This morning I ran my 34th marathon – the Big Island International Marathon, in Hilo, Hawaii.
Hilo, on the east coast of the Big Island, is one of the wettest places in the world. Some weather stations in Hilo report an average of 200 inches per year of rain. For comparison, Philadelphia, where I currently live, receives about 40 inches per year. Our marathon day in Hilo was predicted to be no different – serious downpour.
In the event of extreme weather conditions, my phone will send me a weather notification. The day before the race, this is what I got:
From further down the page:
Winds this strong can result in damaged roofs. Broken and falling tree branches, downed trees, downed power poles and power lines resulting in interruptions to power. Flying debris if outdoor items are not properly tied down.
So, not only would we be running through pouring rain, but we’d be battling a very strong wind. And, in case it didn’t seem like this marathon would be challenging enough, there would be hill climbing – probably about 1,000 feet in total. All of it at the beginning, in the dark.
The night before the race, we stayed in a hotel that seemed straight out of the Twilight Zone series. This isn’t necessarily relevant to the race, but is worth sharing just because of how ridiculous it was. The hotel was right on the water, and it really looked like it had weathered more than its fair share of tsunamis, with paint peeling off the exterior. We learned from a nice elderly lady that the hotel had been in bankruptcy in January and was under new ownership. The window of our room (which didn’t have a screen) was latched by just a thin wire, and just outside the window was an abandoned restaurant wing. We discovered, once it had gotten dark and the wind was howling outside, that the phones didn’t work either.
The forty minutes leading up to the race were perfectly dry. There was just a little wind – and it was a crosswind, so it didn’t seem like it would be too bad. When the gun went off, I left my trash bag at the start line and took off. It seemed like we’d be facing just a bit of wind – so far, no rain. The entire race was a road race, so we were on asphalt the whole time. The first mile felt pretty good; we were running north, with the ocean to our right, listening to the waves crashing into the sea wall.
Then we started climbing, and that’s when the rain started. It was torrential. It wasn’t made easier by the fact that it was still dark. The hill was long, slow, and very very wet. I kept telling myself I just needed to make it to the top of this hill, then we’d turn off into the rainforest, which was pretty, so the rolling hills wouldn’t be so bad. I really, really believed this would be the case.
Around mile four, we turned off the main road and onto a winding back street. The tortuous hill ended, and the scenery was gorgeous. The sun was rising over the ocean, peeking through a little window in the clouds low to the horizon. The whole sky was this ethereal orange color. And, just off to the left, over the trees … a rainbow! After a few minutes, the ghost of a double rainbow appeared just outside of it.
The rainbow stayed with us until we plunged into the rainforest (check out the picture up top for a pretty representative view of what our route looked like for the next several miles). It was still raining pretty heavily, and there were still a lot of rolling hills. The flora was stunning; tall, leafy trees towered around us, creating lush tunnels dripping with vines and leaves as big and voluptuous as pillow cases.
We turned around at mile 8, retracing our steps to the start line. It was around mile 8 that I knew this was really going to be a challenging race; my feet were already sore from the pounding on the asphalt, and, even though my shoes were of the GoreTex variety, they still felt exceedingly heavy. The humidity and the heaviness of the air were also challenging; I found myself struggling to regulate my breathing. The humidity and rain also gave me a false sense of hydration; I waited until mile 6 to start drinking, and that may have been a strategic error – later in the race, I was downing 3 or 4 cups of water ever few miles. Already, this felt more like a road ultra than a road marathon.
The rest of the race was uneventful, although slow. At mile 16, we were back at the start line, and had one more out-and-back to go before we finished. This was not quite as scenic, although it’s hard to complain about running in warm weather along the water.
A few weeks ago, we talked about motivation in a behavioral economics class. For people who are doing something for the first time, sharing “progress completed” is more motivating. For people who are doing something they’ve done before, sharing “remaining balance” is more motivating. This means that first-time marathoners should appreciate that they’ve already run 14 miles. Repeat marathoners should focus on the remaining 12.
This thought occurred to me first at mile 6. Telling myself I “only” had 20.2 miles to go was not very motivating.
However, at mile 16, I started drawing pretty deeply on this theory. With ten, then nine, then eight miles to go, I knew that, while it would be slow going and pretty painful, I was definitely going to finish this race. At the 20 mile mark, it was just a 10k to go. At the 23 mile mark, it was just over a 5k.
Around mile 24, a man caught up to me at an aid station and started chatting – I was wearing my Sydney Marathon shirt, and he was from Melbourne. We talked for the rest of the race, and he kept me moving at slower than a snail’s pace. We crossed the finish line just a second apart.
This definitely was not a PR course for me – and, with a 4:40 finish, it was one of my slower races. I was a bit frustrated by my pace; my training has been going really well, so the slow time wasn’t what I’d expected. I’m running faster than I ever have, and have PR’d my 5k three times in the last month. I think this slow race was due to a combination of being on vacation and the admittedly very difficult course, and race day conditions.
That being said, I somehow finished 3rd for my age group and in the top 1/3rd of females. I won a $10 gift card at a chocolate shop. Nom!
Will finished 2nd overall (beast mode!). Our combined winnings at this chocolate store were used for the purchase of cookies and chocolate covered macadamia nuts.
Overall, fun race, and gorgeous course. Very challenging, but, as Will said to me afterwards, that’s why we keep coming back. You can’t “win” at running. There’s always a faster runner or a harder course or a longer race or a new city . There’s always a new challenge.
[I think the race photographer took some during-race photos, so I’ll try to find those and share later!]