(This is the first of a three-part series about McKinley’s 3,200-meter run state champion, Jonathan Lyau.)
Four decades ago, Coach Tom Marks handed sheets of graph paper to his runners at McKinley High School.
The Tigers followed instructions, making copies of the gridded sheets, writing down precise mileage of their runs during and between seasons. One of them, Jonathan Lyau, never stopped journaling. Lyau hit the 100,000-mile mark on Wednesday, crossing a virtual finish line with son Spencer on the grounds of ‘Iolani School.
“If you asked me when I was in high school, would I be still running when I’m 56, I’d say no,” Lyau said on Thursday. “It just became a habit, a lifestyle. I did start thinking about 100,000 a few years ago, but I got injured and my mileage, my weekly average was up to 50 miles a week, then there was a year when I hardly ran. I thought my running might be over and it would take a long time to get to it, so this turned out much quicker than I expected.”
Kelli Lyau, who helps coach the girls cross country team at ‘Iolani with Jonathan, was on the same run with her husband and son.
“I started out with them, but I didn’t end with them. I went my own way,” she said. “I think now his focus is more on Spencer. We’re looking to continue running because that’s what we all like to do, if we stay healthy enough. We hope that Spencer will continue on, as well. He’s just starting his cross country career (at ‘Iolani).”
Spencer Lyau had a point-blank view. He will have his video of his dad’s accomplishment on social media soon.
“We kind of talked a lot (during the run) because we were making a YouTube video for my channel. We have a camera that (stabilizes) when it shakes. I took over the camera for the last half mile,” he said. “One hundred thousand miles, it’s like four times around the earth. I kind of feel amazed. I don’t know how he ran that much and never stopped.”
Even with a few stoppages due to injuries in recent years, Lyau has averaged 2,439 miles per year. At Lyau’s pace of 7.5 minutes per mile, he would have to run non-stop for 12,500 hours — 520 consecutive days or 15 months and five days — to replicate his feat.
At 116 pounds, Lyau burns an average of 83 calories per mile, which computes to 8.3 million over the course of this voyage. That’s 21,842 small bags of Cheeto Puffs (380 calories), his favorite snack. Or 8,300 pints of ice cream (1,000 calories), one of Lyau’s other go-to’s.
There is, as U.S. Olympic marathoner Don Kardong once said, “No such thing as a bad carbohydrate.” At least for long-distance harriers.
The process sped up, coincidentally, because of the COVID-19 pandemic lockdowns on Oahu since March.
“During the pandemic, I’ve been running every day because the gyms are closed. This 100,000 miles came up sooner than I expected,” said Lyau, who overcame lower-body injuries over the past decade.
His analytical approach led to a training regimen involving Bosu balance exercises and more time in the gym with a healthy push from Kelli. Some wives may have not understood the need to track every detail. Not Kelli, an avid runner.
“We all keep running logs, but we didn’t know how many miles he had total. I didn’t know he had a running total. For me, I keep track of my miles, but I would have to go back and add all of that,” she said.
Journaling the process has been his go-to, tracking back to learn from everything Lyau has done in the sport since 1979.
“During the first week of practice, my high school coach gave us a regular sheet of paper with blocks on it, bigger than graph paper. He said, ‘Every day you run, write down how many miles you ran. Make copies of this and keep track.’ I might have been the only one who kept track after high school,” Lyau recalled. “Just a simple number.”
Later, he subscribed to Runner’s World magazine and received a running log book as a bonus.
“There was a space for a description, so I started adding those things. The split of my interval times. My race times. Later, I started adding things like my resting pulse when I woke up.”
What began on paper led to a lifetime of dedication. His first major triumph came in 1982, when he became a state champion for McKinley in the 3,200-meter run. It was the springboard for the next four decades, with more than 40 marathons completed.
“I guess the best memories are when I finally seemed to get it together in my senior track season. I got such a late start in 10th grade and I was still learning. It finally seemed to click in the last few months of high school. I was still making mistakes in cross country, too much too soon, burn out. I was able to find that sweet spot where I could feel confident mentally and strong physically. That’s what I mean about listening to your body, knowing how it’s supposed to feel, communicating with your coaches.”
Who really keeps a detailed journal for this long on any subject? It takes discipline. Curiosity. Maybe even a trace amount of obsession. But what makes it even more fascinating is that there was no internet, no smart watches back then. Just a championship-level runner and his daily log.
“I started adding my morning weight. How I measured miles back then since there was no such thing as GPS, I’d get a map book out and a string, use the scale and that’s how I would measure my route,” Lyau said. “A lot of times, I would come back and say, that’s about right. Back then, it was stopwatches. Once I had a set route, I always ran the same route where I knew the measurement. Eventually, I got used to what my pace was.”
With no college cross country or men’s track programs on Oahu, he settled into regular life as a student. He never stopped running. Between road races and workouts, training young runners as an assistant track coach at Kamehameha, McKinley, and now ‘Iolani, Lyau’s thirst for miles has yet to be fully quenched.
“I went to UH and that’s how I got into local road racing and doing the marathon. Everything was just road racing. Luckily, we had a lot of good runners so all the road races were really good. Mainland transplants, military people. It was fun back then and a lot of people would be ahead of you, and you’d train harder,” he said. “It’s not as competitive now. That’s what we’re trying to figure out.”
For the record, Lyau believes Michael Georgi was the first island runner to reach the 100,000-mile mark. The Punahou teacher recorded 157,460 miles as of May 14, 2018, according to Runner’s World editor at large Amby Burfoot.
A part of Lyau is still surprised about his 100,000 miles, both the running and the recording.
“I’m surprised that I actually wrote everything down. I have my book for each year, so I can see what I did five years ago. I look at what my training was like for a certain race. It’s kind of neat to see,” he said.
The chances of another local runner reaching the 100k mark might seem possible, but even with smart watches and GPS, that’s a lot of time and logging.
“I don’t know. To do it, you have to have proof and document it. The question should be, how many people are logging their miles like this from the beginning. My son logs it in a book. He started doing it when he started running on a regular basis. Someone gave him a log book — it wasn’t me. I don’t know how he got it. Even though he has his watch and Garmin GPS, he started writing in his log book,” Lyau said.