There were special moments everywhere at the 16th annual Big Island International Marathon on Sunday, especially for a contingent of Japanese runners. Their heart-warming tales in a moment.
Sunday’s race was the first since former race coordinator Wayne “Big Dog” Joseph died. Joseph died Jan. 22, and race organizers believe Sunday’s event was one he would have enjoyed.
“It went wonderful. It was perfect weather,” said Bob Wedemann, who coordinated the race with his brother, Joe. “I really miss Wayne, and I never believed how he could do it by himself, something Joe and I struggled to do. From the outside, it doesn’t look like you’re doing anything. But that’s the sign of somebody doing a good job.”
That’s the type of commitment that would have the Big Dog nodding in approval.
It was overcast, windy and chilly at Hilo Bayfront, where the finish line awaited new champions.
Sam Tilly, of Alaska, ran the 26.2 miles the fastest in 2 hours, 39 minutes and 22 seconds. He ran in such a low-key manner that the public address announcer failed to mention his arrival. And then he kept on running, apparently back to a warm hotel bed for a long nap.
Atsuko Fujii of Japan finished in 3:32:29, taking the women’s title.
“The first part going down the hill was easy,” she said. “Toward the ocean the scenery was the same. It felt like it was a long way.”
But she had fun in her first BIIM and 12th overall marathon, including the Honolulu Marathon in December. She ran with her husband, Hiroshi. It was his birthday, marking a special occasion for the couple, who have run four marathons together.
She passed him twice, but was too far away to yell, “Ganbatte kudasai,” which translates to “Do your best, please.” Even in another language, the legacy of Joseph lives on at the BIIM.
Ganbatte kudasai also applies to Tokyo native Kana Inoue, 21, an art major at the University of Hawaii at Hilo. She was one of four Japanese runners and college students who ran in either the 5 kilometer, half-marathon or marathon.
Inoue is not your typical runner. It was her first time running. She did the 5K, accomplishing the first step of a three-pronged goal. The next is to run a half-marathon in the summer and finally to log in a full 26.2-mile marathon.
“I’m surprised I got a medal. I was second place for the 20-29 year old age group,” said Inoue. “I never thought I’d run, but now I’m happy.”
Kohei Yamazaki, 32, graduated from UH-Hilo last semester and landed a job at the Mauna Kea telescope. He ran the half-marathon in 2:25:48, his first time at the BIIM.
“My girlfriend (Ayako Suda) graduated from UH-Hilo in marine science. She’s going for her masters at Tohoku University in Japan,” he said. “She likes running, too. I’ve run in seven marathons, but my favorite sport is basketball. My favorite player is Kevin Garnett.”
Yuka Yamashiro, 21, is an English major at UH-Hilo and completed the half-marathon in 2:43:31, enjoying the scenery, one of the marathon’s trademarks.
“I ran in high school but wanted to try something different. It was really hard, with the tough slopes up and down,” said Yamashiro, who’s from Okinawa, a place similar in tropical beauty. “The scenery is really good. It reminds me of home.”
Ken Hioki, 22, is a student at Hawaii Community College, studying liberal arts. He’s from Thailand and is half Thai and Japanese, speaking both languages and English with fluidity.
He finished the marathon in 3:20, his second attempt at 26.2 miles, a significant moment for him. In his first marathon in Thailand, he went out too fast and walked the second half. He’s found comfort in Hilo.
“I like the beach, surfing and the people. They’re very friendly,” he said.