HONOLULU — It happened a lot. I would tell a co-worker or friend I was going to Hawaii on vacation. They would turn a half-shade green and then regale me with tales of their travels here, real or just imagined.
But then I would mention I was running in the Honolulu Marathon. Their eyebrows would furrow. They'd fall into stunned silence.
"How far is that?"
So, I understand that not everyone would plan their vacation around running. But there are hundreds of thousands who do every year.
And when I lined up at the starting line here in December, I was packed in with more than 26,000 runners. And the majority — 22,000, in fact — were not from Hawaii. They, like me, were running and vacationing in paradise.
"What better way to see Hawaii?" asked Tina Harter, a 39-year-old first-time marathoner from Phoenix. "It's beautiful. I'm amazed. The water is so tranquil. In Phoenix, we run along the canal. This is a lot different."
Having, coincidentally, also trained in Phoenix, I agreed. The rustling of palm trees, deep blue ocean waters and lush green plants prove an intoxicating setting for this strenuous physical test.
Tony Dragicevich, a 53-year-old from Auckland, New Zealand, said interesting scenery and new places make good backdrops for marathon running. In all, he's done nine, including races in New York, Paris and London.
"It's a great way to see some great places," said Dragicevich, who traveled to the Honolulu race with 36 other people from New Zealand and six from Australia, all part of a marathoners club.
Part of the Honolulu Marathon route is unremarkable. The runners pass through downtown in the dark (the race starts at 5 a.m.), moving between office buildings that could be found in any city.
But as the race progresses, Hawaii's flavor comes through.
It was still dark when we passed the municipal buildings, decorated with an oversized Santa and Mrs. Claus with their knickers pulled up, presumably ready for beach-combing. Giant replicas of children's building blocks spell out "MELE KALIKIMAKA," Merry Christmas in Hawaiian.
I headed up a hill around the base of Diamondhead. It was still dark, but the ocean is on the right and the promise of water views and bright green mountains awaited.
It took awhile for the sun to break through as a few clouds lingered and intermittent raindrops splashed onto my weary legs.
But suddenly a glance to the right rewarded me with one of the state's famed rainbows, seemingly sprouting from a greenery-covered cliff before disappearing behind a housing development.
Late in the race, around mile 24, I quit caring about the scenery. All I could think about was how much I'd like to sit down, and yet I was pounding up the hill around Diamondhead again. This time, in full light, I caught a view of the blue water and white foamy caps.
The view is so spectacular that some runners actually stopped along the hill to take photographs of the ocean and one another.
The Honolulu Marathon is a boon for Hawaii's tourism market at a time of year that's generally slow. This year's race was expected to draw more than $90 million in spending by runners, their families and other traveling companions.
Hawaii also plays host to other smaller marathons, including those on Maui, Kauai and the Big Island. The Big Island is also the home of the Ironman Triathlon World Championship, in which a marathon-length run is the last leg of the race.
For less-ambitious runners, many shorter races are held throughout the state.
The Mid-Pacific Road Runners, which claims to be the largest road-running club in Hawaii, hosts a variety of races of different lengths throughout the year.
The races range from runs through city parks to a 10-mile up-and-back run on Tantalus Mountain, offering a view of Honolulu.
"Another fun thing to do is a pineapple run we do in pineapple fields," said Bill Beauchamp, the club's 81-year-old president.
He said Kualoa Ranch also offers fine views.
As I sat in the park at the end of the marathon route, having crossed the finished line, I thought I'd have to take a rain check on other runs in Hawaii.
The only other place I planned to run to on this trip was a spa.
On the Net
Honolulu Marathon: www.honolulumarathon.com
Mid-Pacific Road Runners Club: www.mprrc.com