The field for the Kona Marathon should be wide-open.
Race director Sharron Faff does not expect either of last year’s winners — Allen Wagner on the men’s side and Polina Babkina on the women’s — to compete in this year’s event, which will be held Sunday.
“We have no idea who might be winning the race this year. It’s going to be a dark horse,” Faff said. “Of course, it’s exciting.”
Faff expects a turnout similar to last year’s, with between 1,600 and 2,000 competitors combined in the marathon, half-marathon, 10-kilometer and 5k races. She expects about 350 in the 26.2-mile event while the half-marathon should have the most competitors, with 800 running in it. The 10k should feature about 225 competitors while the 5k draws about 600.
“It looks good,” Faff said. “It looks like the same numbers as last year.”
Like last year, the course will begin outside Keauhou Shopping Center on Alii Drive in Kailua-Kona, with the marathon starting at 5:30 a.m. The half-marathon begins 30 minutes later at the same point. The 10k begins there at 6:45 with the 5k starting there five minutes later.
The race weekend actually kicks off Friday with an Aloha Friday race at 5:30 p.m. The 3-mile event, in which competitors can run, jog or walk, begins at Kona Commons.
Saturday will feature a health and fitness fair from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. at Sheraton Kona Resort that includes vendors and speakers who cover topics related to competitive running. One of the speakers is Julie Weiss, the “Marathon Goddess” who completed the Kona event last year as part of her 52-marathons-in-52-weeks challenge to raise awareness about pancreatic cancer.
There also will be a sunset pasta party from 6 to 8 p.m. on the hotel lawn.
Assistant race director Randy Ashley said the Kona Marathon is a “boutique race” that attracts entrants from around the world. He expects runners from 48 states and 11 countries. He said the race is popular for several reasons.
“One is that it has a reputation as a great little race,” Ashley said. “Part of it is because it’s Hawaii. Part of it is because all of our races run some portion of the Ironman (World Championship) race. Even though that’s a triathlon, part of ours runs that course. A lot of people are not triathletes, but want to run part of that course.”
Ashley said that the Hawaii Tourism Authority estimated that the Kona Marathon brings $14 million into the local economy.
Jim Lovell, who founded the race in 1994, has seen it develop into the kind of event that he envisioned.
“The whole idea was to add a signature event,” said Lovell, who still is a timer for the race. “We were trying to have some kind of event where people travel to the Big Island.”