POIPU — If you were wondering whether people care about the Kauai Marathon and Half Marathon, don’t.
Here’s how Tom Peot, nine-year volunteer, described things at the marathon expo Friday morning at the Grand Hyatt Kauai Resort:
“As soon as we opened the doors, boom. Big rush. Hundreds of people came in. This year’s is going to be the best one ever.”
Peot, from California, is good friends with marathon founder Jeff Sacchini and comes to Kauai each year to help. He was handing out race shirts Friday and will be riding a Vespa on the course Sunday, checking on runners and making sure aid stations are well supplied.
“I love Kauai,” he said. “When you mix this with a family vacation, it’s great.”
Runners swooped in early Friday to pick up race packets, and then bought shirts, hats and socks with the Kauai Marathon logo in the Grand Hyatt ballroom. On the perimeter of the room, vendors offered health products and gear designed to help athletes stay cool, look good and perform their best.
Just outside the main doors, Kauai Coffee was serving free java, cold and hot, Kauai marathon champion Tyler McCandless offered advice and “Marathon Goddess” Julie Weiss was smiling, chatting and raising money to find a cure for pancreatic cancer.
There was an energy and enthusiasm in the air as runners readied themselves for the challenge of Sunday’s 26.2-mile marathon or the 13.1-mile half marathon. More than 2,000 runners — nearly 800 from Kauai — are registered.
Hamilton Florendo of Kalaheo was at the expo checking out the latest merchandise.
He has run all eight half marathons and will be there again for the 6 a.m. start on Poipu Road.
“I know what the course is like, I know the hills, I know it’s hot and humid, so it will be fun,” he said.
He returns each year, he said, because, it’s “one of the most beautiful courses that I’ve ever run. And I live here, so I always want to support the community.”
He’s part of a group of friends that gathered for a photo at the expo and will be running the half or the full marathon.
That collection includes Shantelle Manibog of Lihue, Kerensa Nagahisa of Wailua and Christine Martinez, who lives on Oahu but grew up here.
It’s a social bunch, Nagahisa said, that usually meets Saturdays for training runs.
This will be her third half marathon.
“I’m excited. My second race, I beat my time the first time,” she said. “But I’m just doing this for fun this year. I’m not trying to beat any time. It’s more of a fun thing we do every year for our friendships.”
Martinez said the race is a tradition and always a good time.
She described herself as a “social runner” and said she’ll be posting pictures on Instagram as she walks and runs the course.
“I’ll take pictures of like Shantelle passing me,” Martinez said, smiling.
“Right now, I just want to finish the race,” she added. “That’s my goal.”
Weiss has raised more than $400,000 to fight pancreatic cancer, which claimed her father.
Toward that goal, she once ran 52 marathons in 52 weeks, with the Kauai Marathon number 20 in that journey. She has a book coming out next year.
“We’re making those miles matter,” she said. “I’m still going and not stopping until we have a cure.”
Kauai County Councilman Derek Kawakami picked up his race number Friday and will be running his third half marathon.
“I wish I was more prepared but I’m going to get out there,” he said. “I really want to be a part of this thing. It’s tremendous to see how this has grown.”
Kawakami said the marathon has significant economic impact and helps Kauai’s mom-and-pop stores.
“People really have to come out and be a part of this to see how big it is for our community,” he said. “And we need more events like this. Sports and recreation is one sector that brings in a lot of families, a lot of visitors, and it’s great to be a part of it.”
Marathon host Bart Yasso and McCandless talked about the difficulties presented by the hilly marathon course, along with the heat and humidity.
They urged runners to go out easy and take liquids at every aid station.
“Be smart,” Yasso said.
“If I was doing this marathon, the number one thing is, you have to take it easy through here,” he said, pointing to Tree Tunnel and Ala Kinoiki, known as the Koloa bypass road, on a map. “If you start off too fast on this course, it’s going to kill you.”
The first 11 miles are run together before the half marathoners veer off back to Poipu to their oceanfront finish while the marathoners continue up Koloa Road to Lawai and Kalaheo before heading back.
Many hills await those going 26.2 miles, and it can get lonely out there, Yasso said.
‘Tell yourself to slow down,” he said. “Everyone wants to start out too quickly.”
McCandless won the full Kauai marathon in 2011, 2012 and 2013. Then, he switched to the half, and won that in 2014, 2015 and 2016.
He’s gunning to beat his course-record time of 1:06:47 set last year and believes he’s in shape to do it. He recently ran a personal best in a four-mile race in Boulder, Colorado.
“I want to chip away at the half marathon time. I’d like to take it down, get under 1:06 eventually,” he said.
His wife, Kristin, is running the half marathon as well, and could set a personal best.
“She’s running incredibly well — she’s inspired me,” McCandless said.
The six-time winner offered some hope and encouragement for the full marathoners, and said that, after 20 miles, you can “let loose.”
“If you’re patient the first six, the middle 14 you’re just enjoying it, but working hard because it’s hilly, the last six you can really fly.”