KAILUA-KONA — For athletes looking to stay out of the water, Powerman is bringing their kind of endurance race to the Big Island.
“The motto that we kind of use at Powerman is, if you want to go for a swim, go on holiday,” Powerman national events director Kenny Krell said. “So it’s us saying that a run-bike-run is harder than a swim-bike-run.”
On Sunday, more than 50 athletes will compete in the inaugural Powerman Hawaii Duathlon, with the course starting at Kealakehe High School. A part of the Powerman World Series, the duathlon will be a qualifier for the ITU Long Distance Duathlon World Championships held in September in Zofingen, Switzerland.
Krell had been campaigning to bring the duathlon to Hawaii for several years. Krell himself had been visiting the Big Island for decades, and found Kona to be a natural fit for the rigorous race, with more open space to run the course than Oahu and Maui — two other islands Powerman considered for the location.
“The Powerman brand doesn’t have a lot of true destination events, and obviously Kona and Hawaii can be some of those destinations for us,” Krell said. “We thought it would be good for trekking athletes in from all over the world.”
The three events Sunday will be a sprint, consisting of a 2.5K run, 17K bike and 2.5K run; the short course, a 5K run, 28K bike, 5K run; and the world championship qualifier, a 10K run, 56K bike and 10K run.
The top three athletes in the each age group in the qualifing race will have a spot at the world championships.
Athletes begin the course at Kealakehe High School, and make a loop from Ane Keohokalole Highway to Palani Road, before turning onto Queen Kaahumanu Highway. The course runs up Hina Lani Street to Ane Keohokalole Highway before finishing back at Kealakehe High School.
The 8 1/2-mile square course is meant to be repeated until the race is finished, minimizing the impact of the race on commuters, while also creating a more exciting viewing for spectators.
“One of the big things that the tourism bureau was adamant about was they didn’t want to bring another event that wasn’t spectator friendly. You know, with Ironman, they get out of the swim after swimming for an hour, and then you don’t see anybody for four to six hours on the bike,” Krell said. “We told them we would bring a spectator friendly, multi-loop format to the high school and the venue up there. So athletes, spectators, friends, family members, they’ll all get to see everybody many times.”
The duathlon was originally supposed to have its first race in 2018, but delays in the widening project of Queen Kaahumanu Highway forced Powerman to cancel the event.
Sunday will be Powerman’s smallest event this year, with most Powerman events ranging from as low as 200 registered athletes to the largest events with more than 2,000 competitors. Krell said last year’s postponement turned away a lot of athletes that may have been interested.
“It’s pretty small this year, but, saying that, we have nine countries and seven states represented,” Krell said. “Athletes will still coming from all over the world. We’re going to have athletes from China, Australia, Great Britain, France, Japan and Canada. They’re coming from all over the place.
“To come to Hawaii is a big investment for folks. It’s $2,000 to $4,000 for them to fly their bike here, get a place to stay and rent a car, so once it’s established, there will be more interest.”
He also said Powerman falling on the weekend before the Lavaman Waikoloa Triathlon also kept local athletes from choosing to participate. Only a dozen local athletes have signed up to participate this year.
Krell believes it will take just one year to bring up participation numbers, and future Powerman Hawaii Duathlons will be moved up a few weeks from Lavaman.
The future of Powerman Hawaii isn’t hanging on the success of this year. Krell said the duathlon is committed to returning for years to come.
“We’re definitely in it for the long haul,” Krell said. “We’ve got a lot of equipment being shipped in and we told the high school we want it to be a fundraiser for them for many, many years to come, so it will be here for quite some time. As long as I’m alive, it will be here.”
A portion of the entry fee for Powerman Hawaii is given back to Kealakehe High School, as funds for their athletic programs and extracurricular clubs at the school. Krell said giving back to the local schools is the “whole mission” behind Powerman Hawaii.
In addition to the duathlon, a keiki race for those ages 10 and under will take place Saturday morning, as well as a duathlon meet for local high school athletes.
“We went to the school and said we want this to be a fundraiser for the next 10, 15, 20 years down the road, so there is always something for the kids to look forward to as a fundraiser for them,” Krell said. “We wouldn’t have done it with them if we didn’t think it was going to take off. So it’s one of those things where we’ve got to let the first one happen, and then let it take off.”