Honolulu, Hi. – New land is constantly bubbling up along the Hawaiian islands from the deep molten innards of the planet. Perhaps to reflect that eruptive nature of its home, the Honolulu Marathon has long been a birthing ground of new major marathon champions. Dating back to the mid-1980s names like Ibrahim Hussein, Cosmas Ndeti, Bong-ju Lee, Brigid Kosgei and Lawrence Cherono have all announced themselves on this time-tested course.
Today, a new name emerged from the caldron of Honolulu with major marathon potential.
With two-time champions and course record holders Lawrence Cherono and Brigid Kosgei choosing not to defend, and high trade winds expected out along the course, the fast times of 2016 and 2017 were not expected by race organizers for the 46th running of the Honolulu Marathon. And on the women’s side of the race, they were right. Vivian Kiplagat took 2:36:22 to tour the 26.2 miles, 14 minutes longer than Brigid Kosgei ‘s course record.
But 26 year-old Titus Ekiru, like so many Kenyan runners before him, was more focused on what he could do rather than what he couldn’t. As such, the tall, angular man from Turkana, Kenya challenged Lawrence Cherono’s 2:08:27 course record deep into 26.2 mile course before posting the second fastest time in race history (2:09:01). And when you consider that Cherono’s 2:08 in Honolulu 2017 turned into a 2:04 in Amsterdam 2018, what can we expect from Ekiru in 2019 and beyond?
It wasn’t that conditions were Boston horrible in Honolulu this morning. The temperature at the 5 a. m. start was 73°F with 61% humidity. But north northeast winds were holding at 13 to 15 mph, and expected to rise to 25 mph and more out along the route from miles 11 to 15. With that forecast in hand, the pacesetters were tasked with going out harder than normal in the early miles when the buildings of downtown Honolulu and then the hotel towers of Waikiki would block the wind.
Accordingly, the first 5K fell in 15:07, 21 seconds faster than last year. Then 10k blew by in 30:02, 29 seconds ahead of record pace with three pacers and five contenders in tow, including 2014 champion and three time runner up Wilson Chebet. The first indication of the coming blow was felt as the 8-man pack climbed over the backside of Diamond Head in mile 8.
“Big, big headwind now,” came word from the lead vehicle. “Wow!”
Still, 15k passed in 45:43 (15:41 for the third 5K split), 27 seconds below the course record of 2017.
“Wind picking up the farther we go,” said the intrepid reporters clinging to the open lead vehicle.
Halfway in 1:05:03, 2:10 pace. By this time the pack had been stripped by the pace and trades as the course arrowed out Kalaneaneole Highway to the turnaround at Hawaii Kai. Only Ekiru, pacer Charles Cheruiyot, and 2017 third placer Vincent Yator remained as a lead pack.
Once into the two-mile loop in Hawaii Kai, Cheruiyot fell off having completed his pacing duties. Soon thereafter Ekiru began pulling free of the shorter Yator and the record challenge became the talking point of our KITV4 live broadcast.
Kilometers 26 to 31 fell like dominoes, 2:56, 2:52, 2:56, 2:46, 2:54, total 14:24. Ekiru blew by 20 miles in 1:38:30, 7 seconds under the course record. Was it possible?
In fact, no, it wasn’t. But not for want of trying. Ekiru had come to Honolulu last year to be a pacer, but kept going all the way to fourth place at the finish in 2:12:19. That experience helped him overcome a bad patch in the long upgrade toward Diamondhead at 40K.
“ I was really feeling it from 38k,” Titus told me in the VIP tent after he emerged from drug testing. “From last year I knew that that upgrade was coming, so in my mind I knew what to expect. So sometimes I would say to myself, ‘let me try, I can do this’.”
With thousands of outbound runners still in the first third of their race alongside, Ekiru drew energy from the cheers and found his form for the final mile into Kapiolani Park.
In the end, he posted the second fastest time in Honolulu history (2:09:01), whipped runner up Reuben Kerio by nearly four minutes and placed his name on a special list of past Honolulu runners who first gave birth to major legacies on the island of Oahu.