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Aloha Spirit at the Kaua’i Marathon

Aloha Spirit at the Kaua’i Marathon

 

by Brett Ely
 
(From the “Running Around the World” section of the current-Nov/Dec-issue of New England Runner)

 

I sat at the desk in my hotel room, eating a container of
pre-cooked white rice, and my legs twitched with energy. This was partly
because I had spent the previous 10 weeks training for a challenging marathon
that would begin 13 hours from this moment, partly because my previous two
injury-riddled marathon attempts had resulted in two confidence-crushing DNFs,
but most of all, I was twitchy because I had been in Kaua’i, Hawaii for two
days and done almost no exploring.

 

There were mountains and valleys and waterfalls and rugged
cliffs to hike along, and I had spent my morning walking through a windowless
race expo. There were shaved-ice stands, farmers markets, coffee plantations,
and local breweries, and I was eating prepackaged lukewarm rice. I tried to
tell myself that this focus would pay off, and that I would have several days
after the race to camp, hike, indulge and explore the island.

 

I still carried that energy and anticipation the next
morning on the shuttle to the starting line, anxious for the race experience
and eagerly anticipating the Hawaiian experience to follow. I didn’t have to
wait long. Before the start, there were tiki torches lit along the starting
line and a traditional Hawaiian blessing was given to the runners. I was awed
and moved right from the beginning.

 

There were also several water stations with local drummers,
Hula dancers, and all along the way, thousands of friendly Hawaiian faces
waving hands and giving shakas (a warm Hawaiian greeting). All this Aloha
spirit was on the roadside while runners streamed past through the tunnels of
trees, climbed high peaks and were rewarded with breathtaking sea views, while
also witnessing an early downpour and late sun colliding in a spectacular
rainbow.

 

I had come to Kaua’i hoping for an incredible experience,
but I also came to race. The prize setup is unusual, in that there is no prize
money per se, but any woman who runs under 2:45 on this course can win up to
$15,000. The women’s course record was 3:10:07, so no woman had been close
before but there were two of us this year hoping to change that (myself and
Devon Crosby-Helms, recent San Francisco Marathon champion). The race founder
(Jeff Sacchini) told us to be prepared to add 10+ minutes to what we thought we
could run on a typical course. It is usually 70-80 degrees and humid during the
race, and this year was no exception. In addition, the course contains over
2200 feet of climbing.

 

Devon and I had discussed running together. This only ended
up happening for the first 7-miles, but we chatted most of this time and it
made the first 10K feel like a warmup (until the 6th uphill mile‰Û¢then things
got really quiet). Once we crested the hills, Devon was starting to fall back
and I knew we needed to pick up some serious time on the downhills, so I
encouraged her to come with me but ended up going on alone. It was in this
stretch that a heavy downpour started, but it didn’t dampen the spirit of the
spectators and volunteers, and it was actually refreshing given the Hawaiian
heat.

 

At 20 miles, I saw my split and quickly did the math: I
would need a 36:00 last 10K to run under 2:45. I knew I had my work cut out for
me, but I was going to try. I was vaguely aware of pace, but not obsessing about
it. I was also vaguely aware of the creeping pain that sets in at this point of
the marathon, but I tried to ignore any signal my body was sending and just
keep going for it. I had the official race vehicle, a Jeep Wrangler, as company
as I ran my last 4-miles in 22:46, with a final mile split of 5:13. I pushed
until the clock had passed 2:45:00, and at that point I decided to relax and
enjoy the last bit of the race. I waved, I smiled, I gave shakas to the crowd.
I had a blast finishing up, and felt great when I crossed the line in 2:46:03.
I had broken the course record by over 24 minutes, but missed out on winning
$15,000 by 64 seconds.

 
(Finally
getting her wish, Brett Ely gets to do some post-marathon hiking and
sightseeing, here with husband, Matt, along the Napali coast).

 

 My husband Matt found me in the chute and wrapped his arms
around me. Mothers asked if their daughters could take a picture with me. I
gave live television interviews at the finish line. Everyone wanted to shake my
hand and congratulate me. It was unreal and very moving. I also talked to Terry
[Shea, B.A.A. women’s coach] over the phone, and was elated to be able to call
with good news after all he has done for me over the past few years. He earned
this as much as I did, and I don’t think I can ever adequately express my
gratitude to him and the B.A.A. for their support.

 

At the awards ceremony, they called the top three finishers
up and gave us hand-painted plates with the Kaua’i Marathon logo. I thought we
were done, but a Japanese man and woman came on stage with a big sign that said
“Invitation to Iwaki Sunshine Marathon 2013” and held it up in front of me. I
was briefly confused, but then thrilled to find out that Iwaki and Kaua’i are
sister cities, so every year, the male or female winner receives a trip to the
respective sister city to race. It is an honor and a dream come true to think
about visiting and racing in Japan next February.

 

Post-race, I couldn’t hold out from exploring for another
moment, so Matt and I went for an 8-mile hike from our hotel along the water,
then came back and celebrated with a Kona Brewing Company Wailua Wheat. We did
several more beautiful hikes over the next few days on the Napali coast and in
Koke’e state park. We camped on rugged and remote beaches, and refueled with
fantastic island food.

 

I was able to finally get all of the ‰Û¢exploring’ out of my
system and see this beautiful island, get muddy and sore on the trails without
a race on the horizon, eat the delicious food, and, of course, drink the
incredible coffee and beer. (Room with a view on Polihale Beach.)

 


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