Honolulu, Hi – Now in his 32nd year as the president of the Honolulu Marathon Association, Dr. Jim Barahal is the longest serving CEO among the world’s top marathons. During his tenure Honolulu has grown from 10,000 entrants into the fourth largest marathon in the United States.
This week over 34,000 runners and walkers will take to the streets of Honolulu in three separate events, the Kalakaua Merrie Mile on Saturday, then the Start to Park 10K and the 46th Honolulu Marathon on Sunday morning. We sat down with Jim at the marathon expo at the Hawaii Convention Center yesterday to talk marathon business and sport.
JB: The challenge for us as the fourth largest marathon in the United States is we have the smallest metropolitan area of all the big marathons. New York, Chicago, Boston, we will never be as big as the very biggest races, and Los Angeles and Houston and Marine Corps in Washington DC also have much bigger markets to draw from than Honolulu. So for a long time our second market has been Japan. But there have been changes in that market in recent years with the rise of new citizen marathons, and that’s created big competition for us.
In the past, all the Japanese marathons were elite only. So the opportunity for average runners in Japan came here in Honolulu. But now with other opportunities back home, we’ve had to make somewhat of an adjustment. How do we not only survive but thrive? What happen for us is we had to find growth beyond the marathon without cannibalizing the marathon.
All marathons now have other events on race weekend. But if you have a half marathon you find that it begins to overshadow the full marathon. So we asked several years ago do we want a half marathon? And we decided to begin a new, not companion half marathon which we call the Hapalua which is in April. It’s now in its eighth year and it’s been very successful. We have over 10,000 runners at the Hapalua and it’s become another destiination event for Japanese runners. About 2500 of our Hapalua runners come from Japan. But that didn’t address the first week of December.
The trend in running has been away from fast running toward participation. To stay competitive, you have to attract novice runners looking for an experience.
We realized two years ago, serendipitously, that on our course the first 10K basically ends at the marathon finish line in Kapiolani Park. That meant we could put on a 10K within the marathon and everyone could begin together, because the 10K is non-competitive. So it becomes an event with in the event. (more…)