Thomas Sands slipped near the end of the Kona Marathon on Sunday, but never came close to losing his grip on the race.
The 28-year-old runner from Honolulu finished in 2 hours, 48 minutes and 38 seconds to easily outdistance the rest of the field. Jay Yanek of Katy, Texas, was second in 3:02.59. Brian Pruitt of Kailua-Kona was third in 3:06.58.
Yuko Nakai of Honolulu was the first female marathon runner to cross the line, as she finished in 3:16.27. Michelle Tilley (3:27.19) and Brooke Myers (3:29.31), each of Kailua-Kona, finished second and third, respectively.
Sands grabbed the lead shortly after the halfway point and was never really threatened. At least not by the other runners. He did have a scary moment as he neared the finish line at Sheraton Kona Resort and Spa at Keauhou Bay.
“I know that everyone complains about this every year – and I actually did slip and fall and almost hit my face on the stairs that they have set up over there,” Sands said. “That’s the only area I had criticism with. It’s at mile 25 or 26, so you’re pretty much cooked at that point. I wasn’t able to get my finishing kick that I wanted because of the way it was set up. But the course was phenomenal. I thought the hill sections were good and the water and aid stations were fantastic in terms of the preparation.”
Sands said he wasn’t surprised at how much distance he was able to put between himself and the rest of the field.
“I felt amazing today, to be honest with you,” he said. “I really held back on the first half. I think I came through the 13 miles in like 1:24:30. There was a guy in front of me. I was reeling him in.”
Sands said he trailed by about 10 seconds at the halfway point.
“I basically dropped the hammer to a 6:15-minute mile,” he said. “Basically blew him out and didn’t see him after that.”
Sands has a varied athletic background. He played soccer when he was young – ultimately reaching the Olympic Development Program – before concentrating on wrestling, which he did at Division I Sacred Heart University in Connecticut. After college, he took up bodybuilding and, later, triathlons. Ultimately, he decided to focus on running.
He’s only been concentrating on running for two years, and Sunday marked just his fourth marathon.
“I trained pretty hard for this,” he said. “I put in about five or six months preparation, building my base, working on speed work, a lot of hill training. Everybody people told me that this race was a killer, so I wanted to train as hard as I could.”
The race was much more difficult for Nakai, who said she found out around mile 8 that she was the leader.
“Just tired and exhausted, but very satisfied,” she said shortly after the race.
Keeping a consistent pace has been a problem for Nakai in the past, but she wasn’t going to let that happen on Sunday.
“I always go first and slow down, but I tried to be even for this one,” she said.
Last year, Nakai finished seventh in the Kona race. Her goals for this year were not any higher, especially as she just turned 40.
“I was trying to win my age group,” she said with a smile.
Half marathon: Chris Gregory of Kailua-Kona was the first overall finisher with a time of 1:17.37. Rani Henderson of Keauhou was the top female. She finished in 1:28.07.
10K: Japan’s Shutaro Kimura won in 37 minutes, 28 seconds. The 29-year-old is from Ohtaku, Japan. Fatima Ortega Barajas wasn’t just the top overall female, but the runner from Seatac, Washington, also was the second overall finisher in 38:27.
5K: Jeff Stelnik of Phoenix was first to cross the finish line. The 41-year-old did it in 17:57. Chelsea Robinson of King City, California, was the top female. The 22-year-old finished in 21:31.