Ultra Running Takes to the Streets of Hawaii Kai

As an organized sport, ultra running races over distances of 100 miles or more have evolved from the running boom of the 1970s. As the birthplace of the Ironman triathlon and home to one world’s largest marathons, Honolulu is no stranger to extreme endurance events. The Honolulu Marathon became the largest marathon in the world in 1995, just over 20 years after it began in 1973.

Modest Beginnings

Much like the first Ironman triathlon, which attracted 15 athletes in 1978, the inaugural Hawaii Kai Ultra Run is by most measures, still small. The inaugural event, held in Kalama Valley in July of 2013, saw 9 runners challenge distances ranging from the marathon to 100 miles. A second event was held in December of 2013 and then again in December of 2014. In 2014 the number of runners reached 35, more than matching the early growth of events like the Honolulu Marathon. The 3rd (or 4th depending on how you’re counting) annual Hawaii Kai Ultra Run is slated for December 19, 2015.

The Course

009The course consists of a 3.34 mile circuit in Kalama Valley at Oahu’s far eastern tip. The course travels up and down the valley from near Sandy Beach Park to a turnaround near the top of Kealahou Street. The route passes a central aid station where runners can replenish fluids and eat carbohydrate rich snacks, both critical for finishing such long distance endurance events. Since its inception the Hawaii Kai Ultra Run has been more about comradery and personal challenges than racing. Friends and fellow runners typically drop by throughout the day to offer encouragement.

Plans for the Future

Kawika Carlson, who directs the running related non-profit organization, Kukini, acts as race director and regular participant in the Hawaii Kai Ultra Run. Carlson, who also writes about running and covers Hawaii running events on the Kukina website, has big plans for the future of the Hawaii Kai event.

His eventual plans call for the run to become a full-fledged race but first he needs to expand the course to encompass more of Hawaii Kai. The new route will include the notorious Heartbreak Hill. The challenging climb, well known to local Hawaii Kai area runners, leads out of Kalama Valley and over the saddle between the Koko Head volcano crater and Kamehame Ridge. From there, the quiet streets and valleys of Hawaii Kai offer a wealth of possible running routes.

From Small Beginnings

As interest in the event grows it may be difficult to imagine more than a handful of elite athletes racing through the streets of Hawaii Kai but history shows anything is possible. The Ironman, which started with only 15 hardy souls meeting on San Souci Beach near Diamond Head now attracts more than 80,000 participants worldwide. Even the Honolulu Marathon, which started with full support of then mayor Frank Fasi, saw only 167 entries in 1973. If history tends to repeat itself, don’t be surprised to see tens of thousands of ultra-runners on the streets of Hawaii Kai in the very near future.