My training over the past 3 months had gone well. I was happy with my pace and my form. I had no injuries to worry about. I was confident of qualifying for Boston at Revel Kulia on the Big Island of Hawaii. Unfortunately, it was not to be. My finish time was a more than 30 minutes slower than my target time. “Happens to the best of us” is all I can say. I was all smiles at the end with a lei around my neck. It was Hawaii after all!
Over the past week, I had checked the weather at least a dozen times. It would be a warm day at the finish but nice cool temperatures for most of the race. The wind was blowing from the NE; a nice, hard tail wind. The conditions were turning out to be near perfect for a Boston Qualifier (BQ) and a Personal Record (PR). This only added to my confidence!
Arrival into Hawaii was smooth and uneventful. The race was on Saturday, January 18, 2020. On Thursday evening at around 5PM, we were nicely settled into a condo only a few minutes from the finish line. There were signs posted about traffic slowdowns near the race but not much excitement otherwise near the finish. This was a small race with only a few hundred marathon runners. Only if you are a crazy runner would you fly all the way to Hawaii for only 3 days with a singular focus of running a marathon!
On Friday, I picked up my race package and was assigned number 1201. Again, it was uneventful. I already knew what the course was like. It was severely downhill for 7 miles, up and down for the next 6 miles, gentler downhill for the next 11 miles with short flats and uphills and then relatively flat for the last 2 miles. Little did I know that the first 7 miles would take everything out of my quad and calf muscles! Read on…
After eating an early pasta dinner, I settled down to prep for the race. For the first time, I was going to run a marathon without music. I had trained without headphones and was ready. Also, for the first time I was running a race with my contact lenses instead of prescription sunglasses. Again, I had trained with them and had no issues. From top to bottom, I was dressed in:
- Ironman Visor
- Cheap sunglasses
- Simple gray tech shirt (with my number pinned on it)
- Lululemon blue shorts with two pockets
- Race belt with nutrition
- Garmin 735XT watch
- Head white wrist band with my target pace pinned on it
- White gloves provided by Revel
- Zensah black calf sleeves
- Bianchi socks
- Mizuno Wave Sonic running shoes
For nutrition, I was carrying two Clif bars, 2 Stinger waffles, 2 Gatorade endurance gel packs and a few salt pills. I would augment these with Stinger gels available on the course. I was also carrying arm sleeves. It would be a gametime decision as to whether I’d wear them (I decided not to). I went to bed at around 9PM on Friday.
3:00AM: As expected, I slept sparingly. I had about an hour before I would make the slow walk to the bus at the finish line. My morning routine is pretty standard. Today was not much different. I brushed my teeth, drank water with electrolytes, checked the weather, used the bathroom a few times, changed into my race outfit, ate a yogurt and a banana, checked and double-checked that I had everything I needed, rolled out my back, quads, calf muscles and meditated for a few minutes. My heart-rate was running high. This was normal for race day. I was excited. I was ready!
4:00AM: I carried my check-in bag and walked slowly to the bus at Queen’s Marketplace (the finish line). It was dark and sparse. There were a few buses lined up; mostly to take the half-marathoners up to the start line. There was only one bus for marathon runners. The race was smaller than I thought. Good! After what seemed like an eternity sitting in the bus waiting for it to fill up, we finally took off to the starting line at around 4:30AM. Most runners were quiet but some were expending excited energy. This wasn’t my first rodeo; I was mostly visualizing how I’d be running the course the bus was driving on! I could see that it was mostly downhill but the uphills were sudden, steep and short.
5:15AM: We had reached the gathering area near the starting line. It was cold and windy. There were no heaters and it was exposed to the elements. There were a dozen or so port-a-potties and lines had begun to form. I was sipping my electrolytes water slowly as I found a quiet area to sit on the damp grass. It was semi-shielded from the wind. A couple more buses arrived with runners of all shapes, sizes and ages. Most sat down quietly but some were doing stretching routines. Some runners had already shed their upper layers and were sitting in sleeveless or short-sleeved shirts. Some people are crazier or hardier than me!
6:15AM: After someone played the national anthem, I did a final check of my Garmin, my nutrition and my shoelaces, I shed my warm layers, stuffed them in the check-in bag and headed to the starting line. It was an uphill walk. There must have been only a couple of hundred runners. We stood there all huddled up like penguins. Some talked about BQs and PRs. I stayed quiet but in my mind I was thinking the same thing. The race strategy was simple.
- Cruise downhill for the first 7 miles
- Get through the next 6 miles
- Cruise downhill for the next 10 miles slowing down on the uphills
- Finish off the final 3 miles with everything left in the tank
Easier said than done!
6:30AM (miles 1 to 7): The horn sounded; off we went! Go easy. Let gravity do its thing. After weaving through a few random super-slow runners, I started the steep downhill. Steep it was! The first mile dropped 400 feet! I was trying a super-high cadence so I wouldn’t have to brake, but it wasn’t working. I could already feel my quads working hard, and I was only half-a-mile in. I glanced at my Garmin but it was still dark. I knew I was going sub-8 pace for sure; I just didn’t know how fast!
“This feels weird,” this guy in neon-green running next to me said. I nodded in agreement. I wanted to relax and slow down, but the only way I could was to brake. I could feel my heels striking the pavement hard with each stride (I am normally a mid-foot to front-foot runner). I could feel the impact in my calf muscles. We were running against the sun. There was a comfortable chill in the air. Other than my quads and calf muscles working hard, I felt good. By the time I finished the first mile, there was just enough light to see that I was running sub-7; faster than expected, but that’s okay. The second, third and fourth miles felt just about the same as the first mile; hard on the legs but fast and effortless otherwise.
At the end of the fifth mile, I had to pee. I was annoyed. I had sipped too much water pre-race. Ugh! It took me less than a minute but it felt uncomfortable to stop and start running again. I also took a gel from the aid station and scarfed it down. My quads felt tender and just a bit shaky. They had worked harder than I thought! By the sixth mile, my quads had started talking to me. It was still severely downhill and stunningly beautiful. I knew that between the seventh and eight mile, the course would take a sharp left turn and the undulating hills would begin. I was ready. Or so I thought…
7:21AM (Miles 8 to 13): My pace slowed as I took the sharp left turn as the course elevation continued to drop. My legs were already screaming at me. My heart-rate was fine. I knew that I simply had to survive the next 5 miles, reach the half-marathon mark and cruise downhill to the finish line. With my already tender legs, I decided to slow my pace. I was hoping my legs would recover just enough that a wave of second-wind would carry me down.
The eighth mile was relatively smooth. I ran it at an 8-minute pace. The ninth mile has a short but steep uphill that I slowly ran up. My legs simply didn’t want to do the work. They were acting like a stubborn horse. The tenth mile was much the same as the ninth mile.
It was on the eleventh mile that I lost track of this marathon. My right quad tightened up hard. It is an uphill mile; and I just could not run it all the way up. I stopped. I massaged my right quad for a few seconds and tested it with a slow gait followed by a slow run (notice that us runners never want to use the word “jog”). A few runners passed me. “Are you okay?” “You can do this.” “Keep going.” I was encouraged. I didn’t quite have it in me, but I was encouraged. By the end of the eleventh mile, my quad seemed to have loosened up just enough for me to actually accelerate my pace just a bit on the twelfth mile. I still had hope. I swallowed a salt pill and ate a Clif bar.
I did some rough calculations in my head. I had banked enough minutes in the first eight miles to still finish the first half in around 1:45 and then cruise to the finish. The thirteenth mile had me back in the race. I picked up the pace. I could see the right turn in the distance. That’s the half-marathon mark. “Just get there and you got this.” I ignored my tired legs. The stubborn horse was behaving (for now)! I had felt a couple of muscle twitches in my left calf, but I notched these up to muscles adjusting under my compression sleeves. Maybe they were even trying to recover naturally (ya right)!
8:15AM (Miles 14 to 20): I ran the first half of the race (half-marathon) in exactly 1:44:39. While my legs were much more fatigued than expected, I felt good. I was going to venture on.
The flats and hills were done for the next few miles. It was time to pick up the pace. I was careful though. I didn’t want to run so hard that my legs would just blow up. I ran mile fourteen in a respectable 7:41 pace. If I could manage this for the rest of the race, I’d easily qualify for Boston.
Alas, at mile fifteen, my right quad and left calf just simply gave out. I stopped again, reached down to my left calf and flexed my muscles. It hurt. I walked a few steps and stopped again. I hobbled a few steps and stopped again. I massaged, I stretched, I flexed. Nothing. I managed an awkward run for a hundred feet or so before I had to stop and walk again. I managed this through mile fifteen and mile sixteen. Each mile was progressively slower. Each mile was progressively tougher. Each mile hurt more. Even walking was uncomfortable.
I stopped at each station asking for ice. I was disappointed that there was none. It was hot and sunny by now. I was taking two cups of water; once to pour over my head and the other to drink. I actually thought of dropping out but convinced the stubborn horse to keep moving. My legs had given up and my mind was about to. I would muster up enough energy to run for a bit only to feel my legs tightening up. I saw a couple of photographers and gave them a fake smile and a fake thumbs up!
As I reached Waikoloa Village, I knew I had 10k to go. Carry on…
9:23AM (Miles 21 to Finish): At mile 21, there is a short uphill. It actually felt good to walk uphill. Instead of striking my heels, I could feel my toes touching the ground first. I ran halfway up this hill. The next few miles are a blur in my mind. I drank at aid stations, ate when I felt like it, took a couple of salt pills and ventured on. My legs were completely shot. I had completely stopped paying attention to the time. The only thing I remember from miles 21 to 24 was that I admired the ocean directly in front of me. It was indeed gorgeous.
As I approached mile twenty-five, I could see the blue helicopters. The course takes a sharp left turn on to Queen K highway. It’s pretty much the home-stretch here. The road is pretty flat. There are black lava fields all around radiating heat. The wind blows typically from the ocean. It’s warm and beautiful.
I could see a group of runners running in front of me. I didn’t care to catch them. I could see the right turn towards the finish line with about a mile to go. I looked down at my Garmin and noticed that I was just short of 4 hours. Oh well…
I slowly started to run as I took the right turn. I was hot and full of sweat. Throughout the course, there were barely any spectators but now I could see a few. I saw Binita waiting for me. I stopped and talked to her for a good minute. I didn’t care about the time. She encouraged me.
The finish line was in Queen’s Market. I took a few quick lefts and a rights and there I was. The announcer announced my arrival. It was an unceremonious end to my eleventh marathon. Someone wrapped a lei and a medal around my neck. I downed two bottles of water.
Post Race: I limped out of the finish chute into the grass. I wasn’t the only one with sore legs. Dozens of runners were in the same predicament. Binita picked up the race check-in bag for me. I was disappointed and happy at the same time. I thought back on how I could have run the race better. I had run another downhill race using the same plan and had qualified for Boston. I questioned my training plan. Nope; it was the same plan. The only thing I could think of was that my taper and rest period over the few days before the race was a bit sketchy. I had run 4.5 miles the day before the race. I had biked two days before the race. Who knows…
As I write this a week after the race, I am already looking for another marathon this summer to target BQ again. We shall see! For now, here are some pics!