Honolulu, HI – Hapalua is the Hawaiian word for half, but today’s 7th Hapalua, Hawaii’s Half Marathon, was a full measure by anyone’s standards. Under unusually high humidity, defending champion Philip Tarbei of Kenya was able to overcome both the muggy conditions and the head starts afforded all 24 Team Hawaii runners to become the first person to win a second Hapalua title. His 64:14 winning time was 47-seconds slower than last year’s course record, and the outcome of the unique Chase format pitting Hawaii’s best against the Kenyan pros was not decided until the finish line banner came into view in Kapiolani Park.
“I was not sure I could win because of the high humidity,” said the 25 year-old Tarbei from Iten, Kenya, “I’ve never run in anything like this before.”
Though rain threatened throughout the morning, it never actually came. But in its stead, a heavy overlay of humidity clung to Oahu like a clammy shrink wrap, making racing conditions challenging for all 7000-plus starters.
After the 24 Team Hawaii runners took off from the pre-dawn Waikiki Beach start line on Kalakaua Avenue with leads of 24 to 8 minutes, Tarbei, his pacer Daniel Chebii and Kuaui native Pierce Murphy lit out giving Chase.
Murphy became the first Hawaii-born runner to run scratch at the Hapalua. But he is the islands’ best native runner of his generation, an eight-time All-American for the University of Colorado Buffaloes. But after hanging with the two world class Africans through 4K (12:02), he began to drift away, finally finishing in over 68 minutes.
5k splits of 15:03 and 15:18 with his pacer Daniel Chebii brought Tarbei into the Team Hawaii hunting grounds as the course turned onto Monsarrat Avenue at 15k for a mile long climb on the backside of the Diamond Head crater.
In previous years, the invited pros had begun to swallow up Team Hawaii runners by halfway. But this year it wasn’t till 13k (39:24) that the Team Hawaii blue singlets began to disappear behind Tarbei and Chebii. Two kilometers later Chebii, the two-time defending BAA 10k champion, began to falter, too.
Just two weeks ago in Europe, Philip Tarbei finished 6th at the Vandeloop Half Marathon in 60:48. Under today’s adverse conditions, and over a course with two stern hills in the final 6k, he took almost four minutes longer to finish the 21.1k distance.
Gobbling up the spirited Team Hawaii runners going up Monsarrat, then again up the front side of Diamond Head, the efficient striding Kenyan still had work to do to win his second Hapalua.
Creating his own weather system, Tarbei blew by eight Team Hawaii runners coming down Diamond Head. Then, entering Kapiolani Park for the final kilometer, he zephyred by Jill Thompson of Oahu, a 37 year-old mother of four and former All-American at Georgetown, who started with an 18-minute headstart. That left only Patrick Stover of the Big Island to pass – Stover started in Group C with a 13 minute cushion. But then the conditions rose up to offer an unexpected challenge.
“Just as I entered the park, I had to slow down because I was almost going to vomit due to the high humidity,” admitted Tarbei, who has a half-marathon best of 60:13. “But after slowing down, I felt better and could continue.”
With Tarbei’s second win, the pros moved ahead of the local Joes and Jills 4-3 in the Chase series, now a popular fixture on the islands’ racing calendar. A record 9200 runners signed up for the 2018 Hapalua, the sixth straight year the field has grown in the Honolulu Marathon sister race.
This coming December Philip Tarbei will return to Honolulu for his debut over the full marathon distance. After today’s effort, though, he may already think he knows how one feels.