Wednesday, 28 September 2011

Ironman Hawaii Run Course

The conclusion of Ironman Hawaii is a 42.2 kilometre (26.2 mile) run, fully sanctioned as a Boston Marathon qualifier if you're able to run fast enough after preceding the run with 6+ hours of effort.  The run consists of two out-and-back sections, which could be called 'beauty and the beast'.
Ali'i Drive
The first section is ten miles long, and takes the racers south through town along Ali'i Drive.  Ali'i runs parallel to the Pacific, which provides some nice ocean views along the way.  This section of Ali'i is also mostly vacation rentals, condos and beach houses, resulting in a ton of spectator support along this route.  The road is mostly flat, with a couple gentle rolling sections.  

Miles one to three take us through the 'hot corner', which is just north of Ali'i at the corner of Palani Drive and the Kuakini Highway.  Racers pass this corner three times on both the bike ride and the run, making it a popular spectating spot.  By the end of mile one we're back on Ali'i, running through the heart of town, passing the Farmer's Market, the Ironman village, Lava Java, and the Coconot Grove shopping centre.  Just past mile 2, we'll pass 'Kona Isle' which is my Kona home for my first three weeks here in Hawaii - I know the roads around here really well.  Mile four ends at White Sands Beach, one of the nicer beaches in town:
Probably good that the beach comes early in the run, if it was any later might just stop and jump in.
The turnaround for this section of the course is St. Peter's Church at Kahalu'u Beach, where we do it all over again in the opposite direction. 
How many people have said a prayer passing this place with 21 miles of running to go?
This section of the course is considered to be the more humid section of the course - hopefully we get a nice sea breeze to keep us cool.

Queen Ka'ahumanu Highway
The 'beast' of the run course starts with a really steep 400 metre climb up Palani Road to leave town.  The first professional male and female to the top of Palani each win the Timex Watch Bonus during the race.  Chris Lieto of the US has won the run prime the last two years, and Julie Dibens of Great Britain won last year.  

Once up Palani, it's a six mile rolling run along the barren Queen K highway - gone are the throngs of spectators from town, and each mile looks almost the same as the last.  I've had a chance to run this section a few times, and have taken note of the few 'landmarks' on the route to hopefully help pass the time - Makala Street (where the bike course finishes), Kealakehe Parkway, the Marina, Kaloko-Honokohau national park, Hina Lani Street, and Hulikoa Drive (Kona Mountain Coffee and Taco Del Mar in case anyone needs a snack that isn't an energy gel of Ironman Perform).  From Hulikoa it's a lonely 1.5 miles to the turn off to the Natural Energy Laboratory of Hawaii Institute road:
Now...most people think the Natural Energy Lab is there because of the intense solar heat in the area, and the absolutely massive solar panels on the site help perpetuate that myth:

The Natural Energy Lab is in fact a landlord for 30 different enterprises located on the site, with the main focus being the study and use of seawater for energy development (solar energy is captured to power some of the operations of the site, but the site was chosen mainly as an undeveloped plot of land close to Kailua-Kona, and not for any specific geothermal characteristics of the site).  Everything you could ever want to know about NELHA:


In practice, everyone dreads the energy lab, as it's all-around miserable.  I think it probably has more to do with WHEN it comes during the race, as opposed to WHAT it actually is.  You enter at mile 16, and leave at mile 19 - generally an un-fun time in any Ironman.  Plus, once you leave, you still have six miles of boring highway left to run before finishing.  There's a hill to climb coming out, which generally has a wind coming off the ocean (at your back) which can make it feel stifling on the way up.

Once we've re-traced our steps back along the Queen K (climbing a few tough rolling hills along the way), battered legs need to handle the steep downhill on Palani Drive - I'm actually pretty nervous about this downhill, as my legs were shredded in Louisville at this point and wouldn't have been able to run down such a steep pitch.  At least it won't be a surprise...

At the bottom of Palani, there's one mile to go, a quick loop through town with the finish on Al'ii Drive.  This mile won't hurt (much) - adrenaline is an impressive pain killer - last run for me for a long time - once that line is crossed, the off-season is in full effect!

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