Running Hawaii-Islands of Adventure
by Frank Mungeam
Fireworks shatter the darkness, filling the sky with brilliant colors. In the cool air of morning, twenty-five thousand pairs of feet shuffle past the starting line in the Honolulu Marathon. Runners climb up to Waikiki's famed Diamond Head, a silhouetted sentinel standing watch over the Pacific. Soon, sunrise breaks on the horizon, painting the sea pink. After crossing the finish line, many runners plunge into the ocean to cool off. Some will celebrate with a Mai Tai on the beach.
Hawaii is a runner's paradise. Year-round temperatures average 80 degrees, offering welcome relief for travelers tired of training in winter's chill. The islands also offer an enticing menu of running races that boast everything from breathtaking scenery to jagged volcanic peaks.
Racing in Hawaii
For first-timers, no marathon is more popular than the Honolulu Marathon. Half of the 25,000 participants are running their first 26.2-mile race.
Melanie Demers of Mt. View, California chose Honolulu for her debut because she wanted to travel. "I prefer warmer weather so Hawaii worked for me," says Demers. "Since it's December and it's dark at the start, downtown is decorated with Christmas lights," continues Demers, who also enjoyed the views from Diamond Head and along the beachfront. "There's nothing like your first time," recalls Demers fondly.
For adventure-seekers, the Kilauea Volcano Rim Run challenges runners with a ten-mile trek around the caldera of the world's most active volcano. Participants navigate a lunar landscape of lava flows around the 4,000-foot rim. Ultra runners can do the 26.2-mile Kilauea Wilderness Marathon, known as "one of the world's toughest measured marathons." The race is a favorite of Hawaii local and RAC member Thom McHale. "Hiking and running the trails at Kilauea is a blast," says McHale. "The 10-miler drops down into the caldera and then climbs back up-up-up, and up some more."
The most festive run on the islands is the Great Aloha Run, held each year on President's Day. The 8.15-mile fun run starts in downtown Honolulu and finishes at Aloha Stadium, site of the annual Pro Bowl. Live music and dancers cheer on more than 22,000 participants.
For scenery, few races can compete with the Maui Marathon. Flames from tiki torches light the pre-dawn start, sending runners on a point-to-point journey that leads past stunning shorelines through the fishing village of Lahaina and on to the finish in Kanaapali. "The final miles follow the shoreline and the views were spectacular," recalls Clarence Zachow of Wenatchee, Washington, a finisher in 1999. "In downtown Lahaina, tourists lined the sidewalks cheering for the runners!"
The Big Island's most famous athletic event is the 140.6-mile Hawaii Ironman. The swim-bike-run competition originated here in 1978 as a way of settling an argument over which sport's athletes were better. Two thousand competitors from all 50 states and more than 50 countries gather each October to compete in the Ironman World Championship.
When On Maui
Sleep deprivation is a small price to pay for the chance to see the sun rise over 10,000-foot Mt. Haleakala. Afterwards, hop on specially designed bikes and coast 38 miles from the "House of the Sun" to the Maui coast.
Loosen up after a hard run with the free nightly Hula Show at Ka'anapali Beach Hotel north of the fishing village of Lahaina. Follow the burning torches and the sound of a conch shell trumpet to the Tiki Courtyard and enjoy a Hawaiian hula show and dance music. Held 6:30-9:00 p.m. nightly at the Kaanapali Beach Hotel, Lahaina.
When On Oahu
Swim with the fishes at Hanauma Bay, a short bus ride from downtown Honolulu. Rent snorkeling gear at Snorkel Bob's (packages from $10, snorkelbob.com) and get directions to this undersea wonderland just outside Waikiki. Then lose yourself in a bay populated by exotic tropic fish like Yellow Tang, Butterfly Fish, and Moorish Idols.
Learn how to select and cut a pineapple, sample this juicy local fruit, or get lost in the world's largest maze on a tour of Oahu's Dole pineapple plantation.
When On the Big Island
Witness the awesome destructive and creative power of a volcano up close by hiking the Kilauea Iki trail, a four-mile loop that starts at the Thurston Lava Tube and traverses a jagged, lava-filled crater within the world┐s most active volcano.
See majestic, 40-foot Humpback whales breach and spout in the open sea from December through March, or sail amidst schools of dolphins on board a sleek catamaran sailing from Kailua-Kona.
Lodging and Dining
Hawaii offers diverse accommodations, from the $500 per night deluxe ocean suites at the Westin Maui to modest rooms for less than $50 at the Kona Hotel on the Big Island.
For a complete guide to lodging and dining on all the Hawaiian islands, check out the state's official visitor's web site, www.gohawaii.com.
Running for Fun
If you don't want to race, add one of these runs into your Hawaiian vacation.
Diamond Head Loop (Waikiki) 5 miles
Visit this sloped volcanic crater by starting in Kapiolani Park and following Diamond Head Road counterclockwise to Monsarrat Avenue back to the park. Add three miles and detour through the tunnel that leads up stairs to the panoramic viewpoint atop the crater rim, where hollowed out gun placements once guarded the city.
Ala Moana (Waikiki) 6 miles
A pleasant loop run starts just a few blocks from the hotels in Waikiki. Head northwest along Ala Wai Blvd, following it to the left along the Ala Wai Canal to Ala Moana Beach Park. Run out to Magic Island and see the sun rise over the Pacific, then loop around the Park and back along Waikiki Beach.
Ali'i Drive (Kailua-Kona) 7 miles
Imagine yourself finishing the toughest of all tests, the Hawaii Ironman, as you retrace the final miles of Kona's Ironman Triathlon out and back along Ali'i Drive. Unlike competitors in the Ironman, you can soak in the views as you pass by a series of white-sand beaches on the way back to Kailua Bay.
Mana Rd (Waimea) up to 40 miles
Escape pavement and follow this dirt road that passes through Parker Ranch, one of the largest ranches in the U.S. and the birthplace of the "paniolo," the Hawaiian cowboy. The rugged, 40-mile road encircles towering Mauna Kea but you can turn around whenever you want.
About the Author: Frank Mungeam is an outdoor/travel writer, an avid runner and a two-time finisher of the Boston Marathon. He lives in Lake Oswego, Oregon and escapes the drizzle of Northwest winters by running and recreating in Hawaii.