Reprint from

1st time felt the marathon through a child's eyes (2005)
Course: 4 Organization: 4 Fans: 4
R. C. from Honolulu, Hawaii (3/22/05)
11-50 previous marathons | 1 Big Island Marathon

After completing 14 Honolulu Marathons as a local resident (1977-2004), I was ready for a change in view. At 59 years of age, I also made the new year's resolution to greet 60 'hitting the ground running' -by doing a marathon a quarter instead of the usual average of 1 every other year. I plan on the Eugene, Oregon and NYC runs this year to complete 4 within 12 months. Go legs!

The Big Island or 'Hilo' Marathon was a fantastic 'outer island' escapade for my wife and me. The sponsoring hotel, Nani Loa, is located right on the beach of Hilo Bay on the famous Banyan (trees) Drive. Our upper floor suite had a magnificent oceanview of the silvery bay. On the street level we skipped the traditional carbo loading spaghetti dinner and went to Billy's Restaurant for rib eye steak and mahimahi fish with all the trimmings. Inside we locals felt like tourists, taking in the grass hut decor and lovely live Hawaiian music and hula stage performances. Best of all, the steak was succulent and the fish so fresh it melted in my mouth! I further 'carbo loaded' with the baked potato and a generous slice of pie. I recommend this fine dining experience for runners. Expect, however, to wait longer than you would in a big city on the move. Remember you are in sleepy town Hilo where everybody seems laidback. On the road nobody tailgated us in our rental car, and my wife is a slow and overly cautious driver! Across the street I indulged in eggs, corn beef hash, hash browns and a stack of banana pancakes drowned in coconut and guava syrups, more serious 'carbo loading' at 4 am in the pancake house that stayed open 24/7.

The run started in the dark at 6 A.M. out in the tiny town of Pepeekeo, 10 miles north of Hilo. The weather was perfect (high 60s, no rain, slight breeze, overcast to block the sun) - for the whole morning. The route through the rural countryside of forest, creeks, waterfalls, small hamlets and crowing roosters all made it worth the trip from noisy and congested Honolulu. Bringing along my camera was foresight that materialized my inspired documentation of the route for all online to see.

We reach Hilo itself at the 10 mile mark, then pass by Hilo town running along the bay and into the airport. The scenery dramatically converts from running in nature to airport and military with long stretches of nothing spectacular to view. From the terminal it's entry into an industrial area, including awful large storage domes of petroleum products and the fumes of varnish from a boat repair shop! I am not complaining as this contrast with the earlier course route made the former that more beautiful and memorable.

Then it's back onto the beach route out of Hilo going opposite the entry point into town. There's a turnaround point at the 21 mile mark and the runners backtrack on the same long Kalanianole Highway. Other than some open beach and park scenes and nostalgic and charming residences, it's a long stretch whereby the runner is focusing more on that 20+ point in a marathon than taking in the view. The course ends just past the same Banyan Drive to the applause of a faithful core of volunteers, tent aid stations, quicker fellow participants and with the sighting of the proverbial 'Finish Line' banner. No hoopla of load speaker radio music, commercial photographers clicking away, or blaring announcements of runner ID info like in Waikiki at the end of Honolulu Marathons. I came in too late (5:43; I cramped out again) to get more than a banana and bottled water but appreciate the well designed t-shirt, nicer than most Honolulu Marathon shirts that I have in my collection.

The 'course' would have gotten 5 stars if the last 2/3 was even close to the beauty of the Hamakua coastline and forests over the first 10 miles, itself well worth the cost to travel to Hawaii for this run. In fact, it's the perfect sightseeing course route for those who do the 10-miler option offered. Run it and get lost in God's country, unspoiled, pristine tropical forest bountiful with waterfalls and towering trees including palms. For the rest of the course I'd rate it 2.5 stars.

As for 'organization,' I was impressed with aid stations every two miles and roadside distance markers at every single mile! Even as the stretch of 26.2 miles is sparse in spectators, it's difficult to get lost with the distance signs and an abudance of bright road cones to designate runner lanes. The policemen at intersections in Hilo were dutiful and polite, always giving the right of way to the runners.

'Spectators?' Most of them are only at the aid stations. Local schools should consider offering students the opportunity to volunteer and participate in this 'international' event for 'community service credit' like they do in Honolulu. But I really didn't mind this contrast to the Honolulu Marathon with its throngs of runners as well as residential and organizational cheerleaders along the whole route. For me I appreciated the SERENITY of participating in a SMALL race without the noise, crowds, traffic, and promotional hype. It was as if the town and rural agricultural hamlets went along with its own agenda (sleep in, church services on a Sunday, fishing and surfers noted) and the runners in turn just did they're own thing. Online it was just as laidback - I could not find anything about the marathon the next day in either the Big Island newspaper or the Honolulu newspapers. Maybe that's why it remains in Honolulu one of the best-kept outer island secrets, keeping the number of participants and commercialization of the event minimal. No wonder 30,000 show up for the Honolulu (doesn't hurt to have Japan Airlines as the major sponsor) and grosses almost 30 million dollars for the island's economy, whereas the Big Island event probably hardly realizes a profit from their now 8th annual marathon. Surprisingly Nali Loa Hotel, the sponsoring accommodation for out-of-towners, would not allow runners a shower after strict room noon checkout. That means you have to complete the marathon in 5 hours at 11 A.M. or stink on the plane if you plan to leave that day. I was forced to take a cold shower next to the outdoor pool.

I still gave 'spectators' 4 stars instead of the initial 2 I was planning on. Why? A child, waving a flower at the passing runners and with his beaming eyes and smile, as if attending a parade, was all the specatators I needed. I, as a marathoner, will always remember the wonder on the face of this small-town boy over all these strangers with numbers running pass his house nestled in old and forgotten sugar plantation. For me, his persona equaled the majesty of all the tropical scenes put together. I captured this moment through my photography.

I highly recommend this rural marathon as an alternative to the Honolulu Marathon, now dominated by Japanese and Waikiki airline/tourism marketing and more suited to those who enjoy running through a downtown and suburbia. For me it was super to get off the beaten path.

Pygoya (a.k.a. Dr. Rodney Chang), online-resident artist