Humbled in Honolulu

Following my run in San Francisco, I looked to fill up my racing calendar again. After a little bit of searching, I settled on Honolulu. I’d run a much shorter 3 mile cross country race in Oahu 7 years ago, representing and running with my high school team.

My nerves subsided closer towards the start. I worked my way through the crush up to my corral, which was in the very front. After the national anthem and the Hawaiian state song, the race director gave a few more instructions in English and Japanese, and the starting pistol cracked through the yawning morning air shortly after.

The first few kilometers were uneventful. Some fireworks syncopated in between spectator cheers, muffling out the footsteps of fellow runners. Other runners variated their pace quite a bit, but I held my pace steady. In races with no pacers, I’d often got caught in posturing and pushing the pace too early. I let the other runners dribble by while I kept on to my target pace of 4:15 / km.

At the 5km mark, I treated myself to some of my GU chews. I resolved to eat one each 4-5km, which would last me until the finish line. The aid stations were aplenty, and I helped myself to water and Gatorade at each one. The race course now cut into the heart of Waikiki, where there were many more spectators. My pace was still consistent, and I crossed the 10km mark at 42:30, slightly ahead of schedule.

The sun hadn’t come up yet, so it was still very dark outside. The lights of Waikiki faded away as we meandered through a small residential neighborhood and up towards Diamond Head. The road gradually sloped upwards, but I kept channeling the same effort and made it up to the top of the hill with no issues. I rewarded myself with some more GU, and helped myself to more fluids at the nearby aid station.

The runners at the front had completely thinned out at the 16km mark, and I could only see 3 other athletes within my field of vision as the course straightened out onto the highway. The sky began to change colors ever so gently as I crossed the half marathon mark in 1:30:30. Although I was behind pace to hit the 3 hour mark, I knew that if I held the same pace I could definitely earn back those 30 seconds. I continued to push forward, and took a left turn at the circular loop leading into the turnaround.

Turning around back onto the straightaway, I tried pushing the pace to retrieve those missing 30 seconds. However, around the 29km mark, I felt the same cramps in my legs that I felt during my first ever marathon. I ran them off as best as I could, at the expense of my pace slowing down. The pain subsided, but made return visits every 750m.

I couldn’t cope with the pain anymore, so I threw in the towel and focused on finishing instead. I walked off the cramps as much as I could at 32km, but it was getting much harder to continue to run. Alternating running and walking, I made it back to the Diamond Head incline. However, at the crest of the hill, the niggling cramps suddenly evolved into a full-blown, excruciating pain that I’d never felt before.

No matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t move forward. It hurt to stay still, but it hurt even more to move my legs. At a loss for options, I succumbed to the pain and collapsed on the side of the road. Within minutes, two paramedics swooped in and started attending to me. They applied pressure to my leg muscles, massaging the multiple pain points. They immediately realized that I was dehydrated, and offered as many cups and bottles of fluids and electrolytes that they had. I happily consumed every serving offered while moaning in pain. The muscles in my leg bulged in ways that I’d never seen, and they looked like they would eject themselves from my leg at any moment.

The paramedics continued massaging my legs, but with less intensity, in favor of offering more liquids instead. The pain would occasionally retreat but come back a couple minutes later, visiting different parts of my lower body ranging from my hamstring to my glutes. After 45 minutes of resting and recuperating on the side of the road, the paramedics asked if I wanted to continue. They offered to call a van to take me to the finish line, but warned that this ride would disqualify me from the race. I said that I’d rest a little longer before trying to continue.

Eventually, I was able pick myself up from the curb and start walking again. I thanked the paramedics and continued onwards. With 2km to go and the course flattening out to the finish, I tried running and found no resistance from my legs. I pushed the pace once more, eager to finish the race. I hit my stride when I crossed the 41km mark, running at my previous target pace of 4:15 / km. I powered through the finish gantry, and collected my consolation prize – some food, a finishers t-shirt, and a medal.

Unfortunately, since I didn’t carry my cellphone with me, I had no way of letting my friends and family know that I was fine or that I’d finished the race. To make things worse, for some reason the race results page did not transmit my final time of 4:14:11 for the next couple of hours, which left my close ones further in the dark. I walked the 4km back to my hotel in silence, quashing any residual pain in my legs. Finally, I reached my room and answered all my messages, filling in my friends and family on what had transpired.

I was quite shaken after finishing. I realized that I’d gotten very lucky given the circumstances. I shuddered at the thought of facing the same bouts of severe dehydration while running in the Western States 100 or the Badwater 135, collapsing on the side of the trail, tens of kilometers away from the nearest aid stations, relief, medical aid, and cellphone service. All things considered, finishing the marathon was a relatively good outcome.

In the aftermath, I resolved to take a short break from racing before trying to qualify for Boston again. While this race did deal a humbling blow to my confidence, I won’t give up. I will keep trying. There will always be more races.

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