Kona Marathon 2013 race report

Warning: This post is long and includes lots of non-marathon things, because the trip to Hawaii really wasn’t about the marathon. And I’m not apologizing at all, because I had a fantastic time.

Three-word summary: Hot and humid.

One-sentence summary: I ran a marathon in my 10th state while visiting my grandparents and hanging out with friends, and also got the prettiest race medal I’ve ever received.

Disclaimer after the fact: Apparently I ran this race, as well as pacing a half-marathon the previous weekend, with an unknown virus, which I learned a week later due to a doctor visit and blood tests. Fevers, night sweats, headaches, nine pounds of weight loss – not quite the recipe for a hot and humid marathon!

Why I picked the Kona Marathon: I registered for this race solely due to coincidence: June and July were logistically the best months this year to visit my grandparents in Kona. Then two of my very good friends, Josh and Erin, were going to be in Kona in June – and I don’t get to see them often because they now live in New York. Then I learned of a slight registration discount because of my Marathon Maniacs membership. Then I was selected as a half-marathon pacer in San Francisco the weekend before the Kona Marathon, so that fit with my normal “run 10-13 miles the week before a marathon” routine. So, despite my strong dislike of running in Hawaii’s climate, I decided to make it my 10th state for marathon finishes.

“Training”: Seven weeks earlier, I raced the Pittsburg Marathon to a PR, taking two minutes off my previous best marathon time. Pittsburgh was my sixth marathon/ultra in seven months so, even though my legs felt good within a couple days, I took five full days off running and instead cross-trained and rested. Two weeks later, despite only four runs after Pittsburgh, I won a 2.67-mile race (a 5K that was a very short course). Yes, I won. That was a new feeling, and it only happened because it was an extremely small race.

In building back up for Kona, I planned to run 18 miles four weeks before the marathon. Due to a Memorial Day weekend trip to see my dad, I ran the 18 miles at 4:10 a.m. on a Thursday before work. Kristen lent a big hand by running six of the 18 miles with me, and I ended up with an average pace of 9:00 per mile – that’s my marathon PR pace! Three weeks before Kona, I ran 15 miles (though I had planned 13-14; bad map navigating in San Francisco, apparently).

Two weeks before Kona, I had planned to run 20 miles but instead ran the Lake Tahoe Relay. I was only able to run a little over 12 miles, but it was at 6,000-7,000 feet altitude, very hilly and reached 83 degrees when I was running. One week before Kona, I paced the Second Half-Marathon at the San Francisco Marathon. I was the 2:10 pacer, meaning that on an exactly 13.1-mile course, I’d run a 9:55 pace. Since the race is notoriously long, I was told to run 9:51 pace. I actually wound up running 9:48 pace, which sounds too fast, but I finished in 2:10:09 – I am still beating myself up for those nine seconds. But I had SO MUCH FUN.

Kona race week: I had about two weeks of going full-speed non-stop, including multiple sets of company, and couldn’t remember the last time I’d gotten more than seven hours of sleep. A couple times I woke up in a full sweat in the middle of the night; I had no idea why, but then it happened in Hawaii, too. It’s a rather disgusting, unsettling feeling. In Hawaii, I never once slept completely through the night until my last night (after the marathon), which was disappointing. I only set an alarm clock three of the seven days, but I woke up by 6 a.m. every day – one day it was as early as 4. As I mentioned earlier, I had no idea at the time that I was sick. I had no throat or sinus troubles, and I figured it was the humidity, forgetting that I also had such symptoms in California, too. I wasn’t feverish at first, so night sweats were the only clue that something wasn’t right, so I completely missed that clue and kept going 90 miles an hour.

Sleep issues aside, I had so much fun in Hawaii. My grandparents are still just as sweet, hilarious and sharp as ever. I always love to hear old (new to me) family stories, and Grandpa insisted on cooking delicious meals when I was home for dinner. They didn’t mind my on-the-go schedule, either.

On Monday, a few hours after I landed in Hawaii, I was at the beach with Josh and Erin – THAT is my kind of start to a vacation!

Hapuna Beach

A few hours after that, I was drinking wine with them and Erin’s parents on the lanai (deck) of their condo.

And then I was out to dinner (with a tropical drink, of course) with Josh, Erin, her sister Lauren, and Lauren’s husband Oscar. I know the whole family, and always like hanging out with them.

The next morning I awoke at the crack of dawn because I was still on California time, so I drove home and ran a 4-miler on hills (one mile was 10:49 and another was 7:57; yeah, very hilly). Then I ran errands with the grandparents, and then I went to White Sands Beach.

Cresting, breaking, crashing. Look closely and you can see the boogie boarders' progress.

Wednesday morning I was out the door at 6:30 (again, no alarm clock) and running on Ali’i Drive at 7. It was as hot and humid as I had remembered, so I stopped several times with the excuses of “I’m taking pictures” and “I’m tapering, so no need to push.”

I called it quits at 4.5 miles and went to Lava Java, a mandatory stop for the athletes in my family. Iced 100 percent Kona coffee with a macadamia nut cranberry scone? Yes, please! The guy at the table next to me, Jamie, asked if I was running the marathon (my running clothes and profuse sweat were probably a give-away), and we chatted for a while. He’s a triathlete trying to qualify for the Kona Ironman Championship, and his wife is a sub-3-hour marathoner (and founder of a very successful running apparel company). We ran into each other a couple more times during the week, and his wife took third place in the marathon despite having someone slam a door into her face and mess up her whole neck. Anyway, then I went to the beach again, but not the one I’d planned because it was closed after a 14-foot tiger shark bit a guy the previous day. Um, yikes?!

Sunset. Yep, it's a rough life.

On Thursday, Josh, Erin and I headed out early for Volcano National Park. We couldn’t get near the flowing lava like I was able to about eight years ago with one of my sisters, but that was OK.

Volcano ahead.

We went on a four-mile hike that started in a tropical rainforest and then took us across a volcanic crater. It’s basically indescribable, though at one point we said it was “like the moon, only with more gravity.” Not that we know what the moon is like – oh, and the moon might not have flowering plants that burst through the rock.

We also walked through a huge lava tube and looked down into big steam vents.

Lava tube

I wish I could have enjoyed the ride out of the park and along the ocean, but a headache had been gradually growing all day. I used to get lots of headaches, but they nearly all vanished once I took up distance running about seven years ago, so now I don’t even have pain reliever in my house. I ignored the headache all day, but then it suddenly began to make migraine threats (I’ve had two in my life). I managed to say that I didn’t think I’d be able to eat dinner, and Erin the future doctor realized I was serious. She spotted a tiny pharmacy, I dragged myself inside, and spent the best $3 on some pain reliever. Half an hour later, I could focus, and I was able to eat.

Friday morning, I met up with Josh, Erin, her sister Kary and husband Saul, and Oscar to go snorkeling. Oscar’s wife Lauren (Erin’s other sister) had to cancel, so I got to go on the trip, and I’ve never been so happy to take someone’s place!

Windblown on a boat.

During the four-hour trip, we explored sea caves, learned bits of history from our hilarious captain, saw dolphins and snorkeled in two different sites for about 50 minutes each. The fish were incredible, the coral was fascinating, and it was amazing to see the coral shelf just drop off into the depths of the ocean.

In a cave created by flowing lava.
Inside looking out.
Josh looking at the ocean rushing in and then back out the remains of a lava tube.

And then a whole school of dolphins appeared and put on a show for us.

I didn't take a lot of dolphin photos, because I was too busy looking at them. And that's OK.

And then we went to Huggo’s on the Rocks, which I love because they have tasty drinks, fish tacos and you can put your feet in the sand looking at the ocean.

As if that’s not enough for one day, that evening I went up to Josh and Erin’s place and we drove north with the whole family for Josh’s birthday dinner. Along the way, we saw what might be the brightest rainbow I’ve ever seen in my life. It was raining and cold when we got to the restaurant, and I could only wish that would be the marathon weather.

On Saturday, I went for a shakeout run, since I usually run a few mellow miles the day before a race. My head was still hurting. I was trying so hard to hydrate, and I was monitoring the ounces of water, coffee (not a lot) and alcohol (not much, actually, though photos in this post make it look like I’m a lush). The altitude was 1,400 feet elevation, which was not enough to affect me, so I suspected that vog (volcanic gas in the air) and possibly hormones were making me feel so awful. Again, in hindsight, I now know that I was sick. At the time, I had no idea, because I ALWAYS have sinus troubles when I get sick and that was not the case this time.

Well, I felt miserable from the first steps of that run. It was so hilly and I was so tired, so I cut it short to 1.4 miles – a tenth of a mile for each marathon I’ve run, including Sunday’s. Grandpa cooked breakfast, I went to the very small race expo, and then I met Josh and Erin in town for one final farewell. We got shaved ice (they call it “shave ice” in Hawaii, but that bad grammar drives me nuts), that for some reason I’d never had in all my trips to Hawaii. It’s far superior to a snow cone, and you can add ice cream to the center and basically wind up in heaven. Then we happened to see a sea turtle, I stumbled across a pretzel place that we decreed to have the best pretzels ever, and then I said farewell to Josh and Erin. They had made this an amazing trip, and I didn’t know when I’d get to see them again.

See the sea turtle.

Late Saturday afternoon, I went to a birthday party/house warming gathering for a neighbor of my grandparents. I ate a few appetizers and refrained from the full open bar, instead drinking 16 ounces of water. Oh, and the hostess thoroughly confused me by greeting us, pointing my grandparents to the wine/alcohol, and then telling me, “They also have soft drinks, too.” I drew a blank: Did she think I was under the age of 21?! Or pregnant?! I don’t get carded anymore, and my generally flat stomach is one of the few parts of my body that doesn’t drive me nuts. Odd.

That evening, I suddenly felt incredibly sick. My stomach was fine, but my body started aching and I had chills. I felt feverish, so then I silently freaked out that I was contagious and would give a bug to my grandparents. I left the family room at one point intending to be gone for a few minutes, wound up on my bed, and spent the next hour being vaguely aware that time was passing and I might be dozing. I sat up an hour later feeling like I’d been run over by a truck, but forced myself to eat a few raviolis. Grandma told me that I didn’t have to run the marathon. I never had any notion of skipping the marathon, but I did seriously wonder if I would be able to run the next morning.

Race morning: I woke up to the alarm at 3:15 and was still alive, so that meant I would run. Waking up at that hour meant that I got to see the Supermoon, so that was a bonus for this nut who has had a lifelong love affair with the moon.

Supermoon over the ocean and in the pool.

I managed to eat most of my breakfast, slathered sunscreen all over my body, applied a thick coat of body glide to any place that might chafe due to the copious amounts of humidity and sweat, and headed to the start line. Bag check was easy, toilet lines moved quickly, and I met a few fellow Marathon Maniacs. And then the director announced that the shuttle company hadn’t shown up, so everyone staying at the host hotel was frantically carpooling or walking the 1.5 miles to the start line. So we would be starting late. I certainly understand, but this meant that we had 15 fewer minutes of pre-dawn weather, and thus 15 more minutes of sun/heat on the other end.

Miles 1-5: 9:21, 9:00, 8:53, 9:20, 9:38.

The first five miles went along Ali’i Drive and had a downhill start. It was quite warm by my strict standards, but tolerable. I was carrying my water bottle with Nuun in it, and I grabbed a cup of ice water somewhere in the first five miles. I also walked in mile 4. Yes, only four miles into the race and I was already walking. And then I walked up the Palani Drive hill, though that was a calculated energy-saving move.

Miles 6-8: 10:42, 9:46, 10:53

We wound through a (boring) industrial/vacant area, then went through the back of a (boring) shopping center, thoroughly confusing me in the process. I think I’d already topped off my water bottle twice by this point: I knew the only way I would survive was to keep drinking water. Also, I hate the “sports” drink they were serving, Ultima, so I was only drinking water after my Nuun was gone. To make up for it, I swallowed a salt capsule roughly every hour (taking three total). I also took 100-calorie Gu gels at miles 5, 10, 14.5, 19 and 23. I never felt a hint of muscle cramps, so that was either the right mix or I was just moving very slowly. (The latter option is probably the correct answer.)

Miles 9-13: 10:16, 11:06, 10:35, 10:19, 10:29

We ran along the ocean side of the highway, and I was just not happy. My body was tired, I was so hot, the humidity was insane. The race is an out-and-back course, which is sometimes a real bummer, but in a small race (460 registered for the full marathon), it was nice to see people on the reverse. Two guys were far ahead of the next runner, who was a woman. She was flying, and the next woman never had her in her sights.

Miles 14-18: 11:10, 11:15, 9:47, 11:25, 10:27

I had reached the halfway point in 2:11, so for a while I thought I could try to finish in 4:20-4:25. But my body wouldn’t go faster, and I walked through the aid stations and beyond. I chatted with a guy from Illinois who was running his 48th state and only had Alaska and California left. Another guy was on state 49 and will reach the 50th next month in Connecticut. I counted a total of seven people wearing Marathon Maniacs gear, several others wearing 50 States shirts, and knew of several more who are Maniacs. Wearing my Maniacs tank top was a good decision, because it was nice to mutually cheer for other Maniacs, and hear a few spectators holler, “Maniac!”

Miles 19-22: 10:40, 12:51, 11:18, 11:03

Soon we were back on Ali’i Drive, and the temperature was warmer. The black asphalt was also a lot warmer. I refilled my bottle with lots of ice, which rattled and annoyed me, but the cold water was worth the annoyance. Around mile 20 I met a guy named Steve, who clearly had a Boston accent but has been stationed in Hawaii with the U.S. Navy for about a decade. I somehow wound up with an invitation to see behind-the-scenes at Pearl Harbor if I ever get back over there. He took off, though I soon caught up and passed him. Then he passed me. That continued for the rest of the race, as I continued to die a slow death along Ali’i Drive.

Miles 23-26.2: 12:08, 12:32, 13:52, 9:35, 2:03 (10:30 pace)

By this point, I knew that I could at least beat my worst road marathon time of 4:47. I also decided that I should at least finish under 4:45. But let me tell you, there was a lot of walking. I just had nothing left, and I really hadn’t had anything left since mile 4, the first time I found myself walking. Mile 25 had a massive uphill that I walked, and finally talked to a couple I’d seen the whole way. She had silver wings on the back of her tank top, and I learned that they were in honor of her grandmother who had died a week earlier. Her husband ran with her and encouraged her every step of the way. As I always say, every single person in a race has a story worth telling.

Mile 26 suddenly because a trail run that was almost technical. It had big rocks, some roots, and uneven ground. I was somehow in a group of people for the first time, and suddenly I found that extra finishing gear. My legs were so incredibly happy to get off the pavement after four-and-a-half hours, and my mind loved having something to focus on (the best place to plant my feet). I actually said, “Hooray, trails!” but then realized people around me were grumbling, so my happiness would probably make them mad at me. I flew past five people, including Steve the sailor, running the slight uphill until the trail finally ended, much to my sadness.

The race finished on the grounds of a hotel, and it seemed to never end. We went through a parking lot, across some grass where I was asking volunteers where to go, through a hotel breezeway, and there I found a volunteer standing beside several stairs. “What?!” I exclaimed. He cheerfully told me, “Just go up these stairs, down the other stairs, and you’ll be there.” They expected me to GO UP STAIRS. Oh, and then GO DOWN STAIRS. Well, this was a cruel joke. A true one. Oh, and then we made a bunch of turns along a path, where a sign told us to smile for a photographer ahead. I almost flipped the camera off, but I was too exhausted to lift my finger.

Finishing chute. (Photo by Louie Soriano)

Finally, I reached the finish line. Oh, it was so nice to stop running. They gave me the most gorgeous medal I’d ever received — I think I’ve said that before, but this one outdid others with its stained glass and glitter. It was the 20th anniversary of the marathon, so they departed from the previous small, silver medals.

I found water and watermelon, oh lovely watermelon! Then a fellow Maniac named Louie saw me and introduced himself, and it turned out that he’d taken photos of me finishing. See why Marathon Maniacs are the best?

With Louie. Marathon Maniacs are everywhere.

I eventually found the place to get my shirt and was thrilled to see that they were a brand I recognize and like – but, alas, they were already out of my size so I wound up with a big one. It works as a post-run shirt, but I’m sad to report that I won’t be able to run in it.

Then I learned that Kona Brewing Company was there, and that race finishers got free beer. Nobody had to twist my arm to accept a beer, on tap, from Kona Brewing Co! I once again ran into Jamie, the guy I’d met at Lava Java and the expo – yep, Kona is a small place. Funny enough, a few weeks later I saw his wife on the trails near San Francisco, shouted “Hi Cindy!” and later explained on Facebook who I was (she’s kind of a big deal in the running community, so I was tickled). Anyway, I finally plunked down next to a tree with my beer, where I changed to flip-flops, turned on my phone, called Grandma to say that I had survived, and then updated social media. Awhile later, I managed to get up (this is why I sat close to the tree – physical support), get to a bus that took me 1.5 miles to the car, drive home, and get directly into the cold pool.

Numbing the pain of running 4 hours and 40 minutes.

And so I finished a marathon in my 10th state, thus qualifying me for entry into the 50 States Club, if I so desire.

Official time: 4:40:34
Overall Place: 125, of 337 (top 37 percent – which shows how slowly I really went)
Gender Place: 44, of 122 (top 36 percent – yep, slower than normal)
Age Division Place: 6, of 16 (top 37.5 percent – no comment needed)

Medal and beer to mark my first and last Hawaii marathon.

The next afternoon, I boarded a plane and headed home. It had been great to see my grandparents. I had conquered a marathon in weather conditions that are much too hot for my liking. I had spent wonderful time with very good friends. Life is pretty good.

I'll be back soon, Hawaii. Who's going with me next time?

5 Responses to Kona Marathon 2013 race report

  1. Great recap — of both the race and your vacation! And now I’m craving shave ice. (<= Does that drive you crazy???)

  2. Avatar Grampa Ben
    Grampa Ben says:

    Fantastic coverage! What a great mind for detail and recall! Were you taking notes? Or was your years of reporting showing thru? Whatever it was, it was great having you here. You’re always welcome. Love and all the best, Grampa.

  3. First off, I love that your Grandpa commented. :)

    That said, I totally get why you didn’t think anything of the symptoms because spread out as they were I think anyone would’ve overlooked them, as a whole, def sick. So are you better now?

    Congrats on #10! You have come so far!

  4. Aaaagggghhhh sorry you were feeling so crappy & virus-ed out, but you are of course the queen of powering through, so no surprises there. :)

    OMG beer & a pool post-marathon! Does it get any better?

  5. Looks like an awesome trip! I haven’t been to Hawaii since high school, but we’re planning a big family trip there next year. Alaskans have sort of a kinship with Hawaii, since we’re the 2 “freak states”.

    I’m just not so sure about running a marathon there, I don’t think this Alaska boy could handle running in that heat!