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Yoshinaga stands tall to win Big Island marathon


Of course, it rained. Like death and taxes (for the working stiffs), wet weather at the Big Island International Marathon is one of life’s guarantees. After all, that’s Hilo’s unofficial motto: It always rains.

Ducks love rain and runners, too, unless their expensive shoes get water-logged. Nobody cares much for angry, bothersome wind, except sailors. There was mud everywhere there was once dirt, another inconvenience for those with white shoes.

Mother Nature calls the shots and there was a whole lot of rain and wind on Sunday at Hilo Bayfront. But the biggest presence at the three-pronged race (marathon, half-marathon and 3.1-mile run/walk) were the smiles. Too bad Pharrell Williams wasn’t in Hilo because he could have sung his smash hit, “Happy.”

“I can’t believe how many people came, to watch or volunteer,” race director Bob Wedeman said. “It’s unbelievable people showed up with the rain and wind, let alone smiling and being happy. I can’t believe it.”

The 17th edition marked a new start for the record books. The starting and finishing line was at the same place, near the Kamehameha Canoe Club hale. The old starting point was in Pepeekeo, where shuttle buses were required to transport runners early in the morning.

Wedeman reached his goal of over 1,000 participants. He and his brother Joe Wedemann (due to an old family technicality he has two n’s) and Joe’s wife Veronica were taking registrations until 9 p.m. Saturday night. Despite non-stop work, even Wedeman and the Wedemann couple were smiling.

Besides, the new starting point and new finisher’s medal (quite snazzy looking), the other new idea was color designation tags: white for the marathon, blue for half-marathon and red for 5K. That was helpful for public address announcers DC Carlson of B97.1 FM and Eddie O.

Last year, Sam Tilly finished in 2 hours, 39 minutes and 22 seconds and looked like every other runner. He was unannounced as he crossed the finish line in first place. At least, last year’s women’s champion, Atsuko Fujii (3:32:29) from Japan, was recognized and had her picture in the paper.

With a new course, the new champions also would be new record-setters. According to the race’s hilomarathon.org website, Amy Esobio, from Coronado, Calif., ripped through 26.2 miles in 2:22:45. Not even sharks swim that fast.

Wilson Kipsang, from Kenya, holds the marathon record of 2:03:23 set last Sept. 29 at the Berlin Marathon. Paula Radcliffe, from the United Kingdom, holds the women’s record of 2:15:26, established in April 13, 2003 at the London Marathon. That’s on relatively flat ground; Hilo’s marathon has hills, scenic routes and traffic as diversions.

Alas, Esobio’s time was too good to be true for the marathon. It was an early posting, unofficial and later confirmed as a half-marathon time. Even the men’s posting gave championship credit to the wrong guy.

Japan’s Nobou Murakami was listed as the men’s winner in 2:47:58, even though fellow countryman Harumitsu Yoshinaga crossed first in 2:51:12. After the glitch was corrected, Yoshinaga got first place and his picture in the paper.

He spoke limited English. But his smile said enough.

“It’s my first time running here,” he said. “I’m very, very happy.”

He’s 39 years old, works as an IT systems engineer and was accompanied by his wife and two daughters. It’s his seventh marathon, first trip to the Big Island and third time to Oahu, giving the state tourism agency a nice financial shot in the arm.

Norway’s Anette Leistad, 30, continued the international part as the official women’s champion in 3:27:35. Right on her tail was Japan’s Yoko Yamazawa, who clocked in at 3:27:50.

Leistad is part of a 21-person tour group from Norway that has spent two weeks in Waikiki. Her husband, Sebastian Leistad, and their son and daughter, remained in Waikiki. She flew out Sunday night with friends Marte Lund (4:31:57) and Daniel Hatcher (4:48:06), who both ran the marathon.

Leistad is a personal trainer and physical therapist while her husband is a real estate agent. Her birthday was March 5, her mom’s five days later, and decided to run her first marathon in Hilo, where the island’s finest weather didn’t bother her in the least.

“It was good with the rain. I like rain,” she said. “We were planning the trip to Hawaii and I was planning to do a marathon this month. Everything fit. I liked the course, the waterfall, seeing the surfers in the ocean. Where I come from there are a lot of mountains, I like running more on hills. It was pretty good.

“It was very unexpected that I won. I’m speechless about that. At 35 kilometers (22 miles), I was completely empty. I walked for a few meters. Then the second place runner was behind me and I knew I had to give it my all.”

Final Four

Kailua-Kona’s Cowman, DJ Blinn, David Hammes and Marie Kuramoto extended their tradition of running in all 17 editions of the BIIM. Cowman finished in 5:56:06, Blinn in 5:10:30 (his wife Yuka in 4:24:16), Hammes in 5:35:35 and Kuramoto in 5:47:51.

Cowman turned 70 years old on race day and placed second in the 70-and-older age division. Still, he had a smile on his face. He enjoyed the new course because of the chance to interact with other runners.

“I like the new course. You have a chance for camaraderie and talk to people on the run with the out and back,” he said. “There’s more people, too. I live on the island, so you have to expect everything with the weather.”

He also had a chance to get the low down on his main competitor, Alex Brown from Honolulu, who won the oldest division in 5:17:07.

“After he passed me, he looked older and I asked him his age and he said, ‘I’m 71.’ I like to know my competition,” Cowman said. “But it’s a giant vs. a cheetah. I might have a chance if there were a clydesdale or sumo division. I weigh 245 pounds and that’s a lot of weight to carry.”

Local champs

Mike Daly, from Hilo, was the first local winner in 3:43:31, while Kailua-Kona’s Elda Carreon was the women’s winner in 3:50:53.

Daly, 33, works at KTA and was with his wife Bethany and their daughter Cyanne. It’s his third Hilo marathon and the second in a row. He prefers the new course to the old.

“All the other fast Hilo guys are saving themselves for Boston next month,” said Daly, blessed with a good sense of humor. “I like the new course, going out and back, instead of sideways and all over Hilo. I like the camaraderie, too. That helped me. Even when you passed people, they encouraged you. It was fun.”

Carreon, 33, is a cook at the Kona Inn Restaurant. She’s originally from Mexico, but has lived on the Big Island for 10 years.

One day, she went to the Ironman and that was her inspiration to run. It’s her third BIIM and she’s ran the Kona marathon twice and the Volcano half-marathon once.

“I’m happy and I love running. I run for inspiration and it makes me happy,” said Carreon, whose smile summed up the day.

 

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