CONNECTING AT THE HAPALUA

Peter, Patrick & Isabella Hangin' Loose at Paili Lookout

Peter, Patrick & Isabella Hangin’ Loose at Pali Lookout

Honolulu, Hawaii — After two days of sightseeing and public appearances, Patrick Makau, Peter Kirui, and Isabella Ochichi will get down to the business end of their trip to Honolulu Sunday morning as the 3rd Hapalua, Hawaii’s Half Marathon begins along Waikiki Beach (see start schedule below).

Makau ran the fastest time under 2013’s torrential downpour, 65:28, but because The Chase format was in play, where the top pros had to chase down 24 top local runners given head starts, Patrick only crossed the finish line in 16th place.

This year Makau is coming off an injury which derailed the rest of 2013, a year he saw his world record fall to countryman Wilson Kipsang in Berlin. The Hapalua will be Patrick’s first competition since a hollowed out 2:14 at the 2013 London Marathon last April.  He’s just now getting back to real training. Isabella Ochichi is on the comeback trail, too, after an endless seven year layoff.  With the Honolulu Marathon already on her December schedule, this first visit to Oahu is as much an audition as anything.  Strangely, there has never been a Kenyan women’s winner at the Honolulu Marathon.  The Hapalua will let her test the tropical conditions.  She is healthy now, but being sensible with her return to form.

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The third Kenyan in the chase, Peter Kirui, is where the danger lurks. He arrives in the Aloha State fresh off a PR 59:22 win at last weekend’s Prague Half Marathon. “I hope to run 59 again here,” Peter told a group of local runners who jogged around Kapiolani Park with the trio of Kenyan stars this morning under light sun showers.  The idea of anyone running under one-hour for the half-marathon in Honolulu brought out the jester in Honolulu Marathon president Jim Barahal.

“We’re laughing with you, not at you,” cracked Jim, knowing the two sides of Diamondhead Crater the course will require.

But Kirui is a prodigious talent, able to perform at no more than 100 and 110 kilometers per week (60 – 66 miles).

“For the last 15 months Peter has been attending the Kenyan Police Administration academy in Nairobi,” explained his manager Zane Branson. “The last year and a half has all been done on pure talent. In February he was out in the bush for three weeks in survival training with the police administration. They did 40 kilometer runs in boots, not great training for a world-class runner. He only trained hard two weeks before Prague.

“But Peter is ultra-responsible. And for someone from his family to join the Kenyan police is a big achievement. We aren’t talking about a desk job, either. The police administration goes out into the bush and fights bandits.”

Makau has also been in training for the police administration. Their swearing in ceremony as constables will come next Tuesday in Nairobi, and the official graduation follows on Wednesday.

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Leading Kapiolani Park training run

Leading Kapiolani Park training run

This December’s Honolulu Marathon will be Isabella’s second attempt at the distance. The 2004 women’s Olympic 5000 meter silver medalist took a long seven year hiatus from running after two Achilles tendon surgeries and the birth of her son, Pardon.

“Her biggest challenge was dropping nearly a third of her body weight,” said Zane Branson. “She went from her racing weight of 94 pounds to over 130 after the birth of her child. She trains in Ngong with Patrick’s (Makau) group. Her first marathon was in Amsterdam last fall. She was on 2:23 pace past 25k, but had a hamstring tighten up and finished in 2:31 feeling disappointed. But she’s smart, and knows what is necessary. She has a very professional attitude.”

Patrick Makau has only been back in full training for two months.  He came off the 2013 Hapalua heading toward the London Marathon, only to find he couldn’t run 5k with the leaders. He finished in 2:14, somewhat broken in body and spirit.  A weak left side led to debilitating knee pain last year

“He had to pull out of the Berlin Marathon last fall, too,” said Zane Branson, “though he still attended as the world record holder. But he was worried about losing his record, and didn’t go to the start.”

After Wilson Kipsang took down Makau’s record by 15 seconds to 2:03:23, Zane headed back to the host hotel to check in on his client. “I walked back to see if he was ok. He came out of the shower with a big smile on his face. All of that pressure (of being the world record holder) was gone, and you could see the relief.” Every person handles fame differently. Patrick Makau is a shy, quiet man who doesn’t seek the limelight. But as world record holder the light seeks you.

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Makau chilling at Kailua Beach

Makau chilling at Kailua Beach

“There wasn’t a week that went by that there wasn’t a camera crew on hand to film him,” recalled Zane, “especially during the Olympic year. And it wore him down. He enjoys doing things with kids, and he took the responsibility of being the record holder very seriously. But it all gets in the way of the training focus which led to the record in the first place.”

Makau might have been relieved that the record had been lifted from his back, but now that it is gone he wants it back. No man who has ever lost the record has got it back again, and at age 34 it won’t be easy for Makau as his body needs to be retooled to handle the training load that might again produce a 2:03 effort.

“This is his first race since London 2013,” said Zane. “He has only been fully healthy since February. He got married in December, a big wedding, and that distracted from training. But he also has to correct the imbalance that began at the L-5 vertebra and showed up as knee pain.”

Branson took him to a specialist in Munich during Berlin Marathon week, and an MRI showed there was no knee damage. But it will be a slow rebuilding process, and he will need to strengthen his core (it seems almost all Kenyan runners have a weak core).

“If he can dedicate himself to that regimen, he will have every opportunity to challenge for the world record again. But it is very boring for a Kenyan to do gym work. It’s just like this media work the athletes have been doing here in Honolulu. It needs to be a priority, especially at the World Marathon Majors. A 2:05 guy who is good in front of has more value than a 2:03 guy who isn’t.”

It’s a brave new world, both in terms of speed and responsibility. That means connecting the top athletes with the regular runners, because it is the average runners who are ultimately paying for the top guys to be there. Tomorrow The Hapalua will make that connection. Let’s see who wins the engagement.

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Kristina Pineda & Team Hawaii's Matt Holton

Kristina Pineda & Team Hawaii’s Matt Holton

One such member of Team Hawaii trying to hold off Kirui and Makau is Matt Holton ,35, of Maui.  Matt is the reigning Honolulu Marathon Kama’aina (islands) Champion.  He and girlfriend Cristina Pineda are both running, she in the mass race.

“Running with the world-class runners is exciting,” said Holton, 35, once a member of a Maui High School’s state championship team before attending Bentley College in Boston and the University of Oregon. Today Matt is a professional portrait artist with a studio in Kula.  His art has taken him where he had once hoped his running might have.

“I moved to Flagstaff to train in 2001 to 2005,” said Matt.  “I lived with Wejo (Weldon Johnson, co-founder of LetsRun.com). We occasionally ran with Khalid Khannouchi (ex-world record holder, marathon).”

Makau's momentum after the tape takes him by Holton.

Makau’s momentum carries him by Holton in 2013, but not before the tape.

Matt has run all three Hapalua’s. Last year he was able to hold off Patrick Makau by three seconds. That’s linkage up close and personal.

Head Starts – Handicaps Group A 4:30 min. handicap, start at 5:55:30am Group B  7:30 min. handicap, start at 5:52:30am Group C 10:30 min handicap, start at 5:49:30am Group D 13:30 min handicap, start at 5:46:30am Group E 17:30 min handicap, start at 5:42:30am Group F 21 min handicap, start at 5:39am Isabella Ochichi starts in Group A at 5:55:30am Patrick Makau and Peter Kirui start at 6:00am First across the line is the winner!

END

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