The Honolulu Marathon is a rite of the Winter. Each year, many of the world’s top marathoners venture to the Hawaiin Isles for this iconic event, one of the last marathons of 2023. Race Results Weekly provided this piece on December 10, and we are posting it a bit later, as we catch up from a busy mid-December. 

By Rich Sands, @sands
(c) 2023 Race Results Weekly, all rights reserved, used with permission. 

HONOLULU (10-Dec) – Kenyans Paul Lonyangata and Cynthia Limo patiently waited before making decisive moves to earn convincing wins at today’s Honolulu Marathon in challenging conditions. High humidity and long stretches of strong winds, combined with the course’s notorious hills, led to slow finish times in the 51st running of this race, the fourth-largest marathon in the United States.

The race began in the darkness at 5:00 am local time with a fireworks display. Dickson Chumba of Kenya, the designated pacer, set an aggressive early pace for men’s leaders, coming through 5-K in 15:17, which projects to a sub-2:09 time. (The course record is 2:08:00.) In his wake were Lonyangata, fellow Kenyan Reuben Kiprop Kerio, Ethiopian Abayneh Degu, and a pair of U.S.-based Eritreans, Filmon Ande and Tsegay Weldlibanos.

Through 10-K, the pace was picking up, with Chumba a three-time winner of World Marathon Majors races— in front at 30:25. Kerio had drifted back and was 19 seconds behind. But the pace started to lag on an uphill section between 13-K and 14-K, and Kerio quickly regained contact with the pack. Meanwhile, Weldlibanos, who had been fighting the flu in the week leading up to the race, was the first casualty, dropping out around 15-K.

Paul Lonyangata after winning the 2023 Honolulu Marathon in 2:15:42 (photo by Jane Monti for Race Results Weekly), used with permission.

During a long stretch along Kalaniana’ole Highway, the pace was lagging in the 5:20 per mile range, and it was clear that this would be a tactical battle. “This is the graveyard of fast times,” Honolulu Marathon Association president Dr. Jim Barahal, riding in the lead vehicle, lamented of this notoriously windy stretch. “But it means we’re going to have a great finish.”

Indeed, the halfway point was reached in a modest 1:07:19. Chumba stepped off just before 25-K, and moments later Lonyangata briefly surged ahead. The field came back to him within minutes, but as the course entered a less windy section, he made what would be the day’s decisive move. His pace quickened dramatically as he covered the 18th mile in 4:49. By 30-K (1:35:51) he had built a five-second lead over Kerio, with Ande another five seconds back. (Degu had dropped out sometime after halfway, leaving only three men in the elite field.)

Lonyangata –who had finished second in his previous appearance in Honolulu in 2014 and owns a personal best of 2:06:10 from the 2017 Paris Marathon– continued to press the pace. Ande and Kerio were waging a back-and-forth duel for second place, and by 35-K, they were 21 seconds behind Lonyangata (1:52:14).

Lonyangata continued to look back for signs of danger, but a strong uphill surge as the course passed the Diamond Head volcanic crater for the second time kept him out of reach of his pursuers. “The hills, you must run as hard as you can, you push uphill even if it’s hard,” he said.

He crossed the finish line in Kapiolani Park at 2:15:42. “When you prepare for everything, you know you are ready,” said Lonyangata, who was cleared to compete again on May 25 after serving a 19-month suspension for using a banned diuretic (the Honolulu Marathon has drug testing). “And when you decide when to make the move, you have to go hard.”

Ande made up some ground in the final miles despite dealing with pain in his foot and finished 19 seconds back in 2:16:01.

Kerio, who finished second here in 2018 and has served as the pacer four other times (including last year), came home third in 2:17:32.

In the women’s race, Limo was making her marathon debut and decided to wait slightly longer to make her move. For the early going, she ran alongside Ethiopians Sintayehu Tilahun Getahun and Kasu Bitew Lemeneh, who was running her fourth marathon of the year. They hit 5-K in 18:17, then picked up the pace slightly through 10-K (35:59). There was no change at halfway (1:16:43) and 30-K (1:50:05).

Finally, after the 30-K aid station, Lemeneh began to slip behind. Limo and Getahun forged ahead, running together for the next 5-K segment. Finally, at 35-K, Limo started to pull away. By 40-K, her lead ballooned to a minute and 38 seconds. She cruised home in 2:33:01, running the second half slightly faster than the first and finishing more than two minutes ahead of Tilahun (2:35:16).

“When we got to 35 kilometers, I felt that I was still strong, and I knew it was only seven kilometers that remained, so I had to do it by myself,” said Limo, the 2016 World Athletics Half Marathon Championships silver medalist. “I tried to push and push. I am so pleased.”

In addition to the high mileage she logged in Kenya during her build-up to this race, she credited the speed she sharpened while competing in numerous American road races this year, including wins at the Cooper River Bridge Run 10-K in Charleston, South Carolina, the Carmel (Indiana) Half-Marathon, the Toledo (Ohio) Half-Marathon and Philadelphia’s Broad Street Run 10 Mile. “I can say that it was not really so hard to do the marathon,” she said. “It is a matter of making up your mind that you can do the training. And I am so happy that I did that.”

Bitew (2:36:04) held on for third, and Japan’s Yukari Abe, who finished tenth in her country’s Olympic trials in October, took fourth (2:47:32).

Lonyangata and Limo earned $25,000 for their victories, along with a flashy gold medal worth nearly $15,000. They both credited hearty support from fans along the course as well as the throngs of mass-race runners who were going in the opposite direction on the out-and-back course. (One enthusiastic participant encouraged Lonyangata with an enthusiastic cheer of “Go get that money!”)

“The other runners were so good,” a smiling Limo noted. “They were cheering, they were making us move faster.”

There were 15,594 starters this year, up from 14,645 in 2022.

The companion Start to Park 10-K was run contemporaneously with the marathon, with 6,976 starters and 6961 finishers. Joshua Williams was the fastest athlete in 32:02, but not far behind him was Molly Seidel, the 2021 Olympic bronze medalist in the marathon.  Seidel clocked 32:25 and was the fastest woman on the day.  She and training partner Jessa Hanson were using the race as part of their humidity training for February’s U.S. Olympic Team Trials Marathon in Orlando, Florida.

“It’s so cool to come out and have the whole energy of the marathon around you,” said Seidel, who finished eighth at the Chicago Marathon two months ago. “This is such a fun vibe. I love to come out and race in Hawaii. Honestly, we wanted to get some good humidity racing, get a nice quicker tempo and then settle in. Coming out today was exactly what we needed. I love racing in humidity.”