The State Champion In Hawaii Explains What It's Like To Run On The Island

The fastest runner on the Island this fall isn't even from Hawaii. 

But that doesn't make Colby Otero's win at the single-class Hawaii High School Athletic Association championships on October 28 any less special. 

Otero beat two runners who had logged sub-16 minute times at a national-caliber meet in Arizona, and did so while posting this own career best time by 19 seconds, crossing the finish line in 16:21.91 in Honolulu on the campus of Kauai Community College. 

"It all felt really good," said Otero, who moved to O'ahu in 2015 from North Carolina but was born in Corpus Christi, Texas. "It made the coaches pretty proud and it made my family proud, too." 

Otero is setting his sights now on the Foot Locker West Regional on December 2 and hoping for a great end to the season. A year ago, he finished 10th in the boys junior class race, but this year has hopes of running in the seeded competition. 

So what's it like to compete on the Island? 

"I think it's deceivingly competitive," said Otero, who began running as a sophomore and finished third at state as a junior, producing a best of 16:55.23. "A lot of people consider it slower than the mainland, but it's a misconception. The times may be slower, but just as a competitor we can keep up." 

Otero, a senior at Kalaheo in Kailua, moved to the O'ahu when his dad was transferred to the Marine Corps base nearby. 

Otero has steadily grown in both cross country and track and field, where he's improved his personal bests in the 1500m to 4:13.07 and 9:12.34 in the 3000m. 

As you can imagine, there were some obvious benefits living on the Island. 

"Probably the ability to walk to a beach whenever I want to," Otero said of Kailua Beach. "I've never been able to do that anywhere else." 

About the only thing Otero doesn't do that goes against the grain is surf.

But running in Hawaii has its challenges, too, with consistent wind off the coast, nonstop terrain changes, and traditionally hot weather. 

"It's so hot and humid all year round," Otero said. "You have to adapt to it, but the sport is a lot of fun." 

Now, a championship on Hawaii's soil generally shouldn't be compared to one achieved in California, Texas, Illinois, or New York. Hawaii's best times in either the boys or girls fields in most cases don't even compete with the top 50 efforts in some of the nation's best states.

But Hawaii isn't like normal states, either. Its high school athletic association governs traditional sports like football, baseball, and basketball and not-so-traditional ones like air riflery, canoe paddling, and judo, among the more rare sports offered at the prep level. 

When it came down to crunch time, Otero posted his third straight effort at 16:45 or faster in the single-class championships, beating lolani's Jason Wang and Nick Arima, who ran sub-16 at the Desert Twilight Festival in September. 

"I tried to break away early and make a gap and hold on," Otero said. 

It was just his third effort at 5K all year, though he had also posted big runs of 15:53.55 at 3-miles both at Pearl City and the OIA Qualifying meet, which ranked as the No. 4 effort at the distance in Hawaii. 

One of the best experiences Otero had this year, he said, was running on the terrain of Kualoa Ranch, the site where multiple Jurassic Park movies were filmed. It was a picturesque scene, with grand views of cresting mountains and an endless ocean. 

"You run along this huge mountain," he said, "and the beach is a quarter mile away. You get the full picture pretty quick." 

Otero first decided to take part in cross country after his brother competed previously. But now he has aspirations beyond high school and is currently looking to run at mostly Division II schools on the west coast of the United States, like Seattle Pacific and Saint Martin's University. 

"I definitely want to continue running in college," he said. 

But before that happens, he'll enjoy the beauty and sunsets of O'ahu. 

One thing he loves the most on the Island? 

"I've really learned to enjoy the foods," he said. "Lots of pulled pork, and naturally I've gotten a bit more tan."