SI Vault
Kenny Moore
October 08, 1979
During a 20-day race covering 500 kilometers—or 2� laps around the island of Oahu—the entrants experienced exhaustion, ecstasy and the execrable
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October 08, 1979

Hawaii Five Double O

During a 20-day race covering 500 kilometers—or 2� laps around the island of Oahu—the entrants experienced exhaustion, ecstasy and the execrable

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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.

"Good 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 wilderness."

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 begun.

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 us.

The race had been advertised only once, a year earlier in Runner's World 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."

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