Honolulu Marathon: The Traffic Jam Is Temporary

Squeezed December 21, 2005

It’s no secret that I love the Honolulu Marathon. I love the challenge of running through the streets of my fair city every year for the past seven years. I love the crowd support, the friendliness of the volunteers, and the sheer spectacle of it all. I look forward to doing it every year.

Unfortunately, my sentiments are not shared by everyone. Especially some people who live in East Honolulu. From a disgruntled Diamond Head resident, Barbara Cook, comes this zinger in the Honolulu Advertiser. I’m gonna address it part by part.

Please take your races out of the Diamond Head area. We are so tired of 28,000 people from somewhere else holding us hostage in our neighborhoods. Is this America? I’m not sure. I feel as if I have no freedom on certain weekends of the year — and this was my weekend too that you demanded.

Last I checked, Ms. Cook, it was America. And I’m sorry, Your Highness, I didn’t realize it was your weekend and yours alone. Last I checked, I believe I had a legitimate share to it too, with the freedom to enjoy it as I choose. I chose to spend it with 28,000 of my closest friends. And by the way, your definition of “somewhere else” seems rather limited. About 5,000 of us people from “somewhere else,” myself included, actually live in various locations on this same rock.

There must be another road on the island besides Diamond Head Road. Can’t you find another place to race? Why don’t you bike up Haleakala or run around Moloka’i?

Well, I’ll give you that. There are other roads on this island and races can be (and have been) run on those roads. Case in point…the other major road race that draws five-figure participation, the Great Aloha Run. The race starts at Aloha Tower and ends at Aloha Stadium and yes, it ties up several major highways out in that direction for a few hours.

The savvy observer, however, notices that the GAR is marketed mostly to locals. Very few visitors run it. And for good reason. The course takes you through the heart of Kalihi, with its warehouses and heavy industrial district, then takes you under a freeway viaduct for about 2 miles, then runs alongside a major military base which, with the exception of the Arizona Memorial, doesn’t really win awards for beauty either. Not exactly the image of Hawaii we want to promote.

When you think about it, part of the raison d’être of a major city marathon is to show off the best scenery that the city has to offer. In the case of Honolulu, it’s downtown and points east…Waikiki, Diamond Head, Kahala, and East Honolulu. Obviously the race should to start or finish in Waikiki because all the hotels are there, and Kapiolani Park has the space to accommodate the number of runners.

People who live in Kahala and points east are really fortunate to be living in what is probably one of the most beautiful parts of Oahu, as measured by the number of million-dollar homes. With the rights and privileges, though, come responsibilities…and if one chooses to live in the showcase part of Honolulu, one should be prepared to make a sacrifice for the greater good. Let’s not forget that with all the runners come dollars that power the economy that makes these million-dollar homes possible.

It is not just the race days we have to endure but the weeks leading up to a race as well. Walking on the sidewalk is hazardous as tourist runners, who think they own the place, practically knock you over, and bicyclists who think they own the road fail to stop at stop signs. And don’t get me started on the traffic snarls and parking problems these races present.

In all fairness, there are rude locals as well. And don’t get me started on walkers who insist on walking two abreast on a narrow path, and then give you the stink eye if you so much as dare to say, “Excuse me,” “On your left,” or something like that. But I digress.

I read the letter from the individual who came from a Neighbor Island to watch her family members race, saying it brings families together. I’m all for families getting closer together. Let’s get this race moved to your island and that way you can save on the airfare to Honolulu.

Yes, there are marathons on other islands as well, but some (notably the Maui Marathon) limit participation because they don’t have the resources that Honolulu has. Once that limit is reached, that’s it. Next excuse?

But that’s not the worst of it. What really got my dander up was reading this letter from one M.B. Wilson, which ended:

Take it or leave it? I think we should leave it and move on; it’s a dated and old concept that has outlived its arguable usefulness.

Yeah. Right. Tell that to the hundreds of thousands of people around the world who train for their first marathon each year. Tell that to the Japanese, who revere their marathon runners and want to emulate them, but have few opportunities to do in their home country. Tell that to the millions of runners who, after finishing their first marathon, attempt to meet the qualifying standards for the mother of all marathons, Boston. Tell that to the organizers of the New York City Marathon and others which have had to limit participation in their marathons because people have been trying to bust down the doors. Tell all those people that, and THEN you can tell me.

OK, now that the venom in my poison pen has been spent…

In all seriousness, I really appreciate the sacrifices that East Honolulu residents make so that the marathon can happen each year. I know that for each Barbara Cook out there, there are about ten people who make it an annual event to sit in front of their house and watch all the runners go by. Some even prepare items for the runners, creating unofficial aid stations carrying orange wedges, salted pretzels, and other food items that the official aid stations don’t supply. And believe me, in a marathon like Honolulu, they’re welcome. When I passed through Hawaii Kai with a cramped right calf, I stopped a couple of times to take some salted chips and pretzels, and they helped my cramp immensely.

To Barbara Cook, M.B. Wilson, and all the other naysayers out there, I lay down a challenge. Train for and run the marathon next year. Or if that’s too much, walk over the hill and hang out at Kapiolani Park on Marathon Sunday. And don’t just go home after the first finishers cross. Watch the middle- and back-of-the-packers come in. See the tears of joy in their eyes as they realize a goal that they’ve waited all their lives to achieve. Experience the carnival atmosphere as runners gather together, having accomplished perhaps the most grueling endurance challenge that mankind has devised.

Once you have experienced the positive energy, perhaps you might be more inclined to support the marathon rather than fight it. Know that all the runners appreciate your sacrifice. And don’t forget the pretzels.

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