The birth of my obsessive passion for running was the Honolulu Marathon, sometime in the 1980's, about when "North Shore" was playing at the Kailua Drive-In theater. Re-watching that movie over the weekend, my thoughts drifted back to the mindset I inhabited during those early years. Seeing a portion of the 2011 pipe classic and then watching scenes from the movie demonstrates exactly how little has changed over the years. The swimsuits are different, but the waves and beach are timeless.
The excuse for this trip to Hawaii was to run my 3rd consecutive and 4th total Honolulu marathon. Honolulu was my first open marathon back in 1999 and I still remember the pain from that 1:30 / 2:17 positive split. I managed a surprisingly decent effort in 2009 which earned me an age group W and then I followed it up with a not-quite-so-stellar effort in 2010, so I figured I might as well make it an annual thing.
I invited a few friends to join me this trip and it wound up being 4.5 of us heading to Honolulu on Thursday. Jeff and Becky with their 8 month old daughter, Maya, and Amy from Atlanta traveling solo. My father was leaving for a cruise that would consume most of the month of December, leaving plenty of space for us to enjoy the views of Diamond Head from his porch while he dances his way across the Atlantic ocean.
Out of the blue, on November 23rd, Rachel Ross sent me a note asking what my plan was for Honolulu in case she might bump into me as she attempted her first sub 3. I hadn't figured out any actual race plan prior to that point, other than potentially pacing Jeff to a PR which he seemed uninterested in and unprepared for. So, I quickly decided that sub 3 would be a quality challenge and signed up to pace her with the hope that I could go back out and find Amy on the course and run her in.
I found myself a bit distracted from this trip because of the buildup surrounding the Las Vegas half with Team Challenge which was the culmination of my coaching responsibilities for 2011. With only 3 short, busy days in between, I scrambled through the work week and somehow made it to the airport before Sunrise on Thursday. I followed another weary traveler, Colleen, through 3 different itineraries because of a delay with our SAN to LAX puddle jumper due to ice on the wings (in San Diego of all places!) Colleen, acting like a participant on the Amazing Race, navigated through the mess of missing the LAX to HNL flight and watching the LAX to Kahalui flight push back from the gate, and somehow found the LAX to Lihue flight before I could make it to the front of the customer service line. We scrambled again and snuck in as the last 2 through the gate, heading for the Garden Island, eventually arriving in Honolulu only 2 hours behind schedule. Thanks Colleen!
Thursday night we did a little shopping and cooked dinner. Rachel's son had nabbed 2nd place at a geography bee which made her a late arrival, but we all sat down to a yummy meal and some entertaining conversation. Friday was spent with a morning rain-jog in manoa, breakfast in Kailua, and an hour on the beach at Pipeline watching some of the best in the world rip it up. On Saturday, I met up with high school friend, Nicole, as I dragged Amy to yoga and then she dragged me up to the top of Mt. Ka'ala on a 6 hour, 3500' hike.
Most ridge hikes on Oahu are a bit steep and can be slightly scary for someone with a reasonable fear of falling to their death. There was one notable section of the trip to Oahu's high point which required ascending a 6' tall slab of rock that had a visible 6" gap between it and the rest of the cliff. As we walked towards the car at the end of that hike, my quads quivering, I watched a beautiful sunset and wondered how tough the race would be since I hadn't eaten since breakfast. Fortunately Rachel and Ikaika had gone shopping and cooked us all a great feast. I stuffed my stomach as full as it would go and slept like a rock.
A 5am start isn't that rough when you are on Pacific time and it feels like 7am to you. But, as I dragged myself out of bed, I definitely felt the pain from the hike the day before. It's amusing how self doubt creeps in before any event of importance even when it's another person's race that matters. Rachel secured VIP cards for Jeff and I, which didn't have tremendous value before the race but offerred us some very appreciated food afterwards. As the clock ticked 5am, we set off with the fireworks, cruising towards downtown.
The first few miles went by fairly smoothly. We watched Jeff drift ahead but I managed to keep things on track for the first 3. As we neared the return to the start line at mile 4 I got too amped and allowed a split that was 20 seconds too fast, but after correcting myself we ran through Waikiki fairly uneventfully. Rachel got a shout out from some random dude that fluffed her ego and as we hit Kapiolani park which serves as mile 6 and also the finish line, I had a lot of optimism about the day. My legs were feeling OK, the pace was reasonable, Rachel was running under control, and I knew that as the darkness lifted we would get a boost from the sunlight. We passed the lululemon crew on the back side of Kapiolani park where everyone cheered for Rachel while we both tried to block out the sounds of a lead-footed Japanese man who races in a Minnie Mouse costume. I had been beaten by that guy before, during my meltdown at the 2008 Chicago marathon and I was loathe to be anywhere near him because of that memory. But, as I had told Rachel ahead of time, a PR means ignoring everything else around you, so I tried to take my own words to heart and block out the noise.
The climb up and over Diamond Head felt harder than before. Even at a pace that was slower than the last two years. I wasn't sure why, but I think in retrospect we started feeling the wind here. Even the descents back towards Kalanianaole Hwy didn't feel easy and I started getting worried. We had given back some time to the point where we were right on pace and I knew we needed to keep running 6:50's to go sub 3. As we crossed under the end of the H1 freeway, I felt the wind and knew we had to be smart until the loop at Hawaii Kai.
By some stroke of luck, there wound up being a pack of at least 10 guys right in front of us, so I motioned to Rachel to tuck in close. After a half mile with this pack I decided that I could take advantage of the situation by stopping for a pee break on the median, under the cover of darkness and with the pace setting and wind blocking duty handled by the pack. I was still optimistic that we could hit the goal because I expected a massive tailwind on the home stretch. As I surged back towards the pack, I encountered Rachel a good 10-20 meters back, no longer protected from the wind. This concerned me greatly as it was my first indication that she might not be able to hit the mark.
Rachel explained to me that she felt like she was running 5k pace. As we hit the half marathon, with me trying to coax some energy back into her long legs, the clock told us we were only about 30 seconds behind pace. That was actually just fine given the headwind, I felt like we still had a very good chance. But I didn't seem to have much of any positive effect on Rachel at that point. In retrospect, while I will never know what her legs and body felt like, I think the mental struggle of feeling exhausted at mile 13 may have been a bit of a bear that was too big to take down for her. I've been there before, both in the marathon and in my 50's and my 100, so it's not much of a surprise for me to feel like garbage at halfway. We always rally, and you never know how strong that rally will be, nor can you count on when it might start or if it will not last till the finish line.
Rachel did start running fairly close to pace after we caught the tailwind around the turnaround loop. There were definite moments of sub 7:00 pace. By then I think we had crossed sub 3 off the list, but we still had a shot at a PR and maybe top 10 among the women. There was still something to fight for, and I wanted Rachel to fight. Interestingly enough, I found myself deteriorating as well, and I felt like I was hurting pretty bad by mile 17. I am not sure if the hike took too much out of me the day before or if I'm really not capable of sub 3, but I stopped being of any real aid once we got the wind at our backs. I suppose there isn't that much more I could have done, although verbal encouragement is always well received, but I pretty much just shut down and suffered on the way home. Rachel probably pulled me through a few sections along the golf course at mile 20, and as we approached Diamond Head for the 2nd time, we both just took our beatings and tried to survive it.
Katherine joined us for the descent past mile 25 to the finish line where Rachel turned it up a notch to impress her boy toys in attendance along the final K. I was so happy to be done with that race. Despite eating 4 gu's and being 10 lbs heavier than I'd like to be, I was starving and used that VIP tag to eat half of the food in the tent and drink 2 soda's and 3 cups of coffee. Then Jeff and I took a nap with Maya while Becky went out and ran Amy in. I've had some marathons which felt strong and others where I've been humbled and this 3:08 was definitely one of the humbling varieties. It's hard to say why the day was so tough, I certainly have been as poorly prepared in the past, but something about the day just lined up to kick us all in the nads.
The rest of the day included a trip to the OCC for some beachtime cocktails and a buffet that was to die for (thanks Ikaika). Then the viewing of "North Shore" and general laziness and face-stuffing. We finished off the weekend with a hot dog eating contest which saw Jeff crush the field, Ikaika perform valiantly, and both of the children finishing before I did. However, I did make a small improvement and finished my 5 dogs in single digits which is a nice step forward.
I wound up chatting the entire way through my red eye flight home on Tuesday and I've been delirious ever since. Hoping to get some much needed zzzz's this weekend.