Twelve months after our 2012 battle in the sun, I was seated with my loving wife in a sleek jetliner overlooking the stunning panorama that is Maui. As our jet banked over the island I could distinguish the Honopollani Highway that meanders along the ocean to Lahaina where I would, once again, defend my honour at the Maui Oceanfront Marathon. This year, however, I would enjoy the advantage of having completed the race once before and 13 straight weeks of 15 kilometer Sundays, 8 fewer pounds of excess flab, and a severely decreased rate of alcohol consumption during the preceding several months. I had sacrificed but was now fully aware of my challenge and significantly more prepared. Had my nemesis, the unequivocal one, similarly exercised his due diligence? Only time would tell!
As we settled into our little cottage in Kihei that would comprise life for the next 5 weeks, I began to hear rumblings from the opposing camp of 6 days per week training sessions at dawn, wind sprints, and pacing with effectively professional trainers. A good friend, similar in deportment to a James Bond-type persona, served as mole and provided daily updates of my opponent’s training regime. I was, however, cognizant of the fact that the slippery one was offering double agent services to the highest bidder. Whoever bought him the most beer would receive the more accurate information to assist or hinder our respective preparations.
My adversary had been on the island for about a month, acclimatising and taking advantage of the peculiar benefits offered runners on Hawaii. Many people come to this small group of islands to profit from the oxygen enriched nutrients in the air that are a by-product of the volcanic ash. Further, it seems, with the egg shape of the earth, Hawaii is situated at a point on the earth’s circumference that offers the least gravitational pull. It is said to have gravity not quite as diminished as the moon, but not as burdensome as most areas on the earth. I am sure my wily competitor researched this phenomenon thoroughly and sought to take full advantage. Noting that he is built closer to the earth than many of us, I am sure a vertically challenged person would gain some benefit from this gravitational anomaly.
The first test of our fitness for the big race was our annual run across Maui to the Old Sugar Mill some 16 kilometers from Kihei. A year previous, the crafty one had feigned fatigue before reaching our destination and left me with overconfidence and delusions of magnificence. I was previously unaware of the extent of his cunning and would not be deceived this year.
At a prearranged time I set off accompanied by four other runners at a fairly healthy pace, chatting amiably with no suggestion of the serious nature of our endeavour. We maintained a steady pace with none of us particularly labouring. The Old Sugar Mill had not changed from the previous year nor the last 10 kilometers of uphill running that serves to challenge all who attempt to complete this venture. As had formerly been a factor, the heat began to impact us by about 8:00 AM and the mill seemed within grasp, but never attainable, for most of the last 10 kilometers. There appears to be many natural phenomena on Maui with the Old Sugar Mill mirage another that serves to challenge. The sugar mill run is only truly conquered when one finally exits the highway into the sugar mill parking lot. As had been the case the previous year, we arrived at the sugar mill almost simultaneously. We all finished the run with little difficulty and seemed adequately prepared for the contest that was to follow. Later, my nemesis commented that I had pushed the pace but it was apparent he was, once again, creating illusions to stimulate my overconfidence. Nothing was proved by this day.
The following week proceeded uneventfully. The guileful one trained secretly at his camp while I mixed runs with tennis matches, feeling a level of confidence in my preparation. Some days I would run, play tennis with the locals, and then participate in an hour of tennis with my father. I was feeling healthy and self-assured. Our infiltrator continued to filter training reports….both ways, I am sure. Running is a wonderful exercise with fresh air, camaraderie, improved fitness, a general feeling of well-being, and an overall improvement in health both mentally and physically. Running on Maui facilitates a further level of gratification with its beautiful scenery, cooling breezes, and moderate temperatures that is a stark contrast to what generally confronts Canadians during our frigid winters. Racing, however, is another matter. A person who races is only as fast as his or her last race. This, therefore, causes anxiety that encourages overtraining, injury, potential depression, and even illness. It is impossible to forever advance your personal best and run faster than all your competitors. Obviously some handle this better than others and race joyously for decades. I recall being very entrenched in this lifestyle until being nudged back to lucidity when a race announcer, for the second time in two days, broadcasted my arrival at a finish line. Having completed two races in one weekend caused me to question my motives and participation in such pursuits. The pain and lessons learned, however, were obviously lost to me in the mists of time as I was, again, intending to stand at another starting line and, hopefully, cross another finish line. As the day approached I began to recall why I had quit racing. I had, however, paid my money, trained beyond my well-earned wisdom, and was seeking the bragging rights that would be accomplished by drubbing my unfortunate friend.
Race day finally arrived with the bellowing of my I-phone alarm at 5:00 AM. Darkness continued to envelope our little cottage and I had not enjoyed any semblance of sleep. Refusing to relinquish my comfortable bed, I began having treacherous thoughts of harming my rival and/or simply going for a healthy breakfast in Lahaina while casually discounting those crazy runners who chronically mistreat their bodies. These thoughts were quickly dispelled for fear of failure and embarrassment as my race delusions began to re-emerge. We drove a tired 30 minutes in total darkness in search of the race start. During this time I revisited my pledge to never to be coerced into such an activity again but, alas, considered that I have paid over $100.00 to acquire a t-shirt that would be used to run through 15 kilometers in a tropical climate along a beautiful oceanfront. There would be both good and bad, but I was ready to race.
The 15 kilometer starting line is located in a small tropical tree-lined park called, Ukumehame Beach, just past the Aalaloloa Pali Tunnel on the Honoapiilani Highway. We arrived before dawn to find my opponent present and, perceivably, prepared to run. His lithe bronzed frame seemed conceived for running and, with the gravitational benefits previously mentioned, my confidence was destabilizing. A year previous we had witnessed a display of the raw excellence of humanity when a Greek God-looking person had intimidated us with his warm-up stretching, sprinting and very aura. I suspected his absence this year could be implicit in his thorough emasculation on our previous meeting when four 55 plus year-olds had sprinted past his traumatized form several kilometers from the finish. About all he had achieved from his performance was the women, with my compatriots and I far evolved beyond such human frailty.
Present were the usual locals arising from their slumbers having, obviously, expended an intoxicant-influenced evening on the beach in the back of their portable homes. They must have wondered why a group of scrawny people were stretching by the ocean before the sun even thought of peeking over the horizon. They took little notice of us and resumed their pre-dawn recovery. Our Kelowna contingent and others from many far-off lands began to assemble. Colourful costumes and lithe tanned bodies littered the beach performing stretches and chatting amiably. Kelowna was, once again, well represented with six members in our entourage. It was rewarding to see the familiar conch players ready to bless our day and send us off for a speedy undertaking. As the time approached, the Hawaiian leader, who wore traditional dress complete with aboriginal tattoos and head dress, gathered the participants. He explained his role and recounted the Hawaiian history before beginning his chants. We joined him in prayer while forming a human ring to welcome the day with a choral mantra.
We wished each other a worthy race while all participants accumulated at an imaginary starting line while the Kelowna contingent, with confidence, swarmed to the front. The conch bellowed to signal the start and we were off in a sprint. As is common in most races, several people surged forward, spurred on by tattered nerves, visions of glory, and adrenaline. Oddly enough the Kelowna contingent was represented in 4 of the first 6 runners. Our more youthful Kelowna counterparts immediately left the main group with only one very tall young man, unknown to us, loping along and leading the charge. After this small group of three, a young woman who appeared more youthful than my daughter, ran just ahead of myself and my foil. The reader must picture this: there are 4 Kelowna runners in a group of 6 leading a race on a tropical island amid a field of international competitors. The last two of this contingent are 62 years of age, of which I am one. This surely can’t last. Where is the rest of the field that consisted of approximately 100 runners?
I remained within a few meters of my intended victim and at kilometer one checked my trusty Garmon watch to find I was running at 4:52 minutes per kilometer, with my opponent loping along at a similar pace. I hadn’t run this fast in years but persisted while watching the new florescent shoes owned by my nemesis glide along, as if carried by a strong ocean breeze. I slipped a few paces back during the next 3 or 4 kilometers but remained well within striking distance. The day was cooler than the previous year but the main group was not offering a challenge. I strained to look behind, while managing to keep a sub 5 minute pace, thinking surely we would soon be overcome by more youthful competitors.
All challengers were far behind. The Kelowna group and two others were controlling the race. The day was very pleasant at about 24C as the sun began to materialize over the horizon. There was a gentle ocean breeze that invigorated my strength during the first few kilometers. I could hear the waves lapping on the shoreline and had the presence to gaze seaward in search of the ever prevalent humpback whales. Maui has some of the best whale watching in the world. The waters off West and South Maui are shielded by the West Maui Mountains and Haleakala, the huge volcano that contributed to forming this island. The waters along the coast are calm and clear for high visibility with the whales drawn to the area’s shallow waters that are less than 600 feet deep. The humpback whales migrate to Maui from the nutrient-filled waters off Alaskan shores. Through the summer months they gorge themselves on schools of krill and small fish, and once the water becomes too cold for their liking, they begin the long journey south. They usually arrive in Maui about mid-January and put on many displays both aerial and, simply, the wonder of their sheer size. It is difficult to imagine how these enormous beasts of up to 40 tons in weight can propel themselves clear of the water as if they were minnows.
No whales were apparent this morning as I tried to focus on the race and my speedy friend. At about kilometer 5, the half marathon race turnaround approached and suddenly we were overwhelmed with runners. They, however, were all trudging along much slower than either of us, with our two younger Kelowna runners, and the tall man, far out of sight. We weaved through the runners and I, for one, sensed a small exhilaration as many younger runners were left in my wake. For some unknown reason our pace seemed to quicken as we passed the younger women with their tight shorts and golden tans. (Another Hawaiian phenomenon?) I eventually reached the 10 kilometer mark, with my rival still in sight but several meters ahead. I noted that I was well under 50 minutes, a pace that I had not achieved in about 10 years, with 5 more hot and uphill, kilometers ahead.
It became apparent that my adversary was gaining two or three meters every kilometer and it began to appear that he may be invincible on this day. Resignation began to seep into my sensibilities. Was I to suffer defeat a second time? We pushed on. The last few kilometers were largely uphill with a final turn about a kilometer from the finish that followed the ocean shore through Lahaina on a residential street to the finish line. Fond memories invaded my thoughts while I reminisced about overcoming the Greek God-type person the previous year on this very spot. I had, however, lost sight of my opponent but continued to pass a few more half marathoners. Only two people overtook us throughout the run who were two very competitive young men participating in the full marathon.
I ran the last few meters along Lower Honoapiilani Road with Lahaina’s lovely banyan tree greeting me as I performed my best effort of a sprint to the finish line. I was welcomed by helpful volunteers, family, a cool mist, and my smiling adversary as I conceded another defeat. In the end our first Kelowna runner arrived 2nd overall with our second runner close behind for third place overall. The young woman, whom I never saw after the starting gun, arrived for 4th place with my rival close on her heals. I had lost to my friend the previous year by 2 minutes. This year I lost by 2:19 even though I was almost two minutes faster. Of note, however, Kelowna took 4 of the top 6 spots overall in the 15 km event with my nemesis and I placing one and two in our age group. Kelowna had a very profitable day. The announcer initially introduced our first runner as being from Kilawana again but quickly corrected himself, undoubtedly recalling his repeated errors of the year previous. They are now aware of Kelowna on Maui.
We conceded, after the race, that we would not likely return for a repeat performance. After all, what are a couple of old codgers doing passing Greek Gods and Goddesses, and missing months of happy hours? Post-race, the Kelowna clan retired to the Pioneer Inn for our traditional celebratory beer breakfast with no more worries of secret training, moles, diets, or splits. I am sure all went home with smiles on their faces and the awareness that the remainder of the vacation would be for serious holidaying.