Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Honolulu Marathon 2008

When I first ran the Honolulu Marathon back in 1994, I didn’t really expect to come back in 2008 and find things much the same as they had been 14 years earlier, however at this race consistency rules. Year after year on the second Sunday in December, runners from all over the world converge on Honolulu to follow the same course, eat the same food and meet up with the same people. This year I returned to Honolulu for my 12th Honolulu marathon.
Activities kicked off on Wednesday, when the expo and packet pick up opened. Having outgrown the previous poolside location at the Outrigger Reef several years ago, it’s now held at the new Convention Center. After all of these years, vendors and procedures haven’t changed much.
Before the race, runners still line up for their race numbers, timing chips and goodie bags and unlike most marathons there is no race participant shirt – only a finisher’s shirt which must be earned. It can only be picked up after you cross the finish line and a volunteer verifies that you actually completed the race.
Not to fear, you do have plenty of Official Marathon merchandise available to purchase as this is a Nike sponsored event. There is no lack of souvenir tee shirts and marathon gear, however; try to hold back on buying anything you may not want to wear over the weekend as come Monday and Tuesday, prices are reduced by 30 to 50%. “The Sale”, my favorite part of the race!
As the marathon starting time is 5am on Sunday, the traditional pasta dinner is held on Friday night so everyone can get a good night’s sleep on Saturday-however this is Hawaii and the tradition is a LUAU complete with music and entertainment! Not so traditional carbo-loading however effective just the same.
Saturday is a good day to lay low; relax, maybe do some sightseeing and try to stay out of the sun!
Nothing could be worse than trying to run a marathon with sunburn. Unfortunately, this would not be a concern for our runners this year (or LAST year!). It rained nearly every day during the week before the race. A few hours of sunshine the day before gave the misguided impression that the weather would cooperate for the race, however-not this year… again! For the second year in a row, the marathon started with a bang-not only the beautiful fireworks display over Ala Moana Park, but a burst of rain just as the starting gun was fired.
The usual routine for most Honolulu runners would be a 2:30am wake up call, quickly dressing-not much decision as to what to wear -shorts and a singlet will do fine as it’s already 70 degrees; followed by a brisk walk to the starting line if your hotel is close to Ala Moana, otherwise a short walk to the Zoo parking lot for a 10 minute bus ride if your hotel is closer to the finish line. As you walk out of your hotel you may notice many chartered buses and even some stretch limos. These are reserved for the Japanese tour groups. Same as every year, Japan Airlines is one of the major sponsors; therefore, nearly 60 percent of the field comes from Japan.
With such an early start, for most of the runners run nearly half of the race in the dark-for the winners the sun is just rising as they cross the finish line.
This year’s winners were a Kenyan man, Patrick Ivuti and a Japanese woman, Kiyoko Shimahara. Their finish times were 2:14:35 and 2:32:36 respectively, well ahead of the 20,056 other finishers who’s average time was 5:58:22!
The course has been the same for years—from the park a loop through downtown-you’ll notice the bar goers still out partying from the night before. There is a turn past the Ala Moana Mall and the starting area, before you hit Kalakaua Avenue. You pass the famous Waikiki Beach and hotels; even at this predawn hour, spectators line the course at this point cheering on friends and family members.
As you leave Waikiki, if you know where to look, the finish line at Kapialani Park will be visible (sort of anyway-remember it’s still dark!).
At this point you’ve passed the 10K marker and will begin climbing the one major hill on the course-Diamond Head. It’s about a mile long. For most runners you’re in the dark –no street lights, just flood lamps brought in for illumination. The pack is still thick and it’s only accentuated as you’re running on one side of the road; and don’t forget for the last 2 years, at this point it has been raining for several hours, therefore lake size puddles have formed and some runners are up to their ankles in water!
As you circle behind Diamond Head, there is an aid station where many runners stop to walk. Not for long though as the next mile is a screaming downhill and a chance to regroup for the longest stretch of the race-out and back on Kalanianiole Highway. If you’re fast enough, here you’ll have a chance to see the top runners as they go for a possible victory or after you make the loop at Hawaii Kai, you’ll have a chance to “high five” your slower friends and running partners.
One of the most beautiful and enjoyable parts of the course is mile 22 to 24 as you run through Kahala –Honolulu’s answer to Park Ave, NYC. You’ll see million dollar homes and be cheered on by many spectators as you run (or walk) through one of the most exclusive areas in Hawaii.
You then approach Diamond Head and the last hill. You’ll have a water stop at mile 24, most runners, no matter what their pace, resort to walking at this point of the race, however once you reach the top of the hill, you’ll be thrilled to see that the last mile will be downhill! A fast dash to the bottom of the hill and less than 1 mile as flat as a pancake and you’re done—or as they say in Hawaiian, you are “pau”.
Pass the finish line and the routine will continue. You will receive your finisher’s shell lei; collect your oatmeal cookies and apples-which is always the same finish line food. Then you will head over to the finisher’s shirt tent where you will receive your finisher’s shirt and key chain medal. This year it was the same medal as always-a very plain and simple depiction of a Hawaiian runner only this year the background hibiscus was in color!
At the finish line the festivities will continue as you shop for souvenirs, get a massage or just chill out and listen to the band play-that is until the rain starts again! After the drenching morning rain, a few minutes of rain here and there between the sunshine is not uncommon.
All and all this is a great, predictably good marathon. And best of all, in 2009, Honolulu and the Las Vegas Marathon will once again be offered a week apart, for those adventurous enough, as I was, to attempt two marathons or half marathon and marathon in a week. Hope to see you there!
Congratulations to 50 States Club Honolulu Finishers: Jim D’Haenes, Dedra Trotter, Ron Knecht, Christine Merriam, Mike Herrin and Richard Vogt

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