Posted by: Joe English | December 13, 2006

Race Review: Honolulu Marathon 2006

Droves of runners seem to really be taken in by the idea of the Honolulu Marathon. Who wouldn’t? You get to go to Hawaii to run in a very large marathon. Sounds like a fun vacation. But after traveling to Hawaii and supporting runners and walkers who ranged from 3:00:00 to 12:30:00, I feel I may now have a different opinion of this race.

There are four other items to consider about the Honolulu Marathon: 1) the start time; 2) the course; 3) the number of participants and 4) the weather.

The start time: the Honolulu Marathon starts at 5:00AM. This is intended to give runners more time on the course and cooler temperatures in the early morning hours. While it does give you a break from the heat, it means waking up at about 3:30AM for race preparations, which makes for a pretty long day. The early start allows the organizers to put on a fireworks display at the start, but it also means that the first hour to hour and half you are running in the dark, so you need to watch your footing. One of my runners twisted her ankle in a pothole while running through the darkened streets in the midst of the thousands of other runners (making it hard to see the road ahead).

The course: I would rate the course as moderately challenging. The course begins with a loop through downtown Honolulu, runs through Waikiki, heads out over Diamond Head, does a long out and back along a highway and then returns over Diamond Head back to the finish in Waikiki. The difficulty of the course lies with the two climbs over Diamond Head, which are moderate. The second issue with the course is that the long out and back on the highway can be hot, depending on the weather conditions and your speed. The faster the runner, the cooler it will be out on the course. I’ll give the course credit for being scenic: it is Hawaii after all.

The number of participants: there were about 28,000 runners and walkers registered for the race in 2006, about 65% of which come from Japan to participate. There seemed to be a very high percentage of walkers in the event and many of the runners/walkers didn’t seem particularly well prepared for the distance. The large number of runners means that the course is crowded early in the race. Most of my runners reported that the crowds were a factor for them through at least the first 6-9 miles.

The weather: there is the potential for very hot and humid weather at the event. The weather in 2006 was not particularly hot. At the start, the temperature was about 70 degrees. At its hottest, later in the afternoon, the high temperature reached 84 degrees. However, there were periods of cloud cover, ocean breezes and the humidity was fairly low. The weather in 2006 was better than expected, but it does have the potential to be a challenge.

On balance, the Honolulu Marathon is moderately challenging due to the course, weather and its size. This race would be best suited for faster runners that can be off the course before the weather gets too warm (3:30:00 or under), but with a starting temperature of 70 degrees, I wouldn’t expect a lot of PRs on the course either. This could be a fun destination race if you are less concerned about time and are willing to slow down, drink plenty and keep cool.

Some criticism for the Honolulu Marathon
It’s not often that I have outright criticism of a marathon. I tend to give the organizers my support and understanding as do they put on complicated large events. However, I do have criticism of the organizers of the Honolulu Marathon. I was surprised by two things that I saw there: first, the course was billed as having no cut-off times, yet aid stations were being closed, and street sweepers had moved in, as walkers struggled in the late-afternoon Hawaiian heat. I understand the need to clean and close the course, but the course should not be billed as having no time-limit, if it in fact is going to be closed after a certain time.

But my second, more serious criticism, is that there was apparently an allowance for young children to participate in the race. I was absolutely appalled at parents for literally dragging their children by the hand through the later miles of the marathon. Children have no business being on a full-marathon course as participants. It is simply too much for their young bodies. The sight of young children crying with every step at mile 24 was not something that I took lightly.

Many of those of us that were out on the course in the later hours were left feeling sick over this issue. Children should not be forced to walk marathons. They don’t have the training background to handle such a long event and, as was very apparent, it was a painful and miserable experience for them.

I was left very saddened by what I saw out on the course in the later hours. I strongly encourage the race organizers to change their policies by being more clear as to expectations for the time-limits of the course and to consider imposing appropriate age-minimums for participants.

[Editor’s note: For the 2007 race, children ages 7-14 were directed to contact the race office for special registration instructions. So this situation sounds as though it still exists.]

Honolulu Marathon

December 10th, 2006

Weather: start 70 finish 80-84 degrees depending on time of finish. Some patchy clouds, light breezes.

Course: Looped course starting in Waikiki and ending in Waikiki at different locations. Mostly flat with one climb over Diamond Head early and one climb over Diamond Head late (miles 23-24). There is a long out and back on a highway that can be very hot depending on the time of day and the weather that particular year.

Course Difficulty (1-10 with 1 being easiest and 10 most difficult): 5 (moderate with two hills and for warm weather)

Organization (1-10): 7 (Good but concerned about allowing children to race and for promoting a no-time-limit environment to participants)

Aid Stations: (1-10): 7 (well stocked early, but stations were being packed up or removed before slower walkers finished)

Volunteers and workers: 9 (Excellent)

Weather: (1-10): 5 (Moderately challenging)

Pace Runners: (1-10): N/A (did not review)

Fun and Enjoyment of Course: (1-10) 7 (Good)

Overall Rating (1-10): 7 (Good: suggested for faster runners or as a destination race where finishing time is not as important)



  1. […] Related: My 2006 Honolulu Marathon Race Review […]

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