Part 3: Jonathan Lyau overcomes injuries, Father Time

(Part 3 resumes the story of Jonathan Lyau, the former 3,200-meter state champion from McKinley who recorded his 100,000th mile on Wednesday.)

Jonathan Lyau is consistent, even when he is unaware. After he crossed the line for his 100,000th mile on Wednesday, he was with son, Spencer.

A day later, he and Spencer hit the road again, heading mauka toward Makiki Heights.

“We went up Pensacola towards Roosevelt and back. Halfway through, I realized that was the route of my first logged mile! It was like I reset the odometer,” he said.

Though Lyau is a creature of habit, his willingness to try new things during his recovery from injuries is why he is able to thrive at 56.

The comeback

The gym is where Jonathan Lyau found a different way to burn calories, a different social experience. It was necessary after lower-body injuries took a toll starting a decade ago.

“I had a meniscus injury, a small tear, and I ran a race with a lot of 180-degree turns. I ran well, but I was pushing off it a lot,” he recalled. “After the race, my knee was swollen.”

That recovery was slow, but he was back at it once it healed.

“I started running marathons, but I guess I had muscle imbalances because of atrophy, so over the next 10 years, a lot of stuff popped up. Five years ago, it was one thing after another. I was probably doing less than 20 miles a week, just running to stay in shape and burn calories,” Lyau said.

Eighteen months ago, he decided to do more.

“I was going to a physical therapist a lot and they taught me a lot of exercises, and I (also) did them at the gym. Strengthening my quads, exercises to keep my Achilles (tendon) area and my calves loose. Balance exercises were the best, using the bosu ball, trying to keep balance. Some light squats, strengthening my hips and flutes, especially my trunk,” Lyau noted. “That took a lot of pressure off the areas that were getting injured. Everything was distributed more across my body.”

He was patient through the strengthening process, using non-impact machines, the stationary bike, to save his legs.

“I was able to run some races for fun, just to test myself, but I never pushed myself because I knew I was injury prone,” he said. “So I started adding more. I did more workouts with the group I coach. That’s why I’ll be able to keep going. It was probably to do with age and the pounding I was doing. For a period of time, all I was doing was running.”

Kelli Lyau, a former aerobics and ab class instructor at a local gym, helps with the Zoom workouts.

“That’s why we do these strength exercises on Zoom,” Lyau said.

The closure of gyms is what led to an earlier landing at 100,000 miles. They also kept him balanced. On the rare occasions when he can’t get a run in, there is a difference.

“For me, I don’t get cranky, but I just think something’s missing. It’s such a habit, like I didn’t brush my teeth today. My mouth feels dirty. It’s like any habit, and if you stop, you feel like something is missing,” he said.

Got to have goals

Lyau doesn’t have a global bucket list of places to run. If he goes to Europe one day, it will be strictly as a visitor. But having a goal helped motivate his comeback.

“When I was in my injury mode five years ago, I thought it was all over and I can’t run with my son. I knew he liked running, so my goal was actually to race my son, all out, and be at the point in life where he and I are exactly even in a race,” he said. “To train and run with my son on a regular basis. I’m able to do that now.”

He hasn’t given up completely on marathons.

“In terms of races, my goal was to run a marathon under three hours. To make my fifth decade of going under three hours. There’s not too many people who did that, but it looks like that’s put on hold,” Lyau said, noting the effects of pandemic lockdowns. “The longer I wait, the harder it’s going to be.”

His other big goal: the nationals.

“I want to run in the national masters track meet. I ran a few one-mile races in summer track with the youth summer program. I realized that my time was nationally-ranked in the 1,500 age group. If I had time and got healthy, I could train, but the national meets are cancelled,” he said. “The 100,000 miles is a goal that I got to reach. I’ve got to rest more. I can’t do as many hard workouts as before. I squeeze in my hard sessions in a shorter period of time.”

Protecting the wheels

“I’ve been a New Balance guy for several years now. I would say four or five years. I did all kinds of brands. Mizuno. Nike for many years. I guess my feet got wider, my foot plant was different,” Lyau said. “The Nike training shoe doesn’t work for me anymore. I’m on my fourth pair of Beacon. They’re my training shoes.

A pair of Beacons go for $120.

“I’ve been lucky that Runner’s Route has been supporting me. Nowadays, shoes are really light. I don’t know how I wore those old shoes before. They were so hard. No wonder people on our team got shin splints. No protection. So much lighter these days,” he said.

He isn’t as particular about socks.

“Costco. Champion brand socks. Adidas socks. Dry-fit, low-cut socks. I’ve tried extra thick socks. I don’t really like them. It feels clunky. It feels hot,” he said.

The rest is equally ordinary. Different brands of running shorts. Dry-fit shirts, though he wears tank tops in races. Absolutely no head wear.

“Nothing. I don’t run with music, any of that stuff. I feel too hot in a hat,” Lyau said.

The watch, though, is more than an accessory.

“I use a Garmin GPS. It’s a running watch. I turn it to stop-watch mode and it connects to the GPS. Pace, distance route, you see the route after. It keeps track of your heart rate. It has an optical heart rate. Most people I know, the runners have Garmins,” he said.

The guru’s guru

Sebastian Coe was Lyau’s spirit animal.

“Sebastian Coe used to be world mile record-holder. He’s from Great Britain. He was my all-time favorite runner, but he also ran the mile like I did. I loved to read about him, his workouts and training routine. I believe in incorporating hills, and he did a lot of that kind of stuff to build power and strength,” he said. “Even if you’re running hills at a slower pace, you’re still working and building strength.”

One of the steepest hills on Oahu is Wilhemina Rise.

“That’s about 2.5 miles up. I took my group one day. So we ran this. It was a time trial straight up and we came back on Sierra Drive,” he said.

Another standard-bearer for Lyau was legendary island runner Duncan MacDonald.

“I would always look in the distance running results for Duncan MacDonald because he was a kamaaina like me,” Lyau said.

Favorite routes all-time

“I used to do a lot of runs in Manoa. I guess through the majority of my career, I ran in Manoa, UH, now because I live in town, I do almost all my routes along the South Shore. Waterfront Park, Ala Moana, Magic Island, behind Hilton, Waikiki, Kapiolani Park. Diamond Head,” Lyau said. “I just like seeing the ocean.”

He doesn’t run on sand. It takes a moment to think about a least-favorite route.

“I avoid running on Kalanianaole Highway. Even back in my long run days, I’d do it, but not very often. I feel like it’s dangerous. I don’t like the cars whipping past you. It was not enjoyable. I’d rather run into neighborhoods, up in to valleys. Packs of cyclists using the lane. It’s just uncomfortable,” he said.

A message for keiki

“They should just think of running as, don’t be pressured into feeling like you have to keep up. It’s a race. Just run your own race and that’s how it’s going to enjoyable. Your body will adapt and you’ll improve that way. It’s not instant gratification in running, you build up slowly. When I first started, my first three-mile run, I couldn’t walk for two days. I said, I’m going to kick back and run my own pace because I knew I had practice the next day. Eventually, I felt stronger week by week and gradually I moved up. If you kill yourself the first week, you’re not going to enjoy it,” Lyau said.

“When I became a student about it, I read about it. If you’re a football player, you know about the top players in the NFL, how they got there. But if you talk to runners, they don’t know who the top runners are or the best time in a marathon or mile.”

Advice to high school Jonathan

“I probably would tell myself to be a smarter runner. I learned to be a smarter runner later on. Listen to my body,” Lyau said.

In fact, both Coach Tom Marks and Coach Peter Tong had major influences on him at McKinley.

“Coach Marks had to coach the boys and girls, so my senior year, Peter Tong had a big influence on me my senior track year. He kind of adjusted, or he and Coach Marks taught me by doing certain workouts what worked for me and what didn’t. He kept me fresh. I looked back at my training log. I did good mileage in the offseason, but once season started, he had me do less mileage and more quality workouts and racing. Doing both would break me down, and that’s what was happening earlier. He found that sweet spot,” Lyau said.

“I felt really good and confident. I felt like nobody was going to beat me. I felt like I was faster than I actually was. That carried over into when I did road races. I still did some of the same workouts and I started reading more and doing more things. I learned there is always a sweet spot in training, and everyone has a different spot.”

Bucket list

Lyau’s 100,000 miles are mostly contained to Hawaii, but there have been exceptions.

“I actually, when our family visited the Great Wall, I took a few hundred meters. My bucket list, I don’t think I’ll get it already. I’ve always wanted to run New York City Marathon. I think I’ve got one more in me, but I just don’t feel like that would be a good thing for me to do,” he said.

“I still want to compete in the national masters in track or cross country. Every summer it’s in a different location. The timing has to be right. This would have been a good year and a friend was going to go.”

Europe is a destination, but he’ll go without his favorite running shoes.

“I always wanted to go to Europe, but I don’t have to race,” he said.

Lockdown staples

Top 3 movies/shows

1. Ip Man. “I really like the first one. Donny Yen.”

2. Mulan. “That was pretty cool. Plus, they had Donny Yen again.”

3. Bruce Lee stuff. “A lot of stuff on youtube, ESPN had the documentary.”

Top 3 foods/snacks/drinks

1. Coca-Cola. “Not that I drink it often.”

2. Cheetos.

3. Mrs. Field’s and Cookie Corner. “I like the big, softer cookies.”

Top 3 music artists
Lyau: “My wife always teases me when a Bee Gees song comes on. She must realize over the years that I like the Bee Gees.”

Family ties

Lyau: “My brother (James) used to run a lot. He lives on he mainland. He can’t run anymore because his ankle’s messed up from snowboarding. He bikes a lot, 100 miles on hills. He does still work out. He believes in exercise. He’s just a year younger. He ran a marathon in high school, stress fracture, that wiped him out that year. But we both ran in the Boston Marathon together. To be in the same race together, that was cool. That was maybe 1999 or 2000. That’s the last time we ran together in a race.”

Shout outs
Lyau: “My family. My wife really supports my running. A good friend who’s the same age, follows running, knows the world record. Gets excited about track and field and marathons with me on TV. It’s been fun.

“My mom (Margaret), she used to come to every single one of my races, even as an adult at my road races. I appreciate it now. What mom would continue to support her child when he’s an adult. I really appreciate it. In the back of my mind, I think she was just proud of me. Even when the marathon would pass her house at 5 in the morning, I see her outside cheering for me. I was still doing marathons in my 40s, she’d be out there, stand outside the building. When she was able to move around a lot, she would actually see me finish the races.”

Lyau also thanked a friend.

Chad Miyamoto was a big part of my Aloha Cross Country Camp as a coach and counselor for many years. This pandemic cancelled it this year, so hope I continue next year. Many kids look forward to it.“


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