The Highs and Lows of Hilo

Hilo Marathon – Hilo, Hawaii, March 17, 2013

First tropical marathon.

First trip to Hawaii.

First time training aboard a cruise ship…

Where to possibly begin?  This isn’t a travel blog and in any case I believe a place like Hawaii should be experienced first hand and without preemptive and biasing description.  The things I enjoyed – the beach, the birds, the sea, the whales and volcanoes and salt air and the effortless blending of mainland Americans and vacationing Japanese… these mean little to the determined surfer, diver, shopper and sun bather.  But… the trip leading up to the day of the marathon is an inextricable part of the actual race.  I wouldn’t have it any other way.

My first trip to Hawaii and intended to be vacation and marathon trip.  Myself and my two favorite female relatives determined to enjoy the sights and take on the Islands.  And we did and it was AWESOME!!!  The vacation part of the trip started with a few days on Waikiki and then a 7 day island cruise right up to the day before the race.  And this meant training on board the ship for that entire week.  But for the first few days I ran the Waikiki Beach strip and up past Diamond Head and looked down at the waves breaking on the jagged coastline and out to where the sky and the sea ultimately met.

I hadn’t trained much this winter.  Missed my favorite winter and fall half marathons and several other planned races and mostly enjoyed the seasonal ice cream flavors with a fine disregard to prudence.  These first three runs were a test – what did I have left after months of dedicated non-running?  Well – I had air, for one thing.  Sea level!!!!  Once again I could run any distance my legs would take without a background twinge in my lungs.  I do notice thin air in Colorado.  It’s sharp and dry, often cold and in some places, at some elevations, it seems there can never be enough.  In Hawaii, the air is soft and humid and bursting with O2.  OK – the air was good.  How about the legs?  Soft and out of shape, heavy from a winter of neglect and, as always, unaccustomed to hills – I live in the flatland prairie part of Colorado.  But willing.  I have to say this – the legs were willing.  Tired after the first two days of running but responding to my determination and holding up well.

I ran the coast from Waikiki past Diamond Head for three days, walked the strip and toured Pearl Harbor and the Punch Bowl Cemetery.  And then it was time to board the ship.

The promenade deck on our ship was about 1/3 of a mile around.  I ran between 7 and 9 miles for 4 days, took the stairs everywhere I went on board and did a lot of walking and some snorkeling on shore excursions.  By the Thursday before the race, my legs were feeling stronger and no longer sore and tired.  I knew I would be slow, but I figured I’d get the race done.

Running on board the ship was interesting.  First of all, during the times I ran, I didn’t see anybody else running.  Running while docked was fine – the deck felt stationary enough and I could watch the whales nearby or study the dockside activity or just generally focus on my technique.  Running while underway was much more exciting – accommodating the movement of the ship, dodging people out strolling or just standing watching the islands go by, and knowing I was missing some shipboard activity somewhere.  I also often ran in early evening which was when people were inside the dining room which looked out onto the promenade deck – and they were watching me go by – around and around for an hour and more.  I guess I was the dinner show and I hope it wasn’t too bad.  One time, after a night of rain, the railing was beaded with heavy water drops and I kept my hand on the rail as I ran, shooting the water into the air.  It was pretty refreshing.

When the cruise ended, we returned to Hilo and checked into the host hotel.  The hotel was nice with a strong air of having had it’s Heyday in the 1920’s or 30’s.  The entire town felt that way – once busy, popular and bustling and now forgotten and drifting.

The morning of the race, the bus was right on time and took us inland and up – several hundred feet above the ocean.  The start area was at a rec center with bathrooms, porta potties and a large room for stretching and waiting for the start.  The race started on time while still fairly dark and we started a winding run through small neighborhoods, quiet stretches of jungle, up and down hill, and across bridges arching over streams tumbling down rocky gorges towards the coast.  The day was overcast and stayed in the low 60’s with a slight breeze – in my mind it was ideal for a tropical marathon after a long and chilly winter in Colorado.

The first 12 miles of the race were very scenic and enjoyable and we ran past the finish line around mile 11.  After that, we spent way too much time running through ugly industrial areas and around the airport.  Returning to the finish area, we again had to pass the finish line – heading uphill – and circle back to it.  Which was tiring at the very end of the race.  Along with the finisher’s medal, we were given a shell lei – which was a neat touch, I thought.


  • The marathon was well organized and supported – glad they had Gu when they did!
  • Not many fans but some people watching along the way.
  • No timing chip – gun time only.
  • Enough snacks etc. at the finish line.
  • Too much time spent running through industrial areas but parts of the course were beautiful.
  • Number of runners kept small – and I do enjoy a small field.
  • Walk from Finish line to hotel about a mile – no shuttle. 

And yes – my legs were sore for the next two days.  But I ran my Hawaii marathon and enjoyed it and that counts as a win in my book.


About wfig

Longtime horsewoman and hiker, occasional world traveler and professional biologist.
This entry was posted in Races, Review, Travel and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to The Highs and Lows of Hilo

  1. Haha says:

    Even when people travel together, they don’t necessarily take the same vacation. Nice summary of an experience that is hard to summarize! Being in Hawaii felt like an altered state in many ways. It was certainly an alternative life style. Have I lived the fast pace to long to fully appreciate the slower island state of mind? I have a lot of admiration for your ability to stay focused while trying to cram in as many of the available activities as possible. Glad to see you are writing again and glad to see you back on your marathon quest. Ganbare!

  2. wfig says:

    Thank you! I could, of course, have spent a whole lot of time on all the wonders we saw and the amazing things we did but this blog isn’t about that. The post was long enough and could have been 4 times as long ending with, “And then I ran a marathon. The next day we went to Volcanoes National Park…” and another page. It was an incredible trip.

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