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The Most Beautiful Marathon

The Kauai Marathon and Half Marathon boasts one of the most beautiful courses in the nation

The Kauai Marathon and Half Marathon boasts one of the most beautiful courses in the nation

Running isn’t for everyone, but the Kauai Marathon and Half Marathon is. So says Jeff Sacchini, founder of the annual race, adding, “Just come and have fun,”

The California native insists anyone who registers will have an enjoyable experience because they can set their own pace and leave their competitive natures behind. In fact, half the entrants end up walking the course each year.

Although Agnes Largo, a Kauai resident, is a strong runner, as evidenced by the number of marathons she’s entered nationwide, she doesn’t consider the Kauai Marathon (her favorite) a competition. “I just enjoy this special event on our beautiful island,” she says.

A sense of accomplishment washes over participants who cross the finish line at the Kauai Marathon and Half Marathon, no matter what their time is

A sense of accomplishment washes over participants who cross the finish line at the Kauai Marathon and Half Marathon, no matter what their time is

People don’t even need to break a sweat to be a part of the fun — many venture out in the wee hours of the morning just to support the participants. Hula dancers and taiko drummers, as well as family and friends show up to motivate runners and walkers journeying along the 26.2 miles of roads that cover the many hills and dales of Kauai’s south shore.

“There is entertainment every couple of miles, wonderful spectators offering water and fruits, everyone is cheering and the course is gorgeous,” says Brooke Sugahara, owner of iSWEAT in Kilauea, who is excited to run the full marathon again this year.

Derrick Ledesma of Koloa, who plans to run his fifth Kauai Marathon this year, shares similar sentiments. “The best thing about the marathon is all the supporters and volunteers who are out there cheering you on,” he says.

The camaraderie also is what keeps professional athletes from the Mainland like Tyler McCandless returning year after year.

Runners don't just compete in the Kauai Marathon, they also make sure to have fun. Kristine Marayag from New York runs with Amillita Marayag from Oahu. (Coco Zickos photo)

Runners don’t just compete in the Kauai Marathon, they also make sure to have fun. Kristine Marayag from New York runs with Amillita Marayag from Oahu. (Coco Zickos photo)

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“The Kauai Marathon differs from all other races because of the aloha spirit of the race staff and the community that makes each and every runner feel at home on the island,” says the Colorado native, who had the fastest overall time for the full marathon in 2011, 2012 and 2013, as well as the half marathon in 2014 and 2015.

The kind of fellowship that abounds every year makes it easy to see why human-interest stories also flourish during the race, currently entering its eighth year.

“It’s been nice to see various groups that travel to Kauai bond with each other for this race, as well as the personal stories of some of those participating,” says Sue Kanoho of Kauai Visitors Bureau, which promotes the race. “Every race has had some incredible uplifting stories that have given me chickenskin.”

Sacchini has heard many of these stories firsthand, including veterans with service-related injuries completing the race, a husband running for his late wife, and people who have lost a significant amount of weight when training for the competition. Even though the week leading up to race day can be exhausting, these stories, as well as the ability to donate proceeds to local charities, give him reason to call the entire process a “labor of love.”

Jeff Sacchini, founder of the Kauai Marathon

Jeff Sacchini, founder of the Kauai Marathon

Sacchini is an avid runner and has logged at least 30 miles every week for the past 32 years. “I’ve never missed. But it doesn’t mean I’m a good runner — it means I like to punish my body,” jokes Sacchini, who has lived on the island full time for three years. Since purchasing a Poipu condo in 1994, he’s managed to cover plenty of South Shore ground during his visits. It wasn’t until he enjoyed a long-distance run to Mahaulepu in 2007, however, that the idea to develop a signature event was solidified. He figured it would be a great way to provide kamaaina with a chance to race without having to get on an airplane. Moreover, it would give visitors an opportunity to experience the island in all its glory, while at the same time boosting the local economy.

“What better place to run than this theater here? I mean, it’s the most beautiful tropical theater,” says Sacchini, who formerly owned Piranha Produce, which he sold to Sysco in the mid-2000s.

Though he’s entered several marathons, including the Boston Marathon in 1999, Sacchini has yet to run his own brainchild, the Kauai Marathon. “The analogy would be like inviting people to come to your house for dinner and then sit on the couch and ask them to cook in your kitchen,” he says. “It just doesn’t seem right.”

Spectacular views abound from the Kauai Marathon and Half Marathon course on the South Shore

Spectacular views abound from the Kauai Marathon and Half Marathon course on the South Shore

The aspect of his own “meal” his “dinner guests” seem to savor the most is the road course, which has been touted as not only one of the most beautiful in the nation, but also one of the most difficult because of a variety of factors, including hills, heat and humidity. Sacchini originally mapped out the course and, as luck would have it, he was able to trace the “perfect” distance for the same start and finish line for the full and half marathons. Even representatives from USA Track and Field Association, which certified the course, told him they rarely see such synchronicity. “It was meant to be,” he says.

Presenting a one-of-a-kind course to the more than 2,000 expected participants this year is something Sacchini is proud to be able to keep gifting to the community. “If I can reflect back over the last eight years, I would say it has fulfilled everything I thought it would be and then some,” he says.

Runners traverse the Kauai Marathon course — No. 1499 is Randi Keipper of Kapaa

Runners traverse the Kauai Marathon course — No. 1499 is Randi Keipper of Kapaa

The Kauai Marathon and Half Marathon is set for Sept. 4, starting at 6 a.m. in front of Poipu Shopping Village. Also, the 2016 Wilcox Health Sports and Fitness Expo is Sept. 2 and 3 at Grand Hyatt Kauai Resort and Spa, where participants as well as the general public are invited to shop for a variety of fitness gear. Visit thekauaimarathon. com for more information.

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