Marathon day started with a wake-up call at 2:15am. It's funny how 2:15 didn't seem so ridiculously early as my body was filled with anticipation, and there were so many things to do before getting to the starting line. Showering, slathering my legs with arnica gel, preparing the sports drink bottles I wear on a belt, ensuring I had the right amount of Gu packets to squish into my mouth as quickly as possible while tasting as little as possible along the 26.2 mile route (for quick carbohydrates), and most importantly, stretching. I was out the door of the hotel by 3:30 to walk over to the zoo at Kapi'olani Park to wait in lines with many, many others to catch a shuttle bus to the starting line at Ala Moana Park, feeling extremely glad that the rain had stopped. A Japanese woman bowed before sitting down next to me, thus not breaking the silence on the school bus. A very quiet ride got me near the start at 4:00am. It seemed, like me, everyone was in their own space. Anticipating.
I walked across the soggy grass/mud of Ala Moana Park away from the beach to Ala Moana Boulevard, hearing announcements ahead, while focusing on finding a route that might keep my shoes dry. Quietly. Not thinking about much of anything, definitely feeling more anxious. I found the sign for the 3-4 hour runners and stood in a spot near the front. My friend Linda had given me a plastic rain poncho, which turned out to be a great thing to spread on the wet pavement to sit down on and stretch. Announcements... 37 minutes until race time... announcements in Japanese... more announcements in Japanese... yet more announcements in Japanese (over 60% of the runners are from Japan)... 25 minutes to race time. 15 minutes to race time. Feeling the weird combination of calm, adrenalin, anxiety, emotion welling up inside of me. Having a coach from the AIDS Marathon tap me on the shoulder and ask me if everything felt good and I was ready. Feeling grateful, in my 2006 AIDS Marathon singlet, to be part of the larger group even though I wasn't really.
The gun went off, fireworks lit up the sky, I threw the poncho aside on the median, and the mass of 24,000 or so people started moving forward through the starting gate. At that moment my eyes got teary, and names popped into my head. Jeff Doutt, Rick Fuller, Russ Bowman, Rev. Alan Chalfant, and so many others I have known, loved, and lost to AIDS and I felt like I had company. It brought all of what I was feeling into focus. It occurred to me that I wasn't running alone and I was thankful.
In a little over 2 minutes from the gun, I passed through the starting gate, pressing my watch to keep track of my own pace. Jogging slowly through the mass of other runners as people gradually sorted themselves out. It takes a couple miles to find a pace in the crowd even though I was so far up in front.
A half mile into the marathon, the sky opened up and it poured. And poured. It felt cool, and that was good, yet I was aware that running 26.2 miles with wet feet might not be great. I kept going. Through downtown Honolulu, past the group of Santa Clauses cheering from a bar on Nu'uanu Street, past fabulous Christmas lights (they do great lights in Honolulu!), running back in the direction of Waikiki, amazed that people were out so incredibly early in the morning, in the rain, cheering us on. Past our hotel, happy to hit 10k in 57 minutes with the rain and constant keeping track of puddles and other runners.
Past Kapi'olani Park and up Diamond Head. The road up Diamond Head was like running upstream. Splashing from runners around me, occasional dry spots with the only sound being squishing shoes in the dark, reaching the top of the hill and being glad to be running gently downhill. Applauding the first of the wheelchair racers zooming past in the other direction around mile 8 thinking how amazing it was that he had already gone over 24 miles. Getting to the bottom of the hill, and realizing I had forgotten about the next hill on the backside of Diamond Head. Back up. Running in the rain, very aware of my squishy feet, but grateful that the rain made it feel cooler.
Mile 11 and the start of the run out the Kalanianiole Highway to the loop through Hawai'i Kai and the return. The rain stopped and I ran through the Half Marathon point at 2:02 thinking that this run was nearly a duplicate of 2006. Almost exactly the same split times. At mile 17 in the Hawai'i Kai loop, I looked out toward the ocean and thought to myself, 'uh oh... the clouds are breaking up.' Not the happiest sight, because I knew how long the run back on the Kalanianiole Highway feels, and if the sun came out it would become hot and (even more) humid.
The sun started peeking out at about mile 19, a significant point in the marathon. It is the point where fatigue starts to seriously set in. I stopped at every water station, sick of gatorade at this point and running further up for plain water and an ice water sponge to squish over my head, down my back, on my forehead, wiping salt out of my eyes. It was quickly getting hotter and more humid. Looking ahead at the highrise near the Kahala Mall, knowing that I was getting closer to getting to the offramp of the seemingly endless Highway. I kept thinking, you've only got 7 (6) (5) miles left and you know those easy lengths from so many training runs. People alongside the road cheered us on, some offering pieces of banana or salty chips.
At the highway offramp and mile 22, one of the AIDS Marathon coaches ran alongside me for a short bit asking how I was doing, whether I wanted a salt packet, saying I looked strong. Simultaneously, there was a large group of AIDS Marathon supporters lining the course yelling out my name (written on my singlet) and cheering while holding up signs saying "You are Heroes!" I can't begin to say how grateful I was for them at that moment, and felt more energized.
At mile 23 I started bargaining with myself. I had flashing halos at the edges of my vision and wondered what was up. I bargained to run to the next water stop, walk through it, take my time, drink a whole cup of water, squish the sponge over me, and start running again when it felt right. At mile 24 I did the same. Then I bargained with myself to run to the top of the Diamond Head Hill. Just as I was about to say 'screw it' and walk another AIDS Marathon coach magically appeared, said I still looked strong, and showed me a landmark to focus on at the top.
I did it, even though that landmark was rather annoyingly a couple hundred yards short of the top. When I got there I had completed my bargain and I stopped running. I walked. Hot, fatigued, knowing I was near mile 25, close to the end, yet my body didn't want to run a step further. I reminded myself that I had nearly run an entire marathon and at this point the time didn't matter. I would finish. And then I thought, 'Gary, you're going downhill. Use it.' And I got my body running again. At the bottom of the hill, bargain completed, I walked. And walked. Finally saying to myself, 'there is the last straightaway. I will run through to the finish, because there is no way I'm walking through the finish line.'
I ran to the finish. Brad and Linda were a quarter mile from the end. I was so overwhelmingly happy to see them yelling my name, cheering, lots of AIDS Marathon people there to cheer me on, and I ran through the finish line at 4 hours and 27 minutes. And I kept running. I saw this woman look at me weirdly, and realized it was time to stop. A woman put a shell lei over my head and I walked directly to the banks of cold showers set up in the road straight ahead and stood under one, realizing that I was dizzy and needed to hang on to the water pipes above the line of showers to stand up. I stood there for several minutes before I felt I could walk off the course and through the lines of people offering ice water. I did a little zig-zag on my way through the exit gate, a cup of water in each hand, the peripheral 'halo' movement in my vision still there.
There were so many people, I wasn't wearing my glasses, and I hoped Brad and Linda would see me. I decided to walk through muddy Kapi'olani Park to the tent where runners picked up their medals and t-shirts, and Linda and Brad were right there. We walked over to the AIDS Marathon tent, where I was welcomed, and a woman made me the most incredibly delicious peanut butter and strawberry jelly sandwich I may have ever eaten. Brad brought salty Chex-Mix, POG, my glasses and a pair of flip-flops to change into. My feet were in surprisingly good shape! I was so glad to finally sit down.
After awhile there, I said the only thing I wanted to do was sit in the ocean and feel the warmth of the water. I finished. And once again why I was there popped into my head. Tears returned along with a smile.