Friday, January 02, 2009

12/14/08 Honolulu Marathon

The guy on the left is Marathon Maniac El Presidente and founding member Steve Yee. The guy on the right is more recognizable in pink and with less hair. No. It isn't a toupee. If it was a toupee, it would look better.

The Honolulu Marathon has never been one of my favorite races. It has a number of interesting aspects that attract people: the ocean, city running, and... probably most importantly... the chance to run in warm weather in December. It's Hawai'i! And attract people it does: this race brings in 25,000-35,000 each year. The big swing in attendance has to do with economic situations, primarily in two countries - the United States and Japan. Hawai'i is obviously a locale for the 'destination vacation', and when one ain't got no money, one stays home. And when one is rolling in dough, one (and one's family, of course) come(s) for longer. But even in a down year, that number is still 25,000. Way big for me.

And for a race this big, oddly, they do almost nothing above and beyond the basics for the runner. The expo is small. The shirt is cheap (though this year's wasn't quite as basic). The medal is a key chain. There is no seeding at the start and walkers seem to be proud of starting up front. The finish area is held at a nice place, Queen Kapiolani Park, but with tens of thousands of people trudging around, it can be a muddy disaster zone. And the food after the race? The runner gets an apple and two cookies. Not three. That's it; move along.

Unless you are Japanese. One of the really interesting... to me in a good way... aspects of this race is the amount of folks it draws from Japan. Of the 25,000-35,000, 60% or more come from Japan, and the race very much caters to them. The Japanese approach marathoning differently, and most people seem to come over as part of big tour groups and teams. Each of these groups hosts a lavish banquet at the finish. And sometimes before the start. Alas, as an American, you get to smell the barbeque and the wonderful fish, but you can only satisfy yourself with an apple and two cookies. Not three. And don't try to crash the party.

Nevertheless, the race pulls in figurative boatloads (ok, airplane-loads) of people each year. For the record, the race is the appropriate length, the course is well marked, and the aid stations are plentiful. The volunteers are uniformly friendly. The organizers even shoot off fireworks at the start.

Plus it is December in Hawai'i. That counts for a lot :-). It's hard to complain, but then again, it's also hard to get very motivated by the experience.

So as I said, I've never been a big fan. There are several great races in mid-December which I usually do. The last time I ran Honolulu was 2002. I finished with a 4:25, which at the time was my second fastest marathon. I got to run with local celebrity 'Cowman' for about six miles, and in the last mile, I got passed by a guy wearing Pacific Islander warrior garb and a spear (and no shoes). Then a guy dropped dead at the finish line right after I crossed. Fun day that turned sad at the end. I didn't feel like eating my two cookies. Not three.

For various uninteresting reasons, I decided to run it again this year. I came over a few days early fully intending to do lots of city running and even more beach reading. Alas, my plans were waylaid by typhoon-strength rain and wind that went on all week. Sideways rain so thick that I couldn't see across the street. Sigh. When tourists complain about the almost daily afternoon showers on the islands, I remind them: this is why it is green! But. Come on. This was ridiculous. I felt really badly for families who came over for a once-in-a-lifetime holiday and had to spend it stuck in their rooms. It was raining so hard and for so long that all the attractions and activities were closed.

I picked a most convenient hotel for the race expo and the starting line: The Ala Moana Hotel. The Honolulu Marathon starts at 5a, so starting line convenience was a high priority! The pleasant side effect was that Ala Moana Hotel is next door to Ala Moana Mall and down the street from Ward Center. With Typhoon Week in full swing, my running and beach vacation became more of a shopping adventure. I really got to know Ala Moana Mall very well.

The Friday night before the marathon, the local Maniacs held a big gathering at Buca Di Beppo... and treated Maniac El Presidente Steve and me to family fun, loads of food (which they wouldn't let me pay for), and gifts. Cool! The ring leader of the growing group of Maniacs in Hawai'i who I've dubbed "the Hawai'ianiacs" is Maniac Les. Remember that, I'll mention him again later.

I got to visit with some of the Hawai'ianiacs that I see at all the races, I got to meet spouses, and I got to meet the newest Maniacs-to-be. Fun times. As a special bonus, I sat across from a lady I've met at the Kona and Hilo Marathons many times: Maniac-to-be Marie. Her brother is the sponsor of the Kona race. Interestingly, I talked to several breast cancer survivors in this group, including Marie and another very nice woman who had recently finished treatment. It is amazing when I randomly meet people who have endured the experience, and I am always moved by the almost universal positive attitudes and outlooks.

Ok. The race.

The Honolulu Marathon course is technically a point-to-point because the finish line at Queen Kapiolani Park is about 2.5 miles from the the start. This meant that my hotel, while great before the race, was a bit of a liability afterwards. There are no post-race shuttles. And in order to score a free flight, I had to leave the afternoon of the race. My marathon day would actually be a bit of an ultra. I'd need to run 26.2 miles, eat my two cookies, not three, and then run a few more miles. Great fun!

Ok, a point-to-point. More accurately, the course is a seven mile point-to-point tour of pre-dawn downtown Honolulu and Waikiki. After passing the finish line, the rest of the race is best described as a 19 mile out-and-back with a tiny loop through the Hawai'i Kai neighborhood at the turnaround. For the most part, the course is slightly roly poly. There's a big hill at M7, which repeats on the way back at M24. Lots of people describe this hill as "climbing Diamondhead", and while it is indeed the base of Diamondhead, the course in no way goes near the top. It's just a hill.

Because the race starts at 5a and it doesn't get light until 6:45ish, runners spend between 7 and 18 miles in the dark. The city and Waikiki sections are bright enough, especially with various Christmas lights and decorations, but the rest is quite dark indeed. This is an interesting aspect. Lots of people do this race because of the sights, but you can't really see much for a good portion of time you are out there.

And you are out there with tens of thousands of your closest friends. For the midpacker, the course stays crowded pretty much the entire time. It's not awful, actually, EXCEPT for heading up the Diamondhead hill at M7. The organizers squeeze everyone over into one lane so that the other lane is open for the first crankchair athletes and the phalanx of official vehicles coming back. This part of the race is just no fun. Especially in the dark.

Race day started extra early for me. I generally get up early, so for a 5a start of a packed race, this meant that I needed to get up at 3:45a. I had a friend staying in my room with no such pre-race process; he was going to sleep in. No prob. I figured that I'd simply get up and go downstairs to the ballroom floor of the hotel and complete my process down there. Plenty of room to eat, and a giant bathroom to enjoy. Except for one tiny thing. I didn't know that my hotel was the center of the universe for several of the Japanese tour companies. Giant buses were arriving, basically all night long, packed full of folks. And they all waited on the ballroom level and stood in a quarter-mile line to use the bathroom. Ooops.

I decided to head out to the starting area. On the way over, I spotted a sea of portapotties in the mall's parking garage. A blessing! But not for me. "Sorry, sir, this is for a private party." Konichiwa, sucker. After awhile, I did find a small cluster of portapotties right at the start. In ankle deep mud. Ew. But I did what needed to be done.

I lined up in the sea of humanity at the start, well, NEAR the start, and waited. Randomly, I spotted two friends - Maniacs Coconutboy and Coconutgirl, so I went to hang out with them. The drizzle began. As it got closer to 5a, the drizzle turned into rain.

How about a race goal? I had no need nor desire to truly race. I decided on "beat 4" simply because this would be a nice long run pace and it would be about 30 minutes faster than 2002. Plus, it was just seven days after my 50 miler at Sunmart. A bit of a recovery run.

Finally, at 5a, "home of the brave..." transitioned directly into the fireworks and the start of the race. Shuffle, shuffle, shuffle. Over the line, finally, and off we went in the pouring rain.

In comparison to the long lead-in above, I don't have much to say about the race itself. As expected, it was dark and packed with people. And very, very wet. I noticed quite a few spectators, which I didn't remember from 2002. As we ran by the closed bars in downtown Honolulu, it was obvious that some of the spectators hadn't been to bed yet :-). I ran near the Coconuts for most of the first seven miles, but after checking on Coconutgirl somewhere around M7 (she had pulled over to the side for a second, but she was fine), I lost track of them going up the hill. My last Coconut sighting involved various volunteers and police gently asking Coconutboy to get the hell on the proper side of the road. Which was clogged with both people and deep puddles.

Splish splash and onward. The lead crankchairs came by me right around M8 (their M24). Wow. The lead marathoners started passing me about M12 (their M21).

I hit the halfway point at 2:02. 2:02! The crowding, the two potty stops, and the rain had worked together to slow me down. That and the residual effects of my 50-miler seven days before. I had legs of lead. Hmmm. To beat 4, I'd have to run a negative split. It wasn't out of the question, but I'd have to work for it. Between that and spotting people I knew as I headed back on the out-and-back, at least my brain would be occupied.

I saw founding Maniac Tony coming back about M15 (his M18). He looked strong. I did not. Legs of lead. And I started craving my two cookies, not three. Oh man, that meant I was running out of gas. Fortunately, as I cruised through the little Hawai'i Kai loop, it stopped raining. Unfortunately, the sun came out and it got steamy. "Great," I thought, "that should assist me with my negative split attempt."

Throughout the race, I spotted people I knew. Also lots of (mostly Japanese) people in costume. A guy with a tall white bird's head - I think he was a crane. A guy with a monkey hat. Two ladies dressed as Playboy bunnies. Lots of superheroes.

And some dude in pink.

Oh wait. That was me.

Sweaty, sweaty, sweaty. I had managed to get my pace where it needed to be, and I passed M20 at 3:06. Usually, I have to be closer to 3:00 at M20 to ensure a 4:00 finish. Although that leaves me an hour to do a not-speedy 10k, races where it takes me 3 hours to run 20 miles are usually races where I'm slowing as I go. Here I was at 3:06 and I needed to NOT be slowing. Actually, more usually, I hit M20 between 2:35 and 2:45. Sigh. Is ok.

I was winding around people, especially at aid stations where some folks would come to a dead stop. YOIPS!

Tick tick tick tick. Legs of lead. I had probably sweated off 5-6 pounds, but I had not actually lost that weight because it was clinging to my clothes and shoes. The splish splash of the rain had become a squish squish in my shoes.

Back over the Diamondhead hill at M24. I saw some of the last walkers still headed out (their M8). This was the same perspective that the crankchairs had had of me much earlier. Except it was dark and raining then. And there's no chance they saw me, even in the pink. I was passing lots of people. They had slowed, which is the typical Hawai'ian race day experience. I was speeding up. I said hello to Maniacs and good morning to my new Japanese friends ("Ohayou Gozaimas!"). At M25, I started hearing the finish line announcer. My watch showed it would be very close to 4. Which side, I did not know.

At M26, I spied a guy running in a USPS uniform. Maniac Les! He crossed the finish line; the announcer commented on his uniform. Apparently, he had tried to run the race carrying a package too... but the rain had other ideas and the package dissolved.

I looked at my watch. .2 to go, and I still didn't know if I was going to make my goal.

They didn't announce me in the pack of finishers. Lots of us were trying to beat 4.

By the official clock, I did not. But it took me a long time to get over the starting line.


Woohoo! I haven't been so happy to beat four since the very first time I managed to beat four. I can run a 3:30-3:40 marathon fairly regularly, but beating four in this race felt like a BQ.

Oh, and it was a 2:02/1:57 negative split.

I wandered through the Queen K muck to get my shirt and my keychain. I got my two cookies. Not three. I didn't want my apple. Then it was time to head back, and head out. Maniac Tony caught me and we walked back together. Only at this point did I learn that my plane was going to be 6 hours late. Usually that would suck. Not today. A small subset of the Hawai'ianiacs (Les, Johnny, and Scottish Heather), Tony, Maniac El Presidente Steve, Maniac Sue, and I hung out and drank beer. It was a great ending to a soggy, steamy day.

Even if it was at the local Hooters.

Life changed when I got back to Seattle. Snow and ice storms moved in, and I barely made it out of my house for a long time. I ran less than 9 miles over two weeks, and those were 9 snow/ice miles. THEN, when that was over, my little dachshund ruptured a disk in his back and had to have major surgery, with a six week recovery time. Who knows when I will run steadily again.

Next up: I was supposed to run the Run to the Ranch Marathon in Springfield, Missouri on 12/28. I couldn't get to the airport. Then I was supposed to run the Last Chance Marathon up in Bellingham on 12/31. I managed to run the half there, and then I had to bail to be with my dachshund at the animal hospital. Sigh.

I'll be back Real Soon Now either with a quick report for Last Chance, or my 2008 annual recap. And 2009 goals too!

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