Eye on the competition
• Photo gallery: Hawaii to Boston Marathon
BY MAUREEN O'CONNELL
Advertiser Staff Writer
For many runners, the Boston Marathon is a sort of holy grail.
Touted as the world's oldest and most prestigious annual marathon, it's the only one in the United States that sets tough qualifying standards for both fleet-footed running enthusiasts and elite athletes.
Thirty-nine Hawai'i residents are signed up for the 26.2-mile event's 114th running on Monday in Massachusetts.
"It's in a category by itself because of the mystique and the quality of the field," said Christopher "Kit" Smith, 75, who has completed more than 40 marathons, including three Bostons. "Everybody there is a serious runner."
While the Honolulu Marathon attracts its share of world-class professional and competitive amateurs, the overall field is packed with recreational types hoping to have fun and simply cross the finish line, Smith said. He added, "Boy, in Boston, everybody is there with an eye on the competition."
Among Hawai'i's speedsters are Brandon Laan, who finished sixth overall in the 2009 Honolulu Marathon with a time of 2 hours, 25 minutes and 41 seconds, and Jonathan Lyau, who, in the same race, won his 16th award for top kama'āina runner, with 2:49:14.
Laan, 26, who will be making his first trip to Boston's starting line, hopes to finish in the overall top 25. "I have been working diligently," he said. "As my fitness improves, I am becoming more confident that I can achieve my goal of dipping under the magical 2:20 barrier."
Lyau, 45, who has run Boston twice, is aiming to beat his Honolulu time and place well in his age group, 45-50. He also plans to soak up the race's wild energy. Crowds lining the point-to-point run starting in rural neighborhoods, winding up legendary Heartbreak Hill and ending in Boston's Back Bay have been estimated at more than 500,000, with many reveling in New England's crisp early spring weather and the state holiday (Patriots Day) tradition of cheering on marathoners.
"You don't get that kind of atmosphere anywhere else," Lyau said. While scores of annual marathons offer breathtaking scenery and various running challenges, when compared to Boston, most routes are, well, lonely.
Last year, Alan Ryan, 39, got caught up in the pre-race hoopla and found himself taking part in a "warm-up for Boston" yoga class, even though that discipline had not been part of his pre-race training.
"That was a bad idea," Ryan recalled with a laugh. "We're doing these warrior poses and I'm thinking 'I haven't done this in a while.'" The next day, he laced up for his second Boston with sore hip flexors but managed to finish first among the Hawai'i contingent and set a personal record, with 2:51:41.
Jo Cinter, 42, who has competed in many triathlons around the world, registered for her first Boston last year "only to get bronchitis the day before the big day."
"I spent the day of the race sick in my hotel bed," Cinter said. "It was a huge disappointment. Luckily, the BAA (Boston Athletic Association) allows athletes two years to use their qualifying time, so I am going back. I have unfinished business and this time I am bringing the vitamin C."
Qualifying times range from 3 hours and 10 minutes (men ages 18 to 34) to 5 hours and 30 minutes (women age 80 and older). Only about 10 percent of U.S. marathoners turn in times fast enough to make the cut, but the race is more popular than ever. Registration for this year's event hit its limit of 25,000 participants on Nov. 13 two months earlier than ever before. In addition to qualifiers, since the mid-1990s, the BAA has admitted some non-qualified participants who use the event to raise money for charity.
Among Hawai'i's first-timers are Gay Murakami, Todd and Diane Thompson and Trudy Shuman.
A few years ago, Murakami, 44, placed Boston on her to-do list, along with the New York and Chicago marathons. Both major running events are much larger than Boston's is, which is hemmed in by the narrowness of its first few miles. Boston has held onto the same course since it debuted in 1897 with a field of 15 runners.
"I want to experience what it's like to run the Boston Marathon, with all its history and prestige," said Murakami, who ran track and cross country in high school and, after raising three boys, got back into running over the past several years.
The Thompsons, both 42, have been running together for 14 years. When the couple met, their first "date" was a 45-minute run. "This is our first trip to the Mainland for a marathon and we're really looking forward to it," Diane Thompson said.
Shuman, 46, never participated in high school sports and "just managed to get by" in physical education classes. During her late 20s, she "discovered running when a woman at my local gym invited me out for a jog a half-mile run and I just about died, but I finished."
She was soon hooked on the sport. "I've been running and racing ever since," Shuman said. "Qualifying for Boston has been a dream of mine for a long time. After several failed attempts, I finally did it in 2009."
Shuman's training efforts intensified a few years ago when people close to her fell ill with diagnoses of lung cancer, breast cancer and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, also called Lou Gehrig's disease.
One of the most avid supporters of her athletic pursuits a colleague two years her junior died two weeks before Shuman qualified for Boston. "I've learned through friends who are not here with me today that life is too short." she said. "Find out what it is you want and go after it don't wait."