FROM HONOLULU TO THE WORLD

Looking to Diamond Head from Waikiki Beach

Honolulu, HI – The Honolulu Marathon may not be a World Marathon Major, but it is a major world marathon. Now in it’s 47th year, the island classic began as more of an end-of-the-season lark for the handful of top local runners and a few island hopping elites brought over by their shoe company sponsor.  Winning times would generally fall just under 2:20 for men and 2;40 for women.  But it was always a fun time more than a fast time.  

Then something happened, and over the last 30 years Honolulu has become a springboard for some of the greatest marathoners of the modern era who utilized the Honolulu Marathon as a proving ground for greater glory on the world stage.

Ibrahim Hussein set new records in Honolulu and kick-started the Kenyan marathon revolution

Kenya’s Ibrahim Hussein was the first Kenyan champion in Honolulu, winning three straight from 1985 to 1987.  More than that, the University of New Mexico grad twice broke the Honolulu course record, slashing three-plus minutes off Dave Gordon’s 1982 mark of 2:15:30 with a 2:12:08 in 1985, then slicing another 25-seconds off in 1986.

Before Hussein the assumption was that Kenyans were not disciplined enough for the marathon distance. Attacking 26 miles as if it were 10K road or 12K cross country event, Kenyan athletes flamed out well before the finish lines of marathons far and wide.

Think of that assumption today in light of the last three decades of marathon domination that has emerged from training camps in and around the towns of Eldoret and Iten in the Central Highlands of Kenya.

Hussein went on to become the first Kenyan to win the New York City Marathon in 1987, then duplicated that first with three wins in Boston in 1988, ‘91, & ’92. Continue reading

NUN JACKED

As we head back to Hawaii for the 2019 Honolulu Marathon and Waikiki Merrie Mile,  I recall another such trip 30 years ago when travel was quite different and the distance to go much greater.

Oh, jeez! We just found out the plane sitting at Lindbergh Field’s terminal 2 gate 50 has a mechanical issue and we have to wait four hours for our next update!  Not the flight itself, mind you, just an update. Once again I’m reminded that travel is fun for those who don’t do it!  Anyway, here’s the way it worked back in 1989.

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The Continental flight to Honolulu lifted out of Newark’s Liberty International at 8:45 a.m.  I’d been up since five packing at the Hotel Wales on Manhattan’s tony Upper East Side.  Not that the Wales fit the exclusive Carnegie Hill neighborhood.  In fact, its main function appeared to be tryst-palace for the weasel-minded marrieds of the area. Redolent of bad blood and old lust, the bedding’s sheen frightened me into sleeping fully dressed on top rather than toasty, but tainted, beneath.

On the ride to the airport the next morning, sleep clung to the corners of my eyes like small shells left behind on the beach by the outgoing tide.  A day of travel, eleven hours in all, had me centered on the task of reducing the apprehension such involvement in close quarters required, meaning, lay off the coffee and resist the pull to fully awaken.

After all the airport preliminaries, the silver bird banked gracefully to the northeast revealing the deep thicket of Manhattan skyscrapers below.  From above, the towers transformed into the spiny defenses of a hunkered down animal in fear.  Not that I harbored any fear of flying.  In fact, I had always been something of a fatalist.  Send-offs like, “Have a good flight” had always confused me.

“I don’t think me having a good flight is gonna make much of a difference,”  I’d think to myself, even while saying out loud, “Thanks, I will.”  I figured it was pretty much up to the captain to have the good flight since it always seemed like the fellas with the hash marks on their gabardines had a hold of the controls.  Me, I was just going along for the ride.

Before long I drifted into the completion of last night’s abbreviated sleep, carried by the hum of the jet’s spinning turbines.  Hours later I awoke – the captain was still having a “good flight” up front – as the latest James Bond movie, “Living Daylights” rolled its closing credits while window shades lifted throughout the cabin.

Outside beneath a broken cloud cover the Rocky Mountains jutted skyward, while rivers meandered through the snow looking like chocolate syrup squeezed into a glass of cold milk.

As we glided into San Francisco over the fog-shrouded Golden Gate Bridge, we were told there would be a one-hour layover as the plane was refueled and cleaned for the final 5 1/2 hour flight to Honolulu.  Being a seasoned frequent flier I knew it was best to wait until the plane was fully boarded before re-entering, as the air-conditioning systems in airplanes never worked very well on the ground.  So sitting there in the back of the Continental flight to Honolulu partially boarded and not ready for takeoff would have been a rookie mistake.

Before off-loading, I left a “Seat Occupied” sign on my cushion, as well as my journal and magazines in the pocket below the tray table. But when I finally did re-board, lo and behold as I marched through the crowded compartment, there in full battle dress plopped comfortably in seat 34A – MY seat – was a nun.  Well now. Continue reading

NEAR RECORD RUN IN HONOLULU 2018

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.

Titus Ekiru announces his arrival

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? Continue reading

2018 HONOLULU MARATHON PREVIEW

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. Continue reading

INTERVIEW – DR. JIM BARAHAL, PRES. HONOLULU MARATHON ASSOCIATION

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.

Honolulu Marathon Association president Jim Barahal

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. Continue reading

KIPCHOGE HONORED IN MONACO

Honolulu, HI. – It has been quite the last two years for the exceptional Eliud Kipchoge of Kenya. After an unofficial but stunning 2:00:25 sub-2 hour marathon record attempt in Italy last year, Kipchoge dashed to a fully legal 2:01:39 world record in Berlin this September, breaking Dennis Kimetto’s 2014 mark by 1:18. The time represented the widest margin that record had been broken since 1967 when Australia’s Derek Clayton lowered the record from 2:12:00 to 2:09:36 in Fukuoka, Japan. And Kipchoge’s run in Berlin followed a clear victory at this April’s London Marathon against one of the strongest field’s ever assembled in the event’s rich history. 

Yesterday in Monaco, the 34-year-old Kipchoge was named 2018 IAAF Male Athlete of the Year for his efforts, joining Columbia’s triple jumper Caterine Ibargüen who was named Female AOY.

2018 marks the first time since the award began in 1988 that a marathon runner earned the prestigious AOY award on the men’s side (Paula Radcliffe of England took AOY honors in 2002 for women). 

Never Done Better , Kipchoge in Berlin 2018

Not only did Kipchoge’s record in Berlin break the old mark by a wide margin, it was also the second year in a row that Kipchoge topped the world list as fastest marathoner of the year.  Continue reading

DEFINING MARATHON PRs

It’s been another memorable year in the world of marathon running even as 2019 begins to rise with news that Chicago Marathon champion Mo Farah will once again run in London next spring, a race he finished third at in 2018. Though Cal International, Fukuoka, and Honolulu remain on the schedule for 2018, the bulk of the year’s work had been completed. 

Once again, the two East African nations of Kenya and Ethiopia dominate the top 100 times run during the year, Kenya leading the men’s list to date with 56 performances, Ethiopia topping the women’s ranks with 51 of the top 100. 

TOP 100 – Men

Kenya – 56; Ethiopia – 30; Japan – 6; USA (Galen Rupp) and GBR (Mo Farah) – 2; Turkey, New Zealand, Tanzania, Uganda – 1 each.

TOP 100 – Women

Ethiopia – 51; Kenya – 32; Japan – 6; Bahrain – 4; USA (Amy Cragg & Kellyn Taylor) – 2; So. Korea, Belarus, Morocco, Portugal, Australia- 1 each.

Kipchoge revels in new World Record in Berlin

Individually, World No. 1 was once again undeniably taken by Kenya’s Eliud Kipchoge. In 2018, he not only won London in the spring but then broke countryman Dennis Kimetto’s four-year-old world record in Berlin in September by a stunning 78 seconds, lowering the record to 2:01:39, a mark that some believe could stand up for quite a span. But who knows about such things, truly?  In today’s running world, there is a growing belief that anything conceived is now possible to achieve. And while that might make a mockery of history, like the 54-51 shootout at the Los Angeles Coliseum last night between the winning L.A. Rams and the Kansas City Chiefs in American football, a new dimension in barrier-breaking road running also seems to have been reached. 

But getting back to Mr. Kipchoge. He’s proven himself not just the ultimate time-trialist, but the ne plus ultra within the competitive arena, too, most notably with his convincing win at the Olympic Marathon in Rio 2016. And though he has embraced a “Berlin Forever” mentality that binds him to the German capital, don’t you think somewhere down deep that Kipchoge might want to test himself on one of the two grand non-paced marathons of the world, New York City and Boston?  Or is the new era in running beginning to define itself strictly along the paced / non-paced continuum? Recall how after a three-year absence, Chicago returned to a paced format in 2018, and instantly returned to 2:05 status after three years at 2:09, 2:11, 2:09. Continue reading