Despite a tough course, heat, humidity, and Aaron’s slowest road marathon time to date, the experience of running and visiting Kauai more than made up for it.
Marathon and Anniversary Celebration 2-for-1
When runners make a goal of running a marathon in all 50 states, the usual assumption is that Hawaii will be their last state. Why? Well it is a state that conveys the image of paradise, usually involves a vacation of some sort, and the cost of flying and staying there usually requires an investment. However with my and Christie’s 15th wedding anniversary being in September 2019, we wanted to do something extra special for hitting that milestone.
At the end of September 2018 I was notified of a discount being offered by the Kauai Marathon for super early registrations (almost a year in advance). It was a pretty good deal, and after running it by Christie, we both agreed that we could plan for a vacation / marathon trip to Hawaii a year in advance. Not long after registering we made accommodations to stay at a condo complex close to the marathon area along with airfare and car rental…and then proceeded to forget about the trip since it was so far off.
Yet as we all know time flies and before we knew it we were packing our bags and boarding a flight to head out to the island of Kauai for an incredible trip.
Planes, Jeeps, and Chickens
The flight went as well as one could hope given the distance we were traveling. We flew out of Dulles Airport (Virginia) and landed in Denver, CO for a connecting flight. As we boarded our connecting flight we were alerted of a delay regarding a minor repair needed to the plane (something about an O ring). After 30 minutes were notified of another delay…then another…until finally we were allowed to get off the plane and wait for the airport personnel to get the plane fully checked out. Yes, the delay of 3 hours on such a long flight stunk, but I would rather be safe than sorry when it comes to flying. I was anticipating a flight cancellation when they informed us the flight was good to go, and we were on our way for another long flight (7 hours) to the Lihue airport in Kauai.
By the time we go to Kauai it felt like 1 a.m. to us given the time zone change. While we were tired, it was super exciting to see the lush green mountains of Kauai as we approached the airport to land. Seeing those first glimpses of Kauai made us realize we were now officially on vacation! After getting off the plane into the small airport (quite different than the major ones we are used to), we hopped a bus over to the rental car area. There we noticed a few chickens hanging around the rental office, and took some photos…because how often do you see chickens at a rental car facility?
As we got in our jeep rental (we upgraded because hey…it was anniversary) and began driving down the highway we noticed more chickens along the road…more chickens out in the fields…in fact chickens were everywhere! As we learned chickens rule the roost on the island as they have no natural predators there. While many theories abound, the fact is over time domesticated chickens have gotten in the wild, multiplied, and are now found everywhere on the island. Since we both grew up raising chickens, we found it amusing (though I’m sure some people grow tired of hearing the roosters crow every morning at 5 a.m. on the dot). We even befriended one that we named Heihei (from Disney’s “Moana”) at our condo who would stop by at 6:30 a.m. for a breakfast of bagel crumbs every morning.
Enjoying the Island of Kauai
We planned this trip so that the marathon would fall on one of the last days we would be on the island (September 1, 2019), so this allowed several days of leisure to explore the island and have fun celebrating our anniversary. The island of Kauai is so beautiful: lush green mountains so close to the ocean, beautiful sunrises / sunsets, no mosquitoes or pests, and the air even smells sweet because of the blooming flowers.
After finding our way around our condo area and visiting some of the close-by beaches (where we saw sunbathing seals), we ventured out further to partake in a variety of activities. Highlights included an incredible boat and snorkel excursion (with dinner included) hosted by Blue Dolphin Charters. I cannot recommend this experience enough as it was a wonderful way to see the island from the ocean and learn about a lot of the history of the Hawaiian people. We were lucky enough to see a sea turtle while snorkeling and ended the evening with an amazing sunset view.
We also made good use of our Jeep rental to drive up into the mountains of Kauai following along with an audio, self-guided tour that allowed us to explore historic sites. The island is small enough that you can drive across it in roughly one hour, but there is so much to see and do that you need several days just to experience it all.
However the absolute highlight of the trip was an Airbnb experience we booked with Phil, a native resident of the island. Phil knows everything about the island and even lived deep in the mountains of Kauai for two years having no contact with society! He led us and another group of 4 through a hiking trail into the Kauai forest where we learned so much about the natural edible plants that grow there, places to get natural spring water, and how to cut down bamboo for use in making instruments.
He then took us back to his home where he helped us use the bamboo to make a nose flute (they believe playing a flute with a nose is more pure because negativity can be spoken from the mouth) and make rope bracelets. To top it off he treated us to a home-made meal of native island pork, potatoes, and coconut candy. Phil really made us appreciate the island and all it has to offer us as a part of this Earth. Check out his Airbnb experience here.
This whole week of having fun with Christie, I had been nursing an odd groin / leg injury. I somehow pulled a muscle in the middle of the night at the beginning of the trip, and while it didn’t hurt all the time, whenever I would lunge or step up, I could feel some pain. Hurting myself in my sleep…go figure.
In addition to that pulled muscle, the marathon itself would be a toughie. Several reviews I read online mentioned how hilly it was (over 2500 feet elevation GAIN) not to mention the weather was calling for a hot day…high temps around 90º with humidity. Even though the race would start at 6 a.m. to try to beat the heat, temps would already be in the upper 60s / low 70s that early in the morning. Taking all of this into consideration my plan was to run the marathon for fun at a very easy pace with a goal just to finish. I would hate for something to happen to me during the race by pushing it too hard and having this one not count (we love Kauai but it is an expensive trip!).
The day before the marathon I headed over to the packet pickup location (a local resort) and was easily able to park, walk in, and obtain my bib and race swag (a really nice tech shirt). It turns out the condo we were staying at was literally right down the street from the start of the marathon! I would be able to walk down the road and be at the start within 5 minutes which meant a super-easy race day morning.
I got up around 3 a.m. the morning of the race (my usual 3 hours ahead of start time), had my traditional breakfast of coffee, banana, and a whole wheat bagel with almond butter, and was dressed and ready in no time. After a short walk down the road I found myself surrounded by other runners, native Hawaiian’s carrying tiki torches, DJs and music, and was ready to get running!
The race itself? It was the hardest and most fulfilling road marathon I have yet to do.
After a tight-feeling first mile my body loosened up and the injury I had been concerned about through the week was a non-issue. The first few miles were congested due to half-marathoners running with the full marathoners so I noticed all sorts of characters…one guy running the whole race bouncing a basketball and another lady who was live-streaming and commenting on the race to her followers / fans on some type of social media platform.
Around mile 4 while still on rolling hills and keeping the pace light and easy, I made some conversation with a runner nearby. It turns out he was from Germany and this was the first marathon he had run outside his country. I also noticed another runner who was a military veteran running the race on prosthetic legs which is incredible to me. Mile 6 took us through the very scenic “Tunnel of Trees”, a straight stretch of road that runs between some incredible looking Eucalyptus trees. Around this time a light rain shower started and it felt incredible. While the heat / humidity was not that bad yet thanks to overcast skies, the quick rain shower still provided a nice quick cool down.
Leading up the mile 12 the race wound us through the town of Koloa through some rolling hills until it broke off with the marathoner runners heading right to head up into the island’s mountains. This is where the “fun” started. Right off the bat we began running up a steady incline for the next few miles as the sun was now out and shining in full force. I could feel the heat beating down on me and knew I would need be smart for the last half of the race to ensure I finished safely. As I passed each aid station positioned every mile, I grabbed a cup full of ice, stuffing half of it under my baseball cap to keep my head cool, and drinking / chewing on the rest of it until I reached the next aid station.
I would repeat this process for the entire last half of the race, mixing in some fast, steady walking on the very steep inclines when I felt like I was pushing it too hard. Other runners were facing the same challenges with the course and heat as I was. Several runners I would pass seemed to not look so good, and I would offer them what I had left of my cup of ice. Some took me up on the offer so I was glad to be of help to them.
I remember thinking to myself during the latter parts of the race that the scenery wasn’t what I expected it to be after reading the hype about this race. There were some nice views of the Pacific Ocean as I descended down the mountain inclines that I had run up miles ago, but nothing that took my breath away. However in retrospect this could be due to the fact that my wife and I had experienced so much of the island’s beauty before the marathon, that the views I saw while running didn’t match those I had already seen.
I also relived a conversation I had with Phil (our native Hawaiian tour guide) the day before. When I told him I was running a marathon here in Kauai he was impressed and asked where it was. When I told him it started close to Popui Beach he said, “Oh, that’s the hot side of the island. Why would they run it there?”. This made me chuckle to myself as I stuffed more ice under my baseball cap.
The last couple miles eased into some flat terrain as I neared the finish line located right along the coast. About a mile from the finish I ran by a Hawaiian shaved ice stand that I had seen earlier in the week and was already making plans to walk back to it after finishing for a refreshing cold treat (cherry flavor with vanilla ice cream on the bottom). By now I figured I was safe from over heating so I ran an easy tempo the last 1/2 mile to the finish line right along the beach (also only a short walk from our condo). Christie was there waving and taking a video as I finished with my slowest road marathon time to date, 4:49:49.
Despite the slow time, I was just happy to finish this one as many other runners were still out on the course as it was now really sunny, hot, and humid. The post race finish line did not have much going on as many of the half marathoners had already finished. There was standard food available such as bananas, bagels, and fruit…so I grabbed a few things to eat so I could settle my stomach. Christie and I then made a bee line for that shaved ice stand I had passed moments earlier. We finished the day with a celebratory lunch at a BBQ food truck where I ate way too much meat and then a trip to one of the local beaches to relax and enjoy one of our last days there.
Post Race Reflections and Lessons Learned
The Kauai Marathon is well-organized, well-run, and a true incredible challenge due to the hilly course and humid Hawaii climate. One of the biggest pros to this marathon is that you have to travel to Kauai to run it…and that alone is an incredible experience where you will see scenery that is unlike anywhere else in the world. Christie, who has traveled all over Russia and Europe, even commented she had never seen such natural beauty in all her travels.
I myself cannot stress how naturally wonderful of an island Kauai is. If you choose to run the Kauai marathon travel to the island several days ahead of time so 1) you can adjust to the time zone difference and jet lag / rooster crowing and 2) you can make plans to enjoy the natural wonder of this paradise. They call it the “garden island” and it lives up to that name.
Sitting here now in Virginia writing this conclusion I can’t believe we were actually there, 15 hours away at an island with scenery and experiences that I will never forget. I hope we get a chance to go back one day…maybe for our 30th anniversary. Hopefully Phil is still touring groups through the bamboo forest so we can meet up with him again.
Official Race Results
Overall: 76 out of 228
Male: 52 out of 122
Male 35-39: 8 out of 19
Photos from Race Day
This race is part of Aaron’s 50 Marathons in 50 States Challenge:
Click on a state to see a recap of that marathon.