Jonathan Lyau has won nine Kamaaina titles in a row at the Honolulu Marathon.

Lyau wins by aiming
just to finish

Target has runners shooting for records

By Jerry Campany

For someone who is always in motion, Jonathan Lyau is stuck in one place.

Lyau, 38, will run his 20th Honolulu Marathon tomorrow and try to win his 10th straight Kamaaina title. He has run the Chicago and Boston marathons, but still counts the event on his home course as his favorite. And it's a good thing, too, because he couldn't run another event even if he wanted to. Even when his wife, Kelli, is flying to Tucson, Ariz., to run the marathon there on the same day.

Honolulu Marathon "The first time I think I said 'It will be good if I can win this (the Kamaaina title),' " Lyau said. "Now, I kind of have this streak going, that's why I run Honolulu every year."

The streak has kind of snuck up on the McKinley graduate, who runs another marathon in addition to the Honolulu event every year. He has been a premier local runner since winning the state track meet for McKinley. He has since won the Great Aloha Run twice and runs in as many local events as he can.

But the marathon is always on that list, and will be for as long as the streak lives.

That Lyau is the first local finisher annually is without question due to his dedication and training, but a bigger reason no local runners can catch him may be that he is not trying to win. Keeping the title matters to him on the other 364 days of the year, but when the morning sky is filled with fireworks on the second Sunday of December, he is just out for another 26.2-mile slow workout. His main concern is the same as the weekend warriors who walk the course -- he is just looking to finish.

He looks at his time afterward, but is not out to set any personal records anymore.

"I get the same feeling no matter where I finish," Lyau said. "When you are coming down to the finish, I always feel like I accomplished something. I don't worry about time."

His closest brush with boarding a truck and riding the rest of the way home came before he matured into the runner he is now.

In 1988, Lyau desperately wanted to set his personal record, but barely finished. Just before the halfway mark of the race, Lyau started cramping worse than he ever had, and the pain was so intense -- not to mention the blisters that developed on his feet -- that he pulled up and decided to wait for a relief truck to pick him up. Finishing was not worth the pain any more.

Lyau stood on the side of Kalanianaole Highway for an hour when he began to get cold. That was when he saw his old teammate Malcolm Tomatani, who was struggling through like everyone else. Lyau decided to keep Tomatani company, and pushed his old friend to his personal best of four hours, 29 minutes. It was also Lyau's personal worst, but it slowly changed him as a runner.

"Now when I think I won't finish, no matter what, I'll always finish a marathon I've started," Lyau said. "I'll walk it if I have to."

Lyau began coaching after that painful episode, running a small company called Personal Best Training in addition to his day job in the family candy distribution business, and slowly the focus on race day shifted from his results to the times his students are able to put up. Those are always the first times he seeks out.

"I have been training people for the past several years. Now I am kind of more excited to learn how they are going to do," Lyau said. "Before, my focus was all on myself. Now I just try to run a controlled race."

The years have flown by for Lyau, who is surprised on the rare occasions that someone mentions that he is one of the few who have run the Honolulu Marathon in four different decades. And he is not even 40 years old.

Lyau doesn't say whether he would like to stretch the mark to five decades, only that he will take each race one at a time. After all, he is no longer the 20-year old dominator he once was, and is starting to feel the age creep up on him. His days of invincibility are over.

"I am still healthy now," Lyau said. "Every time I finish I count my blessings because I don't know how long I'll be healthy enough to do this."

But one thing is sure, Lyau will run the Honolulu Marathon as long as he can. The trips to New Zealand for a race may end someday -- he is hoping to run the Chicago Marathon next year and would like to experience the New York and Twin Cities races -- but he will always find a place for his favorite course whether or not a title is on the line.

"I kind of feel comfortable running this course," Lyau said. "I don't feel stressed out like when I run other marathons on the mainland. All the friendly faces make it enjoyable."

Honolulu Marathon

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