HONOLULU 2014 RECAP

Honolulu, Hi. —  Monday dawned sunny and bright the day after the 2014 Honolulu Marathon.  Such is the game of chance in the marathon world.  For yesterday’s 42nd Honolulu Marathon a deep roll of clouds lingered over Oahu, bringing spells of lashing trade winds and screeds of warm rain in the pre-dawn darkness along the mid-section of the out-and-back course.

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Yet the conditions didn’t chill the Aloha spirit offered or received by the thousands who embraced the warm but wild conditions — though fully 4000 of the 30,000 entrants who picked up their bib numbers at the Honolulu Convention Center failed to arrive at the Ala Moana Blvd. start line at 5 a.m.  That number, however, is more a reflection of the spirit of the Honolulu Marathon as a destination event more so than, say, a Boston qualifier.  Yet, the thousands who took up the challenge remained stalwart.  The final finishers didn’t arrive at the Kapiolani Park finish line until nearly 15 hours into the race.   Continue reading

2014 HONOLULU MARATHON PREVIEW

Honolulu 2014 logo Honolulu, HI. — The sport of marathoning  has gone gaga for fast times. Since 2011’s 2:03:38 by Patrick Makau in Berlin the record has tumbled  two more times, with the current clocking, 2:02:57, coming this September in Berlin by fellow Kenyan Dennis Kimetto.  The 100th fastest time of 2014, 2:08:25, is nine seconds faster than Aussie Derek Clayton’s 1969 world best in Antwerp that lasted a dozen years.

But Sunday’s 42nd Honolulu Marathon will not be won in anything approaching a world’s best, or for that matter, even what might be considered a normally fast, world-class time. No, Honolulu is a throw-back, built for competition, not for speed. The fact that six-time champion Jimmy Muindi’s course record, 2:11:12, has stood since 2004 — and before that Ibrahim Hussein’s 2:11:43 lasted 20 years — testifies to the difficulty presented by 26.2 miles (42.2Km) of tropical heat and humidity over a course that requires two climbs over iconic Diamond Head before the finish in Kapiolani Park. Now add a tempestuous NE wind that may clock in at 30 mph or more Sunday morning, and this 42Km may run more like 50!

Notwithstanding the challenges, this year’s Honolulu Marathon has what many are calling its strongest field ever, a well-matched compilation of veterans and eager newcomers anxious to show their wares and earn berth in a 2015 Abbot World Marathon Major.

Last year under 72F temps and calm winds the main nine-man pack loitered through a 1:11:38 first half, some three minutes behind front-runner Saeki Makino of Japan, a training partner of Japan’s famed citizen runner Yuki Kawauchi. It took till mile 22 before Kenyans Gilbert Chepkwony and 2011 champion Nicholas Chelimo reeled him in. Chepkwony then put Chelimo away with back-to-back 4:36 miles at 22 and 23 on his way to a modest 2:18:47 finish. Chepkwony and Chelimo have returned in 2014, but will be hard-pressed to maintain their positions atop the podium. It has always been said that the best way to honor your champion is to invite a field that’s worthy of his best efforts. You could say that race director Jon Cross is honoring the bejeesus out of Mr. Chepkwony this year.

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ATHLETICS: A HOUSE ON FIRE

IMG_440106424Honolulu, Hi. —   It is easy to get lolled into a complacent repose here on the magical isle of Oahu. The rolling surf and easy trade winds loosen even the stiffest resolve, and one can forget, for the moment, the sulfurous zeitgeist wafting over the sport of athletics of late.

From the doping positives and allegations of wide-spread cheating and corruption coming out of the distance Eden of Kenya, to the hardened realpolitik of alleged payoffs to cover failed drug tests in Russia — or to secure championship site selection by the IAAF —  from the overturning of a mandate-level membership vote by a know-better USATF Board of Directors, to the potential loss of root and branch events like the 10,000, shot put, triple jump, and 200 meters on the track at the Olympics, there seems to be a sense of a house on fire on all fronts of athletics.

Maybe this is the entropy toward which any old and failed model eventuates. Maybe this is how the culture of greed and corruption loops back on itself in an ironic twist of Shakespearean delight.   In any regard, it is clear that the sport has completely lost its way.

Those in charge seem less passionate about the game than about the easy rewards that come from positions within extra-national oligarchies that lack adequate oversight and deal in the murky world of international banking.  It is why this sport is so attractive to so many of the wrong people as well as to so many great athletes and well-meaning supporters.

But there has always been the sense that the problem cannot be solved by simply rejiggering the NGB model or by replacing fallen men with more upstanding counterparts.  Though every sport has its difficulties and foibles, other successful sports have long since separated the necessary duties of governance, grass roots development and national team selection from the very different requirements of a truly professional sport.   Continue reading

HONOLULU MARATHON PREZ JIM BARAHAL: WHY ELITES?

IMG_439943180Honolulu, HI. — With its clement trade winds and Aloha spirit, the Honolulu Marathon has long been one of the world’s most alluring marathons.  Now entering its 42nd year, America’s fourth largest marathon has hosted more 680,000 finishers, including many of the great runners of their era.  Another 30,000-plus have signed up for this Sunday morning’s sunrise run up over Diamond Head and into Kapiolani Park.

But this hard-earned legacy of hospitality and excellence isn’t a laurel that can be rested on lightly. Like any athlete training for the race itself, the Honolulu Marathon Association continues to seek a level of perfection that both challenges and eludes us all.  And that includes in the realm of elite performance. Continue reading

PUNAHOU HIGH SCHOOL VISIT

Punahou logo     Honolulu, HI. — We drove through the Makai Gate at the intersection of Punahou and Wilder Streets onto the Punahou School campus just as classes were letting out for the day.  In the warm Hawaiian sunshine kids with backpacks slung over their shoulders walked indolently side-by-side, some toward waiting family cars, many others toward after-school sports practices.

Located perhaps two miles inland from Waikiki Beach on the island of Oahu, the Punahou School is a private co-ed primary and prep school celebrated for both its academic and sporting successes.  Originally established in 1841 as a school for the children of missionaries serving throughout the Pacific region, these days Punahou is most famous as the alma mater of Barack Obama, America’s 44th president, who graduated (as Barry) in 1979.

Today, Dr. Jim Barahal, president of the Honolulu Marathon Association was bringing former three-time Honolulu Marathon champion Mbarek Hussein and four-time U.S. Olympian Abdi Abdirahman to the campus to visit Coach Todd Iacovelli’s distance running session, where Jim’ son Sebastian is a mainstay.

“You know me,” said Abdi, “If I can help motivate even one kid, not just in running, but life, that would mean a lot to me.” Continue reading

BUILDING THE WALL, FEELING IT FALL

Hono 2013 dawn     Honolulu, HI. — In today’s modern architectural aesthetic the open floor-plan has become the preferred design, a wall-dispensing motif to create an enlarged sense of space.  So, too, in today’s modern marathon world has the removal of barriers come into vogue, as the long-feared “Wall” has all but been torn down at the upper echelon of competition.

Born in the wispy tendrils of myth – see the legend of Pheidippides – the marathon “Wall” is what made the event such an epic challenge.  A much respected and feared barrier for any runner who assailed the marathon’s mighty length, The Wall is an invisible construction erected with the mortar of hubris and desire that stood as a bulwark against those who ran out of energy before the race ran out of distance.

But with today’s professional athletes building on training methods of the past, the marathon has been humbled.  Rather than a test of endurance the event has been turned into a test of speed over distance.  Athletes sequestered in monastic camps deep in the highlands of East Africa or in the rarefied atmospheres of the Rockies or Alps over-train for the distance.  These days we often hear of the top men doing at least one, and as many as three, 40Km runs in a training cycle, and many more 35Ks jaunts to bolster their longer runs.  Yes, today’s elite men and women stand on the starting lines of marathons world-wide unafraid of what lies ahead.  Yet there remain exceptions to the rule, and we witnessed one such exception this past Sunday at the 41st Honolulu Marathon. Continue reading

THE MAYOR OF TUCSON

Abdi leading the cheers in Osaka 2007

Abdi leading the cheers in Osaka 2007         (photo by Scott Winnier)

In less than two weeks Tucson’s Abdi Abdirahman will compete in the Honolulu Marathon for the first time.  Due to the marketplace of marathons, it has been more than a quarter century since a top American male has come to Honolulu to race.  So as Honolulu prepares for its December 8th onslaught, and the nation as a whole celebrates what many believe to be her most endearing holiday (before going off the rails again on Black Friday), I thought we’d go back a few years to a trip I made to Tucson in 2007 as Abdi prepared for the U.S. Olympic Trials Marathon in New York City.

Though I had known and covered Abdirahman for many years, what I learned during that visit didn’t just reveal the character of the man, through him it reminded me of the character of the country he now calls home.  Perhaps it’s a reminder we all need to hear during this time of Thanksgiving. Continue reading