As we assembled
beside the beach of our hotel near Waimea Bay on our first morning, sipping tea
and daubing sunscreen on shoulders and faces, we happened to catch sight of a
pod of finback whales. Through the hotel's telescopes we watched them,
submarines of solid flesh, barnacled and dark, blasting their vaporous breath
into the warm Pacific air.
omen," said Dr. Jack Scaff, one of the originators of our approaching
venture. "Of course we're only ready to accept good omens. If the hotel had
been engulfed in fire and lava, that would have been a good omen, meaning we
must forsake the things of civilization and take ourselves to the
The 36 of us
formed our own little pod on the hotel's front drive. A small gun was fired. We
began to run. The Great Hawaiian Footrace, whose 500,000 meters (312 miles)
would take us almost two and a half times around the island of Oahu, had
As we joined the
main road along Oahu's north shore and headed west beside pastures where the
grass was high enough to sweep a horse's belly, the task ahead seemed simple
enough. Three light-blue vans carried our gear and gave us directions and water
as we ran. When we reached Mokuleia Beach Park, 18 miles distant, our times
would be recorded and we would put up a brightly colored tent village until the
next morning when we would break camp, load everything into the vans and set
off afresh. We would finish after 18 days of running (and two of recharging in
Honolulu midway through the race), having stayed in 15 different beach parks.
We had only three rules: no sunburn, no littering and always check in and out
of camp, "so we won't call out the sea rescue teams and then find you in
some bar," said Scaff.
Conceived by Scaff
and Dr. Tom Bassler as a fanciful impossibility and then actually organized by
Donna Scaff, Jack's patient wife, as a rigorous running holiday, the experience
would be given its final character by the land and people we met. And by
The race had been
advertised only once, a year earlier in
magazine, and as it
demanded three weeks and a $600 entry fee (to cover our five nights in hotels
with catered meals and assorted extras), it seemed that whoever signed up must
be enjoying some measure of financial ease or else represent the leading edge
of the running craze. As it turned out, mania, not money, was more nearly our
common denominator, but it assumed wonderfully diverse forms.
"There is no
one more competitive than I am," said lean Ed Shaffer of Walterboro, S.C.,
who had piloted 747s for Pan Am until a few months earlier when he had reached
the mandatory retirement age of 60. He had departed grudgingly, believing that
a man who could run a 3:11 marathon, as he did this year in New Orleans, wasn't
going to slump over in the cockpit. Shaffer's other "calling" seems to
be the sirens' song. He has been married seven times and he isn't about to
retire from that. "It's unnatural for a man to live alone," he said one
afternoon as he watched a lovely Pan Am stewardess put up his tent. "I get
married for the honeymoons and the dinners."
More solitary was
Leon Henderson, 32, of Eugene, Ore. In the early 1960s, Henderson and I were
high school milers, teammates and competitors. But after he graduated he spent
a year in New Zealand, where he was won over by the joys of fell, or mountain,
running. Our ways parted, mine leading to the rather densely peopled world of
track and marathon racing, his to the more solitary one of running over every
summit he could see. Now, in this long race, our paths at last converged.
A stocky man of
enormous strength, with clear, visionary eyes and a thick blond beard,
Henderson had worked most often as a ranch foreman in Eugene. He had once spent
five weeks in the employ of a Los Angeles photographer, shooting stills of The
Gong Show. He had departed when the show's crude-ness—gratuitous cruelty,
really—drove him back to his beloved Oregon mountains and big trees. Upon
hearing of the Great Hawaiian Footrace, a shock of recognition had hit him.
"I somehow knew this was the event for me," he said, echoing the
sentiments of most of those in the field.
He had trained by
coming over from Oregon three months earlier and running across the wild
expanses of the Kahua Ranch on the island of Hawaii, and because of his proven
ability to run back-to-back 30-mile days, he seemed a good bet to win, but he
said, "I look at it more as a matter of survival."