This past weekend was a test of strength and stamina for athletes from all backgrounds — on land and in the sea.
On Saturday, cyclists from around the world competed in the 40th annual Sea to Stars race — a grueling race to what feels like the top of the world — the Mauna Kea visitor’s center located 9,200 feet above sea level.
At 9 a.m., the cyclists gathered in front of the Blue Hawaiian Helicopters base, and with the blow of a conch shell, they were off.
The day turned out to have better conditions than the previous year. The sun was shining, the air was clear, and the wind was moderate. Right from the start, the athletes had to dig deep as the race began with the hill climb up Waikoloa Drive to Mamalahoa Highway — approximately 12 miles.
Once they hit Waikoloa Junction, the cyclists had a more gradual climb along Mamalahoa Highway until they made the steep, right-hand turn onto Saddle Road.
Once on Saddle Road, the going got tough. As one athlete put it, “That’s where the race actually starts.”
Saddle Road is a continuous battle of altitude gain and loss, headwinds and crosswinds, and to make it worse, traffic is open and there is little to no shoulder for the cyclists to use.
To reach the finish line, athletes took a left-hand turn onto Mauna Kea Access Road for the last six miles. Though the finish line is mentally in sight, the grade climbing up to the finish is almost 18 percent, and at some points, it is faster to get off and walk rather than try to pedal through.
Eric Lau, a 23-year-old from Oahu, conquered the mountain first, finishing the 49-mile ride in 3 hours, 26 minutes.
Just behind Lau was Kona resident Penn Henderson, the winner of the Pedal Till Ya Puke race just one week prior, with a time of 3:29.
Luis De La Torre claimed third place with a time of 3:36.
Fourth place went to Ray Brust (3:39), and Tony Lang (3:59) rounded out the top five.
On Sunday, swimmers competed in the Alii Challenge, an endurance race from Keauhou Bay to Kailua Pier. Competitors had the choice to swim solo or as a relay for the 6.2-mile swim. The race started at 7:30 a.m., and the first swimmers arrived in town shortly after 9:30 a.m.
Along the way, some of the swimmers encountered jellyfish, and a few unlucky competitors were stung. They were all able to power through and make it back either by continuing to swim or by their safety kayak.
Nathaniel Goodale swam to the finish first with a time of 2 hours, 8 minutes. Second place overall went to a youth relay (18 years old and younger) of the Jernigan sisters, Cara and Kelly, who swam the 6.2 miles in 2:12.
The relay team of Jeff Kamler and Laurent Rouaul, who finished in 2:16, rounded out the top three.
Congratulations to all the athletes from the Sea to Stars race and the Alii Challenge. You guys are truly an inspiration and living proof that hard work pays off.
This weekend is another big racing weekend but not quite as strenuous as the last.
On Saturday, the third annual Rain Forest Runs will take place in Volcano Village. A half marathon will take place at 7 a.m., and a 10-kilometer run and a 5k run/walk will follow soon after.
On Sunday, Frozen Pea Productions will hold the Brown Bear Bash, a 1/3-mile swim followed by a 3.1-mile run.
As always there will be a keiki race, which includes a shorter swim and a one-mile run. Race start is at Kailua Pier at 8:03 a.m. Hawaiian time (I apologize for the typo last week). This is a free event and open to all.
Hope to see you out there.