The Curse of Lono
Author:Hunter S. Thompson

The party that night was awkward. We arrived too late for dinner and there were "No Smoking" signs everywhere. Ralph tried to mingle, but he looked so sick that none of the guests would talk to him. Many were world-class runners, fanatics about personal health, and the sight of Ralph made them cringe. The aloe had half-cured his back, but he still walked like a stroke victim and his physical presence was not cheerful. He limped from room to room with his sketchbook, still deeply confused on valerian root, until a man wearing a silver Nike jumpsuit finally led him outside and said he should check himself into the leper colony on Molokai.


I found him leaning against the trunk of a monkeypod tree at the far end of the redwood deck, arguing bitterly with a stranger about the price of marijuana.


"It's a bloody awful habit," he was saying. "The smell of it makes me sick. I hope they put you in prison."


"You shiteating wino!" said the stranger. "It's people like you that give marijuana a bad name!"


I stepped quickly between them, dropping my full cup of beer on the deck. The stranger jumped back like a lizard and went into a karate crouch. "Don't touch me!" he shouted.


"You're going to prison," I said to him. "I warned you not to sell drugs to this man! Can't you see that he's sick?"


"What?" he screamed. Then he lunged at me, kicking savagely at my legs with a cleated running shoe. He missed and fell toward me, off balance, and I pushed my cigarette into his face as he staggered between us, slapping wildly at the fire on his chin.


"Get away!" I shouted. "We don't want any drugs! Keep your goddamn drugs to yourself!"


Others restrained the man as we hurried off. The limo was waiting at the top of the driveway. The driver saw us coming and started the engine, picking us up on the roll and careening out of the driveway with a long screech of rubber. Ralph had two spasms on the way to the hotel. The driver became hysterical and tried to flag down an ambulance at a stoplight on


Waikiki Boulevard


but I threatened to put a cigarette out on his neck unless we went straight to the hotel.


When we got there I sent the driver back to the party, to pick up the others. The Samoan night clerk helped me carry Ralph up to his room, then I ate two bags of valerian root and passed out.






We spent the next few days in deep research. Neither one of us had the vaguest idea what went on at a marathon, or why people ran in them, and I felt we should ask a few questions and perhaps mingle a bit with the runners.


This worked well enough, once Ralph understood that we were not going to Guam and that Running was not a political magazine. . . By the end of the week we were hopelessly bogged down in a maze of gibberish about "carbo-loading," "hitting the wall," "the running divorce," "heel-toe theories," along with so many pounds of baffling propaganda about the Running Business that I had to buy a new Pierre Cardin seabag to carry it all.


We hit all the prerace events, but our presence seemed to make people nervous and we ended up doing most of our research in the Ho Ho Lounge at the Hilton. We spent so many hours talking to runners that I finally lost track of what it all meant and began setting people on fire.


It rained every day, but we learned to live with it ... and by midnight on the eve of the race, we felt ready.









We arrived at ground zero sometime around four in the morning -- two hours before starting time, but the place was already a madhouse. Half the runners had apparently been up all night, unable to sleep and too cranked to talk. The air was foul with a stench of human feces and Vaseline. By five o'clock huge lines had formed in front of the bank of chemical privies set up by Doc Scaff and his people. Prerace diarrhea is a standard nightmare at all marathons, and Honolulu was no different. There are a lot of good reasons for dropping out of a race, but bad bowels is not one of them. The idea is to come off the line with a belly full of beer and other cheap fuel that will burn itself off very quickly. . .


Carbo-power. No meat. Protein burns too slow for these people. They want the starch. Their stomachs are churning like rat-bombs and their brains are full of fear.


Will they finish? That is the question. They want that "Finishers" T-shirt. Winning is out of the question for all but a quiet handful: Frank Shorter, Dean Matthews, Duncan MacDonald, Jon Sinclair. . . These were the ones with the low numbers on their shirts: 4, 11, 16, and they would be the first off the line.


The others, the Runners -- people wearing four-digit numbers -- were lined up in ranks behind the Racers, and it would take them a while to get started. Carl Hatfield was halfway to Diamond Head before the big number people even tossed their Vaseline bottles and started moving, and they knew, even then, that not one of them would catch a glimpse of the winner until long after the race was over. Maybe get his autograph at the banquet. . .


We are talking about two very distinct groups here, two entirely different marathons. The Racers would all be finished and half drunk by 9:30 in the morning, or just about the time the Runners would be humping and staggering past Wilbur's house at the foot of "Heartbreak Hill."






At 5:55 we jumped on the tailgate of Don Kardong's KKUA radio press van, the best seats in the house, and moved out in front of the pack at exactly 11.5 miles per hour, or somewhere around the middle of second gear. The plan was to drop us off at Wilbur's house and then pick us up again on the way back.


Some freak with four numbers on his chest came off the line like a hyena on speed and almost caught up with our van and the two dozen motorcycle cops assigned to run interference. . . but he faded quickly.


We jumped off the radio van at Wilbur's and immediately set up a full wet-bar and Command Center next to the curb and for the next few minutes we just stood there in the rain and heaped every conceivable kind of verbal abuse on the Runners coming up.


"You're doomed, man, you'll never make it."


"Hey, fat boy, how about a beer?"


"Run, you silly bastard."


"Lift those legs."


"Eat shit and die," was Skinner's favorite.


One burly runner in the front ranks snarled back at him, "I'll see you on the way back."


"No, you won't. You'll never make it back. You won't even finish! You'll collapse."