All types are drawn to Honolulu Marathon
From celebrities to the common man, Honolulu's rules keep people running
Actress Kelly Hu will be like many of the roughly 28,000 runners in today's Honolulu Marathon.
That is, she hasn't run a marathon before.
With interest in marathons at both the celebrity and mainstream level at its highest ever, novice runners, like Hu, will take to the streets confident in their training regimen and resolve.
It also helps that Honolulu hosts the only marathon in the country that leaves its finish line open for everybody, no matter how long it takes. Most marathons have limits of 6 hours for the 26.2-mile distance. As a result, the Honolulu Marathon has a median time of 5 hours, 39 minutes, 40 seconds, the longest in the country.
"It's my first and probably last," said Hu, 38, originally of Honolulu. "It's been a really hard training (period). It's taken a lot of time, and a lot of effort, willpower."
She began training in February, but realized she didn't know what she was doing -- so she hired a trainer after she injured herself in June.
"I realized that I'm not made for running," she said with a laugh. "I have flat feet, fallen arches, so I had to have special arches made. It was a real big learning process for me."
That's how it is for most people who run marathons these days, according to Ryan Lamppa, a researcher with the Running USA training group out of Santa Barbara, Calif.
Lamppa said there are a trio of factors that have led to marathons being embraced by mainstream America over the last 10 years -- most notably, the celebrity factor.
"Mark the mainstream boom as 1994," Lamppa said. "That's when Oprah did her marathon. Oprah is the poster child of this mainstream runner. She doesn't have the body type of a world-class runner. Most of them are lithe and lean, Oprah obviously is a very busy woman. But she found the time to train."
That inspired a countless number of people to sign up in the '90s -- and Hu remembers it.
"(Oprah) totally inspired me," Hu said. "I thought to myself, 'if she can do it, I can do it.' I'm basically fit and it's something that I've always wanted to do anyway."
More recently, rapper P. Diddy and cyclist Lance Armstrong have tried their hands at it. Hawaii musician Jake Shimabukuro is also running today.
Secondly, according to Lamppa, training groups, such as Running USA, have embraced the task of getting average Joes conditioned to the point they stand a good chance of finishing a marathon.
"For those people who didn't do a marathon 10, 15, 20 years ago, it tended to be because they didn't know where to begin," Lamppa said. "These programs take that novice runner, that new runner, and said in six months, we're going to get you to finish this marathon. They've been so successful over the past 10 years. By that, they tell us that they have a rate of success of over 90 percent."
And lastly, information that is easily accessed on the Internet helps fuel interest.
Participation has climbed significantly since the race's start in 1973; 167 people entered then, vs. 28,048 last year.
The Honolulu Marathon's relaxed finish requirements have been in place since the beginning, in part to accommodate Hawaii's unusually high number of marathon first-timers (estimated at 48 percent). The Honolulu Marathon circumvents trouble by starting 2 hours earlier, at 5 a.m., to avoid heat and traffic.
"There's traffic issues in these major cities," said Lamppa. "At least (in Hawaii) they have the latitude of having the course open much, much longer."
This marathon also has more than 17,000 runners from Japan, according to media spokesman Pat Bigold, and has more female runners over 50 than any other marathon in the country.
They'll all be taking their best shot today -- no matter how long it takes.