The first time tears pooled in the corners of my eyes and threatened to overflow was at the intersection of Ala Moana Boulevard and Piikoi. The skies had just darkened again after a round of fireworks lit up the pre-dawn Waikiki morning to celebrate the start of the 40th Honolulu Marathon
. Big, burly guys with bullhorns hollared for bystanders to clear the road because the first racers were rolling through downtown Honolulu and about to round the corner. And I do mean rolling. A phalanx of bicyclists escorted the wheelchair racers through the 26.2-mile course. The crowd responded with cheers, a kind of verbal fist bump, and I teared up as a blur of wheels whizzed past me.
The next time I found my eyes watering may have been when the Japanese couple ran past me. By now, my 10K Race Day Walk had started. We were in Waikiki, five miles along the 6.4 course, the sun threatening to crest Diamond Head on a not-too-cool/not-too-hot morning. Tethered behind the running man was another, older man, in another kind of wheelchair and wearing a Santa hat. A woman ran behind Santa, steering his chair. Someone yelled, "Hi Santa," and the old guy beamed and waved. He was having the time of his life.
Certainly not the last time I teared up was when I finally approached the finish of the 10K walk at Kapiolani Park. I had already paused to take pictures of Iolani Palace and Honolulu Hale, all lit up for the holidays. I had even peeled off the course to order a grande-no-water-five-pump-chai-tea-latte at Starbucks. (This was not a race for me. Obviously.) The sun was beaming herself, adding a glow to the night lights of the city by the sea.
My long legs striding--when I did walk, I tried to do so with purpose--I overtook a man wearing a sweat-stained, grey t-shirt. I'd almost passed
him when I read the back of his shirt. Listed on it were his times for dozens of previous marathon attempts, going back to 1974, the second year of the Honolulu Marathon.
I slowed, raised a non-toting Starbucks hand to his back. "Congratulations," I said.
He smiled those charming grins that old men have. "Thank you," he said.
"How far are you going today?" I asked.
"We'll see," he said.
To my right, the Race Day Walk Finish Line banner ruffled almost imperceptibly in the absent-but-returning trade winds.
"I hope you have a good day today," I said. And as he walked on, my eyes dropped to the bottom of his t-shirt where his more recent times were printed. Twleve hours. He had another ten to go.
I accepted my Race Day Walk finisher's certificate and paper fan, snapped a couple photographs of keiki performing a cute but cheesy hula to a Christmas song, and chomped a warm malasada made on the premises. By the time I made my way to the marathon finish line, Wilson Kipsang had already completed his 26.2 miles in two hours and 12 minutes, collecting his very first Honolulu Marathon win. He'd also already donned a post-race sweat suit.
Wilson Kipsang was the same man I saw the night before all crisply dressed in his sponsor's clothing with bright-white-new running shoes on his feet. We stood on the beach in front of Outrigger Reef on the Beach
, where all the elite runners were staying. I'd set up my tripod and big girl camera, taking pictures of Diamond Head at sunset. He gazed straight out to sea at the horizon, a look that told me he was already getting his game face on. Oh, how I wanted to know what was going through his mind at that moment. Was he envisioning all 26.2 miles of the next day's race. Did he see himself crossing the finish line first? Was he repeating some mantra over and over and over again? But, for once, I kept my questions to myself, not wanting to be the one to throw off his game. This race was a big deal for him. Big.
When I learned the winner was the same man who had captured my intrigue the night before, I felt the pressure behind my eyes again. A short time later, when the first age-group winner crossed the finish line, a teenager from Japan, I joined a happy mother crying and squealing, sharing no language but happiness for a good day. A really good day. Then, there were the four-hour-plus finishers. Some triumphant, arms raised. Others wearing tortured faces but no less determined. I cried tears for them all. Because I am a sucker for the underdog as well as the elite athlete, anyone who faces a challenge and gives their absolute all. Like the people who participate in the Honolulu Marathon.
And now it's time for a nap.