My Honolulu Marathon Odyssey

By Dayle Turner

I 've never considered myself a runner. In fact, running hasn't been a favorite activity of mine even though I've been an active, exercise-oriented sort since childhood. Entering a marathon was one of those life achievement events, kind of like how people say "I'd like to bungee jump or skydive just once." Well, for me, one of my achievement statements was "I'd like to run a marathon just once."

Twice before in the past, I'd sent in an application and entrance fee for the Honolulu Marathon (every April, Hawaii residents have the chance to enter the marathon for a greatly-reduced fee; it used to be $2 but is now $10). However, due to injuries or a lack of motivation I'd never followed through with the training to actually toe up to the starting line. When 2000 rolled in, I started a new way of eating (low carb) and a more devoted approach to fitness via running and weight training, so entering and actually following through to train for Honolulu 2000 fit in nicely.

In need of a structured program, I searched the web for sources and found several, notably Hal Higdon's training guide. Starting in August, I used an approximation of Higdon's beginners' program and at the very least kept my weekly running mileage in line with the plan he'd laid out. What surprised me was how well I took to increasingly longer runs and how well I recovered from these. I also kept a running log and found this helpful in tracking my progress. I also enjoy hiking and did that just about every Saturday and Sunday.

During the week, I usually ran in the late afternoon after work. Most of my runs were on the Pearl City bike path, a venue I liked because of its proximity to my workplace , its flatness, and its mile markers. For my long Friday runs, I did these usually with a 5 a.m. start and in various places--a large 12-mile loop from Kaneohe to Kahaluu; an out-and-back route from Kapiolani Park out towards Hawaii Kai; point-to-point runs from Castle Hospital through Waimanalo and on to Kahala; and an out-and-back from the end of Lagoon Drive to Blaisdell Park in Pearl City. My longest training run was a month before the marathon and took me from Castle Hospital to Kapiolani Park via 'Nalo, Sandy Beach, and Hanauma Bay (22 miles).

As the December 10 date of the marathon approached, I was feeling healthy and optimistic. My training had been going well and I'd avoided illness and injury--things that can happen when one's body is subjected to the rigors of long distance running. Two and a half weeks before M-day, potential tragedy struck when I pulled my left hamstring while weightlifting. A few days of rest afterward seemed to deal with this problem but a week and a half later while doing my second to the last training run (a 3-miler around Kaneohe), I tweaked the left ham again. What's more, I'd been fighting a nasty little head cold at the same time, so suddenly, doubts about finishing the race were thrust into the equation.

I did what I thought was best--rest. So on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday before the big day, I did no running or exercise. I underwent the recommended three-day carb-up (yipee!) and hydration, and when Sunday morning rolled around, I felt okay. Not 100% but at least 95.

My mom dropped me off near Ala Moana at 4 a.m., an hour before the scheduled start time. The staging area for the start was Ala Moana Park, and the scene there was amazing. Picture thousands of people gathered in the usually dark park now lit up by flood lights. Many runners, mostly Japanese visitors, assembled in groups of twenty to thirty for aerobic warm-up exercises to music blaring from boom boxes. People were everywhere--some laid out stretching, some jogging hither and yon to warm up, some laying on the grass meditating, some even smoking cigarettes. A popular venue was the porta-potties. Dozens of these lined the park and the lines to use them were up to 100 deep.

I waited till around 4:15 to begin my warmup--a slow 10 minute jog followed by 10 minutes of stretching. The good news was that my left ham, though a tad tight, felt ready to go. Around 4:45, I began making my way through the thick mass of runners on Ala Moana Blvd up toward the front. Though I planned to run about a 4.5 hour marathon, I lined up with near the sign for those with estimated times between 3 and 4 hours. At this point, I was still a good 200 meters from the starting line banner.

As I stood in the sea of runners, I noticed that the majority of people around me were Japanese. In fact, more than half the runners in the race were from Japan. About one quarter of the field were from Hawaii with the other 25% from either the mainland or other overseas destinations. One of the new features of this year's marathon was a timing chip that each runner had to affix to his or her shoelaces (to see the chip, go to http://www.honolulumarathon.org/timingchipshoe.jpg). What the chip does is record a runner's time when he/she passes over timing mats which are laid across the roadway at the starting line, at the 10K (6.2 mile), half-marathon (13.1 mile), 30K (18.6 mile) marks, and at the finish line. Info from the chips are passed on to sensors in the mats and the info is then stored in a computer so that times are available instantly. Accordingly, folks could track runners during the race via the HM's website ( http://honolulumarathon.org). There is also a good map of the course.

The 5 a.m start was marked by a starter's pistol, a rippling roar through the crowd, and a fantastic, booming fireworks display off Ala Moana Beach. A full moon loomed overhead and the temperature was about 70 degrees with mild humidity and light winds. Because of the sheer volume of runners, I didn't reach the starting line till about five minutes after the starting gun went off. But I wasn't worried since my official start time didn't begin until I crossed over the timing mats at the start. This made for an interesting situation by the time I finished because I later met an acquaintance who crossed the finish line before me but had a slower time than me by a couple of minutes since he had crossed the starting line well ahead of me.

My plan for the race was to average ten minute miles throughout. I wanted to run the first 5 to 6 miles slower than 10-min. pace, then hit 10 minute pace in the middle miles, and pick up the pace near the end, that is, if I had the energy to do so. The first mile took us ewa (west) along Ala Moana Blvd past Restaurant Row and on toward downtown. I did this in just under 12 minutes, slower than I wanted but no cause for alarm. We took a right turn on Nuuanu Avenue. A couple guys in Santa costumes were among the folks outside Murphy's Bar and Grill to cheer us on. From Nuuanu, we took a right to head Kokohead (east) on King Street, a major Honolulu thoroughfare. Mile two was just past the King Street right turn and I hit this in about the same time as the first mile. In this segment, a young boy, probably around 10, went striding by at a very fast pace but in ragged form. "He's going too fast. I'll probably see him again when he poops out," I thought to myself.

The first aid station was adjacent to the Kamehameha Statue on King Street (about the 2.5 mile mark), and I downed a couple cups of water there even though I wasn't thirsty. The hydration will help over the long haul, I told myself. Just past Kawaiahao Church, we veered right from King Street onto Kapiolani Blvd. There was a smattering of people looking on along the way in the early morning darkness. We continued along past Blaisdell Arena (the 3-mile mark was near there), and as we neared Ala Moana Center, we veered right onto Piikoi Street, past waving women from nearby hostess bars, and headed makai (toward the ocean).

At the end of Piikoi, we turned left onto Ala Moana Blvd to complete an approximately 4-mile loop. Heading east on Ala Moana, we arrived at aid station two in front of the Ilikai Hotel. Not far past the Ilikai, I saw Kay Lynch, a friend from the local hiking club. She had run Honolulu many times before and was the first familiar person I'd seen so far. In Waikiki, I caught up to the young boy who'd gone by me in downtown at a fast pace. Just as I predicted, he was walking and looking very tired. "Where are his parents?" I wondered. I hope he finished okay.

The crowds of onlookers grew as we proceeded through Waikiki. I imagine that many of the folks looking on had friends or loved ones in the race. It was encouraging to hear the cheers and words of support. Also encouraging was that I had started hitting 10-minute miles by the four-mile mark. I was feeling fresh and optimistic.

Just after mile five was aid station three near the International Marketplace on Kalakaua. In addition to water, volunteers had sports drinks for us there. Not wanting to risk an upset stomach, I cautiously tried half a cup of the latter and two cups of water. No problems. We then left the lights and crowds of Waikiki and continued in the early morning darkness past Kapiolani Park, passing the six and seven mile marks en route. As the masses I was with began ascending Diamond Head Road, we saw flashing blue lights and heard shrill whistles coming toward us. A guy on a bike flew by, yelling, "The first wheelchair racer is coming by." Sure enough, speeding past us on his way toward a record finish was a guy in a racing wheelchair. At that point, we were about 90 minutes into the race at mile 8 and he was at mile 25. We cheered and yelled encouragement as he zoomed by. Other wheelchair racers sped by us in the ensuing minutes, and we cheered for them as well.

Having crested out on Diamond Head Road, the pack picked up the pace on the downhill that greeted us. We hit another aid station by Triangle Park and at that point, having experienced no stomach discomfort, I decided to drink equal amounts of sports drink and water at every station. I was still feeling good at this point, so good, in fact, that I ran little faster than I should have, clocking almost an 8:00 mile on mile 9. Better back off some, I told myself.

By mile 11, we had passed Kahala Mall and were at the start of Kalanianaole Highway headed east to Hawaii Kai. Around here, we saw the leaders of the men's and women's races heading the opposite way, and we cheered as they strode by. Two hours into the race, I was between miles 11 and 12 and the leaders were heading west on Kalanianaole at mile 22. Hey, I was only 11 miles behind the race leader. Now if I just speeded upů J

The halfway mark (13.1 miles) was in front of the Aina Haina Shopping Center. I passed there in 2:24, an average of 11 minutes per mile. At that juncture, I was still feeling energetic with just a twinge of heaviness creeping into my legs.

At about the 15-mile mark, I saw an interesting sight-a runner clad in only a loincloth and running barefoot. He looked something like this image. He was heading west on Kalanaianaole, putting him at about the 18 mile mark. Not far behind him was another runner dressed in a Japanese samurai outfit with wooden high-heeled slippers. From what I heard, both these guys finished in under four hours. Amazing.

Miles 16 and 17 took us around a loop on Hawaii Kai Drive, and by mile 18 I was back on Kalanaianaole heading west back toward Diamond Head and Kapiolani Park. "This is where the marathon really begins," advised a friend, Gene Robinson, a veteran of several past Honolulu events. Gene told me this is where I might begin to see other runners sitting on the curb, walking, and suffering in other states of malaise. Sure enough, he was right. At the same time, I was determined not to fall into the ranks of the cracked. So I mushed on hoping that the dreaded axe would spare me.

As mile twenty (the dreaded WALL) approached (on Kalanaianaole across from Aina Haina McDonald's), both my calves were starting to cramp. It wasn't bad enough that I had to stop running, but I felt that I was on the fine edge of having to stop running and start walking and at any point my legs would fail me and I would be reduced to stopping, walking, or limping. But to my good fortune, an aid station with its water, sports drinks, and encouraging volunteers appeared like an oasis just when I thought my legs would lose it. Additionally, I was lugging six Power Gel packs in my waistpack for an added boost of fuel. The aid stations and Power Gels helped me to weather the worst of the near breakdown of my body. Also beneficial were some mental concentration exercises I had learned from a piece called "Words to Guide Marathoners" by Ozzie Gontang. For those interested, check it out at http://www.mindfulness.com/om3.asp. Ozzie's main thrust is to concentrate on form and to keep one's mind from drifting away and abandoning the body. His advice helped.

Miles 22, 23, and 24 passed through the ritzy neighborhood of Kahala. Right after the 24th mile was the second to the last aid station at the base of the final hill of the day (Diamond Head) on a course that is virtually hill-less. On Honolulu's version of heartbreak hill, I was able to continue running and actually was able to pick up the pace a bit. I like to think that all the hiking I do, some on very steep ridges, has helped me to be a good hill runner. On the way up Diamond Head Road, I passed dozens of runners reduced to walking. This boosted my confidence and energy.

The backside descent of Diamond Head Road was somewhat painful (I'm not a good downhill runner). And once I reached the fringe of Kapiolani Park did it hit me that I would reach the end of the marathon. It was a great moment rounding the bend in the road and seeing the finish line banner in the distance. I reminded myself to keep good form down the final stretch. I could hear an announcer calling out names of runners as they crossed the line. The crowds lining the road grew thicker as the finish line neared. About 60 meters from the end, I heard a voice yell out, "Dayle, stop. I want to take your picture!" It was my good friend Bill, who had the unfortunate luck of having to change a roll of film just as I appeared otherwise he could have clicked off some shots as I ran by. Although my inclination was to keep running to cross the finish line, I knew that Bill had made a special effort to be there at the end to cheer me on and snap some photos, so I didn't want to let him down. So I stopped, walked over toward him, and let him snap a pic.

Still feeling anxious about crossing the line, I told Bill I had to go and that I'd meet him in the finishers' area. As I neared the line, I was running by myself and not part of a pack. Perhaps because of that and because I'm a big guy (6'4, 245 lbs) and was wearing a bright red shirt, I must have caught the announcer's eye, for he called out, "And crossing the line is a big guy in a red shirt, runner # 2454, Dayle Turner from Kaneohe!" The finish line clock read 4:46 and change but my actual time, given that I had crossed the starting line about five minutes after the starting gun, was 4:41:09. That equates to an average of 10:43 per mile, slower than my goal pace of 10:00 but not bad at all. I was encouraged that I had run a negative split (2:24 for the first half and 2:17 for the second) and that I was able to run the entire way, save for walking through the dozen aid stations.

As for my post-race activities, I rested in the finisher's area while chugging down plenty of sports drink and water. I later ate a powerbar and ten oatmeal cookies. I picked up my orange finisher's t-shirt and finisher's medal and passed on the obligatory snapshot with a hula girl. My family was there to cheer me in and to enjoy the spectacle of the marathon finish line. My girlfriend Jackie had wanted to be there but couldn't because she had to tend to her daughter Jamie who had the flu. What I neglected to do is stretch well afterward. Accordingly, my legs stiffened up to the point that I didn't feel confident in my ability to drive home. So I gave my sister my keys and caught a ride with my mom. Bill snapped some more photos and let me borrow a towel and slippers. Much thanks to Bill and my family for the support and encouragement on race day.

I spent the rest of the day hydrating, eating, and napping. I woke up this morning still feeling stiff but not nearly as bad as the day before. At this point, I'm feeling much more limber and probably will resume some easy running next week.

As for my future with marathons, I don't plan to do any more. After all, I did what I set out to do. And, no, my life achievements do not include bungee jumping or skydiving. I certainly will continue to run, but will focus more on running for fitness rather than to prepare for races. I still will do some shorter races, but nothing longer than a half marathon. My next one will be in February, the 8.1 mile Great Aloha Run.

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