Over dinner on the night before the HURT 100, Gnarly athlete Tara Warren sat with a friend in the warmth of the Hawaiian sunset. In the morning, Tara would take off to run one of the most notoriously technical ultramarathons in the US. Through Oahu’s jungle, the HURT 100 challenges runner’s agility on exposed roots, their determination through epic mud and their performance in Hawaii’s unrelenting humidity. During dinner, Tara’s friend asked her, “What should I do if you start talking about quitting? What’s gonna work for you if you start to bum out?” This is standard when it comes to 100+ miles races. Your crew and pacers discuss what happens if you start entertaining ideas of quitting to figure out how best to encourage you to keep going. “I told my friend to not worry about it,” Tara said. “I told her I’m fine, that it’s gonna be fine, so we didn’t really talk about it.”
Tara didn’t cross the finish line at the HURT 100, but no amount of encouragement or motivational mantras would have changed that. In the end, Tara did what she intended to do with the HURT 100: She showed up at the starting line and tested herself.
“What I've learned in ultra running is that the reward isn't to finish,” Tara said. “The reward really is the journey to get to the starting line. The journey to get to the start line is the hardest and then you celebrate whatever happens after that point.”
The “Pain Cave”
Hawaii holds a special place in Tara’s life. She lived in the islands before getting married and spends about a month there each year with her family. “I have a really close connection to Hawaii,” Tara said. “Especially when I’m training and running on Hawaiian trails. It's brought some really deep peace to my life especially when my mom passed away a few years ago. I've found that running always helps, but the soothing trails in Hawaii have been a real part of that for me.”
Oahu’s HURT 100 is the shortened version of the mouthful official title: The Hawaiian Ultra Running Team’s Trail 100-Mile Endurance Run. In the mountains above Honolulu, HURT runners take on five laps through semi-tropical rainforest, each lap being 20 miles long. The course is 99 percent single-track trails with roots, rocks, hairpin turns, switchbacks, epic mud, 20 creek crossings and steep inclines that can be as long as two miles. The cumulative elevation gain is roughly 24,500 feet. Runners have 36 hours to complete the course.
“HURT is more than just a race,” Tara said. “It's honestly like a puzzle. The course has spider- web-woven, graded, million-year-old, jungle tree roots. And if you don't leg brake to get up, down, or over them, you die. It’s that simple.”
The HURT 100 is a technical race designed for those willing to test themselves, which is exactly what drew Tara to the race. “I really enjoy doing 100 mile races,” Tara said. “That's kind of my jam and I like to push myself and see what happens when I get pushed to the brink of what I feel like I can do”
The “Book of HURT'' details what every runner should know when signing up and covers eye-opening details like what to do if you encounter a wild boar. It encourages packing bug spray to fend off relentless mosquitos and discourages drinking any untreated stream water since it could contain leptospirosis. And yet, getting invited to run the HURT 100 is an honor. Through a complex lottery system, the race allows only 136 entrants.
Tara’s entered the lottery before and was waitlisted, but never called up. The 2022 race was the same story, but thanks to COVID-19, several runners dropped, which moved Tara from the waitlist to the “go” list. So she trained at home through the sub-zero temps of Utah’s winter for a tropical race in Hawaii.
“You have to love the sport for the journey, not just for the racing”
Ten days before the race, Tara went on a podcast with a friend and chatted about how she felt ready and how training had gone well. She was prepped for the humid temps with Gnarly Fuel₂O. “I remember that night thinking, oh I just totally jinxed myself,” Tara said.
The following morning she took off to run a route she runs often with her 70-pound golden retriever. With a fresh layer of powdery snow, Tara’s dog excitedly explored and then with a quick pivot, darted to catch up with her. “He was running a million miles an hour and rammed into the back of my right calf,” Tara said. “It felt like someone took one of those giant hammers from the cartoons and just whacked me in the back of the calf.”
Once Tara was home and dethawed from the cold, she soon realized things weren’t great. She couldn't put weight on the leg and opted for crutches. Not the best way to pack for a race in a tropical paradise that you’ve been wanting for years.
By the time she left for Hawaii, she could bear weight once again. “I decided to just keep going because I knew it was going to keep getting better every day,” she said. “It was a tight window to recover, but on race day I was putting pressure on it and there was no pain. But there was horrible bruising. It literally looked like someone had hit me with a bat.”
The first lap of HURT 100 went great for Tara, as did the second. “It was like rainbows and butterflies and I felt great,” she said. With perfect weather and zero mud on a typically mud-drenched route, things seemed to be flowing well. Even the stream crossings were low enough that it was possible to hop over them, Tara said. The conditions for the 2022 HURT 100 were better than they’ve been in years.
Gravity, however, had other plans for Tara’s race. As the miles progressed, the blood from her bruised calf moved down, pooling into her ankle. Then came the nauseating pain and the tears. “It was the craziest thing and I was using my poles almost as crutches because I couldn't put any weight on that ankle because of the stupid blood,” Tara explained. “Of all the things that could have gone wrong - it's not even that cool of a story -I just tried my best and I really felt like I kept going until I really couldn't go any further.”
Quitting on account of a fluke accident nine days before the race was tough, but necessary. “The thing that happened with my dog was a bummer, and I can't say that I knew this was going to happen, but I had time to kind of mourn the race that could have been before it happened,” Tara said. “Not that I gave up beforehand but I had already kind of put myself through that possibility.”
If landing on the DNF list has an additional benefit beside running over half of one of the world’s toughest 100-mile races, Tara points to the Hawiian “ohana” she felt at the race: a built-in family of volunteers who helped her when she needed it most.
“These people who, year in and year out, are in charge of the eight aid stations are not only there to feed you fantasy food, but they are there for you emotionally,” Tara said. “I don't think I've ever used that to the extent that I did at this particular race when I needed comfort from strangers.”
The recovery process
Tara explained it wasn't the moment she quit that stung the most. It wasn't even the day after or the one after that since the pain still held steady and she had the Hawaiian beaches for distraction. It was day three, four and five that proved to be the struggle. “It’s those days that kind of get in your head and mess with you,” Tara said. “You start to psych yourself out and try to tell yourself that you're not strong or you start to wonder why you couldn't finish while others did. Those are the mental battles.”
But time heals and these days Tara is back running in the Utah winter snow with her dog. Tara hasn’t yet decided if she’ll be entering the lottery for the HURT 100 in 2023, but it’s a consideration. “One of my friends reminded me that I have the type of personality where I can't let things be. I have to finish and close the circle.”