COURTESY OF HONOLULU MARATHON
Jimmy Muindi, left, is back in Hawaii, trying to become a six-time champion in the Honolulu Marathon on Sunday.
Muindi wants victory No. 6
The Kenyan previously won the Honolulu Marathon in 1999, 2000, '03, '04 and '05
With an average of 22 miles per day under his belt, five-time Honolulu Marathon champion Jimmy Muindi is ready to earn his sixth title beginning at 5 a.m. Sunday.
"I don't come here to be No. 2," Muindi said after traveling for two days from his native Kenya. "Honolulu is always my best race."
As it should be. This marks his 14th consecutive appearance here.
Entrants in the 35th annual Honolulu Marathon have reached 26,515, just shy of last year's total of 26,672 at this time. Of those, 7,671 are Hawaii residents and 16,144 hail from Japan. All of the numbers are expected to rise this week, as approximately 2,000 runners pay $175 to enter at the Expo in the days leading up to the event.
It has been a difficult year for Muindi, 35, who finished second in Honolulu last year to Ambesse Tolossa of Ethiopia. A fever caused him to drop out of the Rotterdam Marathon at mile 17 in April, and unfavorable weather coupled with a nagging injury forced him to pull out of the Chicago Marathon in October at mile 19. This will be his third marathon attempt of the year, and he has no intention of allowing anything to keep him from crossing the finish line in good form.
"I'm OK now," he said with a smile. "I'm 100 percent fit."
Tolossa, who won last year's race in 2:13:42, an average pace of 5:06 per mile, returns this year, creating the potential for another physical competition between the two men. Muindi finished second in 2:14:39, a full 3 1/2 minutes off his best time in Honolulu. But Muindi said that if the road gets a bit crowded again, "I can push the pace; I'll just take off. When you are OK and fit, you don't mind."
This year, Muindi thinks he can run 2:10 (he set the record of 2:11:12 in 2004) -- weather permitting -- and wants the pace setter to hit the half-marathon in 1:05. But even though his personal best is 2:07:51 (Chicago 2006), he acknowledged that the tempo he wants in Honolulu can't be achieved alone, especially in the wind.
Honolulu Marathon president Jim Barahal said if these blustery conditions persist, "that's really going to slow down the elites enormously." On the other hand, intermittent rain and little or no sun will result in "pretty good conditions for the masses," he said. "You don't want a good beach day."
Should a city-wide power loss occur, the marathon will continue as planned. All of the clocks are battery powered, and the equipment at Kapiolani Park relies on generators.
In a new development, drug testing for the top three finishers will be revived this year after the 2006 champion, Lyubov Denisova, tested positive for elevated testosterone levels in the spring following her victory (and kept the $67,000 she earned). The Honolulu Marathon has not tested for banned substances since 2000.
"After what happened last year, we said we needed to be a little more proactive," said Barahal.
With few veteran competitors in attendance, the women's race remains wide open. But Tatiana Petrova, a newcomer who won the silver medal in the 3,000 meters at the World Championships this year, could be a quiet favorite.
As for hometown darling Muindi, there's much more at stake. "You know, Honolulu is home," he said. "So I always want to give them a good race."