Marathons rarely go as expected

The good news about the Honolulu Marathon is I pretty much did what I thought I could do.

The bad news about the Honolulu Marathon is, I pretty much did what I thought I could do.

Before Sunday’s 26.2-mile race began, I confidently told my wife that I was sure I could run 20 miles at 8:10 pace, which means, running those miles in an average of 8 minutes and 10 seconds.

“The final six miles will be the key,” I said. “If my legs hold up, I should have a fast time. If they don’t, well, I’ll see what happens.”

A lot happened in those final six miles.

As expected.

•••

Standing at the starting line, with some 20,000 other runners and walkers stretched out behind me on Ala Moana Boulevard next to Ala Moana Beach Park. My wife is watching from somewhere just down the road. Before her day is done, she’ll cover some eight miles herself, walking.

It’s nice and cool, spirits are high and people are smiling, chatting and anxious to run. I feel fast and fit. In the crowd, I happen to come across my friend and fellow runner from Kauai, Kawaihoola Curnan. He’s looking fast and fit, as well. His goal, like mine, is 8:10s. A firefighter, he didn’t get much sleep Friday, so he’s a bit worried, but not much. He’s ready. I’m sure he’ll do well.

At 5 a.m., the gun sounds, fireworks fill the sky. I get a clean start.

I have told myself I will take what comes off a nice, relaxed, steady effort. I will not push to hold on to that desired 8:10 pace. I will not go intentionally slow, either, to try and save it for later. Go with the flow. So I’m pleasantly surprised when, barely breathing, just coasting along, I pass the first mile in 7:48. That was easy. The second mile, in 7:49. That was easy, too. This is good.

I ponder briefly if I should force myself to drop this pace. Too fast? Nah. It feels so easy, I decide against it.

It’s gloriously, gliding along in the dark, hearing mostly footsteps and a few conversations. The miles begin to click past smoothly. Even the gradual climb up Diamond Head comes and goes quickly. In a good mood, I say, “Good morning,” and, “Thanks for being here,” and offer high fives to the line of volunteers holding the yellow ribbon to keep us on course.

They, in turn, shout back. “Stay motivated.”

The volunteers in this race are amazing. Every mile, they are there and they give me hope.

At 10 miles, I still feel like I’m bouncing along, nice and steady, as expected.

Could this be my day?

•••

At 12 miles, there is a first sign of trouble when I feel my right calf cramp. This is bad as it’s early. Change of plans from taking electrolyte capsules starting at 15 miles to right now. It seems to help. The cramp goes away and despite a strong headwind and drizzling rain, I hold 8:30 pace as we run on Kalanianaole Highway, then turn onto Hawaii Kai Drive. This gives me confidence that once we circle back to the highway, with the tailwind, I’ll drop the pace back to 8:10s.

It almost works.

Every mile or two I toss down another electrolyte capsule. By now, I’m passing runners who are walking, sitting, stretching, grimacing, limping. I pass the 20-mile marker at 2 hours and 44 minutes and change, which if my math is right, is 8:12 pace.

As expected.

But I’m working harder. This isn’t easy anymore. Runners are passing me, which is annoying, so I try to crank it up. I pass the 21st mile and expect it to be an 8:20 mile. It’s 8:46. This is alarming. I push harder. The next mile, surely, will be faster. It’s 9:02.

Something, I swear, is wrong with my left leg. It’s feeling heavy, like I’m swinging it along, instead of running. It feels like it’s going to fall off. It’s kind of clomping and I wonder if people are noticing. Maybe I’m having a stroke or something. What’s wrong with my leg?

Now, I just want to stop, rest, walk, take a nap, and I began to question why I ever wanted to run this marathon again.

But I can’t stop.

•••

Just past the 23-mile marker, I decide it’s time to make a final charge. Think positive. Just go. C’mon, you can do this. My left leg has other thoughts. It buckles. I shuffle along, muttering, looking grim, looking like a crazy old man. More people pass me. At the next water station, as I again try to run, my right hamstring seizes up and I start hobbling.

I fear I will have to walk the final miles. My day may be done.

It is then help arrives in the form of Kawaihoola Curnan.

“Bill, how you doing?” he asks as he comes up from behind.

“My legs are locking up,” I answer.

“Put your hand out,” he says.

I do.

He places a small plastic tube in my hand and runs ahead. He’s moving fast.

I pop open the lid. It is an electrolyte salt mix. It can’t hurt. I dump some into my hand, toss it in my mouth, grab a cup of water and swallow.

It works. Don’t ask me how, but it works.

Minutes later, I can run again. Really run. My legs are free.

Slowly, but steadily, I make my way up Diamond Head. At the top, I’m cranking it up, even passing people. I fly down the other side, or at least it feels like flying.

The final straightway next to Kapiolani Park seems endless, but I manage to outduel an older man and cross in 3:43:23, eight seconds slower than last year.

Not great. Not a disaster.

•••

I find Kawai and thank him for stopping to help me. He could have just blown by, but didn’t.

I find my wife. She smiles and tells me I did great. I have my doubts, but she is proud. She pretty much holds me up as we walk two miles back to where we’re staying. I’m a lucky man.

Later, I question my race strategy. I was slightly depressed that for the second year I missed breaking 3:40 and qualifying for the Boston Marathon again. Perhaps I should have gone out slower. Backed off earlier. Conserved more for later.

No. I gave it my best shot. That much, I know. And I know I was fortunate to be able to run the final mile and a half. Count my blessings.

Still, I wonder if I should give up marathons and stick with shorter races. Less pain. Less disappointment.

Nah.

I love the Honolulu Marathon course. I like the challenge. I like training for it. I love the spirit in this city on this day. I enjoy the vibes of 20,000 people trying to go 26.2 miles. Yeah, I’ll be back. I like being part of this.

Even if it hurts.

Even if I’m slower.

Even if I’m older.

Even if it doesn’t work out.

As expected.

•••

Bill Buley is editor of The Garden Island. He can be reached at bbuley@thegardenisland.com

3 Comments
  1. Nadya Penoff December 14, 2017 8:02 am Reply

    It would be so nice to post the names of all the runners from Kauai!


    1. Pili Yorkman December 20, 2017 4:43 am Reply

      Awesome story! Thank you for sharing


  2. Pili Yorkman December 20, 2017 4:44 am Reply

    Awesome story! Thank you for sharing!!


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