, sunny and warm. The best ‘taper’ week and family vacation ever. Although honestly, it’s hard to call it a true taper with all the swimming, snorkeling, boogie boarding and ‘shake out’ runs along the beaches. I gorged myself each day on fresh mangos, papayas and pineapples and consumed too many avocados to count.The week was mentally relaxing, I didn’t even think about the race until Friday when I flew from the Big Island to Oahu.
Once we landed, the gravity of the situation began to surface and my mind began messing with me. The bottom of my foot was now bothering me, my shoulder was hurting something awful and now I was worried that I suddenly developed a cavity. I know from experience that these were mind tricks played in deep taper, but it didn’t make it feel any less real. I honestly thought it was a real possibility that I wouldn’t even make it around the first 20 mile loop in the sorry shape I was in. Melissa was outstanding, she just rubbed my feet while we chilled next to the ocean and reassured me that I was going to be just fine.
It was soon time to meet my new friends and pacers Justin and Christina (Many thanks to Nikki and Alyssa for hooking me up with these rock stars). Justin had completed the race last year (Heck ya brother) and Christina was a seasoned marathoner, but this would be her trail running debut (talk about jumping in with both feet). They both seemed like great people and I was stoked to have the chance to run with them. First tough, I had to make it to mile 60.
I awoke fresh at 4am, grabbed my gear and snuck out of our hotel room to avoid waking the kids. They were on the official race ‘crew’ and would have to get all the sleep they could now. Melissa and my mom swung by McDonalds on the way to pick up a breakfast burrito before hitting the start line. Unfortunately, my mind was so fixated on my hurting foot that right before the race began I realized I forgot to eat it. Oh well, freak not right? Next thing I knew we were off.
I’ve learned by now that a 100 mile event is really an 80 mile warm up followed by a 20 mile race. My strategy was simple and the same as always as I’d start slow and then taper from there. I jockeyed for last position as we began our first climb up this amazing mountain.
The trail started dry and dusty, with an abundance of rocks and roots that seemingly grew horizontally from the trees. Each step carefully placed to avoid rolling an ankle. And the grade, it’s straight the heck up, for miles. It’s dark, but daybreak isn’t far off. I hear roosters, or ‘junglefowl’ as the locals call them, beginning to crow. It’s the coolest part of the day, and I’m already sweating profusely. The heat and humidity is for real and is the exact opposite of what I’m used to. Oh, my foot, shoulder and tooth? It’s funny, they’re all better now. I’m in my zone and loving it!
As night gives way to light, this eerie world transforms into a most stunning scenery imaginable. Seriously, you should think Jurassic park. The trails are totally insane, pig trails, that now double as a race course. The overgrown roots are one prominent feature, the other is the sheer drop offs your constantly running alongside. A slip or fall could mean real consequences, so your mental focus has to stay sharp. The smells of the tropics are also extreme, and every sensor of your body is engaged. I figured out early that it’s costing me additional energy and remind myself to stay on the nutrition.
After reaching the first summit, I find myself cruising a technical downhill into the Paradise Park, the first aid station. Although tempting to bomb this section, as I love to do that, I’m measured and reserved and instead focus on draining each of my water bottles before I arrive. Because of the heat and humidity, I’m carrying 3, 16 ounce bottles and hoping to stay hydrated. In addition to the incredible course, I’m also enjoying meeting all the people from other counties. It was so cool to run with people that were in the special forces, fire fighters, and professional athletes. Everyone was super positive and a total bad ass.
The aid stations and volunteers at HURT are legendary. I was excited to experience the pirates first hand and I can attest they did not disappoint! These incredible people go way above the call of duty and will do practically anything simply to help YOU succeed. It’s the definition of selflessness and I was so appreciative. I was feeling fabulous actually (good thing as I only traveled about 7 miles so far), filled my bottles, grabbed some chow and headed back out. As I said goodbye I remembered that I’d actually get to say that to them another 4 times before I was done. I was in 116th place out of 135.
I resist the urge to run the slight uphill out of the aid station. My plan from the beginning was to hike all the ups, and run the flats and downs. I needed to maintain discipline. Instead of running here, I took the time to really look around and see the amazing trees, the hanging vines, the massive waterfalls. I even spotted a parakeet in a tree, not something you see in Montana everyday. I was in a trance, when I slipped and fell. My elbow smacking into a rock hard. It hurt, but it wasn’t broken. That was my early wake up call, don’t let your guard down. My eyes fixated back on the trail and I continued my ascent.
After the summit, the next section was plain awesome and had some great downhill running. It was crazy how many micro climates there were on this trail, where the soil, vegetation and weather would all change dramatically. Although there were places in the trail that were muddy, it was mostly dry and I was thankful for that (probably should have knocked on wood after I thought that). Passed a few runners but tried to maintain a slow and even pace as I approached Nu’uannu, the second aid station. I loved the rocking music and greeters that met you as you forded the creek to enter the site. More amazing volunteers, another quick refuel and I was back on the trail. Next stop would be the nature center, which was also the start/finish where my ‘crew’ awaited me.
I really don’t remember running downhill for this long. That was the thought running on loop in my head as I scaled the mountain I had just run down. This climb was a beast and I would have to do it 4 more times… yikes. It was my very first lap and it already sucked. Eventually I reached the top and was treated to the best single track downhill of the entire course. It ran along a fairly intimidating cliff, but was far less technical than the rest. I kind of let loose here a bit, but managed to slow myself as I started to pass folks. Pace, pace, pace.
Before long I was coasting back to the nature center. I was so excited to see my family and they were prepared, like a well-oiled pit crew. Mason would grab me food, mom and Madison would fill my bottles, Melissa would help change my socks and fill my ice bandana, while Kit would help grab me drinks. We were in and out in a matter of minutes and I was feeling great!
The second time around the course proved a bit more difficult as the temps were rising and the miles accumulating. The ice bandana was helping as did the fact that I made myself drink all 3 water bottles between each station. I was hydrated, eating well and maintaining a sustainable pace. Each time I saw my family, the volunteers, or the HURT patrol (studs that wandered the course giving positive energy to those in need) I was uplifted and recharged. All things considered, Lap 2 was pretty darn good to me, 40 miles down, 69th place!
As I began loop 3 it was still light but night fall was coming fast. The closed canopy of the rainforest greatly limited the amount of light and visibility was tough. I left prepared with several high quality lights at the ready. It didn’t take long before I was burning the halogens and noticing how the trail was changing with the shadows. It was a totally different course and I’d say concentration had to increase 2 fold. It was also kind of eerie out there by yourself as you expected a T Rex or something similar at any point. As I began my big decent in the darkness, I heard this amazing sound. It sounded like a beautiful wind chime. Turns out, I was running through a forest of bamboo and they were swaying and hitting one another, in the wind. I maintained a perma-grin as I floated through this crazy land.
Although the wind made for beautiful sounds, it also brought in a torrential downpour. They measure rain here in units of inches per hour, a little different than our inches per year back home. The relatively dry trails we were blessed to run on for the first half were instantly transformed into a muddy and slick mess. I couldn’t stop laughing as it seems every ultra I’ve done recently has ended in a mud fest. I just embraced it, at least it wasn’t eight below!
For the most part I enjoyed my solo night time run during loop 3 and was still feeling strong and positive. Although I did fall a few times, I was really pleased with the shape I was in after finishing marathon number 2. I was slowly working my up in the field and was now in 58th place. My only real problem was the growing blisters on my feet from the constant wet and slippery terrain. and the fact that I was just plain, getting tired.
I was overjoyed when I pulled into the nature center to see that my kids were still up and going strong. It was the middle of the night and they were out there supporting me. What studs! I also realized that I only had one more loop left in my warm up and that was going to run with my new buddy Justin! He was hard to miss, all dressed up for the occasion and sporting a nice little tutu. He told me that he’d provide a skirt for me to chase all night… and to ‘catch me if you can’. He was crazy, I would laugh for hours.
He was an awesome pacer. Telling quirky jokes, playing tour guide while identifying the vegetation we were running though as well as the local bird songs as they began to awaken. I listened intently as it was working to take my mind off the immense pain I was starting to experience. I remember telling him about elk and how much I loved hunting them back home. We chatted for hours, slowly made forward progress and moved into position 55. Although this loop was by far my hardest, I took solstice when he explained how this lap was also his hardest and that loop 5 would so much better.
It was well into Sunday morning when we arrived back at the start to meet up with Christiana. I was firmly trapped inside my pain cave and was wondering if I could go on. My stomach and hydration were spot on, but my feet were a total wreck. I was nervous to remove my shoes, but I had no choice.
I sat in the chair while my family once again provided me with first rate pit crew services. My kids were running fast to grab dad coffee, food, water, or whatever else I asked for. I consumed the calories and tried to get control of my mind, I made the mistake and looked down to catch the look on my mom’s face as she removed my socks. Next thing I knew a medic was there lancing and wrapping them back up. I tried to find my happy place and stuffed my poor swollen, water logged and blistered feet back into my wet and muddy shoes. I made eye contact with Christina and asked if she was ready. Without hesitation she said,‘heck ya’ and we were off… our victory lap had begun.
It didn’t take long into our first climb that Christina transferred her positive energy directly to me. I was feeling better and was looking forward to saying goodbye to every part of the trail we passed. Justin was right, I was catching another wind and was having a ball. I soaked up all the stories she shared with me and felt no pain. Honestly, I felt like I was flying. My biggest worry in fact was that my family would never have time to get to the next aid station before we would as we were moving so fast. I chuckle now to envision the look on Christiana’s face when I kept saying that. She reaffirmed that we were moving great but that I shouldn’t worry about Melissa. I learned later that they had been waiting for more than an hour for our arrival.
The day was as beautiful as it gets. All sunshine, no rain. The trails were still plenty muddy but at least we were no longer getting soaked. We laughed and joked all the way to the next aid station as I pointed out all the places I had fallen through the night. We were both feeling it and flashed big smiles as the music blared and we cruised into Nu’Uanu at mile 93 for one last time. I remember tasting the best smoothies of my life here and they just kept em coming. We didn’t stay long though. Madison stuffed a special i-pod in my pack that was loaded with handpicked surprise tunes for the last few downhill miles. Mason fist bumped me and gave me what was left of elk jerky. Yep, this was indeed jerky I made and carried all the way here from Montana for this very occasion. That monarch bull had been providing my protein this entire journey!
We were pumped as we rolled out of that station for the last time, dead set on finishing strong. Well, it didn’t take too long for the euphoria to die as we slowly climbed that freakin mountain that never ends. Honestly, at this point I was over it, and ready to be done. I had seen the sun rise two different times during this race and I was beyond tired. Thank God for Christina. She was relentless and just kept pushing me. Constantly telling me how tough I was, reminding me that pain in just weakness leaving the body and how we were nearing our last 10k of the race. Heck, we eat those before breakfast Griffiths, let’s go!
I reached back in my memory and took hold of the mental image of my recent elk hunt, specifically remembering a shot of that frozen staircase to heaven. I vividly remembered how hard I pushed to keep going, and how sweet it was at the end. I could do this. One step at a time, together, we climbed that dang mountain, and said good bye.
I’m really not sure what wind we were experiencing at this point, but we riding an unbelievable high. We fist bumped at the top, I slipped in my earbuds and hit play on that special ipod. We bolted down the hill like two kids running through a playground and I laughed as I rocked out to tunes like Me Too and No Excuses. It was an ‘out of body like’ awesome experience, specially reserved for those willing to run 96 miles! All was right in the world… until suddenly it wasn’t.
We were less than a half a mile from the finish when I just kind of lost it. Not sure what exactly happened but I was in so much pain, I just wanted to stop right there and be done. Every step was excruciating. I felt my victory lap slipping. Christina, like a seasoned pro, pushed me harder, told me to suck it up and get it together. My kids were waiting and we needed to finish strong for them. I strained hard and somehow managed to regain control of my mind and once again blocked the pain.
Although we continued to make steady forward progress, my mind was working overtime to convince my body to ignore the pain. It was a weird place I’ve never been before. I was so focused on keeping pain at bay that I didn’t even notice as I passed my kids. They were staked out a hundred yards from the finish and were now running behind me to bring me home. It was almost a dream.
After 34 hours and 37 minutes of running 100 miles, I was standing just feet front of the finish line. The ‘line’ was actually a sign in the grass that read, ‘AOLE MAKOU E HO’OHIKIWALE KELA. Translation… We wouldn’t want it to be easy! They sure nailed that one I thought to myself as I reached down and kissed that glorious sign before teaming with my kids to ring the final bell. I was both exhausted and elated.
My amazing team and I had done it, together we joined the special HURT OHANA (extended family)!
Many thanks to everyone who chipped in and helped make this ‘bucket list’ adventure a reality. I could never have made it without each of your assistance. For that, I’m forever grateful.
In perhaps the most spot on symboly possible, my good friend and mentor Nikki Kimball created me the coolest price of artwork ever. It’s a beautiful bull elk with a tag in his antlers that reads, “Camp HURT 100”. Mahalo.
HURT by the numbers-