“An incredible fifty-two mile journey along 617 curves and over 56 bridges through the most breathtaking scenery in all of Maui. The 52-mile course begins in the Kahului Airport area and will proceed along the Hana Highway to finish at the Hana Ball Park.” Hana Relay – hosted by the Valley Isle Road Runners.
“So Susie, how do you feel about hills?”
This was the first question Katie, Captain of our Hana Relay team asked me after I jumped in the van on Friday night outside Kahului Airport on Maui.
“I’m ok with hills, I think…” My reply was tentative.
“Ok great, then you’re on leg 13.” And with that Katie swiftly moved on to the next order of business. Little did I know that leg 13 would involve 2.1miles of uphill running. But more about that later.
In it’s 44th year the Hana Relay is so popular that for 2015 the number of entries was limited to 100 and we were lucky to even have a place on the starting line. Katie had assembled a team of six women: ‘The Diamond Head Ringers’ consisting of Eri, Katie, Lynne, Maddie, Saskia and I.
Team bonding took place on Friday night in Maui at our AirBnB – over the allocation of relay legs, compression socks and ‘flash tats’. With Zensah as our team sponsor we each had a pair of brightly coloured, knee-high compression socks to wear during the relay. We also had a huge selection of temporary tattoos thanks to another team supporter, and to say we could have been covered from head to toe in all sorts of designs, from dinosaurs to skulls and feathers is an understatement.
On Saturday morning the team was up before the crack of dawn to make sure that we could pick up our race packet and still give our first leg runner, Katie, time for coffee and a warm up jog before our designated start time of 6:15am. Standing alongside the wide variety of costumed runners Katie was highly visible in her bandana, flash tattoos and neon green socks. And when the gun went, she set off like a rocket! In fact, Katie won a prize for recording the fastest time of the day on leg 1.
As Katie appeared through the fields of sugar cane where the handover for leg 1 to leg 2 was situated, I could see she was in the lead – still flying. Grabbing the baton from her out stretched hand I set off at pace that in reality was far too fast for my marathon-about-to-happen legs, but hey, we were being chased down by the next team – the Revenge of the Mariachis. After 2.6miles I passed the baton to Eri, with the Mariachi guys hot on our heels. We knew the Mariachis were a super strong team and they flew by us within the next mile but by no means was the race was over. Our next three runners, Lynne, Maddie and Saskia ploughed ahead and took us onto the official ‘Road to Hana’ – by the now the sun was up and it was turning into a hot, but beautiful day.
Each runner-exchange point along the route was a great place to see other teams and check out the different styles of van-deco. Infamous from last year’s race were the Mutha Cluckas, a team of women who not only dress in red, yellow and white tutus with feathers, but also decorate their race-support van with a giant chicken – carnival style! Other teams of note were ‘Minion Mayhem’ and ‘Hot Tub Tonight’ – just to mention a couple.
As the relay pressed on along the road towards Hana we started to settle into a rhythm: drop off runner of next leg close to the hand-over point; find a parking spot for the team van (without backing over/ into anything or anyone); cheer on incoming runner and see off outgoing runner; grab sweaty incoming runner and guide them towards the front seat of the car, placing icy cold beverage in hand; assemble team and pile into van; drive off towards next hand-over point, whistling or yelling words of encouragement out of the window as you drive past team runner. As we drove the in-van banter was an ongoing discussion about either the technicalities of the next leg and whether we needed to make any team changes – or it was centred around music, drinks and runner-friendly snacks: “Where are the gels/ gu/ gummie bears?” Our rental van was not decked out externally, but internally it was a colourful scene of bags, shoes and socks, clothes and towels, snacks and drink bottles, and a bunch of over-heating runners.
We passed the halfway point on the road to Hana – each person having by now run 2 out of their 3 designated legs. Soon enough leg 13 was next, and it would be my last run of the relay. Parking the van in the small pull-out on the side of the road, we chatted with a trio of other teams who were close to us at that point on the route. “It’s hilly and hot out there,” someone stated in a reassuring tone. Eri was running leg 12 and thankfully she didn’t leave me too much time to think about what lay ahead – soon enough I had the baton and was out on the course, running leg 13. But let me refer back to the official description of said leg for a moment:
“Leg 13. 3.3 miles. Wailua Bay Lookout to Puaa Kaa State Park. 2.1miles uphill. A tough leg. Put the guy/ gal you don’t like on this leg.”
It wasn’t all downhill after leg 13. Everyone still had one more leg and in fact the final section of the entire relay finishes on a hill up to Hana Ball Park. Saskia had the job of bringing us home, and we all ran across the finish line together. Our total time was 5hrs 33mins and overall we were 2nd team, 1st women! Woo hoo! Full results are online HERE.
The weekend on Maui was not over when the relay ended. After the race we met up with the ‘Salty Coconuts All Stars’ – the 2nd place women’s team many of who we already knew including Rachel (LRY podcast interviewee #13), and Sally & Lindsay from the Hapalua half marathon. Sally had graciously invited us to stay with the team at a house in Hana. We all hung out at the Hana Ball Park for a while chatting with other teams and to see the awards ceremony, and then made our way towards the coast for a cooling dip in the ocean at the wild and beautiful black sand beach of Hamoa (forgetting to check out the Hana Yoga Studio). We had also planned to attend the race after-party – but sadly it was called off when the DJ Valium (yes) was not allowed to plug-in his decks and speakers without a license – so that quickly put an end to our Saturday night plans and we instead hit the hay – and decided to get up early – you guessed it, for a run.
Maui is always an amazing place to visit and the Hana Relay was the most mellow-with-a-hint-of-madness running event I’ve ever been to. If you have a chance to be on a team – do it! The whole weekend with the great group of girls was awesome. Thanks must go out to Zensah for sponsoring our team and also thanks to Katie for organising everything, and for even putting me on leg 13. You can sign me up for next year!