Overheard on the Bus
It's dark when the first runners arrive.
"Is this the right place?" they ask. This is what everyone will ask until there is enough of a crowd to provide a sense of reassurance.
XTERRA Ambassador Tom Dhans and his wife Angie have volunteered for "shuttle duty," which is a job unique to XTERRA Trail Run Worlds, and the most efficient way to get 75 runners from Waikiki to Kualoa Ranch, where the race will take place. Runners come to "Worlds" from all over - from England and Germany to New Zealand, Australia, Brazil, and Hong Kong. Most stay at the hub of race activity in Waikiki, but Kualoa Ranch is almost an hour away, located near the North Shore of Oahu.
Kim and Robin Lorenz are the first to arrive. They have only come as far as Arizona, and while they did spend a day enjoying Hawaii, they are here strictly for the race.
"I wasn't sure this was the spot," said Robin, looking over his shoulder. The bus meets at the Waikiki Beach Walk, a boutique section of shops and restaurants. Still, at 6AM, nothing looks as it will in a few hours when the sun is up.
Robin and Kim have been XTERRA Arizona Regional Trail Champs several times. Robin is going to race the 21K, but Kim broke her patella in XTERRA Estrella a few weeks ago and dropped down to the 5K. Is she even cleared to run?
"Did I ask my doctor if it was OK?" Kim says. "No, I didn't." She shrugs. "But I taped it. I'll just go slow."
Next to show up is the team from Brazil, which is like a traveling party bus all its own. The group includes the XTERRA Argentinian Trail Champ, Fernando Ripalta from San Juan, the XTERRA Brazil Trail Series Champ, Antonio Goncalves, William Paiva, and Joseilton Silva, who already has more energy than most of us have by noon.
Eilias Chafino, who is traveling with Fernando Ripalta, is the only English speaker out of the bunch, and even then, most gets lost in translation. Someone asks if he is running.
"Me, run?" he asks laughing and then holds his stomach. "No. Too much here."
Kim and Robin join the South Americans and for a while, they try to communicate with hand gestures and louder voices.
"Here," says Angie, and hands over her phone. "It's a translation app." For a few minutes, there is furious typing and the exchanging of the phone. Laughter.
When it's time to board the first bus, there is a crowd. Ilona Hirsch from Soligen, Germany, is hungry and has forgotten snacks. Someone hands her a Kind Bar. Someone else runs to the ABC Store. Angie packs them onto the Roberts School Bus.
The ride up to Kualoa Ranch is quiet, if you don't count the Brazilians. Zeljko Zic and his wife Sophia Hsu Zic are sitting behind XTERRA Pan Am Champ, Janet Soule and her sister Dianne. Janet competed in the XTERRA World Championship in October and was third in the 55-59 age group.
Zeljko is surprised. "You look 40," he says. "That must be the wrong age group."
Janet assures him she is actually 55. "I've been doing XTERRA for 17 years!" she says, although this is her first time doing XTERRA Trail Run Worlds.
"I'm so excited," she says. "It's great, right?"
Zeljko is originally from Croatia, but came to the U.S. in 1968 when it was Communist Yugoslavia. A physician, he first came to Staten Island and then made his way to California.
"Did you know that the country is tilted?" he asks. "That's how I got to California. I just slid down."
His wife laughs and rolls her eyes. She has heard this one before.
Zeljko wears pink lenses in his glasses so he can view the world through a rose-colored hue.
"I like it better that way."
His goal for the race is simple. "I would like to finish the 5K before the first finisher in the half marathon."
Zeljko spends about 6 hours a day working out. He hands his phone around so everyone can see what he means when he talks about paddle skateboarding, which involves a skateboard, a long pole, and knee and elbow pads. Now, on his runs, he listens to language tapes.
"I can speak eight languages," he says, proudly. "Sometimes people ask me where I learned a certain word, and I can tell them, 'I learned that at mile three in my run as I was turning the corner at Main Street.'"
And then the bus is making the left turn into the ranch and the road is bumpy. The ride has gone quickly and it's almost over.
Amber House, who is Tammy Tabeek's niece, and one of the first on the bus, is wishing everyone luck. (Tammy finished just behind Janet Soule at the XTERRA National Championship in Utah in September.) This will be Amber's second time running the 21K at Kualoa Ranch.
"I've lived in Hawaii 10 years now and have been doing XTERRA runs out here since 2011 when Tammy finally got me to sign up for a race in Maui," she says. "I would love to try XTERRA races on the mainland too someday," she says. "But don't tell my aunt, or I'll never hear the end of it."