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Marathon distance connects 3-time winner, eighth-grader

By Jason Kaneshiro


With the few strides Mbarak Hussein and Ryuhei Sekino shared in the Niu Valley rain, one of the major facets of the Honolulu Marathon's allure crystallized.

Hussein has won the event three times in a storied international marathon career. Sekino is an eighth-grader at Honolulu Waldorf School hoping to finish within 4 hours of Hussein tomorrow.

Despite their disparate paces, they'll be connected by the mutual challenge of putting one foot ahead of the other until they've covered 26.2 miles.

Hussein joined Sekino and his P.E. class on a jog around the block after he spoke at Honolulu Waldorf School yesterday morning. Tomorrow, they will be among the roughly 22,000 participants who will test their endurance and resolve in the 38th annual marathon.

The journey begins at 5 a.m. The course will take them along Ala Moana Boulevard, through Waikiki, past Diamond Head onto Kalanianaole Highway into Hawaii Kai, then back to Kapiolani Park for the finish.

"Honolulu is my favorite," Hussein told a class of seventh- and eighth-graders yesterday regarding his stops around the globe. "It's almost a family atmosphere. It's more than a race for me."

At 45, Hussein remains an elite-level runner and has finished in the top five in his 10 previous appearances, winning in 1998, 2001 and '02. He's hoping to stick with that group tomorrow and will likely finish not long after the 2-hour mark.

Sekino tagged along with his father to run his first marathon at age 9 and is preparing for his fourth race. He made it to Kapiolani Park around noon last year and wants to cut his time closer to 6 hours.

"The guys farther back are even tougher," Hussein said. "They start at 5 and they finish when it's really hot. Those are really tough guys."

The first time Hussein left Kenya was to run in Honolulu with his brother, three-time champion Ibrahim Hussein. With little training, Mbarak struggled in his debut in 1985 and decided perhaps marathon running "isn't for me."

But he stuck with it a little longer, kept going when he earned a college scholarship and continued further when professional running beckoned.

Hussein returns to Honolulu for his 12th appearance in the midst of a comeback following a two-year break. Plantar fasciitis kept him off the roads for a full year, and he spent a year coaching in the United Arab Emirates.

Hussein -- who appeared in a recent Subway commercial leading up to the New York Marathon -- finished seventh in his return to competition in the Twin Cities Marathon in October.

Hussein is the oldest of the elite entrants here and, as a naturalized U.S. citizen, is the only one not running under the Kenyan flag.

Patrick Ivuti did not return to defend his title, but runner-up Nicholas Chelimo and six-time champion Jimmy Muindi are back. With four other talented Kenyans making their Honolulu debuts and top-ranked Patrick Makau pushing the early pace, Hussein said Muindi's record of 2 hours, 11 minutes, 12 seconds set in 2004 could fall given the right conditions.

"The record rests on the weather, as I look at it," Hussein said.

Svetlana Zakharova is back to defend her women's title and leads a group of professionals aiming for the course record of 2:27:19 (Lyubov Denisova, 2006).

For Sekino, and the vast majority of entrants, the goals are more personal yet no less fulfilling.

He lives within walking distance of the starting line and goes on 4- to 5-mile runs through Waikiki when his studies allow. He conceded his first experience at 9 was "pretty harsh." But he's returned each year since and absorbed lessons that carry over to other various areas.

"When I finished, it felt pretty good, and I wanted to run again and keep on going," he said. "I have to be confident, and I can't really give up."

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