Beauty and the beast of a marathon

I read, not long ago, that another publication proclaimed the Kauai Marathon, “The Most Beautiful Marathon.”

Hmmm. Well, I will grant you that the Kauai Half Marathon is a beautiful course. Doesn’t get much better for scenery than the Tunnel of Trees, the downhill stretch through Omao with so many wonderful people cheering us on and the final miles and finish line that offers ocean views. It is, for 13.1 miles, quite spectacular. Amazing. Those who run this race are blessed.

But when I went running recently with the founder of the Kauai Marathon, Jeff Sacchini, I had to tell him, “Not that I don’t love the Kauai Marathon, but I don’t know if I would describe it as beautiful.”

Nope. If I had to use one word to describe it, it would be “brutal.” In fact, I told Jeff he should market this race as perhaps the toughest marathon in the world. I’m convinced it might be. For those seeking difficult and demanding when it comes to running, this is it. Come one, come all. I speak from experience and misery loves company, especially in a marathon. I’ve run this full marathon twice and will run it for the third time on Sept. 4.

So wait. What’s the difference between the half and the full, 26.2 miles? Well, while the half marathon continues down Omao Road and Poipu Road toward the finish in Poipu, the full turns on Koloa Road (Route 530) and climbs toward Lawai and Kalaheo. I do mean climb. It seems endless. Up. And up. And up. And once you get up Koloa Road, there are more hills to climb. It’s close to 13 miles up and down hills. I swear, mostly up. It’s kind of course you think, “There, that must be the last hill,” then you round another corner and another steep incline awaits. I’ve run Boston’s Heartbreak Hill and the hills of the Kauai Marathon are tougher. If you don’t believe me, the total climb is 2,171 feet for the marathon, compared to 825 for the half. The elevation change for the full is 4,353 feet compared to 1,659 for the half.

Now, they speak of “stunning ocean views at the top of Kalaheo,” but when you’re running a full marathon, and you’re 10 miles from the finish wondering why you did this race again and your calves are knots and each step hurts and you just want to stop and take a nap, you’re not admiring the majestic view. You don’t care about palm trees or beaches or mountain peaks. Might as well be running through a barren wasteland or Great Falls, Montana. (Don’t get offended, Great Falls. I have lots of relatives there.) Your only goal is this: Finish.

And yes, I thought briefly about running the half marathon. Skip the full, avoid the pain, enjoy those beautiful 13.1 miles. I’ve trained well and could post a quick half. But the battle isn’t the same. The struggle, the fight, the sweat, the tears, the challenge, for me and about 350 others, awaits over these 26.2 miles. That’s where the true test is for some of us. That, almost literally, is our mountain we must climb.

I used to tell Jeff he should change the full marathon course. Something flatter, easier, faster, so I could post a qualifying time for the Boston Marathon again. But now, strangely confident, I say leave it alone and bring it on. Let’s do this.

Turns out, I will have plenty of company on race day including my friend, Jimmy McDougall, who beat me at the Koloa Plantation Days 10 miler and the Haena to Hanalei 8 miler. So I owe him.

There are 339 registered for the full Kauai Marathon and 1,454 half marathon, well over last year’s final number of 1,650 and will certainly top their best year of 1,830 with hopes of finally breaking the 2,000 mark.

In case you want to jump in, you can. Online registration is available until Wednesday, August 31. Then they can register on Friday, Sept. 2, from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. and Saturday, Sept. 3, from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the Wilcox Health Sports and Fitness Expo, cash only.

If you sign up, take my word for it, you won’t be disappointed. The starting line alone is magical, absolutely magical. The support on the course, the aloha spirit of the volunteers, the dancers, the musicians, carries you up and over all those hills. And the finish line, it’s every bit as good as you could dream — a party next to the ocean with a whole bunch of new and old running friends.

And who knows. It could very be that you find this is indeed “The Most Beautiful Marathon.” Because beauty, as we all know, is in the eyes of the beholder.

Or the runner.

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

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