Waikiki Beach; a puka shell lei around your neck; a luau/concert; a fireworks display at 5 a.m.--Just a few of the reasons why Honolulu boasts one of the most popular marathons in the world.
"I think we are the biggest (destination marathon) in the world," said Jim Barahal, M.D., the longtime president of the Honolulu Marathon Association, noting the marathon's core market is from Japan. "Because of our infrastructure, we are well-suited as a destination marathon. Within a small geographic area near the finish line we have a large number of hotel rooms. It's a real festival feeling at the end."
Pat Bigold, the Honolulu Marathon's media liaison added: "When runners cross the finish line at Kapiolani Park in Waikiki Beach, they can enjoy a shower at the end of the chute or walk across the street and step into the warm Pacific Ocean where they can soak their achy feet."
The 36th Honolulu Marathon, Hawaii's largest sporting event, takes place on Sunday, December 14. More than 25,000 runners are expected to gather for the 5 a.m. start near Ala Moana Beach Park beneath a fabulous fireworks display.
In 2006, the list of marathon finishers included 17,905 entrants from Japan--making the Honolulu Marathon a world-class event with a rich history.
Then and Now
The first Honolulu Marathon was held in 1973 when "The mayor of Honolulu, Frank Fasi--who came from Boston--wanted to have a marathon like the Boston Marathon," Barahal said of the race's inception.
Duncan MacDonald of Hawaii topped the field in 2:27:34, his first of three crowns in the race's first 11 years.
June Chun (3:25:31) won the women's race. She was 14 years old and one of seven Chun family members to finish the race, including her brother, Daven, who was nine and set a world-age group record of 3:19:01.
The seven Chuns, who called themselves the "Hunky Bunch," were among 151 finishers of the 167 marathon starters that day.
Like other marathons from the 1970s to early 1980s, the Honolulu Marathon grew in popularity due largely to the country's running boom. Fewer than 200 participants entered the race in 1973, but by 1982 the Honolulu Marathon would boast 12,275 people running the race--including Patti Lyons Catalano, who won the women's race four years in a row (1978-1981).
"When you look at the history of the event, its growth tracks the running boom precisely," Barahal said. "But after the boom, people were saying that participation would level off."
Quite the contrary; in 1991 the race had 14,605 entrants and more than doubled the next year, reaching 30,905.
"By 1995 there were 34,434 entries and the Honolulu Marathon became the largest marathon in the world for that year," Bigold said. "(In 2006) it was the third largest in America after New York City and Chicago. Since 1992 there have never been fewer than 23,000 entries."
Bigold credits Barahal--the Honolulu Marathon Association's president for the past 24 years--for the race's tremendous growth. Barahal worked with Japan Airlines and other Japanese sponsors during that country's economic boom of the 1990s to turn the race into one of the world's largest marathons.
"Between 1991 and 1992, Japanese entries increased by 8,000," Bigold said. "No other event draws as many people from Japan."
The 2006 Honolulu Marathon generated $101.5 million, said Bigold, adding that number "is about three times the impact on Hawaii of the NFL Pro Bowl." Of the 2006 Honolulu Marathon's, 21,885 out of 28,635 entrants were from outside of Hawaii.
Here Come the Kenyans
While the Honolulu Marathon is most certainly a destination marathon, it is also an elite one, thanks to the African runners who have won it 20 times since 1985.
"At first, when we brought up the idea of bringing Kenyan athletes in, people were ridiculing us," said Barahal. "People were telling us that Kenyans could not run a marathon, that they couldn't run any event over 800 meters. It was preposterous."
In 1985 Ibrahim Hussein won his first of three Honolulu Marathons in a row, becoming the first Kenyan to win a large American marathon. He later went on to win the Boston Marathon three times (1988, 1991, 1992) and the New York City Marathon (1987).
The Honolulu Marathon is preceded by a four-day expo from December 10 to December 13 at the Hawaii Convention Center. The expo is free and open to the public. Runners must pick up their race packets at the expo.
In addition to the expo, a luau/concert will be held Friday, December 12, at the Waikiki Shell. The event includes an all-you-can-eat dinner, Hawaiian music, dance show and a special guest performer. Tickets for the luau/concert are $40 each; VIP tickets are $125 each.
A Destination Marathon
While most of the country is shoveling snow in December, Waikiki Beach enjoys temperatures around 65 degrees at the 5 a.m. race start and may reach 80 degrees by late morning.
But by then most runners will have woven their way around Diamond Head through Hawaii Kai in their own 26.2-mile tour through this breathtaking city.
"For the average runner, the Honolulu Marathon has a festival-like atmosphere, the water is nice and so is the weather, and it's a great place to vacation," Barahal said.
But there's more to the Honolulu Marathon than great weather and puka shell leis at the finish line.
"The Honolulu Marathon has enough history to give it a little bit of that Boston/New York City edge, so it's treated as a sport," said Barahal. "And that's a good thing."
For more information on the Honolulu Marathon and race-week activities, visit www.honolulumarathon.org/site3.aspx or click here to register for the race.