Skip to: Site menu | Main content

Stranger in paradise

Honolulu's marathon has few PRs but many best times.

I managed to get to the Honolulu Marathon starting line at 5 a.m. last December, but it certainly didn't feel normal. First off, I'm not a "morning person." The idea of running at 5 in the morning rarely crosses my mind. When it does, I get over it fast.

Second, I felt a sort of culture shock at the start, since I was surrounded by some 18,000 Japanese runners, more than half of the total field of 28,000. When you put yourself in this sort of situation, out of your comfort zone, you often learn something new. And that's exactly what I found in Honolulu.

These days I'm rarely in a hurry to finish my marathons, and Honolulu was no exception. It had taken more than eight hours to fly from Chicago to Honolulu. There were eight inches of snow on the ground in Chicago, and the temperature was about 10 degrees. In Honolulu, we had 80-degree weather. You do the math. Why in the world would I hurry? I had a moment of guilt about my friends and family back in Chicago, but it passed quickly. Very quickly.

The climb up Diamond Head is tough, but it's my favorite part of the course. From the top, you see the lighthouse, surfers, and, if you're very lucky, you might even catch a distant whale breaching the waves. This has to be one of the world's most spectacular views, and I took the time to enjoy it.

A few miles later, I grew so fascinated by the runners around me that I spent as much time watching as I did running. I began to wonder what the "back" of the back of the pack might look like. To find out, I switched from a run/walk strategy to a walk/run strategy, then to an "Oh, heck, I'm just gonna walk it in" strategy. Soon I was passed by big groups of runners, many of them brightly dressed Japanese. Male, female, young, old, big, small, they just kept coming.

Some ran, or kind of ran, reduced to the marathon shuffle. Others walked. But I noticed that they didn't have the discouraged faces of runners disappointed by their seven-hour times. Instead, they walked with pride. They knew they were just about to become marathon finishers, and that was what seemed to matter most to them.

We on the mainland live in a culture of immediate gratification. We give 110 percent, and expect no less. Fast food is not fast enough. If big is good, bigger must be better. In marathons, your finishing time is paramount.

Japan has plenty of hard-driving business executives and fast marathoners. But watching these Japanese runners, I detected something different - a Zen-like approach to running and an appreciation for the experience of finishing, no matter what the final time. The rest of us might have something to learn from their example.

I certainly didn't run my best time for a marathon at Honolulu. Still, the race was, without question, my "best time." As I was flying home to the snow and cold in Chicago, I kept wishing I had taken even longer to finish.

Waddle on, friends.

Back to The Penguin Chronicles Archive