Never in my life did I dream that I’d run a full marathon. It’s not that I didn’t think I could do it – I just didn’t have the desire. Half marathons are good enough, right? Who in their right mind wants to pay to run 26.2 miles?
While planning a December trip to Hawaii with my girlfriend last year, I saw that we’d be there during the Honolulu Marathon, which took place just days after my 30th birthday. It seemed like a no-brainer – I’d participate by running the half marathon to ring in my third decade on Earth!
Well, it turns out that the Honolulu Marathon doesn’t have a half.
I was a bit hesitant, but I signed up for the full 26.2 mile marathon, and I finished it without dying!
From start to finish, it really was an amazing event, and I’m excited to share my experience. I already wrote a bit about my training leading up to the marathon, so I’ll just jump right into the race itself.
The 2013 Honolulu Marathon was on December 8th. It started at 5am, so I set my alarm for 3. This in itself was a painful experience. I woke up at this ungodly hour and ate a banana, had some coffee, and started stretching out.
Our hotel wasn’t far from the starting area, so Lauren and I left around 4am. She wasn’t running the marathon, but she came along to support her mother (who I’d be running with) and me. I knew that we were walking in the right direction because there were thousands of other runners on the street already.
Seeing all of these people awake and ready to run, all walking towards the starting line by moonlight was pretty cool. It was still relatively quiet at this point, but there was excitement in the air for sure.
I knew that this marathon was popular with the Japanese – 44% of this years entrants were from Japan – but it really became clear to me during the walk how diverse the runners were. I felt like I was in Japan, which was pretty cool.
We soon arrived at the starting area by Ala Moana Beach Park and tracked down Lauren’s mom in the corral. We met her at the 9:30 pace group, which is who we decided we’d be starting off the marathon with.
Things felt a bit chaotic and unorganized before the race, and it was pretty clear that most people were ignoring the pacing group sections altogether and just getting as close to the starting line as possible.
Lauren’s mom told us that she hadn’t slept at all the night before, which is just crazy to me. I had only slept for 4 hours and felt like that wasn’t nearly enough; I can’t even imagine how she was feeling.
All of a sudden, fireworks started going off. This was a serious fireworks display, and it was pretty awesome. I’d imagine that it woke up a lot of people that lived nearby.
Once the fireworks were over, it was time to start moving, albiet very slowly. My adrenaline was pumping and it felt like it took an eternity to get going. In reality, it took us a little over 10 minutes to cross over the timing mat.
We finally passed the bottleneck at the starting line and were launched into a veritable sea of runners. It was extremely crowded, but we were moving. I was highly caffeinated. The temperature was in the low 70s. My marathon playlist was going strong. So far, so good.
Once we started running, we spent the first few miles trying not to trample people, as the roads were extremely congested with groups of runners trying to stick together. It became apparent almost immediately that this was a very casual race for a lot of the participants, as I saw people stopped in the middle of the road to pose for group photos. I suppose the only racers who don’t have to deal with this mess are the elite runners, since they’re the first ones through the gate.
None of this mattered though. I was extremely happy to be in Hawaii, running my first marathon with 30,586 other people. I sure as hell didn’t stop running to pose for a photo, but I did settle for the next-best thing… A selfie.
The beginning of the course took us through downtown Honolulu and into Waikiki. It was still dark out, and many of the businesses were all decked out in Christmas lights. Looking at the decorations was a nice distraction, and it kept my mind occupied for the first few miles.
I knew that it would warm up as the sun came out, but I was not prepared – physically or mentally – for the climate that day. The humidity was pretty brutal, and within the first 30 minutes or so I was soaking wet. And this was before the sun came up!
If I remember correctly, we were about 6 miles deep when the sun started to show itself. I was still running with Lauren’s mom at this point, and I was feeling great. We were running at a fairly moderate pace, which allowed me to get nice and warmed up while still conserving my energy.
At around the 10k mark, we stopped to use the restrooms, and we split up after this.
I was pretty surprised at how long it took for the race to “thin out”. Even at 8 miles in, I was still dodging people left and right just to keep a reasonable pace. As you’ll see in the photo below, the crowds were still pretty congested at this point.
At about about 8 miles in one of the race photographers took the photo below. I remember that I was feeling good at this point, hot sun and oppressive humidity notwithstanding. I was having a great time and feeling positive.
Coming up around Diamond Head (around the 11 mile mark), there were people who were almost finished with the race already. They were around the 25 mile mark and were coming back towards us on the opposite side of the road.
This was a pretty crazy sight. I knew that people would be finishing hours before me, but it’s still pretty wild to watch them on their final stretch when you still have 15+ miles to go.
There were thousands and thousands of people lining the streets for the entirety of the course. I saw everything from rock bands playing in peoples yards to groups of people giving free high fives (or “high touches”) and this stuff kept me smiling and distracted. There were plenty of people handing out things like pretzels, cookies and bananas along the way as well.
It’s crazy how inspirational a few words of encouragement or a passing smile can be. A few times when I was struggling, I’d get a thumbs up from someone on the sidelines and it’d get my mind back to where it needed to be. I also passed people that looked like they were hurting several times and gave them a pat on the back or said “keep it up” – it just feels good to do.
In addition to the standard encouragement and support, there were a lot of runners who decided to skip the traditional runners outfit, opting instead for something a bit more creative. I passed a gang of 10+ Santas, a Hawaiian Warrior guy in a loincloth, a guy in a full Darth Vader costume (complete with helmet) and several other Star Wars characters, a guy in a kimono running in wooden shoes (his feet must have been bleeding by the end), a guy in a full suit and jacket (sweating like mad in the blazing sun), and many more.
I also passed Batman on the sidelines. He had a megaphone and was letting everyone know that “Batman loves you!” as they ran by. All of these things put a smile on my face and provided a very welcome distraction from the task at hand.
The water stops along the way were pretty chaotic, and I did my best to avoid them, stopping to fill my hydration belt reservoirs only when they weren’t too crowded. I checked in with Lauren a few times via text message, and we met up at designated mile marker signs for coconut water and Bodyglide a few times which was a godsend. She snapped a pic of me while I guzzled down an entire can of coconut water in record time.
I will say that the middle section of the race was a bit mundane. A good portion of the route went through a residential area, which got to be pretty boring… My music kept me occupied though.
The turn-around point was on Hawaii Kai Drive around the 17 mile mark. As I made my way further back down the coast, I began to pass racers who still hadn’t reached the half marathon point.
It felt good to know that I was in the home stretch, but I felt bad for those that were struggling, as it was pretty hot at this point, and there was little shade and no wind to speak of.
The heat and humidity began to catch up with me. I was having a hard time keeping a good consistent pace, and as I saw people throwing up from the heat (as well as a few that required paramedics) I realized that this wasn’t the time to “man up” and ignore what my body was telling me.
I slowed down a bit, and began to take occasional walking breaks. I definitely felt a little guilty walking during a marathon, but also knew that I had to save some energy for the 8 miles between me and the finish line.
For the last quarter of the marathon, my feet and toes were absolutely killing me. It became increasingly clear that I shouldn’t have attempted a full marathon in minimal running shoes (I ran in these). I had no choice but to heelstrike at this point; I couldn’t continue to pound my toes into the pavement. I believe that the look on my face in the following photo demonstrates how I was feeling at this time.
There were two uphill portions of the race, and if I recall correctly they were both around Diamond Head. The first hill (around mile 9) didn’t bother me, although I was forced to take it slowly here because the thick crowds wouldn’t allow me to speed up. The second hill was around mile 23 coming back past Diamond Head, and this one was a bit more of a challenge.
Once that second hill was behind me, I knew I was in the clear. I was definitely hurting, but there was an end in sight. I could see the finish line off in the distance, and the cheering crowds on either side of the road were getting larger and larger. It would have been impossible to stop at this point. I was being carried forward by some sort of magical momentum.
I’m happy to say that my marathon playlist worked out perfectly for me. The song “White Walls” by Between the Buried and Me started to play right as the finish line came into sight.
As I made my way down Kalakaua Avenue towards the finish line, the triumphant guitar solo at the end of the song gave me an insane adrenaline boost, and my legs automatically kicked into high gear.
I was no longer in control; I felt like a man possessed. The euphoria that I was experiencing at this point is indescribable, but I can tell you that the music was fully responsible for my performance as I sped up considerably for the last quarter mile or so of the marathon.
Despite the intense foot pain and my body screaming at me to stop, I went into a full-on sprint and passed a good 15-20 people in the last minute or so.
The way that I felt immediately after crossing the finish line is hard to describe. I knew that I would finish all along, and I was never really tempted to quit along the way, but I still felt incredibly accomplished and proud.
My body also felt like it was on fire, and when I finally got away from the thick of the crowd and found a spot on the grass to relax (read: collapse) for a moment… I don’t think I’ve ever been happier to sit down in my entire life.
My Nike+ finish time was just shy of 5 hours, but this doesn’t count when I stopped for water/restroom breaks. My official “chip time” was 5:16:53. I was the 4,218th male to finish, and I placed #500 in my division. My average pace (including stops) was 12:06. This is much slower than my normal pace (which lies somewhere around 9:00), but this wasn’t a “normal” run, so I’m proud of my time.
Lauren met up with me soon after I finished. We went to pick up my finisher shirt/medal and check out all of the race-related stuff that was going on in the park. With live music, food vendors, and clothing tents, it felt a bit like a festival of sorts.
Every step that I took was painful, but I knew that it was a necessary evil to keep walking in order to allow my body to stretch out and cool down.
We met up with Lauren’s mom, who did an amazing job and finished the race despite her complete lack of sleep. It was really cool to share this experience with her, and we’re already talking about where our next marathon will be.
Now that I have a PR to beat, it’s only a matter of time before I sign up for another race. I’d love for it to be somewhere that I’ve never been before. A marathon is an awesome way to see a new city/area, and in my mind it helps to justify the money/time spent traveling somewhere. It doesn’t feel like a standard vacation when you’re traveling to participate in a serious athletic event.
The rest of the Hawaii trip was amazing as well. The day before the marathon, Lauren and I went skydiving (a first for both of us) which was awesome. I could probably write a whole post about that experience. We also spent two days in Kauai where we went kayaking, hiked to a waterfall, swam with sea turtles, caught 2 incredible sunsets on Hanalei Bay (pic below) and more. It was an all-around awesome week in paradise, and a great way to ring in my 30th birthday.
In the weeks following the marathon, my 4 runs per week quickly dropped down to 1-2 runs. I’ve found that I’m not motivated to run as frequently when I’m not training for anything. I’m not bending over backwards to fit all of those runs into my week the way I was before… And I must say, I kinda miss it. Any day that ends with a sunset run along the beach is a good day.
Training for this marathon (as well as running in the marathon itself) confirmed for me that I really do enjoy running, and I’ll likely be doing it for the rest of my life.
If you made it this far, thanks for reading. If you have any recommendations for my next marathon (half or full) please share them in the comments!
John; We are really proud of you. This is an excellent summary and it almost makes me feel as if I were there. Congratulations on the training, travel, and finish of this wonderful adventure. The post is inspirational as well, but not sufficient to entice me to join you;
Awesome post! Loved the music adrenaline rush at the end, I can totally relate. I’m raining for my first marathon in Fall ’14 and very excited to get started. Posts like these around the internet get me so pumped.
Thanks for checking it out! I looked at your blog and it appears that we have very similar musical interests. I was at MSG for Phish on NYE as well.
Good luck with the training! Check out my marathon playlist post if you’re looking for some new tunes, though it may be a bit heavy on the metal.
You’ve honestly inspired me, dude.
And (as you may have noticed) it takes a lot for me become inspired.
If I ever complete a marathon (someday) it will be (kind of, possibly, sort of, maybe, most likely) absolutely attributed to the inspiration I found in this post (probably)
Let’s sign up for a half later this year!
Actually, the Ojai Half Marathon is at the end of April…