CINDY ELLEN RUSSELL / CRUSSELL@STARBULLETIN.COM
Marathon walkers and runners made their way down Kilauea Avenue during last weekend's Honolulu Marathon. Mark Osmun's personal account of the marathon (inset), published in 1979, is available again as a print-on-demand publication.
Author recounts day on the run with a droll style
"The Honolulu Marathon" is an amusing and entertaining "new journalism" account of what was, in the 1970s, a new trend.
"The Honolulu Marathon"
by Mark Hazard Osmun
($15.95, available at www.lulu.com)
Originally published in 1979, the book culminates with author Mark Hazard Osmun's own participation in the 1977 event. It's not easy to write a compelling account of running 26.2 miles -- it's pretty much the same thing, with each mile becoming more painful -- but the former Honolulu Advertiser staff writer does an impressive job with what could have been pedestrian material.
"Time loses its meaning," he wrote of making his way through the later stages of his first marathon. "I've been out here since the beginning of my life. I've been out here for a few minutes. I can stay out here forever. It's all the same. I only take one step, one moment at a time: Now. there's nothing else. Time is hereby suspended. We all own a private chunk of forever."
The vintage paperback has been reissued through print-on-demand technology, which allows the 54-year-old author to add the marathon's latest results and offer a fresh copy each year. Even the 2006 statistics have been included. Last year was the first time the book has been available since 1980, when the late Hunter S. Thompson referred to it in a magazine article that evolved into "The Curse of Lono."
With the new technology and the confidence that the material still "holds up," Osmun decided to make the book available online. "Instead of being dated, it was more of a lively history," said Osmun, who grew up in Honolulu, attended Punahou School and started his career before leaving the islands for more than 20 years. He returned about three years ago.
Back in the '70s, he started writing about the marathon for the Advertiser, where he was expected to produce 20 to 30 running-related stories leading up to the big day. Even more entertaining than this moderately insane expectation was when Osmun figured out why the event was receiving so much attention: Honolulu Marathon founder Dr. Jack Scaff was his editor's physician.
His assignments involved meeting interesting characters -- including the legendary Scaff -- and following the Honolulu Marathon Clinic in the style of "participatory journalism" gaining popularity at the time.
About attending the clinics, he wrote, "...it will take some time this morning before I can even remember why I am driving to the park, coffee spilling onto these nifty flowered nylon shorts, eyes blinking back night film, worrying how long the nylon will keep the coffee off my ... of me, at the start of a cranky Sunday morning, much less guess why these giggling running maniacs are out here."
This was, of course, before Osmun made his own transformation from recreational jogger to marathoner.
The book is packed with names familiar to any runner in Honolulu: Kenny Moore, Duncan MacDonald, Val Nolasco, Norman Tamanaha and the amazing Chun family, otherwise known as the Hunky Bunch, which held more than 60 running records at various distances. But Osmun doesn't just gloss over the material. He makes us feel that we know these people.
In an anecdote that evoke memories of the recent U2 concert, he described how the must-see concert of the year -- Fleetwood Mac -- fell right before the marathon. After much internal debate, Osmun ended up at the big event, his binoculars trained on Stevie Nicks while he marveled that he was sitting next to marathon great Bill Rodgers.
Along the way, Osmun noted the rapidly increasing numbers of marathon participants. Could anyone have foreseen the local fun-run burgeoning with 4,000 people inching toward the starting line? Staggering then. Comical now that we have become accustomed to seven times that many, in what Osmun called a "highly sophisticated international business model."
His observations of the running boom three decades ago make the book a worthwhile reminiscence for athletes and fitness buffs alike. "A lot of people might not be aware of how locally oriented [the marathon] was at the beginning, how grass-rootsy it was," he said.
For anyone who ever asked, "Why?" Osmun thought about that, too.
"It's interesting that running has become a national mania during the 1970s, a decade for the most part devoid of major issues and crises, a decade that so far has offered little in the way of challenges, in which people are either out of work or locked in incredibly boring jobs are looking for a battle worth the effort," Osmun wrote. "The marathon, I think has given us the opportunity to take a shot, to measure our worth in a battle that is worth the effort."