The “aloha spirit” is a phrase used to describe the attitude of friendly acceptance of the Hawaiian Islands.
However, the aloha spirit also refers to a powerful way to resolve any problem, accomplish any goal, and to achieve any state of mind or body that you desire.
At the 2011 Kauai Marathon I left on a flight back home to Colorado filled with this sense of aloha spirit. It embodies the feeling of positive mojo and friendships. When someone accomplishes a goal, it feels like the aloha spirit triples. In the next year, I probably thought about the Kauai Marathon and all the friends I made on the island nearly every single day.
I used this mojo as fuel for my competitive fire. Training daily with extra sweatshirts and layers of tights in the dry heat of Colorado, I was not going to let the 75-80F temperatures and 70F dewpoint temperatures slow me down this year. I’m very lucky to have a really positive group of friends to run with when I’m pounding the pavement in several extra layers of clothes.
I arrived on Wednesday afternoon before the Sunday morning marathon, picked up the rental car, checked in to an excellent condo in Poipu, and joined a large group of Kauai Marathon staff/volunteers for a BBQ at the race founders house. It was absolutely wonderful to catch up with twenty or more people that had made such a positive impact on my life over the past 360+ days.
On Thursday I drove to the Lihue airport to pick up some other people that have had a positive impact on the last 25+ years of my life…my Mom and Dad. Being able to spend the next week with my folks and have them see me run the Kauai Marathon was by far the most rewarding experience of my life. My parents have been supportive of me in every way possible, including marathon running. For them to see me compete in my favorite race on the planet – priceless.
The rest of Friday and Saturday was spent showing my parents various sites around the beautiful Garden Isle. Driving them to various shopping places, with a long stop at a quilt shop for my mom, and meeting various friends for lunch or dinner. (Thanks Helen and Gary, Chucky and Pam!). Included was a fun 30 minute run with Rich Hanna, a legend and author in the marathon world. On Saturday morning the Kauai Marathon puts on a ‘fun run’ where you can run or walk any distance you want to. While my parents walked with some new friends, I spent 4 miles in excellent conversation with race founder Jeff Sacchini. Note: Please take a moment to read that last link…incredible story of starting a race on the island. Jeff’s one of the most driven and hard working persons I have ever met. He came up with a vision of having a world class marathon on the island – and made it happen. How many times have you come up with a ‘great’ idea but never followed through? Take Jeff’s lead, and make your dreams come true.
On Saturday night, per a friend’s recommendation my parents went to Merriman’s for a nice dinner. I stayed in the condo, cut my hair short, and made some simple banana pancakes. I couldn’t wait for the race the next morning because I knew I was ready. I was anxious to do battle with the marathon. I was proud of my hard work and ready to show it off in front of friends and family. I was living the aloha spirit.
The next morning after eating a light oatmeal breakfast, I started jogging to the start line half an hour before the race began. With a 3/4 mile warm-up jog, 4 PowerBar gels on me, and a bunch of drills + light strides, I was ready for action. Unfortunately, the two Kenyans who were supposed to fly directly from Kenya to Kauai never made it. One got stuck without the proper visa, and the other thought he had to get his checked baggage at his layover and missed his connection. Without competition, I knew the marathon was going to be significantly harder, but I was ready for the challenge.
After the conch shells signaled the start of the marathon, I was off and running down a dream…albeit directly into a headwind. Last year I sat behind two Kenyans for 18 miles before pulling away. This year, I was all alone from the 3rd step of the race. The next 6.5 miles winded up through the tunnel of trees…climbing nearly 800ft into a headwind. At the top, I was still over 30 seconds faster than 2011.
After 8 miles the course starts going downhill, and I start rolling. I split 4:57 the next mile as pouring rain begins. The next thing I know I’m running through a deluge. I’m not sure I’ve ever ran in rain this hard as I was instantly soaked with heavy shoes and clothes. I looked down during mile 9 to see “0:00.36″ on my watch for the split. I assumed I had hit the “start/stop” button rather than the “lap” button of the last mile. This meant that I didn’t know my total running time to see if I was on pace for a new course record…and a share of the $15,000 speed bonus. (Note: later I found out that my watch took over a dozen splits during the mile. It was literally raining so hard that my standard 50 lap watch freaked out)> I assumed that I had run about 5:20 for that mile. I was wrong – I had run 4:56. Oops! The big problem with that? The next 7+ miles is unforgiving hills that climb back up almost to 1,000ft elevation. The course has a total elevation change of approximately 4500ft. The pouring rain lasts about four miles from what I remember, and my pace definitely started to slow as I hit my first rough patch.
I mentally focused my energy on remaining positive and rolling with the punches. As Rocky Balboa says…
Miles 11 through 20 were spent pushing as hard as I could, trying to remember splits from last year vs this year. I knew I was hurting but still very close to pace. During mile 20 I asked someone coming the other direction what the total time was. Based off what he said, I calculated my watch showed 3 minutes less. I kept fighting and pushed hard up the last uphills. I figured out I was going to have to run very close to 5 minute miles to get a new course record. Someone shouted out the time with 3 miles to go to find out I was off by 3:20 and I realized I was going to have to average 4:50s the last 3.2 miles for a new course record. At that point I literally gave it every ounce of energy I could find. My last three miles were 5:05, 5:10, and 4:44. Even with a 14:59 last 3 miles, I looked ahead and shortly thereafter saw the clock hit 2:23:30..2:23:31… and I knew my course record of 2:23:21 was passed. I kept hammering home, but my legs were giving out. Instead of crossing the finish line giving the shaka sign like last year, I collapsed across the finish.
Last year was a state of euphoria after cross the finish line. This year was a state of pain. Everything hurt. After a few moments Bart Yasso and another friend helped me up. I leaned on them hard until I was out of the finishing shoot. Downing some cold water and my parents putting cold towels around my head slowly helped regain some energy. My hamstring allowed my feet to move about six inches…which made a 100ft walk for an interview take seemingly an hour. The next 2 hours or so until the award ceremony was spent trying to regain energy…drinking water, eating fruit, a PowerBar, and several Jamba Juice smoothies.
I missed out on a potential $15,000 payday by 32 seconds. Just over 1 second per mile separated me from more money than I made all of last year. However, I wasn’t disappointed or bummed. If I had enough energy I would have been jumping up and down. I spent months training for the event and I succeeded…I won. Sure, I didn’t break my own course record but I also had competition last year that did the work for 18 miles, didn’t have a headwind, and had no rain. This year’s effort was much tougher and I never gave up in all 26.2 miles. I won by 14 minutes but fought like I won by 14 inches. In the past year, I fought through over-training, thyroid issues, poor race results, leaving my coach, and leaving the company I poured my heart into. There were no excuses on this day. I put it all out there and ran 2:23:52…the absolute best I could do on that day. Is there anything better in sport than that?
After my parents helped me walk the mile back to the condo, which probably took 30 minutes, I laid down and couldn’t sleep. Part of it was the fact that not even a couple advil could dull the pain throughout my body, but the fact that I was incredibly happy. A few months ago I decided to finish my PhD in meteorology. I’m staying in Boulder working at the National Center for Atmospheric Research doing work on statistical methods of numerical weather prediction and wind energy forecasting. In three years, my goal is to have a PhD completed and be a contender at the 2016 Olympic Trials. If I inspire one person to get out the door to get a run in when they are busy from work, then everything is worth it. In addition, having a part-time ‘job’ doing research as a student gives me a better life balance as well as a little steady income. I was lying down for about 20 minutes until my uncle called and told me he was proud of me and thrilled that I’m making my dreams come true by ‘living large’. Then my brother calls to congratulate me and says, “You have to be happy bro. You won. That’s the ultimate goal…winning…otherwise they’d call it exercise.”
I got up after that and got in the hot tub with my parents. We started chatting with some Kauai residents who offered us these aloha drinks and homemade spam musebi. The aloha spirit never stops…
Now to the toughest part of a blog post…the thank you paragraph. It’s the toughest part of this post because I hate forgetting anyone, yet there’s so many fantastic people on the island and elsewhere that supported me. First, thank you Jeff for founding the race and making it happen. Your generosity, hard work, and aloha spirit is something truly incredible. Thank you all the staff and volunteers at the Kauai Marathon, including but certainly not limited to Bob Craver, Robin Jumper, JT Service, Jeff’s family, and many many more. Thank you to my sponsors – Mizuno, Core Power, PowerBar, and SIX Nutrition as well as several other supporters. Thank you to my parents, Brenda and Ralph who’ve always been a positive influence and always supporting me. Thanks to everybody that took the time to send a thank you message, facebook post/like, tweet, phone call, etc. It really means a lot more than you know, as I never take for granted the terrific friends I have. Thank you to the aloha spirit and the island of Kauai. Everyone has their “happy place.” My happy place is on the island of Kauai.
Time for me to get to bed. I’m going to seize the day tomorrow and live my dream – run in the morning with a friend on the beautiful Mesa trails, research at NCAR, and high school cross country practice.
Aloha and Mahalo,
2x Kauai Marathon Champ