Honolulu Marathon Recap + Review

The Honolulu Marathon was the most special, emotional finish line I’ve ever crossed. Running 26.2 miles side by side with my sister is a memory that I will cherish forever and I am so grateful to Saucony and Competitor for the opportunity to experience it in Hawaii with 16 other amazing females.

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The race and race weekend were…interesting. I had no idea prior to race weekend that over half the field is made up of runners from Japan. It was amazing to feel like we were part of something international. But it was strange, too – at time I felt like we were overseas! The expo, race packet, start line instructions were all in English as well as Japanese and there were two national anthems at the start.

Race Morning

To minimize the heat of the Hawaiian sun, the race began at 5am, which meant a 2:30am wakeup for Nicole and I. It wasn’t too terrible for us since we were still on east coast time. We met the other teams in the lobby at 4am and walked to the start area which was 1.5 miles away.

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Between the crowds, rain and bathroom stops, Nicole and I got separated from the other teams and found ourselves alone in the corral before the start.

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Start Line!

After the national anthems, the gun went off and the race began – and we were ushered on our way with a beautiful backdrop of fireworks!

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The first few miles were effortless and enjoyable. We were running in the dark – which was totally new for me (for a race) – most races I’ve run begin at 7 (at the earliest!) and so it’s never total darkness!

Nicole had decided to not wear a watch as well – I would control pace and fueling – and she would focus on enjoying it all and not worrying about pace, distance remaining or finish time. She had loose time goals for the race, but more than anything, our focus was on staying hydrating and taking it easy. Our plan was to run the pace she had been consistently hitting on long runs (~11:00) and walk through every single water point to ensure she drank water. The fueling plan was a few Gu chomps every 35-45 minutes – exactly what she does on long runs.

But most of that went out the window beginning at mile 4. It was time for her to take a few chomps, but she told me she was nauseous and couldn’t eat. I told her she had to get some calories down – running 5+ hours on no calories is a recipe for disaster. She forced a chomp down – and within 60 seconds – ran over to the side of the road and started vomiting.

Vomiting at mile FOUR never came into my mind when I envisioned all the possible scenarios of how the race could go. And frankly, I didn’t really know how to handle the situation. I didn’t want to push my sister too hard because I had done that in Philly and it will be something I always regret. I wanted her to continue the race and finish – she had put in so much hard work to get to this point – and I knew she could do it. But I also couldn’t imagine running my first marathon nauseous and not keeping down any calories. So I would support whatever she wanted to do. Thankfully, she basically told me to f- off when I asked if she wanted to stop =)

The next six miles were great – the nausea was still there but she was running strong and we were enjoying ourselves. We had climbed the first set of hills on the way out to Diamond Head with no problems. There were excited tears at the start and even more excited tears at mile 7 or 8 as we climbed the hills.

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At mile 10, I pulled the big sister card and forced her to start fueling (she had tried a few times in the previous miles but would gag each time she tried). We had been running for 100+ minutes with zero calories in her body – not ideal for a marathon. So we walked and she took the smallest bites from the chomp.

That’s basically how the next 12 miles went. Running for 5-10 minutes, walking for 1-2 minutes to drink water and/or eat a chomp (if she could stomach it). The nausea was there for the rest of the race and there was occasional gagging (she also vomited again at mile 22), but the chomps that she managed to eat (probably 5-6 total) mostly stayed down.

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I took a TON of pictures because I was updating my mom, dad, sisters and Nicole’s fiance every 10-15 minutes from mile 6 on. We wanted them to be able to track her just like they would if they were at the race.

At mile 13, we got to see Jess and Kathryn (they started after us and had caught us). It was SO fun to run a bit with these two amazing girls. They continued on with their race – Kathryn had a strong and amazing first marathon!

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Having way too much chatting with Jess!

Despite all that Nicole had to deal with up to that point, we were still on track to finish around 5:05-5:10 at mile 22. But the last few miles were tough. Nicole vomited again, began to feel dizzy and was losing color in her face/lips (similar to Philly). I wasn’t sure if it was from lack of food/exertion or from heat/humidity but we weren’t taking any chances – so we decided to walk the last four miles. She drank a few cups of gatorade, swallowed a salt packet and had some oranges – as much as we could do to get electrolytes in her.

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The last four miles were really hard for her. She wanted to run, was disappointed that she was walking and sad that she wasn’t going to run the time she had hoped for. It was also our second time up and over Diamond Head which didn’t make it any easier. But I’ve never been more proud of her. Honestly, I think I would have quit at mile 4 if I were in her shoes. I can’t imagine having stomach problems that early on in a marathon and continuing to run the way she did.

Here are just a few of my favorite pictures from the finish line! We absolutely held hands and cried as we ran the last couple of hundred feet. No better way to finish a marathon than side-by-side with your sister’s hand in yours!

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Thankfully, my sister has a great sense of humor and we were already laughing at the hilarity of what happened by that afternoon – there’s not much you can do in a situation like that except laugh about it afterwards. =)

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Honolulu Marathon Review

The marathon had a lot of awesome aspects and it was so amazing to cross this race off my bucket list. But the race itself just seemed so disorganized and confusing – especially given that there were 20,000 runners/walkers participating. Maybe I’m biased because of the great experiences I’ve had at other large marathons, but the support and organization seemed more in line with what I would expect to see at a small, local marathon than a large international one.

Pros

  • Early Start: While the early wakeup is not ideal, starting at 5am is when the normal forecast is sunny and 75-80. It’s fantastic to also be finished with a marathon by 9/10am in the morning and have the rest of the day to lounge by the pool or on the beach!
  • Fireworks at the Start: It was kind of special and exciting to have fireworks going off above your head as you start a marathon!
  • Finish Area: After you crossed the finish line, you were funneled into a large park where you could get your photo taken, your medal, finisher t-shirt, post-race food and water and meet up with family. It was nice that family was allowed in this area and that you were able to meet them as soon as you were finished.
  • Post-Race Malasadas: I couldn’t have imagined wanting a doughnut immediately after running a marathon but after smelling the fried dough (they were being made fresh in the finish area), I had to have one!photo (74)
  • Medal/Shells: I loved that we were given a lei of shells immediately upon finishing in addition to a medal and t-shirt (which you picked up in the finish area) – it was something unique and special to a race in Hawaii! photo 3 (18)photo (75)
  • Views: It’s hard to complain about a race that you are running in Hawaii. I mean, come on, right? =) The first 10 miles were in the dark so we didn’t get to see much but there were some beautiful views in the later miles as we climbed up Diamond Head for a second time.photo 2 (30) photo 1 (32)
  • Rainbows: Obviously one that can’t be planned, but seeing rainbows multiple times during the 26.2 miles was breathtaking. The last rainbow we saw was the brightest I’ve ever seen in my life! And after inserting the picture, I realized that it was actually a DOUBLE rainbow!photo (73)

Cons

  • No Corral System: I was really surprised at the lack of organization at the start. The race was expecting 25,000+ runners/walkers – and it was a self-seed at the start. Nicole and I had been warned of the bottleneck that exists and so we started a corral ahead of where we should have been. But even then, we were dodging walkers in the first mile! In my opinion, the corrals are pointless because it seems that everyone just starts where they want – regardless of what their projected finish time is.
  • Mass Start: There were no waves or even gaps between the self-seeded corrals. 20,000+ runners started at once and were expected to be through the start line in under 15 minutes. I keep thinking of the NJ Marathon which has roughly 2,000 marathon runners. There is a corral AND wave system in place – to alleviate the bottleneck at the start. For the first 10 miles, we were either passing or getting passed – usually early on in a race, you can find people close by to run with and the excessive passing ends.
  • Water Points: The water points were only on one side of the road – sometimes right, sometimes left – which caused MAJOR confusion as we approached each one. Again, for a race with a small number of runners, this would be expected. But for a race of this size, it was chaos as runners were literally cutting across the road to get to the water tables.
  • Support at Water Points: The early miles seemed to be well-manned and ready for the runners. But the last 5-6 miles had minimal volunteers and didn’t have enough help to even pour water, let alone hand out cups, to runners. They just didn’t seem ready to handle 20,000+ runners coming through.
  • Course: From what I read on the race website, it sounded like a flat, fast course. I had heard that you go up and over Diamond Head during the race but it wasn’t until we were climbing up the first time that I realized we would have to do it again (you go up and down in one direction then the reverse on the way back). There is no elevation chart on the website and there is no mention of the climbing during miles 24-25.25, which in my opinion, is pretty significant if you are looking to run a certain time. Overall, the course was mostly flat – it had 665 feet of gain (per my garmin) which is less than NYC and Boston, but that 665 feet was mostly in two long, steady climbs (both lasted over 1 mile).

If you are planning to run the Honolulu Marathon and have specific questions about the course, start/finish locations, etc, please feel free to contact me and I can try to answer any questions you may have!

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I don’t post here every day, but I post all of my workouts (and other happenings) on Instagram on a daily basis {NYCRunningMama}.

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    28 thoughts on “Honolulu Marathon Recap + Review

    1. Greetings from Colorado! I’m bored to tears at work so I decided to check out your website on my iphone during
      lunch break. I love the information you provide here and
      can’t wait to take a look when I get home. I’m surprised at how fast your blog loaded on my phone
      .. I’m not even using WIFI, just 3G .. Anyways, awesome blog!
      Aleida recently posted..AleidaMy Profile

    2. Hi, Michelle: I just found this by accident–great recap of the day. That is the only Marathon I have ever done more than once.

      I am an old guy and when I was really into running every day I never ate any Gu as I do not think it existed then.

      I always hated gatorade and once tried Gu at a race expo, it is way too salty and I nearly puked right there and have never tried any again.

      My suggestion is for people who are only recreational runners and not serious racers, do not worry about all that.

      I only occasionally ate fresh banana or dried Fig during long runs over 15 miles or so.
      That and water and your body should take care of the rest. However, or faster runners maybe electrolytes are more important, just do not know.–Aloha

    3. Congrats to you and your sister!! Your finish line picture is so beautiful, it really captures the joy of the accomplishment. It stinks your sister had so many challenges, but it’s even more awesome she fought through them:) Humidity can make me so nauseous, I’ve had several episodes like that. I sympathized when I was reading your recap. Congrats again! It was really wonderful of you to be there and support her like that!
      Karen recently posted..Marathon Training Week FiveMy Profile

    4. Congrats again you two! What a great experience, to be able to not only run with your sister, but run her first one with her! Congrats to Nicole for pushing past the sickness and handling business!

    5. Oh my gosh…love this post and absolutely love the first picture of you and Nicole. Just sums up so much about this race. So glad I got to share it with you all. And I totally understand how Nicole was feeling…that’s so how I felt the last 8 miles or so of the race. I am SO super proud of her and I hope she knows just how inspiring she is!!

    6. Pingback: When You DON’T Regret Skipping a Run |

    7. I can’t remember a reading a race this good in a long time. Your sister has so much courage to continue on for 26.2 miles feeling sick. I must say that when I saw the photos of her crossing the finish line, I teared up. What an amazing moment. The rainbows were a beautiful gift at the end, talk about motivation.. it’s like the universe giving you a hug. :) A huge congratulations to both of you.
      Lisa @ RunWiki recently posted..Comment on My new place– it’s kind of personal. by LisaMy Profile

    8. I had a similar experience at my second marathon – vomiting from like mile 6 on. Oh well! Worst experience, but I will never forget that race and absolutely watch what I eat from now on in the weeks up to the race.
      Cheri @ Overactive Blogger recently posted..Serial (OMG!)My Profile

      • That’s awful :/ But you finished – which is amazing in and of itself.
        I think her big problem was just a really nervous stomach – I think it was in knots and anything she ate just didn’t sit well. She didn’t change her diet much in the days leading up to the race and her pre-race food was exactly what she does for long runs (and has never had any problems). I’m hoping that more racing and experience will help fix this “problem”!
        nycrunningmama recently posted..When You DON’T Regret Skipping a RunMy Profile

    9. Wow can’t believe she was vomiting by mile 4. I would have probably not continued. I don’t do well with stomach issues. There has been a few raceseconds were I was close to not finishing. Overall all it sounds like it was a great experience you two got to share.
      Daisy @ Fit Wanderlust Runner recently posted..Christmas Weekend RecapMy Profile

      • I must have asked her 10x during the race if what she was feeling was anything like how she felt at Philly…obviously vomiting at mile 4 is not heat exhaustion or anything like that…but I was still worried. Physically, she felt fine – when she was running, she was still running the pace she had hoped – it was just her stomach that was in knots. UGH.
        Hope you had a Merry Christmas!
        nycrunningmama recently posted..When You DON’T Regret Skipping a RunMy Profile

    10. Congrats to your sister on her first marathon finish! I’m not sure I would’ve hung in there for 22 miles after throwing up so early in the race – she is a real trooper :)
      I’m pretty surprised by how disorganized this race sounded, both from you and other bloggers. That’s kind of disappointing since this race is on my bucket list – but who knows, maybe the organizers will get word of everyone’s feedback and make some changes!
      Amber recently posted..Boston Training Week 2: Dec 21 – 27My Profile

      • I don’t think I would have either! LOL.

        I think that if you are expecting the disorganization, you will be a lot better off. In my mind, I automatically assume things when I hear 20,000 runners/walkers…and so it was a surprise and letdown that it wasn’t like that. Plus, I wanted the race to be seamless and organized for my sis since it was her first – I kept telling her over and over again that she needs a do-over so she could see what a well-run marathon is like!
        nycrunningmama recently posted..When You DON’T Regret Skipping a RunMy Profile