The 17th annual Big Island International Marathon will be different and one for the record books.
For starters, the 26.2-mile marathon portion of the three-pronged race will begin and end at Hilo Bayfront, allowing the folks in Pepeekeo — the old starting point — a nice Sunday to sleep in.
Equally swell is that the runners get to catch a few more winks of sleep. They don’t have to worry about missing the shuttle bus to Pepeekeo. The walk from gold sponsor Hilo Hawaiian Hotel to the starting line is about the distance of a long coconut throw.
The half-marathon and 3.1-mile run/walk will also start at Hilo Bayfront. The new starting line has not only eased headaches but also allowed for more participants — great for the local economy with runners from off-island and different parts of the country, spending their dough on hotels, food and transportation.
“Our goal is 1,000 entries,” said race director Bob Wedeman, who’s running the show with his brother Joe Wedeman. “Before we had only a limited number of runners because we had to bus people up to Pepeekeo. A lot more people wanted to do it. Now we can accommodate more people.”
As of Friday, there were 276 runners registered for the marathon, 478 for the half-marathon and 240 for the 5K. Late registration continues today.
The course retains its scenic allure with waterfalls, jungle forest and waves breaking on the shoreline.
On Sunday, the Hilo weather forecast calls for 60 percent chance of rain. The locals know that’s guaranteed showers and not to wear their most expensive shoes. Skinny runners might want to wear heavy shoes because the winds are expected to be in the 19-mph range.
“Rain is good for the runners, not for everybody else,” Bob Wedeman said.
For the competitive types, the defending champs, Sam Tilly and Atsuko Fujii, aren’t entered, so the titles are wide open. The new winners will set records for the new course. That’s a nice bonus: champion and record-setter on the same day.
Justin Gillette, from Indiana, set the old Pepeekeo record in 2 hours, 34 minutes and 39 seconds in 2011. Reka Batai, from Hungary, established her mark of 2:53.13 in 2010.
An old champion has been invited back. Oahu’s Michael Georgi ran a 2:41.57 to set the record in 1997. His mark was bettered by Aaron Pierson, from Oakland, Calif., with a 2:38.47 in 2003. Then Gillette blew that time out of the water, although the course worked him over (he collapsed in a chair) for every hard-earned second.
“I would love to have the defending champions back,” Wedeman said. “We invited Michael Georgi. He was thrilled when we asked and told him about the new course, and he’ll be at Saturday’s carbo dinner.”
The best record is that of the Final Four: Marie Kuramoto, DJ Blinn, David Hammes and Kailua-Kona’s Cowman, whose real name is Ken Shirk. He firmly prefers Cowman, and has run many races under that nickname for years.
They have completed all 16 marathons. Last year, Kuramoto finished in 6:27.17; Blinn in 4:28.24; Hammes in 5:05.37; and Cowman, in 6:24.56.
Kuramoto doesn’t look her age but she’s 67 years old. Blinn is 65, Hammes is 62 and Cowman turns 70 on Sunday. It’ll be a happy birthday if he can win his age group.
Blinn has run more than 110 marathons but last year’s Hilo marathon was his most memorable. It was the first time he and his new bride Yuka, who ran with her veil, crossed a finish line together.
Three years ago, the couple met at the Kona marathon. She’s finished more than a dozen races, but her honeymoon run was one to remember.
The BIIM is the first part of the inaugural Half-Marathon Triple Crown with UCC Coffee Kunitake Farms Kona Marathon (June 22) and Volcano Rain Forests Runs (Aug. 16).
Wedeman said the Triple Crown finishers will receive a medal after the Volcano race. Sharron Faff is the race director of the Kona and Volcano runs.