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Runnin’ with Rani: Honu – A Triathlete’s Paradise

June 6, 2014 - 4:59am

Known for being one of the toughest half-Ironman events on the circuit, Saturday’s Ironman 70.3 Hawaii offered competitors the perfect opportunity to test themselves among some of the world’s fastest triathletes.

Home to one of the most active volcanoes in the world, Kilauea, and the tallest, Mauna Kea, the Big Island once again extended her aloha and laid-back vibe to nearly 1,600 athletes who descended upon the Kohala Coast.

Racers began their day with a 1.2-mile swim in the turquoise waters of Hapuna Beach — a half-mile long, soft white sandy beach that rests like an oasis amidst lush green vegetation and rugged lava fields. Hawaiian green sea turtles called honu, for which the race is locally nicknamed, are often found nestled in the sand, lazily basking in the sun.

From there, competitors transitioned onto their bikes to valiantly take on a 56-mile grueling roller coaster ride on the out and back course of the road to Hawi. On any given day, there’s no telling what forces Madame Pele will surprise racers with. Saturday had a bit of everything — a blustery swirl of headwinds, cross winds and tailwinds under a beaming Hawaiian sun made the challenge of finishing the bike segment in one piece a bragging right in itself.

If that wasn’t enough, the punishing 13.1-mile run awaited those brave enough to continue. Honu’s run course twists it’s way through the golf fairways of Mauna Lani, coastal pathways and out to a petroglyph park. The run course topography is continuously changing, and with the intense heat of a midday sun, it became a game of “find-a-rhythm” — or risk crumbling to your knees.

Besides having an excuse to wear spandex all day while overdosing on a buffet of sticky gels and de-fizzed coke, Honu serves as a dual qualifier offering a coveted 28 international slots for October’s big dance — the Ironman World Championship in Kailua-Kona. It also extends 40 qualifying slots to the Ironman 70.3 World Championship in Mont-Tremblant, Quebec, Canada.

With Honu being the only qualifier in the state and one of the few events on the 70.3 circuit offering tickets to Kona, it has a reputation for attracting a fiercely competitive age group field from around the world.

Two of Hawaii’s fastest triathletes followed in runner-up positions to Canadians Brent McMahon and Angela Naeth who took the overall wins in the men and women’s divisions.

Pro triathlete Ben Williams from Oahu, who won the Strongman Triathlon in Miyakojima Japan on April 20, whipped through the challenging course with ease to finish strong in 4 hours, 18 minutes and 36 seconds. While Kona’s Bree Wee nabbed second place in 4:33:20 — just two weeks after her fourth place finish at Ironman Texas on May 17.

Top Big Island male honors went to Cory McCord who finished fifth in the competitive 30-34 age group division with his time of 4:48:33. McCord has proved that the half-Ironman distance suits him well as he also won the Mini Monster event in early February. McCord will be one of many Big Islanders anxiously waiting to hear their name called during tomorrow’s Ironman lottery drawing.

Next was Keish Doi, another outstanding athlete who secured his slot to Kona at last year’s Ironman Arizona, who crossed the line in 4:52:17. Michael DeCarli, who been producing consistent results all year, shaved six minutes off of last year’s time to finish in 5:02:42.

With a race that often relies on luck to get from start to finish in one piece, somehow the stars lined up right for me as I crossed the finish line in 5:00:01, winning my age group and earning a long desired slot to Kona. But as fate would have it, I was left to make a hard decision.

Having a young baby and a realistic appreciation of the sacrifices and training required to compete among the world’s best, this would not be my year.

Two other Ironman hopefuls and moms were Waimea’s Sylvia Ravaglia who crossed in 5:30:45 and Kona’s Anita Leao in 5:37:53. Ravaglia, already a two-time Ironman World Championship finisher is also looking forward to a possible debut at this year’s Ultraman World Championships in November. While Leao, who finished her first 26.2-mile race at December’s Honolulu marathon, would have her dream fulfilled with the drawing of her name at tomorrow’s lottery.

Other great performances to note were Kona’s Winona Chen, who won the women’s 18-24 age group and punched her ticket to Kona with a convincing 5:49:44 finish, and Mayor Billy Kenoi, with his finish of 7:54:54.

Although Kenoi’s heartfelt speech uplifted the spirits of many who attended the post race awards ceremony, it was World Triathlon Corporation’s Andrew Messick’s announcement to honor Kenoi with an Ironman slot and a chance to be a part of the most talked about race in triathlon that had the crowd in an uproar of cheers.

For the mayor, along with tomorrow’s lottery winners and several other local athletes who have already qualified elsewhere, today kicks off an extraordinary 121-days of character building leading up to their big day on Oct. 11.