Run Your Race: Reflections After the Kaua‘i Marathon

I don’t usually write race reports, but I’m giving this a shot! It’s also included with a reflective post, so it’s less streamlined, meaty, and free-form than what I might normally post. Just to keep it clear:
Intro
Reflections
Stats and Race Report


An Intro

I landed on Kaua‘i expecting the worst.

Obviously, the island is gorgeous. It was muggy, but jumping into the car with my parents was a breath of fresh air I desperately needed. If I had shown up just to spend a weekend with them, it would have been a sense of peace, of coming home.

But there was this race to run. A marathon with a reputation: picturesque and full of aloha, but with heat and elevation that would demand your respect and push you to your limit.

So, I showed up with one goal: finish. Just get the darn race done. I was already nursing an aching left hamstring and twitchy knee. I had failed to get in a twenty-miler. This wasn’t a body built to win. I was here to enjoy the view and say I did it. If I survived, it’d be a miracle.

I’m happy to report that I survived and, surprisingly, did much better than I thought. By far the best part was having my parents at the end.


Reflection

I had a lot to think about this race. With school getting into swing, working on a number of projects, starting up The Intersection, and navigating some other life-work-things, there’s a lot of… stuff.

The Kaua‘i Marathon came at just the right time for it. Interestingly, I ran this race with almost no music playing. The only time my headphones bumped was mile 24 to 25 (a beast of a hill at the end). Besides that, I was in my own head, figuring things out and coaching myself through a very difficult race.

I usually use mantras when I run. During my first marathon, I ended up with a pacer who coached us all to chant, “I am strong, I have energy, I can do this.” I also used one from a friend, “smart, strong, focused,” to stay on track.

This marathon, I had three that have stuck with me and become part of a larger reflection I had after the run.

  • The first was “run your race.” I used this a lot at the beginning, and I’ve said it and heard it said to student runners. It’s a good reminder not to compare what you’re doing to the runner next to you, especially in an endurance race. When we see people passing us or surging, it’s natural to want to try and catch up. Sometimes, we have to fight that urge.
  • The next was a recitation of The Paradoxical Commandments, and whatever variation my run-addled brain came up with. When my adrenaline gets surging, it’s easy for me to create a competitive, even nasty internal monologue to push myself forward. I didn’t do that this race. While reflecting on some personal events in my life recently, the phrase “love them anyway” kept popping into my head.
  • Finally, for some reason, each time I went up a hill I kept repeating, “It might get some, but it won’t get me” (“It,” I’m assuming here, is the hill. Or the desire to walk up the hill? I really can’t remember.).

So, here’s what I’ve been thinking about: If we know who we are and trust in our abilities, there’s no reason to seek approval or validation from anyone else on the course who hasn’t earned that privilege. I wrote about this recently, but I’m beginning to trust myself a little more and have a better sense of what it means to follow my own instinct and integrity.

The Kaua‘i Marathon put these ideas into physical practice: I had to settle in and run my race. It would have been easy to give in to the desire to be angry or frustrated while in pain during the race– lots of people do. By refusing to give in, I  stayed true to myself and was able to stay positive throughout the race. I ran nearly all of it with a smile on my face (something spectators lovingly noticed, which pushed me to keep doing it!). That’s the kind of person I want to be and be remembered as.

When we choose to put ourselves out there online (or in any space), there’s a natural tendency to seek validation or acceptance. Many of us share our voices because we hope someone else as felt what we have, or appreciates what we have to say. When that doesn’t happen, it can be very tempting to beat ourselves up or change who we are (or the persona we put out there) in order to be easily categorized and, therefore, appreciated.

At the end of the day, though, the best we can do in any situation is seek joy and truth in being wholly and completely ourselves. As silly, angry, bubbly or blunt as that may be, as unlikeable as those people sometimes are, at a certain point all we can do is run our races, love and move past those who don’t like it, and try not to get pulled away from our own course. 


Stats and Race Report

Warning: This is long and was mostly a nice exercise for me to reflect on the technical aspects of running this race.

So! I finished:

  • 29th overall (out of 255)
  • 9th female overall (out of 20)
  • 2nd in my division (F25-29, out of 11)

Honestly, Kaua‘i was one of the toughest marathons I’ve ever faced. I really had no idea how difficult it would be until I was in the middle of it, fighting through.

My parents and I got to the race at 4:45 AM, a little over an hour ahead. Like I’ve mentioned, having them there was a huge upside to this race, and they walked with me to the start line as I tried to get calm. I was worried I had entered this race day all wrong: my body still hurt, I had eaten late last night and was worried my stomach would be tricky, and I didn’t know if I had properly trained for this.

Still, the darn thing had to get done. I crammed a quarter bagel with PB into my mouth, tried to use the restroom, and said good-bye to my parents.

The race started beautifully, with an ‘oli celebrating and thanking the island for hosting us. I was struck by how marvelously small (and well-run!) the marathon is. With only about 1,500 participants for the half and full race (and only 300 for the full marathon!), the setting was far more intimate and grassroots– and completely unlike the mayhem and glitter of the LA marathon.

We were sent off, and the first few miles were spent just trying to get into my body. My left hamstring began feeling tweaky immediately, but I did my best to breathe through it and not let it rattle me. The sun came up around mile three, and the only thing I kept noticing was how beautiful and green the scenery was.

At mile five, we entered the tunnel of trees. I had driven this part with my parents and remembered my dad’s wise word to “mind the potholes!” A few folks didn’t and tripped. There really aren’t words for how lush, spiritual, and breathtaking running quietly through these trees was. The only thing I noticed was the breath of my competitors, the sounds of beating feet, and the wind in the leaves.

Around this point, though, is when I noticed people beginning to drop. Surprisingly early, even for half-marathoners, but I have no doubt the heat played a role in that. This was my initial reminder to breath and run my race. The first six miles were all a gradual incline, which had seemed terrifying. They actually weren’t that bad. I like hills, and the slow climb up let me find a rhythm to move forward

The race then leads through a net-downhill. First, through some gorgeous farm land, then through a residential neighborhood where locals very sweetly cheered us on and clapped for us. I really started to find my groove here. I was smiling, thanking volunteers each time I grabbed water and was surprised that I hadn’t felt compelled to listen to music yet.

Around mile 8, I also popped my first Gu. I know, about 40 min late. I normally train without water or fuel in case I need to run during a zombie apocalypse or actually forget gels. This also helps make sure that my races are always better than my practice runs (I’m not recommending that to anyone, though. You should always stay properly fed and hydrated).

Mile 11 is where the course splits between the half-marathon and the full marathon. I joked with the volunteer and asked if I could change my mind. He laughed and said to stick to my race.

I understand why I needed the reminder. As soon as you make the right turn and decide to run the full marathon, the course slaps you in the face with a brutal half mile climb that was best run as a “slog.” It’s empty, and so there’s no one else on the course but you, the other runners, and everyone’s collective pain. This is where, mentally, mantras became huge.

After a half mile to recharge with a flat and an aid station, the course beats you up again with another hill! It was mentally so hard to push past this point, but I kept deciding that I would not get bogged down by the hills (though I did walk a few times). I eat hills for breakfast, I thought as I padded up. This is where I started passing some folks.

At the half-marathon mark, we enter a gorgeous, cool flat. A timer marked us on the course, and after yelling out my half time (2:01), one of the race directors shouted, “You’re thirteenth female overall!”

I was taken aback. I had never been anywhere near top ten in the overall female division of any race. “Seriously?!” I called back.

“Yes!” he laughed, “so keep moving!”

I thanked him and kept pushing forward. I felt positive and wanted to stay with that feeling and not get caught up in competing.

At mile 14, we hit another admittedly beautiful hill, and the woman in front of me was in sight. I was determined not to surge. She was walking, so I decided to just keep my pace and see what happened. I was able to catch up, and she congratulated me as I did, saying, “you’re running strong. Great work.”

I was so thankful for her kindness in that moment. I returned the sentiment and kept moving.

I don’t remember much about miles 15 through 18, except that it was hilly, brutal, and beautiful. That, and the spectators and volunteers truly make this course fantastic. They played music, had signs, clapped for us, set up how made aid stations, music, and were so full of generosity and love. One aid station played “Eye of the Tiger” as they strummed air guitars and took my photo.

Another interesting note: because the race is so sparse (300 total participants!), there were long stretches where I was running alone or was the only person at an aid station. This made it feel awesome and personal though occasionally made me worried I had gone off course!

After reaching the top of Kalaheo, I was able to catch my breath a bit and start back down hill. The course meets back up with itself here, and I began to run into folks at the fifteen-mile mark of their race. Many congratulated us as we ran by and encouraged us to keep it up, or told me to keep smiling. I did the same and was reminded how strong and open the running community can be.

At mile twenty-one, I went past the half-marathon timers. They took my time again, and told me I was now eleventh overall female. I was thrilled but knew I needed to not let my excitement force me to burn out in the last five miles.

Another big hill followed, and another racer and I exchanged encouragement as I pushed past him. Hills really are where I come into my own as a runner, and I’m glad I trained on them so much these past few months.

I don’t remember much until mile 24 when the last big hill happened. This is one of the first years I really studied the course and its elevation, so I knew this was the final hill. The tenth place woman was in sight, and as we came into the aid station at the top of the hill, I gulped down water and knew I had to get moving if I wanted to at least keep my place. With the last two miles ahead, I decided now was the time to let myself get a little competitive.

We coasted down towards the finish line, and I eventually caught up with the woman ahead of me. She congratulated me, but I told her we still had a few miles to go. She pulled ahead, and I knew her pace was just fast enough to edge me out. I decided I was okay with that. As we hit mile 26, people cheered us on and I yelled for both her and I to finish strong.

The end in sight, I began to try and kick as much as my body would let me. I had spent everything on this course, though, and it was only seeing my mom and dad frantically waving at the end that brought me speeding in with a smile on my face.

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After, I looked up and saw that I had come in at 4:07. Only 3 minutes over my PR! I was ecstatic, and really believe that keeping a positive outlook got me there.

Overall, this race went well. No stomach issues, fueled consistently every 4-5 miles, stayed hydrated and cool, and followed my normal strategy of a conservative first half and a faster second. This time, the training paid off.


*phew* Okay, that was longer, but way more fun than I thought it would be to write. I may need to try and do this again.

One thought on “Run Your Race: Reflections After the Kaua‘i Marathon

  1. Doug says:

    Great race report. Makes me miss racing even more than I already do AND miss Hawaii. Sounds like you had the proper mindset the whole time, easily the hardest part about endurance events. Way to kick ass and get it did.

    Like

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