On Sun Jun 26 2016, I ran the Kona Marathon on the Big Island of Hawaii. Certainly one of the benefits of undertaking this 50 state adventure is planning a trip to Hawaii. Originally, I had thought that I would save Hawaii for state #50 so that we could make a big party out of me completing the states. But the opportunity presented itself now, and we took advantage of it. With the marathon just a few days after the end of the school year, the timing worked out perfectly. I knew that any Hawaii marathon I signed up for would be part of a family vacation. And it would be difficult to plan one that didn't interfere with the school year. So this marathon was scheduled, and a weeklong family trip was booked around it.
We had been planning the trip for quite a long time; at least 6 months. We would be on the big island for 8 days, and the marathon would be on the second full day out there. Of course the travel to and from Hawaii from New Jersey is quite tedious and time-consuming. We had a 6:00am flight on Fri Jun 24, which meant we had to wake up at about 2:30am. There's a 6 hour time difference this time of year, so that means we WOKE UP at 8:30pm Hawaii time. So yeah, jet lag might be a bit of a problem. But we made our way out to Hawaii, with a layover in California each way.
Typically, my training heading towards this race wasn't great. But this has been true for just about every marathon I've run over the last couple years. Frankly, I was just happy to be still running at all, after suffering the herniated discs back in March. I made it through the marathon in Colorado
in April and then took a bit of time off to let my body heal. Time for healing is great, but it doesn't help when there's another marathon right around the corner. And there always seems to be another marathon right around the corner...
And there was another large hurdle in the way. This was Hawaii in late June. It was going to be warm. And this course spends a lot of time along a highway without a shred of shade. I know I say this a lot, but I was fairly confident that I would get a new Personal Worst here. But I didn't care. With my level of training and the certainty of unpleasant running weather, it was inevitable. More than anything, I just wanted to get Hawaii checked off the list. It's probably the most difficult and most expensive state to get to, so I didn't want to fail in this attempt. If I had to walk most of the race, I'd do it.
The race began at 5:30am Sunday morning. The good thing about being jetlagged is that it wasn't a problem waking up at 3:30am to eat something. Eventually I made my way from my room to the front of the resort, where there was a shuttle taking runners to the start/finish area, about a mile away.
As with most marathons I run, this one had a fair number of 50 Staters in attendance. I ran into a couple of fellow New Jersey 50 Staters on the shuttle who live near me and who I've met a few times before. I also met a couple of people who would be completing their 50 state quest at this race. One nice perk about this race was that they offered 50 Staters any bib number they wanted. I chose #35, since this would be my 35th state. That was a nice perk that I'd never been offered before.
Before the race, the temperature was pleasant. But there wasn't a cloud in the sky, so it was apparent that it was going to get warm. The sun started to come up right around the time the race started. The course involved a few out-and-backs. Basically, we ran from point A to point B and back; then from A to point C and back; then from A to B and back again. The A-to-B stretch was the only portion of the race that had any sort of tree cover, and even that was fairly minimal. Early on of course the sun wasn't too bad. But it was going to get worse.
I'm not sure whether I did this on purpose or not, but I started out fairly fast, relatively speaking. My first mile was 9:09, before slowing down a little. Then I picked that pace back up between Miles 5 and 7, clocking times of 9:09, 9:00 and 9:09. I guess I was banking time for my inevitable slowing down once the sun got high.
At the 9 mile mark, we ran onto Queen Ka'ahumanu Highway. This would be the longest stretch without any shade. From Mile 9 to the turnaround at the halfway point it wasn't too terribly bad, because the sun was behind us, we had the wind at our backs, and there was a long steady downhill stretch. The problem was going to be coming back after the turn.
I made it to the halfway point at the turnaround in just about 2:04. This is right about on par with many of my recent marathons, maybe even a little faster. I am somewhat surprised to have kept this pace to this point, but I knew the pace was about to slow dramatically. I slowed to a walk as soon as I turned around. Now it was 4 miles uphill, into the wind, with the sun in my face. It was a grind getting back to Mile 17 where we turned off the highway. Already by this point I had been taking a walk break every mile. Even though I was off the highway and had some sporadic shade, I knew that those walk breaks would just become more and more frequent.
A little after Mile 18, I ran past our resort. DW and DD were waiting there to cheer me on. It's the first time they've been at a marathon of mine in quite a while, so I was very happy to see them. But there was still a long way to go. My splits were getting worse and worse. The walk breaks were coming ever sooner. Oddly enough, I still felt fine. Hot and tired, yes. But not in any sort of pain. Maybe it's just because I was in Hawaii, but I was feeling quite content.
I was chugging down water and Gatorade like crazy, but still continued to feel hot and thirsty. Just not painfully so. My mile splits kept getting slower. I was doing 11 minute miles after Mile 16, and 12 minute miles after Mile 21. By Mile 24 I was down to a 13 minute pace. There was a water stop right before Mile 25, so I slowed for yet another cup of Gatorade. And this is apparently where I hit my Gatorade limit, because my stomach rebelled against me here. I felt like I had drunk 10 gallons of liquids up to this point, and apparently that was the breaking point. For a brief moment, I thought I was going to puke. But I held it in and kept moving - slowly.
Soon thereafter, I came upon our resort again, and DW and DD were still waiting there. I had expected them to have moved on to the finish area by now, so this was a nice surprise. With about a mile to go, DD decided to run the last mile with me. Then again, "run" doesn't really describe what I was doing at this point. DD was wearing flip-flops, and she was clearly able to move faster than I was now. I think more time was spent walking than running during this bit. My split for Mile 26 was 14:41, which I'm fairly certain is the slowest mile I've ever recorded. But that's okay. I made it to the finish line, and I got to cross it with my daughter at my side. My final time was 4:45:34, which is about 8 minutes slower than my previous PW
. But I didn't care, since I got to check the most difficult state to reach off my list.
So my thoughts on the Kona Marathon... I loved being able to pick my own bib number. I wish other races would do this. And the volunteers were incredibly nice and helpful along the course in the hot sun. But that's about as far as I'll go in giving this race a rave review. I won't even use the weather as a complaint about the race because you've got to know what you're getting in to when you sign up for a race in Hawaii in late June. Still, a little more shade would have been nice.
Overall, the course was okay, I guess. The section around the resorts was certainly pretty and well-maintained. But even though we ran that part four times, it was still a small chunk of the overall race. Too much of it was run along the side of a functioning highway. The scenery on that highway was certainly unique. I don't get to see lava rocks at home in New Jersey. But endless miles of those lava rocks started to get a little tedious. For a race that took place so close to the ocean, there was hardly any views of the ocean. We were always just far enough away that we couldn't see it over all the lava rocks.
Crowd support was fairly minimal, except for the small stretches around the start/finish area and the various resorts. There was nobody out on the highway, which is not surprising. So while I thoroughly enjoyed my vacation to Hawaii, and I am thrilled to have completed a marathon in the state, I am a little bit underwhelmed by the Kona Marathon. I had read some marathon website somewhere which listed it as the best marathon in Hawaii. After running the race, I find that a little hard to believe. It wasn't BAD, by any stretch of the imagination. But I just wasn't blown away by it. If I ever decide to run another marathon in Hawaii some day, I'm fairly certain that I will choose a different race on a different island.
Well, the vacation was fantastic. And 35 states have now been completed. I will take a little time off and rest up. I want to avoid running long distances in the hot weather for a while. I'll take some time to consider my next marathon, but I'm sure I'll attempt state #36 some time this fall...
And now the pics. Click on any picture to enlarge.