Honolulu Marathon 2009

Barry Smith's Report

Honolulu Marathon, 13 December 2009

Sitting in the IHoP across the street from my hotel in Honolulu about to eat my pancakes, I was letting myself feel a little too smug about finishing a marathon the previous day -- not a very good race performance by any means, but feeling smug nevertheless from the satisfaction of finishing my fourth marathon or longer race that fall, and believing I was well on the way to recovery for the next. All sense of smugness was shattered, though, when I realized I was pouring coffee, not syrup, all over my pancakes. Yes, the Marathon always gets the last word.

And why Honolulu? I wish I could say going to Hawaii has been a life-long dream, or that running this marathon has long been on the top of my list, but none of that is really the case. I guess my interest has developed over the last couple years for various reasons--watching the Ironman telecasts on the tube, and being encouraged by friend Kate who goes out there regularly for outrigger races. This fall things just seemed to work out; I had some frequent flier miles, a good hotel discount thanks to my daughter working at Marriott, and a short break between deadlines at work, so why not just go and do it already?

I flew out on a Friday morning and got in about midnight Honolulu time, or more than 19 hours later. (We were delayed a couple hours out of Minneapolis because the winds were too favorable and ATC wouldn't let us leave. Go figure.) I managed to sleep relatively well on the plane, and even the turbulence rocked me off to sleep, but man it's a long way from the west coast to Honolulu. I slept a few more hours when I got to my hotel room, had a good "trucker's" breakfast at the IHoP, and went over to the Expo with a 9 o'clock plan to meet up with Jeff, a nice guy and fine marathoner I met through a Disney World runners' forum who wanted to get a group photo of some fellow forumites. Mission accomplished, and then I got the usual bib, chip, race brochures, and a souvenir or two. No shirt yet, since you have to finish the race to get that. It was about a mile walk back to the hotel, where I went directly to my room to watch the playoff game of the Montana Grizzlies. They played in the cold and snow in Missoula against Appalachian State, in one of the best games I've seen in quite a while, even if I do say so. (Several people at the Expo saw my shirt and said "Go Grizzlies!" How great was that!) After that I walked over to Kapiolani Park, the finish area, to check a bag of a few items for after-race wear. Then it was back to the hotel to meet Liz, a friend and co-outrigger racer of my friend Kate, for a driving tour of the course and Italian dinner. (Running partners Sara Crum and Gayatri Datta will remember the trouble I have pronouncing Italian meals, from our pre-race dinner in Richmond.)

Early on race morning, I started out in the wrong direction walking toward the race start, and then after a mile or so of somewhat frantic run-walking I just made it to the start area as the fireworks were going off (5 a.m.). Shades of the JFK 50 Miler start--still very dark, a crescent moon high in the sky--except it was much, much warmer than Boonsboro in November. I had to work my way through the corral of hundreds of 10K walkers to get up to the marathon runners' corrals, and then it was a good hour and a half of running on sidewalks, weaving in and around people, etc., to get to where I fit in with the paces of other runners. I took the hassle somewhat "in stride" and was just hoping to get into a rhythm soon.

The local paper said this race of 22,000 is something like 65% Japanese, about 25% locals, and about 10% mainlanders. Japan Airlines and other sponsors seemed to have some kind of promotion to bring tourists out for the race, and they must have been successful in their recruiting the general populace because this was the slowest overall field I've ever seen in a race. Perhaps not unexpectedly, the day after the race there were many people wearing finishers' shirts limping really badly all around Waikiki. (Of course, there were lots of very good runners as well, and the elites were world class.)

This was the first race where I wore my Marathon Maniacs singlet, and I found that pretty cool. Other Maniacs came up and introduced themselves, took a picture, or waved as we passed, and people in the crowd regularly yelled "Go Maniac" or something like that as I went by. Recalling races where my name is printed on the bib, I found it much preferable hearing "Maniac!" called out rather than hearing my name. Normally I wouldn't want to join a club that would have the likes of me as a member (to quote a famous Marxism--Groucho, I believe), but the Maniacs seem like a good group to be a part of.

As Liz predicted, once daylight was in full swing, by about 7 a.m., we had nearly an hour of sun in the eyes, except for a few turns here and there. In general, there are not a lot of turns in this fairly simple course. After a loop at the start away from Waikiki, it turns clockwise back through Waikiki, Kapiolani Park (10k mark) and then up the edge of Diamond Head, and out several more miles following the shore line (but not usually seeing the shore) to the Hawaii Kai area, then a turnaround and heading back toward Kap. Park. The last climb gets you up to mile 25 on Diamond Head, then it's all downhill, or at least flat, the rest of the way to the Park. As Liz also warned me, the sun is very hot there in Hawaii! I drank Gatorade like a fish at the water stops, poured water and ice on my head, and grabbed the ice-cold sponges they were handing out at every opportunity. Each stop was refreshing, but I needed that refreshing regularly. I might have been a bit dehydrated to start, but there was only a brief time where I felt dizzy or anything like that. I didn't feel particularly tired from traveling, but clearly I didn't have a lot of fuel in the tank. I just tried to "enjoy" the sucky part the last few miles and go with the flow. Later, I chatted with a woman headed back to D.C. on the same plane who runs this marathon regularly, and she said she always takes about a half hour longer than in races "on the mainland." If that's the case, my advice is just to enjoy it while it lasts!

At the finish you're given a shell lei, and a medal you can clip on it, or not. There was no need for space blankets to keep you from overcooling, and the finish area showers to cool you down were much preferable to that amenity. There were the usual tents with food lines, and you needed to pick up the all-important finisher's shirt--a pretty good one, I think. I didn't really need the clothing change I had checked the day before, but put on a fresh hat and stuck my medal in the bag. The walk back to the hotel was about another mile, a slow one and kind of tough with my quads stiff and sore. After cleaning up and resting a while, it was out to refuel with Mexican food, hydrate with a couple local brewskis, and watch Sunday night football at the bar in the middle of the afternoon.

So the next morning, after my humbling experience with that weird syrup at the IHoP, I shopped a little more for souvenirs, including returning to Kapiolani Park to look at the post-race "finisher" merchandise (but deciding to skip the long lines to get my finisher's certificate), then checked out of my room and took a bus out to tour Pearl Harbor for the afternoon. (That was a wonderful experience, and is a whole story in itself.) That all made for a pretty full time and in many ways I was ready to leave and get back home by the time of my Monday evening flight. (Holiday parties awaited.) Of course, that's not nearly enough time to spend out there in paradise. I don't know if I would do the marathon again, but I'm definitely happy to have had the experience. It's just amazingly beautiful out there, the people are very friendly, and, well, it was just a taste of paradise after all.

Here's the link to my pictures on Flickr: http://www.flickr.com/photos/dcgriz/sets/72157623031833074/

- Barry Smith -