POIPU — Kasey Ozaki wasn’t entirely sure how she ran so well in Sunday’s Kauai Marathon.
She just knows she did. And it was fantastic.
“I felt so strong, especially the last six miles,” she said. “I don’t know, I had energy for the first time in a marathon. I was so surprised.”
The Lihue woman clocked a personal best of 4 hours, 8 minutes and 34 seconds, which made her the first Kauai resident female finisher in the full marathon.
It was also nearly 40 minutes faster than her time of 4:45:13 last year.
So, how did she do it?
“I have no idea. I guess I trained pretty hard for it, but I trained the same way, so …” she said. “I just felt really good.”
Many shared similar views about the 9th annual Kauai Marathon and Half Marathon that had a record 2,073 registrations, a new course record for the half, with runners coming from 48 states and 18 countries. A cool morning and a spectacular sunrise greeted runners, and the aloha spirit of volunteers and spectators was described as the best.
The Aloha State was well represented with 1,085 local registrants, with 788 from Kauai, both event records. There were 64 participants who ran the full or half marathon for the ninth year in a row.
The post-race celebration at Koloa Landing Resort was a party of music, awards, eating, drinking and plenty of weary but satisfied finishers recounting their races.
“Thank you, Jeff, it was fun,” one runner said to Jeff Sacchini, Kauai Marathon and Half Marathon founder.
Sacchini said of the nine years of the event, this year’s was “far and above the most enjoyable experience.”
The weather was nearly perfect, the new finish area at Koloa Landing was a hit and everyone seemed to be having a good time.
“It was a spectacular day,” he said. “I was hoping this finish line would prove to be something spectacular and it was.”
Michael Wardian, 43, of Arlington, Va., won the marathon in 2:45:26. He also won here in 2010 and was second in 2011.
Wardian ran alone most of the way, but fought through the hills of Lawai and Kalaheo with some encouragement.
“It was an incredible day of racing on the Garden Island,” he said. “Even though this is not my home turf, the volunteers and crowd support made me feel like the hometown hero. You really feel like you are part of the family when you race on Kauai.”
The second place finisher in the men’s field for the full marathon was Daniel Hagemeyer of Bern, Switzerland, with a time of 3:21:18 and third place went to local Honolulu resident Takeshi Yamada with a time of 3:28:13.
Kauai’s top male marathon finisher was Eric Wright of Kapaa.
Bree Wee of Kailua-Kona was second overall and the first woman in 3:14:11.
She competed in the Tantalus Triple Trek 50K Saturday and then flew to Kauai to run the marathon as part of her preparation for the HURT 100 mile trail race on Oahu in January.
“It was all about running on tired legs today and I think it paid off,” the 37-year-old said. “I got a good mental challenge out of it and I think I overcame pretty well.”
Wee told herself to be humble, be patient and be kind. So throughout, she rooted for her fellow marathoners and thanked volunteers and spectators.
The victory was “the cherry on the top today,” she said.
“By far the best marathon I’ve ever done,” Wee said. “It was the hilliest race, but it was so beautiful.”
Hillary Heilman of Vista, Calif., was the second woman in 3:33:16 and Mikelle Adamczyk from Honolulu was third in 3:35:45.
Tyler McCandless of Colorado won the half marathon for the fourth straight year in a course record, 1:06:43, just beating last year’s mark of 1:06:47.
It was tough, he said.
“I was literally sprinting in to the finish. I saw the clock from about 20 seconds out and I was like, ‘This is going to be really close.’”
It was, but he got it.
McCandless credited Shinya Ohashi of Miyagi, Japan, with pushing him. The two went out fast and hit the first time in 4 minutes, 55 seconds.
“We were flying,” McCandless said.
Ohashi eventually fell back, but held on for second in 1:09:12.
“There’s no doubt that that helped me,” McCandless said.
That makes seven straight wins here for him, including three full marathon victories in 2011, 2012 and 2013.
McCandless had high praise for the event’s aloha spirit.
“It would be great to go back to the full marathon, I’ve been kind of toying with the idea, so maybe next year I need to even it out.”
Lauren Tippets of Pescadero, Calif., won the women’s half marathon for the fourth time, crossing the finish at 1:25:45.
Mary Ernsdorf of Kilauea was Kauai’s first female finisher in the half in 1:28:37,
Eyndiah Bradford, 10, of Honolulu, was the youngest half marathon finisher, in 4:00:05.
She was determined to run here after seeing the medal her mom, Kim Bradford, brought home from the half marathon.
“I really wanted one, too,” Eyndiah said. “You can’t really have your parents’ medals.”
Her mom, a bit reluctantly, agreed to let her run. She said Eyndiah runs track and field and represented Hawaii in the Junior Olympics in July in Kansas City, but wasn’t used to long distance.
“I told her the half marathon is different,” Kim said. “She said, ‘Mom, I can do it.’”
Both finished in 4 hours flat, and Kim was beaming with pride. Eyndiah’s medal will be framed and displayed at home.
“I told her I’m so proud of her,” Kim said.
JJ Bostick of Kekaha realized a dream when he and his daughter, Samantha, 15, both ran the half marathon.
Dad recorded a 2:41:18 while Samantha finished nearly a half-hour ahead, in 2:12:43.
“I did really good until we got to Omao,” JJ said. “Then the heat kind of got to me.”
But the clock didn’t matter to him.
“I just wanted to make sure that Sam had a good race,” he said, smiling.
That she did, recording a personal best.
“I’m happy with my time,” Samantha said. “I had to walk a few times, but I pushed through it.”
Two Kauai friends finished well and were all smiles at the awards ceremony.
Brandon Jacinto of Puhi was the first Kauai male finisher in the half marathon in 1:28:58, good for 13th overall.
He was pleased with his time, a personal best, and said a lot of fast runners pushed him to a PR.
“Always good to represent Kauai, so I’m very happy,” he said.
Kawaihoola Curnan of Kalaheo charged home in the full marathon in 3:55:18, good for 20th overall.
He said he tried to go out easy, keep it steady and come on strong late. His strategy worked. Curnan passed several runners in the final miles, overcoming the hills and heat as some faded.
“The end is always a gut check. You do the best you can,” he said. “You never know what the back half has in store for you. Kind of gnarly out there.”
Curnan loves having the marathon on Kauai. It’s a great race, you get to sleep in your own bed, eat your own meals, and you can drive to the starting line, he said.
“You can’t beat it,” he said. “The Kauai Marathon is the best.”