Marathon Man

Every year, in the Kauai Marathon, comes decision time for Christopher Chan about mile 11.

It’s there the full marathoners, running 26.2 miles, begin the steep climb up Koloa Road, and more hills after that.

It’s there the half marathoners go left on Ala Kalanikaumaka and head toward the finish line a few miles away in Poipu.

Every year, Chan ponders which way to go.

“I think, ‘I should just take that left turn and I’ll be home free and I’ll be sitting on a lawn chair drinking my beers before I know it,’” he said, smiling.

But he doesn’t. Never has. Always goes right.

“Once you take that right turn up Koloa Road, you’re running uphill into the sun, the sun is beating down on your face,” Chang continued. “Every turn, I know what’s coming.”

And every year, starting with the inaugural Kauai Marathon in 2009, Chan has gone the distance, all 26.2 miles. He’ll do the same today at the Eighth annual Kauai Marathon and Half Marathon that begins at 6 a.m. on Poipu Road. More than 2,000 people, a record field, are registered.

The 1997 Kauai High graduate knows what lies ahead — plenty of pain and suffering climbing the hills around Kalaheo and Lawai. But he keeps coming back for more.

“I feel like I have a connection to the race because I grew up on the island,” he said Saturday during an interview with The Garden Island at the fitness and sports expo at the Grand Hyatt.

His parents, Dennis and Mari Chan, live in Lihue. He has a sister here, too, and lots of friends.

“It’s a good reason for us to come back home,” said Chan, who lives on Oahu with wife Evie Joy and their two children.

The 37-year-old played soccer in high school. He ran long distance in track his senior year “for the hell of it.”

“I wasn’t very good,” he said.

But he enjoyed running and still does. It’s something you can do by yourself: just get out and go when you have time.

“Being in the outdoors, fresh air, clearing your thoughts and just run,” he said.

The 2009 Kauai Marathon was his first try at that distance. He had no idea what to expect.

“I didn’t check the course elevation. I didn’t know what I was getting myself into,” Chang said.

He discovered it was a difficult course – and liked it.

“It was tough, but it was fun,” he said.

Chang has completed the Honolulu Marathon a few times, but prefers the race on Kauai.

He likes the spirit, the camaraderie, the support of dancers and drummers, the volunteers handing out water, and people cheering from the roadside.

It’s carried him through to a best time in the 3-hour, 40-minute range.

“To me, it’s a much more intimate race,” he said. “I like that. It’s a really good race. It has such a nice feel to it.”

Not that he hasn’t met the proverbial marathoner’s wall, like the year he went out a little too fast in the heat and humidity, and cramped up badly at mile 17.

“I just limped my way back to the finish line,” he said. “It was a little disappointing because I trained pretty hard for it.”

These days, as a husband, father of a four-year-old son and a two-year-old daughter, and an IT specialist at the University of Hawaii, his time is limited.

Before he had children, he trained five and six days a week. Now, he trains three or four days a week, often during lunch break, and tries to get in a weekend long run.

Running these days is about staying in shape rather than speed. His preparation for today’s marathon, he said, has been “light and easy,” so he’s not expecting a record run.

But he is expecting one thing: to have a great day.

“It’s always a highlight, just knowing the difficulty of this course,” he said, “finishing in itself is always an accomplishment.”

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