Sunday, September 14, 2008

Maui Marathon

My wife and I are up at 2am, giving me just enough time to have coffee and a light snack before she drives me to Ka'anapali. Shuttle buses to Kahului will depart from there at 3:30, but she wants to leave early to avoid potential gridlock on Ka'anapali Parkway.

We leave Kapalua with plenty of time to spare, but need to stop for gas. The station in Kahana is closed! Thankfully, the car has enough to get to Ka'anapali...and I am able to find a seat on the first bus. My wife calls from a station in Lahaina...also closed. Hopefully the car has enough gas to not only get her back to the hotel, but also to Kahana (there are no service stations in Kapalua).

My worries soon shift below the belt. Apparently, one of the biggest mistakes a runner can make is drinking coffee and pre-hydrating before sitting down towards the back of a school bus. Just as our shuttle departs from Ka'anapali, I suddenly need to go. I must grin and bear it over every little bump our bus hits en route to the starting area. Making matters worse, our driver takes us on a longer and slower route through Wailuku before arriving at our destination behind Queen Ka'ahumanu Center. People can't get off the bus fast enough for me. Fortunately, ours is one of the first busses to arrive, so the port-a-potties are vacant (and the one I have found looks unused).

As I look around the staging area, I can hardly believe I am about to run my first marathon. A day shy of one year ago, I ran my first race since high school (and that was only five miles long). I step up to a table, set my things down, and pin my bib number to my shirt. Ouch...I have pricked my thumb! I guess I am not dreaming.

I ask around...seems like I am the only first time marathoner in my immediate vicinity. Another Eric standing nearby says we need to team together, but, when I tell him my pace goal of 9 minute miles, he replies that he'll be lagging far behind me. I start talking to the lady next to me. Her husband couldn't be here today because he hurt his ankle doing a trail run. She has not run Maui before, but has done marathons in Chicago and San Diego. She says that San Diego's Rock and Roll Marathon course (which was almost my first) is quite hilly, so I was smart not to start there.

An announcer welcomes us, provides some statistics (1,035 runners have registered for today's race representing 20 countries...500 or so from the State of Hawaii), and warms up the crowd by having us give a shout-out when our home state or country is called. I am getting anxious. Time to stretch. To my right is a large contingency of Japanese runners (who appear to be on some kind of group tour). They are stretching in unison. They look serious.

A half-an-hour before our 5:30am race time, the announcer confirms it is time to walk to the starting line. We are told to follow a truck up the driveway by the Macys and around a corner away from the mall. How far are we going? It seems like we are walking forever before we gather in the middle of a dark residential street (Google Maps measures our walk at just under a half-mile). I wonder how residents must feel having so many people crowd their street before sunrise. I notice that I am far closer to the front than the back of the field. That's good.

The announcer once again has us shout-out when our state or country is called. The countdown has begun. Apparently, the start time for the half and full marathons are synchronized. I overhear someone make the comment "I wonder how the slower half marathon runners will feel when they are passed by the elite marathoners". The guy behind me mentions that this is his first full marathon. I tell him this is mine too. We wish each other luck.

At 5:30am, the horn sounds! The announcer reminds us to cross the timing mat, but it is too dark to see the ground. My feet touch something that feels like carpet just as the field spreads out enough to run. This must be the mat...time to start my GPS watch. I pass between two Polynesian guys holding torches before proceeding into the darkness. The course begins flat with perhaps a slight dip. I am making a conscious effort to keep my pace between 8-and-a-half and 9 minutes per mile for the first half of this race, having noted that the next four or five miles will be a slight incline followed by more significant hills when we reach the coast.

According to my watch, I complete my first mile in 8:32. I am off to a good start. My legs feel great and my breathing is calm and controlled. As I reach the intersection of Puunene and Dairy Road and turn on to the Kuihelani Highway (380), however, the air turns foul. I am guessing that the source of this stench is fertilizer for the sugar cane fields adjacent to the highway. Stalks of sugar cane continue to the horizon. I hope the smell does not.

As with the Hana Relay, the road is not completely closed to vehicles (I suppose it would be impossible to close the only highway connecting Kahului with West Maui) and participants must stick to the left. Though I would have preferred being able to run in the center of the pavement (where it is least sloped to the sides), cones have been placed so that we can at least run within a portion of the slow lane and not just upon the shoulder. That said, pre-dawn traffic is light in both directions. Generator powered lights dot the highway, so we are not running in total darkness. I grab a cup at the first water station. Expecting heat, I plan to take at least some water or Gatorade at every station...I will not make the mistake of waiting for my body to tell me it is thirsty.

Despite the slight incline, I have no difficulty maintaining my target pace over the next few miles. The sky starts to lighten up. Shortly after passing the fourth mile marker, I notice my pace has improved to nearly 8 minutes per mile. The road has flattened so gradually that I may not have noticed the slight downward slope if not for my watch.

As the intersection of the Honoapiilani Highway (30) comes into view, a runner behind me says that she is patting herself on the back for reaching this point by sunrise. I look over my left shoulder and can see a tiny spot of bright red over the northern slope of Haleakala. The sky has an odd haze about it (yesterday, I heard the Honolulu news refer to "vog" - volcanic smog - but this is my first time seeing it), but, otherwise, there are no clouds. I am glad I have made it this far this fast because I suspect that the temperature will soon begin to rise.

After merging with Highway 30, I encounter a much more pronounced downward slope. Without any effort, my pace accelerates (I do not realize I am averaging sub-8 over the next two miles). With the island now bathing in dawn's light, I can more fully appreciate my surroundings. I pass the Maui Ocean Center and Maalea Harbor. The coast is in view. Through the haze, I see Wailea, Molokini, Kahoolawe. This is truly running in paradise.

The hilly coastal section of the race begins, but the initial grade is nowhere near as steep as I anticipated. Training around Palos Verdes, Kapalua, and participating in the Hana Relay have prepared me for elevation changes far worse than this. I grab my first sponge from one of the aid stations and apply it to my forehead. WOW! It is ice-cold! That will wake anyone up.

Winding roads and rolling hills (followed by one last significant incline) overlook rugged coastline for the next few miles...similar to some stretches of Palos Verdes Drive back home. The banked turns, however, prove to be far more challenging than the final ascent. The longer the turn, the longer one leg must compensate. Though my joints do not like the sustained uneven strain, my pace never drops below 9 minutes per mile.

As I begin the descent towards Ukumehame Park, I let my pace improve knowing that all significant elevation changes are now behind me. My legs and breathing feel great as I pass through the at tunnel (the momentary blip in pace recorded by my watch is simply where it lost communication with the satellites). My half marathon split is actually the second fastest I have ever recorded, yet I feel fully capable of doing the second half at the same pace...or even faster. Four hours seems totally doable.

I reach the flat section of highway that is adjacent to the beach...a stretch of the course that I have been looking forward to ever since I decided to run the full marathon. Unfortunately, the road does not feel nearly as flat as it looks. I start pushing myself just to maintain my pace (unaware that I have slowed below nine minutes per mile). This is the first time today that my muscles really feel the effort. Adding discomfort, I feel the sun on my back. There is no shade. There is barely any sea breeze. I start looking for the next aid station, now eager to take on water, Gatorade, and sponges.

According to my watch, I complete fifteen miles in 2:08:23. During one of my longer training runs, I remember being impressed when I reached this distance in 2:15:00, so I am obviously pleased (failing to notice that my pace has continued to fade). Over the next mile-and-a-half, my breathing remains very comfortable, but I definitely am pushing my legs harder than expected...seemingly convinced I am running slightly uphill.

Suddenly, my left knee gives out...and I hop upon my right leg until I reach a complete stop. This is totally unexpected. I have never felt anything like this while running before. I try walking, hoping the pain will pass quickly. Since my average pace is still well under nine minutes per mile, I can take it easy for a bit and still finish in four hours. Even more encouraging, I am able to walk pretty fast. A quarter of a mile later, I try running. The knee appears to be holding up.

As I approach the aid station near the seventeenth mile marker, the pain returns. It seems centered behind the joint, perhaps in the ligaments, and becomes more pronounced as I relax the muscles around the knee. The slower I jog, the worse the pain grows, so I walk through the aid station. Even more frustrating, I am unable to run through the only shaded stretch of the entire course!

I hate watching my average pace drop. I must try running again. The pain is not too bad for the first few strides, but becomes unbearable as my pace drops to a jog. I repeat this frustrating cycle several times. I keep passing and being passed by a short Asian gal who has been maintaining a slow but steady clip. I have no idea what she must think of my technique. Now my knee hurts when I walk too. The road here slopes to the left, causing additional torque on my joints with each painful step. I cannot let myself stop.

After I pass the eighteenth mile marker, I try running again. Despite having already been on the course for more than three hours, I feel confident that I can still finish this race within four hours. My mind is going. I am deluding myself. I have never run eight miles in one hour...and I have more than eight to go. Perhaps the sun is starting to get to me. Shortly after crossing the 30K timing mat, I start walking again.

I reach the turn-around point for today's half marathon. I remember how good I felt after running 13.1 miles...and start regretting my decision to run the full 26.2. Course workers remove cones used for separating incoming and outgoing participants running the half. I guess their race is over. Lucky them.

The next few miles are a blur.

When I see a sign for medical assistance at the aid station near mile 21, I grab a seat and describe my injury to the volunteer working there. She thinks the pain sounds deep, rubs some form of relieving cream (perhaps IcyHot) on the back of my leg, and then tells me I can catch a bus from here to the finish line if I feel like stopping. I cannot believe what I am hearing. I am only five miles from completing my first marathon. I refuse to quit, immediately stand up, and resume a brisk walking pace. I soon feel heat working its way deep into the muscles behind my knee. When the course turns down Front Street, I start jogging again. My leg feels pretty good!

Unfortunately, it is even hotter in Lahaina than I had feared. Residents offer to hose me down. I accept as long as they don't spray my shoes. My pace drops back to a walk as I reach the next aid station. Ack! Warm water is bad enough, but warm Gatorade is nasty! The sponge helps, but not for long. I walk through Old Lahaina Town. As I pass Bubba Gump Shrimp, I keep hearing "run, Forrest, run!", but my body says "stop, Forrest, stop!"

Continuing down Front Street, I encounter a series of official looking photographers. Before I reach the first, I somehow manage to start jogging while morphing a seemingly frozen grimace into a very forced smile. I am able to strike nearly the same pose for each photographer. Perhaps this is the motivation I need to finish the race! But, when I pass the last of them, I start walking again. It does not help that Front Street has slight inclines at a bridge and as it merges with the highway.

The incline continues for a bit past the twenty-fifth mile marker, but I decide to try running again. The knee is a bit iffy, but seems solid enough to endure one last push. I slow my pace to save energy for the descent into Ka'anapali. I grab a cup of water and a sponge at the last aid station. I am so over walking. I want to run as much of the home stretch as I can, no matter how badly I feel.

As my pace improves, my wife tries calling my cellphone. I answer, but she cannot hear me. She tries again, hoping to hear where I am on the course. I am unable to tell her that I am close to the end, struggling to maintain my rhythm. At least I am running. By the time I turn on Ka'anapali Parkway, my pace is sub-10 and improves as the course continues downhill. I see many cheering people, but no one I recognize. I cross a timing mat as the finish comes into view. Still no sign of my wife. The announcer calls out my name and hometown, giving me one last boost. I muster enough strength to throw both arms up as I run across the finish line.


My wife finds me as I proceed down the chute, collect my finisher's medal, and pose for one last official photo. Since she has missed snapping a photo of me crossing the finish line, she takes a couple now. I am not winded, but my legs and feet feel thoroughly abused. I grab my finisher's T-shirt, gather much needed post-race snacks, and then my wife helps me find a spot to sit down. I cannot sit comfortably. All of my joints ache. I am not yet enjoying the fact I completed my first marathon. I am not sure if I ever will...

Official photos of me

Article in The Maui News

Official stats:
Time: 04:41:59
10K split: 0:52:37
Half split: 1:52:52
30K split: 3:12:35 (left knee went out before mile 17)
Place overall: 302 (of 808 finishers)
Place division: 42 (of 75 finishers)


Justin Monast said...

You fished your first Marathon and that's all that matters, good job Eric.


akira3d said...

Thanks. It is only now beginning to sink in that I have completed a full marathon (my body is certainly making its case whether I want it to or not). My next goal is to run a complete marathon...just hope I will recover in time for Long Beach.