By David Monti, @d9monti
(c) 2023 Race Results Weekly, all rights reserved, used with permission. 

HONOLULU (05-Dec) — The last big marathon in the United States for 2023, the Honolulu Marathon, returns on Sunday with a robust elite field, race organizers said today.  Ten elite athletes from four different nations will compete for the $25,000 first prize for men and women and special one-of-a-kind solid gold medals worth nearly $15,000 each.

“Although we pride ourselves on our no-time-limit policy and welcoming people of all abilities and goals, we feel fast running at the front is also important,” explained Dr. Jim Barahal, president of the Honolulu Marathon Association.  “We expect exciting competition in both men’s and women’s as well as wheelchair races.”

Leading the men’s race will be a pair of Eritreans, Filmon Ande (2:06:38 personal best) and Tsegay Weldlibanos (2:09:07).  Both men are based in Flagstaff, Arizona, and are coached by James McKirdy of McKirdy Trained.  Both will be making their first appearances at the Honolulu Marathon.

“They’ve been training well and they’re ready,” Coach McKirdy told Race Results Weekly in a telephone interview last week.

The Eritreans will be up against two Kenyans, Reuben Kiprop Kerio (2:07:00 PB) and Paul Lonyangata (2:06:10).  Kerio has made five previous appearances at the Honolulu Marathon (three times as a pacemaker) with a best finish of second place in 2018 in 2:12:59.  Kerio has won the Kosice Peace Marathon in the Slovak Republic three times, and Lonyangata was twice the Paris Marathon champion in 2017 and 2018.

There is one Ethiopian challenger on the men’s side, Abayneh Degu, who has the fastest personal best in the field, 2:04:53, a time he ran in Paris in 2021.  He will also be a first-time competitor in Honolulu.

Kenyan veteran Dickson Chumba, twice the Tokyo Marathon champion in 2014 and 2018, will act as a pacemaker.

Four elite athletes will compete on the women’s side.  The most prominent, Cynthia Limo of Kenya, will be making her marathon debut.  The 2016 World Athletics Half-Marathon Championships silver medalist is coming off of a very good USA road racing season where she competed in 11 events from 10-K through the half-marathon and recorded four victories and eight top-5 finishes.  She went home to Kenya for altitude training before Honolulu.  Her half-marathon personal best is 1:06:04, equivalent to a 2:18:42 marathon.

A pair of 24-year-old Ethiopians, Sintayehu Tilahun Getahun and Kasu Bitew Lemeneh will challenge the 33-year-old Limo.  Tilahun has a career-best time of 2:22:19, set in Milan in 2022, and Bitew ran 2:26:18 in Madrid last year.  Both women are running the Honolulu Marathon for the first time.

Finally, there is an elite entrant from Japan.  Thirty-four-year-old Yukari Abe competes for the Kyocera corporate team and has a personal best of 2:24:02 set in the Osaka Women’s Marathon in 2022.  Most recently she finished tenth in the Japanese Olympic trials marathon, called the Marathon Grand Championships, on October 14.  Like the other three elite women, she’ll be competing in Honolulu for the first time, much to the delight of the approximately 9,000 Japanese runners who will compete in the mass race behind her.

“Due to the out-and-back nature of several points along our course, the average runner gets to see the professionals go right by them, and it is always an exciting thing,” observed Barahal.

Like all big marathons, the Honolulu organizers had to cancel their in-person race in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the race was only held virtually.  Barahal brought the in-person race back on a very tight budget in 2021, and even with almost no Japanese participation due to pandemic travel restrictions, they still recorded 6236 finishers.  However, it was not possible to have a regular elite field.

In 2022 the number of finishers more than doubled to 14,271, and the race’s elite athlete program was restored with three-deep prize money of $25,000-10,000-5,000 and an elite wheelchair program.  Barahal’s team expects more finishers this year, with a significant uptick in Japanese participation in both the marathon and the companion Start to Park 10-K.

“We’ve done a slow build-back since COVID and both our men’s and women’s fields are deeper and faster,” Barahal observed.  “We’re also pleased to offer $25,000 for first place as well as the gold medal for the winner worth about $15,000.”

The special winners’ medals, manufactured by new race sponsor SGC of Japan, have a mass of 202.3 grams (to celebrate 2023).  At the current market price of $2038.30 per ounce, those medals are worth $14,545.  The mass race finishers will also receive medals designed and produced by SGC (minus the real gold, of course).

“Our marathon family is honored to welcome SGC,” said Barahal.  Their dedication to excellence mirrors the spirit of our event. These medals aren’t just rewards; they’re a celebration of every runner’s journey.”

The 2023 Honolulu Marathon Elite Field:

Filmon Ande (ERI), 25, On Running/McKirdy Trained, 2:06:38 (Barcelona, 2021)
Tsegay Weldlibanos (ERI), 27, McKirdy Trained, 2:09:07 (Daegu, 2019)
Reuben Kiprop Kerio (KEN), 29, Nike, 2:07:00 (Eindhoven, 2019)
Paul Lonyangata (KEN), 30, Nike, 2:06:10 (Paris, 2017)
Abayneh Degu (ETH), 25, Nike, 2:04:53 (Paris, 2021)
Dickson Chumba (KEN/pacemaker), 37, Nike, 2:04:32 (Chicago, 2014)

Cynthia Limo, 33 (KEN), Unattached, Debut (half-marathon PB of 1:06:04)
Sintayehu Tilahun Getahun (ETH), 24, Nike, 2:22:19 (Milan, 2022)
Kasu Bitew Lemeneh (ETH), 24, Nike, 2:26:18 (Madrid, 2002)
Yukari Abe (JPN), 34, Kyocera/adidas, 2:24:02 (Osaka, 2022)