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Honolulu Marathon a Popular Choice for First-Timers

The appeal to new runners has many reasons.

(c) 2015 Race Results Weekly, all rights reserved. Used with permission.

HONOLULU — More than 30,000 athletes have signed up for Sunday’s 43rd Honolulu Marathon, which begins with a spectacular fireworks show over Ala Moana Beach Park.  Among the crowd gathered, roughly 37 percent of runners will be racing the marathon distance for the first time—a hefty percentage of marathon newbies who are drawn to this event for different reasons.

Of the 1,200-plus marathons held annually in the United States, thousands of athletes routinely travel here to commence their marathon careers, racing 26.2 miles for the first time. Speaking to athletes at the Honolulu Marathon Expo, this reporter heard a variety of reasons as to why they chose to race the challenging route from Ala Moana Beach Park, along Waikiki Beach, up and down Diamond Head crater before finishing in Kapiolani Park.

The rational for choosing Honolulu as a first marathon is both tradition and a bit off-the-wall. One of the more popular reasons is its location and date. Along one of the most scenic and picturesque stretches, the race route showcases many of Honolulu’s iconic destinations and natural beauty. Held in December, it makes a nice getaway for those living in the continental United States or elsewhere.

Beyond that, the draw of no time limit makes the event accessible to athletes ranging from elite Olympians to walkers. There is no cut-off, and organizers pride themselves on giving all athletes the chance to complete the course in however long its takes. According to Running USA’s most recent marathon report (covering the year 2014), Honolulu had the most finishers aged 60 or above (3,326 in 2014). Looking back an additional year to 2013, the Honolulu Marathon had the second-slowest median time (6:07:32) and the most 6-plus hour finishes (10,032, or 45 percent of finishers).

Of course, the unique finisher medals and delicious malasada treats waiting at the finish are always a big draw, too.

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At the Honolulu Marathon Expo, Race Results Weekly caught up with a few individuals who explained why they chose to race the Honolulu Marathon for the first time. The answers ranged in depth and detail, but gave a glimpse into what the race is all about: unique journeys to the start line.

The most intriguing story came from Patrick Mansfield, a native of England. Sitting in a pub back home, Mansfield made a bet with a friend that he’d come to Honolulu to do the marathon at the age of 72, proving he was healthy. That was more than a decade ago.

“I just came and I thought it would be easy,” he said, shaking his head. “I didn’t put any Vaseline on, didn’t do any of those [running] things, and it was the hardest day of my life! Truly, it was the hardest day of my life. I was in the Royal Air Force as a young man and did militant training, but that day was the hardest.”

By the time Mansfield reached 35 kilometers (or 21.75 miles), he was shaking, crying, and close to collapsing. All he could do to muster strength to finish was recite classic Winston Churchill speeches.

“It taught me a lesson, and then I decided to train and I’ve done it for the last 10 years. Nothing in my life will ever compare to that first year,” he said. “The shower after the marathon is the best shower you’ve ever had, the beer you have afterwards is the best beer you’ve ever had.”

Mansfield may have chosen to run the Honolulu Marathon for the first time as part of a bet. But it turned into a life lesson he’d cherish to this day.

“By doing the marathon I realized how easy our life is. Once a year I realize, really realize, how deep you have to go to finish, and how lucky my life is,” Mansfield said.

Speaking to other entrants, many have chosen Honolulu because it is such a community event on the island. No matter a runner’s ability, at one point or another participants get swept up by the marathon bug. Organizers also offer special discounts to runners—particularly locals—including walk-up registration at the Expo.

“I live here and this is our local race,” said Thomas Risse of Honolulu. “I’ve done five or six Honolulu Marathons now. The best part is the start and the fireworks, running through Chinatown and by City Hall all lit up. This one is my hometown race, and that’s why I started. But what differentiates it is that a lot of people who aren’t necessarily runners come out and run it or spectate. It brings a lot to our state, and is a lot different from mainland marathons. That’s why people run it and start running it. It’s a celebration.”

Fellow Honolulu resident Angela Tseng agreed.

“This will be my first time. I chose it because I live here and everyone gets excited for it and looks forward to it,” she said. “I have run in other cities, but I’m definitely looking forward to this. I look forward to the atmosphere and crowd, and experiencing the city in a different way.”

Of the athletes RRW spoke to, Brazil’s Andreia Henssler had perhaps the most interesting story. Sunday’s race will be her first marathon in North America. But more importantly, it will help her achieve a goal of running a marathon on all seven continents (including Antarctica).

“I chose it because I have a project for myself to run on all continents of the world, all seven continents,” she said with a smile. “This is my last continent.”

From Porto Alegre, Henssler summed up why most visitors wind up running the Honolulu Marathon.

“I chose Honolulu because Hawaii is very beautiful and it is very special. It is my dream to come and race here,” she said.

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