The Kona Marathon is the race that I consider to be my "home race". I try to do it every year, though I skipped it in 2003 so I could run in Anchorage. I wanted to check Alaska off my 50 states list, and I figured that I'd only go up there once. Since then, of course, I've been back to Alaska several times to run races on other weekends. Oh well. I've done Kona every year since then, so if I could make it back in 2008, I'd have a nice 5 year streak... my longest streak aside from Seattle (7), and my longest marathon-only streak. The seven years at Seattle includes four halves.
I wasn't sure that I'd be going until the day before my flight. J-Lo's broken elbow and helping her get by were (are) higher priorities. Luckily for both of us, the elbow is mending well, so off I went. Had I not gone, I would have run the local Seafair Marathon. I'm really glad that I didn't because it apparently stunk :-).
My last few Kona marathons have been interesting for various reasons. I finished 2004 at 4:17. I was focused on school in 2004 and not really running much, and that 4:17 came at a time when 4:20 represented a good day. I was training a lot harder in 2005 and dropped my "good day time" to "about 4:00". At Kona that year, I pulled a 4:08. Factoring in the heat, humidity, and course difficulty, I was very pleased with that. I continued training harder, and 2006's race happened on one of those wonderous days when everything goes right. I ran a 3:52 during a phase when my "good day time" was "about 3:50". Same hard course, same hot weather, but no weather penalty for my finishing time. Plus I felt great, and I met lots of nice people. A wonderous day.
4:17, 4:08, 3:52. A substantial drop in time each year. I had my no-training bump later in 2006, but I came back really focused in 2007. My "good day time" was under 3:50, and I decided to make Kona my goal race for that part of the year. The goal? 3:30. My training supported it, and my races in May and early June showed a positive trend: 3:36, 3:39, 3:34. On my favorite course that I know well... my home course... I knew I could find that other four minutes in there somewhere. Heck, the race would be held on my birthday weekend. Four minutes should have been no problem.
Except that it was a problem. Same hard course, same hot weather. And while I'm not a person who tends to taper before a goal race, I really messed up on the weekend before Kona. I stupidly attempted my 3:30 (one weekend early!) at the Saturday race in 95 degree Iowa cornfield heat. I was on pace through 15, but preditably blew up soon thereafter and struggled home at 3:46 with a huge positive split. Then, for fun, I traveled to Estes Park and ran what I consider to be the 2nd hardest road marathon in the US on Sunday. My time wasn't important, but running a hilly race at 9,000 feet certainly added to the fatigue and dehydration that I had worked up in Iowa.
The thing is, Kona was my goal race. And so I went out on race morning in 2007 6 days after an incredibly taxing double weekend intending to hit my 3:30. You can read the sad story here. In short, I completely melted down in the middle miles and finished at 3:55. I was really bummed. I knew exactly what I had done wrong, and I vowed to do better in 2008. Part of this was to set a less aggressive goal. 3:45. This would still be quite an improvement over my fastest Kona, and 10 minutes better than 2007's effort.
A year passed. I continued training, dropped my "good day time" to "about 3:40", and dropped my PR to 3:28. All along, 3:45 stayed the goal for Kona.
And it was time to run the 2008 Kona Marathon. Same course as always: the Kona Marathon essentially utilizes the Ironman course, though not exactly. An out-and-back from the Keauhou Beach Resort up through Kailua town and out the Queen K highway to the Natural Energy Lab. And back. Hot and rolling. Only one steep hill... down from M11-12 and then back up from M14-15. But there is NO flat anywhere on the course. The whole thing is roly poly.
In one sense, we'd have a good weather year in 2008. Overcast skies kept the temperatures moderate by Hawai'i standards... 75-85 and by definition no direct sun. However... and this is an important however... it was overcast because of the volcanic smog (vog) being generated from Kilauea on the other side of the island. Not the cleanest air to breathe while running for 3-4 hours. Additionally, there didn't seem to be much wind on race morning. Wind at Kona is a good news/bad news proprosition. Wind can help with the humidity and keeps runners cooler. Alas, wind can also be really annoying to run in. When it gets windy in Kona, it gets very windy. So, no wind this year. A sticky day.
3:45. I woke up on race morning feeling good and mostly normal. I had one issue... during the previous two days of running on the same roads we'd use for the race, the top of my right foot was really hurting. It seemed to go away somewhat after I'd warmed up for a few miles, but it wasn't going away. My hope was that this was due to the slanty roads... as long as I tried to stick to the middle of the road (which I could do during the race, but not during my training runs), I figured I could deal with it. Plus, the soreness did seem to get less as I ran. My longest run in Kona had been 10 miles. Maybe by M11, it would be all better. Maybe. Anyway, it was annoying and not race-threatening. Aside from that, I felt great.
After meeting all my Hawai'ian friends and a few mainland Maniacs, it was time to start. Off we went. This year's race had a new race director. I was a little worried about the impact this might have on race organization, but I shouldn't have been worried. For one, the new race director was very experienced. She's directed other marathons on the island. For two, the race had always been kind of informal anyway. And sure enough, everything seemed to be just about right for another fun day in Kona.
Of the various things I messed up in 2007, one important mistake was my pace in the early miles. The marathon starts at 5:30. Runners have just about an hour before the sun pops over the Hualalai volcano. One strategy is to go hard during this hour, realizing that once the sun comes up, everyone is going to slow down anyway. That's what I tried in 2007, and it was probably stupid. Going out too fast is going out too fast. I decided that for 2008, I wanted to run as evenly as I possibly could, although a bit of a positive split (+5 minutes) would be ok. So I set out to run 8:20-8:30/mile pace.
My first four miles: 8:09, 8:25, 7:47, 8:11. It's ok that they aren't identical because the course is roly poly. But still. Ooops. Too fast. I dialed it back a bit.
As I approached M11 and the turn down into the Natural Energy Lab, the men's leader blew by me on his way back. He gave me some encouragement and was on his way. Wow. It's almost never that the leaders acknowledge hoots in their direction; this guy was hooting me. I noticed that something seemed weird about his head, but I wasn't sure what. I found out the answer in the following day's paper. They interviewed him because, yes, he did win. The Kona Marathon provides cooling showers at each aid station. These are homemade affairs consisting of PVC pipe. He had stuck his head under a shower at M14, misjudged the height, and gouged his head open. YIKES. He spent the rest of the race in agony because the sweat made this big cut burn. I bet it did. What I had seen that seemed "weird" was his hat. The wicking fabric in his hat was slowly soaking up blood and spreading it out over the surface area. YIKES.
Just before M12, the female leader passed me on the way back. She wasn't too far behind the men's leader. Two more women were fairly close. About half a mile before the turnaround at M13, Maniac Mary passed me on the way back. She was in fourth place and about a mile in front of me. Go Mary!
I passed M13.1 at 1:50. Hmm, a little fast but not too bad. A 1:55 second half would land me at 3:45. I was pretty much on target and I felt ok. In contrast, I had hit the halfway point in 2007 at 1:44 and I felt like I was about to explode. The sun was also playing hide-and-seek in the vog. I was worried that it was about to get hot in the typical Kona fashion, but it did not.
Up the big hill at M14, and back on the Queen K highway at M15. This is my favorite part of the race because I get to hoot for everyone heading down to the turnaround. I saw lots of Maniacs. I saw Maniac Mary's daughter, who was running her first marathon. She dropped something that looked like a little i-pod shuffle. I told her about it, and thought briefly about turning around to grab it and give it to her. She told me not to worry about it. I later found out it was her little box of electrolytes. She finished upright, but I bet she wished she'd not dropped that box.
Last year, the big explosion happened at M19, just before turning off the highway. My 8:00-8:30 miles became 11:00 miles and that was that. I barely remember the rest of that race. I approached M19 this year with trepidation. And rightfully so. I lost it again. Luckily, it was much more minor, and I still had fun for the rest of the race, but there were no more 8:30 miles. They became 9:30s.
Somewhere around M21, Jeannie Wokasch caught me. She has won this race a number of times, but she's slowed down recently. This year she was wearing... well, basically she was wearing a pink bikini. She was also wearing headphones, but still took the time to tell me (in that slightly-too-loud headphone voice) that she liked my pink outfit. Thanks Jeannie! We ran near each other, though not WITH each other, for the rest of the race.
Somewhere around M22, a guy caught me. It was his very first marathon, and he thanked me for acting as his rabbit. He was now fresher than me and we played leapfrog for the rest of the race. Me, first race guy, and Jeannie.
I had hit M21 at 3:02. I can usually tell that if I hit M21 at 3:00, then a 3:45 is very doable. 3:02 made it harder. But it was very clear to me at M22 that 3:45 wouldn't happen. I wasn't slowing down, but I also wasn't finding that final burst to keep me peppy. Ugh.
I finished at 3:51. This meant a very ugly 1:50/2:01 split and a fairly big miss on my 3:45 goal. Still, this was my fastest Kona Marathon ever. Unlike last year, I felt great. I finished four minutes faster than last year even though I passed the halfway mark six minutes later. I finished basically with Jeannie, a former champ. That was fun.
Maniac Mary had been fourth female overall, first in her age group. She had been a mile ahead of me when I reached the turnaround at 1:50. She'd been about 8-9 minutes in front of me. She finished at 3:24, a full 27 minutes before I did. I slowed by 11 minutes in the second half on my own. This meant she must have sped up 7-8 minutes. Nice negative split!
Several of my Hawai'ianiac friends won awards too. No awards for me, and I missed my goal. But not by as much as last year. I had a very fun day for my 5th Kona Marathon in a row. Why did I miss my goal? I can't blame the weather. It was better than most years. I don't think it was the vog, because my breathing seemed fine. My nutrition before and during the race was fine, and I didn't feel overly dehydrated. I didn't notice my foot issue, though I suspect it was part of the cause. I think I just needed a perfect day for 3:45, and a perfect day did not materialize. It happens.
Not sure what I'll do for a 2009 goal. I might not have a time goal next year.
Next up: My first double weekend since last December. I ran a 28.8 mile ultra on Saturday and a marathon on Sunday. I obviously finished them given how I wrote that last sentence. And I'm still alive. How did I do? Check back RealSoonNow.