Honolulu Marathon Association president Jim Barahal

Honolulu Marathon Association president Jim Barahal

The Honolulu Marathon is unique for many reasons, not the least of which is its tropical location. Not that that’s any bargain come race day. With its warm, humid conditions and Diamond Head hill to climb going out and coming home, Honolulu is by far the slowest of the top echelon marathons in the world.  Imagine any other marathon whose course record still doesn’t average 5:00 per mile pace.

And yet in its 42 years the Honolulu Marathon has etched a place of honor both in the sport and at home, long recognized as one of the world’s most iconic marathons.  This week the Honolulu Marathon Association’s president of the last 27 years, Dr. Jim Barahal, was inducted into the Hawaii Sports Hall of Fame. 

“I’m particularly happy that it was the Sports Hall of Fame,” said Barahal of his induction. “We have always approached this as a sporting event, and we don’t want to lose sight of that. It’s why we always invite the very top athletes. In this day and age that is not a universal sentiment. But it would never occur to us to have anything other than a world-class competition. We want to be on the sports page, not the lifestyle page.” Continue reading


Coming April 12, 2015

Coming April 12, 2015

Honolulu, HI. — The Hapalua, Hawaii’s Half Marathon is quite a mouthful for a race name, especially when you consider it was born out of the long-standing and short-named Honolulu Marathon.  But with over 6100 entrants signed up for Sunday’s fourth annual Hapalua, the event, and its name, seems to have stuck.

“From a creation point of view, we did something different,” said Honolulu Marathon Association president Jim Barahal.  “We created a half-marathon from scratch, and branded it with its own name standing alone from the Honolulu Marathon.”

Not that that was the original idea.  At first, Barahal considered a linked name that he thought lent itself to a logo with its own cache.  Thus, the Honolulu Marathon Half Marathon would be branded as HM Squared.

“That was an interesting brand,” thought Barahal, who has been president of the Honolulu Marathon Association since 1987.  But when he got a little deeper into the project, Barahal Googled the Hawaiian word for half, and it turned out it was Hapalua.  That’s when he said, ‘that’s an even nicer name’.

Honolulu Marathon Association president Jim Barahal

Honolulu Marathon Association president Jim Barahal

On top of which, no one had ever used the word Hapalua in any context before, because in Hawaii the word people use for half is Hapa, which is the diminutive of Hapalua.

“I don’t think anyone knew there was a longer word,” laughed Barahal. “It took me about two minutes on the phone with an attorney to trademark that name, and we decided not just piggyback on our marathon.” Continue reading


Helena & Jim Barahal -  Happy 25th Anniversary!

Helena & Jim Barahal – Happy 25th Anniversary!

Today, March 24, 2015, is the 25th wedding anniversary of Jim and Helena Barahal of Hawaii. Jim is the president of the Honolulu Marathon Association, and one of my oldest friends in the sport.  We met in 1980 broadcasting the 8th Honolulu Marathon for radio station KKUA. The following is a play-by-play of Jim & Helena’s magical wedding week in England in 1990, to this day the best wedding I have ever attended (other than my own). Continue reading


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.

IMG_440356087 (1)

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


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.

Continue reading


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


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