Honolulu, HI – Every marathon presents a challenge by dint of its great distance alone. Even so, Honolulu’s Marathon, celebrating its 50th running today (11 Dec. 2022) may represent more challenges than any of the world’s premier marathons.

First, there is the higher than ideal temperature, today, 70F (21.1C) at the 5 a.m. start. Tie that in with the 74% humidity and the scouring winds that thrashed the palm trees out along Kalanianaʻole Highway from miles 11 to 15 like a dog with a rag toy.

Then there’s the challenging course, itself, where you have to climb over Diamond Head both going out at 8 miles and then coming home in the 25th mile.  

Add the extended travel – it took the four Ethiopian runners 21 hours to make the journey from Addis Ababa through Frankfurt and Los Angeles to make it to Honolulu – and you wonder, where’s the draw?  Then you realize, “Oh, right. I’m in paradise.”

And there is the great charm leveler. For all its challenges, the Honolulu Marathon’s aloha spirit, the never closing finish line, combined with the world-class field leading the charge, makes Honolulu, on balance, one of the most charming difficult pleasures our sport has to offer.

Up front, 34-year-old Asefa Mengstu of Ethiopia snapped Kenya’s 14-year stranglehold on the Honolulu Marathon men’s title, pulling free of fellow, 2:04–marathon man Barnabas Kiptum of Kenya in mile 22.  It was only the second Ethiopian men’s title in Honolulu history, adding Mengstu’s name to that of Ambesse Tolosa who became Ethiopia’s first and, to date, only Honolulu Marathon champion in 2006.

Asefa’s winning time, 2:14:40, beat Kiptum by 3:05, even as it represented only the 23rd fastest winning time in Honolulu Marathon history. 

23-year-old, Asayech Bere, also of Ethiopia, ran away from her training mate, Abebech Afework, as they climbed over Diamond Head in mile eight as the two fought strong head winds. 

In her fifth career marathon, each previous one significantly better than the one before, Bere soloed to a 2:30:58 win. Afework held on for second in 2:34:38, while Japan’s Eri Suzuki, 38, matched her third place finish from 2018 in 2:47:42.

Yes, the times weren’t great. But the pro fields were limited again this year as the event continues to recover from the Covid closings of 2020 and the scaled back run of 2021. 

Former American marathon star, Kim Jones, who made her marathon debut in Honolulu in 1984, was on hand to support her daughter, Jamie Roth, 42, of Lafayette, Colorado, who finished fourth in 2:56:20 – though she overslept and didn’t have time to get herself as prepared as she would’ve liked. No coffee! Oh, my!

Defending women’s champion, Lanni Marchant of Canada, nursing an injury, could only manage position six in 3:02:15. Amanda Beeman, former Iolani High School state track and cross-country champion, defended her Kamaʻāina (‘child or person of the land’) title, placing eighth in 3:04:06. Kaiser High School grad, Gabe Tom, who works on the island-based Magnum PI TV show, defended his Kamaʻāina men’s title with a personal best 2:52:06 placing 20th overall. 

Until Ibrahim Hussein of Kenya brought the course record down from 2:15:30 to 2:12:08 in 1985, Honolulu didn’t concern itself with fast times, at all.

Before then, the marathon‘s shoe sponsor would invite athletes for an end-of-the-year family trip at which someone would win the race. But no one trained specifically for the race, much less peaked for the effort. 

Since Hussein‘s three wins, during which the course record dropped to 2:11:43, Honolulu has seen its pro fields focus hard on the 50th state’s premier sporting event, even as it established itself as a proving ground of champions. 

Hussein went on to become the first Kenyan to win the New York City Marathon in 1987. He then took three Boston Marathon titles. In 1993, Korea’s Bong-ju Lee won Honolulu. Three years later, he took the silver medal in the Olympic Marathon in Atlanta. In that Atlanta Olympic Marathon, he was beaten by the 1993 Honolulu Marathon champion Josiah Thungwane of South Africa. And the list goes on. 

Today, the Honolulu Marathon men’s course record stands at 2:07:59.02, though officially that’s 2:08:00. Kenya’s Titus Ekiru ran that time in 2019. Two years later, he became the fastest man in the world, running 2:02:57 at the Milan marathon. Sadly, his once burgeoning career finds itself in jeopardy after he detached a patella requiring two titanium screws to keep it in place. 

The women’s course record stands at 2:22:15, set by Kenya’s Brigid Kosgei in 2017. Famously, she went on to set the women’s standing world record in Chicago in 2019 when she ran 2:14:04.

Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Honolulu, like so many other races, lost 2020 to a virtual race. Then it saw a greatly reduced field in 2021. This year, a total of 20,367 runners lined up for the 5 AM start. 14,645 were marathoners, 5722 ran the Start to Park 10K – won by Kalakaua Merrie Miler, Eric Avila, after a disappointing performance in Saturday’s mile race. 

Even without its usual complement of Japanese runners, the Honolulu Marathon remains the fourth largest marathon in the US behind New York City, Chicago, and Boston. 

The final finisher? He or she won’t cross the Kapiolani Park finish line until way after dark, as there is no cut off time at the Honolulu Marathon. That, my friends, is the aloha spirit taken to the nth degree. It’s another of the charms of Honolulu that more than make up for whatever its challenges may present.

Mahalo, till 2023 when the second half century in Honolulu kicks off with what’s expected to be a full return to normalcy. It’s worth a visit.


One thought on “CHALLENGES & CHARMS – HONOLULU 2022

  1. More history and with relevance to the present. Thanks for providing the connection from the past to today. I remember vividly watching the dramatic 1991 race on late night replay in an establishment in New Orleans (The Hofbrau Haus on Magazine Street) as Steve Jones was overtaken by Benson Masya and then close to the finish line by Naali. Felt so disappointed for Steve but the drama was unforgettable. Thanks for bringing us back there, Toni. Hope the ones who are still finishing even at this hour are having a safe final few minutes. JF

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