Wright On: New race could be home run for Volcano

  • The Ohi’a Lehua half marathon is the brainchild of Keely and Andy McGhee.
  • The Ohi’a Lehua half marathon is the brainchild of Keely and Andy McGhee.

The only constant we ever get in this life is the continual loop of change, often around the time you get to assume a person, a thing, a beach, will always be there.

Poof, it’s gone, and then we start back up again.

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It’s like that for Hilo-side runners on the Big Island who recently lost the Volcano half-marathon, which had become something that was always circled on the calendar.

That was then.

Sharon Faff, owner of the Rainforest Half-Marathon, recently posted on the event’s website the following statement that the end had come:

“It has been a great 9 year ‘run’ as a Community Event in Volcano Village. Thank you to all the participants, volunteers, sponsors and spectators and especially the Cooper Center for providing the perfect location for making this such a wonderful event over the years.

“Mahalo to all.”

And that was that, the popular run closed the books, the last Rainforest Half-Marathon winners being Patrick Stover (1:18.49) for the men and Noelani McMahon (1:32.49), let it be so recorded.

That was Aug. 18, 2018 and if you’re thinking there won’t be a half-marathon that time this summer, you’re right.

It will be sooner.

Keely McGhee and husband Andy are Volcano residents planning to jump back in with the Ohi’a Lehua half marathon in Volcano on July 27. It will include a 5K and a keiki run, and their interest may include more than one run.

“It’s such an interesting area,” Keely said last week in Mountain View, “that’s basically why we moved up there. We wanted to do more with the events, so here we go.”

Keely and Andy own Big Island Race Events, under which they have organized and operated the 100% Pure Kona Coffee Marathon and Half Marathon, which is annually contested in the first part of November, but this new venture represents a different kind of expansion.

She works as a nurse three times a week in Hilo, he owns a timing system for races he has been developing the last few years, so they save money on hiring someone to come in and do the timing for them.

They run, they know runners, they think they understand the wants and desires of the running community, and maybe most importantly, they realize Hilo side runners might appreciate more events over the course of a year.

She heard about the Rainforest Run cancellation, and it prompted her to think, and maybe dream just a bit.

“I’ve thought about wanting to do more (events) in the past,” Keely said, “But never very seriously, it was just a thought out there somewhere, then, after (Faff’s) announcement I started thinking about it more seriously. I spent about a week batting it around, then I said to myself, ‘I need to do this.’”

Her husband liked the idea, too, so off they went, finding dates, plotting out a new course, starting the paperwork process.

This half-marathon, which will divert some of the profits to fight rapid ohia death, will be held in July, with a start and finish at the Volcano Arts and Sciences school, as opposed to the former practice of beginning and ending at the Cooper Center.

“There’s a lot to do,” Keely said, “it’s a bunch of permitting, getting the course approved, so many boxes to check before you are finally ready to hold the race, but I’ve done it before, I’m in the middle of it and we’re progressing day-by-day.

“I don’t know statistics-wise how it all breaks down about the running opportunities and what the Big Island can support,” she said, “but I just think it’s all growing and that we can handle more.”

Which prompts the question — is there a saturation point for serious runs like half-marathons?

“In this case, we’re just talking about a replacement,” said Bob Wedeman, owner/organizer of the Hilo Marathon, “so there’s no concern, but as far as a limit on what people can or will want to do? If it’s not more than one a month of the longer runs, I don’t see it as any problem.

“I absolutely commend them for trying and for getting the half-marathon going again up there. With a new course, I wish them luck on all the things you have to depend on when you use new routes, new roads, there’s a lot to go through.”

Keely McGee is fully convinced she will get the permitting for the new run, but she also has more expansive thoughts she is considering.

“I think Big Island Road Runners do a great job on their events,” she said, “they are fun runs, some of them shorter distances, and I think it’s great they are here.

“There’s room for everyone, and I’m kind of pointing more toward the fully professional, good timing system, nice shirts, all of it, and I’d like to do more. In the future, maybe up to three (half-marathons) a year. We run at Kalapana, and I’ve thought about doing something down there, and I’d like to do more around Volcano, maybe associate with Experience Volcano (a local volunteer group at experiencevolcano.com), and do something more to help bring visitors back to the park.”

On that, Wedeman offered a view from his personal experiences.

“The one thing I hear from runners, and I hear it a lot,” he said, “is that they like the variety, they like running by the ocean, they like running by the volcano. I’m not discouraging her, I’m just saying you might run into trouble if you had a three events in the same area, there’s a chance it could dilute the interest.”

For now, the Rainforest half-marathon seems to have died a short death and resurrected itself with a new name and a new course, with plans for the future yet to be revealed or even fully conceptualized. Nothing is set in stone, the future is wide open. Perhaps the McGhee’s will want a three-race series that could crown an ultimate champion, maybe they will only add one more.

At the moment, though, Volcano is close to continuing its notable run, and the future holds promise for even more.

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It’s another good day for Big Island runners.

Send your suggestions and thoughts to Bart at barttribuneherald@gmail.com

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