In a year that I know will be too busy working to race as much as I prefer, every event in 2013 needs to be somehow special. This year’s first race was the “break the winter blues” outing and I flew to sunny Hawaii for it. Craving someplace warm and colorful at the nadir of my winter disgruntlement, I sought out educational conferences with races coinciding around the same time and place. Since I must have a certain number of “live” education hours to maintain my board certification, it is a nice way to combine one thing I need with another thing I love.
Arriving in gorgeous 82 degree Honolulu on a bright and vibrant day some 9 and 1/2 hours after departing grey dismal 26 degree Chicago, I felt as if I’d been rescued via last minute transporter beam from a precipice edge just as the rocks began to vanish beneath my feet. Seriously.
While researching this post, I looked at Wikipedia to make sure I was spelling “grey” the right way (as I’m never 100% certain whether it has an A or an E in it). This is what I found: ”Grey or gray is an intermediate color between black and white, a neutral or achromatic color, meaning literally a color ‘without color’ [and is] most frequently associated with the elderly, humility, reflection, boredom, dullness, uncertainty, and indifference.” (from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Grey)
That quite accurately describes my life in the depths of winter: a dull and colorless march of survival infused with boredom, indifference and uncertainty which humbles a woman by making her feel excessively elderly. So when the notion of going to Hawaii arose, action and not reflection was required. I signed up for the 2013 Seabees 10k in Honolulu which is held annually at Pearl Harbor with an expectation of the typical mainland multi-distance offering: thousands of runners and walkers on a well-traveled route supported by all the usual amenities. Ha! Was I ever in for a surprise. It was not a bit unpleasant, but definitely nothing like I envisioned.
The Seabees Run is held on Ford Island at the naval base, and is mainly attended as well as sponsored by Navy personnel. In keeping with the confidential nature of all things re national security, there were not many details online about the race such as packet pickup or other features beyond its location and starting time. I emailed a race director to obtain the needed details when I signed in December, and he was very helpful. He even offered to hold my packet if I couldn’t make it to the running store in time (since I was arriving via air in late afternoon on pickup day). But I made it in time and the Runner’s HI store was just a few miles from the airport. Packet in hand, I fairly skipped back to the car as joyous as a first-grader on the last day of school. Timing chips would be doled out and collected at the start/finish line, but a T-shirt, map and bib were in the envelope.
The morning of the race, I awoke at 4:00. Hawaii is four hours behind Chicago, and it was 8:00 a.m. in my brain. I drank coffee, got dressed and waited for the sun to rise. The stars were beautiful and the air was mild, even with an impressive trade wind. Finally ambling down to the car at about 6:15 still in complete darkness (I really should have looked at sunrise times before leaving home), I drove through Honolulu toward Ford Island. Eventually I fell into a line of cars with telltale running bumper stickers on them, and so I followed along. We made a turn onto the bridge and came to a checkpoint where we each had to identify ourselves and our purpose in order to gain entry. My name was on a list and so I was allowed through. I asked “where is the race?” and the sentry pointed into the night and said “back there” before waving me on. Along the narrow bridge I continued until arriving a roundabout where the cars seemed to be going in two different directions. After a moment of panic where I envisioned getting lost and ending up in some restricted area bombarded by sirens, bright lights and men with guns, I chose one direction and took it. As it turned out, either fork at the roundabout led to the parking area.
I pulled the car into a lot but could see little that foretold where the race might be. Dozens of extremely fit military-types were traversing back and forth across a street so I peered through the pitch and glimpsed a banner strung between two trucks which I assumed must mark a start/finish line. Pinning on my race number, I walked over and began to work my way through the crowd in hopes of spotting the usual kiosks. As I edged between other entrants, I heard a voice nearby proclaim “You! Number 53! Get your timing chip!” After a second I realized, “hey that’s me,” and turned to find a young guy in fatigues manning an upright board containing numbered timing chips. I accepted mine and asked him “where is start line?” He replied, “this is it.” I looked around and saw there was not much else. ”Finish line too?” I ventured. ”Yes ma’am,” he said. OK. Any runner with even one race under their belt knows my next question: ”where’s the bathroom?” Like his counterpart before him, he pointed into the darkness and said “over there,” indicating a cluster of buildings back near the parking lot.
I shuffled through the grass feeling the predawn dew soaking my shoes until I found myself at a community building with two restrooms on the outside and a long queue in front. It looked like a scene from a high school lunch room. ”Are any of these people drinking age yet?” I wondered as I got in line. I eavesdropped their banter while we waited and quickly discerned that I was in the company of some very fast runners. The previous year’s 10k winner finished in 30 minutes. He wasn’t running this year (sigh of relief). Another guy had done a 5k in 17 minutes. Someone else took as long as 20:00 and they laughingly called him “slow”. This is really going to be interesting, I concluded.
Finally making my way over to the start line, I struck up a conversation with a couple of girls who were also running and we chatted about the sport while the sky slowly brightened. Soon it was time for the announcements and official start of all events.
First was the Diaper Dash for a group of about a dozen toddlers to run a few yards amidst the raucous cheers of all bystanders. Then a 1-miler set off, after which the 10k runners and finally the 5k crossed the start. Making a last minute decision to switch from the 10k to the 5k (yes, it was the fast field of runners, and I’ll admit that I was afraid to come in last), off I went. As the sun climbed in the sky, the temperature followed and presently I was bounding along through the brightest and balmiest day I’d seen in months.
We transited various streets on the base enjoying all the sights I would later return to see with my husband on a Pearl Harbor tour bus. There was the iconic red and white tower, formerly abandoned but made newly famous in the 2001 Disney movie “Pearl Harbor”.
In the distance, the Arizona Memorial gleamed white against the blue of the water. A little further, in contrasting beige and grey were the docks featuring names of bygone battleships. Soon we passed rows of lovely little homes surrounded by abundant gardens, apparently Officers’ Quarters with residents names posted in front saying “Lt. Cmdr. and Mrs. X” and such. And all the while the breeze caressed us, drying the sweat before it barely had a chance to glisten. Around another corner were early morning workers already about their business, some waving us on with smiles and others not giving a second glance. As the miles unfolded and the experience became so intoxicating, I came to regret not going ahead with the entire 6.2. To have been plucked from the barbed embrace of winter’s cold hands and gently set down in this runner’s paradise on such a beautiful day was an occasion to be savored, and not abbreviated by something as mundane as an insecure dread of looking too slow.
In addition to the scenery and the stunningly brilliant day, the 5k entrants themselves provided entertainment. There were the usual stroller moms and parents urging on their kids. But in this canine friendly event, it was the people loping along with happy panting dogs that gave me extra cheer whenever I saw them. A fit young couple with a pair of bullet shaped jog strollers intently bulldozing forward seemed to have taken the occasion way too seriously, and it made me wonder if there was a special award for stroller-runners. It turned out there was. One thing there wasn’t (at least in the 5k anyway) was a porta-potty. I’d heard it mentioned in the crowd pre-race that the community building bathrooms were the only facilities and I did not see that there were any others. Of course, when you run sub 6:00/mile, you don’t really need them I suppose.
We were rejoined by the 10k runners a few hundred yards from the finish line and far too quickly, the race was over. Having switched from the 10k to the 5 without officially changing registration meant I should not cross the finish line with my timing chip because I would not want to record a false result. So I removed it and went around the line instead of going across and thus there is no official time recorded for me, but I estimate it to be the usual 40ish minute outing. A table with tangerines, bananas and water bottles was well-stocked and waiting, so I grabbed a handful and headed back to the timing chip station to return my chip.
After enjoying my breakfast at a picnic table near the parking lot, I headed back over the bridge and home to the hotel. Fifteen states are now marked off the bucket list, with only 35 more to go. Hawaii’s race is one I will remember fondly. It resurrected me from the winter doldrums and was a great way to start a week in Paradise.
[Photo credit to Wikipedia for Ford Island and The Tower]