By Chris Lotsbom, @ChrisLotsbom
(c) 2015 Race Results Weekly, all rights reserved

HONOLULU (11-Dec) — Before the sun rises tomorrow, more than 22,000 runners will begin their 42.195 kilometer journey towards Kapiolani Park as part of the 43rd Honolulu Marathon. Routinely one of the top five largest marathons in the United States each year, the Honolulu Marathon has established itself as a marquee event, boasting rich traditions both on the roads and in the surrounding community. As the sun comes up off of Waikiki Beach on Sunday morning, the winners will streak down Diamond Head Road bound for Kapiolani Park and its decorated finish line. In anticipation of the event, Race Results Weekly has highlighted ten storylines to watch out for tomorrow:

1) Returning Champions — Of course, the pre-race favorites are defending champions Wilson Chebet and Joyce Chepkirui, both of Kenya. Last year the pair claimed the champions’ leis in far different fashion: Chebet broke away from the field in the final five kilometers thanks to a ferocious surge, while Chepkirui did all she could to maintain her lead after going out under event record pace in 1:13:07. Both are back looking to take home another medal and the $40,000 winner’s check.

Keeping a keen eye on the weather reports for Sunday, Chebet and Chepkirui hope for favorable trade winds and little to no humidity.

Humidity is challenging to me. But I will try my best,” said Chebet. “Last year it was raining, so I don’t know… If there is no wind from in front, and if the wind is from behind I think we will improve our times.”

2) Course Records in Jeopardy? — The men’s and women’s course records have stood unchallenged for eleven and nine years, respectively. Could this finally be the year that James Muindi and Lyubov Denisova’s marks of 2:11:12 and 2:27:19 come down? Not even former world record holder Wilson Kipsang could come within a minute of Muindi’s mark in 2012.

The challenging course that rises up Diamond Head crater at 8 miles then loops back along the coastline is not privy to very fast times. But with the field assembled, anything can happen. Ten men and four women have lifetime bests under the current course records.

On the men’s side, watch for Rome and Paris Marathon champion Benjamin Kiptoo, as well as compatriots Felix Kiprotich, Kenneth Mungara, Stephen Kosgei and Robert Kwambai, in addition to Chebet. For the women, 2011 champion Woynishet Girma, former World Junior record holder Zhang Yingying, and road race ace Aheza Kiros could challenge Chepkirui for the win.

3) In Memory of Zane Branson — Each year, the late manager Zane Branson would come here to the Honolulu Marathon and represent his athletes, encouraging them on to wins and podium finishes. Branson tragically passed away in July at the age of 57, and seven members of the elite athlete field assembled here were represented by him.

During pre-race festivities, many athletes, media members, and race organizers spoke about Branson and his contributions to the sport. A contingent of athletes will visit Branson’s family in Virginia in the coming days.

“I will come here to do what Zane was trying to do,” said Mungara, the current master’s world record holder. “Before he died, I talked to him when I was in Australia [at the Gold Coast Marathon] on the phone. We talked about a lot of things… He was a very nice man.”

4) Sign of Future Success — Looking at the 43-year history of the Honolulu Marathon, one can easily spot a trend of world-class marathoners. Many professionals have raced here early in their careers then gone on to win World Marathon Majors events. Could Sunday’s race be a stepping stone for someone in the field?

Past notable winners include Ibrahim Hussein (three-time Boston Marathon champion and one-time TCS New York City Marathon champion), Jacqueline Hansen (1973 Boston Marathon victor), and Svetlana Zakharova (Boston and Chicago Marathon winner). Jimmy Muindi claimed six titles in the midst of a stellar career, and former world record holder Wilson Kipsang won in 2012 (timing 2:12:31) before going on to win the Abbott World Marathon Majors series crown.

5) New Finisher Medal — This year, race organizers have designed a new and very stylish finisher medal that showcases the event logo in a neat form. Without giving too many details away, the medals are sleek and look like something podium finishers would receive at a World Championships. As to maintain the integrity of the medal, organizers have not yet revealed the design to the public.

In one word, they are impressive. Finishers will definitely want to wear this medal around the island.

6) Final Finisher — No matter what time runners cross the finish line in Kapiolani Park, they will receive a finisher’s medal. The Honolulu Marathon prides itself on having no time cut-off, one of the only marathons in the world that doesn’t restrict the amount of time one can take to cover 26.2 miles.

In 2014, Nozomu Fukushima of Maebashi-Shi, Japan, was the final finisher, racing from Ala Moana to Kapiolani Park in 14 hours, 21 minutes, and 16 seconds. That’s a pace of 32:51 per mile.

7) Expanded TV Coverage — This year’s Honolulu Marathon will have expanded television coverage locally, in addition to the traditional radio broadcast. On local ABC affiliate KITV-4, the race will feature a live, four-hour broadcast for the first time. With “parade” type coverage including live hits from spots on the course, viewers at home will get to keep up with what is happening at the front of the pack. Among those providing commentary are Toni Reavis and wife Toya, the latter a cross country coach at the University of San Diego.

Also this year, ESPN South America has filmed a feature story on competitor Bill Turner of Honolulu. Following him throughout race week, ESPN South America plans to produce a 30 minute segment featuring the Honolulu Marathon for their program titled ‘ESPN Run’. ESPN Run has featured other prominent races around the world as well.

8) Women’s Numbers — Interestingly, the Honolulu Marathon is believed to have the second-highest percentage of women runners of any marathon in the United States. Out of last year’s 21,826 finishers, 10,313 were women — a staggering 47.3% percent. This year, women account for roughly 49% of the field thus far.

Speaking to runners at the race expo, reasons for this high percentage seemed to vary. Some said the no cut-off time was a draw, while others said the Honolulu Marathon was a destination marathon they wanted to participate in. The community atmosphere was also a top answer.

“This is my second one and I do it for the exercise, consistent exercise,” said Kelly Doyle of Honolulu. “Eight years ago I ran my first Honolulu Marathon. I love running, and I came back because I wanted to do it again, hopefully go a bit faster. And this is my home race, which is special.”

9) Florian Neuschwander — Pulling off a unique double is Florian Neuschwander of Germany. Neuschwander placed fourth at the XTERRA Trail Running World Championship here on O’Ahu last week, finishing the half-marathon in 1:29:31. After the race, Neuschwander canceled his flight home and decided to stay on the island an extra week. Known for his thick curly hair and intricate tattoos, Neuschwander has a personal best of 2:20:29.

“Ok. You can call me crazy. It’s true. This morning I changed my flight so that I am able to Start at the Honolulu Marathon (13.12.) just one week after the Xterra Trailrunning World Championships,” Neuschwander posted on Instagram last week. “I was so happy this morning that I did a 10k in 32:45 minutes! That will be fun I tell you!”

Neuschwander could very well be the top non-East African finisher in the field.

10) Costumes — One thing you see at some marathons are crazy costumes. Here in Honolulu, spectators see the best of the best. Two legends are Getta Man and Vegan Man. Getta Man is a native of Japan who races all 26.2 miles in traditional Japanese geta footwear. With an elevated wooden base that creates a very high platform, geta shoes resemble wooden clogs or flip-flops — nothing like traditional running shoes.

In a post on the Honolulu Marathon Instagram page, Getta Man showed off his traditional footwear for this year’s race. (Note that he spells his name with an extra ‘t’ in Getta; it is unknown why).

“I remember this guy passing us on the course!” wrote one commenter.

Also a mainstay at the marathon is Vegan Man, also known as Jake Garvin of Honolulu. Garvin has previously run the Honolulu Marathon carrying a giant log or cement blocks, symbolizing the strength he’s gained through living a vegan lifestyle. This year, Garvin’s log will weigh over 100 pounds.

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