By MATT GERHART
Tribune-Herald sports writer
VOLCANO — When Billy Barnett runs, the operative term is fun.
So imagine his amusement Saturday morning after he’d treated the Volcano Rainforest Runs as just another leisurely stroll. After cooling down and with more than half of the field busily working to finish the course, Barnett had already moved on to his next pursuit: finding a cold one.
“It’s 5 p.m. somewhere,” Barnett said.
And even before 9 a.m., it’s never too early to grab a beer and celebrate.
Barnett cruised to his third half-marathon victory at Volcano in as many tries, breaking away in the early-going to finish in 1 hour, 18 minutes, 3 seconds.
The 29-year-old said the hills outside Hawaii Volcanoes National Park were a little challenging, but other than that it was a pure fun run.
“Just went out really hard for as long as I can,” Barnett said. “I don’t wear a watch. I don’t care if I come in first or last, it’s all just fun. I’m not competitive at all. I just run my own.”
He opened up a gap on his closest pursuer, Jonathan Peralto, by the third mile, then pulled away after the turnaround. Peralto clocked in second in 1:20.51.
There wasn’t much suspense in the female division either, with Keauhou’s Rani Henderson (1:28.58) finishing more than two minutes ahead of Honolulu’s Candes Gentry (1:31.11).
A former winner at the Hilo marathon, Barnett continues to cement himself as the male distance runner to beat on the Big Island, not that he’s paying much attention.
“It’s just funny to me,” he said. “I’m not competitive, so I’m not motivated by competition. I just run. It’s like brushing my teeth.”
Barnett’s next task is to spread his love of running at Pahoa High, where he’s the first-year cross country coach. The Daggers have combined forces with Hawaii Academy of Arts & Science and the roster has increased to 30 harriers, compared to the nine Pahoa had last season.
Barnett’s message: Running is exhilarating, not arduous.
“It’s in people’s brains, people have a negative concept of running. It’s hard to break that pattern of thought,” he said. “We make it enjoyable. It’s not to kill yourself. No pressure. We’re not worried about split times. Just go out and enjoy.”
Combined with her victory at the Kona Half-Marathon in June, Henderson has won both 13.1-mile races she’s entered since giving birth to her first child, son Cole, in late March.
There’s a theory out there among some that pregnancies aid females runners because giving birth increases pain tolerance. Henderson’s not sure if she buys into that or not, but her performances have done little to dispel the notion.
“I’m starting to get back into it,” she said. “I took my time to make sure that (Cole) was cared for.”
Like Barnett, Henderson made her decisive push at the turnaround and finished just outside the top five overall.
Hilo’s Jonathon Ucker (1:26.57) was third, followed by Laupahoehoe’s Alan Ryan (1:27.30) and Keaau’s Anthony O’Toole (1:28.50).
“The guys were in my sights,” she said. “We were kind of together, but not really. But that kind of helped me keep my pace along.”
While Barnett was the class of the field, Peralto did well to distance himself from everyone else, beating Ucker by more than 6 minutes. Peralto, the 2001 Hawaii High School Athletic Association champion in the 400 meters in track for Hilo High, recently moved back to the Big Island after living in Tennessee.
“Was hoping to come in under 1:20, but I’m happy with my time,” he said. “I was racing (to win), but Billy’s real laid back and tough to beat.”
Keaau’s Joe Barcia won the 10K in 39.16, and Hilo’s Kim Pierce (44:51) was the top female in fifth overall.
A pair of Hilo High senior cross country standouts, Stephen Hunter (18:36) and Carmen Garson-Shumway (20:27), shared top honors in the 5K.