Tallying the marathon's running list of benefits


POSTED: Sunday, December 13, 2009

You live in east Honolulu and your streets are blocked off for a few hours today.

You're a light sleeper who lives downtown and that cannon blast woke you up at an ungodly hour this morning.

You wanted to take the family to Kapiolani Park today, but your plans didn't include dodging thousands of dazed runners.

You're an EMT and these dummies who don't train properly and collapse give you extra work you don't need.

Certainly, some of us are affected negatively by the Honolulu Marathon. But however irritating the side effects of more than 20,000 people running and walking through the streets at 5 a.m., we need to remember how important this event is to Hawaii.

Right now I'm talking mostly about money—visitors and the money they spend here.

Hawaii sports tourism has absorbed some major hits. Used to be, we'd toil continuously at the sports word factory without a breath from August through the spring, with the marathon the first of several big events coming bang-bang-bang right after UH football. Then the Hula Bowl began its gradual decline and eventually died without even a whimper. This year, the Pro Bowl is off to Miami. And golf tournaments keep appearing on milk cartons. The Sony part of Sony Open isn't even a guaranteed deal after this year.

It all adds up to a lot less money spent here by people coming to play and watch sports.

Somehow, the marathon has survived ... no, make that thrived. Participation is up this year, with 23,469 registered at the end of yesterday. Around 14,500 of the runners, joggers and walkers are from Japan. We're told the Japanese participants average more than one person each accompanying them. That means around 30,000 visitors here filling hotel rooms and buying everything from plate lunches to sunglasses to running shoes. That's not even counting the thousands from the mainland and other parts of the world.

The Japanese are here en masse because of the dollar's weakness in relation to the yen. Their currency goes farther here now.

You've heard of Black Friday; I'm calling today Green Sunday for Waikiki. Before and after those thousands of legs get their workout, so have and will a lot of cash registers. The marathon generates more than $100 million in spending here (and, remember, with no state funding).

Give Jim Barahal and his staff—paid and volunteer—credit. There's some rare vision going on; Barahal and race director Jon Cross are smart to buy when everyone else is selling ... that's why the men's and women's elite fields are so strong this year. They just don't show up uninvited and uncompensated, you know.

No undertaking this huge is perfect. The marathon's problems over the years have ranged from timing malfunctions to a winner disqualified for banned substance use.

But if you only see the event as a flawed annoyance, think of your nephew who depends on the tips he makes at his job waiting tables.

Or your friend who can get his kids what they want for Christmas because he's among 444 police officers making special duty money today (at the marathon's expense, not the city's).

Or better yet, your auntie who became a more healthy person by running regularly, with the satisfaction of completing the marathon as part of the motivation.

No matter how much money gets spent—and, it's a lot, and that's good—it pales in comparison to the benefits of the healthy lifestyles inspired.

Reach Star-Bulletin sports columnist Dave Reardon at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address), his “;Quick Reads”; blog at starbulletin.com, and twitter.com/davereardon.