Kona Marathon gets ready for some heated competition

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The Kona Marathon is ready to run.

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The Kona Marathon is ready to run.

Upwards of 2,000 athletes will assemble at Waikoloa Beach Resort on Sunday morning to take on the event’s 5K, half, quarter and full marathon courses.

“The best part about this race is having these people from all over the world come to participate in a running event on the beautiful Big Island,” race director and owner of the Kona Marathon Sharron Faff said.

The Kona Marathon is quickly encroaching on a quarter-century of history, but every year presents its own set of challenges and lessons. That became especially true in 2015, when the race migrated north from Kona to the Kohala Coast.

While the race settled in nicely in its debut and garnered positive reviews from the athletes, a few changes were made this year to make it a perfect fit.

“When you change venues or really anything, it’s an opportunity to learn,” Faff said. “I think we found out it can be quite warm in Waikoloa. This year we have done a couple of things to make the event better for the athletes.”

Foremost on that list is less mileage on the scorching grounds of Queen Kaahumanu Highway, coupled with water misters and a slightly earlier start time to avoid the peak heat hours.

“We needed to cool off,” Faff said with a laugh.

Athletes can also find solace in some additional room to run and not having to cross traffic during the race. Instead of just the shoulder, runners will have a whole lane within the resort.

“Safety is always the No. 1 priority,” Faff said.

While Faff and her crew are looking to cool the athletes down, the competition to reach the front of the pack should remain heated.

On the women’s side, Honolulu’s Yuko Nakai will be back to defend her crown and is going for a three-peat.

Defending male champion Andreas Wenger will not be back, leaving the men’s title race at the 23rd edition of the event wide open.

All the races start and finish in the Waikoloa Bowl at Queen’s Garden.

Completing the race is a reason to celebrate, but more than a handful of participants will have other reasons to cheer when they get to the finish line. For some, the occasion will be a birthday or anniversary. For others, it will be completing a challenge — like 50 marathons in 50 states — or overcoming some sort of adversity.

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“This is a bucket list race for a lot of people,” Faff said.

A busy weekend kicks off today with a health and fitness fair at the Hilton Waikoloa Village from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.. Admission is free and open to the public.