We’re thrilled to share HRL athlete Shelby Thirkill’s tales from the trails from her outstanding 2017 Peacock Challenge race where she finished second.
My alarm went off at 3:30am and surprisingly I felt relatively rested. Looking back at the entire week I felt unbelievably calm. Maybe I felt confident in my recent training block or maybe I was unconsciously toning down my anxiety. Regardless, I was confident. Back in June when I was talking to my coach about Peacock, I was doubtful. Could I make the 16 hour cutoff? I’ve never ran a race with cutoffs before. After I got into HURT I began to tell myself everyday that I will finish, and once my mind realized Peacock was a training run, I had no option but to build faith in myself; slowly but surely I am understanding that ultra running is wholly centered around your inner strength.
We parked the truck and I hopped out to get my number, drop off my bags, and use the restroom. Immediately I spotted some badass friends, and it was so energizing getting to laugh with them before the start. Six A.M. came and off I went with 57 other incredible athletes. This past January I ran my first 12-hour ultra, but since then I have morphed into a completely different runner. I was anxious to see if I could hold myself together. Everyone moved as one as we climbed Kealia Trail, which is straight up the mountain with a buckton of switchbacks. The sun started to rise and I looked out the ocean and reminded myself it was a great day to slay with the pink sky as a perfect opening.
The first 7 miles to Satellite aid station was pure fun. A group of us were trucking along, laughing, and talking stories as if we were out for brunch and sipping mimosas. When I got to Satellite, I was pretty stoked to see my good friend Ron there, who was volunteering. I greeted him with a kiss on the cheek, grabbed watermelon, and off I went. The next three miles to Three Way aid station I ran on and off by myself and with a group of solid male runners. I knew that if I chilled with them, that I would be in good shape as far as time. Having never ran Long Road before, I was intrigued to see just how miserable, yet amazing it was rumored to be. I cruised down for the four miles by myself and tried to mentally prepare myself for turning around at the aid station and climbing the 2000 feet right back up again. I came into the Long Road aid station and was beyond excited and surprised to see my two trail babes, Alyssa and Rozie, hollering and smiling for me. They rushed to get everything I needed with outstanding compassion in their every step. Alyssa said to me, “Long Road is much more enjoyable running with someone…go catch up to Ivan and run with him!” Ivan had just left the aid station, me off I went to see if I could catch him; he’s really fast!
“I hear this is more fun running with someone!” I yelled to him as I posted up alongside. He laughed, and for the next ten miles we did what trail runners do best, supported each other. I knew who Ivan was, but prior to Peacock I had only spoken to him for a couple minutes, so I was definitely excited to finally get to know him. The connections on the trails run deep, and our conversation was genuine and filled with laughs. Thank you for those miles Ivan, it was a pleasure. Ivan pulled away from me going down Kealia trail, and at the bottom of the trailhead I saw a happy, familiar face. Jeff Fong was waiting there encouraging runners. With a huge smile he clapped and asked how I was feeling, and ran with me right up to the tents. It’s moments like these that make races so special, the support uplifts my soul. I rolled into the start/finish at right about six hours and on schedule for a sub 12:30 race. Loop one complete… Cha-Ching!
This was the part I was truly excited for because I was fortunate enough to pick up Alyssa for the next 28 miles. We were in and out of the aid station in five minutes or so and I was feeling pumped (especially since I was mowing down golden kiwis, skin included). Sure it was pretty hot (mid 80s) and I was tired, but it was sure great to have the force of girl power with me. Miles 33-40 was probably the section that I slowed down the most, compared to loop one. The climbing single track section after Satellite station was tough but it’s not like I was the only one out there suffering. We got to Three Way station and I grabbed some watermelon with my right hand and Rozie Warfield had filled my bottle, which I was holding it in my left hand. Incapable of being able to think of a better solution, I asked the gentleman next to me, “Can you shove this in here please?” (pointing to my pack pocket). “….Oh man, that sounded wrong!” All five volunteers who overheard me started busting up laughing! Thankfully the man was sweet enough to accept my delirium and all its glory. Bless his soul!.
Coming up to the first downhill section of Long Road, I told Alyssa that on The first loop I ran down at a chill 9:15-9:30 min pace and that we should try to maintain a 9 minute pace. This was the point where I asked for some music; luckily our taste in music is very similar. I asked her if she had the song “Stay” by Alessia Cara and Zedd, and thank heavens she did! It will be impossible for me to forget hauling down Long Road, dancing and belting at the top of my lungs with her at a 7:45 pace. It was one of those race moments that make you feel so incredibly thankful for all the hard work you put into training, and for all the beautiful friends in your life. Sorry you had to hear us sing, Ivan (haha).
We were about to hit one of the last turns before the flat straight away to the aid station when we saw Amanda finishing out the turn. When Alyssa had just started running with me, she told me that I was doing great and in third place. I told her that I honestly hadn’t been focusing on that because my main focus was on time, effort, nutrition, and mental game… Aka HURT training. When we saw Amanda, I was shocked because she was killing it the entire race and I didn’t think I had made up that much ground. We caught up to her just before the aid station, and she looked good and happy. Embracing others success is a key to being successful yourself, and I was glad that she was doing so well. I came into the aid station and saw Jaque Tellei with her mile wide beautiful smile and I gave her a sweaty hug and told her how happy I was to see her. I hurried over to the porta potty while Alyssa got my snacks and filled my pack. As I was putting my vest back on I heard a very familiar voice, a voice that has circled around in my head during many races. “Nice job, champ!”. Michael Garrison (my coach, mentor, friend, all the above) was standing there with a huge smile on his face. I was so surprised and thrilled that my eyes started to tear up. Imagine seeing a waterfall in the middle of the desert after you’ve been wandering aimlessly for hours… that’s exactly how I felt. I gave him the biggest hug and most likely squeezed all the air out of him. It was the strongest, most wonderful boost of energy I could’ve hoped for before another 2000 ft climb. Off we went, feeling elated.
The climb up Long Road was much more manageable than I had anticipated. Alyssa had me doing intervals all the way up and she had several stories prepared. I knew that Amanda was an excellent climber, and I thought I would be hearing her footsteps any second. I strived to remain calm but confident; there were still plenty of miles to go and anything could happen. We were almost to the top of Long Road and here came my good friend, Nate Burgorne. He was looking great and his energy and support were infectious, with his high five giving me yet another solid boost of happiness. The 4.6 miles from Long Road to Three Way station were by far the toughest. My stomach cramps that were on and off harassing me for the past five hours were worsening again, my feet were achy, and this specific section of trail looks identical and never ending. This was the point where I had deep conversation with Alyssa. She opened up to me about her past and struggles and how it had led her to ultra running. Some runners don’t like when their pacers keep talking but with my degree in counseling I found it extremely helpful during this section. My mind was thinking of responding questions but I couldn’t get much more out besides “Really?” “No way?” “That’s crazy!” I swear I am a better counselor when I haven’t been running for 11.5 hours. This made me think about my life experiences and what had personally led me to the path ultrarunning. Everyone has a journey, and I knew that I would have to come back to this question later when more of my brain cells were functioning.
Finally, we made it to Three Way station. We spent all of two seconds there as I grabbed a piece of watermelon and they told us that Bree had left not too long ago but was having a difficult time. The entire race she had been hauling and miles ahead of me, so I was shocked that maybe there was a speck of a chance of catching up to her. Now if I know anything about professional triathletes, and especially a great competitor such as Bree, there is no way they would lead the entire race and let someone pass her with less than three miles to go. At that moment I told myself I didn’t care if I caught her or not, I was going to run all out for me. This is where the magic happened; the kind you hear in stories that are passed down from elders to children. Suddenly, the stomach cramps that had been harassing me for the past six hours subsided. My sore feet felt completely refreshed as if I was just starting the race. Adrenaline swept over my body, my stride opened up, and we were r unning .
Alyssa turned around and asked, “how are you feelin’?” I replied, “I’m not even tired anymore, let’s do this!” She reminded me to remain calm and to not lose my footing, at least one of our brains were still working. At last we made it down the rocky Kealia trail and at the bottom we grabbed hands and that’s when the mushy counselor side of me came out. I told her how much I appreciated her, not just for today but for everything that she is, and how I wish I had met her when I first moved to Oahu. I said I will always be there for her and that I will remember this race for the rest of my life. We both said we loved each other and continued to book it to the finish line while attempting our best “chee-hoo’s”. The strands of lights that lit up the finish shoot looked magical and that’s when Alyssa said “alright girl, this is all you!”. With the biggest smile on my face I came into the finish after twelve hours and forty-six minutes of running. I gave Alyssa a huge hug and thanked her again. I hugged my boyfriend, Johnny and he gave me the warmest smile. My incredible friend, Sara, also hugged and congratulated me. Best for last of course, Freddy gave me a congratulatory hug and handed me my beautifully handcrafted second place award. My eyes teared up as I thought about four months prior when I was doubting myself about whether or not I could even make the time cut offs. If you take anything away from this ridiculously lengthy race report, NEVER give up and ALWAYS believe in yourself.
I would like to thank Freddy Halmes for hosting an incredibly fun and challenging event. I can’t thank you enough for all of your support, my big finish hug, and your amazing squash soup. Thank you for always being gracious. Thank you to all the volunteers who gave up their Saturday and provided amazing care and support. Thank you to my Johnny, who drove us to the race, stayed all day, and drove us home. Thank you to my good friend, Sara, who always supports me and had one heck of a run; I had a great day with you. Lastly, thank you to Michael Garrison and Hawaii Running Lab for getting me through this huge block of training and never failing to believe in me. Congratulations to all runners and finishers– you kicked ass!