Monday, December 22, 2014

My Honolulu Marathon 2014

This year's Honolulu Marathon was cold, wet, and windy. An all-around miserable experience. The kind of race that feels more like a crazy reality TV endurance challenge than a major marathon. I fully expected to find Bear Grylls at an aid station handing out live grubs and cactus water, and to see the Tour's El Diablo out on the course prodding us with his trident.

My plan was reduced to shreds. I planned to finish in 6:45 but had to contend myself with a 7:33. I am grateful to have achieved even that. But there is much to be proud of, starting with this being my best marathon time ever; my only other marathon -- 2012 -- took me 7:50.

What I consider to be the experimental aspect of this race was my training plan. I have described it in detail in previous blog posts and will not repeat much here, except that the basic idea was to train like an Ironman triathlete, with a long run on Saturday and a long bike on Sunday, off-loading much of the aerobic endurance work to the bike in order to reduce the risk of injury. I consider this to have been a success, because I had no signifiant problems with injury despite a long-term issue with my left quadricep that has previously lead to iliotibial band syndrome. Had the conditions on race day not been so horrific I am sure I would have gotten closer to my goal time.

My original goal was to run the race at an average of 14:30 min/mile, for a time of 6:20. As December approached I realized I was not getting THAT much faster, so I set my goal for my simulation race on November 30 at 15:00 min/mile. After about twelve miles that day the wheels fell off, with my day ending at the top of Diamond Head puking and with both legs cramped up solid.  Because of that I lowered my race goal pace to 15:30. I ended up with an overall average of 17:00.

Pace Plan

  1. Do not worry about first two to three miles except to not go too fast. Wait for traffic to thin out, and for my body to warm up.
  2. Walk the aid stations to give legs a little rest and to let intake of water and gel settle. Avoid upset stomach.
  3. From Kapiolani Blvd. to Aloha gas station on return (most of the course), try to maintain a 15:30 pace where the road was flat, 14:30 where it went slightly downhill (for instance, by Kalani High School outbound). Slow down as needed to maintain HR on uphill sections.  Keep HR in low zone 2 as much as possible, let it get up into low 3's on hills but pay attention to breathing and perceived effort -- do not go crazy.
  4. Walk the steep parts of Diamond Head, three places, by lighthouse and approaching 18th Ave. outboard, Triangle Park to top on return. 
  5. Run carefully fast down 18th, don't get injured there.
  6. From Aloha gas station on through Kahala to Triangle Park, try for a 14:30 pace or better, whatever I could manage at that point. No holding back, let it fly. This is how I finished the Hapalua half marathon and the Honolulu Triathlon last year.
Fuel and Hydration Plan
  1. Drink water at every aid station, about half a paper cup.
  2. Carry a Fuelbelt with two seven ounce flasks, each with three GU gels diluted 50/50 with water. Take a sip from flask every 20 minutes. (Set time alarm on Garmin to remind me.)
  3. Try to synchronize water and gel intake.
  4. Never gulp a lot of water no mater how I feel, as that will cause me to puke, based on experience.
  5. Same for gel, just a little sip, roll in mouth before swallowing, too much and stomach will rebel.
The Start
It was raining when I was ready to leave for the start so I wore my trash bag rain coat. Removed it just before 5:00. A light rain continued throughout the first few miles, not as bad as the Hapalua Half Marathon in 2013 but in combination with the 68F temperature I was having a hard time warming up. 

I lined up at the "over six hour" sign but found myself surrounded by people mostly walking. I stuck to my plan, stayed calm, felt sorry for the kids from Kamehameha jazz ensemble playing in the rain. Everything was good until Paki Park, when the density of walkers made running difficult. Had to walk all the way from Kapiolani Park to top of Diamond Head. Strangely enough the crowd began to thin at the end of the steep section and some people around me started running, despite the fact that they did not look that strong. I waited for the grade to drop a bit before the top lookout to start running, and flew down the hill past a lot of people still walking.

Just as I planned I started walking where Diamond Head Road kicks up by the dog park. I turned to check the route to Hawaii Kai and could not see a thing, just a solid gray mass of rain. That did not bode well, and I was right.

In Kahala I stopped for a minute to cheer on a really awesome rock band, a bunch of old guys like me playing terrific blues. Who are these musicians who get up at 4AM to entertain a bunch of runners? It sure makes a miserable morning a lot less miserable.

It was after the Aloha gas station that we began to feel the full effects of the wind. This in itself was no surprise; every cyclist in Honolulu knows about that headwind. The surprise was the intensity. I have never ran against such a strong wind. I would say it never dropped below 20MPH and gusted to 50MPH. A wind like that completely destroys your balance and natural gait. All you can do is react, react, react, which sucks hugs amounts of energy.

My hat. I have run against headwinds before, and the best thing to do is to turn my hat around. I tried that, but the wind was so strong I feared my hat would be blown right off my head and all the way back to Kahala Mall, so I took it off and held it in my hand. Except that the rain would mess up my glasses, like driving a car without windshield wipers. I needed the hat brim to keep the rain off my glass. Put the hat back on, pull it down low and look down to keep the wind from getting under the brim. Now my posture is off and I cannot see much past my feet. I fiddled like this again and again, searching for the best compromise. You can imagine what that did to my stride.

Heart Rate Too High

My plan was to stay in low zone 2 all the way to Hawaii Kai. I was running at or slower than 15:30 but way up in zone 3. I have had this happen before. I do not feel like I am in zone 3. I am breathing as though I am in zone 2, my legs feel like they are running at zone 2, only my heat rate is too high. But heart rate is a reflection of energy consumption, and to run the entire race in zone 3 was not possible for me. I tried to slow down, but my HR hardly got down to 2.5 and I would automatically go back to my happy pace, which had me back up in the 3's. It ended up being a compromise -- my average HR was higher than plan while my average pace was slower than plan.

Had I been more experienced I might have known exactly how to handle this situation. As it was, I worried a lot about how much to slow down. I think I sped up and slowed down over and over because I could not make up my mind. As I was leaving Hawaii Kai I knew I was way behind plan, both time and energy, so the best thing to do was to just get through the day without trying to make any particular time. I really wanted to enjoy the day, but that was out of the question. You know the expression "Grin and bear it?" Well, I wasn't grinning.

Here is my time in zone for the entire race. The chart can display five or more zones but I only ran in (left to right) zones 1, 2 and 3. Spent way too much in zone 3.

Even though I am not happy with those proportions, I know that had I held back on the outbound segment I would have lost massive amounts of time, and I did finish in good shape, so this was not terrible. Compare this with my simulation run two weeks earlier, the one that I could not finish due to leg cramps and puking:

So I guess I can say that I learned my lesson, and even though I felt unsure about how to react to the high HR I managed to handle it well enough to avoid disaster.

Here is a little more detail. I need to point out that my Garmin battery died just before the finish, so my official time was 7:33 but I am working here with my Garmin data which ends just as I get to Kapiolani Park, at 7:25, 26.2 miles. Close enough.

I punched the lap button at 13.3 miles, right at the half way sign where one of the mid-way timing mats was located. Looks like I ran a balanced pace.

Lap 1 - 3:38
Lap 2 - 3:47

Keep in mind lap 2 is a little short, but even so, pretty good.

Here is some data by segment, using well known locations that align to my plan.

Mile > Location > Avg Pace > Max Pace > Avg HR > Max HR

Start to Mile 3 (McKinley High School) 16:16 10:46 138 143
Mile 3 to Mile 11 (McKinley to Aloha gas station outbound) 16:30 11:06 139 146
Mile 11 to mile 16 (Aloha to Hawaii Kai) 16:37 12:55 139 146
Mile 16 to mile 22 (Hawaii Kai to Aloha return) 17:31 13:18 135 145
Mile 22 to Mile 26.2 (Aloha to finish) 18:14 12:57 130 142

To interpret these data it helps to know my HR zones for running:

1 102 - 131
2 132 - 140
3 141 - 147
4 148 - 153
5a 154 - 157
5b 158 - 162
5c 163 - 170

From this we can see that my average did stay in zone 2, but I ran faster often enough to rack up considerable time in zone 3. Again, I wanted to be in the low 2's for most of the day, but right from the start my average was in the high 2's.

Leg Articulation

On many of my Saturday long runs I was bothered by stiff quadriceps in my left leg, resulting in an asymmetrical gait. My right leg would recover smoothly, while my left leg felt as though it never flexed at the knee, just swinging back and forth from the hip. During the marathon I had no such problem. Chalk it up to excellent work by my massage therapist Sonya Weiser Souza.


When I ran my first marathon I stopped to pee three times. Lost a lot of time waiting in those lines. This time my goal was to drink just enough to stay reasonably hydrated with only one stop, and that would be at the Oahu Club. This worked perfectly. I did not really need to pee at the club but I stuck to my plan. I also wasted a minute waving hello to Joe Lileikis. He and his brother Tom have been helping me to swim better. It was raining but there he was on the 25 yard pool deck under an umbrella, yelling out encouragement to one of his students. What a great coach, and a pretty good swimmer, too.


I never felt bonky. I know very well what that feels like, having hit the wall on several occasions. A carefully practiced and implemented fuel plan that relied solely on what I carried and a reasonable pace got me to the finish still running.


I brought along three salt pills in a clip-on dispenser. The day was so cool I was not sure I needed any, but I reasoned that since I was drinking water at every aid station and not producing much urine, I had to be losing some water to sweat and to not take in salt would led to my stomach not accepting the water. Slosh slosh. Been there. So I had two pills, one in Hawaii Kai and the other after reaching Kahala. Nothing else to report there.

Wet Feet

I coated my feet with the semi-liquid form of Body Glide before putting on my socks, and I wore comfortable running socks I had used many times. I guess I never wore those socks in the rain, because they kept bunching up under the balls of both feet. The left foot was more of a problem. Despite repeatedly stopping to pull up the back of the sock, and one stop in Kahala to sit and take my shoe off, I ended up with a very sore left foot. No blisters, no black and blue, just really sore deep inside. I would call it a bone bruise, if there is such a thing. I saw many runners with their shoes off, applying tape or anything else they could find to deal with blisters and split callouses. My feet did not hurt enough to slow me down, just enough to be annoying.


I had planned to walk the steep hills and the aid stations. I stuck to my plan all the way to the turn onto Hawaii Kai Drive, where I was surprised to discover I did not have the strength to run up that little bridge. I had been concerned about how much energy I was using on the way out; this was my first clue how tired I was. After my planned pit stop at the Oahu Club I had to walk over the bridge by the shopping center, and all along the return route I had to stop every now and then to walk. I was guided my the pre-cramp twitches in my hamstrings. I did not want to risk pushing any harder, least I end up like I had two weeks earlier, stranded on Diamond Head with both legs locked up solid. Of course this slowed me down, but when I did run I could run faster than on the way out, and I made it the the finish line in good shape.

The Finish

I was able to run all the way down Diamond Head to the finish, except a time or two when people got in my way. Slow, to be sure, but I could still run and was happy for that. The only bright moment in an otherwise miserable day was when Pattie met me at the finish with a big bottle of spring water and a spam musubi. We walked back to the Hale Koa to give my legs some active recovery, and after a nice cool shower went out for beer and a bowl of udon. After a nap we had dinner at Eggs & Things. I ate too much omelet and had an upset stomach the rest of the night, but I didn't care because the marathon was behind me and, all things considered, it went rather well.


My marathon training plan was designed to split endurance training between the bike and the run. Here is a chart showing relative workout times for each type of activity over the last 90 days (courtesy of Training Peaks). Notice how the bike and run are about the same.

If I had it to do over again I would have made some of the Saturday long runs even longer. Of course this increases the risk of injury, but I think my legs would have had more endurance had I not held back quite this much. Still, I think this is a great way to approach long distance run training, especially for anyone with a history of hip, knee or foot problems. You cannot finish a marathon unless you arrive at the start line ready to run.

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