In 2012 we travelled to Kihei on the island of Maui, Hawaii. We had heard about the great climate, fine beaches and the Maui Oceanfront Marathon. Many friends had vacationed on this island for several years and raced this wonderful event. The Maui Oceanfront Marathon (MOM) follows Maui’s coastline from Kihei to Lahaina and was described as epic with participants from around the world, moderate temperatures and a true Hawaiian send-off. The Honopollani Highway meanders along the Maui coast for some 35 kilometers between Kihei and Lahaina with the last 15 kilometers being the site of this yearly race. As well as a 15 kilometer race MOM offers a full marathon of 42 kilometers, a 10 kilometer run, and a half marathon of 21 kilometers. A former competitor and friend from my racing days had challenged me to run the 15 kilometer event. We had raced against each other many times over the years when we were in our 30s and 40s. It seemed that he had a fairly earnest desire to exact some measure of justice after frequently coming second during those bygone days. I was amenable to the contest and somewhat assured that my natural talents would see me through to victory once again.
In early January, 2012, we landed on this volcanic atoll and soon found ourselves enjoying a wonderful lifestyle with time set aside for preparing to meet this impending challenge. Maui’s weather is exceptional with few cloudy days, a cooling ocean breeze and fairly consistent temperatures of about 25 degrees Celsius throughout the year. My adversarial friend had been on the island with his family where he had established some semblance of a training camp for several weeks prior to our arrival and was well acclimated. As there was no form of wager affixed to this contest beyond bragging rights, I was unaware of the serious nature of this challenge and divided my time between tennis, running, site seeing, and soaking up the sun on Maui’s many beautiful beaches.
As a precursor to the race, my foe invited me for a run from Kihei to the Old Sugar Mill, that is located about 16 kilometers from our little cottage across this sunny island. On one luminous morning (a common event on Maui), my nemesis and two others met at the local Starbucks before embarking on our sweltering undertaking. The run began with friendly banter and a moderate pace but soon progressed to a healthy canter and, seemingly, serious game faces.
The route to the Old Sugar Mill follows Kihei’s main street on South Kehei Road to North Kehei Road along a most beautiful shoreline. At the northernmost terminus of town, the road turns inland and follows the Piilani Highway to Kahului on a paved cycle path. The path is very straight, hot and slightly uphill for about 10 kilometers. One can see the Old Sugar Mill on the horizon but, as we progressed across the island, it appeared to neither gain in proximity nor stature. This must surely be Hawaii’s form of an optical phenomenon creating a heat mirage as a product of the sun’s intense rays. Regardless, the distance was lengthy and the heat oppressive.
The four of us plodded along, while the unchanging optics of the Old Sugar Mill serving to cast thoughts of delirium upon us, and doubts concerning our ability to overcome this task. About half the distance to our destination my opponent began slipping slowly behind, apparently feigning some conjured ailment. He soon recovered and we eventually arrived at the Sugar Mill as a singular group. Had he contrived his brief lapse to cause some psychological advantage? This could not be determined.
Our spouses were waiting with towels, a change of clothes, and refreshing water to rinse our sweaty torsos. The ritual of this run included a visit to a local eatery in Kahului called the Tasty Crust. We attended this icon of Hawaiian culture as a group with no apparent conflict among us where we enjoyed a wonderful breakfast of banana pancakes while chatting with many of the locals. It was a wonderful day but nothing had been proved. We returned to our respective camps to prepare for race day about a week hence.
My training continued much as before with daily tennis and running. I was feeling fairly secure in my impending success as my hapless rival had exhibited a tiny chink in his armour on the Old Sugar Mill run and my former years of conquest would surely hold me in good stead. I was fairly confident that I would overcome this challenge and the stars would be suitably aligned as they had been during our racing years.
On race morning we arrived about 6:30 AM with darkness slipping away to dawn. The weather had been predicted as sunny and warm. Maui has few weather changes. My trusted support crew attended while my adversary was similarly accompanied by friends, family and, possibly, a coach. A few runners were accumulating but more notably, a truck was present that must have been the remnants of a previous night’s revelry. These folk must have pondered why hoards of scrawny but colourfully dressed people were disturbing their recovery prior to dawn on a lonely beach many kilometers from any community. Their minimal reaction likely confirmed their deficiency of interest in this event or the participants beginning to assemble.
As the Kelowna contingent sat by the shore, we watched some young Greek God-like person, with rippling muscles and a tanned physique minted about 40 years prior to ours, perform his race preparations. His ritual was truly inspiring with sprints, stretching, and much flexing. There were many admiring eyes of the female persuasion focused on his preparations. None of this, however, served as motivation to any of us beyond taking a few pictures. After all, we were seasoned veterans and such a performance was unnecessary. His sprints and pre-race antics appeared to suggest he would certainly win the race but, as he was in a much younger category, he caused us no concern. A few more contestants began to arrive, as did a group of sarong-clad conch players. As the time for our departure approached, throngs of runners began to congregate and the conch players began to tune their instruments with the leader chanting incantations in some ancient Hawaiian dialect. The previous night’s revellers uncovered their ruffled heads to determine what was disturbing their sleep. As the sun rose we joined our spirits and summoned the Gods for a magnificent event as encouraged by our Hawaiian leader. It was my first pre-race conch supplication but with all of this unearthly presence, it would seem apparent a similar ritual should certainly be incorporated into every race hereafter. I felt assured we were closer to the heavens for this experience and our running shoes would indeed be aided by the spirits!
I shook hands with my compatriots and wished each a wonderful race although feeling some consternation regarding why I had ever agreed to this challenge. After all, this day would inflict upon me my first starting line in 10 years and I began to recall why I had ceased such activity long ago. I was nervous, excited, had not slept, and was not looking forward to the pain that would surely follow.
The time eventually approached with the bellow of a conch to inaugurate our perilous journey. About 200 strong dashed across an imaginary starting line with a warm sun threatening over a distant shore. I could see my opponent ahead but expected to surely gather him in somewhere down the road as had been a frequent occurrence in our more youthful encounters. He must certainly be ensconced in the experience and would no doubt slow before the terminus. I knew there were many hot and sweaty kilometers ahead and would establish a sensible pace to preserve my resources for an ultimate conquest. Thoughts of glory infiltrated my psyche as I envisioned surging past a badly fading warrior. Realistically, however, it became apparent that most of the field was ahead of me by the 1 km mark and I was running a 5.05 pace, which was about 20 seconds per kilometer faster than I had ever run in training. I could also see my foe gradually pulling away, as were my other friends. I remained confident they would surely be retrieved somewhere down the road.
As we progressed other competitors began to slow and the pace began sorting people according to their respective talents and conditioning. Meanwhile, my rival’s red hat bobbed along a few meters ahead with no sign of a diminished resolve. I was comfortable in my stride and began to overcome the occasional runner. The, aforementioned, Greek God had soared past, bare of chest, with all admiring his muscled and tanned frame. It seemed he would surely not be seen again before the finish, some 14 kilometers hence in Lahaina.
I was in a group of healthy and competitive athletes, albeit paced by a middle-aged woman, while keeping a close watch on my rival who seemed to be further afield with each stride. What was happening? I was running above my pace and he continued to be leaving me for the sharks along the Honopollani shoreline. How rude!! Had our run to the Old Sugar Mill been a deception? Was he a little slyer than he appeared? Considering I was running above my middle-aged race pace, I began to harbour thoughts of apprehension that I would not sustain myself and would be the one faltering as the kilometers receded.
I journeyed on with the occasional runner passing me while I passed several more competitors. We neared half way and I had only lost a few seconds from my pace. I continued to feel strong but was in no position to initiate any winning surge past the deceptive one. In fact he was not visible and the other Kelownians were likely sipping their post-race beer under Lahaina’s banyan tree.
At about 12 kilometers I discovered the Greek God, still looking tanned and muscled, was shuffling up the last hill with a look of pain and, perhaps, defeat on his strained face. I quickened my endeavour and surged past this shattered shell of a man before turning for a sharp downhill and the last two kilometers. I was now feeling exhilarated, having finally surged past someone. The wily one was not in sight but Greek God was happily in my exhaust with no chance of overhauling me before the finish. The final few yards saw me pass several more runners and arrive at the terminus with the euphoria of another challenge fulfilled. The Greek God, sadly, collapsed as he completed the event with several young women rushing to his assistance.
I was greeted by friends and family while the Kelowna contingent appeared similarly joyful about their race successes. Perhaps there was something to the conch send-off. In the end all the Kelowna participants had come away with hardware. As the awards ceremony progressed we were called forward individually for our efforts with the announcer badly mangling the name Kelowna to something like Kelawana. He was repeatedly corrected while we ascended the podium as a team of four with all present well aware that Kelowna was a force to be reckoned with. We hauled our spoils to Lahaina’s Pioneer Inn for a post-race beer breakfast. I began to consider that this racing activity wasn’t so appalling and I would return better prepared to avenge the wily one in 2013!