Sunday, December 13, 2015

Race Report: 2015 Honolulu Marathon

This morning, I ran the Honolulu Marathon.  I also did this race in 2009, the day after Deb and I disembarked from a seven-day four-island Hawaii cruise.  I always assumed when I went back to Hawaii, it would be another long vacation with Deb.  We’re both interested in doing another Hawaii cruise, but it wasn’t in the cards for this year.

After doing a marathon in Alaska in August, I just needed Hawaii to complete a second circuit of marathons in all 50 states.  Knowing the last weekend of my race season happened to be the weekend of the Honolulu Marathon, I priced the flights.  As with my Alaska trip, the flights were expensive, but I had enough miles to get a free flight on Delta.

Delta has non-stop flights from Minneapolis to Honolulu.  That makes a big difference when you’re traveling that far.  For me, traveling to Hawaii is similar to traveling to Europe.  My outbound flight left Minneapolis at 11:30 AM, and arrived in Honolulu at 4:30 PM, although the four hour time difference made it feel like an evening arrival.

I flew on Thursday, giving me two full days in Honolulu before race day.  Having done this race before, I knew it was most convenient to stay at a hotel in Waikiki, near the Honolulu Zoo.  That’s where I could catch a bus to the start of the race on Sunday.  It’s also close to the finish line.

I stayed at the Queen Kapiolani Hotel, which was across the street from the zoo.  Everything was within walking distance, so I didn’t need to rent a car.  I took a cab from the airport.  Traffic coming from the airport was slow.  My room had a “city view,” but this is the view from their patio.

By the time I checked in, it was already 6:00.  There wasn’t any meal on my flight so I was starving.  I found an Italian restaurant near my hotel.  It seemed un-Hawaiian to have a pizza without pineapple, but the Owner’s Favorite at Arancino di Mare was shrimp, onions and garlic chips.

When Deb and I were in Hawaii in 2009, we were always on the go.  We did guided tours of Honolulu and Pearl Harbor before beginning our cruise.  Every day of our cruise, we had guided tours on the different islands.  The day we got back, we hiked to the top of Diamond Head Crater.  We also did some shopping in Waikiki.  We never once visited a beach.

Having already done the sightseeing, this time I pretty much stayed in Waikiki.  Thursday morning after breakfast, I walked to the expo.  The convention center was just north of Waikiki, so I got a nice walking tour on the way there.  After picking up my race packet and luau ticket, I took their shuttle back to Kuhio Beach.

Shortly after the shuttle left the convention center, I had a scare.  The shuttle was an open air trolley car.  While we were moving, a gust of wind caught the plastic bag with my race packet, and it flew out of my hand.  Within seconds, it was sliding across the floor, down the steps, and out into the street.  I noticed a few things came out of the bag before the bag blew away.

The trolley driver yelled at me when he saw me headed toward the steps.  He probably thought I was going to jump out.  My race bib and luau ticket had fallen out of the bag, and they were still on the bottom step.  I put one foot over the race bib and one over the ticket to keep them from blowing away until the trolley came to a stop.  Then I was able to retrieve them.  I lost the rest of my race packet, but I rescued the two things that mattered most.

I spent the rest of the morning and the early afternoon shopping in Waikiki and swimming at Kuhio Beach.

About 60 percent of the runners at this race travel to Hawaii from Japan.  I brought two T-shirts with me. When I was walking around Waikiki wearing my 2009 Honolulu Marathon shirt, nobody said anything.  When I wore my Tokyo Marathon shirt, runners from Japan recognized it and commented.

There was a luau/concert from 4:00 to 8:00 that was sponsored by the marathon.  You could buy tickets at the door, but it was cheaper to buy them with registration.  Deb and I went to a luau on Kauai six years ago.  I knew this one wasn’t likely to be as good as that one, but it still sounded like fun.  It was held at Waikiki Shell, which was a short walk from the hotel.

They started the buffet line at 4:00.  From 4:30 to 5:00 we had luau entertainment consisting of songs with different groups of dancers on stage.  Because it was two weeks before Christmas, many of the songs were adaptations of Christmas songs.  Most of the arrangements had a distinct Hawaiian flavor.

The concert began at 5:00, and continued until 8:00.  The first performer was a slat key guitarist, who performed songs in a number of different styles.  The most impressive was his rendition of Pink Floyd’s “Comfortably Numb.”  His performance alone was worth the price of admission.

The next performer was an Elvis impersonator.  Naturally, his set included two songs from “Blue Hawaii.”

The third act was a local group playing Hawaiian music.  I caught the beginning of their set, but then my legs started to complain about sitting for too long, so I went back to the hotel to call it a night.

Saturday morning, I had breakfast at a restaurant that overlooks the beach.  When I ordered my banana macadamia nut pancakes, the server asked if I wanted two or four.  I foolishly said four, not realizing how big they were.  I managed to eat three and got a to-go box for the fourth.  I was pleasantly surprised when he also brought a small to-go cup of coconut syrup.

I spent most of the day strolling through Waikiki or relaxing at the beach.  After the big breakfast, I never ate lunch.  Instead, I occasionally stopped for a smoothie or a bottle of fresh pineapple juice.  I was hoping to get together with a friend who was getting back from a Hawaii cruise, but that never worked out.

I had a pre-race dinner with Jim Roche and his family.  Jim was finishing 50 states with this race.  We went to Sorento’s, which is on the top floor of the Ilikai Hotel.  It’s a nice restaurant, and I was dressed somewhat casually.  Fortunately, I had the foresight to change from shorts into long pants before walking to dinner.

I was able to fall asleep almost immediately after getting back to my hotel.  I set my alarm for 2:00, but woke up at 12:30 and never got back to sleep.  I eventually got up about 10 minutes before the alarm.  Right after waking up, my leftover pancake was about all the breakfast I could handle.

The race started at 5:00, when it wasn’t as hot, and the sun wasn’t up yet.  Buses to the start left the Zoo between 2:00 and 4:00.  I didn’t have to walk far to board a bus.  This picture was taken from the lobby of my hotel.

I was on a bus by 3:15, and I was dropped off at the start at 3:30.  Having done this race before, I had an idea what to expect.  This is a huge race, with about 30,000 runners, but the start area is pretty much a free-for-all.  You can walk almost anywhere, and there aren’t any start corrals or waves.  Despite that, it’s surprisingly easy to line up quickly for the start.

On my way to the start, I saw a team of runners sponsored by Japan Airlines.  They get my vote for best team uniforms.

When I arrived, there weren’t any lines for the bathrooms.  Unfortunately, I didn’t need to use them yet.  In the 90 minutes before the start, I never once had to pee.  That’s when I realized I got dehydrated on Saturday.  I was outside for most of the day.  Evidently, I didn’t drink enough.  I didn’t bring any water with me to the start.  I realized I was dehydrated, but I couldn’t do anything about it until after the race started.

At 4:30, several of us got together for a group photo of Marathon Maniacs and 50 States Marathon Club members.

When I finished my first circuit of 50 states, I bought a 50 states finisher singlet from the 50 States Marathon Club.  This seemed like an appropriate time to wear it.  During the race, it was a conversation starter.  Other runners asked me how long it took me to run marathons in all 50 states.  That gave me an opportunity to say, “Well, my first circuit took 12 years …”

The overnight low was 73 degrees.  That’s about as cool as it ever gets in Honolulu.  The 5:00 start gave us a chance to start the race without having the sun beating down on us.  Sunrise was 7:00, but even then, we were still shielded from the sun by the Ko’olau mountain range.  Humidity was high, and there was absolutely no wind.  By the end of the race, the temperature climbed into the low 80s.

This race doesn’t have any time limit.  Many of the participants walk the whole way.  I didn’t have that luxury.  I was flying home later in the day, and I needed to check out of my hotel by 1:00.  If I could finish within six hours, it would leave me two hours make my way through the finish area, walk back to the hotel, shower, get dressed, and finish packing.

About 25 minutes before the start, I could feel my digestive system rumbling.  By now, the bathroom lines were long, and I didn’t have time to make it through the line.  I just had to hope I’d be able to hold it in after I started running.

There were signs indicating where to line up, based on your projected finish time.  I knew they were misleading.  The average finish time here is six hours.  There aren’t many runners who finish in four hours or less.  I lined up near the back of the 3-4 hours section, knowing full well that it was actually the right place to line up for a 5+ hour finish.

The start was accompanied by a fireworks display.  At first, nobody in front of me seemed to be moving.  Everyone was taking pictures of the fireworks.  Eventually, we started walking forward.  It was only after crossing the line that the runners in front of me start running.

I started running at a fairly slow pace, but still passed several slower runners in the first few blocks.  For several minutes, the fireworks were still exploding above us.  By the end of the first mile, I wasn’t passing as many runners.  Now a few faster runners who lined up farther back were starting to pass me.

For the first three or four miles, we ran a loop through the downtown area.  It was dark, but the streets were well lit.  I didn’t wear a head lamp, but I never had trouble seeing the road.

I was sweating heavily almost immediately.  I had to run about two miles before reaching an aid station.  By then I was already thirsty.  I quickly drank a cup of water and then reached for another.  I walked briefly while drinking another one.  I got thirsty again almost immediately.  I repeated this pattern at the next few aid stations as well.  Two cups didn’t seem like enough, but that’s as much as I could comfortably drink at one time.

As we ran through downtown, we passed some buildings with impressive Christmas displays.

I ran four miles before noticing my pace.  I was averaging 11:20 per mile, but I would gradually slow down.  I was happy with that pace for the early miles.

We eventually completed our loop through downtown and ran through Waikiki along Kalakaua Avenue.  The beaches were on our right, and shops and restaurants were on our left.  The buildings were lit up, but the beaches were dark, so I couldn’t really see them.

After 10 kilometers, we turned left and ran between the zoo and Kapiolani Park, where we would eventually finish.  Then we turned right, and ran around the back side of the park.  I saw a long line of port-o-potties.  There were dozens of them.  Runners ahead of me were leaving the road to run across the sidewalk and get in line.  By the time I got there, there were two or three runners waiting for each port-o-potty.  I wanted to make a bathroom stop, but I decided to wait until later in the race.

After about seven miles, we turned onto Diamond Head Road.  This section was out-and-back.  We had to squeeze into one lane, because the other lane was reserved for the return trip.  The leaders of the wheelchair race were already on their way back.

Up until now, the course had been fairly flat.  Going past Diamond Head, we had our first real hill.  It was long and gradual.  It was only a 100 foot rise, but it was enough to feel tiring.  It was still early in the race, so I wasn’t tempted to walk.  I knew it would be tougher coming back.

Diamond Head Road wasn’t as well-lit as the early miles.  As luck would have it, dawn was breaking.  There was now enough ambient light to see the road.

After Diamond Head, we entered a section of the course where the outbound route was different than the return route.  Going out, this section was rolling.  There were two short downhill segments that were uncomfortable for me.  They took a toll on my legs, and everything felt more tiring after that.  I felt sluggish over the next two miles.

The aid stations were spaced about two miles apart.  That didn’t seem like enough for such a hot race.  I kept thinking they would eventually get more frequent.  After 10 miles, I realized I needed to drink more.  At one aid station, I drank three cups.  As I was leaving that aid station, I was overcome by the smell of wintergreen.  It’s like I was running through a cloud of Ben-Gay.

Less than a half mile after that aid station, we came to another one.  I drank another cup of water.  After that, I finally felt like I had caught up with my thirst.  I still drank two cups at most of the aid stations, but I never needed three again.

After a few miles, the outbound and return legs of the race merged together again.  Now I could see some of the elite runners coming back.  After the elite runners, I started seeing the faster non-elite runners.  I started watching for friends.  Over the next few miles, I saw Marc, Brian, Jim and Nadia.  Watching faster runners come back seemed to help me get back into a good rhythm.  My pace stabilized at 12 minutes per mile.

After 11 miles, I saw the sun for the first time.  I was hoping to get halfway through the race before it was visible above the mountains.  For now, it was still low enough in the sky that it was usually hidden by trees.

I reached the halfway mark in 2:34:49.  That was a good pace for the first half, but it was only a matter of time before the sun rose above the treetops.  After that, it would feel much hotter, and I would inevitably slow down.

Between 15 and 16 miles, we began a two mile loop.  After turning onto the loop, I no longer saw any of the fast runners.  At 25K, there was a spectator holding a sign that read, “Free beer in 10 miles.”  The runner behind me said, “You’re lying to us.”  The spectator said, “No.  It’s true.  There’s beer at Diamond Head.”  I did the math.  In about 10 miles, we would be cresting the hill going past Diamond Head again.

Every few miles, I saw lines of a dozen or more port-o-potties.  Each time, the lines were shorter, but there were always runners waiting to use them.  I kept waiting until I could stop without having to wait.

At 16 miles, I saw a spectator with a large bin of ice cubes.  I put a handful of ice in my hat.  It helped a little, but not as much as I thought.

For several miles, I had kept a pace of roughly 12 minutes per mile.  At that pace, I would break 5:15.  I knew I’d gradually slow down, but it occurred to me that a 13 pace in the remaining miles would be good enough to break 5:30.  That became my new goal.  I didn’t know how long it would take me to get through the finish area after the race.  If I could break 5:30, I’d have a good chance of getting back to the hotel by 11:00.  Then I’d still have two hours to be ready to check out.

I finally passed a row of port-o-potties with nobody waiting to use them.  By now, I no longer felt any urgent need to stop.  In that respect, my dehydration may have worked in my favor.  I continued running.

Toward the end of the loop, we crossed a bridge where we had a nice view of the mountains over a pond.

By the time I finished the loop, the sun was high enough in the sky that the trees couldn’t provide any shade.  I felt the sun beating down on me for the rest of the race.  Now my pace slowed noticeably, but I was still able to sustain the 13 minute pace I would need to break 5:30.

After the loop, I started seeing runners who were still outbound.  I watched carefully for anyone I knew.  It was a welcome distraction from my fatigue, but I was so distracted I sometimes missed mile markers.  I only saw two runners I knew who were that far behind me.

In most of my recent races, my only goal was to break six hours.  Late in a race, I would often get lazy.  I’d figure out how much I could walk and still break six hours.  At 19 miles, I realized I could power walk the rest of the race, and still break six.  If I kept running, I still had a good chance of breaking 5:30.  Each additional mile I ran would give me a few extra minutes after the race.  I kept running.

We reached the section where our return leg was different than the outbound leg.  In this direction it was flat.  For the next two miles, we ran through residential neighborhoods.  At 22 miles, I reached an aid station with ice.  I put ice in my hat again.  This time I used more ice.  It helped, but it still didn’t seem like I used enough ice.

Running through this neighborhood, I stopped to take a picture of some flowers.  I had trouble getting going again.  When I finished that mile, I was pleasantly surprised to see I didn’t slow down.

We turned onto another residential street.  I could tell it was an expensive neighborhood.  The residents were out cheering us.  Better yet, one of them set up a beer stop.  It was tempting, but with three hot miles to go, having a beer seemed risky.  I remembered the “Free beer in 10 miles” sign.  If, in fact, there was beer at Diamond Head, I would drink there.

Just down the block, there was a family handing out small cups filled with fresh pineapple.  Yes, please.

After several relatively flat miles, I noticed the road was turning uphill.  We weren’t on Diamond Head Road yet, but looking ahead, I could see part of the crater ahead of us.  I didn’t remember the hill starting this soon.

I was forced to take a few short walking breaks to break up the hill.  For now, I resisted the temptation to walk the whole thing.

In addition to mile markers, the course also had signs for every kilometer.  At first, I was only paying attention to the mile markers.  In the late miles, I appreciated also seeing the kilometer signs.  The more often I knew the remaining distance, the better.

After turning onto Diamond Head Road, I looked ahead.  It was gradually uphill as far as I could see.  I decided to walk the rest of the hill.  Going uphill, I could walk almost as fast as I could run.

As I neared the top, I was greeted by a group of Taiko drummers.  I resumed running, and let the sound of the drums pull me up the remainder of the hill.

At the top of the hill, there was beer.  By now, the remaining distance was manageable, and it was mostly downhill.  I had a beer and resumed running.  Soon I saw the 40K sign.  That was followed closely by the 25 mile sign.  I knew by now that I would break 5:30.

In the last mile, I  reached the corner of Kapiolani Park.  This time, we ran around the front side.  Looking through the trees, I could see white tents.  As I got farther around the bend, I could see the finish line.  At this point, it didn’t matter much if I ran or walked.  As a matter of pride, I forced myself to keep running.

I finished in 5:26:45.  I broke 5:30.  More importantly, my gun time was also under 5:30.  By running almost all of the race, I bought myself an extra half hour.  I wondered how much of that I would need just to get through the finish area.  After crossing the line, I received my finisher medal and a shell lei.

This race has finisher T-shirts.  To get my shirt, I had to walk all the way through the finish area.  It seemed to take forever, but in reality, it only took 10 minutes.  It took another 10 minutes to find my way out of the finish area and walk back to the hotel.  I still had more than two hours to get ready to check out.  That gave me time to take a hot bath, so I could stretch my legs.

Waikiki hotels are expensive, so I chose to fly home on Sunday to save money.  That’s a decision I later regretted.  A lot of my friends were doing this race, and several were finishing 50 states or 50sub4.  It would have been nice to celebrate afterwards.  Instead, I had to rush back to the hotel, so I could check out.

My flight had a late enough departure that I had plenty of time to get to the airport.  Not knowing how difficult it would be to get a cab on race day, I called for one right away. I ended up getting to the airport early.  As soon as I got to the airport lounge, I started making frequent trips to the bathroom.  I may have been dehydrated in the morning, but I was well-hydrated by the end of the race.

My flight home is an overnight flight, but at least it’s non-stop.  I leave Honolulu at 6:00 PM and I’ll arrive in Minneapolis at 6:00 tomorrow morning.  After getting only four hours sleep last night, this is going to be an agonizingly long day.  Wish me luck getting sleep on the flight.

This was my last race of the year, but I reached two more big goals.  I finished my second circuit of 50 states, and I ran at least 51 marathons for the third consecutive year.  Now I’m finally ready to take a break from racing.  I don’t have any more races until the Los Angeles Marathon in February.  I’ve only scheduled a handful of races for 2016, and I plan to keep it that way until I’m healthy again.


  1. Congrats on meeting your annual goals in spite of injuries and other set-backs!

    1. Last July, I honestly didn't know if I would hold up. I'm relieved to have made it through all the races. Now I need to recover.