Monday, September 29, 2008

9/14/08 Maui Marathon

I cracked open my fortune cookie after eating a fairly yucky evening meal at Panda Express the night before the Maui Marathon. Why on Earth would I load up with Chinese food the night before a race? Because I was hungry! Actually, I had picked a cheap hotel on the more industrial side of the island near where the race starts. Across the street from my hotel was a mall. The mall is the starting area for the race... it's why I picked the hotel. And the mall has a food court. Rather than getting reacquainted with lots of the fancy, touristy eating places around Maui, I ate with the locals at the food court. A lot. It just happened to be Panda Express' turn the night before the race.

So, anyway, I cracked open my cookie. Lo and behold, here was my fortune:
Now is the time to set your sights high and "go for it".
Alright! Normally, this would be a mighty nice fortune to receive just before a big race. The problem was that this is a Hawai'ian race. I've gotten myself into trouble at these races before. Several times. There would be no going for it. However, I haven't run the Maui Marathon in a few years and the last time I was here (2005), I pulled a very painful 4:08. I did lots of walking and shuffling in the last 10 miles. I haven't done my best training in August and September, and I've had a few health issues... but I'm still in better shape than I was last time. I've also had several bad race experiences in Kona that taught me the hard way what NOT to do. Going for it? That's on the no list.

The Maui Marathon is a point-to-point course that starts on the north side of the island at a mall in Kahului. This is the city with the airport. Aside from flying in and out and perhaps taking a helicopter ride, most tourists tend to skip Kahului. The course cuts across the skinny part of the island to the opposite coast at the Ma'alaea fishing village. Then, starting at about M8, the course follows the highway up the west side of the island - Pacific Ocean and island views (Molokini, Kaho'olawe, and Lana'i) on one side, the West Maui Mountains on the other side. At M21, the course detours through the town of Lahaina... all the way down Front Street. Back up to the highway at M24 and onward to the finish at the Ka'anapali resort area. Here is a map.

The course is challenging. After a 3 mile long incline from the start to M3, the course is a constant downhill to the coast at M8. Then, hills. Steep ones. Long ones. Hills with false tops. Grueling hills from M8 to M12. This is followed by a screaming downhill to about M14.5. The rest of the course is flat, but this is the hardest section. Huh? Well, the race starts at 5:30a, and the sun doesn't pop over the mountain until 6:30. Maui is already warm at 5:30a, but the humidity hasn't kicked in. It starts heating up and getting sticky about the time that midpackers are hitting the big hills. By the time runners get to the flat 12 miles heading to the finish, it is HOT. The sun beats down onto runners' backs the whole way. And one of two things will happen. If it is not windy, it will be otherworldly humid. If it IS windy, the humidity won't be so bad, but the wind itself will be a challenge. Either way, the second half of the course is by far the harder half even though it is mostly flat.

In one form or another, the Maui Marathon has been going on for a very long time. I think this year was the 39th edition. When mainlanders ask me to recommend a Hawai'i marathon, Maui is the one I give them without hesitation. It is hard and it is hot. The middle miles are hilly. But it is spectacularly beautiful and the organizers do a great job. I contrast this to most people's initial choice, Honolulu. The Honolulu Marathon is held just before Christmas, and that attracts people. The problem is that it attracts way too many people; that race is crazy crowded. In fact, Honolulu in general is crowded at that time of year. September in Maui is off-season. The race is small. And... the sights and organization are both better. You might think that Maui in September would be hotter than Honolulu in December, and you'd be right. But Honolulu in December is still hot.

All that said, Maui is not the race in which to "go for it". So my Panda fortune was misplaced.

Or was it? I suppose there are different ways in which one can go. And there are different things that can be considered it. The weekend before Maui, I ran my fastest race since May... and I did it on suboptimal training and with stitches in my back. Luckily, I got my stitches out before I left for Maui and my health was declared good. Go for it. Huh. For race day, I decided that meant that I wanted to run a 3:55. This would represent a 15 minute penalty on my previous week's time; considering the difference in courses and weather, that seemed about even. It would be more than 10 minutes faster than my last Maui Marathon, and it would be a marathon besides Kona where I beat 4 in Hawai'i. Okey doke. 3:55.

I had stayed on the industrial side of the island near the start so that I could sleep in. Most people stay at resorts near the finish. The race supplies a shuttle from the finish area to the start. The race starts at 5:30a. The shuttles leave at 3:30. Catching the shuttle would mean getting up at 2:30. Yikes. Staying on the industrial side would mean a much crummier (but cheaper!) hotel, but it would also mean sleeping in until 4:30. Sold! Besides, I wasn't planning on doing lots of vacation-y stuff anyway. I came over specifically for the race, and I only arranged a long weekend. I just wanted to run and sit outside reading a book. Crummy hotel was fine.

In fact, it turned out that my crummy hotel was incredible, for a completely unplanned reason: vog. Vog (volcanic smog) is the noxious stuff that comes out of Kilauea besides lava. Now, Kilauea is on a completely different island, the big island, and usually it only causes minor issues over there. But Kilauea has been incredibly active lately. When I was in Kona back in June, I did not see sun for a week. It was overcast; this was vog. The increased activity has started to push the vog over to the next island... Maui. The touristy side of Maui was overcast, and the other islands were barely visible. Wind is the magic ingredient to blow all this away, but there hadn't been much of a breeze. So it just sat there. On my side of Maui, though, it was blue skies and sunny. Perfect weather for reading books and eating at the food court.

I suppose I should tell you about my race now.

Race morning came like most early mornings in Maui... 75 degrees and dark. It was already a little bit sticky, and this would be prophetic for later in the day. I walked over to the starting area and learned that the Maui Marathon has grown over the past three years! I met some Maniacs and found my friend Amy from South Dakota. We walked out to the starting line a few minutes before the race started and somehow lined up pretty far in the back. After the Hawai'ian blessing, which we could barely hear, off we went. Or more like... shuffle, shuffle, shuffle... off we went. Luckily, Maui now has chip timing.

Amy is an expert at running negative splits. While a negative split would be unlikely in a race like this, we definitely started extra slow and resisted the temptation to zigzag around everybody. The first couple miles were city streets leaving Kahului. It was very dark, especially after hooking up with the highway and leaving town to cross the island. There wasn't much to see yet, except for random guys peeing on sugar cane (tip: there's dark and then there's DARK. It was not DARK. If it is not DARK, duck a little further into the cane, yo). Amy and I had a good conversation.

Amy dictated the pace. I wasn't kidding about her skill at running negative splits. Here were our first six miles: 9:33, 9:03, 8:42, 8:32, 7:55, 8:21. I think M5 and M6 were mismarked, but the point is clear. I also knew that 8:20 wouldn't be sustainable, but as we entered Ma'alaea and hit the big hills, I stuck with her.

Miles 7 through 12: 7:55, 7:55, 7:54, 8:15, 8:35, 8:47.

Uh oh. We had run the first part of the hill way too fast for me. Miles 11 and 12 were slower partially because this was the steepest section of hill, but mostly because (bzzzzzzt) I had been running too fast before that. Not over-the-top too fast like I've done before at Kona, so I didn't expect a full meltdown. I knew the flat section was going to be tough, though.

And now the sun was all the way up. It was hot, it was still, and it was sticky. No islands to see because of the vog. Incidentally, vog is not very fun to breathe. Some people handle it better than others. For me, it just makes me breathe harder. I was breathing pretty hard.

I let Amy go. I didn't know if she'd pull off a negative split, but I knew that I had no hope of staying with her. Bye, Amy. Towards the top of the hill I caught my first Hawai'ianiac - Maniacs from Oahu. Wily Woo! To that point, he was having a good day. "I might PR." Go, Wily. About two minutes in front of him, I spied Les. Les was the original Hawai'ianiac and has worked hard to recruit a bunch of very nice people. We talked for a second, and then I slowly pulled away. He'd catch me again later (foreshadowing!), and then I'd catch him... and we'd leapfrog to the end. This is exactly what Les and I have done in Kona and at the Volcano Trail Marathon every time we run the same race.

After a potty stop somewhere during M13, I hit the half at 1:53. For a 3:55 finish, that was a bit too fast. It was violently hot and still by this point. Ugh.

Somewhere around M15, two guys caught me. One guy was quietly and patiently listening to the other guy complain. About everything. He didn't like the heat. He didn't like the hills. He didn't like the haze and the non-view. He didn't like the drink at the aid stations. He thought the course was boring. Dude. You are running in Hawai'i. Shut up. This was one time where slowing down as the race progressed actually served a useful purpose. The two guys pulled away from me, and I let them.

The course passed the mile marker 14 beach. Not the marathon's M14... I mean that the beach is next to the highway mile marker labeled 14. Some of the beaches aren't creatively named. Heh. For many years, we used to snorkel at mile marker 14. I remember when the tourist channel on Maui television would recommend it as a nice place to pull off the road and snorkel. I noticed that this has changed. Now the beach sports signs about sharks. Sometimes, a beach will post a shark sign temporarily when one has been spotted. But the sharks move on, and the sign goes away. The signs at mile marker 14 were 1) numerous and 2) permanent. Shark City, I guess. I don't believe I'll be snorkeling there.

Around the bend from this beach is the tiny little community of Olowalu. And for the race, Olowalu hosted a big group of taiko drums. Boom boom boom! I'm used to taiko drums at the bottom of a marathon's big hill - like at Big Sur. Olowalu was kind of a random location, and definitely not hilly. Still very cool. Boom boom boom! Maybe I won't melt! Boom boom boom!

Somewhere in here, I started taking advantage of something I've never ever utilized before in a hot weather marathon: sponges. Sponges filled with ice cold water. I do not like stuff like this usually. The cold is too much of a shock, and the wet usually makes me clammy. Not today. These sponges were The Best Thing Ever.

Around the next bend is a good surfing break. This was about M18 on the course, which I passed somewhere around 8a. Lots of surfers getting in a pre-work or pre-Church ride. It was a great distraction from melting. I also started doing the math to see how likely 3:55 was. I seemed to be right on target.

I hit M20 at 2:57. Hmm. If I could hold my pace, I could beat 3:55 for sure. However, I was slowing down. It was going to be tight.

At M21.5, the course turned left off the highway and onto a road down into Lahaina. This town has a very interesting history. Once upon a time, it was the capital. It was also the hub of whaling in the islands. Now it is a mix of older buildings and super touristy places like the Hard Rock Cafe. Oh man, it was hot through Lahaina. The Maui Marathon does not have a lot of spectators, but a few folks were rooting for us through town. Miles 22 and 23 ran down Front Street. Normally, the best view of Lana'i would be here. Too much vog today.

Yes, indeed, I had started too fast. Those early 8:20 and 7:55 miles gave way to lots of 9:45s. Sigh. The good news was that compared to 2005, I was flying. I remember the death march down Front Street very well. I wasn't doing that this year. I grabbed another sponge from the aid station. Still no melting. I was running. I was passing lots of half marathon walkers and marathoners who looked like me in 2005. I could tell that I was slowly losing 3:55, though. Now I was going to have to gut it out to beat 4.

At M24, the course popped back up onto the highway and headed for Ka'anapali and the finish. I tried to pick up the pace a little. Ugh. It was all I could do to hit M26 with a 9:28. The course turned onto the road up to the resorts... there was the finish up the long, curved road beyond the golf course. Ugh. I had not melted yet.

And then I was done. Zoom. 3:57. I did not make my 3:55 goal, but it was close. Anyhow, I did beat 4... and I beat my 2005 time by 11 minutes. I was also completely coherent and smiling.

I found Amy and a couple of the faster Hawai'ianiacs, Jeff and Johnny. Amy had gained 10+ minutes on me over 14 miles, and she finished at 3:46. Unfortunately, she had had some breathing difficulties at the end... I blame the stale, humid vog... and puked. Yuck.

Maniac Cowboy Jeff (he's not really a cowboy; his nickname is 'Cowboy Jeff' because he runs in a straw cowboy hat) had finished right in front of me, Les finished a little bit behind me, and Wily Woo did indeed get his PR. Woo hoo! I spent a couple hours talking to folks and cheering finishers. Then it was time to catch the school bus back to the other side of the island.

It dropped me off at the mall, and so I ate lunch at the food court. Maui Tacos.

Later on, I came back to the food court for dinner. More Maui Tacos food.

The next day, I did some swimming in the morning and then flew back to Seattle. Certainly not the tourist's version of Maui, but I had fun. Considering my recent training, I guess I'm ok with my 3:57. It is time to improve.

Next up: after a weekend off (9/20 was J-Lo's anniversary of her mastectomy), it was time for the Bellingham Bay Marathon. Bellingham is a very pretty city located about 90 miles north of Seattle near the Canadian border. Located amongst mountains and right on Puget Sound, Bellingham is hilly. The race itself? Hilly. More on that Real Soon Now.

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