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Barnett has ‘no issues’ with 100-mile run

Updated: 
November 3, 2017 - 11:32pm

He is a familiar sight, all over the Big Island, often running shirtless at a comfortable pace, around the backroads of Volcano or near his Mountain View home, but you might see him anywhere, getting in some miles.

Anywhere, except for last week, when Billy Barnett spent a lot of time in recovery mode, swimming and bike riding instead of pounding the trails he knows so well. The Waiakea Junior High School teacher was easing his body back to normal after completing a 100-mile trail run the previous weekend in Fountain Hills, Arizona.

That was not a typo. Barnett flew to Arizona, met an old friend, and with about 600 others at 6 a.m. Mountain time on Oct. 28, heard the sound of the starter’s gun and headed out to run 100 miles. A little over 18 hours later, he was the 16th of about 350 who completed the run.

“It felt so good,” Barnett said, “all the way through, no issues, no problems, just a great day, great experience.”

He understands that not everyone who reads this will think the prospect of running 100 miles would be a great experience, but what fun would life be if we were all the same?

Barnett, 33, and a collection of other East Side enthusiasts do more than just live here and enjoy what the Big Island provides. They want to dig a little deeper, run into their adventures head first, take the deep dive.

The Arizona excursion was Barnett’s third 100-mile run, including Oahu’s torturous Hurt 100 a couple years ago that required 31 hours to finish, so, yes, slicing 13 hours off that time was a genuine thrill, even if his motivation isn’t concerned with winning.

“No expectations,” he said of his pre-race strategy, “I just wanted to stay present and try to feel good all the way through.”

And the first thought after the finish line? Was it relief? Curiosity about how he placed?

“I remember thinking, ‘That’s over, what’s next?’” he said.

The people he trains with completely understand all of that, most of them are inclined in the same direction, so it didn’t take any arm twisting for Barnett to locate a partner to help him train. Bree Wee, the 37-year-old Kahakai Elementary School teacher who recently announced her resignation from triathlete competition, was ready. A former Floridian surfer, she is generally recognized as Hawaii’s most accomplished woman triathlete.

Wee may not have blinked an eye when Barnett suggested he’d like a partner on a training run for the Javelina Jundred in Arizona.

They started at Coconut Island at 3 a.m. and 11 hours later they called it a day at the summit of Mauna Kea. Of course they ran up from the visitor’s center, and while they had a car waiting there, a ranger at the summit insisted on giving them a ride back down.

“He was worried about us,” Barnett said, laughing at the memory.

In Arizona, Barnett said the mid-80s’ afternoon weather got “a little warm,” but then dusk came and it cooled off nicely. Distractions such as excessive heat or cold are unwelcome in such endeavors, because there’s already a lot to keep you busy.

“People who don’t run might think it’s boring, but it isn’t like that,” he said, “there’s so much to do out there. You’re checking electrolytes, you’re taking in at least 100 calories every hour and that, in itself, keeps you busy, you’re being conscious of things like blisters developing or whatever it might be, so you stay busy.”

The Arizona course was the first one of its kind Barnett has raced — essentially a 20-mile trail loop and after completion of a loop, runners circle back and run the loop the opposite way, giving everyone a rough idea of where they are in the group, how others are doing.

Some contestants brought crews to check with them after each loop, others brought pacers to run ahead of them for a time at a desired pace, but all Barnett brought was his running gear and a willingness to open himself to the challenge.

There were also the customary “drop bag” locations at certain spots where runners could leave food, towels, water, whatever, to be picked up during the run and the race provided other food along the way.

Barnett maintained an 11:20-mile pace and returned with a fresh perspective on the competition.

“There were a lot of nerves at the start,” he said, “a lot of these people had never attempted 100 miles before, they didn’t know what to expect, they were jumping into the unknown and for the first 20-40 miles, everyone was good, everyone was hanging in.

“It felt like the race part didn’t really start until about mile 70,” he said. “There weren’t as many people, it was all strung out but it was great. In fact, the best I felt for the whole race probably came after I ate a cheeseburger at mile 70, I remember at mile 78 feeling the best I felt all day.”

People always want to know what’s next with Barnett and that’s a good question, one even he can’t answer.

“There’s a Molokai to Oahu prone paddle event, about 32 miles, that sounds very cool,” he said. “The Ultraman (World Challenge), is coming up with the (6-mile) swim, the bike (92 miles) and the 50-mile run (Volcano to Hawi), the next day. There’s lots of great stuff to do.”

And Billy Barnett is going to find a way to do it all before he’s done.

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