Being from Hawaii, the cultural chauvinism of this race really disappointed me. There is nothing Hawaiian about this race, it totally and completely caters to the Japanese tourists that make up around 20,000 of the race participants. From entertainment to signage to food to official attire, everything is Japanese. The expo is terrible and the official merchandise (imported from Japan) had nothing to do with Honolulu or even marathons. For a Hawaii experience, I'll definitely choose another marathon in the future.
The course is flat, small incline at start and finish as you cross Diamond Head. Due to the huge number of tourists who run this race, there is no staging and it's very, very difficult to run a decent pace for the first 3-5 miles. No one is really even trying to run, they're just taking photographs of everything (yes, from the middle of the road). Most of the participants walk, but many still stage themselves at the front, so the beginning is very slow going and difficult. However, by mile 21 many people have dropped out, so you have almost the entire road for the last 5 miles.
There is nothing Hawaiian along the route, no drummers, no hula, but once you get into Kahala and Aina Haina the locals make it fun, they are the life of the party! If you're looking for a Hawaii experience, I strongly recommend another marathon on a different island. The Honolulu Marathon is a tourist event, you see very little of the ocean, Hawaiian culture, or local flavor.
This is a very flat course with a long, flat stretch that makes up about 3/4 of the mileage. There are no serious hills and the weather is balmy. The sun doesn't rise until after 7 am in Hawaii at this time of year and it doesn't start to get warm until after 10 am (the race starts at 5 am).
At the start, use the toilets in Ala Moana park, DO NOT try to use the toilets at the start line. The lines are very, very long and let's face it, it's the beach and there are a million places to privately pee. Place yourself early at the start line - there is plenty of space for warming up almost until the start of the race, but 30,000 people invade the space shortly before the race and they make absolutely no attempt to stage themselves correctly, nor do the race officials. This race has a VERY slow start, if you're going for a specific time, you'd best be right at the front.
It's really not that hot or humid, but I see tourists burning like little hot dogs even in December, so if you are not used to the sun and plan to run longer than about 4 hours you might want sunscreen. Once you go over Diamond Head you're actually in Hawaii and friendly locals with pretzels, oranges, and other treats abound. Otherwise, water and gatorade are every 2 miles, along with vasoline.
Do not attempt to drive. Stay somewhere close and walk or use Lyft, traffic and parking in Honolulu are a nightmare, even at 3 am. Hawaii's specialty is illegal short-term rentals, you'll definitely be able to find something in town less expensive than a hotel. There really is no quiet neighborhood in Honolulu except maybe Manoa, so just stay wherever and plan to spend about $15 on Lyft getting to the buses or start line. Nearby neighborhoods are Kapahulu, Waikiki, Ala Moana, Kaimuki, Makiki, Nu'uanu and Kahala. Do not stay in Aina Haina or Hawaii Kai, it will probably be difficult to get in and out if you don't know to stay on the mauka side of the highway, as the race goes through these neighborhoods.
The start line stayed surprisingly empty until almost the start of the race, so you don't need to be super early to stage yourself where you'd like to be. 30 minutes before the start the road still had few runners lining up. The starting "gun" is fireworks, and everyone takes pictures instead of running. If you have plans to run seriously, be careful and start very close to the front.
There is little recovery refreshment at the finish, a banana and a malasada. Waikiki has little other than American fast food, so if you're serious about your recovery food I would either have someone waiting at a designated spot, or have food on hand wherever you're staying. Probably the best you can do post-race is a Jamba Juice smoothie or a sandwich at Tucker and Bevy (across the street from the finish), there is really nothing else healthy available nearby for less than about $20/plate. Unless you know your way around Kapahulu.
By pdl about 2016
It was a great fun race. Good course, plenty of water during the race. Crowds and fireworks at the start provided a good atmosphere. At the end of the race there was no water, no sports drinks no liquids. Not Good. Malasadas did not make up for it.
It is crowded at the start as you go through town so don't look for a fast time. The course is mostly flat with just a slight hill at the end but feels a lot bigger after 25 miles in 80 degree weather.
If you are looking for a discount condo rentals are the way to go and there are many along Waikiki near the start/finish.
By Jan Johnson about 2013
What's not to like about a run in Hawaii? The race starts promptly at 5AM with a cannon shot and fireworks. The masses are SUPPOSED TO BE split up by expected finish time, but after having run this race 6 times in a row now, it never happens. Expect to duck and dodge walkers and extremely slow joggers for the better part of the first 2 miles. Not a big deal. Run with a little Aloha in your step. :-)
A previous commenter mentioned having to walk a mile to get his shirt. Not so. Granted, after running 26.2 miles, the extra .12 miles (measured by my Garmin) may seem like a mile but it's not. For a race that usually boasts about 25-28,000 participants, keeping the finish line area clear and not cluttered with hobbling finishers is a big key.
The finish area tents in Kapiolani Park are spread out nicely to keep crowds from interfering with each other. A few years ago people commented on the lack of decent food after the race, so they listened and delicious fresh made malasadas (Portuguese Donuts) are now a welcome staple along with bananas, oranges, muffins and cookies.
The route itself doesn't have any food stations with the exception of a few gel stations. This isn't really a huge deal breaker to me because I bring my own snacks along on the race with me.
Water and gatorade stops are abundant along the course. I've never had any complaints about that. The old dipping cups into trashcans of gatorade thing is a thing of the past, and they now boast these octopus looking dispensers. This makes things much more hygenic in my opinion.
All in all, I love this race. I live out here so I'm able to take advantage of another AWESOME thing the race directors offer to us "locals". $1 per mile early signups. I challenge anybody to show another major race that can beat a $26.20 signup for a full marathon. :-)
If you're only visiting Hawaii for the marathon and are staying in Waikiki in one of the hotels, just walk to the starting line in the morning. Plug Ala Moana Shopping Center into your GPS and just walk. Driving in Waikiki even at 3 in the morning on race day is a nightmare.
Bring sunblock. The race starts at 5AM, but the sun will be up high enough to start burning you by 8. Especially on the long straight stretch to and from Hawaii Kai. That stretch of highway is unforgiving with very little shade.
Around mile 8, understand that you may have to have a bit of patience going up diamond head since the race course gets squished down to one single lane of traffic since the two lane road going up Diamond Head also serves as the home stretch when you're coming back. Usually around the time I hit that mark, the first wheelchair dudes are cruising down towards the finish, and by the time I get to the top where a lot of people stop to take pictures of the sunrise, the guy that's going to win the whole thing is passing by.
I don't know what else to say about this awesome race. They've had 40 years of learning how to make it better, so you'd think they'd have it perfected by now, but somehow they keep making it better every year.
Walk to the starting line if you're staying in Waikiki.
After the race, hobble your sore self over to the beach and soak in the ocean for a while. Salt water does amazing things for your aching muscles. And remember, you're in friggen Hawaii. Slow down a notch or two and just enjoy it. If somebody gets in your way, shrug it off. YOU'RE IN HAWAII!!!
By Anonymous about 2012
Course was great. Lack of snacks or anything other than water on the entire course. Had to walk almost another mile after the race to receive finishers shirt.