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100 Percent Pure Kona Coffee Half Marathon returns

Updated: 
November 10, 2017 - 12:05am

After a year hiatus, running enthusiasts will have something to look forward to with the return of the 100 Percent Pure Kona Coffee Half Marathon taking place Saturday at Coconut Grove Marketplace.

The 13.1-mile footrace wraps up the week long Kona Coffee Cultural Festivities with racers starting on Alii drive fronting Coconut Grove Marketplace at sunrise.

The event began in 2015 by legendary runner Jon Kunitake and Big Island Running Company’s Melissa Braswell, who had hoped to revitalize a long distance running event in the heart of Kona. After a successful turnout for its inaugural year, the half marathon was canceled last year due to uncertainty on whether there would be enough police officers available to assist with road closures.

While Braswell has decided not to return as race director, Big Island Running Company will continue to support the event as one of the main sponsors that also includes BioAstin, Club Rehab, and Kunitake Farms. The new race director for Saturday’s event is Hilo’s Keely McGhee.

“I’m really excited and I think it’s going to be a really great race,” McGhee said. “We have a lot of great sponsors — some of the same ones that we had in 2015. We are doing coffee mugs and race tank tops again for all of the finishers. It will be a lot of the same ideas but with my little twist on it.”

In addition, Kona Coffee and Tea Company will be at the finish line supplying coffee to those in need of a caffeine boost, while Gypsea Gelato will be handing out free Keiki sized gelato cups to all participants with larger sizes awarded to the overall winners.

McGhee said that Saturday’s half marathon would be her first stint as a race director.

The 32-year old Hilo resident was born and raised in Florida and grew up surfing. Her father was a pro-amateur windsurfer.

Frequent trips to Hawaii to pursue her father’s passion for windsurfing and triathlons led to the family moving to Oahu in 2005. McGhee then moved to Hilo in January and is currently employed as a nurse at Hilo Medical Center.

“One of the first things that I did when I moved here was I went to the Big Island Running Company store in Hilo and met Cary Aurand and Alan Ryan (BIRC employees) and started running with them,” McGhee said. “While I’ve been running for at least six or seven years, I’ve been training with Alan for the last six months as he is now coaching me. So when Cary told me that Melissa was not thinking of doing this race again but she was looking for someone (to take over), I said I was interested.”

Saturday’s 13.1-mile run will begin at 6:30 a.m., starting and finishing in front of Coconut Grove Marketplace. Racers will head south before encountering Keauhou’s challenging hills that includes running into the infamous “Pit,” also known as the End of the World before heading back. Southbound lanes will be closed to traffic with four aid stations logistically spaced approximately 1.5-miles apart so that runners will be able to utilize aid twice due to the out-and-back layout of the course.

As of Tuesday, there were 110 registered and McGhee expects to have a lot more signed up by race day as race registration continued throughout the week and will still be available today from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. at Big Island Running Company’s Alii Drive store location.

This year, the half marathon looks to be wide open for anyone’s taking as both the men and women’s defending champions, Billy Barnett and Kristin Old, have yet to sign up.

In the men’s race, look for veteran runner and Volcano resident, Lyman Perry, to be leading the pack with Hilo’s Nick Muragin not too far behind.

Perry, who is known to be one of the most accomplished distance runners in the State and currently holds an impressive streak of 21 Honolulu Marathon finishes under his belt, placed fifth overall in the 2015 race with a time of 1 hour, 27 minutes and 56 seconds.

However, Muragin’s speed out on any racecourse has him consistently placing high at numerous local running events. His performance on Saturday could very well surprise.

On the women’s side, former professional triathlete and 2018 HURT 100-Mile Trail race qualifier, Bree Wee, is no doubt the favorite. Wee has been on fire this year winning every running event on the island including the Kona and Kauai Marathons.

While Wee will be hard to beat, she will most certainly be pushed by Holualoa’s Laura Ankrum and Sally Marrack of Hilo.

Ankrum, a former U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials qualifier in 2000 and mother of three athletic boys, Alec, Aiden, and Archer, will be making her debut at this event. Marrack placed sixth overall in the 2015 women’s race with her time of 1:45:52.

For McGhee, being able to organize a long distance footrace on Alii Drive rests close to her heart.

“I think it’s really a special course. When I was a kid, my dad was into Ironman. He did triathlons and Kona twice. So my first memory of Kona was coming to watch my dad run and of course, swim and bike. So for me, Alii Drive is really a special place and it’s just exciting to have a race there.”

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