KEKAHA — If you’ve ever driven on Kaumualii Highway in Kekaha early in the morning, you’ve probably see him.
He’s that walking guy wearing shorts, tank top, hat, sunglasses and Asics shoes.
But this is no leisurely stroll. Pat Thompson is pounding the pavement at a quick pace on the highway’s shoulder, arms pumping, legs churning. There is passion and purpose as he marches ahead toward the entrance to the Pacific Missile Range Facility, which is his turnaround point, about four miles from his home.
“I just love to walk,” he says without slowing. “It’s a good exercise. I feel better after I’ve had a good workout.”
Thompson is 68 years old. And when he walks, he walks fast. Few can match his stride. That’s why he generally walks alone. And that’s why, for the past two years, he’s won the Haena to Hanalei Eight Mile Walk.
In June, he held off Kilauea’s Mark Goodman and Princeville’s Steve Hoffmann to defend his title. It was tough, he says, with the hills, not to mention the downpour that soaked everyone.
“That Lumahai Beach hill about killed me,” Thompson says.
“I had one guy that was behind me most of the race, I could hear him breathing,” he says as he recounted the race. “He was real close to me. As we got on the hills, he tried to pick it up with me and then I got on that Lumahai Hill, that was it. He was not close to me again.”
Thompson likes being out in front.
“I feel like I have the best chance of winning when I do that,” he says. “I like to set the pace and I go for it.”
His first win at Haena to Hanalei in 2015, he edged Goodman by 22 seconds with a comeback.
“Oh man, that first race two years ago, I didn’t know Mark. He passed me about the four-mile mark. His pace was crazy,” Thompson says. “I thought man, this guy has quite a pace, but I’m going to walk my pace. And so I was maybe 20 yards behind him most of the race and then the last mile I just gunned it. I went by the last half mile.”
Since he seriously took up power walking several years back, Thompson has earned a nickname out the Westside: “The Kekaha Walker.”
One day, he was in the grocery store, wearing his usual outfit — shorts, tank top, sunglasses and hat — when someone stared at him. Then, the light bulb went on. “Oh, you must be the Kekaha Walker.”
Thompson is proud of that moniker.
“I’ve always been real competitive. That’s why I like to walk competitive races,” he says.
People know him and he knows them. They see him coming and they wave; he waves back. They exchange greetings and smiles. But he doesn’t stop. That’s not his nature.
What is his nature is walking and talking.
“It’s a good conversation piece,” he says. “And since I’m a Christian, it gives me a good opportunity to be able to share about the Lord.”
Thompson and his wife Liz lived in Colorado Springs most of their lives before settling in Kekaha about 10 years.
“I never thought I would leave Colorado,” he says. “But I love living in Kekaha. It’s a different community.”
Yeah, he likes the heat, but not so much that he wants to exercise in it, which is why his walks usually start around 7 a.m.
“One thing about Kekaha, you gotta know, if you wait too late, 9, 10 in the morning, you’re going to get the heat,” he says.
Thompson worked as an operations manager for a corporation before retiring about three years ago.
“I thought, I need something to do, exercise wise, so I got into walking,” he says. “Not at the pace I’m walking today.”
Thompson used to run all the time. He was in the 82nd Airborne in the Army for three years.
“We ran all the time there,” he says.
Walking, though, was a better fit. It suited him. And it stuck.
“I wanted to walk faster, so I got into the power walking,” he says.
He liked that it wasn’t so hard on his knees or feet, yet keep his 5-11 frame a toned 170 pounds. He loves the sweat, that feeling of knowing you gave it your all, that comes with a hard morning walk.
He would love it if there were more competitive walking events on Kauai. He plans to try the Kauai Half Marathon on Sept. 4.
“When you say marathon, most people think about running,” he says. “When you look across the country, there’s a lot of walking events.”
These days, without a race in the immediate future, his training includes a six- to eight-mile walk three days a week. As the half marathon draws closer, he’ll increase his mileage and days of training and include more hills in his workouts.
He varies his pace. Thompson has a beginning pace, an in-between pace, and a finishing fast and furious pace. Workouts are serious, not the time for day dreaming or soaking in scenic ocean views, though he admits he peeks often and finds inspiration.
“I do focus,” he says. “For me, even if I’m not racing, I like to see if I can improve.”
Come race day, his goal is a sub-11-minutes-per-mile pace.
“Even in lousy weather, I get myself to that pace marker as soon as I can. Keep a pace and know you have enough left to propel yourself to the finish line,” he says. “Particularly if you have to turn it on. That’s what I plan to do.”
Arm action is key to good form.
“This keeps you going, this keeps your legs going, too,” he says as his arms, like pistons, keep firing away, driving the legs forward.
“The faster I get my arms pumping, the faster I can go,” Thompson says.
On days he doesn’t have a walking workout, he does weight work for upper body strength — nothing too heavy, but enough to maintain fitness and tone. Sundays, he takes off.
As he ages, he finds consistency is essential.
“There’s days I feel it. As you get older, there’s no getting around it,” he says. “There’s days you just don’t have it. Thank God, for the race days I’ve always had plenty of energy.”
Family and faith
He and Liz, married more than three decades, generally ride their tandem bike twice a week. They have six kids and 13 grandchildren between them, and with all their exercising, family, studies and church, time management is a must.
“Even though we’re retired, we both have a pretty busy schedule,” Thompson says.
He’s not particular about his diet but has a few guidelines: not too much meat, more vegetables and fruits, avoid large portions. One change they made after retirement is that they made lunch their main meal instead of dinner to avoid feeling heavy by day’s end.
“I think that’s helped a lot,” he says.
You’ll never see Thompson wearing headphones, and there are two reasons for that.
One, so he doesn’t get killed.
“I want to be able to hear cars. There are times on the highway and cars will pass and they miss me by that much,” he says, holding his hands a few inches apart.
The second, so he hears God.
Thompson, who attends Westside Christian Center and is studying theology, is not shy about sharing his faith. He reads the Bible and prays daily.
On this recent morning’s walk, he refers to Isaiah 40:29, a Bible verse he recently read: “He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak.”
“The Lord is everything to us,” Thompson says. “I feel his strength when I walk. I feel his pleasure. I know that’s been used in ‘Chariots of Fire,’ but it certainly is a term that fits what I do.”
Thompson occasionally gives the sermon when the pastor is gone. And for those times, walking provides both motivation and inspiration.
“When I walk, it’s like the Lord speaks to me,” he says. “It’s like the Lord gives me a message when I’m walking, different messages at different times.”
He takes those messages to heart — and shares them.
“That’s my prayer. I’ll walk in the faith,” he says.