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20 Years Running


When Ed Gayagas readied for his first Great Aloha Run, the 45-year-old worried about running the entire eight-mile course. Not that he was unfit. Gayagas ran a few miles daily and had spent years in the Army, but the course was somewhat longer than what he was used to.

"But it wasn't bad at all, though," recalls Gayagas, who lives in 'Aiea. "I ran in formation with the other military runners, and there was so much camaraderie. I looked forward to doing it the next year."

That was in 1985, the inaugural year of the Great Aloha Run, a benefit for local charities. Gayagas did run the next year. And the next. And the next. This month, Gayagas, now 65, will be running his 20th Great Aloha Run, along with about 200 people who've participated every year since its inception.

"A lot of runs have come and gone, and it's just so cool to see that there are 200 people who've been with us the entire 20 years," says local entertainer Carole Kai, who co-founded the event.

The Great Aloha Run has come a long way from its less-than-auspicious beginning. It all started with the demise of the three-mile running portion of the popular fund-raising Carole Kai Bed Race.

Alvin Saiki, Margie Clemente and
Ed Gayagas, 20-year veterans of the Great Aloha Run. Photo: Courtesy Great Aloha Run

"In the early 1980s, the city decided to eliminate the run, because there were too many races, and I remember crying, 'I don't know what to do,'" says Kai. "I went to see [Honolulu Marathon founder] Dr. Jack Scaff, and it was like a scene from The African Queen, with me crying and this crusty old man telling me, 'Stop it.'"

Scaff and Kai met with Buck Buchwach, then the forceful executive editor of The Honolulu Advertiser.

"Buck had this cockamamy dream of creating this run from the Aloha Tower to Aloha Stadium," says Kai. "I told him, 'No one's ever done that before.'" But Buchwach insisted, and the Great Aloha Run was born.

Scaff had already obtained a racing permit for a training clinic he planned to lead for the upcoming marathon. He applied that permit to gain clearance for the first Great Aloha Run, Kai says.

Although the trio had just 10 weeks to organize and promote the event, the inaugural Great Aloha Run attracted 11,592 walkers and runners-a record as the world's largest first-time running event. These days, the race averages about 20,000 participants annually and, since its creation, has raised about $6 million for more than 100 charities.

This year's race is dedicated to the military, Kai says. Commem-ortive bibs will be sold for $5 apiece, with proceeds benefiting military support groups.

Gayagas will be there, although it'll require a little more effort this year. For the past two months, he has split his time between his home on O'ahu and that of his daughter's in Fort Hood, Texas. Gayagas and his wife are caring for their grandchild while his daughter, an Army colonel, is stationed in Iraq.

"It's one of my goals in life to run the Great Aloha run as long as I can," Gayagas says. "So I plan to be there every year, no matter what."

The Great Aloha Run

The 20th annual Great Aloha Run, from Aloha Tower to Aloha Stadium. Feb. 16, Presidents’ Day, followed by the Great Aloha Run Stadium Party.

For more information, visit www.greataloharun.com

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Honolulu Magazine March 2020
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