Honolulu Marathon Report – Dark Start, Hot Finish

If you enjoy beginning a race in the dark, running distance in wind and sun, beautiful scenery and friendly crowds, this marathon is for you.

If you’re dubious about a 3:30 a.m. alarm, running in 70 and 80 degree weather with a bit of wind and humidity thrown in, and running the first two hours of the race before daylight, then maybe this isn’t your best pick.

Runners milling about Ala Moana Blvd. pre 5:00 race start

But, if you happen to be in Hawaii anyway, and it is December, why not?

Primarily, the Honolulu Marathon is a flat course with two spikes to throw in some uphills and downhills.

Twenty years ago, I ran my second marathon, the Honolulu Marathon. I recall it being very crowded with a packed course. Where I was at the start line for 20 minutes 20 years ago, this year I crossed the start line within five minutes of the elites.

The number of runners was likely less than half the number of my earlier marathon. The decrease in runners was primarily due to the absence of a large group from Japan who were limited by COVID restrictions.

The Honolulu Marathon site has a thorough turn-by-turn description including everything you will see along the way, so I will just add some poignant personal experiences.

Running or racing in the dark is such an intense experience for me, caught between watching for the potholes and lighted lane markers in the road and taking in the beautiful holiday lights through downtown.

We made a turn somewhere around Chinatown with Murphy’s Bar on the corner, a Santa Claus and several customers waving beers hanging out the door. From there to Waikiki where the welcoming lights of elegant hotels stand out.

By Mile 7 I was taking on the first hill, pulling up Montsarrat Avenue. Dawn was breaking. In the semi-darkness I could see orange streaks across ocean and sky. It was breathtakingly beautiful. What an amazing way to experience dawn.

With a couple of turns, we begin the half-circle the marathon route makes around the Diamond Head crater.

At Mile 8/9 I see motorcycles and hear sirens, which told me the first finishers were approaching from Kahala, on their Mile 24. For a moment, I considered stopping, waiting to see the beauty of the strides of the elites as they fly by. But, I didn’t. They had their race to run and I had mine, so I continue toward 18th St. through funky Kaimuki and follow the route out to trendy Kahala.

As I make the turn along the very flat section of the course leading to Hawaii Kai, we were running into the wind. Alas, by the time I make it to the turnaround several miles later, that wind I expected to have at my back disappeared.

At this point, it was around 9 a.m. and the sun was high. The reasonable 73 degrees at the start had climbed to 80+ and there is little shade on this stretch. Water stations were plenty and unmanned stations had water spigots that ran freely. Many runners, including me, were liberally using water spigots to cool off.

I was thankful to return to Kahala and make the turn where we ran adjacent to the Waialae Country Club. (Off subject, but if you were watching the PGA Tour hosted by the Waialae Country Club earlier this month, did you catch the footage of the wild pigs running across the green?)

My pace flagged from roughly 20-23, although I was able to get back on pace as I climbed to the lookout on Diamond Head Road and then loving the downhill back to Waikiki and the finish.

My first filmed finish. Credit: Dayna Harris

About the hat. One morning, I couldn’t find my running hat so I borrowed my husband’s sun hat. I found it felt lighter and kept me cooler, so it became my marathon hat. It brought me in for a 5:10 finish, third place out of 28 women AG 70-74.

By the way, the Honolulu Marathon keeps the course open until the last person finishes, a Honolulu Marathon tradition. This year, the last finishers came in just over 15 hours. You have to have heart to run/walk in the heat that long.

As I look at the snow swirling outside my window, I appreciate that I got in a tropical marathon before the big freeze.

So, what is your race season looking like?


  1. Congrats on an amazing finish Mary.  Third place in the 70-74 age bracket is terrific. Being able to do 26+miles at any age is pretty incredible. At 70+ it is truly to be celebrated. Great job. Hope you and Ray are well. Really enjoyed the pics of Seth and his family. Thank you again for those. Have a great year.  cliff

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