I can’t believe that I’ve run The Honolulu Marathon twice! When I ran this race in 2017 I thought it was a once in a life time experience. Much like my first time running The Boston Marathon.
It was my great fortune to have the opportunity to stay with my sister and her family in Honolulu again, and run this tropical marathon two years in a row.
The Road to Honolulu
After October, organized marathon training pretty much ends in my area. For those of us running a November or December marathon, we are pretty much on our own as far as training goes. Occasionally a small group will get together for a Sunday long run, but not often enough.
In 2017 I ran four half-marathons between October 1st and November 19th as part of my training program. It’s much easier to run that distance and push hard when it’s a race. In 2017 I felt like I needed more training and this year I felt the same.
In 2018 I only managed to get three half-marathons into my schedule. All summer and into the fall I felt out of shape and unmotivated. Then I ran the Smuttynose Rockfest Half Marathon on September 30th.
My plan was to run 9:30 splits and see what happened. It wasn’t until about the 10K mark that I began to feel confident and began to push myself.
I ended up running 8:45 and 7:38 the last two miles and crossed the finish line feeling great. My finish time was just over two hours but I felt like I had won the race! I’ve never accelerated my pace at the end of a race like that.
My average pace ended up being 9:11 which was much better than I had hoped for. After the race I drove to the airport and attended a conference for the next week.
When I returned, I ran the BAA Half Marathon and finished in 1:58 or a 9:04 pace. The BAA course is much more challenging than The Smuttynose, so I was further encouraged.
Three weeks later I ran The Howling Wolf Half and did pretty well also. This course is even more challenging than the BAA course and I ran the first six miles with a friend who was not feeling well.
My finish time ended up being slower than my 2017 time, but I knew why. There weren’t any surprises and there wasn’t anything to fix.
In 2017 the hills in Honolulu knocked me out. The elevation gain was only about 100 feet for each hill, but I was running in 80° heat. After adjusting to the cold of Boston, my body was not prepared for that type of heat.
This year, to prepare for those hills I ran the Middlesex Fells Way hills twice. And I ran them in both directions. The first run was about 8 miles and my second run was around 12. I think that these hill runs helped me with The Howling Wolf Half and in Honolulu this year.
My last run before Honolulu was our Tuesday Night Club Run. It was only about 6.2 miles. After the run I felt like the run had been too short, my training too lax and I felt very confident in my ability to run The Honolulu Marathon. Go figure!
I arrived in Honolulu two days before the race. Walking through the airport I could feel the heat and humidity. I hoped that I had packed the right gear to run in these conditions.
While I had avoided any weight gain over Thanksgiving and was close to my goal weight, I still felt like a walking box of lard. There were moments when I thought I was going to do a tourist run for the fun of it. I was in Hawai’i, there was no turning back now.
Running The Honolulu Marathon
I awoke around 2:45 or 7:45 Eastern time. I was dressed already and doing a final gear check when my sister and brother-in-law got up at 3AM. I had a quick cup of cold coffee and part of a rice bowl I had saved from the day I arrived. For some reason I seem to run better on rice than I do on any other carbohydrate.
They dropped me off around 3:30AM and I walked down the street to the start area on Ala Moana Boulevard.
Since I ran the race in 2017, I assumed I knew where things were. Last year there were all kinds of porta-potties on the island side of the canal in Ala Moana Park and not a lot of runners hanging around at 3:30AM. This year all of the porta-potties were on the ocean side of the canal.
After walking all the way to the last bridge over the canal, race volunteers told us we could not go over that bridge. No explanation and the people with me did not speak English. I turned around and hustled to the next bridge cursing the race organizers the entire way. Not only were the facilities not where they should have been, but I couldn’t even get to them in their maximally inconvenient location. I was pissed and it wasn’t even 4AM yet!
When I got to the next bridge I encountered yet another cluster fuck. The bridge was too narrow to accommodate runners trying to move in both directions. As I made my way across the bridge something inside me jumped around as the lines came into view. Lines! WFT! There weren’t any lines last year at this time when the porta-potties were where they were supposed to be. Why the hell had they changed this?
My plan hinged on getting into one of these dark closets at least once and preferably twice before the race. Now I wasn’t sure I’d get through the line once.
My pre-race routine is very specific and any disruption can really screw me up.
When the door finally opened for me I saw a disgusting mess like I’d never seen before. The urinal was almost full and I could see toilet paper piled up in the toilet. What The Fuck! And when the door closed I had to deal with this shit in the dark.
The lines were too long to try another porta-potty. We only had about 20 minutes to the start, so I had to go with it.
I carefully took a seat and realized that both rolls of TP were empty! Let me say it again, WTF! This is not how I wanted to start my day. Fortunately there was half a roll sitting next to the toilet.
When I went to use it I could see in the faint light brown splotches on the roll. You’ve got to be fucking kidding me, I thought as I unraveled a large wad in an attempt to avoid the shit. How bad could it be, right? I’m on a goddamned mission here!
After I left the porta-potty I had to make my way across the tiny bridge again. Last year I remember them telling people in the park to come to the start area as the bridges were too small for everyone to move at the last-minute. They were not kidding!
I tried to chill and not be pushy, but I was pissed and getting impatient.
When I finally made it across the bridge I headed to my corral. I had a blue bib which meant I was in the second corral after the pro runners. I’d never get close to this position in Boston!
I was in this corral last year and watched civilians walk up to the first corral after the elites. That pissed me off also because I knew they would be walking within the first mile and getting in my way.
This year my corral was almost empty and I didn’t see people from further back corrals making their way to the front. The situation seemed odd, but at least it would work better for me.
When they made the final call to the corrals, we moved forward and my corral filled in. They played the National Anthem and told us to get ready for the start. While the National Anthem was playing I had to re-start my Garmin.
At 5AM they gave us the start and the crowd surged forward and then stopped. We walked for a bit and then picked up to a jog. As we approached the start line our pace increased and we broke into a slow run just after crossing the starting mats.
As soon as they started the race, they also let loose with the fireworks. How many races have fireworks? As we approached the start line I was able to check them out. It was pretty cool!
After the start I had to pay attention to the pot holes in Ala Moana Boulevard, other runners and walkers! When I began to almost run into walkers I checked my watch and it was just about at the 1K mark, or 0.65 miles!
There were walkers last year, but I watched those idiots walk to the start. I didn’t see the hoard of civilians this year. They must have walked onto the course from the park.
After the porta-potty fiasco my patience were running thin. I did swear out loud several times as I passed people walking. I even put my hand on a few shoulders as I passed to make sure I didn’t knock anyone down.
I just couldn’t believe it. I thought I might run the race as a tourist? These people were already tourists!
The crowd thinned a bit by the one-mile mark and I was able to make my way around the walkers and started to run my race. Mile one came in around 10:15, but I was okay with that. A slow first mile isn’t unusual and generally is a good idea.
As we ran through the shopping district I looked around as much as I could. There were all kinds of high-end brands like Gucci and Mercedes along the way. Many nice high-rise buildings with great views of the ocean.
On The Road in Honolulu
As we ran through town I enjoyed the view and started to get a feel for how things might go. I had decided not to stretch before the race because I’ve been reading about how it can reduce muscle strength. This was a new thing to try which is not a good idea before a marathon.
We made our first big u-turn just before mile two. Runners were thinning out a bit and there were fewer walkers to deal with. Mile two came in under 10 minutes and I was beginning to hit my stride.
Some buildings and condo towers had Christmas lights. There were tropical trees with lights wrapped around their trunks and branches and we passed more high-end stores.
As we ran along we passed some spectators who seemed to be mostly Japanese. They were very enthusiastic and seemed to be part of a team or tour group.
We took a few turns and headed towards Waikiki Beach and Diamond Head. It was still before sunrise but already warm. Before mile one a guy in front of me was sweating profusely.
Just after mile five I could see the ocean off of Waikiki Beach. I could also see Diamond Head and knew that our first hill was coming up.
At the 10K mark we took a left to go around The Honolulu Zoo. I remembered from 2017 that this road was a hill and that I did not want to power up it. It was too early in the race to expend that much energy.
As I tried to control my pace lots of runners went past me. Some of the volunteers holding the tape down the middle of the road held out their hands for high 5’s. It was a good distraction for me from all of the runners passing me. I could smell the zoo, but it didn’t seem as strong this time.
At mile seven our first real hill started. From studying the map I knew the rise was about 100ft over the next mile or so. It’s only a 2% incline but it sure feels a lot steeper. At almost exactly mile eight we crested the hill.
I lost some time on the hill but this year I ran down the back side and made up some time. It was pretty steep and I tried to run like I was on egg shells. At mile nine the next hill began.
This hill was about 60ft, then a decline and then another 40ft or so hill within a half mile. By 9.75 miles we were on another steep downhill. More egg-shell running.
The ocean had been in view for all of these hills and I could see the horizon. Unlike last year, there were no clouds on the horizon. That meant that when the sun rose we were going to get the full force of the sun.
Without the clouds the sky was also getting bright sooner than it did last year. We were still kind of in the dark at this point last year. I worried about the temperature rising faster than it did last year and how I had hoped to get to the half-way mark before the sun came up.
With the clouds it pretty much worked last year. But in 2018 it would be day light well before the 13.1 marker.
After Diamond Head we took a left at about 8.5 miles and ran through some neighborhoods. There were parks and schools and people standing in front of their homes cheering us on. Not a lot of people, but there were some.
The Long and Winding Road
We were now leaving Honolulu and at mile twelve the ocean came back into view between hills and homes. It was a beautiful sight!
It was now getting close to 7AM and the sun was peeking over the horizon. All along the coast there had been on-shore breezes but with the sun rising the breeze turned into wind on occasion. It was still very comfortable though.
As the miles passed, I noticed that my watch clocked in about 0.15 miles before the official marker. As I approached the half marathon marker my watch chimed in early also.
As I approached the half marathon mark I noticed that it was just another mile marker sign. Nothing special. Often there are race officials and some spectators since it is a major milestone in the race. I didn’t see timing mats, but I did get a time at the 21K mark. My time was 2:10:57. Just about 10 minute miles on the nose.
I was just where I wanted to be.
The road continued along the shore and was mainly flat or low rolling hills.
At about 15.25 miles we took a left onto Hawaii Kai Drive into a valley community created by and named for billionaire industrialist Henry J. Kaiser. The course through residential Hawaii Kai loops around an inland waterway. Looking up from the road you can see Koko Head, a volcanic crater eroded on one side by the ocean into the popular snorkel spot, Hanauma Bay. At about 17.5 miles we took a left back onto Kalanianiole Highway at Maunalua Bay Beach Park.
This is a man-made community not one that evolved over time like all of the other communities we ran through. The inland waterway looks like a Florida lagoon created to provide water access for residents.
It did look like a great area to live in, but it seemed to lack the soul of the other communities we ran through.
In 2017 this is where the wheels came off the bus. Where we turned into the development there was a row of porta-potties. As we looped back on the main road and passed that row, I made my first of probably five stops. Each time I started to run my legs were stiffer than the previous stop.
I was out of juice and my hips and quads were sore. The last eight miles were some of the most painful that I’ve ever run.
This year I was better prepared. I fueled early and was pretty good at managing my hydration. I still had to stop for a pee at this stop.
I could tell I was in danger of becoming dehydrated but my bladder was full. It’s challenging to drink cold water when you gotta go like a race horse!
So I copped a quick squat and got under way in about a minute. Almost as good as Shalane Flanagan.
I was relieved a second time when it didn’t hurt to start running again!
On Our Way Home!
We were now less than eight miles to the finish! That’s still a long way to go but I made it past the point of last year’s disaster.
I was happy to get a cup of ice water or Gatorade at many stops on the way home. It was great knowing I could drink as much as I want and not worry about it.
At each mile, familiar landmark or intersection I reflected on how I felt at that point the year before. I was doing great!
I was still on track to run a 4:30 marathon.
Before mile twenty-two we hit a 40ft hill. I was running tight to the right side of the road to stay in as much shade as I could. As I pushed up the hill I passed quite a few people walking up the hill. I was really surprising my self. At this point last year I was walking also.
At some point around mile 23 or so I had a moment of weakness and decided to walk for a bit. I don’t know why. But then something funny happened.
Usually each time I walk it gets harder to start running again. After my pit stop I didn’t have any problems getting back up to speed. This time when I started walking, it was like my legs were wound up with elastic bands. While I tried to walk my legs wanted to keep on running! It was like I had lost control of my legs and they wouldn’t stop running. That was a clear sign that I had no business walking!
At mile twenty-two we turned left onto Kealaolu Avenue along the Waialae Country Club. This road ends and the route turns right onto Kahala Avenue, a neighborhood of luxury homes fronting Kahala Beach and Black Point. Kahala Avenue merges into Diamond Head Road at mile 24, circling back around Diamond Head crater.
At about 23.5 miles we began our last series of climbs. The first climb was from about sea level to 50ft in about a quarter-mile. After a short flat we ascended about 65ft in about a mile.
From about 115ft we descended back to sea level in about a mile. At this point last year I couldn’t even make my self run. I bargained with my self that I would walk the down hill and then run into the park for the finish. I was barely able to even do that.
This year I pushed up the hills and ran the twisting down hill to the zoo. I could hardly believe how good I felt.
Now granted, feeling good at the end of a marathon is in relative terms. I was dehydrated, my legs and feet were tired and I was slightly altered. If I felt like this on a Tuesday afternoon while sitting at my desk at work, I’d ask someone to call an ambulance for me! No kidding.
As I pushed up the hill and ran the down hill I passed a lot of people. Most were running like I was running last year. It was shear will power propelling these people towards the finish line. I knew exactly how they felt.
Aloha Kapiolani Park
Finally the winding road arrived at Kalakaua Avenue and we entered Kapiolani Park. The road was finally flat again and I began to look for the finish line. Soon after getting onto Kalakaua Avenue the finish line came into view! It looked like it was a mile away and kept getting further away.
I had the same sensation you get running towards the finish line on Boylston Street. It’s like a dream where you keep running or walking but you never get any closer to the finish.
I was exhausted by this point in the race. It was basically the last 0.2 miles of the marathon. Somehow I was able to scrape together another shovel full of coal and toss it into the old furnace.
I haven’t downloaded my Garmin data yet, but I was able to muster some sort of a kick at the end. I passed a few people and kept up with a few.
The clock said something like 4:29 as I approached the finish line. I knew I crossed the start line a minute or two after the start of the race, so I might get under 4:30!
I went under the race archway, but there weren’t any timing mats. I looked down the road a bit and saw that they were about 10 yards further. I kept up the effort and crossed the finish line a little out of breath.
I saw a guy with medals and hobbled towards him. He saw me walking funny and we both grinned as we made eye contact. He put the medal over my head and I said “Mahalo!” then a young lady put a seashell necklace around my neck. It was all really cool.
I knew they had showers at the finish line and wondered how that worked. Did they have a tent area for us? Oh no. They had a series of shower heads set up about three feet apart. A few people were standing there fully clothed taking a shower. Somehow this struck me as a good idea.
I took off my running belt with my phone in it and clipped it to the nearby barricade. I never considered that someone would take it. Without a thought about the water temperature I walked into a shower of ice-cold water. Holy shit! It was like jumping into the Atlantic on New Year’s Day.
I wasn’t self-conscious at all with my strange sounds from the shock of ice-cold water running down my over heated body. As the shock wore off the cold water began to actually feel good.
I was probably in there for a minute, just like an ocean dip, but it felt much longer.
After I got out of the shower and gathered my gear I hobbled towards the tent with the finisher’s shirts. I wasn’t sure where it was but someone pointed me in the right direction.
This is the only race that gives you a finisher’s shirt when you actually finish the race. I like that.
On the way I texted my sister to let her know that I had finished and where I was. Eventually we spoke and she said they could not find a place to park.
My sister and her family didn’t get to spend much time in the park after the race last year and I wanted to make sure the kids had a chance to wander around and maybe get a malasada.
My sister said to do my thing and head for Waikiki Beach where they would pick me up.
I found the malasadas which were hot and covered in sugar. When a young lady asked if I wanted two, how could I refuse!
As I walked away and ate my first one, it sank in my stomach like a rock. What was I going to do with the other one?
On my way from the malasada tent I noticed that they were actually frying the donuts in the tents! Wow. I thought the shop was nearby, but these people set up a donut shop in the park to feed about 25,000 runners. That’s a major operation. I was impressed.
With my shirt over my shoulder and a hot malasada in my hand I headed towards Waikiki Beach to link up. I wasn’t moving quickly and I could feel some major chafing.
I texted my sister and told her I was sitting under the statue of a surfer by the beach. She called me back and said they still couldn’t find parking, so I started walking down the street.
As I looked down the street I spotted their car about three back from the intersection. A cop was holding traffic so I hobbled faster to get there before he let traffic go.
As I approached I could see Liz waving in the window. Just before I got to the car the cop let traffic go and I told them to sit tight. I knew the cop would let me walk through traffic if I needed to, and he did.
As he waved to my brother-in-law to make the turn I yelled out that they were my ride. He said “all right” and let me jump into the car. Marathoners get a lot of latitude on marathon day. It’s amazing what you can get away with when you have a meddle around your neck.
Shave Ice and the Road Home
Just like last year, we headed for the best shave ice shop in Honolulu, Waiola Shave Ice. It’s so good that the TV show Hawaii 5-0 shoots scenes there.
It turns out that the owner had run the marathon years ago and we had a nice chat about the race and how big the medals were getting.
We had a similar conversation last year. But he’s had a million customers since then.
It’s not shaved ice or snow cones. In Hawai’i it’s “Shave Ice.” As I ate mine I got that heart attack feeling in my chest. I was putting ice into an over-heated body and it hurt like hell. I knew I wasn’t having a heart attack, so I just stopped eating for a bit.
We had a short ride home to Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam. After we arrived, my goal was a shower a cold beer.
It was a hot race and I had sweat a lot. As a result I had a lot of chafing in the shorts area. When the hot water first hit that sensitive skin, I’m pretty sure the family heard me gasping and howling a bit. Fortunately the pain subsided quickly and I was able to clean up.
My sister had a foam roller and I made use of that soon after getting dressed.
I thought I had run about a 4:30 race, maybe 4:28. My official time came in at 4:26:42 at a 10:11 average pace. Last year my time was 4:37. I set a Hawaii PR and beat any expectations I had.
If you are looking for a good excuse to visit Hawai’i this marathon is a good one. There were a few issues at the start, but the on-course support was awesome and everyone was full of the Aloha spirit. Surprisingly you can find hotel rooms near the race start for under $200/night.
Flights are expensive and very long from the east coast. Hawaiian Airlines offers direct flights from Boston now for about the same price I paid for one stop. But this is the fifth largest marathon in the US and the farthest west and south. Put it on your bucket list!
I might even do the race again next year!
Aloha and mahalo for all of your support,