Honolulu, Hi – Looking through the winning times of the Honolulu Marathon over the years can take you back to the days before the first Running Boom when 5:00 per mile pace was still the gold standard for world-class marathon running.
Even in today’s world where the race is on for the first sub-2 hour performance, the Honolulu Marathon record of 2:09:39, set last year by Kenya’s Lawrence Cherono, looks as modest as a peck on your sister’s cheek. But when you read the names of Honolulu’s champions, you begin to understand the challenge that heat, humidity, and hills can represent in what remains one of the world’s most iconic city marathons.
This year, for the first time in its 45 years, the marathon world record holder will toe the Honolulu Marathon starting line tomorrow morning at 5 AM. Kenya’s Dennis Kimetto will be joined by over 27,000 fellow adventurers, only a handful of whom have any chance of beating the 33 year-old. But those handful are dangerous, indeed.
Leading the challenge will be the defending champion Lawrence Cherono who broke the 12 year-old course record last year by 1:33, becoming the first man to go sub-2:10 on the Oahu layout. 2014 champion Wilson Chebet also broke the old course record in second with a 2:10:50 clocking.
This year both Cherono and Chebet arrive in Honolulu only eight weeks after the Amsterdam Marathon, a race Chebet won three years running, 2011-2013, enough to earn him the nickname “Mr. Amsterdam”. But this October 15th Chebet dropped out after running with the leaders through 31km.
“I don’t know what happened,” admitted Chebet, who twice has taken runner up in Honolulu to go along with his 2014 win. “It wasn’t an injury. I just didn’t have any power. So there was no reason to keep pushing.”
Could one reason be the 18 career marathons Wilson has run?
Cherono, on the other hand, won Amsterdam in 2:05:09, a 1:12 PB.
“He’s a better athlete this year,” said Stefano Cugusi, who works with Rosa & Associates, Cherono’s management team. “He pushed the pace in Amsterdam to keep it at 2:05. If he had help it could have been a 2:04.”
The question with Cherono is how his body will respond tomorrow after such a short rest. Last year he came to the islands 11 weeks after taking second at the Hengshui Lake Marathon in China in 2:11:14. How important will those extra three weeks prove to have been, if at all?
Same goes for our world record holder Dennis Kimetto. On October 8th he dropped out of the Chicago Marathon at 24k with a cramp in his right calf. It was the fifth DNF in his 11 marathon career, which began auspiciously with a 2:04:16 at Berlin in 2012. There he finished just a second behind his training partner Geoffrey Mutai, the Boston and New York City course record holder.
Over the next two years, Kimetto swapped three wins, including the world record 2:02:57 in Berlin 2014, with two DNFs. He’s here in Honolulu now because, “the shape is still there.” I guess we will find out how true that is early tomorrow morning.
Also keep an eye on Festus Talam, a 23 year-old Kenyan (what else) who took 4th in Rotterdam this spring in 2:07:10, then won Eindhoven in the Netherlands October 8th (as the pacer!) in 2:06:13. His manager Davor Savija speaks very highly of him.
“He leads his own group of 8 to 10 guys in Iten (the famous center of Kenyan training in the Central Highlands). He isn’t an Alpha, but is softly a leader. I think he has a good chance to make the 2020 Olympic team.”
A win here in Honolulu where 1996 Olympic Marathon gold and silver medalists Josiah Thungwane (RSA 1995) and Bong-ju Lee (So. Korea 1993) proved their mettle wouldn’t hurt.
The race begins at 5 a.m. I will be on KITV4 while Toya will be covering the women’s race for local radio. We will break it all down afterwards. Aloha.
Live broadcast of #HNLMarathon on @KITV4 at 05:00 Hawaii time (07:00 PST or 10:00 EST). Go to KITV.com to watch. No geoblocking.