On occasion I’ve written about destination races. In 2017 I finally signed up for and ran my first official destination marathon: The Honolulu Marathon!
Hawai’i always seemed too far to travel and has a reputation for being expensive. Lucky for me, my sister recently moved to Hawai’i and I was able to book a reasonably priced flight. So the Honolulu Marathon turned out to be relatively inexpensive. Relatively.
Honolulu Marathon Training
I’ve run enough marathons to respect the distance. You can’t just will your self to complete a marathon. It will break you both physically and mentally. Grown men have been known to cry and I’ve seen more than a few runners hauled off in an ambulance.
As I was starting my training for the Honolulu Marathon the Sunday Long Run (SLR) program was winding down. The last one was October 15th.
Knowing that I wouldn’t have an organized long run each week, my plan was to run half marathons as often as I could.
The last of the SLR runs were 22 and 14.8 miles. One of my top goals was avoiding injury so I skipped those runs and ran the Smuttynose Rockfest Half Marathon on October 1st and the BAA Half Marathon and on the 8th. I ran the last SLR on the 15th and it was 14.05 miles.
Then on October 22nd I did a 14.26 mile run from my house. Getting out of the house by my self was the real challenge for that run.
Four good long runs over four weekends, I was off to a good start.
Then I didn’t run further than 6.6 miles at a time until the Howling Wolf Half on November 12th. That was the first long-distance race of 2017 where I ran under 9 minute miles. Running a 1:53 Half and not being beat up was the confirmation of my fitness level that I needed.
Just the week before, I face-planted at the Friends of the Fells 10K. During the Howling Wolf Half my right hand and wrist still hurt and I had a massive shiner under my right eye. The fact that I was able to run that half marathon confirmed that everything was okay.
On November 19th I ran The Cambridge Half Marathon at 1:56. That race didn’t beat me up too much either and the crowds kept me from going out too fast.
I ran most of the Sunday Long Runs over the summer so picking up my training for a marathon wasn’t that difficult. I was a little heavier than I wanted to be but in fairly good shape.
To avoid injury, I didn’t push my self too hard. I managed just over 100 miles in October and just under 86 miles for November. The first week of December I managed two short runs.
I was happy with 100 miles in October but wanted to get in 100 miles for November also.
For many runners, 100 miles a month is taking it easy. For a casual runner like me it took planning to hit those numbers.
The lesson I learned from this training cycle is that half marathons are a great way to train. While they never go beyond 13.1 miles, I always run harder at a race and I never stop for water or a bite to eat.
The next time I have an off-cycle marathon I plan to run a half marathon each weekend if I can. Four halfs was pretty good, but with better planning I could do a lot more.
Honolulu Marathon Morning
I flew into Honolulu on December 6th. This gave me a few days to acclimate and adjust for the 5 hour time difference.
My sister and I had a few days to tour Oahu and catch up. We haven’t lived in the same time zone for quite a few years.
December 7th turned out to be a low key day. To see any of the ceremonies at Pearl Harbor, you had to be at the stadium by 5 AM to be shuttled to any of the ceremonies. While I really wanted to see a Pearl Harbor Day, I was there to run a marathon.
On Marathon day my sister and brother-in-law drove me into town and dropped me off near the start line around 3:15 AM.
The marathon starts at 5 AM and it was supposed to be in the 60s before the race, so I wore an old shirt to keep the “chill” off.
The temperature turned out to be quite comfortable even though I was wearing running shorts and a singlet under that old dress shirt.
The humidity wasn’t bad either. Reports on December 9th predicted a cooler than usual day for the race and possible rain. They also predicted a record finish for the race as well.
I really expected it to be much warmer. It was Hawaii and the race web site had all kinds of warnings about the heat. They even cautioned veteran runners. I guess I was expecting jungle conditions. Starting at 5 AM before sunrise didn’t hurt.
The Honolulu Marathon starts on Ala Moana Boulevard, which in Hawaiian means “path by the ocean.” This phrase is an appropriate description for the entire race course. At the Starting Line is Ala Moana Beach Park, a local recreation area encompassing over 100 acres of park, beaches, swimming and surfing spots.
Most people took a bus from the Honolulu Zoo to the Ala Moana Park near the start. When I showed up most of those people were still in the park. I found a place to sit on a low cement wall and waited for the start.
The MCs for the event were the anchor from the local TV station and a Japanese woman making the same announcements for the Japanese runners.
As I sat on that wall waiting for the race to start I joked around with the runners next to me. They just smiled and nodded. Before long it dawned on me that they were Japanese and didn’t speak English.
For the past 30 years, Japanese runners have been more than 50% of Honolulu Marathon runners on average. In 1991, 70% of runners were from Japan.
Japan Airlines is the primary sponsor. I am guessing that they sell a travel package to Hawaii that includes the marathon.
This was the 45th running of this race and they were well organized. There were plenty of porta potties and they assigned waves based on self reported finish times.
I was in the third wave behind the elites and the first wave. While I was in a good position near the front of my wave, runners from other waves kept walking past me to the front.
I guess there is no honor among runners with the honor system of self seeding!
As 5 AM approached the announcers kept calling the runners from the park to the start area. It took a long time for the area to fill up. Around 4:15 the announcers told us to clear the road so the wheel chair atheletes could get to the starting line. Around 10 atheletes made their way through the crowd.
Around 4:30 I got in line for the porta-potties one last time. The line was short and moved quickly. I was starting to make my way to my wave as they played The National Anthem. I walked across the grass median to the right side of the road. Somewhere in all the announcements I heard them say the Moana (ocean) side was for the 10K runners and the other side was for the marathon.
While there were a lot of runners in front of me, there must have been 30,000 behind me. The announcer said this was the 4th or 5th largest marathon in America. And I was in the 3rd wave! I’d never get this in Boston!
At 5 AM they announced the start with a volley of fireworks! The elite runners took off and we began to walk forward.
It took about four minutes to cross the start line. Like most big races, it was very congested at the start. A lot of those people walking to the front were not supposed to be there and some of them were walking already.
While Hawaii may be a chill California, I’m from Boston. I tried not to run into anyone but did brush a few shoulders as I squeezed between runners and walkers. I kept my comments mostly under my breath.
As we ran through downtown Honolulu the fire works continued. We were well into the loop back before they stopped.
In many ways downtown looked like any other downtown. They even had a few pot holes to look out for.
Even at 5 AM there were people cheering us on. Everywhere I looked there was something new to see. Running is a great way to tour a city!
The temperature and humidity were mild, but by mile two I was sweating. I had a 500ml bottle of water with me and took the occasional swig and avoided all of the early water stops.
To keep my self from over-heating even before the sun came up I took off my hat a few times. Occassionally we got a nice breeze off of the ocean. It felt so good!
As we crossed the Ala Wai canal into the Waikiki neighborhood I started to think about sun rise. How hot would it get? Would it rain?
As we approached Diamond Head we took a left onto Monsarrat Ave and passed the Honolulu Zoo. It was a unique experience to be running up that hill in the dark in the warm musky air. We had some elevation gain in mile two in downtown, but at mile 7.5 we climbed 131 feet in about a half mile on Monsarrat Ave.
We only had the left side of the road and volunteers held yellow tape to keep us on one side. I stayed to the right of the pack and managed to keep up with everyone.
Mile 8 came in at 9:24. All my previous miles were in the 8:40 range. I was doing good.
Doesn’t that diagram look frightening? The first big hill is that 131 foot climb around Diamond Head. It was a good climb but I felt very comfortable. Then we had about a mile of downhill with a net loss of 60 feet. The hill at mile 9, after Diamond Head, looks killer also but was actually a net loss of 50 feet. Miles nine and ten came in at 9:00 and 9:04 respectively.
On the way out we took a left and stayed on Diamond Head Road. This took us behind the extinct volcano and back into residential neighborhoods. Then we took two consecutive rights and went through the Waialae Kahala neighborhood and headed for the H1.
I had envisioned seeing the sunrise as I crested Diamond Head and hearing “Let The Sun Shine” blasting from my internal boom box. Alas, it was all a romantic notion.
We ran around Diamond Head in the dark. When the sun came up around mile 12 there was a bank of clouds on the horizon shielding us from the full fury of the morning sun. It turned out to be a blessing from the cloud gods.
At this point in the race I was carrying my singlet and my shorts were totally drenched with sweat. While I had two 9 oz bottles with Hammer Head mix on my belt, I was now taking water at the stops. I also took my first kit of salt capsules and Hyland cramp tablets.
When we hit the half marathon mark it was daylight, getting warmer and beginning to feel like a race.
I felt okay and my energy level was still good. I had five Honey Stinger Gold gels with me and had taken two before the half-way mark. It’s always better to fuel early then to hit the wall early.
The H1 just ends and turns into the Kalanianaole Highway. Starting around 11.5 miles, the Kalanianaole Highway ran along the Maunalua Bay. The funny thing about Hawaii is that you can’t smell the ocean even when you are right next to it.
I could see water once in a while, but as we approached the half-way mark I was more focused on my running. Even with a relatively flat course my pace was dropping. My average pace was now around 9 minutes and I was getting worried about hitting my goal.
Around mile 15 we took a left onto Hawaii Kai Drive which took us through a development that looked like Florida. Lots of water ways, docks and boats. As we made the turn I noticed the line of porta potties.
As we ran through the development my stomach began to really act up. I kept taking water and a little Gatorade once in a while.
My left knee was also acting up and I had to walk some. Mile 17 came in at 9:45. Not good. When we got back to the intersection where the porta potties were, I had to make a stop. Mile 18 came in at 11 minutes even. I told my self I lost two minutes in the porta pottie.
When ever I walk late in a race my muscles always tighten up. I know this and try to avoid stopping. But I had to stop this time. Some things just cannot be avoided.
Between my knee and tightened muscles, mile 19 came in at 10:04.
As we made our way back down Kalanianaole Highway it was now daylight. It had been raining for a while now and it felt good.
I had wrapped my toes in tape to prevent blisters, but something was going on in my right shoe. It felt like something was loose in my sock. Had the tape slipped off? Had I lost a toenail? As I ran I watched the water fling out the front of my shoe and waited for it to turn color. Thankfully it never did.
Mile 20 and 21 came in at 10:54 each. At mile 21 my time was 3:17 and I had 5.2 miles to go. There was no way I was going to run 8 minutes miles to the finish and get my four hour marathon.
Between mile 21 and the finish I had to make two more porta pottie stops. I used my second kit of salt capsules and cramp tablets, but they didn’t seem to help.
My knee hurt, my bowels were in full revolt and I even had stomach cramps. My energy level was typical for this stage of a marathon. This is the time when a runner normally has to muster their courage and inner strength to push on and give their best effort.
When your body has pain that cannot be ingnored and you are worried about shitting your shorts, there isn’t much you can do. Will power cannot over come these issues. I wasn’t going for a gold medal or a big check, so I wasn’t willing or sufficiantly motivated to be that guy running to the finish with shit running down his leg.
Finishing the Honolulu Marathon
I walked most of the hills on the way back. Normally I would have dug deep and passed a lot of runners on those last hills. I’m a pretty good hill runner. My knee was so bad that I even walked some of the down hill. The pounding was just too much.
I did my best to avoid injury while training, but something is going on with my left knee. I knew this when I signed up for this marathon. I used all the tricks I know to minimize issues with my knee, but in the end it wasn’t enough.
I’ve walked a lot of the last few miles of the Boston Marathon before in great pain. Over the years I’ve figured out how to eliminate those pains. This knee pain was something new and something I need to have checked out.
When we hit mile 25, I was that guy walking. So close to the finish, but no way to make a go of it. Every time I started to run I could barely lift my feet and the pain was unbearable.
I made up my mind to walk to mile 26 and then jog to the finish line come hell or high water.
As we entered the Kapiolani Park I started jogging and looking for the finish line. As I got closer I could hear the finish line announcer. We were running along Waikiki Beach, one of the most famous beaches in the world, and I couldn’t have cared less.
The clock had something like 4:43 on it, but I knew that I had crossed the starting matt atleast four minutes after the clock started. I had finished the Honolulu Marathon with my dignity, but I had missed my goal by a wide margin.
I managed to get a cold bottle of water and found the finishers medals and people giving us shell necklaces. The area had lots of temporary fencing, so you had to walk a laborynth to get to the shirts and malasadas.
One of the many cool features of this marathon is that you did not get a finisher’s shirt untill you finished the race. Why give shirts to people who havn’t even crossed the starting line?
The malasadas are a local donut and sometimes have a fillling.The one I got was hot, greasey and covered in granulated sugar. Perfect! I could have gone back for another but there wasn’t any filling and I was worried about how the grease would effect my stomach.
It was one of the best damed donuts I’ve ever eaten. But I knew better. When I was making my final approach I was thinking more about finding a porta pottie than I was about getting water. I even worried about throwing up. It was that bad.
I knew that my sister and her family were somewhere in the park, but I was too busy to check my phone. I finally wandered out of the park and ended up sitting on a bench in front of the Starbucks at Waikiki Beach. When I tried to tell her where I was the street names looked the same to me and I couldn’t make them sound different when I read them outloud. It was like I was totally hammered.
I was on the corner of Kalakaua Ave and Kapahulu Ave. I just couldn’t make those words sound different when I said them.
I finally told her I was in front of the Starbucks. Soon enough I could see them walking towards me.
They had parked in a garage just a block or so away and the walking was good for me. I still didn’t have a shirt on and I didn’t really care. I wasn’t bleeding and that was the important thing.
We drove to Waiola Shaved Ice which is supposed to be the best one on Oahu. It’s so popular that the show Hawaii Five-0 actually shoots street scenes there.
The owner told us that he had run the Honolulu Marathon a few years ago. We had a few laughs but no comp for my shaved ice on ice cream.
It was delicious and cold.
Hopefully I didn’t horrify my nieces with my flabby middle-aged gut.
Out of 20,350 finishers, I came in 3,038. In the Mens 50-54 group I came in 277th out of 1,204. All things considered, that’s not a bad finish. FULL RESULTS.
4,283 runners finished the 10K. Nine athletes completed the wheelchair division marathon.
I could write another 5,000 words about my trip to Hawaii and my time with my sister’s family. I will always have so many great memories from this trip. It was a moment in time.
Mahalo and run well my Friends!