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Runnin’ with Rani: A tough weekend of climbing

Updated: 
August 11, 2017 - 8:10am

Only one cycling race on the island has stood the test of time and to this day, it is revered to be a brutal challenge in just 6.5 miles.

The notorious Pedal Till Ya Puke and Run Till Ya Ralph cycling and footrace held on Kaloko Drive has attracted athletes from all over the state for the last 27 years, providing a chance to test themselves against the clock and earn bragging rights on a gnarly climb featuring 3,000 feet in elevation gained with steep gradients upwards of 20 percent.

It is also the only event in the state where a runner has actually beaten a cyclist outright.

In 1996, the legendary Karl Honma outran John Shirley, who rode a mountain bike, finishing the climb in a time of 56 minutes and 13 seconds, with Shirley crossing shortly after in 56:55. Then it happened again in 2002, when Ralph Sawyer blew away the entire field to finish in 55:09 — nine minutes ahead of the first cyclist.

And the scene at the finish line, located at the top of Kaloko Drive, is always the same. Cyclists and runners in complete agony, gasping for air, while holding back the compelling urge to do the unthinkable — hence, the fitting name of the event.

One must wonder, why would anyone want to punish themselves with such a sadistic challenge?

“It’s the spirit of the hill,” said event organizer, Sean “Peaman” Pagett. “It’s such a tough hill. You go from 1,200 feet to about 4,500 feet in 6.5 miles. So it’s just as tough as any Tour de France stage race there is.”

Peaman added that it’s the beauty of the race that gets people out of town and away from the beach to enjoy the cooler elevation and lush green forestry known to the Kaloko area.

“This is so different,” Peaman said. “You are up here in the cool and the trees, and sometimes the fog rolls in, but this hill has a really good challenge to it. The steep sections are hard. So it’s really one of those races where anyone who finishes is a winner, no matter what time it takes them to get up the hill.”

Just over thirty athletes took to the challenge of Sunday’s 27th edition of the event.

Two-time Kaloko champion, Cody Ranfranz, who is just a few weeks away from becoming a Bobcat at Montana State University, shot straight to the front in the 6.5-mile footrace with last year’s cycling champion, Ray Brust, Adam Ankrum, and Harry “The Hammer” Yoshida not too far behind.

Within a few minutes, Brust took the overall lead and continued to pedal his way up the mountainous climb to claim his second Pedal Till Ya Puke title in a time of 44:48.

The 56-year old Oahu native had participated in the epic Sea-To-Stars race the day before where he placed second overall.

“It wasn’t as bad as I thought,” Brust said of competing in two hill climbing events, on back-to-back days. “I rode up here three minutes faster so I think I was in better shape this year than last.”

Second to cross the finish line on two wheels was Ankrum in 55:59, with Ranfranz holding off Yoshida (road bike) for the third spot, 59:46 to 1:00:00, respectively.

Diane Kim was the only female to ride to the top, finishing in a great time of 1:28:26. Johnnie Kaihewalu decided to take on the added challenge of using a fixed gear bike and stopped the clock in a fantastic time of 1:36:17.

With Ranfranz easily claiming his third consecutive Run Till Ya Ralph victory, Kona’s Jon Jokiel and myself were left jostling for second place.

Jokiel, a two-time Ironman World Championship finisher — who has a marathon personal best time of 2 hours and 49 minutes — used his quick turnover to keep his momentum going all the way to finish in a great time of 1:05:04. I followed shortly after in 1:05:35 to claim third place.

The amazing Ankrum family completely dominated the shorter 3.5-mile and 1-mile footraces.

Alec Ankrum, who just turned 15 years of age and is an incoming freshman at Kealakehe, will definitely be the one to watch during the upcoming high school cross-country season.

Ankrum has already posted several sub 18-minute 5K race times over the last year, and on Sunday, shredded 6:42 off his time from last year to win the 3.5-mile footrace in 34:16. Ankrum’s time is also the third fastest in the history of the 3.5-mile race, with the current course record belonging to Karl Honma, with a 2001 recording setting performance of 32:16.

For the third year in a row, Ankrum’s mom, Laura, claimed the women’s title with her time of 43:06. While Ankrum’s two younger brothers, Aiden and Archer, topped the 1-mile race with their times of 5:37 and 6:09, respectively.

Sea-To-Stars

Oahu’s Ray Brust has been pedaling his bike longer than most can remember. His passion on two wheels began in the mid-70s and throughout the last four decades, Brust has amassed over 140 victories in road racing, including competing in the 1988 Olympics trials.

Living in Hawaii, the 56-year old has won all of the major road racing events in the state and impressively, on multiple occasions. Some of his most notable wins include Oahu’s Dick Evan’s Memorial Road Race, Maui’s Cycle to the Sun, and yes, Big Island’s Sea-To-Stars and Pedal Till Ya Puke races.

It’s no wonder everyone in the cycling world knows him better as, “The Godfather”of cycling.

“That (name) was given to me by a good friend of mine, Mikey Fujita, who lived on Oahu but actually passed away a few years ago from a heart condition,” Brust said. “But I think he gave it to me because I’ve been around for so long riding and racing. I started back in the mid 70s and I guess I haven’t stopped.”

And after four decades, the Godfather nickname still brings a smile to his face.

“I don’t know if I’ve embraced the name but I try to show up to these races because you only live once,” Brust said with a laugh. “And you might as well get out there and do the races and show your face because you won’t know when you will be able to do it again.”

For the second year in a row, race organizers of Sea-To-Stars decided to hold their race the day before Peaman’s Kaloko events to encourage more participation from neighbor islanders in making the most of their weekend stay.

Brust again decided to take advantage of the opportunity and also because he was the defending champion in both races.

Saturday’s Sea-To-Stars race has certainly earned its reputation of being the toughest hill-climbing race in the world during its short existence.

The race begins at sea level at Waikoloa Beach Resort and challenges endurance cyclists to 48 grueling miles, 9,800 feet of climbing, gradients upwards of 17 percent, and an opportunity to ascend one of Hawaii’s most magnificent natural attractions — Mauna Kea.

“It’s definitely the challenge,” Brust said of his return to compete in STS. “I think the Sea-To-Stars is the hardest race we have in the state. The course is definitely harder than Haleakala (Maui’s Cycle to the Sun race). There’s a little more competition at Haleakala, like 200 people versus 35 for Sea-To-Stars, but the Sea-To-Stars course itself is definitely more difficult especially this weekend with the winds we had.”

Thirty-five riders began in neutral format at Waikoloa Beach Resort until the horn blew to start the timing clock on Waikoloa Road. From there, cyclists were immediately challenged with Waikoloa’s hot and gusty trade winds during the initial 10-mile ascent, which separated the group into a lead and several chase packs.

By the time Brust reached Old Saddle Road, the lead pack had dwindled down to three, and Brust found himself riding with Oahu’s Jason Smith and Hilo’s Alan Eriksson.

“I like that it’s hard — the harder it is the better it is for me mentally,” he said. “I’ve been doing it so long that I don’t think the challenge bothers me as much as it would other competitors.”

Brust said that by the time they reached the base of Mauna Kea, the final six miles of the brutal climb, Eriksson had dropped off pace and it was down to Smith and himself.

“There was a point when (Smith) pulled away from me with about five miles to go – we were already on Mauna Kea road,” Brust said. “I just had a little bit of a weak point and then Jason got about a minute ahead of me. No, the thought of quitting never crossed my mind, but then we just stayed (in the same position) till the finish. I was angry at myself for letting him go and not catching back up, but he was the strongest guy yesterday and so he deserved the win.”

Smith won his first STS victory in a time of 3:52:05, with Brust settling for second place at 3:53:43, and Eriksson rounding out the men’s top three in 4:04:59.

In the women’s race for first, Kailua-Kona’s Tawnie McDonald defended her title with an impressive time of 4:50:01. Kona’s Stacie Studer placed second in her STS debut at 5:11:31, with Hilo’s Jennifer Real nabbing the third spot with her time of 5:17:25.

An honorable mention goes out to Peaman, who finished in an amazing time of 5:26:27, and Johnnie Kaihewalu riding the entire way on his fixed road bike to finish in an unofficial time of 8:09:00.

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