Hapalua Half Marathon 2016 – Race Recap
If I asked you to name one trait that elite runners all have in common my guess is that you would probably say: “They make running fast look easy!” But isn’t that why we adoring non-elites enjoy nothing more than seeing top athletes in motion – putting grace into action? It’s one reason why in the last few years, when I have been asked to participate in ‘The Chase’ section of ‘The Hapalua’, Hawaii’s biggest half marathon, I have resolutely said YES!! Not only is The Chase a chance to line up in front of and attempt to run with some of the world’s fastest runners but it’s also a great opportunity to be included in Team Hawaii, which consists of 24 local runners from across the islands.
This year four elite runners were the official chasers: Isabella Ochichi, Ryotaro Otani, Erick Kibet Kogo and Patrick Makau. The format of the chase is basically akin to a handicap race, when the fastest runners start last and have to try to catch everyone who started ahead of them. I was in Group D with Bree Wee and Katie O’Neil and we had a 17 minute head start ahead of the top two men, Patrick and Erick. Loads of time, right? Well maybe if Patrick Makau’s half marathon PR wasn’t 58:52 and mine was at most 1:15, or something like that… Previously I’d run 1:24:43 on the Hapalua course, and was interested to see if I could improve on that time this year.
Starting line on Sunday April 10th, in front of the Duke Kahanamoku statue in Waikiki – 5:43am – and we we’re off. From the get-go Katie and Bree set the perfect pace, and even though it was just slightly faster than my goal pace of 6:20-23 min/miles (at 6:18, 6:14, 6:22) I simply decided to go with it and stay as relaxed as possible, for as long as possible as the course took us through Waikiki towards China Town. Bree, Katie & I ran as a trio almost glued at the hip for the first 4 miles, but then as we left China Town and began to loop back towards Ala Moana Boulevard, Bree let up on the pace and yelled: ‘Just go girls’! Before we knew it Katie and I dropped a 6:05 min/mile and were alone on the ‘out-n-back’ section of the course taking us on the return leg to Waikiki.
The middle third of the Hapalua route gives almost everyone running in the main half marathon a chance to see the chasers and Team Hawaii out in front. There was so much support from the pack it was impossible to acknowledge all the shouts & cheers but it really spurred us on and kept our spirits up. Katie and I were working together by this point, trying to maintain the upbeat pace we had set as best as we could, whilst giving snippets of encouragement to each other -just like Shalane and Amy, relatively speaking of course… However, those shared miles were a highlight of the day for both of us.
The final part of the Hapalua course contains the notorious Monsarrat Avenue, which leads runners around the back of Diamond Head. For those who haven’t had the pleasure of running this long, climbing road, I’ll allow the splits to do the talking: Mile 9, 6:23/ mile; Mile 10, 7:12/ mile; Mile 11, 6:04/ mile. Guess which mile was up Monsarrat with 155ft of climbing from sea level? Katie and I had both completed training runs along Monsarrat, on separate occasions, but there is nothing quite like a hill on race day to take the wind out of your sails!
Right before the climb we ran past an aid-station where Katie grabbed a handful of gels. In a smart move Katie passed one to me but I knew my stomach was not up to digesting even a few hundred calories of simple suagrs. Instead I took a mouthful of Gatorade and then grabbed a cup of water to pour over myself before the real hard work of the race began. I blurted something out to Katie in an attempt to rally us both, the reply was: ‘6 minutes to the top’! And it was such a long six minutes. With the rising sun beaming straight into my eyes it was difficult to take in much more than the immediate road in front. Katie seemed to drop back, I pushed on. When finally the road gave away to the tiniest of a rolling downhill, the first chaser caught me: Isabella! Making it look easy, Isabella floated past and for a moment I tried to match her stride – an attempt to take advantage of a Kenyan’s slipstream. But alas, it was fleeting. However two seconds later it dawned on me that behind Isabella was Ryotaro, and behind him Patrick and Erick, and behind them Katie & Bree – and the rest of Team Hawaii! It was no time to start daydreaming about running like an elite Kenyan!! Luckily Steve from the Windward Training Freaks was cheering right on the corner of Diamond Head Road before the final hill – and that snapped me out of cruise-mode. All of a sudden the real chasing was ON.
I dug deep over the last push to the Diamond Head Lookout, and then knew it was simply a case of using the turnover from the downhill to carry me along to Kapiolani Park for the finish. Soon enough Ryotaro passed me, and then finally I heard the official race car/ timing & press truck – the 2 last chasers were right on my heels! Everything was burning, my lungs, legs, brain, and right then, just when you start to think, ‘where the heck is the finish line?’ Patrick Makau swooped past, slapping me on the back as he ran by with Erick Kibet Kogo. Thrilled? Cliché warning: it was one of the best moments of my life as a runner. I did warn you!
The timing mat clocked me at 1:23:17 – over a minute faster than last year and 9th in the Chase with Katie and Bree hot on my heels. It was possibly one of the best races I have ever executed. Just a good day? Maybe… but overall maybe not. I can see, and say easily now, that this year’s Hapalua was a culmination of consistent training (and everything that involves, which could easily be another blog post!) over the last two years since the end of Retracing Routledge, guidance from two outstanding coaches and the use of some HRM training (thanks to the new Garmin), an awesome local running community, lots of yoga, support from an amazing husband and family and a little help from Lady Luck. It also stands on the back of a long relationship with running – a sport that you never stop learning from, or growing with – one reason to me why a craft of some sort can make a difference in life.
The Chase and the Hapalua are running to the core. A half marathon event in a world-class location that is bursting with atmosphere and chase-isma?! Why not? 8,000 people signed up this year. Next year’s Hapalua is on April 9th, 2017. For full results from The Chase and the mass half-marathon see: The Hapalua 2016 and check out the article on Competitor Running!
Next up for longrunergy.com? A potential make-over and upgrade… watch this space!
And last but not least – GOOD LUCK everyone running in the London Marathon!!!