PAHALA – He came to the Big Island as part of a birthday holiday but Zach Sonaga will be heading back to the mainland with a winning memory he won’t soon forget.
Sonaga, just turned 30, a dedicated trail runner from Lake Tahoe, Calif., ran out ahead of the pack and never relinquished the lead, winning the sixth annual Ka’u Coffee Trail Run with a time of 1:28.51, finishing 11 minutes and change ahead of Pat Stover, who got the run he wanted and came in second in 1:39.34.
Pahoa’s Amy Young outran Noe Waller and Bree Brown, three competitors always at the top of Big Island trail runs, taking the women’s division title in 1:48.03. Waller was second in 1:51.29, edging Brown (1:51.39), still not fully recovered from a broken ankle.
Jeff Iverslie, 58, won the 10K in 51:37, by more than a minute over Adrien Azema (52:46.2), with Bryce Harada checking in third at 53:51.7. The women’s 10K was won by Lucille Redon (58:03.6), Tonya Rude placed second (59:00.1) and Megan Lamson-Leatherman was third (1:03.03).
Jared Barrett, 16, breezed through the 5K in 21:59.3 for the win, followed by another 16 year-old, Henry Miranda (22:57.8), with Matt Newton (25:15.9) placing third. The women’s 5K was won by Meg Denny in 28:01.3, Carla Lind was second in 29:31.3 and Christina Rasmussen was third (31:55.3).
It all occurred on a picture-perfect Ka’u morning under a brilliant blue sky punctuated by puffy white clouds that continued a tradition in the event.
“We’ve been so fortunate,” said Nadine Ebert of the organizing committee for the run, “we have had this kind of weather every year, so this continues a trend that we like, a lot.
“The people here have been so good, it makes it all worthwhile,” she said. “One year we had a little rain shower when we were setting up the course, but that was it. Next year we want to get out the message that we are interested in more community-minded vendors if there are any out there. We have one group raising money to help send some high school kids on a student trip, there’s another group raisin money to help build a skate park in Ocean View, so we are interested in helping groups like those.”
The site made it right for all of those involved.
“What a great course,” said Sonoga, “I live at 6,300 feet, so almost all my running is done in hills and this just fit me really well.”
Sonoga said it was his fifth half-marathon and his third win. He has competed in four marathons and recently tried a 100-mile run, “That didn’t go well,” he said after dropping out at about 60 miles.
“I had looked up the course so I had a kind of idea,” he said, “but I have never been here before this morning so I just followed the ATV at the start and after that it was very well marked.
“I don’t have much of a strategy, I try to go out in front and stay there if I can; I know what’s a bad, like, too fast pace for me, so I try to stay away from that, and I did today, I was just lucky enough to stay out there.”
Stover, coaching cross-country at Konawaena High School, has reduced his personal training time during the high school season but he had a plan for the day and stuck to it.
“I’m like (Sonaga),” Stover said, “I try out front and then hit my pace, but today (Sonaga) went out pretty fast and I thought, ‘Umm, nah, I’m not doing that today,’ and I just kept at my pace for my level of training. It was good.”
The Ka’u run features a lengthy uphill portion midway through the race that tends to wear down runners not ready for it, but the payoff for the climb comes right after it when the course levels and then goes back downhill to the finish, affording some remarkable vistas of the slopes of Mauna Loa and the acres and acres of coffee trees, trailing down to the ocean.
“That’s a hard run, but a beautiful one,” Amy Young said. “It was very muddy in spots, rocky in places, making it technical, but no doubt, this is my favorite Big Island run, for the run itself, but also for this awesome Ka’u community that supports the run so well, they do such a great job and they’re all so helpful.”