KAILUA-KONA — It’s easy to lose track of time on the trails.
Step after step, leap after lunge, trail running is no walk in the park, or treadmill for that matter. With everything from loose rocks to rivers and wild animals, running off the beaten path requires a certain degree of focus runners don’t normally need when putting away miles on foot.
“The time goes by so fast. You’re almost in this meditative state,” veteran train runner Grant Miller said. “You have to concentrate so much on the trail or else you’ll fall down or twist an ankle or something.”
Miller is part of a Kona contingent that has been training on trails in Hawaii in preparation for the TransRockies Run in Colorado from Aug. 13-18. The storied six-day stage race features 120 miles and 20,000 feet of climbing, with elevations up to 12,500 feet. Runners will take on mountain passes, creek crossings and rough terrain during the trek.
Miller is racing as a team with Sara Bloom, while his wife Janet Higa-Miller is doing the condensed, three-day version of the race. Nina Hasler, another runner from Kona, is taking on the six days solo.
“Beating yourself up on the mountain and doing the same thing day after day — it’s just a whole different world,” Hasler said. “The main training for something like this learning how to go back-to-back when your body is tired. Running every single day so you get used to running on tired legs. You have to get out there, even if your legs are telling you they don’t like it.”
The high elevation of Colorado has been hard to replicate, but training runs on Maui’s Haleakala and to the top of Hualalai have helped them prepare. However, there’s only so much that can be done.
“I’ve done races in Colorado and you are huffing and puffing, no matter how fit you are,” Hasler said. “The air is so much thinner.”
As for the trails, nothing is predictable and each stage requires a large degree of problem-solving to get to the finish line.
“You have to deal with what comes up during the race,” Higa-Miller said. “That’s the real challenge.”
Grant Miller and Bloom are partnering for the adventure, but it’s not a tag-team. They have to stay within about two minutes of each other, making it a very interesting balancing act.
“It’s just more fun to share it with somebody. I did it solo before and it was cool, but it’s all about yourself,” Miller said. “When you don’t want to let your partner down, it gives you that different dynamic.”
Miller is coming off of an injury but has some savvy moves in his arsenal, having dealt with just about everything on the trails. Bloom is in the midst of Ironman training and is a great pace-setter for the team. Higa-Miller has watched from a distance as the duo have learned how to work with each other on the trails.
“Sara pushes Grant up the hill, and Grant pushes Sara down the hill,” Higa-Miller said. “I see that working well for them.”
Summer camp for big kids
No one stage in the TransRockies goes over the distance of a marathon (26.2 miles), with the longest stage being the 24.5 segment on Day 3. Miller did the race in 2017 and finished third in his age group. What he learned is that the time not on the trials is the most important ingredient to success.
However, that’s easier said than done, with the race being a traveling circus of sorts. Over the six days, runners make friends with one another as the eat, hydrate and be merry after each segment of the race. Hence why the race is dubbed, “Summer Camp for Big Kids.”
“You see people out on the trails, make friends and usually end up hanging out with a group of people of your ability,” Miller said.
“I’m looking forward to meeting all the different people,” Hasler said. “That’s the best part of the whole thing.”
A tip from Miller for the campsite: Bring your earplugs. There might be snoring.
Get lost and enjoy
Hasler and Higa-Miller are both tax accountants, an occupation that is very structured and filled with guidelines. Trail running is very much the opposite, which is what attracted them to it.
“It’s such a sensory experience. I love going out in nature and detaching from everything. It’s therapeutic,” Higa-Miller said. “I don’t have a complex training plan. If I feel good, I go out and I run.”
Hasler, who has been all over the globe for running events — including one at the Great Wall of China — had a similar take.
“Running in my fun time,” she said.
XTERRA Hawaii Island and growing trail running locally
The inaugural XTERRA Hawaii Island was a smash hit last year, bringing a unique race to the local circuit of events. It features a ½-mile rough water ocean swim beginning and ending at Hapuna Beach, followed by a grueling two-loop, 10-mile bike course traversing over Hapuna Beach Park State land, and then finishing off with a pulverizing 3.1-mile run at Hapuna Beach Resort.
This year’s race is set for Aug. 25 and will have two new events preceding it. The XTERRA Hawaii Island Sunset Trail Run will take place Saturday afternoon. It’s a 3.1-mile trail run that is meant to be a less intimidating first foray into the off-road world.
The LavaKids Aquathlon for the keiki will also be offered — a swim-run event scheduled Saturday morning.
The race is organized by Aloha Sports Kona (ASK), which was founded by Janet Higa-Miller and Grant Miller. Not only is the event a way to offer qualifying spots to the XTERRA World Championship to local athletes who might not have another way to do so, but it also to help grow the spotlight locally on trail running and mountain biking.
“We are trying to generate interest so we have that we can have a bigger voice when we legally try to get trail access,” Higa-Miller said. “It’s amazing how many people want to get out on trails.”
ASK has tested various venues through events. The all women’s Hearts & Trails was held in February at Makani Golf Club, and Makalei Golf Course hosted the LavaKids Trail Runs & Peacock Scavenger Hunt 5K.
For Higa-Miller, the key is finding a balance between fun and responsibility.
“Finding access is always a work in progress, but we have been out trying to get to know landowners and building relationships,” Higa-Miller said. “The running community also has to understand that you really have to be respectful and know the issues. We have environmental issues here — things like rapid ohia death. We need to think about how we can prevent running all over the place and spreading something like that.”
For more information on XTERRA Hawaii Island visit xterraplanet.com/hawaiiisland. Registration is still open. To check out the TransRockies Race, go to transrockies-run.com.