The Hapalua    Though the indoor winter track season is in full swing on both sides of the pond, the spring marathon majors in Boston and London have already begun to loom on the horizon.  Even with the monster storm tracking toward New England and scheduled to dump as much as two feet of snow on the area tomorrow through Saturday, the mud and scuttling clouds of April – conditions well recognized in both Boston and London - still beckon off in the soon-to-be whited out distance.

While training for the marathons continues in deep sequestration at camps across the American west and along East Africa’s Great Rift Valley, we can begin to see the training sweats being stripped off as schedules get set for the tune up races heralding marathon season.  Yesterday, the RAK Half-Marathon field was released.  Headed by 2010 champion Geoffrey Mutai, the marathon list leader in both 2011 & 2012, the RAK Half has swiftly become the world’s deepest and fastest half marathon.  Its list of champions is a true who’s who of this running generation, and features several Virgin London Marathon contenders going head up on February 15th.

Patrick Makau, marathon world record holder

World record holder Patrick Makau (photo by PhotoRun.Net)

Yet one man who will not be in the UAE next weekend is the 2008-2009 RAK Half champion and course record holder Patrick Makau of Kenya (58:52), who is also the marathon world record holder.  Makau will instead tune up for the London Marathon one month from now thousands of miles away on the island of Oahu at the Hapalua Half Marathon, the second-year sister event of the Honolulu Marathon.

With men like 2011 Boston & New York, and 2012 Berlin champ Geoffrey Mutai, 2011 London winner Emmanuel (not related) Mutai, and 2012 Chicago runner-up Feyisa Lelisa of Ethiopia matching up in the UAE before going double the distance in London April 21st, it may seem an odd selection for Makau to go solo at a low-key race in Hawaii.  But according to Makau’s manager Zane Branson, Makau is more than comfortable with his choice.

“I spoke to Patrick about Hapalua just after Christmas,” Branson wrote in an e-mail response to my query.  “And I told him that Jim and Jon (Barahal and Cross, Honolulu Marathon heads) were interested to invite him back to Honolulu (Makau rabbited the first eight miles of the 2011 Honolulu Marathon while on vacation following his 2:03:38 marathon world record in Berlin.)

“I suggested that he might want to think about it for a week or two,” continued Branson, “with my only concern being the distance of the travel six weeks before London.  Patrick called me saying that he would really like to run the Hapaula, and he said he felt six weeks before London was fine for him. I inquired again if he was sure, and he told me that the timing of Hapalua suits him.

“I mentioned to Jon and Jim that in the past couple of years Patrick has wanted a “test” race before his marathons but he doesn’t ease down for the race, nor does he come prepared to run really fast. He is very calculating over his marathon preparations, but he likes his test race more as a mental break from his ‘sleep-run-eat-sleep’ that is his complete daily routine in the months before a marathon. I am with him now in Kenya and he is really happy about the trip. This was 100% his decision.”

A member of the Kamba tribe (like seven-time Honolul Marathon champion Jimmy Muindi and past Honolulu favs Cosmas Ndeti and the late Benson Masya), Makau has always been more of a loner. He trains in Ngong outside Nairobi with a small cadre of lesser known sparring partners, rather than up in the higher altitude of Eldoret or Iten where the majority of the Kenyan big guns load up.

At the March 10th Hapalua (Hawaiian word meaning “Half”) Makau will race against seven-time Honolulu Marathon champion Jimmy Muindi, and 60:09 half-marathoner and 2:06:34 marathon man Nicholas Manza who ran 4th at the 2012 Berlin Marathon.  However, the signature competition of the Hapalua is The Chase: Team Hawaii vs. The World elites. In this format the best runners in Hawaii, both professionals and amateur, are given a designated head start over the three Kenyans. The time differential for 2013 has yet to be determined, but in 2012 the Hawaii women received an 18-minute lead, while the Hawaii men representing Team Hawaii got a 9- minute advantage lead.

Bree Wee, 2012 Hapalua Women's champion

Bree Wee, 2012 Hapalua Women’s champion

At the finish last year in Kapiolani Park Thomas Puzey of Oahu was first to the line in 1:10:24.  With the nine minute head start, his adjusted time was 1:01:24, earning him the $5000 first prize purse. Dany Malley a college student was second in 1:10:38. picking up $2500, while third place and $1000 went to the first woman Bree Wee, a professional triathlete from the Big Island who ran 1:21:05.  Her time adjusted to 1:03:05.  Kenya’s Jimmy Muindi completed the course in 1:05:18, which only brought him home in ninth place.

Though Patrick Makau has a half-marathon PR of 58:52, the course record from the RAK Half in 2009, his only half-marathon in 2012 was run in France at the Granollers Half Marathon in February. There he produced a 62:40 performance.  That led him to the London Marathon last April, the final selection race for the Kenyan Olympic team.  Thinking he had already been named to the team, Makau pulled out of the marathon after 11 miles with a minor hamstring problem, not wanting to jeopardize inflicting more damage before the Games.

Turns out the politics of the situation were cloudy at best, and Makau (along with Boston and New York City Marathon course record holder Geoffrey Mutai) remained at home wondering how they might have fared against London gold medalist Stephen Kiprotich of Uganda, and fellow Kenyans Abel Kirui, the double World Champion, and Wilson Kipsang the 2012 Virgin London Marathon winner who took the silver and bronze.

Come March 10th at the Hapalua Makau will be looking for a time in or around 63:00 as prepping marathoners have shown that sub-60:00 or low 60:00s tune ups do not translate well into fast marathons.  The Hapalua may well be a gamble, but according to the Daily Nation, Makau is preparing for nothing less than a full-out assault on his 2011 world marathon record in London towne.  You can bet it won’t be a chase there as he takes on the real iron of the marathon world.

How would you like to say you raced the marathon world record holder over the half-marathon?  It’s an out-and-back course at The Hapalua.  Watch him fly as you give chase.  Sign up here.

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