CINDY ELLEN RUSSELL /
Jimmy Muindi of Kenya will run in his 13th straight Honolulu Marathon tomorrow. The hall of famer has never finished worse than third and has won the race five times.
Muindi chases sixth marathon victory
The five-time champ ramped up his training for tomorrow's race
Coming off a strong finish in the Chicago Marathon, five-time Honolulu Marathon champion Jimmy Muindi is prepared to bring that number to six tomorrow. In less-than-ideal conditions six weeks ago, Muindi placed third in 2:07:51, an average of 4:50 per mile for 26.2 miles. Had there been less wind and more moderate temperatures, he said, "I was ready to run 2:05."
When: Tomorrow, 5 a.m.
Where: Starting line at Ala Moana/Queen Street extension, finish line at Kapiolani Park
Defending champions: Jimmy Muindi of Kenya (2:12:00) and Olesya Nurgalieva of Russia (2:30:24)
Records: Muindi (2:11:12) and Lyubov Morgunova of Russia (2:27:33), both in 2004
Other competitors to watch in the men's race:
» Ambesse Tolossa, 29, of Ethiopia, ran 2:08:58 in Tokyo in 2006.
» Mbarak Hussein, 41, of the United States, ran 2:08:10 in Seoul in 2004. He has won the Honolulu Marathon three times, and placed second behind Muindi last year.
» Eric Nzioki, 28, of Kenya, ran 2:10:34 in Zurich in 2005.
» Eric Wainana, 32, of Kenya, ran 2:10:08 in 2002 in Fukuoka.
» Araya Haregot, 25, of Ethiopia, ran 2:11:56 in Seoul in 2006.
» Nicholas Muindi, 23, of Kenya, Jimmy's younger brother. His best time is 2:15:59.
After two weeks of rest --which for Muindi means no speed work -- he ramped up his training in preparation for his 13th consecutive appearance in Honolulu.
"We had a couple of guys we thought could challenge Jimmy, but they got injured," said Honolulu Marathon race director Jon Cross. "Ambesse Tolossa of Ethiopia (who won the San Diego Rock n' Roll Marathon in June) has a good shot at him. He's a player. But other than that, it's the Jimmy show again."
Though he's graceful, gentle and humble at every turn, the 33-year-old Kenyan confirmed, "I have the confidence."
He also has a plan.
"Last year the pacemaker did not do the job," Muindi noted.
So this year he brought his own, with instructions to run through 25K (about 17 miles) at a 5:01 pace, hitting the 10K mark at 30:40.
He hopes to wait in the back of the lead pack, and make his move later in the race.
But often when he stays behind, the pace slows dramatically.
"Normally, they wait for the defending champion to make a move," he said. "But I want the pace to be high. If I run beneath my training pace, my muscles will be tired. It's like you are jogging."
His finely tuned body must do precisely what he has trained it to do, or his legs won't respond when he hits Diamond Head hill at mile 25. His message to his fellow runners is infinitely clear: "If you don't want to follow, it's OK."
This is exactly what happened last year, when he ran alone from the 5K mark to the finish.
"I was just going my pace, but the guys were just dropping," he said. His solo effort, however, resulted in a slightly slower time of 2:12:00.
Honolulu Marathon Association president Jim Barahal said it usually takes a group of people to quicken the tempo.
"You can't just throw three people out there, because they all may have a bad day," said Barahal. "But if a bunch of people are having a good day, then you get a good time."
So why is Muindi's best time in Honolulu about 4 minutes slower than his personal record set elsewhere? Because of the wind, humidity and hills.
"The 2:11 (in Honolulu) is just like 2:07 out there," he said. Drinking more water -- a necessity here -- also wastes precious seconds at each aid station.
He said that other top runners with similar personal records have come to Hawaii thinking that the winning times are "so easy," chuckled Muindi. "And they swear never to come back again, because the course is punishing."
To prepare, Muindi trains 80 to 90 miles per week at 2,400 feet in the Ngong Hills near his home in Nairobi, with Paul Targat, who holds the marathon world record at 2:04:55. They alternate training sessions on the track and trails, interspersing easy days in between long runs or time trials.
The 5-foot-11 athlete also knows exactly how much he should weigh at every marathon he runs. For Chicago, it was 116 pounds. In Honolulu, it's a heftier 119 pounds, taking into account the extra sweating in the humid weather.
"You must drain yourself of fat so your muscles will be ready," he said. In Kenya, he eats beef, chicken, greens, vegetables, fruits and corn cakes --a staple in Africa. But when he comes to America, he has to watch his diet carefully.
"The food is not very strong, like Africa," he said, where he gets all of the vitamins and minerals he needs from the fresh produce and meat. "Before you run, you're very careful, very selective," he said of restaurant fare.
He sticks with pasta the night before the race because it's safe. But Muindi has been known to indulge at McDonald's after the marathon -- in what he considers a decadent way to kick off his two-month recovery cycle.
The reason Muindi returns year after year is because the Honolulu Marathon works hard at developing long-term relationships with its runners, according to Barahal.
"Jimmy sees Honolulu as a second home, and he focuses on our race as one of his premiere events of the marathon racing season," added Cross. "He loves us and we love him, and that's why we get such great loyalty out of him."
Cross said the Honolulu Marathon would like to invite more runners of Muindi's caliber, but their appearance fees are prohibitive.
"Jimmy kind of does us a favor and comes for something we can afford," Cross said of the proprietary incentives. Otherwise, the top athletes "can go run London or Chicago or Boston, where their appearance fee might be three or four times higher."
As usual, Muindi brought his wife, Lucy, and their two children with him. They all love returning to Hawaii because "it feels just like home," he said.
And next year? "God willing, I'll be back."