Today I ran a marathon- voluntarily! Weird and surprising, coming from the high school cross-country runner notorious for feigning injuries to get out of 5Ks. But running became one of my favorite stress-relievers in college and ever since it has become therapeutic for me. After an unknown number of 5Ks, a truly spectacular 10K in Palermo and the glamorous half marathon of Columbia, MO, a marathon was next on my running bucket list.
Up at 3:30am for a 4:30 am call time, it was a LONG day. Leading up to the 6am start time, there was an array of Hawaiian traditions - an authentic tiki dance, a few words of encouragement from the mayor of Kauai (who was an awesome native Hawaiian with a booming voice and a sassy ‘tude) and a local blessing that called the island gods to help us all pull strength from nature. We also applauded the moon (of course?), which was still shining brightly overhead. And then we were off, filing through the hundreds of tiki torches that lined the darkness of the first half mile.
The course began and ended in Poi’pu beach, one of the most famous in Hawaii. But the middle 24-ish miles wound through the interior of the island: past suspicious horses grazing outside tropical ranches, through the century-old Tunnel of Trees, passing teeny towns and cozy residential neighborhoods where neighbors were grilling breakfast kebabs in their driveways. Along the whole course, the local people had gathered outside their houses, sitting in lawn chairs and cheers-ing their coffee as we passed. Every two or so miles was a pit stop featuring water and heavenly electrolytes, doled out by little kids who used their spare hands to high-five us. There were bands, hula girls, ukulele players, police officers and volunteers along the entire route. The curvy, narrow streets were closed during the race, so it was only runners and their cheering squads as far as the eye could see.
The most amazing part of the race was chatting with the other runners. Miles 11-20 were purely uphill. That short sentence does NOT justly describe the situation. But it was during this very touch-and -go time that I met a few people whose words and actions will stay with me for a long time.
Mercedes, originally from the Phillapines, has lived on Kauai for the past 30 years and she knew EVERYONE on the island. There was her husband and daughter cheering at mile 12, a mom-friend from her daughter’s hula classes passing out water at mile 14, her daughter’s principal at mile 16 who “shot” her full of energy with an umbrella, her old paddle team partner playing a ukulele at mile 18… It went on and on. Inbetween, we chatted about running, island life, Hawaii’s history, neighborhoods- it’s amazing how much a simple conversation that distracts you from the thought of running makes the miles fly. And Mercedes was a very friendly, social gal who was my chatty, running buddy for the majority of the race.
I also met Dan. I’d guess him to be about 75 years-old. He has run a marathon in all 50 states, and he sported a patriotic USA-flag running shirt to prove it. He beat me.
My favorite character of the race was a 70-something year-old man wearing a wide-brimmed straw hat and rainbow beach shirt who was trekking up the mountain at about mile 14 as we were making our way back down towards the finish at mile 21. He looked up, smiled and said, “I know there are a lot of people in front of me, but there are also a lot of people behind me sitting on their couch.” Very cool.
I closed the race with Coop, who had run the Kauai marathon 3 times before and quickly became my coach. He told me when to speed up, when to slow down, drink water, the works. He was taking this race “slow” (I tried not to be offended!) because, prepare yourself, he had RUN A 100 MILE race LAST WEEKEND in South Dakota. He said, rather matter-of-factly, it took him about 27 hours to finish. I let him call me slow after that.
In all, I met some amazing people and saw some hidden parts of the island I never would have seen on a normal trip. I’m already brainstorming my next destination marathon, the newest fad in traveling! Paris in April anyone?
Now I need to go use my medal for its intended purpose, to open a brew. Yes, they have bottle-openers on them. I love this island.
Before I landed in Kauai- for the “impromptu marathon”- I got some new digits.
On the 6+ hour flight from LA to Kauai, I sat next to Boris, a LA based dentist who had moved to the states about 25 years ago from Moscow. He insisted I call him if I ever find myself in LA or Eastern Europe. One seems slightly more Iikely than the other.
He was on his way to the island with his wife, son, daughter-in-law and grand kids for a month in a house on the beach. Russian dentistry must pay well, evidenced too by the gold chain blinging around his neck. We started chatting after I agreed to switch seats so his wife could sit by her grandchild. I was just happy that I’d gotten a window.
During the flight Boris and I discussed everything from Spanish bull fights to US/Russian dentistry laws. I learned that his 30 yr old *single son had gone to school at the infamous Milken School in LA and Boris knows where Sylvester Stalone eats every Friday night. We talked about running and I admitted to him my reservations about this volcano marathon. Boris prefers tennis.
As we deboarded, Boris turned to me and said, thank you very much for being so kind to my family. You never know where kindness to strangers will lead. I do know I will call him next time I find myself in LA or Russia.