Monday, June 05, 2023 |
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Runners near the finish line Saturday at the Kona Town Fun Run. (Laura Ruminski/West Hawaii Today)
Runners of all ages compete Saturday at the Kona Town Fun Run. (Laura Ruminski/West Hawaii Today)
Ironman week officially kicked off Saturday morning with dozens of runners taking part in the Kona Town Fun Run on Alii Drive in Kailua-Kona.
The 5K run kicks off a packed week of events, including the first-ever two-day running of the Ironman World Championship following a multi-year pandemic-induced hiatus.
This year, over 5,000 triathletes who’d qualified since 2020 but were waiting for the big event are ascending upon Kona with families in tow to take part in the grueling 2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bike, and 26.2-mile run triathlon.
Ironman events continue today with the Hoala Training Swim for athletes starting at 6:30 a.m. from Kailua Pier followed by the Ironkids Keiki Dip-n-Dash, a run and biathlon event, at 4 p.m. with registration opening at 1 p.m.
Athlete registration begins Monday ahead of the annual Parade of Nations with athletes from various countries walking from King Kamehameha’s Kona Beach Hotel to Hale Halawai at 3 p.m. During the event, Alii Drive will be closed in the area.
Monday also marks the start of road closures for the big event with traffic access to Kaahumanu Place and Kailua Pier restricted. That closure expands at 7 a.m. Tuesday to include both directions of travel on Alii Drive between Kaahumanu Place and Likana Lane and will remain in effect through 3 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 9.
On both race days additional road closures will be in effect at various times from Kahakai Estates in North Kona to Hawi in North Kohala as athletes make their way through the course. Detours will be in place, some of which could be lengthy, however, the northbound lanes of Queen Kaahumanu Highway, between Palani and Kaiminani roads, will be open. Road closure maps can be found at ironman.com/kona-community.
Thursday’s world championship will feature professional women, physically challenged, all age group women and men’s age groups 25-29, 50-54 and 60-plus while Saturday’s race will feature professional men and some age group men.
All will take on the same course, which has essentially remained unchanged for decades. Following the 2.4-mile swim in Kailua Bay, athletes will get on their bikes for 112 miles to Hawi and back to Kailua Pier where they will switch out for the final 26.2-mile run to the Natural Energy Laboratory of Hawaii Authority and back to the finish line near the intersection of Alii Drive, Palani Road and Kaahumanu Place.
The theme of the 2022 Ironman World Championship is “ku like,” which translates to “stand together.” In addition to promoting the theme, the company is also pushing an initiative called “Live Aloha” that builds upon and emphasizes the Hawaii Tourism Authority’s push for responsible tourism.
Ironman is also encouraging those attending, visiting, and participating in the event to “act mindfully and take part in learning about and respecting Hawaiian culture, lands, and people throughout their visit to the Island,” according to a press release. The initiative also urges people be “pono” or righteous on Hawaii Island by taking the “Pono Pledge.”
“We know there is great anticipation after three years without a World Championship Event on Hawaii Island and excitement can sometimes be blinding to other important areas. We have been mindful about the return of the event, understanding that to Live Aloha we must Ku Like as it is the communal responsibility of our athletes, team members, partners, supporters, volunteers, media members, and visitors to play an active role in taking care of this place that so many love and call home, including a core group of our Ironman World Championship Team,” Diana Bertsch, senior vice president of world championship events for the Ironman Group, said in a press release.
Hawaii County Mayor Mitch Roth, in the same release, welcomed athletes and their families back to Hawaii Island.
“Over the past few years, our community has come together to enhance our recognition of our collective responsibility to each other and our ‘aina — which we believe will provide you all with an enriched experience of our island that is rooted in our local values and shared through our abundance of aloha. With that aloha, we look forward to your return, as we once again stand shoulder-to-shoulder to cheer on the best athletes in the world from the best place in the world,” Roth said.
The first Ironman was held in Waikiki as a way to challenge athletes who had seen success at endurance swim, running and biathlon events. John Collins, a Naval officer, and his wife, Judy, combined the three toughest endurance races in Hawaii — the 2.4-mile Waikiki Roughwater Swim, the 112-mile Around-Oahu Bike Race and the 26.2-mile Honolulu Marathon — into one event.
In February 1978, 15 people came to Waikiki to take on the challenge with 12 completing the race. In 1981, Ironman moved from Oahu to Kona where traffic hazards were lower and the island’s barren lava fields presented more of a challenge to athletes with winds gusting up to 60 mph in areas and temperatures averaging in the high 80s and low 90s.
The event quickly grew from 15 people in the first race in 1978 to 1,381 participants in 1987 and over 2,500 prior to the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, which forced organizers to postpone the event in 2020 and again in 2021. In May, the 2021 Ironman World Championship in Utah shortly after officials announced the return of Ironman to Kona in 2022.
According to the Ironman World Championship Race Director Diana Bertsch, an economic impact study conducted by Ironman in 2019, found the race contributed $72 million to the local economy, up from $25 million in 2006.
Ironman has already announced it will hold the race over two days in October 2023. The race format for 2024 and beyond has yet to be determined.
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