Guest Blogger Courtney Alev

A Hawaiian vacation. Nothing sounded better than white sand beaches, poolside margaritas, and… running a marathon?

I’m still a little unsure of how I ended up at mile 22, wanting to die, on my first vacation in a year, on which I planned on moving only between bed, beach, and bar. But there I was, and it was one of the most fun spontaneous decisions of my life.

I planned a Maui vacation with my friend and fellow ambassador Alyssa several months prior when Hawaiian had announced a sub-$300 (ha) flight from NorCal direct to Maui. Sign me up! And isn’t there a race around that time? We Googled, discovered the Maui Oceanfront Marathon, signed up for the half, and then waited patiently for our trip to arrive.

About two days before the race, we got it in our heads that it’d be fun to run not the half, but the FULL marathon. See, the half was an out-and-back which meant you only saw about 6.5 miles of Maui coastline, versus the full 26.2 from Wailea to Lahaina. And why not? Yes, there were reasons to not—it would be hot and humid, Alyssa was hoping for a PR at a half two weeks later, we were on vacation and wanted to be able to walk for the rest of it (and I wanted to surf). But what if we take it easy, walk a bunch, and carry cameras? The decision was made the day before, we switched to the full marathon at the expo for the cost of either $10 or a bottle of wine, and before I knew it I’d woken up at 3:30 to put on a skirt, pin a flower to my hair, and oh yeah—run a marathon.

As we gathered at the start line in a parking lot, I was surrounded by only a few hundred people—much smaller than my previous marathons—and it was an entirely different feel. No one was stressing out, studying splits, pinning time bands to their wrists. Rather, it was a celebration of running—and in such a beautiful place. The race director got on a bullhorn and polled the audience about marathon accomplishments—many people there were gunning for 50 marathons in 50 states, many others had already completed that multiple times over. A nice lady in the bathroom line in front of us we soon found out had run over 300 marathons. (Please do the math on that one.) People were there to ENJOY the experience. And so were we.

During the race, Alyssa and I kept a steady, slow clip for the first half as we dealt with the humidity, the darkness, and the flashlights in our hands. When the sun finally reared its head at mile 11.5, we were in for a treat—a Hawaiian sunrise, experienced like never before. We were running a marathon, yes. But more accurately, we were ENJOYING a marathon. We stopped at every water station to fill bottles and chat with volunteers and thank them. I fueled with cookies, chocolate and banana bread handed out on course—I wasn’t racing, and if you hand me banana bread, I take it. We stopped to take photos. We cheered for other racers and got many compliments on our oversized flowers. Yes, it got hard for me at the end. But Alyssa was patient and walked with me time and time again—and she is much faster than me, so having the opportunity to share an entire marathon with a good friend with no focus on time was a wonderful experience. We finished with photos, sunburn, running skirt rash (me) and were ready to take the rest of our vacation by storm.

Before MOM (yes, that’s the acronym), I had never traveled more than 2 hours in the car for a race—and I’d made it that far only once! Yet, “destination races” have become very popular among the running community. Why not combine 1) a vacation, 2) a place you’ve always wanted to visit and 3) your favorite hobby all into one? Everyone has their list of top destination races they’d love to do in an ideal world with the time and disposable income (me: Big 5 Marathon in South Africa and the Marathon du Medoc in southern France). And destination races have the opportunity to be much more rewarding because of the excitement surrounding the trip, the brand new (and usually beautiful) destinations, and perhaps most importantly, running for the experience instead of to shave seconds off the finish time.

I don’t remember my exact Maui Oceanfront Marathon finish time. I could look it up if I wanted to. But to me that’s irrelevant. The memories of a unique vacation/running experience are what I’ll keep with me—and that’s more valuable than any PR.