The great runner, George Sheehan, once said, “Sweat cleanses from the inside. It comes from places a shower will never reach.” If that is true, then after yesterday morning, I must have the cleanest insides in all of Hawaii.
I lined up for the Hibiscus Half Marathon yesterday morning, in Kapiolani Park at 5:25 in the morning, not really knowing what to expect. My training has been off for the last few weeks, I have not been sleeping well and I have struggled with the heat, when running for longer periods than about 1 hour 45 minutes.
With the early dawn light appearing from behind the clouds, the race director gave the instructions, the National Anthem was played and then, amidst a good bit of tension, the starting horn was blown. I began running and was immediately into my stride. I was feeling good and the first mile was completed in 6:45, well below my calculated pace for a sub-90 minute result. Everything was going well and I was in my comfort zone.
Then, the course quickly veered left and we began climbing up Diamond Head. My heart rate responded accordingly and started to creep up. I felt fine though because I have done this climb in training dozens of times and know the road very well. But, I found after three miles that I had lost nearly a minute on my goal pace and I had really started sweating. A lot. Buckets and buckets of sweat poured out of me. This continued until Mile 6, when I calculated that I was already almost three minutes off my pace, and I was beginning to really struggle.
I took water at every station and drank the full cup, but I was losing so much fluid that it wasn’t nearly enough. By the ninth mile, I had settled in to a better rhythm and maintained my three-minute deficit. I started thinking that I would continue with a steady pace, until the 11th mile and then run hard to try to take back some of the time I had lost. This sort of bartering helps pass the time and keeps your mind off the dull ache that engulfs your body and grows more tangible with every passing mile.
I continued, running in the shade wherever I could and drinking as much as I could at each aid station. Inevitably, the road shifted up again, as we approached the other side of Diamond Head and another climb. I picked up the pace and began to pull back a small group of runners that had been just ahead of me for most of the race. My pulse monitor displayed the effort – 181 beats per minute. The Mile 11 marker came into sight. I checked my watch and there was still only about three minutes that I needed to make up. I slowed slightly to take some more water and Gatorade at the approaching aid station. It was then that I felt my left thigh seize up. The cramp was so bad that I had to stop. I regrouped, drank the fluids, stretched slowly and began running again.
My legs were cooperating but they were now very sore and I knew that I was not going to be able to push the pace during the last few miles, as I had hoped. The road started to tilt upwards and I sensed the race and my goal time slipping away from me. My legs really started to hurt. I ran easy up the hill and back down the other side. At the bottom, I checked my watch again and saw that I had now conceded over six minutes on my goal pace time.
The end was near though and I had to push on. With a bit of luck and a slight burst of speed, I could still try to come in under 95 minutes, That would be a very good time for a very difficult course on a very hot day. I completed Mile 12 and was concentrating on nothing else but crossing the finish line. I found that, in doing so, my pace had picked up somewhat and I was running hard again. My legs, however, objected to this increase in speed. Several meters past the Mile 12 marker I began cramping again and, once more, had to stop. This time it was more difficult to relax the cramps. I stretched for a minute or two and started running again very, very slowly. I was inside the last mile but there was no strength left in my legs. It felt like I was moving and yet it seemed that I was staying in the same place. I could see the finish line and yet it seemed that I was not drawing any closer to it. The sweat just kept pouring out of me, cleansing the inside.
In the end, I crossed the line in 1:39:20. A good time, but far short of the goal that I had set for myself. I finished 53rd overall (out of 815 finishers) and eighth in the Male 40-44 age group (out of 41 finishers), which are both very respectable. It’s a result that I wish was better but I can accept it. I have learned from the race and am one step closer in the constant process of understanding what I can and can not do. Adjustments will be made and I shall be back to fight another day.