26.2 mile of kissing the earth with my feet: The Hula Man does Boston

There were so many memorable moments about my running of the 104th Boston Marathon I could write an entire volume. Boston is one of the best cities in the US and we loved it.

We arrived at our Bed and Breakfast five blocks from the finish line late Thursday and spent the night resting. When we went out to do some site seeing on Friday, it was very evident there was a going to be a major marathon going on soon. There were lots of marathon jackets, and they were the best looking I have seen: a blue and yellow nylon jacket with a flap in the back giving it a small cape effect. I didn’t think I would really wear one that much to spend the 65 dollars, so I didn’t buy one.

The city had banners on all the telephone and light poles and lots of billboards. The general ad theme consisted of pictures of runners with their number showing and a small phrase referring to this number runner as doing or thinking something related to running. Everywhere we went we were reminded we had a purpose in common with many others. I kept hoping next year I would be in one of the ads. I’m such a dreamer.

Friday and Saturday, my girlfriend and I enjoyed the sights, flavors, and history of the city. On Saturday afternoon we went on the Duck Tour with the Dead Runner’s Society and sat next to Mike Sheldon who was the host. It was lots of fun and I thought the amphibious vehicle was going to sink since it listed to the right. I wished I could have spent more time with the Dead Runners. Part of the deal I made with my girlfriend was we not spend 100% of the time doing running related activities. Instead of joining the Deads for dinner we saw the Blue Man Group and relaxed afterwards. That was a hoot.

I read in one of the flyers Joan Benoit was signing autographs at the Expo on Sunday. My sister arrived Sunday morning from Maine, and I made sure we were there just to say hi to Joanie. We had just missed her at one location. The man who was standing there to mark the end of the line pointed out the Nike booth where she would be signing in 20 minutes. We went there and waited anxiously. We went to school together and although we have never been friends, we have come to know each other through running. Her enthusiasm seeing me and wishing me luck was very humbling. It was one of the very best moments of my trip. I haven’t had many heroes in my life but Joan is certainly one of them. I told her it was my first Boston and I would be running in a hula skirt.

Running in costume has been a passion of mine since I first made an outfit out of fresh carnations for the Bay to Breakers in 1985. The year 2000 was the 15th year I have run in costume, but it was my very first Boston Marathon. I was excited about how the crowds would react to a man dressed as a hula. I had dreamt of running this race since I was a freshman in high school in 1969. My life has taken many detours and U-turns since then, but finally I had come to realize that dream after more than 30 years. Add to all that my costume and I was expecting a stellar day no matter what the weather decided.

Athletes’ Village

It always amazes me how long it takes a shuttle bus to drive 26.2 miles. It seems easier to just run it. When we got to Hopkinton we were herded into what they call “Athletes’ Village.” I decided rather than break away from the crowd and discover Hopkinton on my own, I would try to sit and relax in order to save my energy for the run. I didn’t want to walk around for the next three hours and opted to wait with the crowd. Next time, I will discover Hopkinton instead, but I’m glad I relaxed and enjoyed the goings on.

Athletes’ Village consisted of an acre-sized field fenced in with a bandstand, a medical tent and two large circus tents housing runners huddled for warmth. The tall tents seemed ill suited for holding heat. If it had rained lots of people who had to wait outside would have been soaked. Thank goodness the chill was all we had to deal with. The temperature was 42 degrees with a 17-mile an hour wind. I wandered from spot to spot, checking everything out. Nothing escaped my perusal. I found some port-o-potties in the rear that had no lines. Thirty minutes later when I needed them again, they weren’t even taking reservations.

I finally found a piece of cardboard to sit on and a nice spot out of the wind since there was no possibility of me forcing my way into a spot inside a tent. I leaned against one of the speaker supports at the foot of the bandstand where students from the New England Conservatory of Music were playing traditional Irish ballads. I was soon surprised to realize Runner’s World Magazine’s runner of the century Johnny Kelley was about to be ushered in by a piping band and awarded a plaque for the local park. Everyone helped him up on the stage but he didn’t seem to need it. He looked more like 60 than his 92 years young. When it came time for him to speak he said, “I want you all to just be kind to one another and have fun day.” For some reason he repeated that line a little later, and I realized how easy it is for people to get caught up in the moment and forget their manners.

He read a wonderful poem about running the marathon he wrote and commented now he was an entertainer. The crowd laughed. He explained he had a song he had sung at his award ceremonies before and would sing it to us. He started out slow and sure being careful he could be heard. I was hanging on every note since I recognized the tune. 92 year old Johnny Kelley sang “Young at Heart” and it brought tears to my eyes. I saw a wonderful old man with a young heart giving the spirit of youth away to anyone who wanted it. I sat there with tears rolling down my cheeks trying to get all I could.

The Hula

FullSizeRender-5It always takes me a while to warm up to the fact I am running in costume, and I am shy about putting it on at first. I want to scream out for attention but inside there is a shy side to me as well. Once I am running I have no problem being dressed up but the looks I get before a race always make me nervous. I’ve run in enough wild costumes at this point that as nervous as I am, I don’t care. I know it will pass. I strut around with the skirt over my blue jeans.

I have a composite of multi-colored Mylar hula skirts sewn together that I wore in the Tucson Marathon to qualify for Boston and I wear it again for the race. After 15 years of running as a hula, I have several outfits. This one I made for speed. I have a skintight bright orange nylon singlet with white sides. It’s short, so there is an eight-inch gap between it and the skirt. The skirt’s black nylon waistband has hulaman.com, my website, sewn with white veldt letters onto it. I keep the web address visible from the back and the running number pinned to the front. Because I also have hulaman.com sewn in black veldt letters to the front of the singlet I need to fasten my running number on the front waistband. I have two bushy silk flower leis sewn closely to the singlet, so it won’t bounce up and down. It is evenly placed so half of it droops six inches down the front and six inches down the back in traditional Hawaiian style. I have the same pastel flowers sewn onto two sweatbands for my wrists, two bands for my ankles and a white sun visor. It is fun running in this very colorful and lightweight garb.

I have come to grips with not being thin enough or tan enough to look good with my stomach showing in the skimpy outfit. My girlfriend has reminded me I would get more cheers if I weighed 250, rather than my desired weight of 165. I have gained ten pounds since I qualified and that is enough to make me feel fat. I have resigned myself to just finishing and having fun at all costs, and am not about to race this marathon. I am 45 now and my weight and skin color are starting to become less important as I grow older.

My real concern was it would be too cold with this tropical outfit. The weather had changed often, as is the case in New England, and it was predicted to be in the 40s with a steady wind creating a wind chill factor in the 20s. My girlfriend gave me a soft wool necklace with pockets to keep two hand warmers close to my body. One will rest next to my heart and the other in the back. I also have some to carry inside of my white cotton gloves I bought at the expo. The gloves have Boston Marathon logo stamped on them and will be my lucky rabbit’s foot.

The Start

I lined up in my corral of the 9000 numbers and answered lots of questions like, are you going to run the whole race in that? It wasn’t long before jets flew overhead. When I heard the national anthem sung by the policeman that sings opera, I knew we would soon be underway. It took a lot of starting and stopping to get to the starting line. After we crossed the start line we still came to an abrupt halt three times. I was not going to run for time, so it didn’t matter to me. The one-mile marker wouldn’t arrive until 13 minutes. It reminded me of the Bay to Breakers, and that means wall to wall fun.

I was totally surprised to see how thin the road was and what a steep grade the start is. The road wends its way downhill so much I need to put on the brakes to hold myself back. We were funneled through the masses like lava down a mountain. There was no escaping and no turning back. Crowds were lined up on each side 50 deep and stretched high on the surrounding hills. We poured out onto the wilderness of New England like cold maple syrup. Soon the hordes of screaming spectators were gone. But the moments of silence today would be far and in between.

At six feet tall, arms raised high, white gloves and leis on my wrists, it wasn’t hard to get attention. I purposely ran in the middle of the road so both sides would be able to see me. In the beginning of the race, there were many groups of children lined up waiting for runners to high five them. Once in a while, I would move to the side and join in that fun.

Occasionally someone would ask which island I am from, and when I tell him or her “I am from Arizona,” they seem disappointed and say no more. A man yells that a man in a skirt has never beaten him before. The comments keep coming. Someone pulls up along side of me and is ranting and raving in an angry manner about somebody or other. I have no idea what he is saying. I nod kindly and he speeds on ahead of me. A couple of women are taking pictures while they are running next to me and I smile for them.

I always remind myself I have to be on my best behavior when I run in costume. I have to be careful of my humor and take care not to offend. I found it funny how people want to associate themselves with fun like I do. I get to see things about myself through other people in what they say and how they react. We all want to be understood and appreciated.

I was raised not to use sarcasm as a form of humor and it was good advice for me. When I respond in a sarcastic manner, people can take it wrong and no one is happy. I always try to be nice to comments that come my way, but occasionally I slip and wisecrack back. It hurts to see people offended. It’s not always easy to be on stage at all times since I need to always be on my best behavior.

It’s interesting to me what people will say during a race. I had a gentleman carrying a video camera who wanted to run with me for a while and I thought that was great. Later in the race I was running with a woman who was apparently in need of some support. I hope I provided that for her. In this race it is virtually impossible to run with anyone for any length of time. There are so many different paces and people changing position. I heard some women yell about my sex appeal, some were running and some were spectators. I told one spectator I would be right back. I hope she isn’t still waiting, along with the man holding brownies who I told the same thing.

The Course

As usual, there are articles of clothing scattered everywhere: a glove here, a hat there, perfectly good nylon sweatpants bunched up and hanging from the branch of a nearby tree. And the runners are dressed in every imaginable variety of alternatives. Everyone is an individual and everyone is dressed in as many varieties as there are marathon stories behind them.

Unlike most marathons, the runners in this crowd are in top shape and moving fast. There are no walkers, no strollers, and no wannabes who went out to fast in the first mile and who are now dead. There is no one in his or her early teens and there are hardly any elderly. I imagined the crowd would thin out as the finish line approaches, but that was not to be the case. Because I actually slowed down during the later stages of the race, the multitudes increased.

I was on the lookout in Ashland for a rec.sport.triathlon newsgroup friend Cathy Corning who would be volunteering. Her friend spotted me and shouted, “there’s grass skirt,” and we caught a glimpse of each other after six years of communicating via email. It was nice to connect a face with a name, and I was feeling how special the day was evolving. Given the size of the crowds, it was amazing that happened.

I was running smooth and strong and the crowds were so loud I couldn’t hear the beep on my watch that tells me I have started the next lap on the timer. Consequently, I hit it twice on several of the early mile markers and by Mile 3, I already had seven laps showing. I decided to log each two-mile stretch until I am in synch with the lap count.

More important than time and distance is my attention to the moment. I am running this marathon in the spirit and memory of those afflicted with scleroderma. I will stay in the moment all day and remember the blessings I have been given. When times get tough I will relax and focus on each breath. I will kiss the earth with my feet and heal as the earth kisses me back. I practice a form of walking meditation as described in the book, “Peace is Every Step” by the Buddhist monk, Thich Nhat Hanh. He says that while we practice walking meditation, we don’t try to arrive anywhere. Everything we need is already in us. We make only happy peaceful steps. If we think of the future, of what we want to realize, we will lose our steps. I have made a vow not to lose any of my steps in this very special marathon. I want to enjoy each breath and each step I take along my journey.

On the not so spiritual side of the event, there are a lot of men stopping to pee in plain sight and somehow I envy them. I have a hard time peeing when there are people around, and I can’t fathom standing outside with a steady stream of runners watching. Add to that the fact a man in a hula skirt isn’t exactly blending in with the scenery. Nor can I just duck in and out of the race without being noticed so I must use a port-o-pottie. Much later I would finally see two blue johns in a medical tent with no lines. It takes me a couple of minutes to wait and then use it. I have to take off the skirt before I go in because it gets in the way. I wrap my skirt back around and the Velcro fasteners make it easy to move on down the road again.

When I approached Wellesley at the half way point, I had the choice of staying in the middle of the road in order to be seen better or run right next to the curb in order to high five each every one of the cheering female college students. I opted for the hand-to-hand contact and kept my arm up in order to satisfy the crowd. There is an art to holding the arm so it can flex and not get injured if someone decides to really let you have it. It was a long line of students and seemed to be a quarter mile long. Towards the end, some of the women wore bras and lettering on their stomachs but I couldn’t read what it said. It must have been cold standing around with no shirts on. I thought of beer, football, snow, and young shirtless men on TV and realized these women might be preparing for the auditions.

My precious partner Perry and my sister Beth took the green line MBTA out to the Newton fire station to greet me at Mile 17. There is a wide sweeping curve in the road and I saw them looking for me right away. I ran way out of the flow of traffic that was hugging the inside of the curve to greet them. I gave Beth a big hug, and Perry a hug and a big kiss. I told Perry how much I loved her and immediately got energized. I ran off, passed a man running the race on crutches, making sure he saw me giving him a big thumbs up and was half way up Heartbreak Hill, three miles away before I knew it.

There were so many, I lost count of all the different schools and groups of students. Of all the student bodies, I found Boston College to be the most excited and loudest of all. My ears were ringing from the volume of shrieking. At one point there was a bleacher of young men who chanted hula-man in unison. I was on stage and they liked me. That was all the verification and admiration I sought. I had arrived and they let me know it.

I found I could inspire the crowds into a louder hysteria by holding my arms up high over my head, with fingers in the hang loose position and pumping both arms Arsenio Hall style. As the race progressed I learned to perfect the movement so it didn’t interfere with my gait. I felt sure my arms would not last the race and would be sore for days afterwards, but they were not. I spent most of the race with my arms up to elicit excitement from the crowd and whenever I relaxed it wouldn’t be long before someone would shout “hulaman” at me and I would either give them a thumbs up, wave, or point a finger at them for thanks.

I was averaging 8:10 miles up until Mile 21, when I started to slow down. I had developed a slight cramp in my hamstring due to the cold and was being careful not to pull it. I have walked the last miles in too many marathons, and I wasn’t going to jeopardize a running finish here in Bean Town.

At around Mile 19, a fellow Dead Runner’s Society member Janet Jordan passed me and did an introduction on the run and soon she disappeared into the fray. It’s nice to have support both from outside spectators and runners.

Miles 22, 23, and 24 were the toughest for me. My arms were getting tired, and I knew I needed to save them for the last mile and the homestretch. I really was hoping the crowd would thin out and I would be noticed more easily but the crowd of spectators only got thicker. I realized it was because I was now running within the critical mass of runners finishing between 3:40 and 4:10. Boston is the only marathon I have ever run where there were always 20 people surrounding me at every moment.

The course takes a right onto two blocks of Hereford Street, crossing Newbury Street before turning left on Boylston. I knew when I made that final left turn the race would soon be over. I soaked in all the cheers. Little did I know both Perry and Beth were in that crowd watching me look right and then left with my arms held high, kissing the earth with each step.

marathon0006-768x513The Finish

There was a mixture of feelings for me as I turned left and saw the immense scaffolding with blue banners marking the finish. As I made my approach, twice I wanted to cry, but fought back the tears. I wouldn’t have minded tears with the crowd watching, but something just said, no don’t cry. I wanted this moment to last forever since it took me so long to get here, no matter what the feelings. I slapped high fives to the crowd for the last time and at one point even used both hands to blow a kiss to the crowd. I thought of all the years it took me to get here. I wanted to run slower but at this point I really only knew one speed: forward.

I was forced to walk the last few miles of my first five marathons. My debut marathon in Honolulu was a 3:11, even though I walked over two miles. The next two were in San Francisco, and I ended up walking the last four miles with times of 3:18 and 3:20. I sprained my ankle the week before a marathon once and re-injured myself in the first mile of another. I have never run a marathon and not wanted to qualify. I had always gone out way to fast, with never enough left over after 20 miles to continue running. And I finally learned to hold back and finish a marathon running. In Tucson last year I finally put all the pieces together and squeaked in under the banner with 30 seconds to spare with a qualifying time of 3:25:30. Since I was sick during December and January, the last three months had me wondering if I had put in enough training to finish running, or would I be forced to walk in front of all those spectators.

I compared this finish to my finish in the Hawaii Ironman and there just was no comparison. This was 100 times better for me. I had run this race with patience and held back enough so I finished in great shape. I kicked my heels together with my arms raised high as I crossed the finish line. It hurt a little and I wasn’t able to get much altitude. That was okay. It was over and I had finished. I was ecstatic with my 3:55 time and anxious to collect the finisher medal with the blue and yellow ribbon and unicorn stamped in pewter.

Post Race

I removed my Champion chip from my shoelace, struggled through the crowd for a Mylar space blanket, found the bus holding my jeans and jacket, and made my way to the friends and family reunion area. It was cold for some but not for me. The hand warmers did the trick but I did need my jacket. I was looking forward to some food, but the bag only contained a banana and sports bar. I needed some real food after waiting all day for lunch.

The second best moment of the day was when I was in the reunion area. I held my flower covered sun visor up high over my head since I couldn’t find Perry and Beth. It worked: they soon were running up to me. After having a bad experience of not being able to meet up with Perry at the Tucson Marathon, I told her this time I would have waited forever. It was a tender sweet moment to have all of us back together, and remove ourselves from the cold and crowds and get to a restaurant for some good hot food.

Will I be back? I hope so.

Chris Davis
Tucson, Arizona
April 17, 2000
Bib # 9508




Other stores of Chris Davis’s costumed runs can be found on his website “hulaman.com.”