Sunday, December 17, 2017

26.2 Miles in Paradise -- Honolulu Marathon Race Report

For 50-staters, Hawaii and Alaska are the big ones. Many people save those two for the home stretch because getting to them takes a lot of money and planning. Now that I've completed Hawaii as my 45th state, and also did Alaska back in July, I finally really believe that I'm going to finish.

I had never been to Hawaii and truthfully never really wanted to go. Palm trees are nice, but if I wanted to see those, I would just go to Tucson. I am not a fan of the beach at all. I lived near the beach the whole time I was in undergrad, and I can count on the fingers of one hand the times I went to the beach (and still have fingers left over). It seemed ridiculous to fly all the way to Hawaii when I could be in Arizona in half the time and with half the cost. Well, I admit I was wrong about Hawaii (although my feelings about the beach are unchanged -- and I never went in the water or even put on my bikini the whole time I was in Honolulu).

First of all, Hawaii doesn't quite feel like it's really part of America. All the roads have names that are definitely not English, and the whole place feels more like an island kingdom than like the 50th state. Second, although the beaches are beautiful, the rest of the island is even more beautiful. I have never seen mountains so green and steep, and the mountains come right down to the beach. The houses are built up into the mountains from Honolulu, but only a short way, so at night when they're lit up the lights look sort of like lava flowing down the hillside. The weather also is not like anything I've ever seen. The clouds hang really low over the mountains and down into the valleys between them. It rains on one mountain while the one next to it is in full sun with no rain.

Will and I arrived on Wednesday for a Sunday race and checked into our Airbnb, which was in Waikiki a couple of blocks from the beach. We were total tourists on Thursday and Friday. We went to a luau at the Polynesian Cultural Center, the Dole plantation, Pearl Harbor, and the Kamaka ukulele factory. Then we spent Saturday relaxing and getting ready for the Sunday race.

Race morning was warm and humid. Now that we were sort of adjusted to local time, the 2:30 wake up was a little bit early. (Race start was at 5:00 a.m.; last shuttle bus from the zoo parking lot, which was four blocks from our Airbnb, left at 4:00 a.m., and I wanted McDonalds before that.) This would be a good time to say that Will had registered for the marathon back when I did, with plans to walk it. The Honolulu Marathon welcomes walkers. There is no time limit (this year's last finisher, an 81-year-old woman, took over 16 hours to finish), and thousands of people walk the course. But Will had decided months ago that he wasn't going to do it because he didn't want to train for it. Then when he got to Honolulu, he decided he would start walking it just to get some exercise and give him something to do while I ran, but he would bail and call Uber when he was tired of walking. So he was on the shuttle with me. The shuttle bus had no air conditioning and all the windows were closed, giving me unfortunate flashbacks to my worst marathon experience ever, that 26-mile shuttle from finish to start in Lehigh, Pennsylvania (in hotter weather, in full sun, standing room only). Fortunately this shuttle was only three miles or so, and even though we were drenched in sweat when we got off, it did make the outside air feel fresh and cool, which it definitely had not when we left the hotel.

I had read that the Honolulu Marathon is a hugely popular destination event for Japanese tourists, and that turned out to be true. Over 14,000 of the 27,000 (or so -- exact stats have been really hard to find) participants were from Japan. This has been mentioned in a lot of reviews of this race as a negative, usually phrased something like this: "Beware the thousands of Japanese who have no idea how the corral system works" or "You have to dodge tons of Japanese tourists walking and taking videos." This is sort of true... but so what? I mean, seriously, so what. Everything about Hawaii is relaxed. That includes the marathon, I say. Let those who care about a marathon designed for runners go to Maui, and let those who want to enjoy a relaxed Hawaiian event go to Honolulu. I have no idea why there were so many Japanese walkers in the front corrals. I know it's not from lack of instruction -- the announcements in both Japanese and English advising people to line up in the correct corrals were non-stop. Did the Japanese not care? Had they been advised to ignore the corral system? Don't know, don't care.

It was, of course, full dark when we started. The race start was accompanied by a most excellent fireworks display that went on for several minutes. The first six miles was a big loop through downtown Honolulu, bringing us back to the start point before heading through Waikiki and then out to Diamond Head. It was very warm and humid, and I was soaked with sweat before I even finished the first mile. It was also very crowded, and I spent the first several miles dodging slower runners. I didn't care; I knew from the start this would not be a fast race for me, even though I always want to be under four hours just in case I ever decide to try for 50-under-4:00. I had decided I was just going to take it easy and enjoy Hawaii, so I wasn't bothered by the fact that I wasn't feeling fast.

Once we passed Waikiki, we began the climb towards Diamond Head. This was a two-lane road that had one lane roped off for runners. The rope was held by volunteers, and these were the most enthusiastic volunteers I have ever seen. I don't know where they got all these people to not only hold over a mile's worth of rope, but also scream and cheer and otherwise motivate the runners up that climb. When we reached the top of the hill and began to descend, the sun was just coming up. After a nice downhill, we began the long out portion of the out-and-back on Kalanianaole Highway. This was a mostly-flat four-mile stretch, followed by a loop through a residential community called Hawaii Kai and then a return to Kalanianaole Highway. It was misting heavily when I started on the highway, and that mist changed to a steady rain after about two miles. I didn't mind the rain; it cooled me off. Plus, there were incredible ocean views to the right and incredible mountain views to the left to distract me.

Once I finished the loop around Hawaii Kai and started heading back down the highway, the sun came out and the temperature slowly started to climb. I loved the back portion of this out and back because we passed so many other runners. At Mile 21 for me, Mile 12 for him, I saw Will! I admit, I was surprised, and even more surprised that he was feeling good and wanted to keep going. Unlike me, Will does not like heat and sun, and there was now plenty of both. But, good for him!

The course went through another residential neighborhood before beginning the climb back up around Diamond Head. This was a pretty rough slog, but mitigated by the stunning views of the ocean (I hadn't seen them the first time around Diamond Head because it was still dark) and the volunteers handing out ice water sponges along the last few miles. Once we got to the top of the climb, we had a mile of downhill to the finish.

I barely made it under 4:20, but I felt good when I picked up my medal and my lei. The one criticism I have of the Honolulu Marathon is their finish area. Not only did I have to walk forever and have to ask a lot of people to find the finishers' shirts (could they not put up a giant banner? I mean, really...), but they also had the very worst finish line food I've seen in a long time. The ONLY things they had were water, bananas, and malasadas (a kind of fried Portuguese donut, which was delicious and everything but not what I wanted after a race). They didn't even have bagels and peanut butter! Maybe I've been spoiled by recent marathons with buffet tables (flashing back to all-you-can-eat grilled salmon in Alaska), but they really ought to do a little better with finish line food.

I walked back to the Airbnb and showered and then walked back to the finish line to wait for Will. He finished in a little more than 7 hours, which is not a bad time for walking a marathon, especially for someone who didn't train for it! I was very proud of him for completing his first (and he says his last) marathon.

Overall, my 45th state was a thoroughly enjoyable one. I had never wanted to go to Hawaii but now I can't wait to go back. It was definitely the most relaxed marathon I have ever done. Would I ever do this marathon again? Probably not, but I still think it was a solid choice for Hawaii. It was a huge and exciting event, the 4th largest marathon in the U.S. Maybe next time I go to Hawaii I'll do Maui (as all the running snobs say I should do anyway), but that's more because I want to see another island than because I was displeased with Honolulu. Anyway, I have five more states to go and none of them are states that I like (Mississippi, Florida, Arkansas, Kansas, and New Jersey) and then I will be done and looking for a new hobby.