Kenyan Tradition At Honolulu Marathon Lives On

7 December 2019


Sitting at the bar at Hawaii's Outrigger Reef Waikiki Beach Resort, gleefully sipping away my cold Budweiser, I couldn't avoid eavesdropping on a conversation between fellow patrons.

"Just when we are getting started, the Kenyans are already on their way to the finish," an elderly woman, a fun runner, probably in her 60s, chats away.

"That's what they do for a living," her husband responded.

"And when you look at their bodies, they are so fit," the old man added, and went on: "Last time I went to the start, and by the time I finished fixing myself a cup of coffee to watch the race, the Kenyans had finished!"

The talk was around Sunday's Honolulu Marathon, and such is the respect Kenya athletes command here, revered as extraordinary.

The race is in it's 47th edition and its President/CEO Jim Barahal has, once again, put together a strong Kenyan field to tackle the course at former US President Barack Obama's childhood home city.

About 35,000 runners are expected to line up at the start in the Hawaii State capital of Honolulu for the race which has the enviable reputation of nurturing global marathon stars.

The Honolulu Marathon may not be part of the six-race World Marathon majors, but it's a special race.

First because of its location in the Hawaiian paradise, then because of the hospitality of race organisers and fans alike.

Then again, it produces future stars.

While the World Marathon Majors races (Tokyo, Boston, London, Berlin, Chicago and New York), and other big city marathons, require runners to have attained a qualifying time before entering, the Honolulu Marathon doesn't.

You simply sign up and run!

Barahal is happy to understudy the World Marathon Majors races, but excited that his race is the breeding ground for future stars.

Former world marathon record holder Wilson Kipsang won here in 2012, multiple Amsterdam Marathon champion Wilson Chebet was champion in 2014 with Chicago Marathon champion Lawrence Cherono completing a double in 2016 and 2017.

On the women's side, world marathon record holder Brigid Kosgei honed her skills here, winning in 2016 and 2017, and holds the course record of two hours, 22 minutes and 15 seconds.

The men's course best is by Cherono (2:08:27).

Titus Ekiru (2:09:01) and Vivian Kiplagat (2:36:22) are the defending champions.

But the man who threw down the gauntlet was the legend, Ibrahim Hussein, who completed a hat-trick of victories from 1985 to 1987, effectively announcing the arrival of Kenya onto the American marathon circuit.

He was the first black man to win the race, and eventually the first black man to also win the high-profile New York Marathon in 1987, earning him a cover story in the famous Time magazine.

Hussein completed another hat-trick in the Boston Marathon (1988, 1991, 1992), effectively launching Kenya's foray into the American circuit.

Ekiru, 27, Kenya's next big thing, is here to defend his title, and is the fastest in the field too with a personal best time of 2:04:46 from April's Milan Marathon.

And in the absence of women's title holder Kiplagat, Kenya's hopes lie on US-based Betsy Saina (PB 2:22:43) and debutant Margaret Muriuki.

Others in the men's team are Wilson Chebet, Daniel Kibet, Edwin Kiplangat Koech, Jackson Limo and Mike Chesire with last year's bronze medallist Reuben Kerio and Edwin Kibet Koech designated as pacemakers.

Before Sunday's marathon, there will be a traditional mile race on Saturday on the streets of Honolulu.

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