I sit writing this under the stars on a beach in Kauai, Hawaii. We have set up a small compound of three tents surrounding a small fire. The waves crash loud and soothing in the distance.
There are six of us, old college friends, visiting Hawaii because two of us (Emily and Andrew) are running the 26.2 miles of the grueling Kauai Marathon. (I use “us” loosely as I am part of the support team.) They have both been training for months and counting down the days to this end-of-summer Hawaiian adventure.
After two six-hour flights, I find myself the farthest west you can go without leaving the country. It feels and looks like the other islands I’ve been to, in the Caribbean. Side note: Spielberg shot most of “Jurassic Park” on this island, and for the first few days of exploring, we take turns getting the theme song stuck in our heads.
We spend those first few days venturing to various beautiful beaches as Emily and Andrew register for the race, drive the route and mentally prepare. We swim with sea turtles and drive up the coast to a beautiful spot called Queens Bath. It’s all got an amazing sense of danger unlike anything I’ve experienced in the rest of the country. There are warning placards many places, and we often hear the refrain “when in doubt, don’t go out.” But beyond that everything seems to be free rein.
Late in the day, the sunset over the Napali Coast is perhaps the most beautiful I’ve ever seen, and the next day we notice that the very same view is captured on a painting hanging in our hotel room.
The weather is perfect for the most part, though the sun is hot, and despite being careful, I get a bit too much of it on my face and back. Emily patiently applies aloe, and I am much more careful over the next few days, feeling at first ridiculous, but then perfectly content in a long sleeve button-up shirt and a silly camo trucker hat that I buy from a Mexican taco stand we visit for burritos.
The day of the race we wake up early to drive Andrew and Emily to the starting line. I find it completely inspiring to see the runners lined up as the sun starts to peek up over the horizon. At 6 a.m. sharp, the race begins; the crowd moves slowly at first, but gradually picks up, and before we know it, the starting line area is empty.
Standing near mile 11 next to some Hawaiian drummers, we cheer on the runners with Hawaiian chants and a groovy beat. The only recognizable words chanted are a repeated “go go go go.” Andrew passes first and kisses his girlfriend, Sam, as we all cheer and snap photos. It is lightly raining and 15 minutes later Emily smiles and waves as she passes.
We hear much about the hills in the later part of the course, and Andrew alternates back and forth with a fellow runner who passes him on every downhill only for Andrew to overtake him going back uphill moments later. There is a sense of camaraderie palpable in the air, a certain respect that the runners share for each other. It’s a race, sure, but overall they are all in this together; just to finish is quite a feat.
“Here comes number 338, all the way from New York City.” The announcer is having a good time as he calls out each runner’s name as they cross the finish line, and local cheerleaders form a row to welcome the incoming runners.
Andrew finishes 60th in just over four hours, and Emily finishes half an hour later in four hours and 40 minutes with the largest smile on her face I’ve ever seen. It was surprisingly emotional because I know how much hard work went into this moment. I’m so proud of her.
Amazingly, we are back at the beach a few hours later, I’m tired just from watching them run. I don’t know how Emily and Andrew are still standing.