Finding new heights: Warren Hollinger goes the distance in run from Anaehoomalu Bay to Maunakea summit

  • Warren Hollinger during his big wall rock climbing days. (Courtesy photo)
  • A smiling Warren Hollinger runs the final miles up Maunakea. Hollinger, motivated by the memory of his fallen friend Bill Melson, started the 55.6-mile run at Anaehoomalu Bay more than 17 hours earlier. (photos by Karen Hollinger and Albert Police/special to WHT)
  • A smiling Warren Hollinger runs the final miles up Maunakea. Hollinger, motivated by the memory of his fallen friend Bill Melson, started the 55.6-mile run at Anaehoomalu Bay more than 17 hours earlier. (photos by Karen Hollinger and Albert Police/special to WHT)

BY THE NUMBERS

Kailua-Kona’s Warren Hollinger ran from Anaehoomalu Bay to Maunakea’s summit. Here is how that journey looked.

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55.6 miles

Distance to summit

14,108 feet

Total elevation gain

17:29:28

Time to complete

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KAILUA-KONA — Warren Hollinger had looked up at Maunakea’s greatness in awe hundreds, if not thousands of times in his life.

But in all those glances, Hollinger had never had quite the perspective he gained last month when he decided to take on the world’s tallest mountain in all its might, starting from the waters of Anaehoomalu Bay in Waikoloa for a sea to summit ultra-run that would cover 55.6 miles and over 14,000 feet in elevation gained.

“It seemed so obvious,” said Hollinger, who grew up on the Big Island. “People forget how big this island actually is. We get caught up in the flow of our normal race schedule that we forget about what we can experience just by going outside.”

The 54-year-old Hollinger jokes that maybe the idea — which had been brewing for some time — was a midlife crisis of sorts. But it’s no real surprise that he decided to take on the daunting route.

Hollinger — whose full-time gig is owner of the photography website building platform Redframe.com — describes himself as the Guinea pig for his own experiments that test human mind and body potential. He’s been through the gauntlet of endurance events; everything from Olympic distance (31.93 miles) races, to the Ironman World Championships (140.6 miles) and Ultraman (320 miles).

But before Hollinger was immersed in the endurance world, he was a professional big wall rock climber, taking on challenges of epic proportions in remote locations. One accomplishment of note he lists on his website is when he spent 39 days living on and climbing a 5,000-foot face above a frozen fjord.

However, in 1999, Hollinger nearly lost his life, falling 60-plus feet during one of his climbs, breaking his back in six places. He made a near full recovery, but two titanium rods were inserted in his back and it essentially ended his climbing career.

“It helped me grow,” Hollinger said. “I should have been in a wheelchair for life or died. That I have these legs to motor myself is just incredible. I was lucky.”

Hollinger has capitalized on his second chance, and while his climbing days are behind him, what drew himto the Maunakea run was the similar thirst for raw adventure.

This wasn’t a race where he’d get caught up in the commotion of the starting line, personal records or the pounding of pump-up music at the finish line. It was a test of will that featured very little fanfare.

“I wanted a cool new challenge and this island offers some really cool stuff,” said Hollinger. “You can get lost out there.”

Despite battling a stubborn headwind for the majority of the way, Hollinger completed the run in 17 hour, 29 minutes and 28 seconds. That time was about in line with what he had expected and he feels like he could have shaved a good chunk off if the wind was a little more cooperative.

“I got way more out of it than I could have ever anticipated,” Hollinger said. “It was such an adventure.”

Another part of the allure for Hollinger was that the route was uncharted territory as an ultra-run (Hollinger estimates he ran at least 75 percent of the way, so it’s not classified as a walk, hike, jog or even trek).

There’s no record book of sea to summit runs on the Big Island floating around the internet, but Hollinger and West Hawaii Today believe he’s the first to complete it.

Hollinger did his due diligence, asking around circles that would know. He noted that a Maunakea sea to summit run had previously been done from the Hilo side of the island, but that route is shorter and a bit less strenuous, at least by ultra-endurance standards.

“Don’t get me wrong, it’s still really, really tough,” he assured.

Hollinger did a good chunk of the run with his good friend Toby Olney by his side. But Olney, who had participated in the 100-mile Century Ride just a week earlier, saw his body eventually give out, pushing to his limit before calling it a day at the Maunakea Visitor Center. That is certainly nothing to scoff at, essentially completing the Sea to Stars cycling race route — which is billed as the most difficult in Hawaii — on foot.

But Hollinger still had 7.5 miles to go from that point and the air was only getting thinner. Anybody who has done as little as bodyboarding in the snow on Maunakea can attest to the challenge the elevation presents.

The longer Hollinger took, the longer the odds got for him to reach the summit. But he had two things going for him: a great support team and the memory of an old friend serving as motivation.

Hollinger dedicated the run to Bill Melson, a friend and former FBI agent who recently passed away.

Melson’s ashes were spread at Anaehoomalu Bay before the run started and Hollinger also distributed some at the summit, along with some water he brought from the ocean.

“I knew immediately this was something I wanted to share with Bill,” Hollinger said. “He’d always talk to me about endurance sports and breaking the three-hour marathon barrier. He got so close a few times but just missed it and I knew it was something he thought about. But it was one of those things where we understood each other. I was so glad to be able to share this with him.”

Bill’s wife, Linda, was touched by the gesture and witnessed how it motivated Hollinger along the way.

“Him dedicating the run to Bill meant so much to us,” Linda Melson said. “We met Warren along the way at certain points, but frankly, toward the top, I really wanted him to stop. He looked completely gone, but he said no. He said, ‘I made a promise to myself and Bill.’ And he made it all the way.”

Hollinger also gave credit to his support crew, which included his wife, Karen, and good friend Albert Police. During the last few miles, when Hollinger’s body began to shut down, he said there was no way he could have done it on self-will alone.

“To eek out 17 hours worth of energy is a tricky formula. There’s a lot of times you don’t get it right,” Hollinger said. “With three miles to go, I had to start walking. I’d take a 10-second breather and go again. At the end, I wound up being able to hang on by a thread, but I had a safety net in my support crew. I knew if I had done this by myself, I would have turned around.”

Hollinger isn’t done yet. It’s more like one down, four to go. He also wants to run Mauna Loa, Hualalai, Kohala and Kilauea, eventually stringing all of them together with Maunakea. He’s already been hard at work scouting Mauna Loa for his next adventure.

“This was really just the start of everything,” Hollinger said.

Hollinger recapped his experience in detail on his blog, but urged others who have the ultra-endurance itch to get out and take on the challenge.

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“To my local endurance friends I say: doing this non-event adventure is so worth it. Oh, and don’t tell me you haven’t looked up at this mountain and not thought about it – even fleetingly,” Hollinger wrote. “And to everyone else: I hope this helps inspire you to find your ‘Sea to Summit’ in life and go and do it.”

To follow Hollinger’s future adventures, visit lifeintraining.com.

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