Les Omura first heard about Marathon Maniacs at a pasta dinner held on the eve of a running event in Alaska.
At his table was a businessman who had taken a year off from work to run marathons in each of the 50 states. Another carbo-loader had a personal plan to run 1,000 marathons, having finished 614.
"I thought, 'These guys are real kooks,'" recalls Omura, who had run his first 26.2-mile race in Honolulu about a dozen years before that dinner in 2005. But after a quick look at the running club's Web site, Omura found himself saying, "Oh, yeah. I guess I am kind of like them."
Prospective Maniacs are asked:
Nodding in the affirmative to most of these and other Maniac red flags, Omura was admitted to the club later that year for finishing the Big Island International Marathon and Maui's Run to the Sun — a 36.2-mile ascent of Haleakala — on consecutive weekends.
In 2006, he jumped from one-star to a six-star standing for completing five marathons in two weeks. Cranking through four of those races in four days, Omura earned Maniac "Quadzilla" bragging rights. (Maniacs finishing 52 marathons in a year are awarded the club's top rating — 10 stars.)
Omura, whose club nickname is "Maniacles," laughingly conceded, "This may not be the smartest thing, but you know, we're a little crazy — that's why they call us the Maniacs."
Fellow Maniac Johnny "Shaka" Landeza, a 46-year-old former triathlete who keeps about 10 pairs of training/racing shoes in rotation, said, "I say, hey, if your body is holding up and you want to do it, go for it. I'm having fun."
Most Maniacs minimize injuries and maximize mileage by approaching some races as long training runs.
"You can't be competitive in every one," Omura says. "The finish is more important than the time, for me."
The 52-year-old postal carrier trains and travels to races with other Hawai'i Maniacs, or "Hawaiinacs."
About 35 of the international club's 1,422 members live in the Islands.
"I'm a social runner. I enjoy the camaraderie," Omura says, adding that his running buddies "push, motivate and support one another, which makes workouts much more fun."
Last year, Omura and five-star Maniac Tom Craven cheered on buddies Heather McCafferty, Carole Higa, Landeza and others as they clinched four-star Maniac status for finishing the Run to the Sun and the Hilo Marathon in back-to-back days.
"The legs kept moving. So, I was happy," says McCafferty, a 39-year-old agricultural researcher who moved from her native Scotland to O'ahu in 2002.
McCafferty ran her first marathon in Honolulu in 2005. She says the Honolulu Marathon Clinic helped her get more fit, "and I got more friends."
Her social circle stretched again when she started running with several Maniacs in a group that meets at Runner's HI in 'Aiea.
McCafferty quips that initially she was a "Maniac groupie" and "worshipped them from afar." Pleased to finish a marathon in about five hours, she was not sure she could run two in back-to-back days. But when two Hawai'i distance races on the same weekend were scheduled in March 2008, McCafferty decided to take advantage of the situation.
Craven, a mathematics professor at the University of Hawai'i whose first shot at a long-distance race was the 1974 Honolulu Marathon, says the Maui-Big Island effort was well worth the rigorous training because the runners now have "so much more confidence as a result."
Training for the back-to-back event topped out at about 70 miles a week for some of the Maniacs — about double their usual weekly mileage.
In the last several months, Omura and Landeza and other Hawai'i Maniacs have turned in times fast enough to qualify for this month's Boston Marathon.
Omura qualified by finishing December's Las Vegas Marathon in 3 hours and 32 minutes, so he took it easy the following weekend when he ran the Honolulu Marathon for fun — decked out in his postal uniform.
"I was carrying a package for the first few miles, too," Omura says. He ditched the prop when the morning's soggy weather left it waterlogged.
When Higa, a 46-year-old kindergarten teacher, ran her first Boston Marathon three years ago, she says, family members were proud — and more than a little stunned.
While growing up in the Kalihi area, "I was the most un-athletic person you ever met," Higa says. She recalls that while she could jog around a field for a school physical education test, other attempts to demonstrate fitness could prompt eye-rolling among onlookers.
"I was the worst athlete. ... I was the last one picked for teams. It was terrible," Higa says.
Her athletic makeover began in 1997 when, for the first time, she reluctantly trained for the Honolulu Marathon after her husband registered the couple at the kama'aina rate. She has now racked up 11 marathons, routinely finishes at the top of her age group in shorter local races, and looks forward to regular group runs.
Eating to run
Omura enjoys post-workout and race get-togethers almost as much as the running. Despite his athletic pursuits, he does not follow a strict diet because he burns so many calories — about 100 calories with every mile. As a self-described "average joe" runner, Omura does not compete with elite runners who carefully tailor diet to optimize performance.
"I started running for health purposes. In my thirties, I was gaining weight, and I had high cholesterol," he says. "I'd hate to see where I'd be now if I was not a runner."
Landeza, who works as a soldier training contractor at Schofield Barracks, says as the years have rolled by he has cut back on hefty plate lunches and late-night eating.
"I love to eat. I used to eat whatever and think, 'Ah, no problem, I'm a runner.' But then I started noticing that I was a little on the heavy side in photos," Landeza says. At one point, Landeza, who stands 5 feet 9 inches tall, weighed 198 pounds. Now at 155 pounds, he is lighter on his feet and more likely to avoid running injuries.
At age 62, Craven has no intention of scaling back on his running. "A few years ago, I made this decision that I wanted to complete 100 marathons and a 100-mile race." He ran the 100-miler — even after feeling blisters at the 65-mile point, and has so far finished 84 marathons. He's collected many running awards in the last dozen years. "I'm happy winning my age division," he said.
Omura has crossed the finish line more than 80 times, and hopes to one day round out his marathon count at 100. His top goal, however, is simply to be "injury-free and still running when I'm 70."