Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Tropical Fun at the 2010 XTERRA Trail Run World Championships

I returned to the Hawaiian islands one last time this year to join 1,500 trail runners for the third annual XTERRA Trail Run World Championship at Kualoa Ranch on Oahu. This 21k/10k/5k race is becoming a very big deal, and has grown over 50% this year thanks to the 60+ races in the XTERRA Series pulling runners from all over the world and the reputation of a challenging course with $10,000 in prize money. My Dad and I saw an opportunity to get some beach, sun, and fast trails so we made it a "dude's weekend" to retreat from winter on the mainland.

It was great to have a few days of one-on-one time with the old man prior to the Sunday race. The Outrigger Reef hotel at Waikiki was a splendid location for "acclimating". I often forget our standard family get-togethers provide few venues for deep conversations, much in thanks to eager grandkids, the ever-ringing cell phone, and the matrix of in-laws and siblings time slicing the few remaining hours for rapid fire catch ups. The beaches of Waikiki offer a contrarian repose, with a trifecta of sun, beach, and mai-tais that can eat an afternoon with one gloriously random conversation. These long stretches of quality time, engaged and listening, inevitably unearth new stories and perspectives that permit us to appreciate the men behind the roles of father and son. Time is a wicked cool gift.

(At the start)
(A few clouds for cover, but still a hot day)
Come 9am on Sunday, we arrived relaxed (and quite possibly over-acclimated) for the 12.9 mile romp through the stunningly beautiful Kualoa Ranch. Nobody was allowed to preview the course, so the starting area was abuzz with new runners getting tips from experienced runners like Max King (2-time defending champion), Fujio Miyachi from Japan (5th last year), Christian Friis, Cristina Begy (defending 35-39 age group champ), and George Taylor (75 yrs old and 2x age group champion). Max had some new challengers this year with Brandon Mader (who rocked the Alabama XTERRA Series), Oregon's Tyler Davis (5th at Nationals), and the US Navy's Will Christian all in top form. The Women's race was wide open, with most people putting their money on Sally Meyerhoff after her 2009 American Record in the 10-mile (54:38), or reigning XTERRA Triathlon World Champ Melanie McQuaid.

(Posing with Team XTREME)
(Seriously bad ass Team XTREME, photo courtesy of Eric Wynn/XTERRA)
As I was warming up, I got to meet Team XTREME, a group of military men running the race in full gas masks to raise awareness for military members wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan. The masks create 20-25% oxygen resistance, which is, as stated by founder Jeremy Soles, "not nearly as difficult as living with Traumatic Brain Injury, PTSD, or learning to walk again with prosthetics". Wow. There's a little perspective for ya.

At 9:15am, the gun went off and Will Christian, Tyler Davis, and Max King led the pack up the first set of hills. I settled into 25th or so, just behind Sally Meyerhoff, trying to keep my cool in the early miles. Behind me was a snake of runners that seemed to stretch to the sea.
(600 trail runners take on the 21k distance, photo courtesy of Eric Wynn/XTERRA)

(The cannon sends us off!)
(Cruising up the first valley, photo courtesy of Eric Wynn/XTERRA)
(Will Christian, Tyler Davis, Rivers Puzy, and Max King set the pace, photo courtesy of Eric Wynn/XTERRA)
At mile 2, the course took a new turn, heading up into the Valley to connect to some single track. We saw backdrop scenes from the TV show Lost, and films such as Fifty First Dates, Jurassic Park, and what looks like to be a new film about the Lost City of Atlantis. The single track came suddenly, and forced the pack to spread out; I was fortunate to be a few steps ahead of Mark Speck, my likely competition for the 40-44 age group. When we exited the single track to head out towards the ocean (mile 4), I had gapped him by a minute, but had also been gapped significantly by those ahead of me. Oh, cursed single track, you giveth and you taketh away!

(Climbing up to the single track)
By mile 5, I was drenched in sweat from the breeze-less stretches of fire roads that baked my pale white body. It felt like we were running all alone in the thicket, but any clearing would quickly show us that there were folks just ahead and on our tail. Single track may spread us out, but fire roads bunch us back up! I wonder what is around the next corner?

(Richard Burgunder leads a group up an early climb)
(Using my 180-degree swiveling ankles to tackle the lava, photo courtesy of XTERRA)
The views were spectacular, and the trails much dryer than previous years. I took in as much water as I could at the aid station (mile 7) before passing some horseback riders and tacking the big climb. The long exposed stretches quickly drained me, and I had to slow to a walk to keep my composure. Try not to strain that neck looking over your shoulder, Scott!

(Even the fire roads were lush)
(How crazy are these views?)
About a half mile up the 15 degree ascent, I came to a complete stop to allow the tunnel vision to fade away. Hmmm, same spot at last year! I guess that course knowledge isn't doing much to help me avoid the overheating. I got passed by a few people, including Mark Speck who was one of the few brave souls running everything, all of whom put a hand on my shoulder to make sure I was okay. Once the vision was back, I snapped to and charged up the hill again.

(And here is what photos look like when the tunnel vision kicks in)

(From the thicket to park-like clearings)
The back side of the mountain (mile 8) was much more dry than last year, so it was easier to control my speed on the descent (unlike Meyerhoff - be sure to check 3:35 in the video a the end of this entry for her epic spill off the mountain). I charged through the last of the fire roads in hopes to catch Mark Speck, but the clearing in the single track showed that he (and three others) were out of reach.

(Along the top ridge, then down the other side, photo courtesy of Eric Wynn/XTERRA)
(Descents steep enough to need a rope! Photo courtesy of Eric Wynn/XTERRA)
There was nobody behind me, so I cruised in at 1:35:41 for 18th place, 3rd in age group. I was just in time for the kids race! Check out the's the future of trail running coming at ya! Such amazing energy.

Max King (1:16:36) made it a three-peat, despite recovering from the flu, with Will Christian (1:17:56), Hawaii's Rivers Puzey (1:20:54),  Brandon Mader (1:21:48), and Tyler Davis (1:23:07) taking the top 5 slots. Sally Meyerhoff (1:28:58) recovered from her mountain spill to win the Women's division and pick up the $2,000 check, pushing so hard that she was whisked away to medical soon after crossing the finish (she's fine). Hawaii's Kim Kuehnert (1:36:52) and Melanie McQuaid (1:38:11) finished up the podium. [results, press release]
(Max King)
(Sally Meyerhoff)
(Into the finishing chute!)
Before I could even gulp my third Gatorade, I heard them announce my Dad's name at the finish. He did it again! An amazing 1:56 for a clear win in the 65-69 age group. Once more, I am happily upstaged by my father - age group wins at XTERRA Nationals, USATF Trail Championships, and now XTERRA Worlds. He has set the bar quite high for my debut in the 65-69 age group...thank God I still have a few years to train!

(Larry Dunlap, WORLD CHAMPION!!!!)
We sipped some beers at the finish, making lots of new friends, then headed back to Waikiki to swim with a sea turtle and watch my Dad's legs cramp in crazy sporadic patterns. Throughout the next day and flight home, we overheard trail runners talking about their amazing experiences and how they want to "step it up" to even bigger distances. XTERRA is doing a great job feeding this sport! Then again, how could you not with such an epic adventure.

(Top 3 finishers, men and women)
(Tyler Davis helps raise money for CAF with a haircut from Paul Mitchell)
My Dad and I didn't need to say much as we headed to our respective homes, for we had enough beach and trail time to say everything. I am lucky to be able to share these experiences with him, particularly because it was the time he graciously spent with me as a kid that led to my deep passion for the outdoors. Once again, the gift of time yields immeasurable fruits.

And I couldn't be more proud of my World Champion Dad! Such a perfect way to cap the season.

My thanks to Janet, Trey, Emily, Dayton, and the fabulous crew at XTERRA for another extraordinary event. You guys make it easy to add adventure to our lives.

Mele Kalikimaka! (Happy Holidays)

- SD

[PS - Check 4:55 in the video my Dad throwing an elbow at the finish? ;-) ]


  1. Great job, Dr. Dunlap!

  2. Congratulations to you and your dad! Loved the video too. Your post makes me want to hit the trails.

  3. I've GOT to run this some day.
    One question though (and I promise, not troll bait...), but when the cameraman helped Meyerhoff up from her fall, wouldn't that be considered "assistance"? I know I would have both accepted the help, as well as offered it, but I'm wondering where the rules lie?

  4. It looked like the camera guy actually tripped her!

  5. That's a good question, Eric. I suspect since this is aid from an XTERRA official (he was doubling as safety patrol), it's legit. He was there offering a hand to anyone who had trouble on that precarious section of the course.

    Tripping somebody for just the right photo...hmmm, that's a good idea for the blog! ;-)


  6. Scott an excellent post as usual and awesome that you and your Dad share the passion for running.

    Looking back you really mixed it up this year with ironman and death ride. I can't wait for next year. Maybe surfing at mavericks to really cross train :) well done.

  7. What an absolutely gorgeous run! Congrats to you and your dad. You two are inspirational!

  8. Thanks, that was great. You Dunlaps have some speed!

    What an amazing place. One of these days I'll be heading to Hawaii for a run-cation. Na Pali in particular, but that ranch doesn't look too shabby either :)

  9. Hey scott,
    Just wanted to say i love your blog man. I envy you buddy, going all over the world competing in the best sport ever. Your post's really get me inspired every day .... Keep them coming man
    Your fan,
    Birmingham, Alabama

  10. Thanks, Birmingham! I hope you are having a good weekend of trail running.

    The best benefit of a job that requires a lot of travel is the 200k frequent flyer miles to spend annually on trail running. This was a great year for making the most of those!


  11. Friggin' gorgeous pics!

    Congrats to your papa on a fantastic finish!

  12. Bravo! I'm a sports nut myself and watching these video, clicking on these links and enjoying the great commentary thrusts me right back into the thick of it. Congratulations on some excellent performances - it's really entertaining to read all of your musings. That you are able to capture the essence of your races, the trails, the environmental elements and so forth is refreshing. Too many of us are unable to 'voice' our thoughts and you've done so perfectly well. I'm well impressed. Keep up the stellar performances and I look forward to reading about all your future prospects.

    Your fan -

    Jeremy Stersky


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