HONOLULU -- The middle-aged Japanese guy turned his head, incredulous that someone would be outkicking him at the end of the marathon.
That person would be me, who somehow found great velocity in the last mile of the race, even after feeling like I might have to walk at Mile 23. After the huge hill on the road to Diamond Head near Mile 25, the course is all downhill for a screaming finish. I felt like I might blackout but I kept pushing as hard as I could.
I'd always wanted to run in the Honolulu Marathon, a race that my aunt has run about eight times in her life. But I'd never really had the time -- or the training.
But this year I had a shot at it. Sure, I had just run in the Marine Corps Marathon seven weeks before and really could not train until two weeks before this race, but I thought some training at the end of a long running season was better than nothing.
So I cashed in some frequent flyer miles and off I went.
This marathon is so interesting on so many levels. First, it's a true community race -- locals can buy into it for a mere $26 (you see their reviews on Yelp talking about "it's only a dollar a mile") and there is no time limit so people can walk it, take breaks, or whatever.
Then add the element of thousands of Japanese marathoners (they often are the majority of runners in this race at about 51 percent representation) and you have a very interesting dynamic. It's the first race I've been to in which signs are in two languages:
For me I just wanted to run in it -- and tweak a few things in my marathon experience, namely getting calf muscle cramps late in the race.
Because it's so hot (for running) in Honolulu, it starts at 5 a.m. So you have to get up at like 3:30 a.m. and make your way to the starting line. For an East Coaster like myself, it's not that bad, because a 5-hour time difference makes getting up that early actually reasonable.
This year it actually rained. It was more of a mist -- I tossed the trash bag that I was going to use as my windbreaker at the start of the race, but it was more than enough to be in for more than four hours. (My shoes days later still are wet).
Anyway, I made my way to the starting line. I saw right away what people also mentioned in reviews -- the portapotties have men/women signs on them. There were two "women" portapotties to each one for men.
At the start of the race they sang the National Anthem and I think Japan's. Then we were in for a treat -- a fireworks barrage as the race started! It gave me something to do for the five minutes or so it took for me to reach the starting line from my group.
It was interesting running with so many people in the dark. I put my right shoe in three holes in the first few miles of the race and thankfully did not twist my ankle when I was avoiding tripping another runner and my right shoe skidded over the top of a plastic stick-like road barrier. The movement was akin to my running shoe being a skateboard over a handrail.
The course got congested with narrow roads in spots and so my first few miles were slower than I would have wanted. But I told myself I was doing this for fun so I didn't worry.
It finally got light around Mile 10 and from there to about Mile 16 the misty rain and a headwind belted my face and body. I thought it was slowing me down but I was confident I could pick up the pace after the second half.
But I noticed after 13 miles my pace was slowing down, just as it did in 2010 when I ran in the Bank of America Chicago Marathon. I wasn't really worried about it but I found myself totally hitting the wall around Mile 18. After Mile 20, something interesting happened -- my pace returned to normal and I wondered if this was what it was like to be breaking through the wall.
But no, after Mile 23, my pace slowed again. I was going so slow that I told myself I was just pushing the kids in the double BOB stroller. I even contemplated walking but somehow just accepted the shuffle I was doing. Then finally the huge hill at Mile 24 was over and I joined others for a screaming finish.
I brought a CamelBak on this race just as I did in the Marine Corps Marathon but thought I probably wouldn't do so in a similar situation in the future -- from about Mile 18 on I was just drinking gatorade from the water stations like everyone else. I took GU gels about every four miles.
I wore for the first time in a race my cep compression calf sleeves. These things were worth the money. At several times in the race I could feel my calf muscles acting like they were going to cramp but they never did. Each time it happened, I would take an S! Caps capsule and one time I even ate a mustard packet, emulating high school football players. I felt like the mustard really worked right away, it was crazy.
The other thing that helped were my midfoot-strike running shoes. I could tell that these contributed to not having cramps during the race because as I was running downhill I forgot about my stride and could feel my calf start to cramp as my right heel hit the ground.
After the race, I wandered around the park to get my finisher's T-shirt and medal. The reviews I read raved about the malasadas they gave out. They are a kind of Portuguese donut. I got one and liked it but to be honest I wasn't crazy about eating something deep fried right after the race.
The race had one more novel thing to offer -- they had a huge screen set up in the park showing runners crossing the finish line. What was neat about it was they time-delayed the feed so you could watch yourself crossing the line (as in the picture at the top of this blog).
All in all a really great experience and I'm glad I did it!
Time: 5 a.m.
Temp: 70 degrees, light rain mist
Gear: Technical T-shirt, short (2014 Publix Georgia Half Marathon), shorts, Skechers Go Run 3.