NORTH KOHALA – It was a sight Hawaii hasn’t seen in a while — more than 1,000 athletes racing through 70.3 miles of blue water and grueling hot lava fields, with families, supporters and volunteers lining the course to cheer them on.
It felt like old times.
Even the results were a reflection of Honu’s past, as Ironman made its long-awaited return to the Big Island with its 1.2-mile swim, 56-mile bike and 13.1-mile run race Saturday.
Justin Riele once again finished Ironman 70.3 Hawaii, also called Honu, with the fastest time, crossing the finish line at the Fairmont Orchid in four hours, 12 minutes and 30 seconds.
The San Francisco-based triathlete beat his 4:14:34 time from his 2019 win, the last time Ironman 70.3 Hawaii was held before the coronavirus pandemic canceled the 2020 edition of the race.
Devin Volk (4:15:45), Manuel Huerta (4:24:57) and Tom De Bruyn (4:25:36) rounded out the top four of the day.
Kailua-Kona’s David Wild once again found himself in the top 10, and was the first Big Island athlete to cross the finish line, at 4:26:03, which placed him fifth overall.
“I’m so grateful that we could race again and so grateful to be able to travel again, since my family came out from California. I just started the day super grateful,” Wild said. “It felt really intimate too. I saw my family multiple times as I was going. It was really cool to see all these people here, and it still felt like a small venue somehow.”
Wild finished the 1.2-mile swim in 29:46. The swim course at Pauoa Bay was new this year, as the course was previously at Hapuna Beach.
“The swim was awesome. I was excited about this course and a little nervous too, because we’ve never swam this course,” Wild said. “I swam a month ago here and it was super windy, so I was a little worried about that, but it was beautiful today. It was probably the most gorgeous swim venue I’ve ever been in.”
Wild said his biggest setback in the race came from the first few miles of the run course, where his energy almost ran out. He said he “was going in for the win” on his bike, and it held him back when it came time to run.
“I overdid it on the bike. I coach for my business, Go Wild, and I tell my athletes, you’re going to be fatigued just from trying to stay upright so be ready for that on the run, and sometimes the advice I give to athletes is what I need to listen to myself,” Wild said with a laugh. “Do as I say, not as I do. I should have listened to myself.”
Wild noted one Big Island athlete who was scheduled to run this year’s Honu, but was unable to — Colin Clark, who was diagnosed with a terminal brain cancer, stage 4 Glioblastoma, in 2020.
Clark is currently recovering in Los Angeles from brain surgery he had a few weeks ago.
“I was thinking about him — his laughter, his spirit, his positive energy, his resilience,” Wild said. “I couldn’t not think of him.”
Behind Wild was Kailua-Kona’s Jose Graca, who finished just outside the top 10 at 11th overall (4:35:22).
Wee first in return
The women’s side of Honu also had a familiar face finish first.
In her first Ironman event since Malaysia in 2015, Kailua-Kona’s Bree Wee finished with the fastest women’s time, in 05:06:02.
Wee said her return to Ironman competition was in thanks to some of the younger competitors she’s been training with recently.
“There’s new up and coming Kona girls, and they want to get into Ironman,” Wee said. “They are the same age I was when I first did an Ironman, so I just started mentoring them and training with them. And as soon as one of the girls, Skye, said ‘Do the race with me,’ I said OK, and I’ve been training with her. She’s the one who got me out here actually. She’s the whole reason.”
Wee called her day “solid,” the result of ultradistance running she’s been doing while training the younger generation of triathletes.
“I’m really happy,” Wee said of her final time. “It was really hot out there today. The conditions were brutal, but I think it’s a strength for people from the Big Island, because we’re used to the conditions, so that helped a lot.”
As for Wee’s future in Ironman events, she said it’s not up to her.
“If Skye gets in, I’ll do it with her,” Wee said.
Along with Honu, the pandemic also canceled the 2020 Ironman World Championship, making Saturday the first Ironman race on the island in a year and a half.
This year’s World Championship is scheduled to be held Saturday, Oct. 9, at its usual start-and-finish point along Alii Drive in Kailua-Kona. The World Championship’s distance is double that of Honu and other Ironman 70.3 races, with a 2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bike and 26.2-mile run for a total of 140.6 miles.
Honu, face masks and all, was a good start for the island to get ready for Ironman’s big event.
“For our community of triathletes, it’s been a while since we’ve raced, so it’s really nice to see everyone again,” said Wild, who said he will not compete in the World Championship this year. “It feels like things are coming back to normal that way.”