Satisfaction at GoBig 260 December 28-31, 2021"
When was the last time you were completely and utterly satisfied with an outcome?
Well, that time for me occurred when I crossed the finish line of my last race, a 260-mile little jaunt around the Big Island of Hawaii. It was truly “A perfect race.”
Things were w a little hectic in the days prior. I worked a busy shift in the ER. Early the next day, we flew to Kona, waiting forever to get our rental car. Then we drove over to the Hilo side and met with Natalie the Turo girl renting her new car to us to use as our crew vehicle.
My wife and kids drove back to the Kona side to their hotel, where they would be staying while I was running. I burned time looking for a good pre-race meal, then checked into my hotel. I met up with Jordyn and her boyfriend, Jon in the parking lot. He filled in on short notice while Emily worked out some Covid issues.
Lugging our stuff to the room, I noticed my ankle was hurting…a lot. Not a good thing the night before a 260 miler!
We went over race planning and strategy before I turned in for the night. I “banked” lots of sleep knowing I’d be making “withdrawals” soon.
At six, off went the alarm. I felt primed and ready. “Let’s get it on, baby!” I told myself. I had prepared well and felt awesome in my recent training. The last year had been a pretty rough one for me, with Covid, et. al. Now, all I had to do was run. Perfect. That’s what I do.
Limping to the starting line at the lighthouse on Hilo Bay, I optimistically thought my ankle would loosen up and not cause any issues. (I would end up being right!) We took some pictures of the gorgeous Hawaiian sunrise then I took off at exactly 7 am, right on schedule.
The early miles passed effortlessly, as if I was out on a Sunday walk on the beach. My state of mind couldn’t be better, as I followed the busy roads out of Hilo.
Around Mile 12, I heard “Yo Russ!” through the music of my headphones. I looked back and saw my friend Tom’s brother chasing me down on his bike. He and Tom’s parents live on the island and came out to cheer me on with signs and cowbells. My brisk pace had me farther down the road than they expected. I loved seeing them. I noticed that my ankle was no longer painful.
I continued to chew up the miles, hitting Mile 50 in 12 hours. I passed the Volcano area, moving strong but certainly feeling the roughly 4000 ft gradual climb up to it. My good long-time friends, Stewart and Lisa and team dog, Bean had joined me earlier, allowing a party like atmosphere. Stewart is a retired MD who cared for my Dad 30+ years ago and Lisa was his hospice nurse who made his last months much less difficult. I am forever grateful to them.
I feel a strong connection to the Big Island and its “Mana,” knowing how much my Dad loved it there and knowing he passed away there.
Jordyn and Jon had me humming along. They left to get some sleep around 10 pm.
Around 2 am, a Hawaii police officer pulled alongside me and dropped his window. Uh oh, I thought. I explained to him why some dude was running along the side of the highway in the middle of the night with a headlamp and a running pack. His name was Officer Augie and he thought what I was doing was super cool. He asked lots of curious questions. Surprisingly, he said, “You must be famous, right?” I told him I was just a regular guy who did extreme things. Really extreme.
Shortly thereafter, some other guy (unfortunately a little tipsy) pulled alongside me and offered me a ride, thinking I was in trouble. I explained my gig. He ended up offering me some food which I of course accepted. As he left, I hoped he got home safely without hurting anyone!
I charged through the first night until the village of Ocean View. For my first night, I thought I would just sleep in a roadside ditch like last year, but I passed the town post office with its door ajar. The place of course was closed but the lobby for P.O. boxes was open, inviting me in for restful three ½ hour nap on the hard tile floor. From the side of the road, I had picked up some large plastic bags in the previous miles that I was going to use to keep me warm in a ditch. Instead, I used them inside the lobby. I chose a spot that I thought was out of the way, but noticed a few people still had to step over me to get their mail. I slept from 3 to 6:30. I cannot imagine what the locals starting their day thought of this spectacle-a white guy wrapped up in garbage bags sleeping in the lobby of a post office in the middle of the night.
Now daybreak, I was bursting with energy after the quality sleep. I set my eyes on my next goal-Kailua-Kona. Despite the relatively long first night of sleep, I noted that I was already several hours ahead of schedule.
I continued to make steady progress thanks to my crew tending to my every need. Jordyn cranked on my tightening low back, loosening it with her expert stretching and massage skills. Often people would stop thinking she was performing CPR on me!
Traffic really picked up entering the Captain Cook area where there’s really no shoulder. I didn’t show it, but I was getting pretty cranky inside. I had wide open views of the beautiful Pacific to my left, but the noise, congestion and safety issues took me out of my groove.
When feeling like that, I new that calories would perk me up. My go-to fuel, Tailwind was key. My crew knew my other favorites were avocado spread on multi grain bread and good-ole Ensure. Stewart and Lisa brought me juicy fresh-cooked bacon every morning. It was heavenly. Fat is the best fuel for ultrarunners.
Megan from the Hawaii Wildlife Fund met up with me and paced me into Kona. I fed off her energy as we shared great conversation. I was running the race to raise money for her awesome organization. I hate asking people to donate but it’s unavoidable sometimes when there’s such a worthy cause.
Entering town, nightfall came. My crew loaded me up on calories again. Emily had joined up with us earlier in the day, reuniting all the O.G.’s from last year.
My spirits remained sky high reaching this milestone in the race. I was now on the backside of the course, the part I enjoy most. I savored the section of Ali’i Drive, famous for the Hawaii Ironman and all its glory. The wonderful restaurant smells tormented me as I passed New Year’s revelers.
Stewart broke down the mileage for the upcoming Queen K Highway, which intimidated me after my lonely and desolated experience last year. My strategy was to attack the seven miles to the Kona airport then steadily chip away at the nineteen miles to the Mauna Lani Resort entrance sign where I would sleep for night two. Last year, was a mental suffer fest. I remember the sheer darkness and aloneness that really challenged me. Now, I had a different mindset. My mental skills Coach, Brian Alexander, prepared me perfectly prior to this event. This new “tool” focused on words starting with P. He taught me to keep my Poise, not getting too high or too low at any time. He told me to be the “Eye in the Hurricane.” Next was the word Persistence—have a clear goal. I had that one down! Finally, Presence. He emphasized how I should “stay in the moment.” Not patient by nature, I always struggle with this. I am so tempted to always look too far ahead, asking myself “How much further to…” He’s taught me a lot more, but I don’t want to give away all his secrets.
Struggling to stay awake, I had to take a ten-minute cat nap in some roadside tall grass, not able to power all the way to Mauna Lani. It worked.
My crew stashed a blanket, a pad, and some food behind the large brick wall at the entrance to Mauna Lani Resort. Interrupted by periodic rain, I slept from 4 to 6:30 am.
Still way ahead of schedule, I made good progress towards the North side of the island. The absolute highlight of the day was having my wife and girls come out and walk with me a bit. I couldn’t convince them to run with me (teenagers!) but just seeing them during a race was a huge bonus.
My next goal? Get up to Hawi town around twenty-five miles ahead. With my crew’s positive vibes, I bounded with energy. Along here, I realized I was having “the race of a lifetime.” I mentioned that to Emily while she paced me.
I hadn’t encountered any serious problems and my mindset was ideal. My crew couldn’t have done a better job. Though I stopped often to stretch, rest, and eat, they kept the breaks brief.
The famous winds picked up entering Hawi, but I was ready for them. Blowing through town, I made the turn up Kynnersley Road leading to Kohala Mountain Road. I truly couldn’t believe how well things were going.
Last year Mountain Road broke me with the brutal trade winds and pounding sideways rain. I actually wanted to quit but my crew saved me. Again, this year I was prepared for even worse conditions.
Jordyn and Emily paced me two or three-mile segments at a time. This year, I thrived along here and before long, I could see the lights of towns way off in the distance, uplifting my spirits. It helped that the weather behaved this time.
I entered Waimea around midnight to empty streets. I begged Emily for her and Jordyn to not go back home to sleep for the night as planned. It would have made sleeping and feeding logistics for me really difficult. Fortunately, she acquiesced.
I rested so-so in the back seat of the crew car for around an hour. I couldn’t get comfortable, so I decided to just head out after loading up my pack with food, drink, warm clothes, and battery chargers.
I popped a Seattle Gummy Company caffeine gummy and a few Motrin and headed out for the last 56-mile push towards Hilo and the finish. I hated leaving the warm, quaint car. But as my good friend Keith Eckert says, “They’re not gonna bring the finish line to you.”
Now the streets were a ghost town. In the quiet of the night, the wild roosters seemed to have megaphones.
I started off fast. In a few miles, a passing truck tooted it’s horn and the driver yelled out “Hey Russ. It’s me, Russell.”
A local delivery driver who drives in the wee hours of the night, Russell was able to pace me last year and a little this year too. I became friends with him last year as he’d just got into running. I was ecstatic seeing him out in these lonely barren miles.
After he left to continue his duties, I re-entered another perfect state. Hard to put into words, things could not have been better, except for the loud cars and trucks climbing up the long hills. I was heading downhill, fit as ever, with 220 miles or so behind me and only forty or so to go. I was in a supreme mental and physical state.
Shortly after daybreak, a friend I met last year who is a naturopathic doctor on the island, Michelle Suber, showed up and surprised me with news that she was going to pace me for lots of the upcoming miles. She brought delicious coffee with butter in it and a pack of local Macadamia nuts. She let me take a 15-minute powernap in the back of her car. Things continued to get even better each hour.
We made decent progress. I was feeling super sappy and shared with her a few strong emotions. That happens to me often in ultras when I am extending myself to the limits. We talked about many things including the challenges of parenting teenagers these days.
Soon, the Lawrences arrived for the day, bringing fresh BACON again. Fat is fuel!
Despite the accumulating miles, I felt strong. I broke the next thirty miles down into ten-mile segments. Along the way, I was treated like a rock star by local runners and their families and friends. They brought out yummy treats and even put on a fireworks display, large enough to entertain a small town! One local ran with me for about five miles then went home to make me a thick scrambled egg and bacon sandwich. On the platter she placed apple slices, chips and OJ from fresh-squeezed oranges from her back yard. It was like room service at a 5-Star hotel! I stuffed myself silly for the last push to the finish.
Up until around Mile 205 or so (Waimea), I pushed for a really fast time. But I was having so much fun and appreciating the moments maximally that I ended up slowing quite a bit. I didn’t really care anymore about a time goal. My priorities changed from “racing” to “enjoying.” I took breaks when not needed. I hung out at the crew car too long. It was hard leaving the party-like atmosphere. (Looking back, I would not change a thing!)
I made it to Sugar Mill Road which meant I had around twelve to go. I started emptying the tank. I wanted to finish before dark or around 7 pm. I enjoyed the lush jungle of the Old Mamalahoa Highway. Where it joined back up with main Highway, I was met by Alyx Luck, the race director, and her new assistant Lency Chiles. They paced me in the last five miles to the finish line, which I crossed at just after 7 pm. My friend Tom’s family greeted me again and we all celebrated.
At and after the finish, I truly couldn’t have been more SATISFIED. All my hard physical and mental effort and previous training had paid off ideally. Over the last 84 hours, I thrived at what I enjoy most. I surpassed my goal. I was with great friends and my family. I was on the Big Island of Hawaii, and I felt my Dad’s presence as well. SHEER AND UTTER SATISFACTION!
I cannot express how grateful I am for all the love and support of Emily, Jordyn, Jon, Stewart, Lisa, Megan, Michelle, Russell, Alyx, Lency and all the others who contributed to this wonderful experience. And max thanks to all who prepared me for such a positive adventure. Finally, thanks to my loving wife Diane for putting up with all my shenanigans. (I’m gonna retire from Ultras after this year, honey. I don’t think she believes me!)
Addendum from Emily Beeson, “Queen B,” two-time crew member:
“I’ve learned so much from Russ on the road as one half of his support crew (my other half is a fabulous, strong, smart young local woman Jordyn Picadura) supporting him as crew while watching him perform such a huge physical & mental feat, completing the GoBig260 for two years in a row now. This year, the second time around, I logged in a lot more miles with him as a pacer, averaging about eight miles per day!
And for this year, versus last? Five whole hours faster, baby!
Better weather, combined with shorter, more disciplined stops with a very simple line-up of nutritious food & drink that we just repeated again and again, and of course, an even faster, stronger Russ, led him to a finish time five hours faster than last year.
Russ is a living example and embodiment of how fierce willpower, determination, courage in the face of challenges be it painful blisters or stormy weather, can enable us to achieve our goals be it completing a 10k or 10 marathons over the span of four days (who is crazy enough to do that?!?!), or any large goal in our lives. And of course, disciplined practice, training, and preparedness are non-negotiable essentials, too.
Thank you, Russ (and Jordyn), for all the fun, real, wild, rugged, exhilarating, challenging, exhausting and can I say REAL again, times, out on the roa