WAILUA — With about 18 miles behind him and another eight to go Thursday morning, Brandon Brown was “starting to hit the wall,” so he took a short walking break.
“Other than that, I feel pretty good,” he said.
The Kapaa man was running his first full marathon, 26.2 miles, as part of the Mainly Marathons Aloha Series at Smith’s Tropical Paradise.
He started in the dark with about 30 others at 4:30 a.m. under starry skies and cruised along early. Leg cramps, however, slowed his pace as the miles passed.
Still, since his longest training runs were in the 10-mile range, he was not disappointed.
“Overall, it’s about what I expected based on my preparation. You get out what you put in, for sure,” he said.
Thursday was day one of the Aloha Series of runs in its fourth year on Kauai.
Each day includes a marathon, 50k, half-marathon, 10k and 5k on out-and-back courses. Days one and four are at Smith’s Tropical Paradise, while days two and three are on Ke Ala Hele Makalae, the Eastside coastal path, starting at Kapaa Beach Park.
About 30 people will run a race all four days, while each day will see about 60 runners and walkers who come from around the nation. Some are looking to check-off a marathon or half-marathon in Hawaii off their bucket lists as they pursue running those distances in every state.
Kamika Smith, Smith’s general manager, agent of aloha and someone who has completed about 175 half-marathons in his travels around the world, planned to run a half all four days of the Aloha Series.
He smiled and offered encouragement to runners throughout the day, and seemed to know everyone and everyone knew him as they stopped to have their picture taken with him.
“That guy did 121 marathons last year,” Smith said as a runner passed by going in the opposite direction.
As another runner approaches — sunshine and blue skies having replaced the early morning darkness when runners used flashlights to navigate their way — Smith said, “Henry, are you at 1,000 marathons yet?”
“Try like 1,530,” the man said without breaking stride.
Terri Menghini of Princeville is usually running such races — she has completed 213 marathons and 100 half-marathons — but due to recent foot surgery, had to sit this one out.
But that didn’t keep her from volunteering for the Aloha Series at Smith’s, her day starting at 4 a.m. as she helped set up the food and water station.
“This is my first time behind the table,” she said. “I’m seeing what the other part of the world is like.”
One of the day’s most determined athletes was Stacy Kozel of Ohio, who was making her way around the Smith’s 1.64-mile course that passed lagoons, bridges, palm trees and nene that waddled on the paved path that circled the luau grounds.
Kozel was wearing leg braces and using crutches as she completed her 83rd half-marathon as part of her quest to finish 90 halfs in 12 months.
“My legs are actually paralyzed, so the braces lock my knees and I use my upper body and my hips to walk, and the crutches and basically, momentum,” she said. “My arms are doing a lot of the work, mostly my shoulders.”
Kozel said the paralysis was a result of lupus that attacked her spinal cord. She has battled the autoimmune disease since she was a teenager and has suffered from severe flareups that hospitalize her as she loses mobility.
“The doctors try to stop it and see what I can get back,” she said. “So my last major flareup I couldn’t even use my arms, or talk or breathe or anything.”
Thursday, as she slowly traveled the course, she talked with colleagues, smiled, and even cheered.
“Hey, good job, guys,” she said as runners passed by.
She loves the setting and the spirit at Smith’s as she spoke of fresh air, beautiful surroundings and great people.
“Everyone here is so awesome. I’ve met some really good friends,” she said.
Kozel refuses to let lupus keep her down, and pushes herself hard.
“I’ve always been competitive. My times will never be fast, so it’s kind of adjusted a little bit, but I can still finish,” she said.
What motivates Kozel is her desire to be an example to others facing their own challenges.
“A lot of things drag you, but you don’t know what you’re capable of unless you keep going,” she said.
With her last lupus flareup, she couldn’t do anything for herself, and it took three nurses to help her up.
“No one would think I would be able to be out here right now,” she said. “You never know what’s down the line. We just have to keep fighting and keep seeing what the future holds. Don’t give up.”
Bill Buley, editor-in-chief, can be reached at 245-0457 or email@example.com.