North Shore 100-mile runner breaks Hawaiian record
The last time The Outlook spoke with Gary Robbins, the North Vancouver ultra-marathoner was in a world of hurt.
The 36-year-old was then recovering from a broken foot — his second break in a year — which he incurred while training on the rugged mountain trails of Hawaii.
The injury earned him a rescue helicopter ride and nearly half a year on crutches. What’s more, it cast doubt on whether the founder of the Squamish 50 Trail Race would ever compete again.
But compete he did and last month Robbins affirmed his comeback by returning to the same Oahu trail that nearly ended his career less than two years ago.
This time he was competing in the aptly named Hawaiian Ultra Running Team (HURT) 100-mile race.
Not only did Robbins compete and finish the 161-kilometre foot race, he won.
And not only did he win, but his finishing time of 19 hours and 35 minutes set a new record for the 13-year-old race, smashing Robbins’ own 2010 record by 37 minutes.
And while his post-injury return to Oahu met with every success, it was still an emotional rollercoaster.
“The foot was fine — there were no issues — but there was actually a bit of an emotional scar that presided,” Robbins told The Outlook last week. “I actually had minor flashbacks to that moment of crawling over those rocks 17 months prior.”
But the flashbacks faded and were soon eclipsed by the realization that Robbins was not only on track to win the race but to do so well under the elusive 20-hour mark.
Of the 150 entrants to the Jan. 22 race, only 45 even finished.
The course is structured around five laps of a 20-mile loop, with each loop containing 5,000 feet of rise and descent, making for a total race differential of 25,000 vertical feet.
“It’s similar to our North Shore terrain with very big tree roots, so we’re almost at an unfair advantage training here,” Robbins said. “In December I actually ran 730 kilometres of training in a month, typically around Grouse Mountain and Seymour.”
And how does an ultra-marathoner sustain himself over 20 hours of non-stop running? With a diet that Robbins called a feat “in and of itself.”
To wit, 40 packages of carbohydrate gel, three energy bars, two litres of Coca-Cola and half a watermelon.
For his efforts, Robbins was awarded $500 — not much, he admits, given how physically and emotionally taxing such competitions are. But, he insists, running has for him always been more about the journey than the glory of competition.
He’s not alone with those motives.
In fact, what awaits every 100-miler who finishes a race in under 30 hours is the same across North America: a belt buckle, in keeping with a tradition that began in California in the 1970s.
Not that North America is the only place where people are crazy enough to take a stab at ultra running. In April, Robbins flies to Japan to compete in the Ultra-Trail Mt. Fuji, then in August he’s off to France for the Ultra-Trail du Mont Blanc.