Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Honolulu Marathon Survivor - 3:19:19

Last Sunday, Dec. 11, 2005, I participated in an act of massive group madness, and ran 26.2 miles along the roads of the lush tropical cities of Honolulu and Waikiki, accompanied by about 28,000 24,643 runners (28,048 registered) and thousands more walkers. How often can you leave your hotel room at 3:00am and as you ride down the elevator from the 17th floor, the elevator stops at every floor and runners board and crowd in! I was on a shuttle bus about 8 minutes later and was walking across the field near the starting line at 3:26am. There was plenty of time to get ready and take in the scene and do final preparations for the 5am start time. It seemed to take forever! At about 4:40am or so, a police escort worked its way from the back of the crowds to the front, parting the sea of people so that a long line of wheelchair racers could get through. The racing models looked like they belonged in the future -- very aerodynamic with one little steering wheel in the front and large carbon fiber drive wheels in the back, slanted inwards. They reminded me of Star Wars land speeders in Return of the Jedi. The crowd cheered as they worked their way down the middle of the wide avenue.

5am finally arrives. Bang! The gun is fired, the fireworks shoot off into the night sky in sync, and the rows and waves of runners start peeling away from the sardine pack. About 1 minute and just 100 feet later I crossed the starting line and started my stopwatch. In spite of the signs suggesting that everyone in this section was running the marathon between 2 hours and 3 hours, I swerved around: a blind woman runner being led by her companion, dozens of walkers, and many joggers. My goal time for the first mile was 7min 30s and it took me 8:16. Oops! I seemed to easily gain back the time and I tried to focus on running each mile at the desired pace, starting off more slowly and building up steam for the 2nd half of the marathon. My breathing was easy, I felt good.

I had not drank anything since about 2:30am so I was actually getting thirsty by the start of the race. I drank a full glass of water, probably 8oz, at the first aid station. It felt good. There was no sports drink available. At the 2nd aid station, I looked again for sports drink because I wanted to make sure I had enough salts and calories, but again there was no sports drink.

Mile 5 came along and I was approaching the hotels where Jennifer and I were staying and where my parents were staying. I thought I heard someone call out "Ron" behind me, but I didn't see who it was. I was disappointed not to see anyone, but the race had only just begun practically. There was a long way to go.

Mile 8 began the hill around Diamond Head Peak. Pshaw! Easy! The 124' of climb seemed gentle and was nothing compared to the hills that I train on in Montara. No problem. I hardly slowed down at all. And on the downhill side, my legs felt like wound-up springs and without any effort at all, I seemed to pick up a lot of speed and pass people even more quickly than I had been. Every mile marker I noted my time and added 7:20 to 7:10 to it, making that my goal for the next mile. My plan was to start more slowly and to increase my pace during the race. Sometimes I would forget the exact goal time and a few times I somehow missed a mile marker. Several times I found myself running a mile faster than intended but since I lost time on the first mile, I didn't mind too much and I felt very strong. At about mile 9 my right knee started feeling "weird", like there was some swelling and a bit of stiffness and soreness. It didn't seem to affect my running, though. At the half-way point, I still felt great, my breathing was smooth and easy, I had eaten my first Cliff Bar, and I found myself thinking, "this marathon running business is pretty good and is so far easier than running a shorter race because I was consciously slowing myself down and my breathing was like I was in a training run." Well, the good times didn't last forever.

Somewhere shortly after the half-way mark I saw the first-place wheelchair racer coming in the opposite direction, on this long section where the course double-backs on itself. This guy was amazing and was moving at a moderate bicycle speed, 15mph maybe? Then I saw more wheelchair racers. Each wheelchair rider had an entourage of two or more bicyclists, all with flashing lights. 10 or 15 minutes later I saw the first runner. He was shorter than I had imagined and of course he was extremely thin. My thought was that his running didn't actually look that much different from those like myself who were running two minutes a mile slower. His cadence was very similar, he looked very efficient and fluid, but he was taking longer strides. But it all added up to him being one of the world's very best marathon runners. I saw his #1 bib and so I knew he was Jimmy Muindi. Far behind him, 2 or 3 minutes at least, followed another group of Kenyan runners. Then the very fastest male Japanese runners. Then the first female -- I clapped for her. I didn't recognize her from my studies of past marathons. Then I recognized the fast Russian woman, Lyubov Morgunova, who won this last year and a short while later the very fast Japanese female runner, Eri Hayakawa, who was a complete unknown and who had won the Honolulu Marathon a few years ago.

Around this large park we go and then I'm headed back to the finish line and I can see all of the people behind me. The crowds were getting bigger and bigger behind me whereas in my group, we were still just a trickle, relatively. More runners were developing problems and stopping and walking. I saw one of the elite runners who had dropped out, #7, who had removed one of his shoes and had apparently injured that foot. I passed mile #16 and I thought, "ok, just one moderate Sunday run away now. I do 10 miles all the time."

I was feeling strong and ate my second Cliff Bar. I thought, "hey, I think I can really achieve my goal and qualify for the Boston Marathon! Maybe even by a good margin!" But I still had a long ways to go -- about 8 miles. Then rather suddenly, I felt a twinge in one calf muscle followed by the other. Then within seconds it seemed, my calf muscles started cramping and freezing. My brisk pace drastically shut down. "Oh, no! No no no no no NO!" Not enough salt? But what else could I do at this point? I've been drinking nothing but sports drink since about mile 6 and had eaten two Cliff Bars (500 calories!). I thought of my running friend, George, and his salt tablets and how he had cramps during a 50 mile race.

Mile 20. I had 45 minutes remaining for my goal time of 3:10:00 and had to run 10K (6.21 miles). This is only a bit longer than my Tuesday and Thursay morning runs with my Pacifica Group. On a fresh pair of legs this would be extremely easy and feel like a training run. (My best 10K time is 37 minutes.) Yet I could not get my calves to work so my stride had turned into a painful shuffle. I tried running differently by swinging my hips more and that seemed to help somewhat. Mile 21 came. It had taken me almost exactly 9 minutes. My goal was shot. I had nothing left to do but to shuffle on in and to try to not make a bad situation worse. The hill at mile 24 didn't feel hardly any different than the flat section -- it was a very gradual climb. On the downhill, the supposed last dash to the finish, where I would normally easily pick up speed and cruise down, I had nothing. It was painful and slow and I shuffled down the hill. I was getting regularly passed by other runners for the first time in the race. I passed a few poor souls who were struggling even more than me and who were also dealing with cramps, it seemed. The sun was out in full force and the heat was ratcheting up noticeably. Fortunately, I was in the shade most of the time for the last couple of miles and the sponges of ice cold water at the aid stations were fabulous.

The home stretch, the final miles, yards, and steps, were finally here. The crowds of onlookers and well-wishers and cheering volunteers increased dramatically as I entered the park that had the finish line. I tried to pick up my speed a bit to put in a good show and a good finish. BAM! My left hamstring froze in a wonderfully powerful painful yet funny spasmatic attack. OK, that was a bad idea. Hey, I'm right in front of the last aid station, might as well get a drink. I gulped a full cup of sports drink and started running again. OK, my calves are still fried but my hamstring is OK again. I probably picked up the pace to about 8 min / mile. I'll try to put in a good show and good finish. I saw my dad taking pictures. Yay. And then my mom. And she pointed across the street where Jennifer and Claire were and Jennifer had the video camera. Thank you, everyone! I started feeling powerful emotions and almost came to tears. I thought of my running friend Vicky and her recent emotional finish of the San Francisco Nike Women's Marathon. I waved to the cheering crowds and pumped my fists a few times. I picked up the pace some more and had a good strong finish and I heard my name and # being announced, "Ron Little from Montara, California". Oh what a beautiful sight that finish line was, lined with cheering people on both sides. What a feeling, what a terrific challenge that was overcome. Congratulations to all who finished that day.

I need to give a huge thanks to Jennifer and to my parents for their encouragement and support.

Post-Race Thoughts & Results
It's now Tuesday late morning. We got back Monday night at around midnight. My calves are rather tight and sore, but frequent stretching helps. My right knee was sore from after the race and all day yesterday but I haven't felt any pain or discomfort this morning, so I'm happy about that. The results,bib #5052:

Ronald P. Little II #5052
of Montara CA USA

10K: 00:44:51
Half Marathon: 01:35:15
30K: 02:15:19
Gun Time: 03:19:41
Finish Time: 03:19:19
Place Overall: 357
Place Men: 311
Place Men 30-34: 57

Update: The Honolulu Advertiser printed my name in Monday's paper in their Mainland Top 200 list. I'm #25! Woot!

Next time, I'll try carrying some salty pretzels or salt tablets, and making sure I get some more salt the day before. I'd like to give this marathon another try next year. It was truly a great vacation spot and being surrounded by so many runners was encouraging and fostered a sense of camaraderie.