For once, running 26.2 miles hurt so good

A lot can go wrong when you’re running 26.2 miles.

Calves tighten. Quads quiver. Knees twinge. Stomach rumbles. Will wavers.

No matter how well you prepare, no matter how diligent the diet, no matter the miles of training, there’s a good chance something will go wrong. You will hobble. You will grimace. You will suffer.

The Honolulu Marathon on Sunday, for me, was not one of those times. I repeat. It was not one of those times.

This was one of those days when things just went right. They went as well as I could have hoped. One of those rare races I felt fine, started smart and finished strong. It was glorious. I wish I knew why. Perhaps it was all those packets of Gu and salt capsules. I wish I could bottle it and pull it out the next time I toe the line of a marathon.

I can’t. But what I can do is savor this small victory. Smile when people ask how it went. Recount the story to anyone willing to listen or really, anyone even if they don’t want to listen. Because runners talking about our marathons — especially when all goes well.

As I said, Sunday, in Honolulu, it did.

•••

I decided about a month ago to run the Honolulu Marathon for the first time. Why not? Wife is off island. Friends said I could stay at their condo. Let’s see what happens. Perhaps it was foolish, considering my preparation, or lack of preparation is more like it.

My longest training run since the Kauai Marathon in early September was 11 miles. No mile repeats to develop speed. No hill repeats to build strength. Just a bunch of 5-8 milers, most of them slow and easy. And as for my diet, it’s been a lot of walks to McDonald’s next door from work. I was no longer willing to stand on a scale for fear of what numbers would stare up at me.

Still, I wanted to try. Friends told me it was a fairly flat course, far, far easier than the hills of the Kauai Marathon. And since it started at 5 a.m., it was cooler, too.

The only warning was, because there are more than 20,000 runners in the Honolulu Marathon, to be sure to start near the front. Crowd up there. There are a lot of walkers, I was told. Don’t get stuck behind them.

I listened.

By 4 a.m., I was out the door and soon had my spot just a few rows back of the official starting line. After a few encouraging words from Gov. David Ige, and a countdown on a cool, breezy morning, we were off as fireworks lit up the sky.

I vowed to go out slow and for once, listened to my advice. The miles at 8:30 pace passed easily. The early going was smooth. Everyone was chipper as we chatted and exchanged pleasantries. Even the gradual climb up Diamond Head Road came and went without a trace of trouble.

When I reached the halfway point, 13.1 miles, on Kalanianaole Highway, I was cruising.

Same thing at 16 miles on Hawaii Kai Drive. So easy.

I passed by Maunalua Bay Beach Park about 18 miles feeling good. My bright orange Denver Broncos visor was a hit with volunteers and spectators.

“Hey, Denver. Good job.”

“Looking strong, Broncos. Keep it up.”

Still, despite the good karma, doubt persisted: Can this last? Would I hit the dreaded wall?

Near the 20-mile marker along Kalanianaole Highway on the way back toward the finish, I glanced over at the runners still heading out and saw my friend Jacob “Smilie” Punzal, with a big smile, just in time to exchange high fives. By now, I was passing more runners, both running and stopped. One man was lying on the ground, spent. Another sat on the curb rubbing his quads. Another was pushing against a building to stretch his legs. Wounded of the battlefield.

I was thankful not to be among them.

Even the climb back up Diamond Head around miles 24 and 25 went well and God knows, I hate uphills. And when I had 1.2 miles left, finally rewarded with a downhill, I gave all I had left. It hurt so good.

I finished in 3 hours, 43 minutes, 15 seconds, good for 506th place out of about 21,000 finishers. It was, perhaps, one of my most satisfying marathons. I had negative splits, meaning I ran the second half faster than the first. If there was a regret, it was that I hadn’t trained harder.

Kauai, by the way, was well represented in the Honolulu Marathon. I can’t mention all finishers here, but they include: Renato De Souza of Lihue in 3:58:21. Kawaihoola Curnan of Kalaheo ran 3:48:50. (both were on the same flight with me to Oahu Saturday morning. And Curnan, I should add, ran into me at the Honolulu Airport as I was heading to the bus stop and offered me a ride to the convention center where the marathon expo was being held and just a few blocks from where I was staying). Lisa Ledesma of Kapaa, recovering from a bike crash about a month ago, walked it in 5:46:34. Derrick Ledesma of Koloa ran 4:25:29. Philip Dureza of Lihue recorded a 4:03:42 while Francisco Garcia of Lihue finished in 4:11:16.

The fastest time by a Kauai runner goes to Troy Keipper of Kapaa in 3:19:14, which is a fantastic effort.

The Honolulu Marathon is a wonderful affair. World class. Well organized. Great course. Excellent volunteer support. And spirited runners. I was surprised at the number of people wearing costumes, including Darth Vader, a rugby player and a ballerina. As well, because there is no time limit, meaning the course stays open until everyone finishes, there are thousands of walkers which creates a cool, community vibe.

Will I be back?

I hope so.

Marathons like this one make me look forward to running 26.2 miles again.

Dare I say, even enjoy it?

•••

Bill Buley is TGI editor. He can be reached at bbuley@thegardenisland.com.

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