(HONOLULU (09-Dec) -- After more than two years, the Honolulu Marathon will return as an in-person race on Sunday following the traditional course from Ala Moana to Kapioloni Park in Waikiki. The event, which is usually the fourth-largest marathon in the United States, will maintain many of its cherished traditions but will be much smaller despite the lack of state and county restrictions on outdoor activities.
PHOTO: Brigid Kosgei and Lawrence Cherono after winning the 2017 Honolulu Marathon (photo by Jane Monti for Race Results Weekly)
"Some of our entries came from our local Hawaii entry period which is traditionally in January, so we have several thousand entrants who entered in January, 2020, which is almost two years ago," explained Dr. Jim Barahal, a medical doctor who is the president of the Honolulu Marathon Association. "It's very difficult for us to predict how many of those who entered two years ago are actually going to show up."
In addition, the race has fewer than 500 entries from Japan, down from the usual 17,000 the race attracts in a typical year. Although Japanese runners are free to travel to Hawaii to participate, they face a two-week quarantine when they return home essentially meaning a three-week commitment to run the race. That is simply too difficult for most runners.
"Currently they're operating under a 14-day quarantine," Barahal explained. He continued: "One of the reasons the Honolulu marathon had grown to be the fourth-largest marathon in the United States... because our other big market besides Hawaii was Japan. Japan was our market, and Japan is what allowed us to be the size that we had."
The 2019 event had 18,606 finishers in the marathon and another 5,567 in the companion 10-K which uses the same starting line. The event also had a road mile on Saturday which recorded 2,214 finishers. Those were record totals for the 10-K and the marathon.
While fewer runners will be on the course this year, Barahal's team was able to maintain some of the race's most important traditions, despite deep budget cuts. First, the fireworks show at the start will go on as usual. The race begins in the dark at 5:00 a.m. to help protect athletes from the hottest weather of the day, and runners are treated to an extensive fireworks display over Ala Moana Beach Park. Barahal thought it was important to maintain that element, for both the runners and the community.
"We thought at the start the fireworks were important," Barahal said. "We thought this year the fireworks might be even more important because we are trying to send a message that outdoor activities are safe, healthy, important; that people's health, both physical and mental, suffered through this pandemic. And we're happy to send a message to the community that outdoor activities are safe, and it's a celebration of movement and to try to take those steps back to a more normal life."
Barahal also thought that having an elite field, albeit a scaled-down one, was also important. The race has a tradition of attracting top runners with good appearance fees and prize money, like this year's Valencia Marathon champion Lawrence Cherono of Kenya (who won in Honolulu in 2016 and 2017), and world record holder Brigid Kosgei (who set the Honolulu course record of 2:22:15 in 2017). Just four elite athletes have been invited to compete this year, two men and two women. Kenyans Reuben Kerio and Emmanuel Saina, who have personal bests of 2:07:00 and 2:05:02, respectively, will run in the men's race, and Ethiopian Atsede Baysa (2:22:03) and Canadian Lanni Marchant (2:28:00) will run in the women's competition.
"We were confronted with a very difficult challenge, given the cost of staging some kind of professional running competition," Barahal explained. He added: "There was no way we had the resources to put together a deep field. But, we decided that rather than do an asterisk and kind of have an everyman runner emerge from the pack --and everywoman-- and win the race, we decided to continue the tradition and try to approximate that at the front."
Kerio has 14 career marathon starts, three wins and eight podium finishes, and was the 2019 Madrid Marathon champion. Saina has six career marathon starts, one win and two podium finishes. He won the 2018 Buenos Aires Marathon in 2:05:21, the fastest time ever in South America. Baysa has 31 marathon starts, eight wins and ten podium finishes, and is best known as the 2016 Boston Marathon champion. Marchant, a 2016 Olympian, has 13 marathons under her belt and is the former Canadian record holder.
Barahal also maintained Honolulu's tradition of having no time limit for the slowest finisher, and his team will serve fresh-made malasadas --a Portuguese pastry-- to all race finishers. The race usually served tens of thousands of these deep-friend dough balls which are covered with sugar, and had to buy new cooking equipment because the vendor they normally used went out of business during the pandemic.
"We became known for freshly-cooking them on site, 40,000 of them, a major project" Barahal said with pride. "We felt it was important, and given the logistics of that project, what it takes to do it, we found ourselves in a situation if we didn't take the steps to do it this year it was probably going to be lost forever."
Finally, because every runner has to come to the Hawaii Convention Center to pick up his or her bib and that facility is governed by state guidelines which require a negative COVID test or proof of full vaccination to enter the building, all race participants will either be vaccinated or tested. Runners will also have to wear a mask to enter the convention center and get a temperature check.
The race has arranged for a fully-equipped testing bus provided by Hawaii Pacific Health to be parked in front of the building, and will offer free testing to any runner who requests it.
"So if some people either need that test, or they feel like they want to get tested, we're going to make that as easy as possible," Barahal said.