Runners and walkers set out for 26.2 miles at Ala Moana Beach Park. Blasting fireworks signal the start at 5 am and wake up practically everyone in town. Adrenaline rushes and spirits are high as participants gallop through historic Chinatown. The course passes by palm trees and office buildings clad in sparkly lights. In front of city hall, a giant barefoot Santa throwing the shaka dangles his bare feet in a fountain next to his Hawaiian Mrs. Claus. A train full of Menehune, or Hawaiian mythical figures that resemble elves, waves to passersby. It's still dark outside and the city is quiet except for the steady river of runners weaving through town.
After the Christmas lights display, the course straightens out onto Kalakaua Avenue, the main strip in Waikiki that boasts beautiful hotels and beaches. Spectators line both sides, and by mile 6 the urban scenery fades into the peaceful Kapiolani Park and upscale Diamond Head neighborhood, Kahala. After climbing the one and only hill up Kahala Avenue, racers can see the "dawn patrol" surfers over the steep cliffs on the right, and Diamond Head crater on the left. The rising sun paints the ocean metallic pinks and purples.
After tracing the coastline, the course runs through the middle of Kahala and onto West Hawaii Interstate 1. From here, it's a straight shot to ritzy suburb Hawaii Kai, with mossy green mountains to the north, and one beach after the next to the south. On the horizon lies Koko Head Crater, just one more feast for the eyes.
At the end of the highway, just when most people's legs start to give and thoughts of beds and showers spin through their heads, a band awaits to lift spirits and tired feet. Just 9 miles to go.
2 miles through Hawaii Kai, and the river of runners back-tracks down the highway and into Kahala. Bystanders never cease their cheering, and water stations continue bearing gifts of ice-cold water, Gatorade, and sponges. But for most participants, the battle between aching joints and happy spirits - that between body and mind - persists. It may feel like an uphill battle even though lovely Kahala Avenue slopes drastically downward along cliffs and crashing waves. People much older than you trot past, and some people are even accept cups of beer from spectators who shout, "It's all downhill from here!" Some runners and walkers want to stop and puke. Some actually do. But most push their pain aside and focus on the beautiful scenery for one last mile. Then, whether sprinting or limping, they cross the finish line.
Showers, sustenance, and concerts greet the finishers in Kapiolani Park. Now, it really is all downhill from here.
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