I ran the 20th edition of the Kona Marathon and was hoping for more. This was
my 48th marathon, and it would rank in the bottom five for the following
**Shuttles never showed up to take runners to the start. We were told to either find rides (at 5:00am for a 5:30 scheduled start) or walk the mile+ to the line. The start was eventually delayed 15 minutes.
**Of the first 4 aid stations, one was not ready and one had no water.
**Mile markers were not consistantly displayed.
**The last mile included the toughest hills on the course, a set of stairs going up and another going down, and multiple turns on a single lane path to the finish.
**Results were not posted, instead finishers had to look through stacks of cards on one table for their name.
**Results changed at least once as the day went on, making it confusing as to who the age group place winners were.
**Fan support was minimal. Few people - locals and tourists - seemed to know a race was going on.
In suppoort of Kona, the pre-race meal, host hotel, and expo were very nice. However, the main event was not what I expected for the effort to get to the island. You cannot control fans and a contracted bus company, but these are the things that a marathon of 20 years should have a better handle on.
Great volunteers and well run aid stations, but that's about it. Where do I start? Some kind of mix up left hundreds stranded with no shuttles to the start, many (myself) had to run a couple miles to the late start. No start mat, not sure if there was supposed to be, but the start was late, unorganized, and frustrating. Less than half of the checkpoint mats functioned and the online timing and tracking was down for the entire event. The course had been changed to make the last mile or so a rocky dirt road (no signage) and a gauntlet across the Sheraton grounds (and down a staircase?) with no signs, and no one to direct runners. The finish line had multiple things going on with multiple people talking into multiple PA systems, so really just amounted to no one hearing anything but lots of loud noise. A great and historic venue ruined by shoddy planning and event management. Not worth a long distance travel, but probably a fun day if you're local.
I ran the Kona full Marathon in 2013. They changed the course by starting the
race on Ali'i drive just below the Keauhou shopping center, and finishing at the
Sheraton resort. Most of the course remained unchanged, except that we did not
run on the road to the natural energy center around the halfway, but instead
stayed on the Highway for the turnaround.
The race is run in warm conditions, but my feeling is that it wasn't as hot this year as it had been on previous years, as there was some decent cloud cover for the first 2h30 of the race, and also some light wind.
Much of the race has already been described in older posts. A few more comments:
- I stayed at the Kona Coast Resort, which was very convenient as it was just a few steps away from the start.
- The race switched to chip timing, but there was no mat at the start, so the starting time was gun time for everyone. In addition, some timing mats malfunctioned (I had no split at the half/finish) and I had to call the timing company to get my results entered in the system.
- There was a 15min delay at the start. Not a big deal usually, but when you know how hot it can get later in the day, it made a difference for slower runners. Apparently this was due to problems with shuttles that transported runners from the Sheraton to the start but never showed up.
- aid stations were well stocked with water, Ultima, coke, and ice cubes at some of them. I don't care for ultima and coke, but it was useful to have some ice to put in my shirt, which really helped to cool-down. Also, make sure you douse yourself with water, it really helps against the heat. Finally, a couple of aid stations had water showers, which was also welcome.
- there were very few spectators; so don't count on crowd support to help you finish
- the course is gently undulating for the most part, except for a steep hill, which you descend at the start, and climb up at the end of M25. That hill is not long, but at that point of the race it is a real killer. It made my pace drop from 7:30 to 7:54 for that mile.
- the last mile is one of the most bizarre I have ever run for a road marathon. There is a ~0.5M long cross-country section on dirt/gravel with rocks, which is really not something you want to deal with at that point of the race when you have signed up for a road marathon. Then they made us run through the lawn of the Sheraton resort, through a hallway inside the hotel (yes you read that correctly), and then we had to go down 3 steps of stairs before more lawn action to the finish. This felt like one of these dreams where you have to run inside buildings and staircases...They clearly need to change the way that last mile is run as I did not feel that this was acceptable or safe at that point of the race.
- the AG awards ceremony was scheduled for 10:30AM but did not start until noon for the marathoners. This was really too late and there wasn't many people left at that point. Also frustrating was the fact that as a 3rd place finisher I got a plastic bottle, while 2nd and 1st place got very nice plaques. Granted, I should have kicked my butt and run faster, but it was disappointing. Why not give a plaque to all three, or just to the first one if they wanted to save money?
- It is the same medal and shirt for the half and the full. The medal is beautiful, but it does not seem fair, as running the full distance here is so much more challenging than doing the half marathon. Since they also have a 5k/10k, I would suggest making one medal.shirt for 5k/10k/half, and another for the marathon.
So because of the course change, there are some organizational issues that need to be fixed for 2014. It is still a great race, and running a marathon in Hawaii is a unique experience, but things need to change for this race to become a first class marathon.
This was my 47th full marathon and my 4th Kona marathon. The positives - cute UCC Coffee Queen and gentleman in the old-fashion Royal Hawaiian Guard uniform at the start; gentle breeze for morning hours (rare for Kona), cloud cover in the morning, most beautiful Finisher's medal I every received, and good watermelon at the Finish. The negatives - HOT and loss of cloud cover after 10am, no crowd support except at aid stations, the persistent vog, turning an ankle on the gravel, rocky road at 25 miles, then cramping on the stairs at the last 1/4 mile. Biggest question in my mind - why the hodge-podge routing on hotel grounds at the end? Evidently not to make up any lack of distance for the modified course. The turn-around out on the highway could have just been moved further out. Obviously the hotel decided on the garden space where the Finish Line and festivities would be held. The runner's safety, even diginity, was only secondary in the haphazard routing over lawn, stairs, poolside sunbathers (I felt like I was intruding on tourists' peace and quiet), to get to the party finish. But I still love the Big Island. Except next time I'll stick to the Hilo Marathon.