Saturday, September 26, 2015

Rejoice, It Is Finished - Kaua'i Marathon and 50 States

I could have named this post "The Walking Dead" just as easily as from Jesus' last words upon the cross when he took a drink knowing that the Scripture had been fulfilled. "When he had received the drink, Jesus said, “It is finished.” With that, he bowed his head and gave up his spirit." John 19:30 NIV.  I could have given up my spirit many times in the Kauai Marathon.  It was by far my most challenging marathon.  The 15 year journey before it had its peaks and valleys running through the 50 states culminating in this run in paradise. But it was an extremely low valley that I had to run through in this marathon.

Kaua'i, the garden island, is paradise.  The overabundance of rain and sun make it a lush tropical garden with vibrant flowers, crashing waterfalls and piercing hues of green. One area in the middle of the island is one of the wettest spots on Earth with rain 340 days a year and an average of 384 inches.  Yet, the sunny south of Poipu (meaning hole in the sky) sees quick showers, enough to keep the garden lush and abundant sun.  Kaua'i is also the home of the only coffee plantation in the U.S., Kaua'i Coffee.  Kaua'i is also the oldest of the Hawaiian islands potentially dating back 5 million years. It has left the island with unparalleled beauty from its deep canyons like Waimea Canyon (the Grand Canyon of the Pacific) to the spires and caves of the gorgeous Na Pali Coast.  The cliffs around Shipwreck Beach in Poipu have been battered by high surf leaving jagged colorful volcanic ruins as backdrops to the best sunrises on the island.  We could not help ourselves but to get up every morning for the sunrise.  There is no better place to start a day.

Waves just outside of resort
Volcanic landscape
I joined the 50 states marathon club in 2005 after completing marathons in 10 states. Even then, my plan was to run the last of the 50 states in Hawaii.  At the time I wasn't sure where it would be although Maui appealed to me, having been there before.  Wherever it was going to be, I really wanted to finish somewhere in Hawaii to combine the finish with some rest and relaxation on a beautiful tropical island. The Kaua'i marathon started in 2008 and it wasn't long after, with some research, that it was the one I was going to target for my 50 states finish.

Going in, I knew that this was going to be a tough marathon with the predominant 3 H's; hills, heat and humidity.  Living in North Carolina and running through the soup of the summer, I thought, "How much hotter and more humid could it actually be than North Carolina?"  They have trade winds, right?  I am a terrible runner in humidity, particularly, high humidity combined with heat.  Then, when you add in the hills, it becomes the perfect storm for a disastrous day.  To say the least, from mid-July after Missoula to marathon morning in Kaua'i, I was concerned.  As it turned out, rightly so.

Kaua'i is a long, long trip from the east coast, nearly 17 hours of travel time and they are 6 hours behind east coast time since they do not observe daylight savings time.  I would suggest going a few days earlier to rest and adjust from the travel and time difference.

Landing in Honolulu
The Grand Hyatt Kaua'i is a wonderful resort and certainly one of the best places that I have stayed.  It also serves as the host hotel for the marathon.  The rooms are heavily discounted, much less than Boston or New York hotels.  We had an ocean view room with a balcony that overlooked the grounds and surf.  Since the surf was so high early in our stay, the sound of heavily crashing waves at night was like being serenaded to sleep. There are a myriad of restaurants from Hawaiian cuisine to Sushi to Italian to basic American.  The resort has a cascade of pools including a lazy river and a salt water lagoon.  It sits on shipwreck beach, not really conducive to swimming but has stunning views during walks, hikes and relaxation.  There is an open air terrace that serves drinks, light food, has nightly entertainment, and a resort cat that somewhat befriended us for breakfast.  A full-service spa is also on the grounds amid lush gardens.  The reason I wanted Hawaii as my last state was to not only enjoy a run in paradise but to vacation, rest, relax and have some fun as well.  We were happy that we made the Grand Hyatt our base hotel for the entire vacation. Later, I will show something very special that the Hyatt did for me in recognizing my 50 state achievement.

Room with a view
Sunrise -  a guy fishing
Crashing waves and Cindy
Heavy surf

Grand Hyatt from the lagoon
Resort bird
The Hyatt also held the marathon's expo.  Although relatively small, the marathon merchandise was top notch.  It was the most I had ever spent at an expo on the marathon's branded merchandise.  It was moderately priced and pretty special. Two of the prized items were beach towels and shirts with branded logos under the name imprinted in white of every participant in both the half and full marathons. Another item was a beautiful branded technical shirt done in blue with the Hawaiian islands on the back and a large rooster imprinted on the side wrapped around the front.  Chickens run wild and feral all over the island so it is appropriate that one adorns a marathon shirt.  The actual marathon shirt ran really small so size up to get the right fit.  I ended up buying a towel, two shirts, a hat and then a shirt and visor for Cindy. She is as much of this marathon process as I am in the most supportive way.

The Expo
A chicken trespassing
The two days prior to the marathon we just relaxed.  Friday was a pool day using the lower level pools and the slide.  I can't remember the last time I was on a water slide in a pool but this one was quite fun and fast.  With 6 hours time difference, we were also up early to see the beautiful sunrise over Shipwreck beach nearly every morning.  We just could not get enough of the sunrises over the jagged cliffs, harsh surf, and palm trees.  Saturday, after the sunrise and a short walk toward Poipu beach to catch 8-10 foot waves crashing on volcanic rock, we ventured to the Expo.  We decided to drive to Waimea Canyon, the Grand Canyon of the Pacific after the Expo and explore the west side of the island. As I mentioned earlier, the island gets a lot of rain so the farther we drove on the ridge of the canyon, the foggier and wetter it got.  There were breaks to tease us with the beauty of the canyon but we truly could not see much of it.  We were able to see one of the stunning waterfalls along the 14 mile long, 3000 feet deep canyon but not in all its glory.  That would come on our doors-off helicopter ride on Monday.  On our way back, we had some "shave ice", a giant snowball type thing packed with flavor over finely shaved ice.  And yes, it is actually called shave ice and not shaved ice.

The slide and Cindy
8-10 foot waves
Race day came early with a 6 AM start.  I would have even welcomed a 4 AM start.  I was still feeling nervous after now experiencing the humidity and heat for two days and knowing that the weather is more intense than North Carolina weather, particularly amidst their heat wave that was even making Hawaiians uncomfortable.  Obviously, this marathon, being my 50th state, had been on my mind for quite some time.  I wanted to make it special and dreamed of all kinds of things to do so before, during and after.  I know, in the grand scheme of things of life and death, it is not really a big deal.  It is really, as we would call it in sales, a so what kind of thing.  But, when you have spent about a third of your life (15 to 20 years for me) aiming to achieve something, no matter what it is, sticking to it, not quitting through the lows, enduring, persevering and meeting the challenge, then it becomes pretty special. So, here I am in Kaua'i with Cynthia Anne to make this special.

I wanted to wear something Patriotic to show that this was an American journey, running  a marathon in all 50 states, thus visiting this great country of ours in its entirety.  No, one doesn't have to run a marathon to do that.  Some people visit every state capital, some go to state parks, etc. However, I do think running a marathon in each state gives you a unique experience particularly when you combine the marathon with local culture.  I was going to wear a 50 States Marathon Club shirt for the finish but InkNBurn produced this wonderful Uncle Sam tuxedo type shirt that fit perfectly with the USA theme.

The start is at the Poipu shopping village, about 2 miles from the Grand Hyatt.  Shuttles ran from the Hyatt but only available to runners.  There was ample parking at or near the start (and finish) so we drove and parked along Plantation Road right across from the shopping village.  The spread for breakfast prior to the marathon was the best I had ever seen presented at a marathon.  As a a matter of fact, I've never seen breakfast at a marathon. We chatted with a few maniacs and 50 states finishers and then went about our normal routine.  The start was lead by fire dancers along tiki torch lighted Poipu road.  It truly looked like what an island marathon is supposed to look like.  Ironically, after my day, maybe even Survivor-like.

Waiting for the start
Almost time
Knowing that this was going to be a difficult marathon, even in the best of conditions, my strategy was to do 11 minute miles where generally I am between 9:45 and 10:15 these days.  Gosh, how age slows us.  Even for the first half, I could not hold an 11 minute per mile pace.  I ended up at nearly 12 minutes per mile which is unheard of for me.  I am typically between 9 and 10 minute miles for the half and a sub 2 hour half-marathoner.  For Kaua'i I thought that I would finish around the 5 hour mark seeing that the winner in my age group last year was around 4:25, my normal finish time for a marathon these days.  If I could have run that, I would have been about 35th overall.  The half marathon time of 2:36 was putting me outside of the 5 hour finish range.  I knew that I had the hardest part of the marathon ahead of me although the first half was no picnic.The second half was a walk, stop, walk not even a run, walk, run.  It took me nearly 4.5 hours to do the second half finishing in 7:04.  To this day, it is hard for me to fathom.

A depleted finish
So what happened?  In essence, it was the 3 H's, the perfect storm as described earlier.  But lets dissect it.  The first 7.5 miles was uphill so that was the first challenge.  Starting at 6 AM helped but the humidity was still high without the troubling heat.  I say without the heat but it was still over 70 degrees.  I managed the first 11 miles well, running 10:30's to 11:00's as planned.  All things considered I felt decent.  I took in water, Powerade and Gu in the appropriate amounts and times. At 7.5 miles, we got a reprieve from the hills for the next 3 miles.  I felt decent running downhill but I was starting to feel the effects of the humidity and hills and then I hit mile 10.8.  I say specifically mile 10.8 because this is where the half marathoners and the marathoners split.  They went downhill and we went uphill and hence the difference between running a half and a full. I've been "done" early in marathons before but not at mile 11.  For the next 3 miles I tried to combine running and walking and then I just gave out and resorted to walking.  Even when I tried to start running again, my body would not accommodate it.  I knew then that the mental struggle was going to be as difficult as the physical one.  The course continues to climb through miles 16-17 with some downhill areas although few and far between.  The sun was also hot and there was no shade.  At mile 19, on a prolonged uphill, I knew I was in trouble.  this is where I seriously considered a DNF.  In 88 previous marathons, not only have I never DNFed but I hadn't even had to consider it.  My upper back was aching but more than that, my muscles just didn't want to move and I started feeling nauseous  now thinking that digestion was shutting down.  I have had that feeling before in Ultras and knew it was to become a problem.  The only other time I had thrown up in a marathon/ultra was in Clearwater on a very humid Florida morning and I did it just after crossing the finish line. Bad, bad, bad.  I continued my trek up the hill and thinking I might be at the top turned a corner to more hill.  More hill please! I passed some local residents who were cheering on the runners. I ventured halfway up the hill to 20 miles and then needed to sit on a guardrail as I felt like collapsing.  As I sat, one of the race volunteers on a scooter attended to me and asked if I was OK.  I said that I thought so but asked for some ice.  As I sat for a few minutes, I could tell that I was going to be sick.  I must have thrown up 5 times at that point removing nearly everything from my stomach. The more I did, the better I felt. The thought of DNF still crossed my mind.  The resident came to my aid as well with a wet towel and more ice.  the volunteer helped with the ice and gave me some more fluid.  I decided to keep going.  Another crew of runners came by and one happened to be another guy finishing the 50 states, the guy who couldn't get bib 50 because I requested it just days before he did back in October.  He was encouraging and said to keep it going and said to the volunteer, "don't let him stop."  Miles 20-22 were downhill and I felt better.  Even the volunteer who was sort of watching after me said that I had a little more spring in my step.  It was still not a running type of spring but enough to keep going.  There was a slight hill at mile 22 and it seemed that anytime I had to go uphill, I became exhausted and taxed. At mile 22, the same volunteer asked an aid station crew if i could sit under their tent for a few minutes.  I sat down, head nearly between my legs and felt the nauseousness again.  I stepped away behind a bush and let go again, throwing up 3 times.  I am sure it wasn't pleasant for the volunteer aid crew to listen to but at least I went out of sight. Being closer to the finish, I knew that I had to keep going.  The scooter lady said that there were only two more small hills around mile 23.  So, off I go to get to the finish.  I was worried about Cindy worrying about me.  I did not have my phone.  As I write this now, I am thinking I should have just borrowed one to call her - stupid me.  The small hills came and went at mile 23 and the course finally started to go downhill and flattened out.  Of course, by this time I was a dead man waling, zombie march, you name it.  I got to mile 25 and started to feel really bad and saw an actual aid van.  I walked over and they asked if I am OK.  I said that I wasn't sure but did they have any ice.  They got me some ice, packed it under my hat and on my neck. I was sitting on the side of the van and then went down to the ground to sit.  Nauseous again, I went to the back, walked over behind a tree and threw up again.  I heard them say to another scooter volunteer, "we could take him down to the finish" and the other one say, "but he is so close to finish."  Obviously at this point, there was no way I was going to come up 1 mile short of a 50 states finish.  Although the upside would have been that I would need to come back to Hawaii to run again - OK maybe that would not be such upside. I told them that I had thrown up before and each time I felt better afterward.  So, again, I continue my journey for the last mile seeing some familiar buildings and then the beautiful ocean-side finish.  A scooter guy came by and told me Cynthia was waiting.  I felt bad because she had to wait so long and didn't know my status.  I turned a corner, ocean waves crashing on one side and the finish line in sight.  I could not even garner enough energy to run through the finish - first time ever.  There was hardly anyone there, some cheerleaders who I high-fived and Cynthia Anne who I hugged.  An announcer still called out my name and accomplishment - All 50 states.  I guess it is fitting that this final 50 states marathon was the toughest and took the most grit and determination to get to the finish.  Thank you volunteers and residents for helping me throughout.

Looking good from the start
Lush green in the first few miles
The day brightens
Sunrise at mile 5
The finish is truly beautiful
Says it all
Finally to the finish and still people cheering - I didn't finish last
After an IV in the medical tent

After crossing the finish line, I went straight into the medical tent initially to sit down a bit and  to get more ice. They asked if I wanted an IV and I said no.  I have never had an IV for any reason.  Once they learned that I had thrown up multiple times and was cramping, they suggested I get an IV.  As it turned out, I needed two.  I felt much better after those infusions.  We went back tot he hotel and I napped.  Usually we go do some other activity like hike, take in a zoo, etc. but those 7 hours were enough for both Cynthia and me.  She is a trouper and is always there at the finish and is in essence, why I keep striving for the finish.  God was with me this day for something as trivial as a marathon.  When I was walking along I kept thinking of the fleeing refugees walking hundreds of miles with their belongings and kids just for one iota of a better life.  There was no reason for me to quit from something as minuscule as a marathon when they are waling for their lives.  We are so blessed living in this country and the life and opportunities that we have.  All said and done, I would still highly recommend this marathon as a destination marathon.

Engraved Koa wood box given to me by the Grand Hyatt (Bryce Bertoli) for my 50 states achievement - quite special
The rest of our vacation was quite special with a doors off helicopter ride (Mauna Loa Helicopter tours) over the entire island, a venture to a beach to enjoy some surf, a catamaran snorkel sail (Capt. Andy's) to the Na Pali coast and then a zip line safari (Outfitters Kaua'i) that involved flat water kayaking, hiking, platform and swing jumping into fresh water ponds and zip lining (800 feet and 1800 feet.)  We also did a 4 mile hike along the ragged coast of shipwreck beach to a secluded beach where a endangered monk seal was lounging.  On our snorkel trip we saw spin dolphins and sea turtles. We toured the only coffee plantation in the United States - The Kaua'i Coffee company. The island's beauty was everywhere and we tried to take advantage of it at every opportunity.  There were over 2000 pictures taken (darn those digital cards!) wo I had to choose a few to show the beauty.

Fantasy Island falls - appeared on the show
Cynthia Anne

 These photos were taken from our helicopter tour.

Ready for our doors-off helicopter tour
Jurassic Falls - yes from the movies

Waimea Canyon

Falls are truly spectacluar
Na Pali Coast, maybe the most beautiful coastlines in the world
Na Pali Coast
Na Pali Coast
Na Pali Coast
Na Pali Coast
Jurassic Falls from a different camera :)

Twin falls

These photos taken from our catamaran snorkel trip

Sea turtle
Spinner dolphins - they were everywhere
More spinners
The Na Pali coast from the boat
Beautiful cave
The spires
Sailed right along the coast

Cindy sporting the island chicken hairdo

These photos were taken on our zip line safari - kayaking, hiking, zip lining, swimming  

Flat water kayaking down Huleia Stream
I'm doing the work as Cindy is taking the picture :)
Fountain of youth - we used a rope to swing into the middle and jumped in
Look for the sleeping guy in the mountain
Geared up to go zip lining (800 and 1800 feet zip lines
First look - only 800 feet
Double zip line 1800 feet - gravity stop - few hundred feet in the air
Not us here but we did the same thing and also used the upside down technique
We jumped off the 18 foot platform on the left here
Hiking back
These photos were taken on our hike on the Maha'ulepu Heritage Trail, the most beautiful hike that we did on the island.

Heading to that beach way over there
Made it and we were the only ones there except for the Monk Seal
I hope to properly write about my 50 states adventure and truly all of my marathon adventures.  So what's next?  I'll be running my 15th consecutive Baltimore Marathon in October while celebrating their 15th anniversary.  With 89 marathons after Baltimore, my next quest will be 100.  I am also at 96 marathons/ultras.  I can't run fast, relatively speaking, any longer but I can certainly still run and as long as I can beat the finish cutoff time and be healthy doing it, I'll keep going and Cynthia will be my rock.

Wild island pigs/boars

Loved this lighthouse picture on the east side of the island
Grand Hyatt
Sunset from our dinner
Fine vacation