Tropical Treks: Training for the Kauai Half Marathon and Marathon

During the summer last year, my husband and I participated in the Kauai Half Marathon and Marathon. I completed my 6th half marathon, while my husband achieved his 3rd full marathon and placed 5th. The Kauai Half Marathon and Marathon are known for being challenging, with hot, hilly, and humid conditions. However, with proper preparation, it is possible to overcome these obstacles.

Race Expo

The expo for the race is held at the Hyatt hotel over the entire weekend. even if you’re not running, you should visit it. It’s one of the most beautiful places I’ve seen in my entire life.


The expo is small, featuring a limited selection of clothing and nutrition options. There was, however, a table with an assortment of headbands with humorous slogans that caught my attention and I ended up purchasing three. The expo itself is located in a stunning setting that feels like it could be a postcard or wallpaper. It is also where you can pick up your race packet, which includes a t-shirt and race number.

The Kauai Half Marathon and Marathon – Race review

The start

The race starts at 6 a.m. and you are invited to be there at 4.30 p.m. to warm up and join the opening party. Of course it is dark outside and it will still be dark half an hour after the start of the race.

We stayed in another, more accessible part of the island, so we left our hotel room at 3am. When we arrived, there were already some runners and lots of staff offering FREE coffee and snacks (bananas, cake) to the runners.

The toilets were also accessible and clean. The only problem was the lack of sunlight, so you couldn’t see anything! But I guess we are all smart enough not to pee on the floor.

Compared to other races, this one was small, with only 2000 participants, so there was no struggle to get to the start line. At 5:50 I said goodbye to my husband and headed for the 10-minute kilometer, leaving the elite runners behind.

The countdown began. But not before the organizers asked us to take off our hats and sing the anthem. I have worked in three other countries, but it had never happened before. After the American national anthem, the locals sang a Hawaiian farewell song. It was one of the best starting lines.

The course

And then… we ran. For hours and hours.

The sun rose around 7 am, but the cloudy weather and a bit of rain made it bearable for most of the race. The humidity, however, was a different story. It became noticeable as soon as the race began. The hills also presented a challenge, with a series of steep inclines for the first 8 miles. I found myself walking briefly due to the seemingly endless hills. There was one particularly difficult hill between miles 5 and 7 that had several turns, making it difficult to gauge how much further I had to go, which messed with my mental state a bit. Overall, the temperature was not too hot, but the humidity and hills made the race challenging.

I stopped at every single water station and everyone should, for heatstroke prevention reasons. I had mostly water, but a few sips of Lucozade too. No solid food or gels.

From mile 8, the race mostly consists of small hills and downhill stretches. I took the opportunity to take pictures and appreciate the scenery. As I was wearing a Vegan Runners shirt, I had the chance to meet and chat with some other vegan runners. The last mile always feels like the longest, and this race was no exception. Despite being able to see the ocean in the distance, it felt like it was so far away. I managed to complete the race in 2 hours and 24 minutes, after climbing 225 meters in hot and humid conditions.

My husband,  ran twice the distance and elevation and finished in 3 hours and 10 minutes, placing 5th in the marathon. It’s worth noting that some half marathoners finished after 3 hours and 30 minutes, giving an idea of the difficulty of the race. After crossing the finish line, we decided to drive back to the hotel, relax in the hot tub, and have a meal at a local restaurant rather than staying in the race village, which had food and drink options as well as massages available.

How to train for a tropical race

It was a September race, so we had the whole summer to prepare for it. And surprisingly,  so we had a taste of what running in 30 degrees will feel like.

Go to the sauna and steam room regularly

It’s included in our gym membership, so we don’t have to pay extra for a weekly session. 15 minutes of sauna, 5 minutes of steam, 15 minutes of rest. Repeat 2 or 3 times, depending on how you feel.

Hot yoga!

This is how you get used to working out in the heat and, depending on the environment, the humidity. Not only am I a member of a hot yoga studio, but I also teach at a studio, so I’ve had many opportunities to experience this.

Long runs on hot mornings

In the case of Kauai, there was almost no direct sun until we arrived, so there was no need to go outside in broad daylight, smeared with sunscreen, and risk heat stroke.

Hills training

For this particular race, it is important to train on hills. In the 10 weeks leading up to the race, I incorporated 5 hilly runs into my training. I will share my full training plan with you soon, but to give you a general idea, my final and most challenging workout involved running up and down a 250-meter long hill with a 10% incline at a pace as close to my race goal as possible, repeating this ten times. This helped me prepare for the hilly course of the race.

Get there a few days early to get used to the timezone and the climate

Stepping off the plane in Lihue, one is hit by a powerful heat wave that scares and overwhelms. But a few days of relaxation on the ocean and the island are certainly worthwhile. This time jet lag was good, because we were able to get up very early on race day.

Do a couple of short runs to see how you feel. Try to go out at the same time the race would start.

Walk or drive around the course

We did, and although it scared us, knowing what to expect is one way to get rid of pre-race nervousness. As we looked around the track, we couldn’t believe that we’d be rushing these hills in a few days, but of course we endured.

The Kauai Marathon and Half Marathon has to make it on your list of destination races or bucket list races.

This race is not easy and may not be suitable for setting a personal best time. It is also not particularly inexpensive or convenient to get to if you are located in Europe. However, the breathtaking views and unique experience make it worth every penny. We had the trip of a lifetime and have not visited any other islands in Hawaii, so we cannot compare. If you want an unforgettable race in a beautiful location, consider going to Kauai.

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