It was like 2011 deja vu all over again, only this time without the cute bunny rabbit or Bill (though he did run past me in a fluffy santa hat), and with more smiles and a happier ending. I swore off the Honolulu Marathon in 2011 (that worked well) after hobbling back from Hawaii Kai with debilitating calf cramps that led to an achy achilles and no running for almost 6 weeks. This year the goal was simple: run for a PR (<3:41) or blow up trying (check!), but at all costs, NO INJURIES!! It is one thing to miss a goal, and another thing entirely to miss a goal then limp away with an injury that takes you away from something you love, for weeks or months on end. So this year, when the twinges started in my calves at mile 8, I took a deep breath, let the thoughts of a PR go, and told myself to run smart and get to the finish line safely.
The start was brilliant as always, fireworks and friends and fun fast cool dark easy miles. I love the downtown Christmas lights, the excitement of the beginning of a marathon, and the possibility of a great day to come. The first 8 miles felt effortless, smooth, and I was so optimistic. When the twinges started I acknowledged them but stayed positive. I needed to stay on pace until at least mile 14, since Miki was waiting (and had to get to Kailua to swim), and I told her I’d see her between 6:55-7am. Showed up at 6:57, said hi, and tried not to cramp for the picture. While these calf cramps are definitely a physical phenomenon, they are also totally triggered by exciting things happening in my brain, like seeing friends. At the half marathon a few weeks ago I saw Brenda at the fountain on the home stretch, got so happy (yay!), and immediately both calves cramped and stopped me in my tracks. And on Sunday, even the thought that Miki was approaching (or I was approaching Miki) made my calves start twitching. If I really focused and tried not to get overly excited by the very thought of seeing friends (realistically, nearly impossible for me), I could get through the brief 2.5-second visit cramp-free.
Reached Hawaii Kai still full of hope, especially after seeing Big Lou (a self-proclaimed oxymoron) cheering on his bike at the beginning of the loop. Interestingly I did not cramp seeing Lou, even though his appearance was obviously incredibly exciting. Good thing too, since he took a video, of what would become my last good mile (dramatic foreshadowing). After Annamarie’s house and my awesome sign (thank you!!), Jules and Barb saved the day as they so often do with a couple emergency salt tabs which Barb RAN to me after I requested them and then proceeded to run on by (who does that?) Thanks you two! My e21 stash was disintegrating from all the water and sweat, so I was oh so thankful!
I reached mile 17-ish near the Oahu Club and knew if there was any hope of getting to the finish line in one piece I needed to put my head down and focus. This was sad since one of my favorite parts of running is being engaged with the race going on around me. Watching the race and seeing friends gives me energy (and apparently, cramps). But focus I did! I slowed to a pace that allowed me to run without cramping, and when I did cramp, I stopped, stretched, and walked it out. Two years ago I tried to run through the cramps, making things worse and eventually leading to incredible pain from repeatedly landing on a wickedly contorted foot (when my calves cramp my feet take on a life of their own and go in crazy directions!), and no running. Arrived at the pink boca bikini brigade at mile 22, hugged them and begged them to let me stay and hang out (denied!), then moved slowly on to the gas station and apologized to Doom for being late. From there it was run/cramp/walk/jog/repeat my way towards the finish. Doom kept me laughing (because really, what else could I do at this point?) and in high spirits, and I shared the ridiculous agony of Diamond Head with Tammy until she took off down the hill. Arrived at the last aid station (mile-almost-26), asked the gatorade kids if I could get a ride to the finish line (denied again!!), then crossed the line in 4:12, relieved to be done, pain-free, and excited to find my friends and hear about their days.
What is remarkable to me is just how much harder this course is for me on a normal day, than your average marathon, on a bad day. Last year I ran Boston in a record heatwave 15+ minutes faster, and CIM in freezing torrential pineapple express downpours, 20+ minutes faster. Boston and CIM have tons more hills, and both 2012 races presented arguably epic conditions. I ran both races much faster, with less fitness, and with way less thoughtful training than Sunday. Therefore my only possible conclusions are that the HM difficulty is all in my head (probably), it’s my brain that’s cramping (possibly), or the Honolulu Marathon hates me (obviously).
The irony is that my marathon PR is still on this course. Despite our troubles, I don’t hate it, and I’m not giving up on it. I believe this is a relationship that can absolutely be turned around. All I need to do is stop cramping :)
Fortunately, Stefan taught me to take joy in the success of my friends. Watching Cheryl and Jade evolve into happy, healthy, confident runners over the past year and then exceed their expectations on the day made Sunday exceptional. Seeing Jane complete the marathon, immediately jump in the ocean and swim to the windsock, then show up full of energy the very next morning for a sunrise swim workout in her 70th year is inspiring. And special shout outs absolutely must be made to Franzy for running an amazing PRBQOMG 3:20, to Lectie for a 3:16 (!!) PR good enough for 20th female overall, to Deb for a beautifully paced 7-minute PR, to Tanya for the most consistently fast marathon finish time I’ve ever seen, and to Rachel for making the best of a hard day by pacing a friend to a PR and the Kamaaina win. Thank you friends, thank you coach, and I love you Honolulu Marathon!! See you next time :)