Running: Hilo marathon is 21, as one man turns 300

With two decades of maturity in its past, the Hilo marathon has become an annual fixture on the Big Island’s athletic calendar, as it reaches “adulthood” Sunday with the 21st renewal of the event.

Just don’t think of it as a one-day occurrence that might cause someone to slightly alter a planned drive up the Hamakua coast.

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Race director Bob Wedeman and his crew put in countless hours around the year to make it happen.

“Believe it or not, I really, really look forward to it,” Wedeman said Friday while going over last-minute details, “but the pressure is to get every little thing exactly right, so there isn’t a single thing that can be faulted for preparation? I’m always glad when we get past that point.”

This year’s event, like most of them, will feature a gathering of about 1,000 distance runners — “I won’t know the exact figure until just before we start,” Wedeman said of late arrivers — who spend weeks and months gearing their training for this 6 a.m. start.

And, has been the case ever since the first one, this Hilo marathon will include Hilo runners Marie Kuramoto, DJ. Blinn, David Hammes, and the enigmatic and tireless Kona runner known simply as Cowman, the four folks who have run each of these.

“Everytime I talk to him he seems to give me a different name, so I stuck with Cowman,” Wedeman said.

This one will be a milestone for Bradley Schwartz, 68, from a suburb of Chicago. He’s run the Hilo marathon before, but it was five years ago with the original course that started by busing runners up the coast, then the course worked its way back down to Hilo, out to Richardson Beach and back to the park. Since then, the course has started at the Bayfront, traveled up the coast, and now ends back at Bayfront without taking runners through the industrial section toward Richardson.

That all sounds good to Schwartz, but he’d be here, anyway because this will be the 300th marathon in which he’s competed.

With no end in sight.

Schwartz is currently near the end of his fourth completion of running a marathon in all 50 states. After this is a Colorado marathon in two weeks, then two weeks later is the Oz Marathon in Kansas, followed in two weeks by an Oklahoma City marathon and finally the 50th, at home just outside Chicago.

“I was always running, but I used to just do halves,” Schwartz said. “In one of them, I was listening to a Wallflowers song and the words were something like, “… something better than in the middle,” and it got me thinking, ‘I’m kind of running in the middle.’ I decided to go for a marathon.”

That was 1997 in Lake County, Illinois, when a friend urged him to enter.

“I had trained pretty well, I had actually run 24 miles in preparation,” he said, “so I was pretty confident, but when I was handed a water bottle at mile post 25, I thought I couldn’t move, my legs felt petrified.”

He managed to get going, completed the final 1.2 miles and his long distance career was officially underway.

These days, Schwartz is on the board of the 50 State Marathon Club, a group that has more 4,400 members dedicated to running marathons in every state, at least once.

But there’s also a world out there beyond the boundaries of the Unites States. Schwartz has run marathons in Capetown, South Africa, Rome, Paris, Athens, Dubai (“It was warm”), Tel Aviv and China. He has run on the Great Wall.

“These are places you would never go without this need to go,” he said. “But the other thing, besides seeing all these great places, is that you meet so many tremendous people and no matter where you go, what country, what continent, there is a common sort of mindset with the runners, we are all committed, we all ‘get’ each other, and that’s the really cool part.”

Retired now, Schwartz allowed that, to embark on these kinds of travels, one needs to first afford it. Years ago someone in the 50 States Club figured out it would cost about $25,000 to make all 50, considering travel, hotels, meals, food, entrance fees and such.

“It’s a wonderful way to see the country, see the world, really,” he said. “But honestly, you notice most of the ones who do this kind of thing are middle-aged or so, they have some way to afford it. Not really an ideal kind of thing to try for a young family raising kids, for example.”

Schwartz’ distance runs have left a legacy, maybe an outline for other runners, but in all those marathons, he has just one victory, in an age group eight years ago.

“I won my age group,” Schwartz said, laughing at the recollection of the event in Red Rock Canyon, Nevada, “but there’s a kicker. It was my birthday, I was 60 that day and I was the only one in the age group.

“The guy who told me said I was lucky because had it been the day before, I would have been 59 and I wouldn’t have won my age group.”

More memories, a thousand or more, await the 21st Hilo marathon.

Big Island International Marathon

When: Sunday

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Races: Marathon, 6 a.m.; half-marathon, 6:15 a.m.; 5K, 6:30 a.m.

Start and finish: Hilo Bayfront