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Running through the pandemic with Kaua’i Divas and Dudes

KOLOA — In the spring of 2011, Kaua‘i runner Lisa Ledesma was on the difficult and long journey of training for a marathon. She wished she had more people to train with to help her stay motivated.

“If you commit to someone then you are more likely to show up versus if you’re just doing it yourself,” she said.

Ledesma started the Kaua‘i Divas and Dudes Facebook group and began planning weekly group runs. Since the group’s founding, it has grown to over 500 members. Between 12 and 20 dedicated local members attend runs regularly, she said.

Visitors and locals also join in on runs that are held in rotating locations between ‘Ele‘ele and Anahola. Runs are designed so runners can jump in at different times, run distances of their choosing, and still finish with the group.

The group continues to help runners stay motivated despite nearly two years of pandemic disruptions.

Since the pandemic began, most on-island running competitions have been canceled or gone virtual.

Pandemic unpredictability has been difficult for athletes physically and mentally, she said. “You train so hard, you get into the race, and then they cancel it or do it virtual. Then you obviously rest your body and retrain again for the same race,” Ledesma said.

Before the pandemic, Ledesma had been training for years to get a time that would not only qualify her for the Boston Marathon but be competitive enough to guarantee her a spot in the race (slots are given to the fastest qualifying times of each age group). In 2019 she did it, a huge milestone for any elite runner. But the 2020 race went virtual.

Kaua‘i Divas and Dudes stepped in. “I had one of the runners start with me and we ran like 15 miles and then the last 11 miles everybody else jumped on board,” Ledesma said. “They set up a finish line. They had balloons. It was just amazing.”

And, finally, as restrictions loosened, in 2021 Ledesma got to run the race in person, though the race wasn’t without its challenges. She crossed the finish line with a stress fracture and a time of five hours, 24 minutes. Her qualifying time at the Hawai‘i Bird Conservation Marathon on Hawai‘i Island was four hours, two minutes.

Four members, including Ledesma, have already run the Boston Marathon. And on Dec. 19, at the Hawai‘i Bird Conservation Marathon that runs from Volcano at the 4,000-foot elevation to Hilo at sea level, group member James Lloyd beat the qualifying time by 10 minutes to secure his 2023 race application. He completed the race in two hours, 55 minutes, ending in fourth place overall.

Lloyd has been running with the group since he moved to Kaua‘i in 2016. He quickly progressed and was able to shave 23 minutes off his marathon time in just the last two years.

Lloyd currently has his sights on the September Kaua‘i marathon. A few other members are focused on that same race, and others are looking towards races all over the world, including Zion National Park and Berlin. Two runners in the group are also hoping to qualify for the 2023 Boston Marathon.

Lloyd is grateful to be in such a supportive and goal-oriented community. “Seeing the progress, being a part of the running community here and seeing what everybody is going through keeps me motivated,” said Lloyd. “Divas and Dudes, they’ve got to be my closest friends on island.”

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Laurel Smith, staff writer and photographer, can be reached at 245-0424 or lsmith@thegardenisland.com.
Source: The Garden Island

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