Kona Marathon: A reason to get up, get out and get moving

  • Rick Winters/West Hawaii Today
    Kailua-Kona 4-year-old Amaya De Leon finishes fifth in the female 1-8 year-old division during the 5K. (
  • Rick Winters/West Hawaii Today
    Waimea's Bill Spangrup, at 93 years old, crosses the finish line after completing the 5K at the Kona Marathon on Sunday. He finished first in the male 80-and-older division.
  • Rick Winters/West Hawaii Today
    Representing the National Guard Youth Challenge Academy, Hilo's Matthew Kessler-Mizoguchi (front) and Keahi Mahi-Yogi finish the 5K on Sunday at the Kona Marathon.

WAIKOLOA – Whether you want to run, walk, sprint, jog, scurry or scamper, the Kona Marathon prides itself on having something for everyone with the multiple distances offered.

Bill Spangrup earned one of the louder cheers of the early afternoon when he made his way to the finish line. The 93-year-old Waimea resident won his 5K age-group in dominant fashion, clocking a time just over an hour.

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“It was trying as always. But I made it through,” Spangrup said. “I just have to keep my pace. If I start sauntering I know I’ll stop.”

On the other end of the spectrum was 4-and-a-half-year-old Kailua-Kona keiki Amaya De Leon — one of the youngest to take on the 5K event.

“It went great,” she said, proudly showing off her finisher medal and teddy bear, both awards for finishing the race.

With her time of 51:53, Amaya nearly outran her on-course supervision — parents Amy and Jeremy De Leon, who were surprised by the pace.

“I didn’t think there would be that much running,” said Jeremy, who didn’t bring his running shoes and opted for slippers instead.

“She can be very intense,” Amy said, as Amaya described her latest medal in fine detail.

Interestingly, both Spangrup and the De Leon had similar reasons for coming out to the event.

“I get to work my body out,” said Amaya De Leon. “It’s a lot of fun.”

Spangrup echoed the young runner’s sentiments.

“The key for me is just getting out there and being active,” Spangrup said. “Don’t give up when you get that little bit of hurt. Always push through.”

Gone like the wind

Waiko-blowa lived up to its nickname on race day, with strong winds throughout the day. At one point, it nearly blew away the finish line.

It also blew away was any significant amount of vog in the area, producing one of the clearest days in recent memory on the Kohala Coast, with Kohala, Mauna Kea and Hualalai mountains all visible.

Marathon winner Kuhn wasn’t overly concerned, but like many, he had some reservations about coming to the Big Island after seeing the news about the Kilauea eruption, which as of race weekend, had covered 6,144 acres in lava and destroyed more than 637 homes since its start May 3.

However, he said the race made it clear that the event would not be affected by the lava flow on the southeast portion of the island, indicated by a statement on the website that says, “The 25th Anniversary Kona Marathon is a go and will not be impacted by the new Kilauea eruption. It is over 100 miles and two 14,000-foot mountains away.”

“They kept us up to date in the race newsletter and said the lava wouldn’t be anything to worry about,” Kuhn said. “I really didn’t think twice.”

Kuhn, who also dabbles in triathlon, said he was thankful he made the trip for many reasons.

“Every triathlete in the world knows about Kona and this island has not disappointed. It has a ton to offer,” he said. “I loved the course and the people. Everywhere I went people were cheering. It was fantastic.”

Special forces

All the races on the island have a committed group of volunteers to thank when things go smoothly.

Lately in Waikoloa — for both the Lavaman Triathlon and the Kona Marathon — a group wearing bright green shirts have been a special forces of sorts among volunteers. They are a part of the The National Guard Youth Challenge Academy.

The mission of the program, according to its website, is to intervene in and reclaim the lives of 16-18 year old high school dropouts, producing graduates with the values, life skills, education, and self-discipline necessary to succeed as productive citizens.

The 66 that were on-site in Waikoloa for the Kona Marathon played an important role in event logistics, while also doling out motivation to the athletes.

“Great job sir. Keep going,” one said in the early morning hours to a runner. “You got this.”

Somnuk Songserm was the commandant in charge of the cadets and said helping out has proved to be a win-win.

“Whatever they need us to do — everything from setup to tear-down and other race day duties,” he said. “It teaches the kids to give back to the community around them and teaches them to be responsible and respectful to everyone they encounter.”

The cadets even got in on the action at the Kona Marathon, with 23 participating in the 5K event. But after finishing, their days were far from over.

“We will be here helping out until the last runner finishes,” Songserm said.

Mr. Number 1

As the Kona Marathon celebrated its 25th anniversary, Jon Kunitake — one of the race’s founders — reflected on the good ol’ days.

The first results listed in West Hawaii Today in 1994 featured just under 250 participants between the marathon, half marathon, 10K and 5K fields. The 25th edition of the race on Sunday had nearly 1,800 registered.

But no matter how big the race gets, Kunitake — who describes himself as a proud “Kona Boy” — still gets bib No. 1.

“I can’t believe it lasted this long. I could have never imagined,” Kunitake said. “We are bringing people from all over the world to the Big Island, and right now, with what’s going on with the volcano, we need all the tourism that we can get.”

When asked to remember some of the early days, the always smiling Kunitake laughed.

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“We were in the boondocks back then. It wasn’t like this,” he said with a giggle. “But it’s all been positive change. I love meeting all the people that come from off-island. When they have a good time they can go back and tell their friends.

“We’ve done it for 25 years now,” Kunitake added, thanking the race’s sponsor UCC Coffee for staying with the race since its inception. “Here’s to 25 more.”