By J.R. DE GROOTE
Stephens Media Hawaii
Now in its fifth year, Lavaman Keauhou has expanded exponentially since its humble beginnings as the little brother of Lavaman Waikoloa.
Today, more than 500 competitors will take off on the Olympic distance course, which features a 1.5K swim course, 40K bike ride and 10K run and wraps up at the Sheraton Kona Resort and Spa at Keauhou Bay.
The event has become known as a proving ground for the island and state’s best endurance athletes. In the elite division five of the seven elite competitors have Hawaii ties, including Big Island residents Rani Henderson, Bree Wee and Luis De La Torre.
Kiyomi Niwata is one of two Japanese athletes competing in the elite division and will easily be the most seasoned athlete on the course. Niwata is a three-time Olympian, racing in Athens, Sydney and Beijing.
The 43-year-old Japanese native will be the favorite in the Women’s division today; however, both Wee and Henderson are former Lavaman champions and have the benefit of training on the course year-round.
In the men’s division, perennial top-three finisher and Honolulu resident Timothy Marr will be looking to add to his Lavaman top finisher collection. Marr finished second in 2012 with a time of 2 hours 4 minutes and 20 second, just under two minutes off the pace of winner Chris Leito.
Neither Leito or top women’s finisher Rae Bastoni will be defending their titles.
Marr’s biggest competition today will likely be De la Torre, who came in fourth last year with a time of 02:09:13.
Other athletes to watch are young guns Leahi Camacho and Keoni Smith.
Camacho — a Kealakehe senior, who earlier this year completed the grueling Kaiwi channel swim — was the first overall out of the water in 2012 with a time of 20:36. However, that was as a part of the top relay team. This year she will attempt the triathlon solo.
Smith, who at the ripe age of 18 already has an Ironman World Championship finish under his belt, will be looking to improve on his 2012 time of 3:16:01. That event was one of his first in the sport.
The event offers a total purse of nearly $5,000 distributed among the top three male and female finishers — $1,250 going to first, $750 to second and $450 to third. The prize is not limited to elite division athletes. If an age-grouper manages to finish in any of the spots, they will be awarded the prize money.
While the distance remains the same, the course has changed for the 2013 edition of the race.
Racers will now use the hilly Mamalahoa bypass road through the Hokulia development for the bike portion of the event.
“The new route eliminates nine intersections,” said race director Gerry Rott. “This makes for a safer course with less obstruction for all of the athletes.”
Revisions have also been in the run portion of the event because of construction on the golf course and hopes to avoid early morning traffic today.
Organizers have been thrilled with the success of moving the event to November. The event previously ran in late August, but last year race organizers decided to move the race to the Sunday before Thanksgiving.
The change has paid huge dividends. Not only are more athletes coming from out of state — Rott estimated roughly 25 percent — but they are staying longer for the holidays.
Last year, hotel guest associated with the race booked a total of 87 room nights. Rott said this year the number is nearing just under the 400-night mark.
A well-known problem in the past has been parking. Today, complimentary race day shuttles will run from Keauhou Shopping Center to the top of Kaleiopapa Road. There is no parking at Sheraton hotel or on roadway.