When we arrive in our Hilo hotel room, we’re greeted by a huge fruit basket sent by an ace Amarillo marathoner, our friend Mark White!
Wayne “Big Dog” Joseph, the race director, gave me number 50 for the race which he said was Hawaii Five-O. Big Dog made sure that everyone knew Sandy and I were running our 50th. Even the mayor calls Wayne by his Big Dog nickname. Wayne used to play a lot of competitive basketball and whenever he made a real good shot the guy guarding him would yell “Dog” meaning lucky shot. Then, in a game-ending play, Wayne hit a tough shot to win the game and his man yelled out “BIG DOG!!” and the moniker (always wanted to use that word!!) stuck!!
Bang – they’re off!!! And with that Sandy and Kami are long gone!! The first 11 miles are beautiful – tremendous ocean vistas and running through a rainforest. Hmm, what does running through a rainforest tell you about the humidity? There are more up-hills than I had anticipated, but, in the glass is more than half full category, those up-hills balance the ol’ legs during an overall net downhill elevation drop of 500 feet. Fearing another downhill quad disaster like Albuquerque I run the down-hills very slowly – very slowly I said – I remember what “fly and die” feels like!!!
At mile 12, my son Kevin’s friend, Annie, dashes out of the crowd to hug me (sorry Kevin, even at mile 12 of a marathon I can’t turn it off!) – Kevin runs along with me for awhile and tells me that he finished first in age group in the ultra mini (5K) and that Annie was top overall female!!!
The last half of the course is relatively flat. My overall race strategy to reach my goal of finishing one-step ahead of Sandy was to have her race with Kami, go out to fast in an effort to stay with Kami and then lose it somewhere around mile 20 with me sleestacking past the roadkill remains! Alas, on and out-and-back portion at about mile 20 I see Sandy coming by herself and realize that she’s wasted Kami – BTW, it takes me 20 more minutes to hit the point at which I saw Sandy – what does that tell you??
Somewhere around mile 22 I am really hurting, but accurately guessing that the Shipmates over/under betting line on how much Sandy will beat me by is 26.2 minutes, I bravely push on – no one has passed me for the last six miles and no one will for the final 4.2 miles – go Al!!!
Have I mentioned that it’s rained on us (hey, Hilo gets 140 inches of rain/year – remember we ran through a rain forest!!) and that it’s extremely humid??
I pass a guy who seems to be a local favorite and on the back of his shirt it says “Cowman”. As I pass I ask how he got the name Cowman. He says “I used to be a Cowboy and then I grew up!”
Sandy finishes in a blazing 4:11 on a tough, hilly course (have I mentioned the rain and humidity?) for first place age group. Kevin almost gets in a fist fight with the official race photographer when he takes Sandy’s finish line photo. Kami finishes in 4:16. Meanwhile, out on the course I’m toughing it out and passing a couple of geezers to finish in 4:31, good enough for a third place age group and winning for those few remaining loyal Shipmates (I like you!!) who bet on the UNDER 26.2 minutes!!!
Hey, WHEN WE CROSS THE FINISH LINE, we’re handed a results postcard with our race time and age group and overall place – WOW!! When our awards are presented, Big Dog makes sure that it’s mentioned that it’s our 50th state. We get to shake hands with the mayor and stand on an actual awards platform!
Listen to what I’m about to tell you – do whatever it takes (including having your wife work a second job!!) to fly first class from Houston to Honolulu (of course, our tickets were FREE, thanks to the Ship!!) – I think I ate for all eight hours of the flight (it’s legal to get both hot fudge and caramel topping on your ice cream sundae!) and even though it seemed like I was constantly sipping my wine, every time I opened my eyes, somehow – my glass was still full – is this a dream or a most pleasant reality? I will now be expecting Sandy to bring me a hot washcloth before each meal!!
Let me be honest with you about this – if you’re going to Hilo, you’ll get rain, but you’ll also get a super well-done marathon with a smooth packet pickup, beautiful course, frequent aide stations, easy-to-see mile markers, volunteers with directional arrow signs at each turn (BTW, they couldn’t be bribed to turn Sandy the long way!), one of the best shirts ever and, if not for Kevin and Annie, there would have been cookies left when I finished!! You get a volcano that’s been erupting with a lava flow every day for the last 25 years. At the Volcanoes National Park, we hiked through a lava tube and hiked to the Pu’u Loa Petroglyphs which are rock carvings done by prehistoric man – they have a special display case that holds the original chisel used by Jack Wilkinson!! You’ll get a beach with black sand, one with green sand (I don’t want to say it’s isolated, but it’s a three and a half mile hike, yes hike, each way!), spectacular waterfalls all over the place, and Kona Coffee. Also, you’ll get Macadamia Nut farms galore!! Do NOT go the Tsunami Museum!! Hilo has been obliterated multiple times in the past – imagine my shock and fear to learn that the hotel we’re in is on the most susceptible ground – instead of sleeping, I spent the night wondering how to body surf a 35 foot wave!!
Hey, do you want to change your life – well, then have a double chocolate truffle pie at Pescatore!!! Ken’s restaurant is rated one of the top ten breakfast places in the country – I recommend the sweet bread French toast with cherry syrup – Sandy had the Loco Moco (a local comfort food that is a mountainous meal consisting of a heap of white rice topped with a hamburger patty and a Sunnyside-up egg and then smothered in gravy – a Cholesterol Hall of Fame candidate!), but Kevin refused to order the Sumo Loco (when they bring it to your table all the wait staff yell out, SUMO)!! Café Pesto has a toasted coconut bar that will go down quite easily. On your drive over to Kona make sure you stop at Punalu’u Bake Shop, the southernmost bakery in the USA for a cherry/pineapple turnover. Get to Kona early for a cup of 100% Kona fresh brew and a cinnamon roll as big as a flotation device at Island Lava Java.
Hilo has a lot of “drive-ins”. These “drive-ins” aren’t places like Sonic, where you drive up and order through a squawk box. The “drive-ins” are window-service joints with large open air patios. Sandy and I hung with about 20 locals (who we organized into a running group) at K’s Drive-in on our last morning and had two full breakfasts for under $7 total – a real Ship of Fools kinda place!!!