While March Madness begins to take the country by storm in the realms of NCAA basketball, here on the Big Island, the second weekend in March is always reserved for plenty of beer, run and bike action.
Saturday kicked off a day of beer tasting with the 11th annual Run for Hops 10K and 5K footraces held at the BMW of Hawaii dealership on Loloku Street.
This event has become a favorite of mine, as it is one of the few races that I have been a consistent participant since its humble beginnings in 2008. Back then, race organizers featured only a 5K that began and finished at the Kona Brewing Company’s parking lot.
I remember it being an exciting and new event on the race calendar and with first-class airline tickets up for grabs for the overall male and female winner, you can imagine that everyone showed up to race hard.
That year local multisport legend, Luis De La Torre, and I took top honors. Yet more than winning, the race left an undeniable impression on me. It had a grassroots feel to it and at the same time, a genuine first-class race.
From the overall organization of the event, to having enthusiastic volunteers cheering you along the course, to diving into one of the best post-race beer parties on the island, I knew that I would want to be a part of it for many years to come.
Fast forward to the present day, not much has changed as the event continues to thrive and be as successful as ever. I also continue to toe the line — now with my two-year old son in a baby jogger — to duke it out with some tough competition along with 600 happy runners and walkers. Saturday’s event turned out to be my ninth start.
In the competitive 10K race, Holualoa’s Grant Jacobson shot straight to the front, leaving Nate Grocholski, Michael Vrbanac, Alan Ryan and myself all chasing in hot pursuit.
The 10K course is known for its level of difficulty that starts off over some rocky and dilapidated terrain looping around Old Airport, before continuing on tje much smoother surface of Makala Blvd. and Loloku Street. The second half of the race then turns into a real quad-busting grind featuring a few steep hills up Luhia and Ehi Street in the Old Industrial Area.
While Jacobson continued to extend his lead, Grocholski and Ryan fought hard for second place. Ryan finally won the battle by passing Grocholski on the final hill.
“He just came by me like nothing,” Grocholski said. “I did my best to try and hang on.”
The men’s race finished with Jacobson claiming his first Run for Hops 10K victory with a time of 37 minutes and 24 seconds. Laupahoehoe’s Ryan sprinted in for second place at 39:06, with Kailua-Kona’s Grocholski hanging on to third at 39:15.
For the fifth year in a row, I happily pushed my son in a baby jogger and felt lucky to win a fifth consecutive women’s title in a time of 40:44. I have to say it doesn’t get any easier especially when my son loves to eat, leaving me to push a heavier stroller each year.
Not too far behind was Big Island’s future in the sport of women’s triathlon, Kona’s Winona Chen, who finished in second place with a fabulous time of 41:24.
At 27 years of age, Chen’s determination to excel at every swim, bike and running event only proves that she will be a force to be reckoned with for many years to come. Look for Chen to post a great result in the women’s Open Division at the upcoming Lavaman Waikoloa on March 25.
Rounding out the women’s top three was Helen Meigs with her time of 42:30.
The 5K race saw Kyle Spangler from Lynchburg, Virginia hold off Holualoa’s Laura Ankrum to win in a fabulous time of 19:01. Ankrum finished a few strides back in second overall and first in the women’s division with her time of 19:08.
The next three spots went to Ankrum’s husband, Adam, Brian Sperlongano and Ankrum’s 10-year old son, Archer, who finished in 19:14, 19:19, and 19:35 respectively.
It’s been a mythical tale told many times over, but one never tires of hearing it repeated again.
Deep within the foothills of Keauhou, awaits a fiery beast. One with unimaginable powers to summon wind and rain, fly high into the clouds, hide at the bottom of the deepest sea, and breathe fire onto all that crosses its path.
Its ferocious appearance alone is said to be bone chilling. What waits in darkness is a beast that no one should ever come across alone. It is the Dragon.
Throughout the year the Dragon lays asleep, camouflaging itself amidst nine steep hills of Keauhou, with each hill depicting the spiny ridges of the Dragon’s back.
Once again, event organizer Kym Kiser summoned fifty of the bravest warriors to cycle their way to the southern-most end of Alii Drive. All in anticipation of welding its magical powers, strength and good luck by awakening the beast and conquering its nine hills to ultimately earn the distinction and title of, Dragon Slayer.
This year Kiser decided to create four separate divisions (heats) to beat the Dragon. With a total of four Dragon Slaying titles up for grabs, it truly added another level of competitive fun to her event.
“We added the men and women 60-and-over divisions in addition to the 60-and-under divisions, so it was really four separate races instead of two,” she said. “So the men actually had two really tight fields, with riders finishing close together in both. So it was exciting to see the extra racing within the race. And with nine mini races within the whole event, it was a lot of racing today.”
While participants were treated to cool and overcast skies, the competition within each of the men and women’s hill climb races got heated pretty quickly.
In the women’s Under 60 division, Laupahoehoe’s Jennifer Real got out to a quick start and proved that all of her indoor Zwift training paid off as she completely dominated the women’s field throughout the first five hill climbs.
However, over the next four climbs it would be Kailua-Kona’s Tawnie McDonald who prevailed, as she hammered her way to the top to cross the finish line in first, with Real having to settle for second place. Holualoa’s Laura Ankrum held firm to the third spot in all nine-hill climbs.
“It seemed like there were definitely some tactics going on in the women’s race,” Kiser said. “I’m not sure, but it seemed that Jennifer took the finishes in the beginning and once she knew she had it for the overall title, then she just backed it down from then on because she knew she didn’t have to put it all out there. But whether that was the case or not, it sure was great tactics especially when you have those big steep hills at the end.”
Real said she didn’t feel there were any race tactics going on but confirmed that she did have a plan of how she would conquer the hill climbs.
“My plan was to go out hard on the first so many hills, which were the shorter ones, just because I thought I’d be better at them,” said the 39-year old. “And then I was just hoping to beat Tawnie, which has been my goal in life, because she always kicks my butt.”
McDonald on the other hand, said that she just wanted to focus on her own race.
“I had no plan,” laughed the 54-year old. “I just kind of do my own thing. I don’t worry about who’s here or who’s not here. I just push it when I feel I can and let up when I need to. Quite honestly, I think that as you age, it takes longer for you to warm up. So I felt like the more we got into it, the more I felt in rhythm.”
In the end, Real won the women’s Under 60 Dragon Slayer title as she won five hill climbs for a total of 86 points, compared to McDonald’s four hill climbs that gave her 85 points.
For the men’s Under 60 division, it was Keauhou’s Penn Henderson that pedaled away from the field in all nine-hill climbs for a perfect score of 90 points.
“It was definitely hard, especially with having such a stacked men’s field,” Henderson said. “Nothing was easy, every hill was an absolute leg-burner. There’s no other race during the year like this. Imagine a super hard training day of all-out intervals, all the while having to keep tabs on the competition. By the end, I was pretty spent”.
Coming in second place for a second year in a row was Kailua-Kona’s David Wild with 79 points, with first-time competitor, Cory McCord, making an impressive showing for third at 70 points.
“My plan was that I wanted to win, but I also saw that there was a ton of strong riders that I had never raced with,” Wild said. “Like Jose (Graca), Cory (McCord), Caleb (Barville), and I didn’t know that Malcolm (Davis) was going to be a threat. I used the first hill to scope out everyone to see who to watch and follow. And then it was like, okay copy Penn and try to stick with him on every hill.”
Wild, who is gearing up for a great performance at this year’s Lavaman, said that Kiser’s event fit perfectly in his training schedule.
“It’s a really great activator for the year, to fire up all the engines and make sure they all work,” said the 30-year old Konawaena High School teacher. “And it’s short enough that there’s time to recover before Lavaman. I think this event is perfect timing for Lavaman.”
Kona’s Don Baldassari obliterated the Men’s 60-and-over division, winning all nine-hill climbs for a perfect score of 90 points. Ralph Heath finished in second with 77 points, with Kailua-Kona’s Harry “Da Hammer” Yoshida” pedaling his way to third with 72 points.
And lastly, Joni Heath won the Women’s 60-and-over division with her perfect score of 90 points, followed by Lori Montgomery in second at 81 points, and a smiling Toni Romp-Friesen in third at 72 points.
Kiser hopes that her event continues to attract cyclists from all levels to come out and have fun conquering Keauhou’s nine hills.
“My passion is the same as it was from the beginning, which is to bring all levels and riding skills together in one race, and that no one is left behind. Typically in a race, those finishing first have already gone home and the last place people are still out there. This way we are all together. The elite cyclists are cheering on the weekend riders. I just think that it’s good for us to have this ‘we’re all one’ type of attitude.”
Sunday: The 21st annual Big Island International Marathon, Half Marathon and 5K running events will kick off at the Hilo Bayfront Area. Start time is 6 a.m. for the marathon, 6:15 a.m. for the Half, 6:40 a.m. for the 5K, and 7 a.m. for the untimed 2-mile fun run/walk.
For a full schedule of events, registration details, and entry fees visit hilomarathon.org.