Hapalua much more than a race

Seven miles and change into the Hapalua Half Marathon on Sunday morning in Honolulu and I’m approaching the bridge over the Ala Wai Canal on Kalakaua Avenue. There, on the other side, I see my wife, Marianne, wearing her Hapalua tank top.

I hop up on the sidewalk as I run toward her for two reasons. One, so she can get a clear picture of me, which she does. And two, so I can get a kiss, which I do.

It was that kind of a day — beautiful, sunny, warm — when all went almost as well as I hoped. Felt strong in the early miles, held a steady pace, powered up the mile-long climb against the headwinds on Monsarrat Avenue, charged down the other side of Diamond Head and finished with a sprint over the final hundred yards. I clocked a time of 1:42:21, good for 224th out of nearly 8,000 finishers and seventh in my age group, 55-59, out of about 300. Short of my goal of 1:40 but overall, a solid effort that made me glad to run this 13.1-mile race for the first time.

While that’s all good, and the organization, course and post-race celebration were terrific, it’s not why the Hapalua Half Marathon is so enjoyable.

It’s the people.

As I jogged and walked slowly down Kalakaua Ave. about 5:30 a.m. toward the starting line at the statue of Duke Kahanamoku, everyone seemed in a good mood. I chatted with with one couple who came out from Virginia. Another guy was here from Oregon. Three others were from Maui. Each had a quick story to share, a joke to tell about their lack of training but here they were anyway, and each wished me well.

At the starting line, I hopped over a fence and squeezed in with the crowd. I found myself next to Kauai firefighter, Kawaihoola Curnan, one of Kauai’s best runners. We always seem to wind up together at the starting line of the Honolulu Marathon, as well. We exchanged greetings, talked race plans wished each other well. He would go on to strong performance, finishing in 1:32:48, good for 68th overall and also seventh in his 30-34 age group. He’s a positive force. I believe he turned in Kauai’s best time and will likely get faster and stronger. Hard to believe I beat this man at the Honolulu Marathon in 2016.

At the finish line, after finding my wife, we ran into Brandon Wong of Lihue, his wife Tiana and their children. Brandon, a cage fighter and runner, completed Hapalua in 1:48:11, which earned him 393rd place overall.

It was an excellence performance, especially considering he was badly injured in a car crash last year and endured great pain as he battled back to health and fitness. His training includes running with a 20-pound vest. He was beaming with pride, as he should, as he and his family posed for photographs. I was honored that he asked me for training advice on how to run faster before we parted ways.

Hapalua does it right. A great course with plenty of support and best of all, spirit that flows from runners to ohana to spectators to volunteers.

Reluctant to leave too soon, my wife and I went to cheer for the others still making their way along the course. Many were walking and talking, not concerned about their finishing time. This was about the journey.

For a race of this size on an island of this size, Hapalua has a small-town feel.

I felt so good the next morning I decided to go for a quick run at Ala Moana Regional Park before we headed to the Honolulu Airport to catch our flight back to Kauai. Standing at an intersection on Ala Moana Boulevard, I looked across the street at another runner waiting on the other side. He looked familiar.

As we drew closer, and our eyes met, we both smiled. It was Brady Edwards, another of Kauai’s fine runners and a friendly, encouraging man.

He was part of the group that I ran the Kalalau Trail with — 22-miles roundtrip in a day — shortly after moving here in 2013. He and his family were in Honolulu for the weekend to attend an awards ceremony for one of their children. Like me, he decided to go for a morning run.

We talked for another minute about returning to Kalalau when it reopens before bounding off in opposite directions, planes to catch to take us back home to the same island.

Hapalua is a great race, for sure. But what stands out, what makes it special, is the way it brings people together.

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

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