Lisa Runs on Ramen

— running 26.2 and having foodie adventures too!


6 Comments

Hiking the Stairway to Heaven, Hawaii part 2

I know I’m a few weeks late but…happy new year! I had an epic 2012, with 13 marathons and ultras under my belt, celebrating my friends’ amazing Ironman triathlon finishes, and going out to Hawaii to celebrate Thunder and Kino’s 50-state marathon journey finish. In my next blog post, I plan to recap some significant races in 2012 that I didn’t get to blog about, since my blog was only born in August 2012.

I wanted to share with you a story about the most memorable hike of my life thus far–the day I went on the Haiku Stairs (aka The Stairway to Heaven) in Oahu, Hawaii. It was a dangerous and risky hike, but the photos and memories were so worth it. It consists of 3,922 stairs up, then you go back down the same way, so almost 8,000 steps to climb/descend total. It’s like climbing the Empire State building 4 times!  I got to share this experience with my buddies Jackie, Derrick, and Hideki, and the crazy thing was that we did this the day before running the Honolulu Marathon!
 
Disclaimer: This hike is a risky activity. Any opinions are purely my own as a private citizen and not associated in any way with any sponsors.
 
It was my friends’ idea to go on this hike–I had no idea what I was getting into, but there were amazing blog reports online about this “Stairway to Heaven” climb on Unreal Hawaii, an adventure blog.
The Stairway to Heaven, aka Haiku Stairs, in Hawaii

The Stairway to Heaven, aka Haiku Stairs, in Hawaii

 
Basically, it entailed waking up at 2am on 12/8, driving our rental car to a quiet neighborhood, avoid waking up any of the residents, evading detection by the guard starting at 3:30am, and not slipping and falling about 2,800 feet (850m) to our deaths while on the stairs. Ah, the thrill of adventure. Can you see why a couple of ultrarunners wanted to undertake this challenge?
 
I sleepily awoke to Jackie’s 2:00am wake-up call, carried a simple drawstring backpack stuffed with a bottle of Powerade, a headlamp, a wrist light, bottle of water, my phone, some snacks, and off I went. I made sure to wear tights, dri-fit clothing, a jacket and compression calf sleeves to minimize any strain on my calves for the race the following day. Jackie also thankfully brought three spam musubis for breakfast (rice balls with spam on it), and she gave me one to eat later.
 
We drove about 30 minutes from Waikiki on the Likelike Highway (yes the name is funny) to the neighborhood where the trailhead is located. At the same time we exit our car, we see three teenage boys dressed in regular street clothes heading in the same direction as us. They did not look prepared for a hike, but by speaking to them we all discovered we were going to the same place. Jackie had the foresight to print out instructions from Yelp–they were sketchy at best, but better than nothing at all. I was nervous that the three teens were up to no good, but long story short, they left us alone and did their own thing. It was pitch black, and several times we headed in the wrong direction. It took us about 15 minutes to find the tiny gap in the bushes where the trail head was located, since nothing was marked. We had to tread carefully in a bamboo thicket which was filled with broken bamboo everywhere. One misstep, and a bloody wound could derail my plans of running the Honolulu Marathon. I stepped VERY carefully.
 
After the bamboo thicket, we had to navigate through a clearing, then count paces until we found an underpass where the fences and beginning of the staircase lay. We marked our exit from the bamboo with a white plastic bag, just so we could find it again later. We made it past the unmanned guard tent, climbed through a hole in the fence, and we were on the Stairway to Heaven!
DSC05575
 
These stairs look like they're out of a horror movie

These stairs look like they’re out of a horror movie

 
Make no mistake, this hike was crazy. After about 10 minutes of climbing this never-ending staircase, I was dripping in sweat. The humidity and anxiety about a misstep in the dark made it feel uncomfortably warm. I followed behind Jackie, who navigated the stairs like a pro. They are VERY narrow, but very stable because they are metal. At some points, the stairs were completely vertical climbs, like a ladder! I am actually terrified of heights, but I swallowed the lump in my throat and continued to climb. Can’t turn back now!
This hike is strenuous!

This hike is strenuous!

 
I took pictures on the way up, or anytime my clammy, sweaty hands could stand being away from the bannister (at least one of them). I drank tons of water and Powerade. I was very glad I had my brand-new Petzl headlamp–it was super bright and well worth the $25 I invested in it! Jackie and I ended up taking photos of each other!
 
There are three “resting” platforms, which were wider and allow hikers to rest. Anytime a hiker passes by you while you’re not on a platform, it’s uncomfortable because you have to squeeze your body against the railing to let them pass. We managed, though. We saw about 8 other hikers on the way up.
A bit of encouragement

A bit of encouragement

 
At the first platform, Kino announces that he’s done. He said he’ll wait for us on the first platform until we come back down. Jackie, Derrick and I look at each other and we know he doesn’t mean it. After a bit of rest, group photos, some water breaks and coaxing, we are on our way 15 minutes later. I took a minute to look down at the beautiful lights down in Oahu. I almost felt like I was in a small plane descending upon the island.
Group photo!

Group photo!

Beautiful lights

Beautiful lights

 
 
Getting to the first platform was definitely the toughest part of the hike. It felt like forever! Getting to platform 2 wasn’t nearly as bad, but still strenuous. It got colder and colder as we got closer to the summit.
DSC05605
 
Finally, the path stretched out with a lot of flat parts. The “stairs” became flat, like a bridge crossing. I knew this meant we were close to the top! It became very misty and foggy. I no longer knew what the difference was between my sweat or the mist on my jacket. I lost so much water weight, I felt like I had just run a marathon. And this was only on the way UP!
 
Once we reached the top, we saw about 20 other hikers already there.
 
Other hikers on the tower

Other hikers on the tower

Everyone was waiting for the sunrise, scheduled for around 6:50am. It took approximately 2 hours for us to climb the almost 4,000 steps to the summit. There was a large stone structure with a lot of graffiti on it, that served as a sort of shelter. This was the location of the original communications tower (read more here). The history is pretty cool– the antennae signals could reach US Navy submarines as far away as Tokyo Bay!
DSC05615
 
Kino and Derrick (right) at the summit

Kino and Derrick (right) at the summit

 
I felt so relieved when we finally reached the top. Jackie, Kino, Derrick and I sat down on the dirty floor and ate some snacks and hydrated. My spam musubi never tasted so good! Unfortunately, there was a lot of litter and debris left at the tower by previous hikers. I wished that people would follow the “leave no trace” philosophy. While we waited for the sun to rise, we turned off our headlamps and tried to stay warm.
 
At 6:50am, we realized that due to the thick fog, we wouldn’t be able to see the sunrise from the very top. Since Jackie and I actually had to get to a dolphin excursion at 8:45am, we decided to get down from the top a bit early to beat the rush of hikers heading down.
Jackie rushing into the fog

Jackie rushing into the fog

 
All we saw was fog in front of us for awhile, and then suddenly we had a glimpse of the sun.
This is one of my favorite photos from the top

This is one of my favorite photos from the top

 
 DSC05641
I was busy watching my step, since the fog made the stairs very slippery. I had a few close calls where I almost landed on my butt, but luckily my hands gripped the rails very tightly. Note to self: bring gloves, if there is a next time.
 
DSC05669
 
 
DSC05660
At the second platform, Jackie decided to take her signature jumping photo on a tiny platform, sans hand rails!
 
DSC05683
She is brave. I just managed a small hop, not a full-on jump.
DSC05689
 
DSC05680
 
Another group photo!

Another group photo!

 
Jackie clearly used the Stairclimber at her gym, since she was bouncing down the stairs so quickly, while Derrick, Kino and I struggled to keep up. My legs started to feel like jelly. You know that feeling the day after the marathon when your legs feel like rubber? Yeah, that was me–about 3 hours into this hike. It took us about 4.5 hours to make this journey, including one hour of resting at the top. It took about 1.5 hours to climb down.
DSC05671
 
DSC05691
 
Also, we were slightly worried about the guard at the bottom, but he just looked at us and casually said “good job.” Sometimes they are not so nice, but we got lucky. I like to think that we were our own good luck charms. The Stairway to Heaven is not for the faint of heart. I think it was the second hardest thing I’ve ever done, after my 100-miler. Oh yes, I also don’t recommend running a marathon the next day, haha. My slower time was well worth it though. I wouldn’t trade it for anything.
DSC05695
 
What a relief! We successfully found the trailhead, none of us got injured, and we were most likely going to make it to our pre-paid dolphin excursion! Hooray!! Could the day get any better? Yes, it could. On the drive back, Jackie found out that she got into the Western States Endurance Run via lottery! Goooo Jackie! Thanks to Kino, Derrick and Jackie for accompanying me on this crazy adventure. Glad we lived to tell the tale!
 
For my next Hawaii adventure, I would love to hike the Kalalau Trail and run the Kauai Marathon. Who’s with me??


1 Comment

Honolulu Marathon, 50 States Finisher Celebrations and Team Refuel! (12/6-12/10/2012)

Aloha, Hawaii!

I had been looking forward to the Honolulu Marathon (12/9/12) all year, knowing that I would be there celebrating my friends Steven and Hideki as they complete their 50-state marathon journey. Both of them were completing the feat of running one marathon in every state, then finishing their journey in paradise! A group of about 12 of us made the trip from New York City to run or cheer, and I traveled with a smaller group that included my friends Wams, Jackie, Michelle and Donald. It was my first time in Hawaii and I wanted to do as much as I could, in addition to running the marathon. I was in a group of active people, so interestingly enough our trip didn’t include much beach time, mostly hiking and running! The Honolulu Marathon is also my first major race wearing my new Team Refuel gear so I was excited!

On our first night, Thursday, we landed in Waikiki after 11 hours of flying and were in search of some good food. We went to Roy’s, a great Hawaiian fusion restaurant that had seafood and fantastic desserts. I ordered the sea scallops with grapes—so good!

Scallops for dinner at Roy's Waikiki

Scallops for dinner at Roy’s Waikiki

On Friday, Wams, Jackie, Michelle and I woke up early for a 2-mile jog uphill from Waikiki Beach to Diamond Head State Park for a hike. The hike was gorgeous, with amazing vistas of the ocean and the beach. It was medium-strenuous—there was only one clear path and it was paved, with handrails. We did have to climb a lot of hills though. I made sure to stay well-hydrated with water and PowerAde, then I bought some low-fat chocolate milk after the hike to make sure my muscles recovered for the race! The perfect blend of carbs and protein in low-fat chocolate milk allows me to jump this high:

Lisa is fueled by lowfat chocolate milk.

Lisa is fueled by lowfat chocolate milk.

Plus, it was refreshing to drink an ice-cold beverage that also tastes good! (Read more about the benefits of refueling with chocolate milk on the Got Chocolate Milk site.)

Lisa with Diamond Head in the background

Lisa with Diamond Head in the background

DSC05423

Jackie, Wams, Lisa and Michelle (gray shirt) at the top of Diamond Head

Jackie, Wams, Lisa and Michelle (gray shirt) at the top of Diamond Head

After the hike, we went to the Honolulu Marathon expo, where we met up with my friend and fellow Marathon Maniac Club members Harvey and Steve. Harvey presented us ladies with beautiful orchid leis and kukui nut leis as gifts. Thank you so much for the warm welcome, Harvey! He also got me a bright pink running singlet from the Big Island that said “Run Big” on it. I can’t wait to wear it! Thanks also to my friend Mohan, who got me a Penang Marathon singlet too!

DSC05501

Thanks for the Big Island Running Co singlet, Harvey!

Thanks for the Big Island Running Co singlet, Harvey!

I picked up my bib number and got really excited for the Honolulu Marathon—it would be my 12th marathon of the year and I just wanted it to be an enjoyable experience. Next, we headed to the Ala Moana shopping center where Michelle and I got 100% Kona coffee. It was delicious!

photo (1)

That night, the whole group headed to the Marathon Maniacs official dinner (at Buca di Beppo) where we got to meet fellow club members from all around the world that were also running the Honolulu marathon. There must have been at least 50 of us sitting down eating dinner! The organizer, Les, made it a really fun experience for everyone by getting everyone to mingle and handing out door prizes.

Jackie, Benny, Lisa (me) and Bee at the Marathon Maniac dinner

Jackie, Benny, Lisa (me) and Bee at the Marathon Maniac dinner

Marathon runners carbo-loading!

Marathon runners carbo-loading!

Saturday was filled with more hiking, and then a dolphin excursion on Waianae. We saw many pods of dolphins, put on our snorkeling gear, and got to jump off the boat to swim with the dolphins! I was about ten feet away from a pod of dolphins at one point—truly a magical experience. We even saw a humpback whale breaching several times near the end of our journey! I was in awe. Pictures don’t really do it justice.

Me in snorkeling gear

Me in snorkeling gear

A humpback whale breaching

A humpback whale breaching

Having a great time on our dolphin excursion!

Having a great time on our dolphin excursion!

RACE DAY

On Sunday, my friends and I woke up at 3:00am to prepare for the 5:00am Honolulu Marathon start! Why so early? It gets really hot and humid in Hawaii even in December, so the earlier the runners start, the better. I also learned that the Honolulu Marathon keeps its finish line open until the very last finisher crosses, which is an incredible thing for the staff to do (sometimes it takes more than 14 hrs, 30 minutes). We posed for some pictures before getting on the bus to the start line:

Hideki (in purple) and Steve (third from right) with their fan club

Hideki (in purple) and Steve (third from right) with their fan club

Here’s one of me and my friends, 50-state soon-to-be-finishers Steve (left) and Hideki. I’m proudly sporting my Team Refuel gear. We took a big group photo with the Marathon Maniacs club, then headed to the start at 4:50. Ten minutes later, the sky lit up with fireworks and we were off!!

Me with Steve (left) and Hideki before the Honolulu Marathon

Me with Steve (left) and Hideki before the Honolulu Marathon

We ran past beautiful Christmas lights in downtown Honolulu, then Waikiki. There weren’t a ton of spectators at first, but the ones that showed up were super enthusiastic. I took it easy in the early miles, knowing that I needed to save my energy.

We got to watch the beautiful sunrise over the tree tops.

Mile 7 of the Honolulu Marathon

Mile 7 of the Honolulu Marathon

Right as we crested a hill near mile 7, a bunch of teenage volunteers cheered really loudly for all the runners! One could always use a little motivation, right?

Around mile 8, I started to feel the hills and the previous days’ hikes on my legs, but I kept reminding myself that I trained and hydrated well, so I had nothing to worry about. I started seeing my speedier friends like Benny and Steve a couple miles ahead of me, having passed the turnaround point. It was cool seeing them for extra motivation.

Ahh it's getting warm!

Ahh it’s getting warm!

This is why I brought my camera onto the course--awesome backdrop

This is why I brought my camera onto the course–awesome backdrop

When the sun rose higher in the sky, I started sweating a lot more. I gladly took soaked sponges from the volunteers, and took Powergels from the aid stations (they even had Kona Punch-flavored gels!).

As we neared the finish line at Kapiolani Park, we first had to negotiate an incline near Diamond Head. Knowing that I hiked that trail a few days earlier gave me confidence. Nothing was going to stop me now, especially not at mile 24! I was so happy to be in Hawaii that I soaked up all the joy of the experience in the final miles. I crossed the finish line in 5:14:01 (7,398th out of 24,152 finishers). I am glad I stuck to my plan of listening to my body—I needed to give my body a break after running 12 marathons and ultramarathons in 12 months! I had a big smile on my face when I finished—and I was already thinking of my ice cold chocolate milk waiting for me back at the hotel!

I'm a Honolulu Marathon finisher! It's my 18th state.

I’m a Honolulu Marathon finisher! It’s my 18th state.

But first, I had to find my friends at the end. I found Hideki, Derrick, and Tatsunori (a friend of Hideki’s who also finished his 50th state marathon) at the finish, then I bumped into Michelle and Jackie later on. We got our finishers’ shell leis, then walked to the festival area to get our official finishers’ t-shirts (nice tech tees) and our medals.

Derrick, Hideki, and Tatsunori (L-R) greeted me at the finish.

Derrick, Hideki, and Tatsunori (L-R) greeted me at the finish.

We took some photos, got a free shiatsu massage, and then grabbed some lunch for back at the hotel.

So proud of my friends!

So proud of my friends!

Semi-official finisher photo of me-representing Team Refuel!

Semi-official finisher photo of me-representing Team Refuel!

(Hawaiians use the hand signal for “aloha”)

DSC05885

For lunch, we went to Musubi Iyasume, an amazing place that sells spam musubi (it’s a traditional Hawaiian snack—sticky rice balls usually topped with Spam and wrapped in nori, or seaweed). So for lunch, I had spam musubi, miso soup, and a refreshing bottle of low-fat chocolate milk! The chocolate milk helps in my recovery—I know my muscles need replenishing as soon as possible. The high-quality protein found in low-fat chocolate milk helps my muscles rebuild after strenuous exercise, so I can recover for my next workout! It really works, as I found out the next day that as long as I took walk breaks during the 9-hour flight back to NYC, I had reduced soreness.

Lisa at Musubi Iyasume

Lisa at Musubi Iyasume

This was a truly special trip, made more meaningful because I got to celebrate Hideki and Steve’s special milestone of finishing their 50th state marathon in Hawaii. That night, we had a celebratory dinner with about 30 guests at Uncle Bo’s. The month before, I spearheaded a project to create two surprise scrapbooks with the help of my friends who contributed photos from the various marathons they have run worldwide. It was meant to be presented to them at dinner, in front of everybody. They were completely surprised! We also passed it around at the party so that people could add their signatures and well-wishes. Congratulations, Hideki and Steve!

Hideki and Steve with their 50-state finisher scrapbooks my friends and I made

Hideki and Steve with their 50-state finisher scrapbooks my friends and I made

Well-wishes from friends of the dynamic duo

Well-wishes from friends of the dynamic duo

I’m grateful to Team Refuel for sponsoring me—I’m proud to wear our team colors! Thanks also to all my friends who traveled with me, and my Hawaiian friends for giving me a big welcome to Hawaii. Mahalo!

I love chocolate milk and Team Refuel!

I love chocolate milk and Team Refuel!