The Kauai Half Marathon and Marathon. How to train for a tropical race

On the 2nd of September 2018, Alin and I ran on the hilly roads of the Kauai at the Kauai Half Marathon and Marathon. I crossed the finish line of my 6th half, and Alin earned the medal of his 3rd full marathon and an honourable 5th place.

kauai half marathon and marathon finish line

Everything you’ll hear about this race is true. They say it’s brutal. That it’s hot, hilly and humid. ALL true. But nothing can bring you down if you prepare for it.

Race Expo

The expo is open for the entire weekend of the race. It’s hosted at the Hyatt hotel, and even if you’re not running, you should visit it. It’s one of the most beautiful places I’ve seen in my entire life. Looking around you feel like you’re in a postcard or wallpaper.

kauai half marathon and marathon race expo

That’s where you pick up your race pack which includes t-shirt and number. The expo is tiny, with a few options of clothes and nutrition. The only spot that caught my attention was a table full of headbands. They were all printed with funny taglines, so I ended up buying 3.

Race review // The Kauai Half Marathon and Marathon

The start line

Running starts at 6 am and you’re encouraged to get there at 4:30 to warm up and take part in the opening festivities. Of course, it’s dark outside and will be even half hour into the race.

We were staying in a different, more affordable, part of the island, so we left our hotel room at 3 am. When we arrived, there were already a few runners and plenty of staff members with FREE coffee and runner snacks (bananas, pastry).

Toilet facilities were also available and clean. The only issue was the lack of daylight, so you couldn’t see anything in there! But I think we’re all smart enough not to wee on the floor.

Compared to other races, this one is small, with only 2000 runners, so there was no struggle to get to the start line. I kissed Alin goodbye at 5:50 am and went to the 10min/mile area, leaving him just behind the elites.

The countdown started. But not before the organizers asked us to take hats off to sing the national anthem. I ran in 3 other countries, this never happened before. After the American anthem, the locals sang a Hawaiian farewell song. It was one of the best start lines ever.

The course

And then… we ran. For hours and hours.

The sun was up sometime close to 7 am, but the sunshine wasn’t a problem for most of the race. It was cloudy, and we even had a bit of rain. For someone who’s not a fan of hot days, I can honestly say the temperature wasn’t bad. However, the humidity hits you right after you start running.

And then the hills. For the first 8 miles, it’s hill after hill after hill. I only caved once and started walking because it was never-ending. Somewhere between miles 5 and 7, there’s an uphill that turns left and right a few times. And because the road turns, there is no way to know how long you still have to go – that messed up with my brain a bit!

I stopped at every single water station and everyone should, for heatstroke prevention reasons. I had mostly water, but a few sips of Lucozade too. No solid food or gels.

kauai half marathon and marathon during the race

Though there are still a few small hills, it’s mostly downhill from mile 8. I took pictures and enjoyed the view. I was wearing my Vegan Runners shirt, so I had the pleasure to meet a few other runners that came to say hi and “I’m vegan too!”.

As always, the last mile is the longest. You can see the ocean, but it seems so far away! But I made it to the finish line in 2h 24min, after climbing 225m at 30 degrees temperature and 80% humidity.

Alin had the superhuman quest of running double the distance and the elevation, but he joined me at the finish line in 3h 10min, as the 5th marathon finisher.

I have to mention that there were still half marathoners finishing after 3h 30min, just to give you an idea of how difficult the race is.

kauai half marathon and marathon split point

We didn’t stay to check out the village after, though it looked like you could get a massage and plenty of food and drink. We chose to drive back to the hotel, enjoy the hot tub and have some food at a local restaurant.

How to train for a tropical race

It was a September race, so we had the whole summer to prepare for it. And surprisingly, the UK had high temperatures, so we had a taste of what running in 30 degrees will feel like.

Here are a few other ideas:

Go to the sauna and steam room regularly. It’s included in our gym membership, so we didn’t have to pay anything extra for a weekly session. 15 minutes sauna, 5 minutes steam, 15 minutes break. Repeat 2 or 3 times, depending on how you cope with it.

Hot Yoga! It gets you used to exercising in the heat and depending on the environment, humidity. I’m not only a member of a hot yoga studio, but I also teach there, so I had plenty of opportunities to experience this.

Long runs on hot mornings. In the case of Kauai, there was almost no direct sun until you got close to the finish, so there’s no need to go out in the middle of the day, covered in sunscreen and risk a heatstroke.

Hills training. Specifically for this race, you need to train on hills! In 10 weeks I had of training, I pushed through 5 hilly runs. I will share my exact training plan soon, but to give you a rough idea, it went something like this: for a 250m long hill with 10% incline, the last and hardest workout was ten times up and down at a pace as close as possible to the race goal.

Get there a few days early to get used to the timezone and the climate. When you step out of the plane in Lihue, a strong wave of heat hits you, and it’s scary and overwhelming. But spending a few days enjoying the ocean and the island helps for sure. Being jetlagged was a good thing this time because we were able to wake up very early on race day.

the kauai island

Do a couple of short runs to see how you feel. Try to go out at the same time the race would start.

Walk or drive around the course. We did this and although it freaked us out, knowing what to expect is get you rid of some of the pre-race nerves. Driving around the course, we couldn’t believe we’ll run on those hills in a few days time, but obviously, we survived.

The Kauai Marathon and Half Marathon has to make it on your list of destination races or bucket list races. It’s not easy, so don’t count on it for a PB. It’s also not cheap nor close if you’re in Europe, but you won’t regret a single penny. For breathtaking views and a race to remember forever, go to Kauai. We haven’t been to any of the other islands of Hawaii to be able to compare, but we had the holiday of a lifetime.

kauai half marathon and marathon medal

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