By Michael Tsai
Advertiser Staff Writer
By Michael Tsai
For top-flight marathoners, say those of the Boston Marathon stripe, there's no better way to celebrate hard-won success than 26 miles of chilly, hilly fun.
The 111th running of nation's oldest and most prestigious marathon happens Monday, Patriot's Day, and, once again, Hawai'i will be well represented in the elite field of qualified runners. In all, 50 runners from the 50th State are expected to be at the starting line in suburban Hopkinton, Mass., including several first timers.
According to the Boston Athletic Association Web site, 52 Hawai'i runners are entered in the race, but at least two, Harald Ebeling and Laurie Sloan, will be sitting out this year.
Ebeling injured his Achilles tendon during a 22-mile training run and Sloan is recovering from a recent Ironman.
The Hawai'i contingent is a diverse group composed of doctors, homemakers, engineers, contractors, medical researchers, fitness instructors, retirees and many others. The youngest is 25-year-old Patricia McAndrew of Honolulu; the oldest, John Ishikawa, 63. Some cleared the age group-specific qualifying time with minutes to spare.
Others, like 44-year-old Jimmy Landeza of 'Aiea, just made it.
Landeza ran a personal best 3 hours, 20 minutes, 18 seconds at last year's Hilo Marathon. The age-group cutoff for Boston qualification this year was 3:20:59.
"It just worked out," Landeza said. "Everything fell into place and I qualified."
Like his fellow qualifiers, Landeza said he knows what it means to be able to compete at Boston.
"It's the Super Bowl of running," he said.
From its genesis in 1897, when a field of 15 runners attempted to run a 24.5-mile course loosely designed around the path Paul Revere followed more than a hundred years earlier, the Boston Marathon has represented both the tradition and the vanguard of modern American racing.
Its roster of stars is itself legendary, from Johnny Kelly, who won three of the more than 60 Boston Marathons in which he competed, to Bill Rodgers and Frank Shorter, whose fleet-footed exploits helped spur the American running revolution of the 1970s, to seminal women's sports figure Joan Benoit.
Boston has also suffered, very publicly, its share of dubious moments, such as 1967 race in which race officials attempted to rip the race number off of Kathy Switzer, who had entered what was then a men-only race as "K.V. Switzer," or the 1980 race, forever remembered for legendary cheater Rosie Ruiz's mid-race train ride to racing infamy.
Hawai'i's connections to the big race are well established. Early on, founders of the Honolulu Marathon sought to position their race as "the Boston of the Pacific" and Honolulu Marathon race directors have been a perennial presence at Boston ever since. In turn, Boston champions like Rodgers, Shorter, and four-time Honolulu record-setter Patti Dillon have been participants in Honolulu Marathon festivities.
More significantly, Honolulu Marathon Association president Jim Barahal and race director Jon Cross' groundbreaking move to recruit African runners for the Honolulu race was largely vindicated when three-time Honolulu winner Ibrahim Hussein and two-time runner-up Cosmas Ndeti combined for six Boston victories between 1988 and 1995, ushering in a new age in international marathoning.
Shelly Grisbrook, 42, who has completed seven Honolulu Marathons in impressive fashion, has qualified for Boston before, but it took some extra prodding from her husband for her to finally agree to participate. As the big day draws near, Grisbrook says she has become more mindful of the significance of the race.
"I'm starting to get that feeling," said Grisbrook, who has been running on and off for some 20 years. "I hadn't thought much about it before, but I'm beginning to feel exactly how great a race it is."
Perhaps no runner in the Hawai'i group has sacrificed more — 70 pounds! — to become a Boston-worthy runner as 46-year-old Joe Allen.
Allen started marathoning just four years ago, when he packed 240 pounds on a 6-foot-4 frame. Training with the Honolulu Marathon Clinic, Allen dropped the excess weight and posted a 4:13:06 time in his first marathon. His weight and his times continued to drop, allowing the now 168-pound Allen to post a personal-best 3:29 time at the California International Marathon.
This will be Allen's second consecutive Boston Marathon, and he's prepared to use last year's experience to run a faster, smarter race on a course that starts with a long, quad-busting downhill stretch, progresses with a series of challenging climbs — including notorious Heartbreak Hill — and ends, often against a stiff headwind, with a chilly push into Boston proper.
"The pressure is to be patient," he said. "Marathoning is all about patience and I have to find a way to hold back."
Mike Kasamoto, 58, will also be running his second Boston. Like Allen, Kasamoto started running in 2003 and found he had much ground to make up.
"My daughter decided to run Honolulu so I thought that if she's going to do it, I'll try it, too."
Unfortunately, Kasamoto signed up just a few weeks before the event, and, despite the fitness he maintained through tennis, he struggled to make up the training deficit, finishing in 6:18. But he was hooked.
Kasamoto shaved two hours off his time the following year and, with training from veteran local runner Jonathan Lyau, has completed seven marathons in all. Of his experience at Boston last year, Kasamoto recalls suffering up long, steep Heartbreak Hill and trading high-fives with students from Wellesley College along the marathon route.
Eric Sanders has been training diligently for his first Boston Marathon. He qualified by posting a 3:27 time in last year's Chicago Marathon (his personal record is 3:18).
Sanders said he's been doing more hill work, running up Makapu'u and Koko Head, and trail-running on Kuli'ou'ou.
"I'll go out easy the first four miles, try to run my fastest between mile 4 and mile 22, then kind of hang on from there."
Angela Sy, 39, isn't shooting for a particular time, but she too has been hitting the hills hard in preparation for a strong race.
Side by side with training partner Kelly Noonan, Sy, a former ballet dancer and aerobics instructor, has spent the past few months running an East Honolulu circuit that includes Kalaniana'ole Highway, Koko Head, Hanauma Bay and Waimanalo.
"It's not (Heartbreak Hill) itself, but where the hill is in the course," said Sy, who has run Boston the past two years. "It's all about pacing."
For many of the Hawai'i runners, the race holds special personal significance.
Noonan, a veteran of five Boston Marathons, said is dedicating this year's race to her husband Tim, a Navy reservist who is serving in Afghanistan.
The couple won't be so far apart, really. Tim plans on running his own version of the Boston Marathon at the exact same time within the confines of Bragram Air Base.
For Stephanie McLaughlin, the marathon will be part of an ongoing 50th birthday celebration.
"I plan on celebrating the entire year," she said. "So I thought I'd go this year."
McLaughlin said she won't be putting any undue pressure on herself to perform well.
"The hard part is getting there," she said. "I'm just going to be there and enjoy myself."
Shelly Cooper, 50, plans on enjoying her first Boston (she's qualified three times before) but she knows the competition will be fierce.
Cooper, who has completed more than 30 marathons in the past 15 years, ran up to 70 miles per week to train for the event.
"I do feel the pressure," she said. "I know a few very competitive women who will be there, so I feel the edge to try and do my best. But I really want to experience it for fun. I've already gained a place in the race, so I want to enjoy it."
Reach Michael Tsai at firstname.lastname@example.org.