Monday, August 8, 2011

Could it be...the best run, ever?

The day started with a jolt: My phone beeping to announce an incoming text message at 5:45 a.m. Naturally it was spam. But now I was up, and I needed to get 10 miles in, so I put on shorts and a shirt, grabbed a granola bar, and headed outside to the deck to put on my shoes. It was raining.

But when you're in a tropical rainforest in Hawaii at an elevation of 4,000 feet, these things don't bother you much. The forest was alive with the sounds of chirping birds, and the tree ferns swayed in a gentle breeze. One of the most surreal things about Hawaii Volcanoes National Park is the fact that it's actually in a rainforest. You see pictures of barren, desolate landscapes and you forget that it's on a tropical island.

I took off running into the misty morning, pulling my hat brim low to try to keep the cool droplets from fogging my glasses. I needed to keep up a 9-minute pace, which I expected wouldn't be too difficult, even at this altitude. I was still a bit sore from hiking the day before, though, and the first couple miles were a struggle. We were staying about two miles from the park entrance, and this part of the run was along a fairly major highway. Fortunately it was still early, so the cars that whizzed by perilously close were it least separated by a couple minutes.

Finally I reached the park, and hopped onto the crater rim trail. The fog was beginning to lift, and within a few minutes I was transported to a completely different landscape. There were still a few tree ferns to my right, but to the left might as well have been the Grand Canyon.

In the distance I could see the active crater, sort of a sub-crater of the main Kilauea volcano. Steam poured out at a prodigious rate. Then I rounded the corner and the shield of Mauna Loa came into full view, rising more than a mile above me and two and a half miles above sea level.

Was that a rainbow? It was, and it stretched from Mauna Loa right into the active crater. Simply gorgeous.

A fellow runner passed going the opposite direction. I resisted the urge to tell him to turn around and experience the sight I was seeing.

I ran towards the rainbow for nearly a mile, until it gradually faded from view. I reached the halfway point of my run just at the point where the trail was closed, the Jagger Museum. Past that point, the trail passed through the steam plume of the crater, with its deadly sulfur dioxide emissions.

I turned around and headed home into a brisk wind. The sun was just coming into view over the bank of clouds that hovered above the rainforest. The crater still extended off to my right. After another mile or so, I heard the honking of geese, and looked up. Perhaps 15 feet over my head soared two endangered Nene geese, the endangered state bird of Hawaii. I had been looking for nenes for the past week, but this was the first time I had actually managed to see them. They were beautiful birds, and I literally pumped my fist in excitement.

After they flew out of sight, I turned around and saw the rainbow again come into view over the crater.

In a few minutes, the runner I had seen before passed me going the opposite direction. He smiled and we exchanged knowing glances, confident that few others would ever see what we had seen that morning.

I couldn't stop smiling as I ran back to the rental cottage to get ready for the rest of my day.


  1. My best run ever was one I never took on the greenways around Cleveland, OH. It was a clear night with a full moon, and there was ample snow on the ground. I was driving along the greenway and the urge to run overtook me. I guess by the time I got home the cold deterred me from actually running. But, much like OJ convinced himself he didn't kill Ron and Nicole, over time I've convinced myself that I actually did run that night, and I remember it as if it were yesterday..except yesterday I was in Davidson and it was 97 and humid.

    My best run that I actually ran was probably the Parkersburg, WV half-marathon around 1990. I ran a 1:27, besting some smug asswipe of a guy who was courting my girlfriend of the time by about 10 minutes.