Honolulu, HI – Imagine what old Pheidippides would have thought of this marathon year of 2019. The original marathoner, the one who expired after running 40k from Marathon to Athens in 492 B.C. to bring word of a military victory to the city fathers, how would he have wrapped his head around Eliud Kipchoge’s 1:59:40 exhibition in Vienna, or Brigid Kosgei’s 2:14:04 in Chicago, or now Titus Ekiru’s 2:07:59.02 in the heat, humidity, and hills of Honolulu?
First of all, he’d probably lose his mind by just the idea of Hawaii as a place, but other than that he’d likely wonder if gravity had somehow been mastered or overcome. How else to explain such running? Yet we don’t have to go back 2500 years to be gobsmacked by the current state of affairs.
“Who ever thought we’d see times like this here?” said long time Honolulu Marathon president Jim Barahal after watching Titus Ekiru’s 27-second course record at yesterday’s 47th Honolulu Marathon.
Barahal’s head-scratching bemusement distilled the feelings many have had regarding the tectonic changes this sport has been living through in recent years.
Nowadays, rather than the grueling endurance challenge of yesteryear, the marathon seems like just another race for the sport’s top talent. In fact, it doesn’t seem to give them even a moment’s pause whatsoever.
So when 28 year-old Titus Ekiru arrived on the island to defend his 2018 title coming off a three minute marathon PB in the spring in Milan, Italy, then tuned up for Honolulu with a big half marathon best in Lisbon in late October (60:12), the Honolulu record was definitely under threat, given the right conditions.
In conversation with Titus on Saturday, he said all he needed was for the pacers to get him to 30K and he could take care of the rest. That would mirror his win in Milan in April where he was among a four-man pack at 30K before taking off one kilometer later to post a 2:04:46 course record.
But then he won the All Africa Games Half Marathon in August by over a minute, and fully expected to be chosen for the Kenyan World Championship marathon team going to Doha, Qatar. But to his surprise, he wasn’t. So he put all his energy and disappointment into defending his Honolulu title from 2018 where he challenged Lawrence Cherono’s 2017 course record of 2:08:27 (which he had paced) with a 2:09:01 win under less than ideal conditions.
Yesterday, race morning came up aces (for Honolulu) at 68°F and calm winds – meaning no trade headwinds howling out Kalanianaole Highway from miles 12 to 17. With pacers Edwin Kibet and Reuben Kerio leading the charge, the 6’1” Ekiru and four others were towed out at 3:00/km (2:06:30 marathon pace), hitting 5K in 15:05, 10k in 29:52, 15K in 45:03, the half split in 63:39, perfect.
Two kilometers later (23K) Titus dispatched 2014 Honolulu champion Wilson Chebet and 2019 Cape Town Marathon winner Edwin Kipngetich Koech. By 15 miles the final pacer, Edwin Kibet Koech, said ‘so long’ a good three miles before Ekiru had hoped.
Undeterred, Titus blitzed the next four miles at sub-4:50 each, causing a furrow of anxiety to crease worried brows on the lead vehicle in fear that he’d gone too hard too early.
He blew past 20 miles in 1:36:25 (2:06:18 pace), 1:12 under the 2017 course record. Could he keep it going when the course turned off the highway and the cheering outbound runners disappeared?
A sketchy 5:08 22nd mile was a gut check as the grind through the Kahala neighborhood up past Triangle Park to Diamond Head began to leech precious seconds from his cushion. He was turning around a lot, too, wasn’t he? Were the wheels beginning to wobble? But, no, he pulled it back together and mounted Diamond Head at 25 miles with 47 seconds still in hand under the record.
Yes, he leaked a little more oil in the final stretch into Kapiolani Park, even going into a Queen of England/Pope-type wave in the last 20-30 meters, a celebration that cost him an official sub-2:08. His final 10K took 31:35, 5:05/mile pace, but the record was his nonetheless, as he added Honolulu to his Mexico City (2:10:38) and Milan (2:04:46) course record portfolio.
Wilson Chebet arrived five long minutes later in second (2:13:14), his fourth runner up place in Honolulu to go along with his 2014 win. Edwin Kipngetich Koech finished third in 2:14:20.
In the women’s race, good friends Margaret Muriuki and Betsy Saina staged a 26-mile duel before debutant Muriuki kicked free entering Kapiolani Park, posting a 2:31:10 to Saina’s 2:31:51. Bend, Oregon’s Renee Metivier continued her comeback from a broken leg in 2017, notching an Olympic Trials qualifier in third in 2:43:18.
Titus Ekiru is already being touted as the next Big Thing in the game. And why wouldn’t he be? Honolulu has proven itself for 35 years as the springboard for marathon greatness.
Now after two superb wins on Oahu and a course record, it seems Ekiru is poised to join past glory seekers like Ibrahim Hussein, Cosmas Ndeti, Bong-Ju Lee, Josiah Thungwane, Lawrence Cherono, and Brigid Kosgei in moving on to the biggest stages in the sport.
I’m sure Pheidippides would concur and approve, even if still be a bit baffled by all these new expressions of speed.