Backpacking the Kalalau Trail at the Nā Pali Coast in Kauai

Last week my wife and I backpacked the 11 mile Kalalau Trail in Kauai. The Kalalau Trail is considered one of the top backpacking destinations in the world, and it lived up to its reputation for me. It was the most spectacular backpacking trip I’ve been on, with verdant jungles, jagged mountains, oceanside cliffs, waterfalls, rivers, creeks, and beautiful beaches. Not to mention passion fruit, whales, wild pigs, some big spiders, treacherous cliffs, and lots of mud.

Napali Coast sign

How to get to the Kalalau Trail

Two or three months before your trip, you need to purchase a permit to hike the Kalalau Trail. These can sell out pretty quickly, there are only 60 available per night (many people get them and don’t end up using them). They cost $20 per night. You can get a permit by going to the Napali Coast State Wilderness Park site. There’s also some information about the trail on the state parks site.

Warning Signs on the Kalalau Trail
Get ready for lots of warning signs

Before leaving for Hawaii, we packed our gear into two packs and put them all in a big duffel bag. I put the tent in my carry-on to save some weight.

We flew into Kauai on Wednesday at 4pm. We picked up a rental car and drove straight to Ace Hardware so we could pick up some butane (gas) for our backpacking stove. Gas canisters are not allowed on planes, so you’ll need to do the same. You can check the locations and hours of Ace Hardware online. I called the one in Lihue before we flew out to confirm that they carried butane (I heard that some of the other Ace’s on the island don’t carry it).

We next drove to Walmart to pick up some food, mosquito repellent, and a lighter. We had packed some of our meals, but needed some lunches and additional snacks. It was also good to pick up some stuff at Walmart for our whole stay so that we wouldn’t have to purchase bottled water, for example.

The Kalalau Trail is on the northwest corner of the island of Kauai. The closest decent size city is Princeville. We stayed in the cheapest place I could find for one night, an airbnb, which was still pretty expensive. If you’re up for it, there are lots of camping options around the island.

On Thursday morning we left early to give us the most time on the trail. It was easy to get up since we were from the mainland (3 hours ahead of Hawaii time) and since there were roosters crowing starting at 1:30am! Ugh!

We parked in the Hāʻena State Park parking lot. The cost is $15 per day (two nights = three days). I was a little worried about someone breaking into our car, so we didn’t leave anything valuable in there. At the very least I would make sure that anything you leave in the car is well hidden. This is a new parking option as of November 2019.

We lucked out with some fantastic sunny weather on Thursday. The Kalalau Trail is often closed due to rain. In fact, we were hiking on the 16th. From the 10th through half of the 14th the trail was closed! And as you’ll see below, the trail was closed again on the 17th. We lucked out by having scheduled our hike in a 2 1/2 day open window.

The reason the trail closes is that there are rivers that you need to pass that will become impassable with any steady rainfall. The rivers are actually the most dangerous part of the Kalalau Trail (not the cliffs).

How can you avoid closures? First, we were hiking in January, the middle of the winter. Winter in Kauai means more rain — about double the rainfall in the summer. You’ll maximize chances of an open trail by going in May through September. This site has a chart showing rainfall in Wainiha, right near the trail head.

Second, try to be flexible when you go. I know this is difficult since you need to get hotel reservations, but if you can alter your starting day by a day or two you may have a better chance of making it on the trail.

You can check the weather for the trail at this link.

You can check if the Kalalau Trail is open on the state parks website. If it’s not open, there will be a red alert at the top of the page.

Overview of the Kalalau Trail

We started hiking right around 7:30. Once you’re at the actual trail head (something like 1/3 mile from the parking lot), the trail immediately starts climbing a steep hill. Not too far into the trail you’ll start getting some great views of the coastline.

Kalalau Beach is near the farthest coastal outcropping you can see

The Kalalau Trail is basically composed of 3 segments:

  • The first two miles from the trail head to Hanakapi’ai stream and beach. The Hanakapi’ai Waterfall is two miles from the beach up a different trail.
  • Mile 2 to mile 6 from Hanakapi’ai to Hanakoa Stream. You can camp in the Hanakoa valley, but there’s no beach access. The Hanakoa Waterfall is a mile from the camping spot on a trail up the valley.
  • Miles 6 to mile 11 from Hanakoa Valley to Kalalau Beach. (At approximately mile 7 you’ll cross the infamous Crawler’s Ledge.)

Hiking the Kalalau Trail, Day 1

Since we were early there weren’t many people on the trail. All the people we did see on the trail in the first couple miles were just going the first couple miles to Hanakāpīʻai. That’s the first major stream crossing. From there the trail splits. People with permits can continue on the Kalalau Trail, but most people (without permits) either turn around or go to the Hanakāpīʻai waterfall, which is another two miles from the junction. That makes for a great day hike if you don’t have the time or desire to go all the way to Kalalau Beach.

We took our shoes off to cross the stream as we were still mostly dry and didn’t want to hike in wet shoes all day.

Crossing Hanakapiai Stream on the Kalalau Trail
Crossing Hanakapiai Stream on the Kalalau Trail

There’s a decent outhouse near Hanakāpīʻai Beach, in case you need it.

Kalalau Trail Outhouse

Be careful at Hanakapiai Beach! You probably shouldn’t swim in it. Here’s a story of a couple kids getting swept out. And another story and video of a rogue wave.

Warning signs at Hanakapiai Beach

We ate half our lunch at Hanakapi’ai and then started back on the trail.

Throughout the morning I was continually amazed by the green jungle foliage. There was a variety of trees, bushes, and shrubs. There were flowers and many shades of green.

Hiking on the Kalalau Trail

Small creeks crossed the trail in many places and there was mud everywhere, mostly due to the recent rains. The mud was enough to make our shoes and legs dirty, but not enough for us to get stuck in or to hamper our progress too much. I’ve done quite a bit of backpacking and I’ve never relied on hiking poles. Hiking poles may ease some of the pressure on your knees and legs, but they also cause you to expend more energy since you’re basically pumping weights the whole time. However, I purchased a pair of hiking poles for this trip and Cyndi borrowed a pair from a friend. We were very grateful we had them. They helped with the mud and with all the slopes and steps.

Rock Formation on the Kalalau Trail
One of many spectacular rock formations

Eventually we made it to the beautiful Hanakoa valley where we had to cross another stream. There are some camping spots there and some were taken from people coming back. There is a little shelter with picnic tables on both sides of the creek, and an outhouse on the north side of the creek.

Hanakoa Mileage Sign

We had been hiking near a South Korean from Canada who was hiking solo. We saw him stop to take one of the lower camping spots. He planned on continuing on the Kalalau the following day. More on him later…

Kalalau Trail Mountains

We continued on our way knowing that Crawler’s Ledge, the most famous part of the Kalalau Trail, was about a mile farther. (Cyndi was nervous about it.) We knew when we got to it. First you switchback down a grassy and rocky bank and then make your way around to the rocky cliff.

Warning before Crawler's Ledge on the Kalalau Trail

We took it easy on Crawler’s Ledge, but I really didn’t think it was too bad. Later, a friend said she was told that if you can walk across a sidewalk without falling over, then you’ll be fine. This is pretty accurate. Even if it was raining I don’t think I’d be too worried about it. In fact, there are other places on Kalalau Trail that are more dangerous, although they don’t feel as dangerous (if that’s any comfort).

Crawler's Ledge on the Kalalau Trail
Cyndi making her way across Crawler’s Ledge
Crawler's Ledge on the Kalalau Trail

With the sun shining, it was quite warm on parts of the trail. There was high humidity and not a lot of breeze on this particular day. Some spots felt like an oven as we walked through them.

Passion Fruit
We found some passion fruit on the trail, which I thoroughly enjoyed

At one point after Crawler’s ledge we stopped at another ocean overlook and ate another bagel. I was scanning the ocean hoping to see a whale and sure enough I spotted one a long way out from the coast. It must have been at least a mile, but I spotted it because it blew a big sprout of water! We were excited to see a few more sprouts. I’d never seen a whale before. A little later we also saw a herd of goats hanging out on a patch of dirt that sloped into the ocean.

Kalalau

Eventually we rounded a turn and entered Kalalau Valley. We still had over a mile to go before our campsite. Approaching mile 10 we had to descend a long eroded stretch of trail that was pretty difficult on our tired legs. We were dragging after a long day of backpacking. We finally got to the bottom of that stretch and entered a large grove that had a bunch of passion fruit in it. That grove was bisected by the final big stream crossing, Kalalau Stream. This was probably the most difficult crossing, but it wasn’t too bad. I left my shoes on since they were filthy anyways and it made the footing much easier.

Kalalau Beach

We were so happy to see the beach after another ~half mile down the trail! We quickly selected a spot to pitch our tent, and then threw on our swimsuits and headed down to the water. There is plenty of space to camp in the trees right along the trail. If you walk all the way to the end of the trail there are a couple overhangs and some premium spots to camp right next to the beach.

The beach is gorgeous. There is cliff on behind the beach and a waterfall coming down on the south side which disappears into the sand. The valley is composed of towering green mountains that seem to rise directly from the beach below. (We didn’t take the best photo, which is looking from the beach towards the mountains – there are plenty of these online though.)

Kalalau Beach

The sun was still out and it was nice to wash off all the dirt and sweat from the day’s hiking. The waves were really tame, so I actually did a little body surfing. This might have been unwise, but I was careful not to go very deep (only just over my waist). We walked along the beach to some cool caves carved into the cliff walls. There were probably 15 other campers in the area that night. Only one had passed us on the trail, so the rest had either camped at Hanakoa or had been at Kalalau Beach for more than one day.

After a swim, we retrieved our stove and Mountain House meals and cooked dinner on the rocks by the sand as the sun went down behind the cliffs. We did a little reading and went to bed really early since it was dark, our home timezone was three hours ahead, we were exhausted, and we couldn’t have a fire. Some of our stuff was pretty wet from the hike so we just hung it on the trees.

Dinner on Kalalau Beach
Salty dinner tastes so good after a full day hiking!
Kalalau Beach at sunset

That night it RAINED! It must have started around midnight and then didn’t let up until about 10am. At one point during the night I found a little puddle of water next to me in the tent — the rain had dripped down the side of the tent and through a gap where the two zippers meet. I fixed it by moving the two zippers up. Luckily our tent was pretty waterproof otherwise. I had a small two-man tent, but before the trip I purchased a cheap three-man tent at Walmart to have enough space for our bags. Despite being cheap, it had a nice tarp floor and it held up very well. Thank goodness we had our bags in the tent and out of the rain. Since it was warm, any wetness that got into the tent really didn’t bug me a lot. I was actually hot most of the night as it doesn’t get below 60F in Kauai.

Hiking the Kalalau Trail, Days 2 and 3

When we finally got out of bed, the big concern was whether we’d be able to cross the stream to get out. We took our breakfast to one of the overhangs so we could get out of the rain at least. Streams of water were running down the trail. We met another couple who had the same concern and decided to hike out together to help each other cross the stream. Another couple ladies wanted help across as well.

Fortunately the rain had lifted early enough that the stream flow subsided. It was still much more water than the prior afternoon, but we carefully forded it with a couple of us anchoring in and then helping each other across.

We then had a very pleasant hike back to Hanakoa Valley. It was overcast with some wind, but it wasn’t raining and I hiked in shorts and a t-shirt again. The waves were enormous, contrasting the mild ocean just the day before. When we got to Crawler’s Ledge, the mist from the ocean waves battering the cliffs reached all the way up to us. Sometimes the waves would bounce off the cliffs and then crash into the waves behind them and spew water into the air.

Hikers on Crawlers Ledge on the Kalalau Trail
Can you see us coming back on Crawlers Ledge? Some hikers in front of us took this photo and sent it to us.
Jagged Mountains near the Kalalau Trail

The two ladies we crossed the stream with went ahead, but Cyndi and I hiked the whole way with the couple we met and we quickly became friends. We ended up camping in Hanakoa next to them and playing some card games that night, and then we hiked out the following day with them.

Drying Gear at Hanakoa
Drying off our clothes and gear after a wet night

We also made the mile hike to Hanakoa Falls, which was worth the hike. (There are some helpful orange tags on some trees to help guide the way.) I wish I’d jumped in the pool of water under the waterfall, but I was rather cold from a wet, windy day and from rinsing off in Hanakoa Stream.

Hanakoa Falls

We kept waiting to cross paths with the South Korean. We never saw him, and when we arrived at the camping spots we saw that his spot literally had a stream of water flowing through it. We felt really bad that he must have had a very wet night.

We woke up early in the morning to finish hiking out the Kalalau Trail. We had 6 miles to go and we were rather worn out.

Hiking on the Kalalau Trail
Hiking on the Kalalau Trail

The trail was completely empty until we crossed Hanakapi’ai Stream. Evidently, the trail had been closed the day before due to the rain, which was no surprise to us. The last two miles was full of people making the day hike to Hanakapi’ai Falls.

We made it to our car by 11am after a very successful trip. Our car hadn’t been touched.

Backpacking the Kalalau Trail was truly the trip of a lifetime. It was so different to what I’m accustomed to, with lush vegetation, beautiful coastal views, steep green mountains, and moderate temperatures. It was the highlight of our stay on Kaua’i. I hope to do it again someday.

Zeitgeist Half Marathon 2019 – My 8th Time Running

This year was my 8th time doing the Zeitgeist Half Marathon. It’s a great race that keeps me coming back every year. It has a decent amount of runners – about 600 this year. It’s a challenging course with two big hills and one little one. It’s late in the year after things have calmed down from the summer. It has become part of my November routine.

Last year I wasn’t quite prepared for the hills, so since August I had been trying to get at least one good hill in every couple weeks. I don’t live right by a big hill, so this usually means driving to the foothills before work and running trails in the dark. I also got in a good hill run at Hood To Coast this year and another on Catalina Island before FitOne.

Being more prepared for the hills this year, and after some good training in late September and October, I hoped to set a personal best on the Zeitgeist Half Marathon course and to potentially take first place.

The weather was cold this year, and leading up to the race it looked like it would be sub 30F. Luckily it was sunny without too much wind and it was about 32F when the race started. I ran in a t-shirt, shorts, and gloves. I ditched my beanie right before the race started.

I was happy to see that some of the really fast runners in the valley didn’t show up, but there were plenty of runners I didn’t know. Sure enough, there were two guys up front with me during the first mile. I stuck right behind the first guy for most of the first hill (which peaks at 3.1 miles), and the 3rd place guy fell behind a bit. However, after pushing up the hill the #1 runner started leaving me behind and gradually stretched his lead for the rest of the race.

Around mile 5 a volunteer lady asked me, “How tall are you?!” I’d never had a volunteer ask me that before, and I thought it was pretty funny. I wheezed out a reply of “6-4.”

Despite being #2 I still pushed for my course PR, and I was helped by noticing runner #3 close behind me about 6 miles into the half marathon. That kept me running scared and faster than I otherwise might have. I also hoped that #1 would fade or tie his shoe or something. I ended up pushing pretty hard up the final large hill and all the way down. I hit most of my time targets and had a good race. I faded a bit in the final mile, but still felt good about my performance.

I ended up finishing a solid #2 FOR THE THIRD YEAR IN A ROW! Oh well. There’s always next year. The good news is that I improved my time a little more than expected. In fact, this could be the best running shape I’ve been in, ever. I hope I can build on it over the winter.

After the race I did a cooldown run with my friend, Chad, who got 6th. We ate the lunch they served and didn’t stick around for awards. (My one complaint about Zeitgeist is they wait until about 4 hours after the race begins to hand out awards and raffle prizes.)

YearTime (pace)PlaceNotes
20111:45:44 (8:04)126My first Zeitgeist
20131:39:56 (7:37)35A month after my first marathon in 4 years
20141:35:09 (7:15)18
20151:28:44 (6:46)8Had some calf issues
20161:25:19 (6:30)1My best 1st place finish ever
20171:22:54 (6:19)2Faster time but worse place 🙁
20181:21:45 (6:12)2Course PR; marathon 2 weeks earlier
20191:20:33 (6:07)2Another course PR, another 2nd place

It’s fun to see improvement over time. I dread the year the trend reverses. It could be next year for all I know. Until then, I’m grateful for the improvement and grateful for another year running the Zeitgeist Half Marathon. I plan on being back in 2020.

FitOne Half Marathon 2019

The FitOne Half Marathon takes place in Boise every September. They offer a killer deal on National Running Day in June where you can sign up for $20. I couldn’t pass that up, so I signed myself and Cyndi up. I had never run it before, so I was looking forward to the flat, fast course this year.

After the Jack and Jill’s Downhill Marathon in late July I took about two weeks off of running to try to let my Achilles heal (didn’t work). Hood to Coast was the only race I’d done since then, so beginning in mid-August I was able to get some decent training in. I didn’t think I was quite back up to the shape I was in during the spring, but I was feeling pretty good and looked forward to getting a decent half marathon time.

One thing going against me was the cruise that I went on the week before. Besides eating way too much food, I did a pretty tough (but awesome!) run on the Monday before the FitOne Half Marathon. My run was on Catalina Island and included 1800 feet elevation gain and loss.

We also walked around touring, danced a bit, and I forced myself to walk countless stairs on the boat to try to offset some of my eating (elevators off limits). This all had me coming off the cruise fairly worn out.

That said, I took it easy on Friday and felt that I could still hit a decent time. I had run the Famous Idaho Potato Half Marathon at a 5:57 pace, and I thought I could do FitOne between 6:05 and 6:10/mile.

Between the 5K, 10K, and Half Marathon there are thousands of FitOne participants, and therefore they hold a large Expo. This year it was a JUMP downtown. They were lots of booths with various running, fitness, and nutrition offerings. We took our kids and two of them got free bike helmets.

On Saturday Cyndi and I woke up early and drove downtown to get ready for the 7:15am start time. We ran into our friends, Julie and Chad, and talked to them before the start. Chad and I did a little warm up around the Idaho state capitol building. When I lined up I noted there were a few really fast guys that I know from the area. I introduced myself to one of them who I had only seen on Strava and who I figured would win (he did).

As usual, I tried to take it easy when the race started. I was successful and I ran the first mile in 6:04, which was right about on target. I fell in behind a group of three guys in about 10th place. Mile 2 was a 6:01 pace. I felt pretty good and thought that I could probably get at least a 6:05 average for the race.

Mile 3 swings up near the old penitentiary, with some uphill followed by downhill. On the downhill I sped up and passed the group of three I had been following. My next two miles were nearly the fastest of the race for me, 5:56 and 5:57. I felt good and the guys I had just passed were right behind me. We were also still not too far behind a few runners ahead of us.

Mile 6 was a little slower at 6:02. During Mile 7 there is a 180 degree turn where you pass runners up to ~150 yards ahead and behind you. I cheered for my high school classmate, Kenny, who was ahead of me, and then I cheered on Chad who was behind me.

After Mile 7, which I completed in 6:03, we started a very gradual downhill portion that followed the Boise River. At about this time, one of the three guys I had passed sped up slightly and passed me back. Mile 8 was 5:59 and Mile 9 was 6:02. I hoped that I could catch some of the runners I could still see ahead during the last few miles, but that wasn’t to be. I was starting to tighten up in my hips and didn’t feel that I could give a lot more.

Apparently I slowed slightly during Mile 10 and Mile 11, coming in at 6:05 in each of those. At the end of Mile 11 we merged with the 10K runners and started up the Boise Depot hill. I worked hard up the hill and managed to run Mile 12 in 6:04. I closed the distance on the runners ahead of me, but then I got a little light-headed at the top of the hill.

Everyone sped up during the final mile, which had some downhill. I managed to run a 5:49 pace, but the runners ahead of me sped up more and widened the gap back out.

The course was short, about 12.95 miles. I came across in 8th (or 9th?) place with a pace of 6:01 (according to my watch).

I was happy with the time, and it makes me think that I have a great base going into the winter training. I feel like maybe I held back a little too much in some of the middle portion of the race. Perhaps I could have gone a few seconds faster, but overall it was a good race. I’m hoping that next year I can PR again.

Chad came in shortly after me and he was very happy with his time and performance. I had to take one of the kids to an activity, so I jogged back to the car and I wasn’t able to watch Cyndi come in. She was also happy with her sub-2:00 time. I found that I was already really tightening up as I jogged back to my car. (Cyndi got a ride home with Chad and Julie, as planned.)

What makes FitOne Half Marathon fun is that there are lots of runners. It’s a big race and well organized. There were plenty of volunteers at every little turn, a good Expo, and a good finish area. The course is OK, but it’s very similar to other races in Boise (Famous Potato, St Patrick’s Day Run), so it’s not a noteworthy course. However, the price is right. For $20 I can definitely see myself doing this race again in years to come.

Hood to Coast 2019 – Single Van Insanity

This was my third year doing Hood to Coast and we decided to do something that I’ve always been intrigued by, but that I knew would be a little crazy: combine two vans into one.

We did this for a few reasons:

  • There was a death in the family right before the relay, and we thought it would be better if we were all together (this was a family team).
  • Because of the death, 1 person had to drop out last minute. This meant we had one less runner whose running we’d need to cover. It also ruined our original van line-up and made the responsible driver situation tougher. One less runner made one van a little less daunting since there would be 11 people instead of 12.
  • Finally, we just thought it would be interesting, in a twisted way. And no one wanted to miss out on the party.

Those that have done a 12-person road relay know that the advantage of two vans is that one van can take a break (~3-5 hours) while the other van runs legs. Van 1 gets 2 solid breaks and Van 2 will basically get one break in the middle of the night (and start later the first day). Thus, without two vans, there would be no breaks. Knowing this going into the relay and given that we were using my Ford Transit, I assumed I would get nearly zero sleep. I was correct.

Talking after our pre-race dinner the night before the Relay

To make matters worse, we had a fairly late start time of 10:45am. We planned out our legs on Thursday night after agreeing on one van. We switched things around a bit so that three of us could cover a second leg. The coverage would occur by running two legs back to back instead of running 4 separate legs. On Friday morning the 11 of us piled into the van and headed to Mt Hood.

Our revised leg assignments

Kara was team captain and took Leg 1 because she wanted to start off with some fast downhill. She was followed by Ben (the only person not in our family) and then Chad. Chad was followed by my immediate family: Paisley, then me, then Cyndi.

Hood to Coast Leg 5

My run went well. I pushed pretty hard and ran it slightly faster than I did last year (I ran the same leg last year). It started with a little downhill then had a decent climb during the second half of the run.

Pro tip: After each leg in a relay, immediately drink a chocolate milk. It tastes sooooo good and it calms your stomach down. Especially if it’s fully loaded (full fat). Keeping your stomach calm during a relay is vital to a good experience.

During Cyndi’s leg we stopped at Safeway to grab some food. I got a roasted chicken, some rolls, and some JoJo’s for $10 to share with Cyndi, Paisley, and Ben. It was an excellent meal in my opinion, with plenty of good protein and some carbs. I overate a bit.

When everyone is in one van, the major exchanges (6, 12, 18, 24, 30) are not as major. Usually this would be the few minutes you get to see the other van and everyone is excited. If you’re in one van, it’s just another exchange. It does have a lot of people at it which makes it a little more interesting I suppose.

Cyndi handing off to Brenden at Exchange 6

Brenden came next, then Jaci, Kelsey, Kaden, and Tyrel. Tyrel ended up running legs 11 and 12 to cover for our missing runner, Christy. He did a good job and knocked out 12 miles despite having never ran that far. Ever.

Cyndi and Paisley at Exchange 12

During one of these legs I was able to lay down and just rest for a while, although I don’t think I actually slept. Although we were all in a van together, I tried to be more supportive of runners 1-6 and rest more during runners 7-11. All the in and out of the van and standing and waiting can really drain me, so I was purposeful about being supportive to the other runners about half the time.

Exchange 13, just after dusk

Hood to Coast Leg 17

As night approached I started dreading my second leg a bit. I was tired and didn’t feel like running very much. This is pretty typical. During the night is primarily when relays really start to wear me down. Nevertheless, I put on some tunes to pump me up a bit (The Final Countdown) and got into the mood the best I could.

Also, I was driving for most of this time. The only time I didn’t drive was during legs 4, 5, and 6. That was while I was getting ready to run, running, and just finishing.

My Leg 17 run started just after 12:30am. It was a flat 7.85 miler along a 4-lane highway. It took me about a mile to warm up my legs, particularly my Achilles which has been giving me trouble for a few months. Once I was warmed up I tried to maintain a strong pace. My goal was to hit 6:30/mile. For the most part I was passing people the whole time. I was surprised when an older gentleman came up behind me 2-3 miles into the leg and proceeded to pass me. He must have been going at a 6:00 pace and he had to be around 50 years old. I was impressed. I increased my pace for a while, but I wasn’t dumb enough to try to keep up for very long. I stayed under 6:30 for most of the first 5 miles. However, I realized during the last third of the leg that I still had a tough long run ahead of me (Legs 29 and 30 combined). As I grew more fatigued, I decided to back off and reduced my pace during the last 2 miles to upper 6:00’s. That would hopefully leave me with some energy for my last run. There’s a stoplight right near the end of Leg 17 which is really annoying, so after stopping at that I finished strong and gave Cyndi a kiss as I handed off to her.

One thing I insisted on before running my leg was that I would be taking a shower at Exchange 17. The showers in Hood to Coast are in unusual and seemingly random places. Some people don’t worry about taking showers during relay races. I love them — it feels so good to get all the sweat off my skin and to feel clean again. It helps me rest better and loosens me up. (I also try to jump into lakes after a day of backpacking for the same reason.)

After I took a quick shower, a couple of our runners grabbed food, I grabbed my chocolate milk, and we continued to Exchange 18 which is a “major” exchange. There were lots of people there and I was still awake and alert so I got out to get Cyndi from the big crowd.

I knew I needed to eat more so that I’d have energy for my big run later in the morning, so I asked Jaci to make me a PBJ. She doesn’t like peanut butter, but I told her to load it on. It ended up being the most peanut buttery sandwich I’d ever eaten. Delicious.

By about 3am I was feeling really tired and I asked someone else to drive. I took a back seat and laid down for an hour or two. I didn’t sleep a lot, maybe 10 minutes, but it was good to lay down.

Eventually we got to Exchange 24, which is another major exchange. I whipped out my backpacking stove and made a few of our team some hot cocoa and myself some hot oatmeal. Warm meals are wonderful to eat during relay races. I was informed by a volunteer that stoves weren’t allowed, but fortunately I was done anyways. (This was a green, grassy, wet field so I don’t know what the problem was.)

Hood to Coast Leg 29 and Leg 30

Eventually it was approaching my turn to run again. We were starting to hit some traffic. With 2.5 miles of Leg 28 left we hit bumper-to-bumper traffic. I got my shoes on and jumped out to warm up right before Paisley, our Leg 28 runner, approached us. This meant that I ran 2.5 miles with her, then my 5.97 mile Leg 29, then 5.32 mile Leg 30.

I took it pretty easy with Paisley during the last part of Leg 28. Leg 29 begins with a 3.5 mile uphill stretch. I was pushing pretty hard and passing people. About a mile from the top I heard someone approaching behind me, so I started running harder. Once we crested the summit, I continued a hard pace and the other runner stayed right behind me. I gave just about everything I had to hold him off — we ran two miles at about 5:33/mile. We eventually caught up to another line of cars in traffic and many of them were yelling funny things as us as we charged by. It was actually quite fun, but it pushed me to my limit. With about a mile to go I broke. I justified slowing down a bit since I knew I still needed to run another leg. My competitor finally passed me and I thanked him for pushing me.

He finished the leg about 50 yards ahead of me, and then I ran through the exchange as I started Leg 30. By this time it was raining and I became fully drenched. With all the traffic, I was wondering how long I’d be waiting at Exchange 30. I slowed down to ~7:00/mile for this leg and I was starting to feel tired from all the running and lack of sleep.

I finished the 13.91 mile run and was happy to be done. Amazingly, our van pulled up about 1 minute later, and I hopped in as our next runner, Brenden, hopped out and started running. I learned that our van had been in bumper-to-bumper traffic the entire time, and they were going crazy.

Can I just say that the traffic at Hood to Coast is awful? It’s really a problem, and maybe the organizers have tried everything to solve it, but it makes the Hood to Coast Relay almost unbearable. I remember how much I hated it the first year and how it ruined my experience. These past two years I’ve been more prepared for it, but it still grates on me. I feel like the issue is primarily how the traffic is controlled at some of the later exchanges. I don’t think some of the volunteers understand how holding up cars can really back things up. I think the organizers should put some very efficient people at the later exchanges and figure out how to get the traffic flowing the best way possible.

During my run I passed 92 runners! That’s about 8% of the teams, although I’m not sure how the walking and high school teams factor in. It’s crazy to me that all those teams were packed in the course that tightly.

We finished our last 6 legs without too much excitement. Kaden had a great run and Tyrel cramped a bit, but we finally made it across the finish line at the beach at about 5:45pm. Since it was so late, we just spent about an hour walking around town and then we headed home.

Finish Line

Finish line after a long night

Another Hood to Coast Relay in the bag. Going in one van was pretty crazy, but also pretty fun. I have an idea of how I can add in a little sleeping area in the back of my van for next time which would space things out a bit better. I think I’m going to try one van again…

Jack and Jill’s Downhill Marathon 2019

I’d recommend Jack and Jill’s Downhill Marathon as a great race. It’s a fast course and has pretty scenery. Be prepared for wet conditions and for downhill that will eat unprepared quads. Overall it was a great experience for me.

Jack & Jill’s Downhill Marathon starts at Snoqualmie Pass, a few dozen miles east of Seattle. It begins with a two mile train tunnel and then follows a train track that’s been converted to a dirt bike/hiking/running trail. The trail is hard-packed dirt with a little gravel. (I wore road running shoes and they were fine.) The vegetation is lush on both sides of the trail, and the elevation decline is a very gradual ~80 feet per mile for essentially the whole course. There are half marathon and marathon races on both Saturday and Sunday. I signed up for the Saturday marathon which had about 700 runners.

It was a 7+ hour drive from the Boise area. There aren’t many (or any?) hotels around North Bend, WA where the race ends and where packet pickup is. The nearest hotels are about 10 miles west, they were pretty pricey, and we had all our children with us, so we decided to camp. There are two camp grounds nearby which I’m pretty sure were all full, but luckily there is dispersed camping all along the roads that run parallel to the freeway. We found a nice spot and set up camp. Packet pickup went smoothly and the shirts they handed out were nice racing singlets.

We ended up grabbing some food at Safeway to eat — a roasted chicken, some rolls, and JoJo’s (potato wedges). It was actually a decent pre-race meal. We also threw in some ice cream and of course s’mores since we were camping. Camping the night before a marathon means even less sleep than usual, but I didn’t expect much sleep anyways, so it was fine. I “woke up” at 4:30 and Cyndi took me to the starting line. The marathon powers that be had assigned me a bus time of 4am, so camping a few miles from the starting line worked out well.

It was drizzling while we waited for the race to start. I talked to a few people about the course and previous marathons and general runner-talk. Despite the rain it was fairly warm — about 60F. The race started right about on time.

The Tunnel, Miles 1-3: 6:47, 6:34, 6:31

Jack & Jill’s Downhill Marathon starts on a pathway and after a half mile curves around into an old train tunnel. Runners had been instructed to wear headlamps and/or carry flashlights. I did both. Since there were ~700 runners and we were still pretty bunched up, there was sufficient light to see the muddy spots, holes, drips, etc., even with my cheap lights. The tunnel was cool, dark, and damp. Running through the tunnel was great. I looked back several times to see all the headlamps behind me. Looking forward, you could just barely make out the other end of the tunnel, or at least I could as I’m 6’4″ and I was in the top 15 runners. The light gradually got bigger until we were out.

There was an aid station shortly after exiting the tunnel, and I was able to drop my flashlights there for pickup at the end of the race.

I was amazed to see that at mile 3, my Garmin Forerunner 235 was dead on the distance. I’m not sure how it kept accurate distance in the tunnel.

I tried to keep my pace somewhat conservative through the tunnel, although I felt myself getting a little fast as a lead group pulled ahead. I ended up keeping just slower than my overall target pace, which is what I intended with the first miles.

Downhill, Miles 4-10: 6:20, 6:19, 6:19, 6:20, 6:21, 6:21, 6:32

Once out of the tunnel, Jack and Jill’s Downhill Marathon is mostly the same thing for the next 20 miles: a very gradual downhill with little curves and trees everywhere. The trail is double-track, with a slightly raised, rocky middle. I mostly kept on the hard-packed track on the sides, but I crossed the middle several times to attempt to run tangents. The forest is lush on both sides of the trail, with towering pine trees, wildflowers, and brush. Occasionally we’d see glimpses below of the river, the freeway, or the mountains on the other side of the gorge. However, it was drizzly/rainy and gray, so visibility wasn’t great. I was thoroughly wet even coming out of the tunnel, and I stayed wet for the whole race. There was a significant headwind at a few points in the race, although the curves mitigated it a bit (we weren’t running directly into it for too long at any time). We also went over a few bridges which I thought were spectacular. Sometimes we’d run on a bridge even with the tops of the towering pines from the ravine below.

The downhill in Jack and Jill’s is nice and gradual. It isn’t crazy like Big Cottonwood or the other Revel races, but it’s good enough to provide a good speed boost. I tried to do a little extra downhill training to prepare for this race. Anyone who doesn’t will probably suffer in the form of ripped up quads.

I came out of the tunnel somewhere around 10th-15th place. The pace I fell into was slightly aggressive, but it was basically where I wanted to be. I wasn’t sure I could run a PR, but I thought I’d give it a shot. To run a PR I’d need to hit 6:27/mile; I settled into low 6:20’s. One runner from the group ahead started slowing down around mile 6 and I caught up with him. It was his first marathon, so I surmised he’d gone out a little too fast (I didn’t tell him that). Later on I passed a couple runners who had to take a bio-break. Then I caught up with one more guy around mile 10 from Vancouver. I ran with him for a while and we chatted a bit before we got separated.

More of the Same, Miles 11-18: 6:23, 6:34, 6:17, 6:25, 6:23, 6:30, 6:17, 6:35

Around mile 12 a lady came up fast behind me and passed me before we got to the halfway mark. I was feeling pretty good. I had a few tired spots, but overall I thought I had an outside shot at a PR still and my pace was right on target. My nutrition was going down well although I realized that I’m starting to tire of Honey Stinger Waffles. I used to love them, but I’ve eaten so many and I’m starting to associate them with tough marathons too much.

A few miles into the Jack and Jill's Downhill Marathon
A few miles into the race

Around mile 17 I had to start pushing a little harder to keep my pace. It had been fairly smooth before that. Sometimes I thought the course was leveling out, but it remained gradual, dependable downhill.

Finishing, Miles 19-26.2: 6:25, 6:31, 6:46, 7:06, 7:15, 7:29, 7:36, 7:29, (7:23)

I started breaking down at mile 19 of Jack and Jill’s Downhill Marathon. My legs just couldn’t hold it any more and the pain suddenly started to spike. I was still in decent condition overall, but my legs were tiring out. I hadn’t done a 20 miler since running Boston in April, so before the race I was concerned about what would happen as I approached mile 20. I think up until mile 19 I was on PR pace, but it wasn’t going to happen in this race.

I trudged on and held the line better than I often do — I didn’t run any miles slower than 7:36. I forced myself to eat one last Stinger gel at mile 20 even though I didn’t want to. I was glad I got it down since the liquid fuel helped me in the last few miles. I didn’t have a total “bonk” like what happened in Boston and what has happened to me a dozen times, it was more just tired legs that wouldn’t move like I wanted them to.

Jack and Jill's Downhill Marathon
Passing a half marathoner near the end of the race. I was wiped out by this point.

The course finally changed during mile 22, with some sharp turns and changes in scenery. It was also really muddy as the rain poured beyond a drizzle. Instead of running tangents I began running to avoid puddles.

I think I got passed by two people who had strong finishes and didn’t fade like I did. As usual, I was very happy to see the finish line and to see my family waiting there for me.

Jack and Jill's Downhill Marathon
Approaching the finish line – alive enough to smile
Finishing Jack and Jill's Downhill Marathon
Happy to be crossing the finish line so I can finally stop running!

I ended up running an official time of 2:54:37, which I was happy with. The pace was about 13 seconds slower than I hoped for, but I was glad that I still ran sub-3:00 despite not having the best summer of training. That was good enough for 13th overall and 1st in my age group.

Jack and Jill's Downhill Marathon
A photo op with the kids after finishing the marathon

I’d recommend Jack and Jill’s Downhill Marathon as a great race. It’s a fast course and has pretty scenery. It was well organized with sufficient aid stations, port-a-potties, and volunteers. Be prepared for wet conditions and for downhill that will eat unprepared quads. Overall it was a great experience for me.