Nothing beats having a local race amidst triathlon’s most hallowed ground two weeks out from the big dance.
Sunday’s Team Mango Pre-Ironman Triathlon Challenge offered a final race tuneup and a last chance to enjoy the quiet waters of Kailua Bay along with the laid-back vibe of Alii Drive, just before the mass convergence of endurance athletes begins.
Event organizer Carl Koomoa couldn’t have chosen a better time to host this perennial challenge that consisted of a 1.2-mile ocean swim, three laps of a hilly 15-mile bike course, followed by a sun- drenched 6-mile loop.
Koomoa has been putting on his Team Mango events for the past 22 years and with 12 events listed on the yearly calendar, there is no sign he’s slowing down.
Like most events that begin at a grassroots level, Koomoa recognized that Big Island athletes were in desperate need of quality training and decided to do something about it. His idea? “Why not have simulated race group training events so that our island’s athletes are better prepared against off-island competition,” Koomoa said.
Team Mango Races quickly became a hit.
One of his first events, the Mountain Triathlon Challenge, was held Nov. 15, 1992. As some may remember, the winner was none other than multisport enthusiast, sports columnist and four-time Ironman World Championship finisher — Peaman.
“Back then I remember being so gung-ho for those Team Mango races,” recalled Peaman. “Especially the hill challenges. We’d race up and come down full speed wearing nothing but our Speedos. Man, those were the days.”
Koomoa’s Team Mango events have always attracted a competitive local and international field, and this past Sunday’s race lineup was no exception.
Austrian native and part-time Kona resident Thomas Vonach, who has spent the last several months racing around the globe in preparation for this year’s Ironman race, spared no time in carving out a lead, gapping the field by 35 seconds at the 1.2-mile buoy turnaround. From there, Vonach propelled himself back to shore clocking 30:34 for his effort, then rolled onto the hilly 15-mile bike course first.
Second to exit the water was Sweden’s Marcus Hultgren, who is in Kona for six weeks preparing for his first world championship race in the competitive men’s 30-34 age group.
Like most Ironman competitors envisioning a dream finishing time, Hultgren hopes his training efforts will lead him running down a spectator-filled Alii Drive close to a 9 hour 20 minute mark. Such a time would certainly position him amongst the top-tier of age groupers.
Behind the top two began the chase group of Kailua-Kona’s Michael DeCarli, Dan Berman, and the always-consistent Harry “The Hammer” Yoshida.
After nearly two hours of hard racing, Vonach led wire-to-wire to claim victory in a fast time of 1:49:32, just shy of last year’s winning time and current course record of 1:48:14 by Tony Rule of Australia. Hultgren would finish strong in second place at 1:53:10.
Top Big Island honors went to DeCarli who, for the third year in a row, placed third male overall at 2:00:07. If consistency is the key to a great Ironman finish, then there is no doubt DeCarli will do well come next Saturday’s main event.
In true grassroots fashion, it takes time for Koomoa’s handwritten results to be transferred into a computer system, so you can expect to find it posted sometime in the next few days on Team Mango’s website, teammango.org.
Team Mango mania will continue the fun with Koomoa’s newest event, The Morning After Triathlon, slated for Oct. 13 at White Sands Beach Park on Alii Drive. Start time is 7 a.m. for the 1/2-mile swim, 15-mile bike and 4-mile run. Registration begins at 5:30 a.m.
This weekend kicks off with the 10th annual Kukio Blue Water Swim tomorrow at Uluweuweu Bay. The 1.2-mile open water swim event starts at 8 a.m. with check-in and prerace body marking beginning at 6:30. Limited to 250 participants, register online at kukio.net. For more information contact Paola Pagan at 325-4108.
Sunday racers can look forward to the 28th annual PATH 5K/10K Walk/Run and free Keiki Dash. Start time for the races is 7:30 a.m. at Hale Halawai on Alii Drive. Visit pathhawaii.org for online registration and entry forms.