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Extraordinary pacesetter

Kenyan Patrick Makau, who ran the world's fastest marathon this year, will lead the way for his friends Sunday

By Chance Gusukuma


Yes, even this year's top-ranked marathon runner in the world is on Facebook.

That's what Patrick Makau, who clocked the fastest marathon time in the world this year -- 2 hours, 4 minutes and 48 seconds at the Rotterdam Marathon in April -- told a group of students during a classroom visit yesterday.

Asked by a Damien Memorial School student if he knows Usain Bolt, the 25-year-old Kenyan smiled and said that he exchanges e-mails and Facebook messages with the Olympic and world champion sprinter from Jamaica.

Makau followed up his scorching time in the Netherlands with a swift second-place finish in 2:05:08 three months ago in the rain-soaked Berlin Marathon. Having established himself on the major marathon circuit, he now can earn appearance fees far above the Honolulu Marathon's price range.

"It's safe to say that someone like Patrick Makau wouldn't line up (for a race) unless there's a six-figure deal on the table," said David Monti, a veteran road racing consultant and writer.

But thanks to the allure of Hawaii and a desire to help his friends, Makau will toe the line on Ala Moana Boulevard on Sunday for a very modest fee. And it's almost certain that he will not run away with the $40,000 first-place prize.

Makau, likely to be announced the No. 1-ranked marathoner in the world by Track and Field News later this month, came here primarily for some quality time with his wife and 2-year-old daughter.

"We have been enjoying the weather, and everything is (nice)," Makau said.

Makau will serve as the race pacesetter and lead the elite men's field through the first 15 kilometers (9.3 miles) before stepping off the course.

As the young Makau was turning heads with performances in the half-marathon, he began setting his sights on international competition after hearing about the islands from his mentor, Jimmy Muindi, a six-time Honolulu Marathon winner and still the race record holder (2:11:12 in 2004).

Muindi slowly developed the prodigious talent of his fellow Kamba tribesman and is effusive in praising his protege as "a guy who's very disciplined and very focused."

"I'm a proud coach now," said the 36-year-old Muindi. "I like to invest in these upcoming guys."

"(Makau is) a guy who's unafraid to go from the gun and challenge anyone," said Monti, publisher and editor of Race Results Weekly. "He's there wielding a club. He's cocky, and that's a compliment."

Such is the strength of Makau's star power that last year's runner-up, Nicholas Chelimo, almost is overshadowed. Chelimo, 32, who finished second (2:13:10) last year to Jimmy Ivuti, ran a personal best of 2:07:38 in October, but declined the designation of prerace favorite.

"I will try my best," he said modestly.

Ivuti, who also won the men's race in 2008, has been bothered by a hip injury and did not return to defend his title.

The elite field includes five men who have run 2:08 or better, including Makau, Chelimo, Richard Limo (2:06:45), another top-shelf talent, Gilbert Kirwa (2:06:14), and Muindi (2:07:49 in 2005).

"I think it's the fastest field we've ever had," said Jon Cross, the race director. "They're all good, but the winner could be anybody."

Kirwa, 24, was set to run in the ING New York City Marathon last month, but was waylaid by visa problems and wanted to get in a competitive road race before the end of the year.

Kenyans Solomon Bushendich, with a personal best of 2:08:40, Peter Chebet (2:08:42), Robert Kipchumba (2:09:56) and Patrick Nthiwa (1:00:23 half-marathon) also bolster the strength of the field.

"We know it's a great field," said Dr. Jim Barahal, Honolulu Marathon Association president. "It's very deep, and without a super, clear-cut favorite, it makes it very exciting."

Barahal also daydreams about the possibility of someone breaking Muindi's seven-year-old race record.

"I think the talent is there," he said. "The weather will probably be the determining factor."

World-class times are probably in the rearview mirror for the race's elder statesmen -- Muindi and three-time Honolulu Marathon winner (1998, 2001, 2002) Mbarak Hussein, 45, a naturalized U.S. citizen who will make his 11th appearance in the race -- but both are genial ambassadors for the sport as well as reliable sources of good advice and coaching to up-and-coming distance runners.

Muindi, who will make his 17th appearance in the race, relishes his current role.

"I'm totally happy," said Muindi. "You bring up a young guy like Patrick (Makau) and at least you are giving out to the world."

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