Hawaii Blog Day 22: Winner, winner, chicken dinner

While flicking through the Hawaiian Airlines in-flight magazine on the way over from the Big Island, I noticed there was an XTERRA race on a ranch in La’ie and we thought it would be a fun jog. I wasn’t really expecting much and we held off entering until I was no longer coughing my guts up but then we figured it was one way to see a bit of Gunstock ranch. The only problem was, the race started at 7am and all that meant getting up at 5am. On the plus side, the sea looked beautiful in the dawn light.

I really like XTERRA races. I’ve done two now (the other being a triathlon) and in both cases, the atmosphere has been laidback and really friendly. Trail runners are so much less up their own asses than triathletes can be. No compression gear or sandbagging in sight. There was a half marathon starting just after the 5k, which is what I expect all the good local runners were doing, as preparation for the Honolulu marathon in December, but there were still 160 runners in the 5k. The ranch was beautiful, the sun coming up just behind the first slope on the course. The event started with a girl on horseback carrying the Stars and Stripes galloping in circles as the national anthem played and then we were off.

The course was very hilly and a lot of rain in the preceding days had made the clay tracks very slippery and sticky. The first mile was ok, some faster downhill sections on grass and the trickier twisty bits were dry. The second mile was all uphill and climbed to a decent height. It was at this point that I started to wonder if this had been a really dumb idea, only 7 days post ironman. Several sections were a real slog and I had to concentrate for foot placement – twice I nearly went over. I’d started near the front and overtaken the only girl ahead after 400m but I could hear someone breathing just behind me, so tried to keep pushing. Three guys had gone fast off the front, leaving one more between us and I closed on him and managed to overtake. They’d promised the final mile was almost entirely downhill and whilst they didn’t lie, this didn’t make it fast – wet, rocky, twisty and I felt like dying. I think that’s normal in a 5k though. The 4th placed guy overtook me again and I couldn’t quite stay with him, but crossed the line first female and 5th overall. It’s a slow course – 23:26 would be poor on the road, but it turned out to be a female course record, so I was happy with that so soon after IM and it’s good practice for the forthcoming cross country season.

The race director told me to be sure to stick around for prize giving and we were very glad we did. In addition to the dogtag medal and technical T-shirt, I won a $50 gift card for a local running shop (which I spent on an Aloha cycling/running top) and 2 general admission tickets to the Polynesian Cultural Centre, plus the evening show, valued at $160.

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We had no idea what this was, beyond the fact that we’d driven past it, but since this was our last full day on O’ahu, if we were going to go, it had to be today. So instead of heading up the Windward coast, as we had originally planned, we went back home and showered, then returned, with backup snorkelling stuff in the car, in case it was lame.

It wasn’t lame. It was really good fun. The Polynesian Cultural Centre is a non-profit company owned by the Mormon church, who are unexpectedly big in Hawaii. The point of it is to create jobs and scholarships for Polynesian students who otherwise could not afford it, to study at the University of Hawaii – 70% of the park’s employees are UofH students. It’s tricky to explain the concept of the park, but a poor starting point would be a theme park. It’s all organised around a central river, with different areas to represent the different islands – Fiji, Samoa, Aotearoa, Hawaii, Tonga and Tahiti. At each island, students from that country teach you traditional cultural activities – leaf weaving, spear throwing, dancing, music, food preparation, drumming. The snack and lunch vendors in each area sell country-specific traditional food. Plus, every half hour, there are displays where groups of students give interactive presentations. The students are all engaging, welcoming and good humoured. It sounds like it could be belittling, but it wasn’t – it was students teaching interested people from one culture, the heritage and practices of theirs. The time went really fast and we wished we’d got there earlier.

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We also learnt the origin of the Shakra. It was invented by a guy called Hamana Kalili who lost the middle 3 fingers of his hand in a milling accident in about 1920. He was reassigned to the sugar cane railroad and when his train was ready to roll, he would use it to signal, with his missing digits. He soon became famous for the gesture, which caught on across the whole island.

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We had pizza for dinner (really inexpensive since this is also not for profit) and then took our seats in the amphitheatre (the ‘Theatre of the Pacific’!) for the evening show, “Ha – Breath of Life”. It told the story of a boy, Mana, in 6 parts, (each taken by a different island) as he is born, learns about his heritage, marries, has a child of his own and loses his father. It was amazing – the lights, set, choreography, and skills would not have been out of place in Las Vegas and it finished with a stunning fire show. It was excellent.

It was a late night, even before you consider we’d woken up at 5am, but it was so much fun, certainly worth getting up early and running round a muddy field for!

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