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Runnin’ with Rani: Trail Blazers set to conquer Mauna to Mauna Ultra

Updated: 
May 12, 2017 - 12:05am

It may sound cliche, but this truly has all the ingredients necessary for an adventure of a lifetime.

A daunting expedition offering an extreme challenge against nature’s element that will require perseverance beyond the imaginable — an undeniable test of human willpower, physical endurance, and mental tenacity.

Touted as one of the most remote self-supported stage footraces in the world, the inaugural Mauna To Mauna Ultra will showcase a course of unparalleled beauty and natural wonder.

On Sunday, 73-competitors from around the globe will find out what they are made of as they converge on Coconut Island to compete for bragging rights at the State’s first ultra multi-stage footrace.

The six-staged event will be held over seven days for a total of 155-miles with an accumulated elevation gain of 16,742 feet. Competitors will ascend and descend two massive volcanic mountains, endure extreme altitudes and weather conditions, and navigate various terrain: ancient rugged lava flows, expansive grasslands, river crossings, trails through lush rainforests and coastal beach pathways.

On the start list are two Big Islanders who are no strangers when it comes to competing in ultra-distance events.

Waimea’s Sylvia Ravaglia (39), who has finished both the Hawaii HURT 100-mile trail race in Oahu and the Hawaii Ultraman World Championships in Kona, along with Laupahoehoe’s Alan Ryan (46), a 2014 Hilo To Volcano 50K Ultra Champion and Lanai 50-miler finisher, will be competing in their first multi-stage Ultra race.

“It is something new. It’s an adventure that’s happening basically in our backyard,” Ryan said. “It’s a challenge to just finish while having to carry all of your equipment.”

Ryan said that he initially heard about the event last August when race organizers, Tess and Colin Geddes, were looking for people to help with the actual logistics of putting on an event that will traverse through some of the most awe-inspiring locations on the island.

The Big Island is home to the world’s most active volcano, Kilauea, the world’s tallest and longest mountains, Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa, and 11 of the world’s 13 climate zones that are responsible for the island’s unique ecological paradise.

The Geddes, founders and race organizers of the popular Grand To Grand Ultra — a 170-mile stage footrace held in September from Northern Arizona to Southern Utah — believed the Big Island would be the perfect venue to host their event and offer competitors a first-hand experience of Hawaii’s rich history and deep cultural roots.

“I was asked to be the liaison to help with getting access to the land, to find routes that can be used, and to getting the needed permits. That’s what they needed my help with the most,” Ryan said. “So most of it will be (run) on State lands and we have worked with many different state agencies like the Division of Forestry and Wildlife, along with the county, as well as private land owners.

“Just trying to find a way to link them all up for the course was a bit of a challenge. As you know the island is really big because there are so many parcels with many running mauka-makai. So to link up a 155 miles across the Big Island was a difficult challenge to gain approval.”

The stages

A stage footrace divides a route into specific distances, or stages, that need to be completed within a specified time frame, and each stage ends with participants camping together overnight before beginning another stage the following day.

The Mauna To Mauna Ultra are divided into six stages that spans over seven days for a total of 155 miles and an elevation gain of 16, 742 feet. The stages have been designated as follows: Stage 1 (20.5-miles), Stage 2 (21.1-miles), Stage 3 (30.4-miles), Stage 4 (49.1-miles), Stage 5 (26.1-miles), and Stage 6 (6.2-miles).

Ryan explained that Stage 4 would allow competitors a time frame of 36-hours to complete as 49.1-miles nearly doubles in distance in comparison to the other stages.

However, running back-to-back-to-back long runs wearing the same sweaty clothes and socks day-in and day-out without the luxury of a hot shower at end of a tough day, can leave one feeling pretty grungy, not to mention the havoc it can wreck upon one’s feet.

Open blisters, black toenails, skin and nail infections, sprained ankles, and the trail runner’s nightmare — trench foot — are some of the realities of what can happen when running over varied terrain for long periods of time.

Self-Supported

Despite the physical challenges competitors will endure just to get to the finish line on Day 7, another daunting task requires participants to carry everything they need for all seven days, on their back.

“You want everything as light as can be, you want to be as minimal as possible because you have to carry everything that you need from start to finish,” Ryan said. “I look at it this event like a guided hike except that you are carrying all of your gear and at the same time, you are learning about your environment.”

Ryan said that what you pack is key as you don’t want it to be too heavy, yet at the same time, you need to be prepared.

“I’m bringing a sleeping bag, a down jacket, sunscreen, sunglasses, dehydrated food which is about 14,000 calories or basically 2,000 calories per day, a blister kit — basically everything I’ll need to get through this race for a week. Water and a tent for camping are the only things race organizers will provide.”

Ryan added that he’s taken advice from previous ultra multi-stage finishers as he’s heard that many people bring too much food. Race organizers designate 2,000 calories as the minimal amount of food that each participant is required bring for each day. Most people can eat that amount in one sitting.

In addition, electronic devices are prohibited to allow participants to fully embrace the natural beauty of their surroundings. This means no cell phones, no video cameras, no laptops, and no devices capable of external transmission during the event.

“It’s suppose to be an experience out in the wild, an eco-friendly event,” Ryan said. “The race organizers also want people to be respectful of their surrounding by making sure that don’t leave anything on the course route.”

Type of competitors

With the field limited to just 100 competitors, many have commented that this event has kept a low profile, as most of the local running community had no idea it was happening.

Ryan agreed and said a few contributing factors may be the reason.

Mauna To Mauna Ultra attracts a very specific clientele, like those who have done previous Ultra running events or Iron-distance races, but are looking for a new challenge. Other reasons include the race organizers setting a specific quota of entrants from each country, just 30 spots reserved for USA and Canada combined, and the fact that the entry fee for the week-long race is $3500. It’s certainly not a race for the “Average Joe.”

“The expense to this event is quite high because basically you are being catered to for seven days,” Ryan said. “It takes a lot of time and effort to put on an event like this. I look at it like a guided hike except that you are carrying all of your gear. It’s like a cruise ship going from port to port with each camp being a port.”

In addition, Ryan said none of the competitors will have knowledge of the course until race day. This definitely adds toward the excitement as participants are only privy to how far they will race each day (stage), the expected type of terrains and possible weather conditions they will encounter, and an elevation profile.

The event will conclude on May 20, with overall winners based upon their cumulative time for the stages.

As to why Ryan would want to subject his body to such an arduous task? The answer came easily.

“It’s the experience of running in the first multi-staged ultra event in the state. It’s the camaraderie of getting to know the 75-80 people from all over the world that will compete alongside with you. People are going to struggle, and there will be ones who drop out, but it’s like having your own community out there. You are sleeping in the same tent, talking and sharing about different cultural backgrounds. You are there to really support one another to get to the finish line. So for me, that’s the experience that I’d want to take with me from this event.”

Registration for the Mauna To Mauna is closed but for more information visit their website at m2multra.com.

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