Most of us have driven the 31-mile stretch from Hilo to Volcano, a seemingly never-ending uphill grind rising 4,000 feet in elevation. Very few of us have ever imagined running this segment, but many will attempt to do just that Saturday.
Saturday’s 24th annual Hilo to Volcano 50K Ultra Marathon and Relay Race boasts being the third-oldest and longest distance road race on the Big Island. Runners take in spectacular views of Mauna Loa and Mauna Kea, experience dramatic climate zone changes, and race along open lava fields and lush rain forests of Kilauea volcano.
Big Island Road Runner’s Club will host the challenge which commences at 6 a.m. for Ultra runners and 6:30 a.m. for three-person relay teams. The epic 31.1-mile point-to-point foot race traverses from Hilo Bay’s Coconut Island, around the island on Highway 11, to Cooper Center in Volcano Village.
Race director Steve Pavao said changing weather patterns and other environmental elements add another level of difficulty to what’s already an exhausting challenge.
“We’ve had extremely cold, wet and windy conditions,” Pavao said. “Past Glenwood it can get down to the mid-50s.”
Another major hurdle runners face is the change in elevation.
“Basically I tell people that it’s just one big hill,” Pavao said. “Once you pass Keaau, then the real hill climbing starts.”
Having no aid stations or mile markers along the course, runners are allowed support vehicles to assist with nutrition and provide encouragement to finish before the noon time limit.
With nearly 30 solo Ultra runners and 30 relay teams signed up, the lineup will showcase several Big Island talents.
For the women, the most seasoned athlete in the field is Hilo’s Susan Cordell who has claimed multiple victories at both the Hilo to Volcano 50K and Volcano Marathon events. While rookie Brooke Myers of Kailua-Kona will debut after strong finishes at last year’s Kona and Honolulu marathons.
Keaau’s Joe Barcia and Laupahoehoe’s Alan Ryan return to lead the way for the top male Big Island spots. Barcia finished sixth overall last year at 4:29:57, while Ryan, who is also a former Volcano Marathon winner, placed second overall in 2010 at 4:18:08.
Another participant determined to continue his ferocious marathon streak while visiting the island is Guinness World Record Holder Larry Macon. The 69-year-old from San Antonio, Texas, holds the record for the most marathons run in a year — a jaw-dropping 153 races in 2012.
Last year’s male and female winners, Volcano’s Billy Barnett (3:59:04) and Desiree Delagardia (4:46:34), have yet to sign up, which would leave the door open for new champions.
While it can be a huge undertaking to plan and organize such an event, Pavao credits his race staff and finds enjoyment through the relationships he has built over the last few years.
“I enjoy meeting different runners from across the state, country, and those from different parts of the world,” Pavao said. “I enjoy seeing the camaraderie, seeing people having fun and being active.”
Pavao, who has participated in numerous ultra-distance events, plans to be part of The Three Generations relay team — teaming up with runners Andrew Langtry and Linden Villena.
What is Pavao’s advice to newcomers?
“Make sure you pace well, have proper clothing and have your support vehicles in place.”
Check-in, bib number pickup, and late registration occurs from 4 to 6 p.m. today at the Hilo Hawaii Hotel. For more information, contact Steve Pavao at 430-0267 or visit bigislandroadrunners.org.
Team Mango’s first triathlon of 2014, the Winter Super Sprint Triathlon, will be held Sunday. The 200-yard swim, 6-mile bike and 1.5-mile run will start at 7 a.m. at Kailua Pier. For more information, visit teammangoraces.org.
On Jan. 26, Frozen Pea Productions will host the Peaman Splish-Splash and Superbowl Shuffle Biathlon at Kaiakeakua Beach. New start time is 8:08 a.m. for the half-mile swim, and 3.1-mile run. A 200-yard swim, 1-mile run Pea Wee course is also available. There is no registration; participants sign out when they finish.