Monday, July 09, 2007

06/24/07 Kona Marathon

I got this picture from Johnny Landeza. This is the close-knit group from Oahu that I call the "Hawai'ianiacs". And me.

Well, I guess I'd better write about this race. I haven't really wanted to do this, but because I haven't, I'm backed up on writing about races that have occurred since then (Swan Lake and Seafair). So I need to get this out of my system.

I had been looking forward to Kona for over a year... last year, the race was a couple weeks earlier in June. Kona is my favorite race in my favorite place. I've done the full 4 times, the half twice, the 5k twice (including winning my age group), and the 10k once. My 3:52 last year was a good time for that course and the first time I'd managed to beat 4 in Hawai'i. However, I didn't run a particularly smart race; the next day I was already thinking about this year. I had dropped my times in recent months, including 3 sub-3:40s in May and early June. I PRed with a 3:34 on a hilly course in hot temperatures. My training had been going well; I had no dings or injuries. Finally, it was time for Kona (and my 41st birthday a couple days beforehard), and I was going into it in great shape.

Sort of. See, the weekend before, I had attempted to run a 3:30 in Iowa. I managed 15 miles at the right pace, but I suffered mightily after that. I wheezed to the finish at 3:46 with a 1:44/2:02 positive split. Not a great day. However, I looked at it as good heat training and besides, Kona would be next. The positive spin was that I was still ready to try for 3:30... and I could do it at my favorite race. The other side to that spin was something I didn't really consider: my body was warning me, "No, not yet. Too hot for that."

The Kona marathon utilizes the same basic course as the run leg of the Ironman World Championships, and that adds history and mystique to the race. It's an out-and-back course that starts in Keauhou, about five miles south of Kona. The first and last 6 miles of the race gently roll down Ali'i Drive - the main non-highway road on this part of the island. Lots of houses to look at; lots of shade. The middle miles of the race are something else entirely. After running through town, runners climb up to the Queen K highway and run the shoulder out to the Natural Energy Lab. The turnaround is at M13, and then everyone returns. This highway section rolls like Ali'i drive, but the hills are a bit longer. There is also no shade on this section. Additionally, the highway is blacktop, and the surrounding area is black lava.

Pretty much anywhere else on earth, this course would be considered fairly easy and perhaps "fast". But here? The race starts at 5:30 when the temperatures are about 70 and the humidity is high. Runners have exactly an hour before the sun pops over the mountain (Hualalai volcano). At that point, the temperature immediately spikes 5-10 degrees. Not a gradual climb - it is immediately hot. Within a couple hours, the highway section has heated up another 5-10 degrees. The humidity is dealable if there's wind, but there isn't always wind and your sweat just clings to your body.

Kona is a hard course.

5:30 came and off we went. It is a challenge to go out easy on this course because you know you have an hour before the sun makes everything more difficult. This is where I messed up last year... I cruised too fast through this section and was already dehydrated when it got hot. I tried to hold it back this year, but I also really wanted to see if 3:30 was in the cards.

I was running with Johnny and a couple other Hawai'ianiacs... they were in a great mood and just chatting away. Not me. I was puffing. This was a bad sign, but I ignored it. When the sun popped up, my pace was just a bit too fast for a 3:30. I let them pull away from me and found myself running with Jeannie Wokasch. Jeannie has won this race 7 or 8 times before, and it was really cool to run with her. As we headed down the big hill into the Natural Energy Lab, we started seeing the faster people coming back the other way. I counted 12. 12.

There were 12 people in front of me. That was it. Jeannie was the 2nd place woman at that point, but there was another gal just behind us (they'd wind up flipping spots later in the race). We hit the turnaround and then M13.1... 1:44. Right on pace. But holy smokes... I was at the front of the pack. And I was feeling it.

Returning on the out-and-back course, practically everyone going the other way shouted out for Jeannie. This was fun, and it helped me get my mind off the idea that perhaps, just perhaps, I was burning out too early. As we chugged along and I was waving to people going the other way, I also realized that none of the charities came to Kona this year. It used to be that Kona was a big charity draw... without them, the race was substantially smaller. I was a little sad.

At M15, we were up the hill out of the Natural Energy Lab and on the highway. It was baking now. There was no wind this year. Around M16, Jeannie slowly started pulling away. She was speeding up; I was holding my 8:0x pace. At M17 several other people started passing me.

It happened at M18. I won't call it "the wall". My experience with glycogen depletion is that when I'm out, I don't run anymore. I either sit down or I walk really, really slowly. I kept running at M18, but it changed from a nice, flowing motion into the old man shuffle. Someone hit me in the quads and hamstrings with a hammer. No matter what I tried, I couldn't get my pace under 10. Gu, coke, mental tricks, using another runner for a rabbit. Nothing worked.

At M19.5, we turned off the Queen K and headed back down towards town. Apparently, one of the Hawai'ianiacs missed this turn and continued straight. He figured it out, but he'd wind up running 27+ miles during this race. Ooops. I didn't miss the turn; I've done this race too many times. It was pretty clear, though, as I shuffled through town that I was becoming kind of incoherent. My thoughts wandered, and it was almost like I was dreaming with my eyes open. The Hooters gal at the Hooters water stop around M21 tried to help me out, but I was more interested in drinking a coke (I remember thinking "don't pour this coke on your head or your eyes will be sticky") than flirting with the Hooters gal.

Onward. I wish I had good stories to share. I don't remember anything specific. Apparently, I kept marking splits because they were all recorded on my watch.

At the finish, the announcer told everyone who I was and that this was my 27th marathon of the year. I think I waved.

3:55. An ugly 1:44/2:11 split... and considering that I kept the right pace through M18, that was a lot of pain and suffering in those last 8. I don't remember walking, but it was one heck of a slow shuffle. 3 minutes slower than last year, and I felt much worse than last year.

I hung around the finish for a bit to talk to people. Lots of the Hawai'ianiacs placed in their respective age groups. I said hello to Frank Shorter, who comes over to do the half every year. I think I drank a 2 liter bottle of coke.

And then I went upstairs and curled into a ball, motionless, for a couple hours. I haven't felt this badly after a race in several years... and this includes Leadville and Volcano last year.

In retrospect, I think I was running low on fuel towards the end... but it was the heat and dehydration that got me. I like running in heat, though it doesn't generally make me faster. There's a limit, however.

I hit it.

Also in retrospect, I'm very sure I could have done a 3:45 had I run the course better. That would have been nice. I tried for 3:30; I'm just not ready yet.

The worst part is that I don't know if I'll be able to come back next year to do better. This was my year, and it didn't work out for me. Some races are like that. There's always a bad race in the cards. I just didn't want it to happen here.

Next up: It has already happened. In fact, two races have come and gone. Swan Lake and Seafair. I'll write about them soon.

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