Fourteen years ago, my husband Roger, our 3-year-old and I were in Honolulu with a serious case of jet lag. We were wide awake early in the morning on a Sunday and ventured out on the street in downtown Waikiki to discover thousands of runners heading down the street. It was the Honolulu Marathon – the fourth largest marathon in the United States– I thought that day, if I ever run a marathon, I will do this race even though I wasn’t really a runner at the time.
Well, fast forward to 2018 – Roger turned 50 this year and we were doing a variety of bucket list items and I suggested we take a trip to Hawaii and go for it. The Honolulu Marathon has no limit on entrants and no time limit – they will wait for every last runner to finish the race course. So earlier this year we signed up and I worked on arranging our travel and for my parents to stay with our boys. In August, we kicked off an 18-week training program for marathon runners with a plan to peak around 22 miles in our training.
Our training didn’t quite go to plan, as Roger’s IT band and knee started giving him trouble as the miles went up. But we kept plowing forward until we flew to Oahu on December 5th. We tried to minimize how much we adjusted to the time difference since the race started at 5 am local time. On Saturday, we headed to the convention center for the race expo to pick up our race numbers. T-shirts are presented at the race for Finishers, but they had a wide variety of official merchandise like towels, jackets, bags and hats to select from . There were also many vendors selling their unique products (many Japanese).
Race morning dawned on December 9th and we were awake early – around 3:30 am. We ate our bagels and dressed before heading out into the darkness to walk to the starting line from our hotel. They had shuttles, but with 25,000 runners that morning, we weren’t sure we wanted to wait in lines for a bus. So we joined in with the many other runners walking towards the Ala Moana Park. It was ironic seeing party goers and revelers coming back from their late nights as we headed out for our race. Many of them wished us well! Since we were on foot, we were able to duck into a hotel on the way for one last bathroom stop to avoid crowded port-o-lets.
The starting area was split into six color coded areas that matched our bibs based on the predicted finish time including an elite group of Kenyans and a U.S. steeplechase Olympian. There wasn’t much control of who was in what corral, but they tried to keep runners organized with access only from limited points. We joined into the massive crowd waiting with anticipation for 5:00 am start which would be signaled by a spectacular fireworks display. This race has nearly half of the participants coming from Japan, often in big tour groups – runners and walkers of all different capabilities. They played both the American and Japanese National Anthems before the race started.
Finally, it was time to go and the fireworks shot off waking anyone nearby. It took a little while for the crowd to move forward – and we crossed the starting line about 8 minutes later. The race initially wound through downtown Waikiki near the Iolani Palace (only royal palace in the USA) and near the Christmas lights displays. We were surprised to see so many cups spread all over the pavement at the first water station. Roger captured a couple of pictures of the lit-up streets and decorations as we looped around and headed back to where we started and East towards Diamond Head.
At mile 5, Roger decided to start doing a walk/run approach, so we bid goodbye until the finish line. I headed off, picking up a little speed but still tried to remain relaxed while taking in plenty of fluids and my gummies as needed. At mile 6, runners in the “Start-to-Park 10K”, headed into their finish line while marathon runners started towards Diamond Head and our first incline. There were volunteers (over 10,000 total!) standing in the middle of the road holding police tape to keep runners on the left side of the road. They were all yelling and cheering us on – despite the early morning hour. We spotted the first wheel chair racer coming back already to the finish, he was lightning fast!
We crested the hill around Diamond Head and I found myself picking up a bit of speed running down the hill and catching the sunrise over the ocean ahead. It was worth the effort to fumble for my phone to take a picture. The race course now wound through some neighborhoods before it went to a long stretch with a loop to return on a highway for nearly 10 miles. The Honolulu marathon has been criticized for having cheaters turning around along this part of the route and I could see how it could be done relatively easily – someone stopping at a port-o-let and coming back out the other direction or stopping to stretch and turning around. It’s a shame and luckily I didn’t see anyone obviously doing that.
As we proceeded into the loop at our furthest point away from the start, we were now being offered iced sponges and even some spray for our legs like a Bio-Freeze. It wasn’t super strong, but mentally it helped to have it applied to the tired legs, I was starting to feel at mile 18. Around this time, I spotted Roger headed out to the loop – he was definitely walking with a bit of a limp, but kept moving along. My lower back was getting a little stiff, so I tried to open up a packet of Bio Freeze and had a little trouble and foolishly used my teeth – of course I ended up getting a taste of it! But I did apply it on my back and it slowly seeped down my backside! Hot and cold , definitely a good distraction!
Around mile 20 the running was getting harder – mentally I was good knowing I only had 10K left, but I started to allow myself some walk breaks beyond the water stations. I checked my watch and thought I would still be able to break 5:00 so I tried not to walk too much more. We finally were off the highway straight away and winding into some neighborhoods where folks were outside cheering us on, offering us pretzels and chocolates. By mile 24 – it was back up Diamond Hill – definitely needed to walk at this point. I tried to walk/run as more and more crowds were out there cheering us on. At the top of the hill was a large Japanese drum group – the rhythmic sound made it easier to put one foot in front of the other.
Finally, it was downhill with only a couple of miles to go. I kept on running, eager to get to the finish line and actually completing my fastest two miles of the race. The road next to the Honolulu Zoo and Waikiki Aquarium took us to the finish Line. There were people lined up on both sides and the announcer was calling out names in both English and Japanese. I was really starting to get choked up and started to feel tears of relief and joy. I heard my name and pumped my fists in the air. I had done it, my very first marathon and I met my goal in a 4:51.23. I kept on moving and they gave us a shell lei and then our medals. They had bags of ice available where runners were sitting on them as well as putting them on their legs.
Runners then exited out into the park where you claimed your hot pink Finisher’s tech shirt and fresh Malasada’s (a Hawaiian donut) plus bananas and water. They had a big screen in the park where the finish line video was on a 40 minute delay so you could come watch your moment. I checked the Honolulu Marathon App to see how Roger was progressing since he had turned off cellular service so I couldn’t track his phone. After mile 15 his knee decided not to bend anymore so he was forced to walk the next 12 miles. But her persevered and sent me a text as he was approaching. He made it to the finish in 7:19:09 – he was happy to get to the finish line, collect his medal, shirt and malasada and head back to the hotel. He would not be the last finisher by far. An 88 year old Japanese man was the last to finish the race that day in 17 hours and 50 minutes and the finish line was waiting for him! A true demonstration of the Aloha Spirit.