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Running, Dying, but Still SmilingRace Report from the 2009 Honolulu Marathon

Posted Dec 19 2009 8:42pm

The Motivation to Run
Some people believe in racing every marathon they enter. Some people will never attempt the distance if they know they are not prepared to run their best time. I used to believe these people - the ones who tell me not to waste my time if I’m not prepared to run a marathon with max effort. After all, I thought that if you identify yourself as a distance runner and are in active training, then you should be aiming to run your best time each and every time you run a race, no matter what. But as I’ve matured in this sport and met many veterans marathoners who’ve done far more of these races than I have years on this planet, I’ve learned that shooting for PRs and time goals are just a couple of the many ways to run a marathon. Just as there are many different and distinct types of runners who run at varying paces for a myriad of personal reasons, so too are there numerous motivations that drive runners to strive for the finish line of a 26.2 mile race. For me, I was running this race partly as a reason to visit a friend, but mainly to rediscover the joy of running long.

Yes, you see, as a result of my chronic addiction for perpetual training and speedy race times, I had for sometime now lost my love for the sport. I knew this because I’ve been habitually and secretly evaluating my daily runs only in terms of pacing. Even as I’ve tried very hard to ignore the Garmin while I’m running, my sentiment for each run remained governed by the arbitrary digits it displayed on my computer screen at the end of it. It is senseless, it is dumb, but as any runner who owns one knows, Mr. Garmin speaks the truth even when it hurts.

The only solution, it seemed to me, was to run a long distance race so completely out of my natural environment that I couldn’t possibly prepare for it no matter how hard I tried. My stipulation for this race was that it had to be a marathon (since halves seemed too short to me, and I have no interest in tackling anything longer), it had to be in some place warm (since cold weathered racing is what I’m used to in NY) and there had to be lots to do and see before and after the race (so as to decrease the significance of the event itself). In all those fronts, the Honolulu Marathon fit the bill quite nicely, which is how I ultimately decided on this destination race.

Getting To The Start
I arrived at the start somewhat ill-prepared to run a good marathon, which I guess was the point of the exercise. Even as I found myself among the huddled masses close to the front of the pack, I was fighting jet-lag, fatigue, unfamiliarly warm temps and a bummed left knee which hadn’t yet recovered since I tripped and fell on a manhole cover a week ago back home. I looked around at the palm tree silohuettes and ocean waves crashing along the beach and remind myself again to do the best I can and enjoy this run. A short while later, amidst salutations and greetings by a Japanese announcer with a foreign accent too heavy to understand and congratulatory fireworks lighting up the clear night sky, the crowd in front starting moving and my race officially began.

Miles 1-6 (M1-7:02; M2-6:41; M3-6:50; M4-6:50; M5-6:51; M6-6:36)
Right off the bat, it felt awkward running a marathon at 5am when the whole city is still dead asleep and knowing that most of my race would be occurring in total darkness. Besides a small sprinkling of Japanese tourists holding signs and clapping their hands on the sidelines, it was really quiet out on the roads once the echoes from the firework at the start faded off into the distance. Because I was situated close to the start, it wasn’t long before the field thinned out and I found myself settling into a comfortable pace. The first six miles of the course is a tour through Waikiki and downtown Honolulu brightly lit with Christmas lights and decorations. As I ran, I turned my head from side to side to appreciate the festive surroundings. Even though there were few spectators and hardly any noise, all the lively store windows and pretty holiday lights made the first 10K a pleasure to run through. Since most of this early section is wide open and flat, I really didn’t have too much trouble establishing and maintaining a reasonable pace. In some ways, I think I may have been too comfortable here as I inadvertently ran mile 6 with a 6:36, which I knew was way too fast in this race for me.

Miles 7-11(M7-6:52; M8-7:02; M9-7:00; M10-7:03; M11-7:21)
Because F.L. drove me through the course beforehand, I knew the nasty climb up Diamond Hill Road was up next, right after the stroll through Waikiki. Although I tried hard to decrease my stride and power through this long uphill stretch with a steady and conservative approach, it was evident to me as soon as I reached the top that I had fought too hard climbing that hill. As a result, I began to slow down significantly through the next section of downhill rollers leading out to the Kalanianaole Highway and the halfway point of the race.

Up to this point, I had been carrying my Gatorade bottle as an emergency handheld just in case the water and sports drink passed out at roughly 2 mile intervals weren’t quite enough for me. Despite never having raced with a handheld before, I felt it advantageous in this race to have my own fluids at my disposal since I wasn’t sure whether I’d be acclimated to be running in this heat. Although the weather remained relatively mild and the actual temperature never wavered above 75 F while I was running, I appreciated the comfort and piece of mind of having accessible fluids at all times.

Miles 12-15(M12-7:20; M13-7:09; M14-7:11; M15-7:21)
It was pitch black by the time I found myself running along the Kalanianaole Highway. The sun hasn’t yet risen, there were no streetlights, and the nearest runner to me was at least 100 yards away. I was content to be keeping a 7:15-7:30 pace now as I became aware that a sub-3, a PR and even a BQ were all probably not happening today. I passed the halfway mark at , which reaffirmed my suspicions that the second half would be a torture for me. Although I had taken my usual GU at mile 10 with another one planned for mile 16, I continued to feel sore, fatigued, and slightly hungry as I ran alone for the most part along this out and back portion of the course. At some point in mile 14 or so, I saw the pace vehicle and the elites come rolling through the other side.

Miles 16-21 (M16-7:15; M17-7:15; M18-7:21; M19-7:23; M20-7:30; M21-7:30)
The first hint of the morning sun became visible through the mountain range off to the side as I made the turn off the highway to start my 5K loop through a suburban residential part of town. I was slowing down and battling the peak and valleys of the uneven course even as I said thanks to all the local neighbors who came out to cheer and slapped the hands of all the little kids that I passed by. Those simple gestures kept me going even as people all around were passing me by and I was moving off to the side to allow them a lane to pass. I took my gel as I planned at mile 17 with some water and Gatorade at an aid station nearby. The water sponges they offered provided a slight relief against the blazing sun which was slowly gaining force as the morning wore on. I kept an even steady effort even as I tried hard not to think about when I’d have to inevitably start to walk. As the course turned back onto the highway and I started my journey back to town, I told myself to hold on and keep running strong at least until I saw F.L. running behind me on the opposite side. I focused on smiling, taking deep breaths and passing different landmarks slightly ahead of me. I counted each quarter mile after 17 and looked out for a face I’d recognize. Finally, F.L. pass by me at mile 18 and I was really happy to see her. I gave her a high five as home girl was looking strong! She told me she’s shooting to finish in 4 hours and I told her I’d have a beer waiting for her at the finish! A little further along, I saw a fellow Flyer from NY who I’d knew had also flown out for this race. As he came up from behind me, I told him I was dying a slow death in this race. He snapped a photo of me with his digital camera and quickly passed me by. I was struggling to maintain 7:25 miles now as I pass by mile 19. Each step seemed harder and tougher than the one before. I had blisters on my feet,my knees, especially the right, hurt and i was sweating profusely by this point. Twenty, just make it to twenty, I told myself. I pressed on. Mile 20 took what seemed like a decade, and guess what I was still running. Could I make it last just one more mile? I studied faces across the way to keep myself mildly entertained. There was a guy running in a Santa suit. Another one had antlers with a red nose and a woman was running with a straw hat and a coconut bikini. Nice! I took two gatorades, two waters, and three wet sponges in an effort to cool myself down at the aid station. But because my shoes and socks were now sogged with a mixture of sweat, gatorade, and water, they were becoming increasingly harder to move.

Mile 22-26.2(M22-8:41; M23-12:31; M24-9:28; M25-8:34; M26+.2-9:56)
Mile 21 came mercifully as we turned off the highway on our way back home. The spectators were getting more numerous and louder now as the miles and the morning wore on. I couldn't stand the heat, the pain, the nausea, and the fatigue anymore and took my walk break after passing the mile marker. At that point, my race was officially over. I walked, ran, and shuffled the rest of the way through the race. I couldn't remember much past the breaking point. All I remember was that everything hurt, different muscles started to cramp, and yet I still had a smile the whole rest of the way. Different volunteers tried to lead me off the course (yes, I was cramping that badly) but I thanked them and vehemently passed on their offer. I struggled to climb back up Diamond Head at M24 just like everyone else did, but for what its worth, I was still faster than most of them until a nasty cramp forced me to hobble and stop three quarters of the way up the mountain. I tried to run it in when I saw the finish line a half mile away, but even that proved too painful for me. I eventually limped it in and collapsed onto two helpful volunteers immediately upon crossing the finish. They laid me on the ground and gave my cramping quads and hammies a nice stretch and massage a couple of times over before I was able to stand again and limper off to claim my medal, finisher's shirt and beer.

After the Finish
Afterwards, with my legs still twitching uncontrollably from time to time, I crossed the street and laid my body on the wet sand and stuck my feet in the cool ocean water. Aaaahhh! That was the reason I came. That was the reason I ran. That was the reason I smiled even when it hurt. That was paradise defined! It was the best feeling ever!

Official Statistics
Finishing Time - 3:18:46
Average Pace - 7:35 min/mi
Overall Place - 236/20546 (1.1%)
Gender Place - 215/10503 (2.0%)
Age Group Place - 24/1202 (2.0%)
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