I ran my slowest time ever for a full marathon on Sunday.
And it was wonderful.
It was the most enjoyable marathon of my life. I admired the surroundings. I marveled at the beautiful homes and views. I chatted with fellow runners. I must have said, “Good morning,” “How are you today”?” and “Thank you for being out here,” a few hundred times.
On the 10th anniversary of The Kauai Marathon and Half Marathon, I don’t believe things could have really gone any better. From the starting line ceremony and blessing to the encouragement and spirit of the volunteers and spectators to the kiss I received from my wife at the finish line, it was a good day. The best.
While, yes, I would have liked to had a faster time than the 4 hours and 10 minutes it took me to finish, and I realized that I am getting slower as I am getting older, I had to smile and be thankful for a race like this one where so much can go wrong, everything went right.
The starting line
It’s almost 6 a.m. on Poipu Road and nearly 2,000 runners are ready to roll. Most will go the half marathon, 13.1 miles. A few hundred of us will go another 13.1 miles. I’m nervous because I haven’t done the work necessary for a good marathon. No hill repeats. No long runs. Little speedwork. Really, just a bunch of four to eight mile runs on Ke Ala Hele Makalae.
My wife Marianne is holding her phone so our son can watch the start via FaceTime. JT Service is shouting out some final instructions. There is an energy in the air that comes when you put so many people together who have prepared for this challenge and share a common goal.
The countdown, and then, we are off.
The first mile passes easily. My buddy Jimmy McDougal zips past me, looking strong. Soon, though, I am dismayed when my legs seem heavy and my feet feel like they are encased in concrete. They are plodding, pounding strides that alarm me. Perhaps the result of that giant breakfast of oatmeal, banana and protein drink I consumed at 4:30 a.m. But about halfway up Maluhia Road, I find a rhythm and catch up to Dorrie Michioka, a fine runner. We’re running into a headwind, so I joke about following her so she can break the wind for me. She smiles at that and we talk about the beauty of where we are, with mountains and trees all around and the rising sun casting light and creating shadows. We feel fortunate to be here.
After a few minutes, I pull away.
“Go conquer those hills,” Dorrie shouts.
I pump my fist in the air.
As I’m feeling better and holding my pace, I feel like chatting and strike up a conversation with the woman running next to me. She says this is her first half marathon and I ask where she is from. Ireland, she says. This is my wife’s favorite place in the world. Her name, I learn, is Joanne Cregg and she’s from the West of Ireland near Galway. She’s running with a smile and makes it look so easy. So much fun. I ask her about marathons in Ireland and she says the one in Dublin is good.
“When you finish, look for a red-headed woman taking pictures. That’s my wife Marianne and she would love to meet you,” I say. “She loves Ireland.”
Joanne is running strong I can’t keep up with her.
“Have a great run,” I yell. “We’ll see you in Ireland.”
I love this stretch. A few miles of a gradual downhill, a lovely community and friendly folks come out to watch and cheer.
About halfway, with a water stop ahead, I open the plastic bag I’m carrying and pull out a chunk of the energy bar inside. Right as I get to the water stop, the bag slips and falls to the ground, spilling the 10 or so salt capsules on the ground. It probably looks like I’m a drug dealer. I start to feel guilty, and I quickly explain. No drugs here.
“These are just my salt capsules for later in the race.”
I think they believe me.
With runners bounding past, several volunteers help me pick each capsule up and return them to the plastic bag.
“Thank you,” I say probably too many times, and dart off like a criminal fleeing a crime scene.
Lawai and Kalaheo
For marathoners, this is the toughest stretch. Relentless, endless hills. They suck the life out of you going up and pound your legs to mush coming down. But it is here the spirit seems to grow stronger. It is here there is so much goodwill, it carries you along. The volunteers and spectators make the hills not so steep. This year’s volunteers seem more fired up than previous years. Aid stations appear around every turn and corner. Music and dancers await. The police officers are friendly and point us in the right direction. And, yes, the scenery is stunning. Blue skies, green mountains. This is glorious.
w Plodding uphill and three small children charge out. They offer oranges, bananas, drinks. I take as much as I can and they offer more. One of the adults says to them, “When his hands are full, he can’t take anymore.” The kids send me off with waves and smiles. I love their enthusiasm.
w I pass a man under a canopy playing soothing guitar music and singing. There is a woman sitting nearby and as I pass, I see a small sign: Psalm 119:32. I know that verse. It clicks into my head. An hour later, on the way down the hill, the man is still playing. I look over and shout, “I run in the path of your commands for you have set my heart free!” The man’s face lights up. “Amen brother,” he shouts as I charge on and raise my fist. A few seconds later, I hear him say, “Finally, someone knew what that was.”
w At point one, I see one small girl sitting near the front walkway of a home. I wave to her and smile. She waves back and smiles.
w Heading back, I see my friend Johnny Paleracio running uphill. He is smiling as we exchange high-fives. A few minutes later, I see my old neighbor Patrick Bruno and we swap greetings and slap hands. I offer as much encouragement as I can to runners making the tough climb, as I know it is a difficult road ahead. “Good job.” “Keep it up.” “Way to go.” Most smile and shout the same back to me.
With a smile to go, I crank it up. I feel strong and I want to finish well, so I charge. The clock reads 4:10:39. I am elated. About the 23-mile mark I glanced and my watch and thought it read 4 hours and change. “Good God,” I thought, “I’ll finish in 4 and half hours at this rate. How slow am I running?” So, this was the happiest 4:10 of my life.
My friend and announcer Ron Wiley shouts, “Bill ‘Marathon’ Buley, editor in chief of The Garden Island newspaper.” He tells me to go get a kiss from my wife Marianne, and I do. I have never felt so good after running 26.2 miles. Usually, I’m wiped out, hardly able to walk. But not today.
Later, we eat, drink and chat with friends in front of Koloa Landing at the finish line celebration.
This is a great group and I love being there. I want to hang on to these moments, so we hang around an extra hour or so, longer than usual, because I just didn’t want to leave.
Finally, though, we have to go because I need to review and edit my wife’s great pictures she snapped at the finish line of so many people for TGI, and I must write the race-day story.
As we are walking away, I hear Ron Wiley call out my friend Johnny’s name. I rush back to congratulate him. His smile, after 26.2 tough miles, is one of joy. He beams with well-deserved pride. He ran with his heart.
I have always run with my head. I raced the clock. Minutes, even seconds, were all that mattered. I have pushed and strained to run as fast as I could. I have anguished over falling short of my goal, been disappointed with my efforts and vowed to train harder.
In the Kauai Marathon on Sunday, I learned that the thousands of steps I take toward the finish line are filled with hundreds of opportunities to see beautiful places and meet wonderful people.
And for once, I saw them.
Bill Buley, editor-in-chief, can be reached at 245-0457 or firstname.lastname@example.org.