The Hapalua – Hawaii’s Half Marathon
Are you married to or dating one of those runners who plan the family vacations around a race? Although there can be disadvantages to this approach to getaways, there are plenty of destination races that will make walking around the race expo and going to bed at 7 pm the night before the race worth it!
This is undoubtedly a contributing factor to the rise in popularity of races like the runDisney events, which take runners through the theme parks and encourage costumes, or the Great Wall Marathon, which allows runners to experience this historic site up close. If you or the runner in your life are a fan of these iconic races, then you’ll want to add Hawaii’s largest half marathon, the Hapalua, to your list of races that will scratch that itch to sightsee and travel to exotic locations.
Hapalua is the Hawaiian word for “half,” and the concept of Hawaii’s Half Marathon spun off of the long-standing Honolulu Marathon. More than 10,000 runners participated in this year’s Hapalua. Now in its 8th year, the half marathon has certainly taken on a life of its own!
A Unique Spectator Experience
I know what you’re thinking: If I’ve cheered at one race, I’ve cheered at them all. But I assure you that the Hapalua delivers a unique spectator experience! For starters, the race takes place every April on Oahu, the third largest island in Hawaii and the most densely populated. Escape from any lingering winter blues by visiting Waikiki, the classic neighborhood in Oahu’s wildly popular city of Honolulu.
Not only will you be able to cheer for your athlete while enjoying views of the Pacific, but you’ll witness Team Hawaii attempt to outrun at least one high-caliber professional runner. Team Hawaii is a hand-selected group of the best local runners from the Hawaiian Islands and they make up the Hapalua Chase. The pros fly in from remote countries like Ethiopia and Kenya, and their job is to chase down Team Hawaii in this race within a race.
As if being chased by the Kenyans wasn’t motivation enough, a nice prize purse awaits the fastest of Team Hawaii’s fast. The Chase runners who place in the top ten overall will walk away with a monetary award, with the Chase winner receiving $5,000.
The Chase is given a head start on some of the best professional runners in the world. Start waves for Team Hawaii’s Chase begin before the sun comes up at 5:36 am. Every 6 minutes, another group of 3 to 5 of the Chase starts the half marathon, with the last Chase group starting at 5:54 am. The pros start at 6 am sharp, and have 13.1 miles to run down the local men and women!
Team Hawaii has won three times (in 2012, 2013, and 2014) and Kenya has won four (in 2015, 2016, 2017, and 2018). This year, spectators held their breath from the sidelines, watching Cindy Anderson of Oahu start 19 minutes ahead of the two Kenyan Chasers and hold out the longest, only to caught by Josphat Tanui a mere 50 yards from the finish line. Tanui passed all 24 members of Team Hawaii on his way to the finish line, and the Kenya runners continued their winning streak, beating Team Hawaii for the fifth consecutive year.
Don’t worry if your runner isn’t a speedy Hawaii resident. The Hapalua is open to all runners, and there is no time limit, so athletes can take their time enjoying the sounds and beautiful sights of Waikiki on their way to the finish line. But runners may not want to take too long, as there are medals, music, and malasadas waiting for them once they finish!
After the professional Chasers take off, the race starts for all runners. The stunning course takes participants through the city streets of Honolulu and around Diamond Head, a volcanic tuff cone that is a prominent landmark.
Runner and Spectator Friendly
The best spot to watch the race unfold is in Kapiolani Park, where the runners will first pass by on Monsarrat Avenue, and then run past on Kalakaua Avenue on their way to the finish line. The excitement builds as many members of the Chase are inevitably caught by the pros right before your eyes!
In addition to 13.1 miles of palm trees and tropical beauty, each runner is treated to fresh malasadas that melt in your mouth and Hawaii’s famous and refreshing shave ice at the finish line. Runners can easily meet up with their family in Kapiolani Park, celebrate with photos, and enjoy live music under the warm Hawaiian sun.
One of the advantages to traveling for a half marathon is the little amount of time it takes to prepare and recover in comparison to a 26.2 miler. Runners are generally not as tired the next day, so they’ll have plenty of energy for sightseeing! Come to Oahu a few days before the race to adjust to the time difference, and be sure to stay for the week after the Hapalua.
Ease into a Week of Aloha
You can’t get much closer than Ohana Waikiki East by Outrigger or the hotels on Kalakaua Ave. Hotels like Ohana Waikiki East, Waikiki Beachcomber by Outrigger and Ohana Waikiki Malia by Outrigger offer discounts to athletes and are located about one mile from the Hapalua half marathon start. Save yourself for the hassle of searching for parking in Honolulu by taking advantage of the hotel promo codes listed on the Hapalua website.
Hapalua participants can join the professional Chasers and Team Hawaii the day before the race for the Saturday Social Shake-Out in Kapiolani Park.
After that, make sure your athlete rests up before the Hapalua. They’ve trained too hard for this race to go into it tired, so after picking up their race packet, enjoy lounging by the hotel pool or down the street at Waikiki Beach. Grabbing a smoothie and relaxing under a banyan tree at the Moana Surfrider Resort is also a great way to rest up for the race!
After the race, you and your runner can ease into a week of Aloha. Start your day with brunch at one of Honolulu’s fantastic brunch spots. Team Hawaii’s Billy Barnett recommends Heavenly, a health-centric cafe in the heart of Waikiki, or the Nook at Puck’s Alley for those that want to get off the beaten path!
Then burn off all those calories by window shopping along the strip. You can splurge at high-end stores like Gucci and Tiffany and Co. or pick up some souvenirs at one of the many ABC Stores.
Whether you’re a history buff or not, plan a visit to Pearl Harbor and the USS Arizona. You’ll see retired airplanes, a decommissioned submarine, and certainly, be moved by the Pearl Harbor National Memorial.
Take in the Tropical Sights
If you want to get out of the sun for a bit, the Waikiki Aquarium is steps away from the Hapalua finish line. With many indoor exhibits, it’s always a favorite for families traveling with children.
And no trip to Hawaii would be complete without a luau! For an authentic Hawaiian experience, make your reservations for the Alii Luau at the North Shore’s Polynesian Cultural Center,
Runners looking for some active recovery after the Hapalua will want to hike to the top Diamond Head after running around it during the race.
The moderate hike up should only take about an hour (depending on how hard you ran the Hapalua!) and it’s worth the effort, as you’ll have a 365-degree view of Oahu from the top.
If you like to include a little more adventure in your family vacations, rent a car and drive to Kualoa Ranch to zip line through the Kaaawa Valley. The prehistoric grounds you’ll fly over may look familiar – Kualoa Ranch is where Jurassic Park was filmed!
Have an island-style adventure in the ocean by taking surf lessons or kayaking. Pop into any surf shop near Waikiki Beach to rent a board for the day, or even book a surf lesson. If you’re an experienced surfer, you may want to skip Waikiki and catch some waves at the surfing capital of the world, the North Shore.
Head out to Lanikai Beach in Kailua town. Located on the windward side of Oahu, this beach offers views of two small islands that are home to bird sanctuaries only a mile offshore. To truly experience the islands and stay off your tired feet, kayak over from Lanikai. Or snorkel in the clear waters of the Pacific, which are kept warm by an offshore reach. Get to Lanikai early since as parking is limited in this residential area.
Hawaii’s Hapalua Half Marathon is one race you’ll be begging your runner to sign up for. But be warned, you might have such a blast that you’ll want to return next year and race the Hapalua yourself!