BUCKET LIST! The Kauai Marathon
If you had asked me 10, 20 or 30 years ago what I would be doing on my 50th birthday, running a marathon in Kauai would have been the farthest thing from my mind. Although I took up running in college – mainly to exercise away the previous night’s beer and pizza – and ran a lot throughout my 20’s and 30’s, I never would have dreamt I’d be running a marathon in Kauai the day after I turned 50 years old.
Throughout the last 10 years, I have run 3 Half-Marathons, mostly for charities, and I remember after completing each one, I thought, “Now, why couldn’t I just keep running and finish the whole thing?” I’m that kind of person. I like to finish. If I can do half of a marathon or anything, really, then I can do the whole thing. Whatever it is. I have always had a no fear kind of attitude. “If they can do it, I can do it,” I’ve always told myself. “If this many people can do it, I can do it, too.” This attitude has all kinds of life applications from quitting drinking wine every day to losing weight to cooking to working out to running marathons to writing books, TV, radio… I’ve never set limitations for myself; why should I start now? So, when my husband asked me what I wanted to do for my 50th birthday, I said, “Let’s go to Kauai!” I had never been to Kauai and as it turns out, The Kauai Marathon 2015 was taking place the day after my birthday and the day after we arrived.
Excitedly, we arrived in Lihue, picked up our Jeep and drove straight to The Kauai Marathon Expo at the Grand Hyatt Kauai Resort and Spa to pick up my race packet and tour the Expo. I picked up some of my new best friends, the Honey Stinger nutritional gel packs, and a lightweight Kauai Marathon race cap. Already, though, I was beginning to get a bit nervous. “This is your first marathon?” a fellow runner asked, “and you picked THIS one?” I innocently told the guy that I had heard The Kauai Marathon was one for the bucket list, that we were coming here anyway, and that it was my 50th birthday, why not?!
My husband and I then made our way to our hotel, The Sheraton Kauai Resort, where we had a stunning, very private ocean view room waiting for us. At check-in, we were greeted by Betty, the nicest associate who showered me with a gift box of Kauai chocolates and a complimentary bottle of champagne for my birthday. “Oh, I’m running the marathon tomorrow, I won’t be needing these today,” I said to Betty who quickly replied, “You’re running the marathon tomorrow! In this heat? In this humidity?” Betty went on to share the story of two Kenyan runners who just a couple of years before didn’t finish the race because it was too hard. My husband and I looked at each other with surprise. He knowing what was going through my mind which was that I may not have known what I had gotten myself in to. I decided to go forward with the race in the spirit of good fun and take it one step at a time. After all, I had spent the last month in intense training in preparation for this, my first marathon. And so, I laid out my running gear and went to bed.
Arriving the day before the marathon worked in my favor. Being 3 hours behind California, my body clock had not had time to adjust so the 4am wake-up call felt like 7am for me. Lucky me! To my joy and surprise, my husband trumped up and walked to the start of the race with me. On our way, we met a runner named Matt. Matt said, “This is your first marathon and you chose THIS one?!” With a polite sigh, I responded, “yep, I turned 50 yesterday; I’ve always wanted to run a marathon, why not run Kauai?!” Matt then gave me some sound advice. He told me not to worry about time. Matt told me just to keep running but if I felt like walking, don’t be afraid to walk. He advised that pushing too hard might make me burn out and to walk if I felt that was what I needed. I said, “okay, I understand.” And with that, I ate a snack of peanut butter (because that was the only nut butter option) on a bite of wheat and berry scone and went to the start line.
The start line was beautiful. There were Hawaiians in traditional dress carrying torches, Hawaiian music was playing, the National anthem was sung, host, Bart Yasso of Runner’s World introduced the top runners and event organizers, and over 1,650 runners for the Half and Full Marathon excitedly waited for the 6am start. My husband was there taking pictures along with countless other race supporters, family and friends. The feeling was electric. Before I knew it, I was off and running with fellow runners from all over the United States and the world. Along the course, I met a husband and wife from Japan who as it turns out, ran the full marathon and we each finished within a few minutes of each other. Hula dancers, people playing Hawaiian drums and ukuleles all streamed the streets mile after mile. Neighbors lined the roadsides with tables filled with water, ice, sunscreen, orange slices and radiant smiles and cheers. Kids high-fived runners as they passed and some handed out apple slices and Gatorade.
Along the race route were spectacular views of ranches, horses, the Kauai mountains, the ocean, and of course, chickens and roosters were at every turn. For 26.2 miles, I ran past fields of sugar cane, orchards, farms and more. At one point there was a man sitting on the side of the road next to his smoker in which he was making BBQ that smelled so good I wanted to throw in the towel right then and chow down. I passed a group of families dancing in their yard to the music of Led Zeppelin. And, sadly, I passed as many huge, dead frogs as there were miles on the island, it seems. In my entire 8 days on Kauai, I never once saw a live frog. Only large, flattened frogs along my running route during the race.
As I ran, I found a gal who seemed to run at about my speed. She was a super cute redhead with a running top on that said “Natty D Bermuda” on the back. She’d be in front of me and then I wouldn’t be able to find her. I had guessed she was way ahead of me and then all of a sudden at mile 19, she appeared right beside me. I happily shouted, “There’s my gal!” She said she’d been pacing me and I exclaimed I’d been pacing her! Turns out, her birthday was September 5th, too! We are EXACTLY 10 years apart. She turned 40 and I turned 50. What a way to celebrate! We ran and chatted about a mile or so and then we lost each other on the next hill. Did I mention the hills?
Before I even made it to Kauai somehow I had heard about the famous hills of The Kauai Marathon. And even though the race course video is loaded on to The Kauai Marathon race site, just like waiting til the last minute to study in high school and college, I still hadn’t bothered to watch it until the night before the race. So all during my training in San Juan Capistrano, I ran steep hills, and lots of them, thinking that I would be running straight up a volcanic mountain when I got to Kauai. Let me tell you something about the hills of The Kauai Marathon. A few are steep, most are long gently climbing hills, but don’t let anyone tell you these words, “Just a little more to the top of this hill and it’s all downhill from there, pretty much.” Trust me, the key words in that statement are “pretty” and “much”. There is hardly any part of the race route that does not have some kind of hill. Even when you get past the cherished and much welcome mile 23, there is a dinky little hill going in to mile 24 that will have even the nicest people cursing. “Really!”, I screamed to the running gods, “a hill at mile 24! Who put that in??!” Like the road was created with a hill right there just to annoy marathoners. Rrrrright.
To say running The Kauai Marathon was an unforgettable experience does not do it justice. From the start to the finish, every moment was to be savored. I remember my excitement at seeing the first hula dancers at mile 4 which was the moment I decided not worry about time and enjoy the journey by stopping to Periscope the dancers and music; running through the beautiful canopied Tunnel of Trees at mile 6 and stopping at least 3 times to take pictures was truly unforgettable. I recall the feeling of courage and joy as I heard Matt’s voice from earlier that day saying “don’t worry about time, stop and walk if you feel like walking” when I headed in to mile 18 and saw others walking so I decided to walk, too, but I walked only a minute or two because I knew I could keep going. I knew I could keep running and I burst into tears at the realization that I knew if I felt this strong at mile 18 that I could finish the race. The tears of joy fell into my smile and I cared not about the time, I felt proud that I had committed my mind to finishing a full marathon and my mind was willing my body to do so.
I high-fived and cheered and chanted with the hundreds of volunteers along the race route one of which, a lone volunteer at mile 13, handed me a cloth to wipe the sweat and water off my phone which I delightedly tucked back into my rockstar Flip Belt – a lifesaver accessory for any runner (or active person) that I highly recommend to everyone.
At one point, when I had 5 miles left to go, I ran by a volunteer station chanting, “I say miles, you say 5”. I’d yell, “MILES” and “5”, the volunteers would yell back. I remember when I passed mile 23, a gentleman volunteer said 3.2 to go and his wife and I said together as I ran by, “NO! Less than 3.2 to go” because every step closer was one less step to take.
Mile 23 was a key mile. It was the mile I did not stop but managed to take one last photo. The photo was of the mile 23 sign and while running, I managed to text my husband so he would know how close I was to finishing. It was also the mile where my right ankle wanted to give out but I literally spoke out loud to my ankle and told it to muster up. “You’re not quitting on me now,” I said. “You better get with the program and keep running.” And, it did. I remember mile 24 where the second burst of tears surprised me along with the sweet Japanese couple I had started the race with. We were doing it. I was doing it. I was nearly finishing my first marathon, in Kauai, one day after my 50th birthday. I was achieving a goal and fulfilling a dream. I remember seeing a blind gal running with her guide runner attached to her left arm. “If she can do it, I can do it,” I thought. And, I was.
I guess I had talked to my legs so loudly I scared determination into them. They kept running faster and faster, determined to finish strong. To my surprise, I had it in me to sprint to the finish line. Strong and happy. When I was close enough to see the time clock, I was shocked! I had finished nearly 45 minutes faster than I thought I was going to. With all the talk of hills, heat, humidity and all the scenic photos I had stopped to take, I thought it would take me 6 hours to finish. Instead, with a broad smile across my face, I finished the race in just over 5 hours. I finished 3rd in my age group, 50-54 and was faster than 50% of the men and women marathoners, a pace that was slow by many runners but a time that I felt very proud of.
Video of Susan crossing the finish line: The Kauai Marathon
My loving and supportive husband was right at the finish line to snap a video of me crossing. “You look like you could go further,” he smiled and gave me a big hug. “I probably could but I’m good,” I laughed. A few moments later, I found my running mate and new gal-pal Natty D Bermuda. We hugged, took pictures and knew we would be new #BFFs. And, as it turns out, her real life running mate and love was the 2nd place finisher and is one of the top runners in the world, Tim Price. Adding on to the post race thrill was that my new BFF Natalie and Tim were, and are, great friends with Runner’s World’s Bart Yasso and his inspirational love, Stephanie Freeman of Share Your Strong, who I was thrilled to also meet after the race. Too bad my brain wasn’t on fire when we finished. I would have loved to LIVE Periscope interviews with them. Next year! For the complete list of top finishers, visit TheKauaiMarathon.com
I want to thank Robin Jumper and The Kauai Marathon organizers and volunteers for putting on this great race, event, Expo and weekend. For me and all of the runners and their friends and family, you are helping to fulfill dreams and inspire people of all ages from all across the globe to push themselves a little farther, to aspire to good health.
I highly encourage YOU to make running this race a BUCKET LIST to-do item on your list. You’ll have the time of your life, make lifelong friends, inspire others, and achieve something great within your heart and soul.
Registration is now open for the 2016 Kauai Half Marathon and Marathon.
Move forward with courage and no fear. If I can do it, YOU can do it. I believe in you. I know you can!