Looking for a repeat


POSTED: Saturday, December 12, 2009

Two of the prerace favorites for the Honolulu Marathon women's championship are on opposite ends of the spectrum when it comes to this year's marathon preparation.

Defending champion Kiyoko Shimahara has endured a busy schedule this year, and Sunday's race will be her third marathon since August. Former world record holder Margaret Okayo will be making her first marathon appearance since 2006. Both insist they're in top shape and ready for this year's Honolulu Marathon, and they will need to be, given the quality and depth of the elite women's field.

The 37th annual race - which begins in front of Ala Moana Park and weaves through downtown Honolulu, Waikiki, Diamond Head, Kahala and Hawaii Kai before ending at Kapiolani Park - will start tomorrow at 5 a.m.

Shimahara, who spoke with St. Francis School students yesterday, won last year's race in 2 hours, 32 minutes, 36 seconds over fellow Japanese runner Kaori Yoshida (2:34:35). She won after pulling away from the pack at the 18.6-mile mark. Her victory - just the second ever for a Japanese national in the Honolulu Marathon - is perhaps a fitting ending to a race that featured nearly 14,500 Japanese runners in a field of more than 23,000.

Her 2008 victory also halted Russia's dominance in the Honolulu Marathon. After claiming seven of the previous eight victories, the country was not only denied the title, but also shut out of the top-three podium on which it had claimed 16 of 27 spots in the races since 2000. (On a side note, the last American winner in this marathon was Cyndie Welte in 1988. The last Hawaii athlete to win this event was Cindy Dalrymple in 1977.)





        » When: Tomorrow, 5 a.m. (elite runners)

» Start/finish: In front of Ala Moana Park to Kapiolani Park


» Entries: About 24,000


» Last year's winners: Men: Patrick Ivuti, Kenya. Women: Kiyoko Shimahara, Japan.


Shimahara, 32, has performed well this year, though four marathons in one year may end up taking a toll on her legs. Speaking through a translator, she insists she's feeling fine and her training has adequately prepared her for the race, but Sunday's miles and her pace will be the true indicators of either the brilliance or over-ambition of her heavy marathon schedule.

Shimahara is the defending champion, but Kenya's Okayo may be the most compelling and intriguing name in the field. The 33-year-old was one of the most dominant marathon runners early in this decade, owning four major titles - New York (2001, 2003), Boston (2002) and London (2004), and also earning wins at San Diego Rock 'n' Roll Marathon in 2000 and 2001, Milan in 2003 and London in 2004. She is still the course-record holder of the Boston and New York marathons, and she set her personal best of 2:20:43 when she won in Boston.

But injuries and the death of her mother in 2007 removed the marathon from Okayo's schedule completely since the London Marathon in April 2006. She ran a half marathon (1:11) in Portugal in October, but this nonmarathon drought - the longest in her career - has left her admittedly unsure about what to expect in her first-ever try in Honolulu.

“;I haven't run one for so long it's like my first marathon now,”; she said from a Waikiki hotel on Thursday morning.

Shimahara and Okayo are two of the favorites, but they will have to face down a strong women's field to trot off with the $40,000 winner's check.

Russian Svetlana Zakharova, 39, has won in Honolulu twice (1997 and 2002) and took the Boston title from Okayo with a win in 2003.

Kenya's Pamela Chepchumba won in Milan in 2007, came in second in Hamburg in 2008 and finished third in Paris in 2006.

Japan's Akemi-Ishige Ozaki was the pace setter in 2007, but continued in the race and finished second. Though she's already run four marathons this year, she is coming off a win at Athens in early November.

Yoshida was last year's pace setter, but like Ozaki in 2007, she never stepped off the course and finished second. She also finished fourth here in 2007 and owns wins in the Hokkaido Marathon (2006) and Casablanca Marathon (2008).

Each of these elite female runners has recorded a personal best faster than Shimahara's winning time (2:32:36) from last year.