Honolulu, HI. — In the pitiless game of hunter and prey there are no guarantees, only daily survivals. Today, under its unique Chase format, in which 24 top runners from the Hawaiian Islands are given incremental head starts ranging from 20 to 7 minutes on four international chasers, The Hapalua, Hawaii’s Half Marathon saw the hunters prevail for the first time in four years.
After running down every Team Hawaii runner by 19K, Kenya’s Peter Kirui outkicked Kenyan born Qatari Nicholas Kemboi in the final few meters in Kapiolani Park, 64:08 to 64:09, to take the $5000 first prize. 1:05 later Honolulu triathlete Ben Williams arrived just one second ahead of Kenyan Emily Chebet, while 18 year-old Kalaheo High School senior Makai Clemons finished 54 seconds later in fifth place.
Williams and Makai were two of five local men given a seven minute lead on Kirui and Kemboi, while two-time IAAF World Cross Country champion Emily Chebet of Kenya began with a six minute advantage on a warm, muggy morning (if you asked the internationalists) or a nice and cool day (when the locals were surveyed).
Having finished third last year in the Chase after beginning very conservatively with former marathon world record holder Patrick Makau, Kirui began the day alongside iconic Waikiki Beach with a one minute faster 5K split than last year (15:02 vs 16:08).
“I was expecting to run 62,” said the champion afterwards, “and I tried to push at 10K (30:07), but the conditions were very warm, and I slowed down to wait for Nicholas because it is very hard to run alone from that far out.”
Kemboi, the fourth fastest 10,000 meter runner in history at 26:30, developed a painful blister at 5K, and had to slow, allowing Kirui to open a 10 second margin. But when his toe went numb and Kirui backed off the throttle, Nicholas regained contact on the return through Waikiki Beach. From there the two internationalists began to pick off Team Hawaii runners one by one beginning in mile 7.
“The Chase gives you motivation,” said runner up Kemboi, who was making his first visit to the islands. “Every time you catch one it gives you more energy.”
“I didn’t know where we were, because we weren’t counting the people,” explained Kirui, a 59:22 half-marathon man at his best. “We were only focusing on the time. But when we caught Emily we knew we could win, because she was the one we were afraid of.”
Emily Chebet finished sixth last month at the World Championships in China to indicate her fitness. But the two hunters caught her on the ascent of Diamond Head just after 11 miles.
“I wanted to run fast, and the course was very nice,” said Chebet. “But the conditions were very heavy. I am happy, though, because this was my first half-marathon of the year. Maybe next year I will move up to the marathon.”
Chebet’s gun time was 1:11:15, nearly a minute slower than countrywoman Isabella Ochichi’s 70:24 course record from last year.
Top local runner Ben Williams is a Florida native and professional triathlete. He used the Hapalua as a tune up for a big competition next week in Japan.
“I’ll be racing a full long course triathlon in Miyako, Japan,” confirmed the 31 year old. “That’s a 3Km swim, 160Km bike, and marathon run. My approach today was to ease into the race, and then try to push hard up the hill on Monsarrat from 9 to 11. The Chase was a lot of fun, and it is really great for the local running community. I started in the last local wave, so I always had someone out in front of me to go after.”
The last member of Team Hawaii to fall to the relentless Kirui and Kemboi was taken at 58:10 just before 19Km on the descent of Diamond Head before the final stretch in Kapiolani Park.
“I had a woman (Bree Wee) behind me the whole way,” explained Hawaii Pacific University freshman Johanna Apelryd of Sweden who was in the 18 minute head start group. “But I grew up on hills in Sweden, so I didn’t think Diamond Head was that bad. But a big bug flew into my eye with 2K to go, and I couldn’t see anything. Then the two Kenyan guys came running by me superfast, one on either side. I didn’t hear them coming, and they went by so fast it kind of scared me.”
But in the end young Johanna held off Ms. Wee by five seconds to secure seventh place in The Chase competition, with Japan’s Taku Harada posting a gun time of 1:10:52 to finish sixth after starting with a four minute lead on Kirui and Kemboi.
6400 runners signed up for the fourth Hapalua, a 45% increase over 2014, as the event continues to be the fastest growing foot race on the islands.
“We try to make it a fair fight,” said Honolulu Marathon president Jim Barahal afterwards speaking of The Chase. “As recently as this weekend we were tweaking the times to level the playing field. It is good for the pros to win once in a while, but we will re-calibrate the lead times again next year. But there was no question that with this year’s set up if the Kenyans could run faster (than the previous year’s 65:30) they would have a chance to win.”
The last three years the prey has gone free. Today, the hunter was extra hungry and roared home with the sweet smell of victory filling his nostrils — though that could have also been the tasty malasadas that were offered to all who came to try their best in Hawaii’s new springtime rundown along the blue Pacific shoreline.