Honolulu, HI. – In both 2016 & 2017, the Honolulu Marathon produced the fastest men’s marathon times in the United States.  Perhaps some of that anomaly can be traced to the Chicago Marathon dropping pacesetters for three years. But in the last two years Kenya’s Lawrence Cherono (2:09:38 & 2:08:27) slashed almost three minutes off Jimmy Muindi’s 2004 Honolulu course record of 2:11:12, a record that itself stood for 18 years after Ibrahim Hussein brought Kenyan-style racing to  Oahu in the mid 1980s. 

This year both Cherono and two-time women’s champion Brigid Kosgei have not returned to defend their titles, leaving the 2018 Honolulu Marathon wide open in both genders.

Even without 2018 Amsterdam Marathon champion Cherono in the field (2:04:06), places two, three, and four from 2017 Honolulu have returned in the persons of Wilson Chebet, Vincent Yator, and Titus Ekiru.  

With thousands of runners still outbound on Diamond Head at 8 miles, Wilson Chebet breaks free from Paul Lonyagata approaching 40K in Honolulu 2014.

Chebet won this race in 2014 and placed second in the last three years. His 2:09:55 runner-up position last year was the third fastest time in race history, while Vincent Yator’s 2:10:38 in third holds as the fourth fastest time ever in Honolulu. 

The key to those fast times, as in most marathons, was the weather. So even though the temperature was 71°F, and the humidity held at 78% last year, the winds were a slight 5 to 7 mph. Compare that with tomorrow’s forecast for the trade winds out along the Kalanianaole Highway from miles 11 to 15 expected to blow 25 to 30 mph. You can imagine the effect. 

But with the top three men all having experience on the course, there will be no surprises, just probably longer pack running. The men will have two pacers helping cut through the wind.

33 year-old Wilson Chebet comes into the race just looking to complete the distance for the first time in 2018 as he dropped out of both Boston in the spring then the Frankfurt Marathon on 28 October with cramps. With 18 career marathons behind him, it could be Father Time giving Wilson a nudge. 

Vincent Yator is coming off a 10th place finish at Frankfurt in 2:12:03 after leading till 35K before falling apart in the final 7 km. But Yator had a much bigger test earlier in 2018 than any final miles of a marathon.

This past February while heading home to Eldoret from Nairobi where he was picking up a travel visa for the Paris Half Marathon, Vincent was involved in a serious accident. The minibus Vincent was riding in along with several other athletes was hit by a truck on the pitch-black Nairobi-Nakaru Highway. Five people were killed in the accident including his training mate Francis Kiplagat. Yator suffered several broken ribs and a head injury, but his injuries weren’t life-threatening.  That he recovered well enough to race in Frankfurt and now Honolulu is a testament to his determination. 

The man I’m watching closely is Titus Ekiru, who paced Honolulu last year, then kept running to finish fourth in 2:12:19. This October Titus stepped up his pacing duties, helping England’s Mo Farah to a European record 2:05:11 in Chicago. Before that the 26 year-old from Turkana, Kenya won the high altitude Mexico City Marathon on August 26th in a course record 2:10:38. His PB was run in Seville, Spain in February 2017 where he won in 2:07:43.  And finally, a big confidence booster came this June in San Diego at the Rock n’ Roll Half Marathon. There he bested Olympic Marathon silver medalist Feyisa Lilesa of Ethiopia 61:02 to 61:18.  At least on paper, he seems the man to beat. 


Philip Tarbei wins his second Hapalua Half

A debutant to watch is Philip Tarbei who helped pace Honolulu last year. Philip is well known here on Oahu as he owns two Hapalua Half Marathon titles, Honolulu’s sister event in the spring. He won the Hapalua two years ago in 64:14, then returned this April notching a course record 63:27 in high humidity. With a half PB of 1:00:13, Philip has the speed to compete with anyone on the start line.

Another of last year’s rabbits going all the way (hopefully) in 2018 is Reuben Kerio, winner of the 2017 Kosice Marathon in a PB 2:08:12. Reuben finished 4th in Kosice this October 7th in 2:09:23. 

The lone American in the elite field is debuting Olympic steeplechaser Do0nn Cabral of Connecticut. Deep into law school/MBA studies at UConn, Cabral’s schedule didn’t quite fit last weekend’s California International Marathon in Sacramento many of the top Americans raced, so he and his Hoka NJ NY TC coach decided before his training cycle even started to aim for Honolulu.

Fit, he says, for a 2:14 on a standard course on a regular day, the two-time Olympic steeplechase finalist and NCAA record holder out of Princeton realizes that Honolulu ‘s hills, heat and humidity may add a few minutes to his effort.  But the goal is to come out of Honolulu wanting to run another 26-miler, and  to set himself up for the coming track season.  Oh, and to have energy left for a final exam waiting back home on Monday.


On the women’s side, we have to start with 2014 & 2015 Honolulu Marathon champion Joyce Chepkirui who finished third in 2017. But since she won the Commonwealth Games and African Championships 10,000 meter titles in 2014 and then the Honolulu Marathon, it’s been a hard road for Joyce. 

At the 2016 New York City Marathon, where she took fourth place, Joyce came down with a nasty bruise on her left foot. The injury plagued her all through 2017, before she salvaged the year with a third place here in Honolulu in 2:33:18. In 2018 she’s only shown one result, a fourth place finish at the April 8th Istanbul Half Marathon in 69:18. 

Kenya’s Joyce Chepkirui, the 2014 Commonwealth Games and African Games 10,000m champion, adds the Honolulu Marathon title to her resume. She took the lead for good at 15K and never was challenged. She became Kenya’s first female Honolulu champion.

The challengers for the women’s crown include Vivian Kiplagat age 30, who finished second this spring at the Milan Marathon in a personal best 2:27:08, before winning the Buenos Aires Marathon on 23 September in 2:29:03. The other name to watch is Sheila Jerotich, 29, who finished fourth at the Gold Coast Commonwealth Games Marathon in April in 2:36:19.  This October 7th Sheila placed second at the Kosice Marathon in 2:29:40, a race she won in 2017 in her PB 2:27:34. 

With high trade winds expected, and the loss of its two record setters from last year, Honolulu 2018 promises to be a tactical affair with times taking a backseat to finish line positions. 

You can watch the action live on KITV.com, where I will be joined by KITV’s Robert Kekaula and Punahou High School track coach Todd Iacovelli.  The race begins  pre-dawn at 5 a.m. local time. 


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