The 17th annual Big Island International Marathon will be different and one for the record books.
For starters, the 26.2-mile marathon portion of the three-pronged race will begin and end at Hilo Bayfront, allowing the folks in Pepeekeo — the old starting point — a nice Sunday to sleep in.
Equally swell is that the runners get to catch a few more winks of sleep. They don’t have to worry anymore, like school children, about missing the shuttle bus to Pepeekeo. The walk from gold sponsor Hilo Hawaiian Hotel to the starting line is about the distance of a long coconut throw.
The half-marathon and 3.1-mile run/walk will also start at Hilo Bayfront. The new starting line has not only eased headaches but also allowed more participants, great for the local economy with runners from off-island and different parts of the country, spending their dough on hotels, food and rental cars (unless they run back to the airport).
“Our goal is 1,000 entries,” said race director Bob Wedeman, who’s running the show with his brother Joe Wedeman. “Before we had only a limited number of runners because we had to bus people up to Pepeekeo. A lot more people wanted to do it. Now we can accommodate more people.”
As of Friday, there were 276 runners in the marathon, 478 in the half-marathon and 240 in the 5K. That’s 994 participants and late registration is still being held today.
The course retains its scenic allure. Waterfalls. Jungle forest. Waves breaking on the shoreline. Check out the race’s website for visual proof. There’s no blog comment section but if there were it would be filled with, “Hilo’s marathon is so beautiful and I didn’t mind the rain.”
On Sunday, as if on annual cue, the Hilo weather forecast calls for 60 percent chance of rain. The locals know that’s guaranteed showers and not to wear their most expensive shoes. For those runners who are really skinny, they might want to wear heavy shoes because the winds are expected to be in the 19-mph range.
“Rain is good for the runners, not for everybody else,” Bob Wedeman said.
For the competitive types, the defending champs, Sam Tilly and Atsuko Fujii, aren’t entered, so the titles are wide open. The new winners will set new records for the new course. That’s a nice bonus: champion and record-setter on the same day.
Justin Gillette, from Indiana, set the old Pepeekeo record in 2 hours, 34 minutes and 39 seconds in 2011. Reka Batai, from Hungary, established her mark of 2:53.13 in 2010. Their records get to live forever or as long as websites continue to exist.
An old champion has been invited back. Oahu’s Michael Georgi ran a 2:41.57 to set the record in 1997. His mark was bettered by Aaron Pierson, from Oakland, Calif., with a 2:38.47 in 2003. Then Gillette blew that time out of the water, although the course worked him over (he collapsed in a chair) for every hard-earned second.
“I would love to have the defending champions back,” Wedeman said. “We invited Michael Georgi. He was thrilled when we asked and told him about the new course, and he’ll be at Saturday’s carbo dinner.”
The best record is that of the Final Four: Marie Kuramoto, DJ Blinn, David Hammes and Kailua-Kona’s Cowman, whose real name is Ken Shirk. He firmly prefers Cowman, and has run many races under that nickname for years.
They have completed all 16 marathons. Last year, Kuramoto finished in 6:27.17; Blinn in 4:28.24; Hammes in 5:05.37; and Cowman, who runs in something of a cow costume with horns, in 6:24.56.
Kuramoto doesn’t look her age but she’s 67 years old. Blinn is 65, Hammes is 62 and Cowman turns 70 on the 17th edition of the Hilo marathon on Sunday. It’ll be a happy birthday if he can win his age-group.
Blinn has run over 110 marathons but last year the Hilo marathon was his most memorable. It was the first time he and his new bride Yuka, who ran with her veil, crossed a finish line together.
Three years ago, the couple met at the Kona marathon. She’s finished over a dozen races. But her honeymoon run was one to remember.
Pick a number
It’s no surprise that Kuramoto has chosen No. 67. She is 67 years old. Cowman got No. 17, not No. 70. Hammes is No. 81 and in the tradition of beauty before age, Yuka Blinn is No. 111 while DJ Blinn is No. 112.
There are at least three runners who will run in the BIIM as part of their 50 states, 50 marathons tour. One is Dan Kieling, from Kenmore, Wash., who is 53 years old.
“He was the first to ask for No. 50,” Wedeman said.
Tom Hallee is from Oregon and got No. 98. Not because he’s 98 years old. (That might be a record for a marathon runner.) He’s 72 years old and it’s his 98th marathon.
Aloha is hello
The international part is being filled with about 50 participants from Japan and runners from France, Germany, Australia, England and Canada.
“I think it’s thrilling that we’re reaching out to people around the world and they want to come,” Wedeman said. “We had this guy from France and he couldn’t speak English. But you could see in his eyes that he so much wanted to get in. He didn’t know what to say, but we found his registration. Saturday night’s carbo dinner will be much easier for him.”
The BIIM is the first part of the inaugural local Half-Marathon Triple Crown with UCC Coffee Kunitake Farms Kona Marathon (June 22) and Volcano Rain Forests Runs (Aug. 16).
Wedeman said the Triple Crown finishers will receive a medal after the Volcano race. Sharron Faff is the race director of the Kona and Volcano runs.