Anyone who has ever run the full Kauai Marathon knows it is probably the toughest 26.2 miles they will ever run.
The hills you climb to reach Kalaheo are simply brutal. There’s not a better word in describing the full: Brutal. It’s why the vast majority, the smart ones, opt for the half marathon. It’s half the distance and not even half the suffering. Before it’s over, marathoners climb 2,171 feet. The hills are relentless. Just when you think you’re done with them, here comes another one.
I have done the full marathon five times, and I have a love/hate relationship with it. I hate it because I know my time will be slow and I know it will hurt. But I love running it, being part of it, finishing it, and most of all, celebrating it.
But there’s one other thing about this full marathon that is undeniable. One thing that makes it unique, that makes it stand out from any full marathon: Spirit.
It is the passion of the other runners, the spectators, the volunteers, that gets you through. To borrow from the Beach Boys and Brian Wilson, I’m picking up good vibrations, start to finish.
So, it seems, is everyone else — which recently led to national recognition.
Runner’s World magazine, in its most recent issue delivered to my home, published an article, “Found: Your Perfect Marathon” highlighting different marathons for different things. To my delight, I turned the page and there was a picture of runners on the Koloa bypass road, with a story crediting Kauai as being the marathon with the “Best Vibe.”
It notes a race size of 295 (compared to about 1,500 in the half), with an average time of 5 hours, 23 minutes, 39 seconds
Written by ultramarathon legend, best-selling author, motivational speaker and Kauai Marathon finisher Dean Karnazes, it highlights what those of us who run this race already know: It’s crazy hard, but it’s absolutely amazing.
Karnazes writes: “In Hawaii, ‘aloha’ is more than a greeting. It’s a spirit; a feeling of community, compassion, and camaraderie that symbolizes the islands’ culture. It’s this aloha vibe that makes the Kauai Marathon — a grand celebration of blisters and bliss in a warm and welcoming tropical setting, with food, drink, music and dancing — unique in the running world.”
He gets it.
Karnazes goes on to praise the encouragement and cheers that flow over runners as they pass hula dancers, Tako drummers and volunteers wearing aloha shirts.
He points out, too, that this race does more than create good vibes. It has contributed more than $30 million to Kauai’s economy and donated more than $125,000 to nonprofits in its 11 years. It promotes youth running, mentorship and presents college scholarships.
All this publicity in a national magazine, published six times a year, will bring even more runners to Kauai.
In my years of running and covering the Kauai Marathon, which is next set for Sept. 6, 2020, I have come to be friends with some of the folks behind it. Jeff Sacchini, founder and owner; Bob Craver, director; and Robin Jumper, public relations, are among the best people you will meet. They are dedicated to making this race one of the best, and it shows.
And, I should add, they pay attention to things others might not notice. Let me explain.
The last Kauai Marathon fell on Sept. 1, which happened to be the anniversary date for me and my wife. Among all the hundreds of details organizers had to look after on race day, they remembered that. At the finish line, I was surprised to see a sign that read, “Bill + Marianne 35 years of Wedded Bliss.” And a little farther along the path, another sign, with big red letters, read “Happy 35th Anniversary Bill &Marianne!” And a little lower, in blue letters, it read “COLD BEER AHEAD!”
And finally, we were presented with a special Kauai Marathon bib number: 35.
So, the marathon with Best Vibe? No doubt.
And if this were a category, it would win this, too: Most Heart.
Bill Buley is the editor-in-chief of The Garden Island newspaper. He can be reached at email@example.com