Kona Marathon: Giving it their all

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WAIKOLOA — Yuko Nakai and Joshua Espinoza were both crowned Kona Marathon champions on Sunday, but they will remember the race for very different reasons.

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WAIKOLOA — Yuko Nakai and Joshua Espinoza were both crowned Kona Marathon champions on Sunday, but they will remember the race for very different reasons.

Nakai extended her reign of dominance in the 26.2-mile event, clocking a time of 3 hours, 19 minutes and 20 seconds at Waikoloa Beach Resort to walk away with a historic women’s title three-peat.

“I felt a little pressure before the race. I had won the past two years and knew there were expectations,” Nakai said. “But I’m very happy with the result. I love this race.”

Espinoza might have to be reminded of his epic effort.

In his debut marathon, the 23-year-old runner pounded through the course in 2:46:48, literally giving it his all for the win.

Espinoza reached the final stretch a healthy eight minutes ahead of second place finisher Luke Peel (2:54:49), but started fading fast after finishing. He stayed on his feet across the line, but would have to be helped to the medical tent before eventually leaving the race in an ambulance.

Both Nakai and Espinoza open up healthy leads early on the rest of the field. The only thing they really had to battle for the majority of the day were the conditions.

Marathoners were welcomed by a nearly cloudless morning and a fiery sunrise just peaking over the mountains. A familiar Waikoloa wind kicked up as the day moved on, cooling down the athletes while simultaneously becoming a nasty adversary to run against.

“The heat wasn’t as bad as last year, but there was a ton of wind,” Nakai said. “It cooled everything down, but it beat me up too.”

Nakai said she would have liked to go faster, but still had a good time at the race thanks to the spirited volunteers and camaraderie on the course.

“This is my favorite marathon,” she said. “I like having the race in Waikoloa because it is not only good for runners, but also for the friends and family of runners. Everyone gets to see each other on the course a few times and give encouragement.”

Mayumi Takahashi captured second in the women’s marathon with a time of 3:22:14, followed by Molly Maggard at 3:32:03.

Kengo Yoshimoto was the third male finisher, coming in at 2:56:58.

Half distance, full drama

While both the marathon winners took home the titles by relative landslides, the half marathon was quite the opposite.

Alberto Ramirez took control of the race early and looked to be cruising, but would be tested by a late charging Mike Sullivan.

“I thought he was way ahead of me, but once we got to the turn, I slowly started to close the gap,” Sullivan said. “I was hoping he didn’t look over his shoulder.”

As the duo entered back into Waikoloa Beach Resort, the sprint to the finish was on. Sullivan was never more than a few strides behind, but it would end up being Ramirez by a nose.

However, the drama wasn’t over.

Shortly after the race, Ramirez was disqualified for racing under someone else’s name, giving Sullivan the top overall honors in the half marathon.

“That’s OK. It’s in here,” Ramirez said shortly after finding out, pointing to his heart.

Sullivan (1:24:10) agreed, giving Ramirez a congratulatory pat on the back, but would have seen the race as a win regardless what the final results read. The Hilo runner/triathlete has been nursing an injury and didn’t expect to find himself in contention.

“I had to back off doing the full marathon and have been taking it easy with my training,” Sullivan said. “I wasn’t expecting for it to go as well as it did, but I was feeling good out there with all the positive energy. My legs kicked into gear.”

Sullivan said his racing sponsor is Pacific Quest, an organization that tries to provide life-changing experiences for struggling adolescents and young adults, focusing on the mind and body connection. During a race, he gets an extra boost from knowing he a potential role model for someone watching.

“Teens and young adults can face a variety of problems — whether it be stress, anxiety or depression,” he said. “When I run these races, it’s all about self-discipline and self-awareness. I hope it’s something they can see and be inspired by.”

On the women’s side, the half marathon was a showdown between two of the Big Island’s most elite runners and former champions in Bree Wee and Rani Henderson.

Wee — who recently retired from professional triathlon — defended her half marathon crown with a time of 1:28:04. Henderson followed close behind at 1:30:21.

Best of the rest

Kealakehe’s two-time BIIF soccer player of the year Laukoa Santos dominated the quarter marathon, crossing in 40:31. He finished almost five minutes ahead of the next finisher, his Waverider teammate Joshua Lopez (45:14). Ryan Sawrie was just two seconds back, rounding out the male top three.

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Arkansas runner Amy Demania (48:46), Ohio’s Taylor Ellerbrock (52:00) and Kate Daon (53:29), of Kansas, went 1-2-3 overall in the women’s quarter.

High school speedster Ziggy Bartholomy took home top honors in the 5K, turning in a time of 18:11. Steven Chung (18:44) and Anna Gibson (18:45) followed on the overall podium for the speediest race of the day.

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